False Dmitry

Born: 1581
Died: 1606

When the government of Boris Godunov learnt that someone claiming to be Tsarevich Dmitry had surfaced in Poland, they immediately launched an investigation and published the findings. The pretender’s real name was Yury Otrepiev, the son of a Streltsy centurion who had worked as a menial servant in Moscow, first with the Romanov family and then with Prince Boris Cherkassky. He later became a monk under the name of Grigory or “Grishka” for short.

Grishka served at the Monastery of the Miracle in Moscow, where Patriarch Job promoted him to the post of deacon. After making lewd statements, the brotherhood wanted to exile him to the Solovetsky Monastery in northern Russia, but he escaped to Poland, where he claimed to be the son of Ivan the Terrible. He was received by King Sigismund III, who granted him an annual allowance of five thousand roubles. The former monk assembled an army with the intention of marching on Moscow and seizing the throne.

Grishka’s army was headed by a Polish magnate called Jerzy Mniszech. One day, Otrepiev fell in love with his daughter Maryna and asked her to marry him. A handsome woman with many admirers, Maryna was not enthralled by the defrocked monk, whose face was disfigured by two enormous warts. Her father, however, explained the benefits that could result from such a marriage if Otrepiev managed to seize the Russian throne. Before Maryna gave her consent, Jerzy Mniszech made Grishka promise to pay his future father-in-law a million zloty as soon as he was crowned tsar of Russia, while his bride would receive the Russian crown jewels and control of Pskov and Novgorod. He was also obliged to convert Russia from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism.

Grishka Otrepiev’s plan succeeded brilliantly. He entered the Russian capital on 20 June 1605 and was crowned by the new patriarch, Ignatius, in the Dormition Cathedral on 21 July. His wife’s relatives rushed to Moscow, headed by Maryna herself on 2 May 1606. She was crowned empress on 8 May and spent the following week in celebrations.

On 16 May, Grishka and Maryna were awoken by a ringing of bells, shouts and gunfire. Men hired by Basil Shuisky broke into their bedroom, murdered the False Dmitry and raped his wife. The mob was eventually dispersed by boyars, who confiscated all the money, jewels and other property appropriated by Maryna and her father.

The deposed empress and her relatives were marched to the Polish border. Before they reached there, however, they were intercepted by the envoys of a second pretender, False Dmitry II, who had set up camp at Tushino near Moscow (earning him the popular title of the “thief of Tushino”). He offered to restore Maryna to the throne if she would identify him as False Dmitry I, who had survived the events of 16 May. She agreed to his plan and, when his army arrived, flung her arms around his neck and passionately kissed her “husband”.

The attempt of the False Dmitry II to usurp the Russian throne was equally ill-fated. Before he could march on Moscow, his nerves gave way and he fled to Kaluga, abandoning Maryna and his army. His wife’s letters complaining of physical abuse by his soldiers went unanswered. Dressed in a Hussars uniform, Maryna went to Kaluga herself in search of her husband.

Sensing that nothing good would come of their attempt to seize the throne, his associates tired of the pretender and decided to get rid of him. On 10 December 1610, when they were out hunting, Peter Urusov beheaded False Dmitry II and hacked his body into little pieces.

Maryna learnt of her second husband’s murder when she was in her final month of pregnancy. Gathering up what was left of his body, she brought the remains back to Kaluga in a sledge. His murder was avenged by one of her own commanders, Ivan Zarutsky from Ternopole.

Several days later, Maryna gave birth to a son, whom she called Ivan. She married Ivan Zarutsky and the couple proceeded to ride across the country, robbing Russian towns.

After the succession of Tsar Michael Romanov in 1613, Maryna and Ivan fled to Astrakhan. They planned to raise a fresh army to march on Moscow, but were betrayed to the Streltsy guards. Maryna Mniszech’s second entry into the Russian capital, eight years after the first, was less triumphant. Her four-year-old son was hung and her husband was impaled. Maryna’s own fate is not clear; she was either drowned or died in prison in 1614.

During his brief reign as tsar of Moscow (1605–06), False Dmitry I attempted to bring the rulers of France, Germany, Venice and Poland together in an anti-Turkish alliance. The Pope, the Jesuits and King Sigismund of Poland all planned to manipulate the pretender, but they misjudged him. The former monk refused to introduce Roman Catholicism or the Jesuits into Russia. When Maryna arrived in Russia, he made her attend the Orthodox Church. Although personally indifferent to religion, the False Dmitry I wanted to avoid angering the people. He also refused to make any territorial concessions or financial payments to Poland.

Upholders of traditional values did not like some of the concessions introduced by False Dmitry I following the arrival of Maryna Mniszech in Moscow. Others disliked his clear preference for foreigners. The common people took to him, however, and attacked anyone claiming that he had usurped the throne. He was only overthrown by a plot hatched by boyars led by Basil Shuisky.

False Dmitry I and Maryna were formally engaged in Krakow on 10 November 1605 and married in Moscow on 8 May 1606. On the night of 16/17 May, Dmitry’s enemies rang the alarm bells, crying that the Poles were killing the tsar. While the crowds were setting about the unpopular Poles, they themselves broke into the Kremlin. After attempting to defend himself, False Dmitry sought the protection of the Streltsy guards, but was handed over to the boyars and shot by Valuyev. After burning his body, the boyars placed the ashes in a cannon and fired them in the direction of Poland.

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