Alexis Mikhailovich (born March 9, 1629) was the eldest son of Tsar Michael I of Russia and Tsarina Eudoxia Streshneva. He inherited the throne at the age of sixteen upon his father’s death on July 13, 1645, and suffered another devastating loss five weeks later when Eudoxia herself died. Young Alexis, however, had little time to indulge his grief as Russia’s borders were threatened by Tatars and Poles. He was crowned tsar at Moscow’s Cathedral of Dormition on the 28th of September, 1645. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History during that time.
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Second Tsar of the Romanov Dynasty
Alexis was reputed to be athletic, energetic, and imposing. Raised in affluence, Prince Alexis received the best education possible for a man of his status. Unlike his father, this young king could hold his own and did not hesitate to use cruelty against any minister who dared oppose him.
Alexis received the epithet “Young Monk” because of his religious devotion that sometimes bordered on fanatical. When he was not holding court or hunting with his hawks, he could be found praying at church—often for hours on end.
Even a powerful tsar needed an ally, so he promoted a former tutor named Boris Morozov as his chief minister soon after his coronation. Two years later, Alexis asked his courtiers to organize a bride-show so he could choose for himself a tsarina. He chose Euphemia Vsevolozhskaya as his bride, but the wedding was called off when the young lady fainted after the too-tight crown was placed on her head. The audience thought that she was probably unhealthy or bewitched which made her unfit as a queen. She and her family were soon sent into exile.
Morozov used this incident to elevate another maiden named Maria Miloslavskaya as Alexis’s possible wife. She was the elder daughter of Ilya Miloslavsky, a close friend of Morozov. Alexis found her to his liking, and they were married on January 16, 1647. The crafty Morozov then bound himself to Alexis by marrying Maria’s younger sister Anna several days later. Morozov used his role as the Tsar’s brother-in-law and closest adviser to become one of the richest boyars in Moscow.
Morozov then earned the anger of the people when he cut the government spending on services but continued raising the salt tax. The people finally had enough, and they vented their anger on Alexis on the 1st of June, 1648. The Tsar was on his way back from a pilgrimage, but he was stopped by an angry mob as he was about to enter the city. They presented their grievances to the tsar, and he promised to investigate, but some of his guards swooped in on the crowd and arrested some of their leaders.
Another mob formed the morning after the confrontation and demanded that their leaders be released. They also demanded that Morozov and other corrupt officials be removed from their positions. The crowd then went to Morozov’s home (as well as the homes of other government officials) and started to riot. Morozov secretly fled Kremlin, but other boyars were not as lucky and were beaten by the crowd when they were caught. A senior official named Leonid Pleshcheev was beaten to death by the crowd when Alexis finally gave him up.
The tsar had no choice but to promise that he would remove Morozov from power and reform the government. He then appointed his cousin, the popular Nikita Romanov, to replace Morozov as his adviser. He also addressed the people the next day, but tearfully told them that he could not bring himself to hand his ex-tutor over to them. The people were moved, and they agreed to let the tsar send him to exile to a distant monastery instead.
The Tsar then summoned the Zemskii Sobor (Assembly of the Land) so they could come up with the reforms he promised to the crowd. Alexis and the Zemskii Sobor came up with some reforms, but those were not in the best interest of the peasants. instead was the Sobornoye Ulozheniye, a legal code with clauses that bound the peasants and slaves to serfdom.
Religious Reforms and Russian Expansion
Alexis then made another fatal mistake when he appointed a popular monk named Nikon (a member of his clique of holy men, the Zealots of Piety) as Patriarch of Moscow. Soon it was not the Tsar who signed his own decrees but the Patriarch himself. He turned on German migrants (mostly merchants) and confined them in their own quarters where they were free to “commit sins.” He also decreed that the sign of the cross should be made with three fingers instead of two. Those who refused to follow his instructions would then be executed.
Alexis declared war against Poland on April 23, 1654, with the encouragement of the Ukrainian Cossack warlord Bogdan Khmelnitsky and the blessing of Patriarch Nikon. The Tsar himself led his troops to Smolensk and besieged it until it fell to the Russians five months later. Nikon, meanwhile, was in charge of Moscow while Alexis and the Russian troops were busy taking some parts of Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania. This alarmed the Swedes who then sent troops to check Russia’s advance.
Complaints of Nikon’s high-handedness soon reached the Tsar and forced him to return to Moscow. A confrontation between the two men descended into a shouting match when the Tsar blamed the patriarch for the wars that they were facing. This was the start of the end for Nikon. In 1658, the Patriarch finally left Moscow and returned to a life as an ordinary monk.
Alexis became bolder in his newfound independence and began to modernize the government and the military. The Russian army, however, suffered a major defeat in 1659 at the hands of the allied Poles, Tatars, and Swedes. The Russian minister Afanasy Ordin-Nashchokin was forced to sue for peace with Sweden and consider an alliance with Poland.
The tsar had promoted his father-in-law Ilya Miloslavsky as head of treasury, but he was unaware of his corrupt dealings while in office. Miloslavsky had debased the currency by substituting silver coins with less valuable copper ones which then resulted in a surge of prices of goods. An angry mob stormed the Kolomenskoye Palace on July 25, 1662, and demanded that the Tsar’s father-in-law be put to death. The Tsar tried to reason with the people but it did not work. He prepared to travel back to the Kremlin on horseback to deal with the matter but was forced to stop when the mob met him. The overwhelmed Tsar commanded his soldiers to protect him and they obeyed. Protesters were then arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and sentenced to death for angering the Tsar.
Tsarina Maria died on March 3, 1669, and this tragedy was soon followed by the death of another son, Simon. His courtiers organized another bride-show, but this was cut short by the death of the Tsar’s heir, Alexis. The bride-show resumed, and this time, Alexis chose Natalya Naryshkina as his new bride. They married on January 22, 1671, and the bride gave birth to their son, Peter, on May 30th of the following year.
The forty-seven-year-old Tsar fell ill on January 22, 1676. He was taken to bed, but his condition continued to worsen despite the skills of his doctors. Alexis, the man who ushered Russia into a period of rapid growth, died on January 29, 1676, and succeeded by his sickly son, Feodor.
Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York, Vintage Books, 2017.
Perrie, Maureen, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 1. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521812276.
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