Basil IV Shuisky

Born: 1552
Died: 1612

Prince Basil Ivanovich Shuisky came from an old branch of the Suzdal princes descended from Rurik. He was the son of an unknown woman and Ivan Andreyevich Shuisky, a boyar descended from Prince Andrei of Suzdal, the third son of St Alexander Nevsky.

Basil Shuisky’s first wife was Princess Elena Mikhailovna Repnina. On 17 January 1608, at the age of sixty, he married Princess Ekaterina (Elena) Petrovna Buinosova-Rostovskaya. No information on other wives has been found. His second wife, who became Tsarina Maria, bore him two daughters, Anna and Anastasia, who both died in infancy. When he was overthrown, he was parted from his wife, who was forced into a nunnery as Sister Helen and died in 1626.

Becoming a boyar in 1584, Basil Shuisky headed the unsuccessful opposition to Boris Godunov in 1587. After falling into disfavour, he managed to win back the tsar’s trust and was forgiven. In May 1591, Shuisky headed the committee of investigation into the death of Tsarevich Dmitry in Uglich. The commission came to the conclusion that the tsarevich had died naturally, as a result of illness.

Basil Shuisky took part in the campaign against False Dmitry I (1604–05). After the death of Boris Godunov, however, he crossed sides and joined the pretender. On two occasions, Shuisky headed a plot against False Dmitry I. The first time he was sentenced to death, but forgiven. The second plot ended in the False Dmitry’s murder on 17 May 1606.

Two days later, on 19 May, a crowd gathered and proclaimed Basil Shuisky the new tsar – without a council or reference to representatives of the people. Owing to the absence of the patriarch, Basil was crowned by Metropolitan Isidor of Novgorod on 1 June 1606. The fifty-four year-old tsar was a puny man with poor eyesight and a stoop. Cunning and mean, he believed in magic and relied on a web of informers.

Shortly after Basil Shuisky’s coronation, a second pretender called Dmitry emerged, also claiming to be the son of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan Bolotnikov led a popular uprising in support of False Dmitry II in the south of Russia in autumn 1606. When his forces attempted to march on Moscow, they were defeated by government troops near the village of Kotly in December 1606 and finally routed in autumn 1607.

The False Dmitry II began his own march on Moscow in August 1607. In the spring of 1608, his troops besieged Moscow from their headquarters in Tushino. In an attempt to defeat the False Dmitry II, Basil Shuisky signed an alliance with Sweden in February 1608. Sweden agreed to help the tsar in return for territorial concessions. In spring 1609, fifteen thousand Swedish troops entered Russia from the north, while Poland took advantage of the situation by invading Russia from the west.

With the Polish army at the gates of Moscow in July 1610, a group of boyars overthrew Basil Shuisky and forced him to become a monk. He and his family were then sent to Poland as prisoners.

Under the command of Hetman Stanislaus Zolkiewski, the Poles captured and looted Moscow. Zolkiewski demanded that the boyars recognise Prince Wladyslaw of Poland as the tsar of Russia. The boyars consented, on condition that Wladyslaw convert to Orthodoxy. The Poles agreed, but failed to keep their promise. Polish soldiers ransacked the country, robbing and killing the population. Smolensk and other west Russian towns were annexed by Poland, while Swedish forces occupied Novgorod. The reign of Basil Shuisky ended in the bankruptcy and foreign occupation of Russia.

The Russian nation rallied in the face of the foreign aggression. The Poles were expelled from Moscow in October 1612 by the volunteer militia led by Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and blacksmith Kuzma Minin and a Cossack army led by Prince Troubetzkoy.

Two months later, Basil Shuisky died in Warsaw. In 1635, his ashes were returned to Russia, along with an indemnity of sables worth 3,674 roubles. Basil’s remains were buried in the Archangel Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.

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