In 1682, brothers Ivan V and Peter (later called “the Great”) became co-rulers of Russia. The sickly Ivan was not expected to live long, but his sister, the Tsarevna Sophia, managed to manipulate the Moscow guardsmen (Streltsy) so he would be elevated to the position. The brothers, however, were nothing more than puppets during this period, and power was firmly in the hands of the cunning Tsarevna Sophia. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.
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The Miloslavskys and the Naryshkins: The Struggle for Power
Alexis, the second Tsar from the House of Romanov, died on January 22, 1676. He was succeeded by Feodor, the eldest of the two living sons left behind by his first wife. The boy suffered from scurvy and required constant care from his aunts and sisters. Old resentments between the Miloslavskys (the family of Alexei’s first wife) and Naryshkins (the family of his second wife) resurfaced. The Miloslavskys had the upper hand so they immediately started to purge their enemies. The family soon sent Natalya Naryshkina, her son Peter, and Natalya’s former guardian Artamon Matveyev into exile.
The Miloslavsky family’s reign of terror ended when the Tsar’s cousin Ivan fell from grace. The Tsar himself sent the ringleader of the purge to exile and reinstated the Naryshkins. Matveyev, the Naryshkins’ trusty ally, was also recalled to serve in the Kremlin. Feodor had been suffering for a long time, and he knew that he would not live much longer. He married twice to beget an heir, but the much-desired children failed to materialize. He finally died on May 7, 1682 at the age of twenty-one.
The Moscow Uprising
The grandees soon met to discuss which of the dead Tsar’s brothers would accede the throne. Feodor’s younger brother Ivan was their natural choice, but he, too, was sickly and mentally ill. His ten-year old half-brother Peter, on the other hand, was healthy. The grandees, as a result, agreed to bypass Ivan and elect Peter instead.
Ivan’s older sister, Tsarevna Sophia, promptly protested this slight. She appeared during Feodor’s funeral and insinuated that her dead brother had been poisoned by the Naryshkins. Trouble had been brewing for some time now among the ranks of Streltsy (musketeers) when their salaries went unpaid. The Tsarevna—ever cunning—decided to use the Streltsy’s discontent for her own gain. With the help of her henchmen, she spread the rumor among the disgruntled Streltsy that her brother lay dying in the palace and that he needed to be rescued from the hands of the Naryshkins.
The Streltsy responded by storming the royal palace and demanding to see Tsarevich Ivan. To prove that the prince was alive and well, Natalya Naryshkina brought out the fifteen-year old Ivan as well as her own son Peter for them to examine. The crowd fell silent but soon demanded that Ivan be elevated tsar instead of Peter. However, Artamon Matveyev faced them and admonished the musketeers for disturbing the peace. He then went back inside the palace with the Tsarina and the boys not knowing that something terrible was about to happen.
The Streltsy were once again whipped into anger when General Yuri Dolgoruky’s son Mikhail admonished them as traitors and called for their deaths. They promptly attacked the general’s son and killed him by tossing him off from a balcony. They then stormed the palace and seized Artamon Matveyev in front of Natalya and the princes. Just like the general’s son, the Streltsy tossed Matveyev off a balcony, which killed him when he landed on raised pikes. Natalya and the princes were rushed off to the safety of the palace while the Streltsy continued to rampage.
The musketeers dispersed throughout the Kremlin and looked for Naryshkin relatives so they could vent their anger. They killed one of Natalya’s brother in the same grisly way that they killed Matveyev when they found him. They then went to General Dolgoruky’s house to apologize for killing his son but were angered when the general insinuated that he would eventually seek vengeance. They killed the tactless general on the spot.
The terrified royal family had no choice but to hide in the safety of the palace. The Streltsy stayed in the Red Square and continued to demand the head of Ivan Naryshkin, the Tsarina’s brother. Natalya, Sophia, and Martha (one of the tsarevnas) dared face the crowd and pleaded for the Streltsy to spare Ivan Naryshkin. But the Streltsy did not want to be pacified, and they continued to demand Ivan’s surrender.
With Sophia’s prodding, Natalya finally had no choice but to surrender her brother to the musketeers. He was tortured and killed in prison, but he never admitted (for there was nothing to admit) to poisoning Tsarevich Ivan. More executions of perceived enemies followed, but the violence was finally stopped by the ambitious Tsarevna Sophia. She ordered Ivan Andreyevich Khovansky, her own henchman, and leader of the Streltsy, to publicly implore her to declare the two remaining princes as Tsars. She agreed to his “suggestion,” and promptly declared her brother Ivan and her half-brother Peter as co-rulers of Russia on May 26, 1682.
This arrangement was a first in Russia’s history. Ivan and Peter were crowned Tsars on June 25, 1682, but there was no doubt that Sophia herself held the reins of power. One month after the coronation, the Streltsy leader and ardent Old Believer Khovansky convinced her to undo her father’s religious reforms. She refused, so the musketeers once again threatened to rebel.
Far from cowed, the Tsarevna had the rebels executed to demonstrate her power and resolve. She also brought the Old Believers’ leader Avvakum out of prison and had him burned at the stake. Thousands of ordinary Old Believers also suffered the same fate during her reign. Realizing that she did not need him any longer, she had Khovansky framed for treason and executed.
Picture by: anonymous – scan from book, Public Domain, Link
Lieven, Dominic, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia: Imperial Russia, 1689-1917. Vol. II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York, Vintage Books, 2017.
Oliva, L. Jay. Peter the Great. Englewood-Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970.
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