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Semyon Shakhovskoy


Prince Semyon Shakhovskoy was related to Ivan Khvorostinin. His life was full of the sudden changes and vicissitudes so typical of the Time of Troubles. In 1606, when the towns of Putivl, Chernigov, Yelets and Kromy rose up against Tsar Vasily Shuisky, Semyon Shakhovskoy was serving at Yelets. Here his first fall from favour occurred: he was taken to the capital and without any explanation exiled to Novgorod (where there was an outbreak of plague). On the way there, however, they turned off into a village. In 1608-1610 he was back in service in Moscow, where he fought for a while against the Tushino army and then went over to it. His second and again short fall from favour came in 1615 as a result of Shakhovskoy’s own petition in which he complained that he was “tormented by being sent from one office to another.” At the end of 1619, after the death of his third wife, Shakhovskoy married a fourth time, which was forbidden by the church. This incurred the wrath of the Patriarch Philaret. In his Supplication to Philaret, Shakhovskoy justifies himself by saying that he lived three years with his first wife, only eighteen months with his second, and a mere nineteen weeks with his third. He lived to a ripe old age (some sources mention him still in the 1650s) and was quite frequently in disgrace.

A School. Engraving from the printed ABC by Vasily Burtsov. Moscow. 1637. Academy of Sciences Library, Leningrad

A School. Engraving from the printed ABC by Vasily Burtsov. Moscow. 1637. Academy of Sciences Library, Leningrad

A man of great learning, Shakhovskoy left a considerable literary heritage. The Time of Troubles is the subject of two of his tales: The Tale in Memory of the Holy Martyr, the Devout Prince Dmitry and The Tale of How a Certain Monk Was Sent by God to Tsar Boris to Avenge the Blood of the Righteous Prince Dmitry. It has recently been proved that Shakhovskoy was the author of one of the most important works on the history of the Time of Troubles, the so-called Tale of the Book of Former Years. This condensed, but comprehensive work on the history of the Time of Troubles has survived in the Chronograph of the Tobolsk nobleman Sergei Kubasov. It was thought to be the work of Prince Ivan Katyrev of Rostov, because the Tale ends with the following two lines:

Есть же книги сей слагатай

Сын предиреченнаго князя Михаила роду Ростовского сходатай.

The author of this book/Is the son of the above-mentioned Prince Mikhail of the princely house of Rostov.

Mikhail Katyrev of Rostov, the well-known general who is referred to most favourably in the Tale, had one son, namely, Ivan Katyrev. Ivan’s first wife was the daughter of the future Patriarch Philaret and the sister of Michael Romanov. Tsar Vasily Shuisky exiled Ivan Katyrev to Tobolsk for “vacillating” in the struggle against the “Tushino thief”. Only in 1613, during the election of his brother-in-law as tsar, did he reappear in Moscow.

An early manuscript, dating back to the late 1620s-early 1630s, of the original redaction of the Tale has recently come to light.8 A postscript states directly that the author was the “most sinful among men Semyon Shakhovskoy”. In this redaction the Tale has no title, and the lines are as follows:

Есть же книги сей слагатай

Рода Ярославского исходатай.

The author of this book / Is descended from the princes of Yaroslavl Thus, the Time of Troubles was written about in the 1610s and 1620s by a monk, a head of a government department, and two princes of the house of Rurik, although of the junior line. From this list it will be clear that the literary milieu of the first few decades of the seventeenth century was a very motley one. This tells us that there were not yet any professional writers; it also shows that there was not yet a monopoly on writing, that anyone could become a writer.

Naturally enough, the outlook and literary manner of these writers varied. They had certain important things in common, however. The main one was the enhancement of the individual element, the striving for a kind of self-expression. We have already seen how Abraham Palitsyn stressed his role in events of national importance; how Ivan Khvorostinin sought to vindicate himself by quoting conversations with the Pseudo-Dmitry and Patriarch Hermogenes, conversations which are most likely fictiti­ous. Even in The Tale in Memory of Prince Dmitry, in which Shakhovskoy adheres strictly to hagiographical canons, one can detect autobiographical touches. Having announced that Prince Dmitry was the son of Ivan the Terrible by his sixth wife, Tsarina Maria, i.e., an heir of dubious legitimacy, Shakhovskoy continues: “Let no one condemn this birth not of the first marriage.” By defending the prince, the author of the Tale was also defending himself, or rather the rights of his children by his fourth wife.

The enhancement of the individual element is not found in autobiographical allusions and scenes alone. It is also expressed in the comparatively free discussion of the causes of the Time of Troubles and the behaviour of the main personages irrespective of their position in the hierarchy and in social relations. All historians of the Time of Troubles see the cause of the natinal disaster as lying in “the sin of all Russia”. This is only natural, for they could not yet -reject the religious view of history. It is important, however, that they do not confine themselves to a general reference to this “sin”, but seek to analyse it. And it is most significant that this analysis varies from author to author.

Ivan Timofeyev and Abraham Palitsyn both agree that the

Time of Troubles resulted from the “wordless silence”, or “the foolish silence of the whole world”, in other words, slavish submission to unjust rulers. But then each of them goes his own way. According to the Annals the influx of foreigners was responsible for the moral decline; their pernicious role in Russia’s misfortunes is stressed by Ivan Timofeyev over and over again.

Abraham Palitsyn, however, in speaking of the signs of general moral decline, from tsar to bondman, from boyar to churchman, is not inclined to place the blame on the foreigners. He stresses the social contradictions on the eve of the Time of Troubles. Under Boris Godunov there were bad harvests for three years running and many thousands died of starvation. It became known that the rich had concealed vast stores of grain: “The old granaries were not empty, the fields were covered with ricks, and the barns were filled with stacks that had piled up over the fourteen years before the troubles of the Russian land …” Abraham Palitsyn puts the blame for the civil unrest on the rich: “Thus must we understand the sin of all Russia, the reason why it has suffered from other peoples: for during the time of Divine tribulation and Divine wrath (i.e., the three years of bad harvests) they did not have mercy on their brothers … And just as we were merciless, so have our enemies been merciless to us.”

Historians of the autocratic state cannot be content with depicting “the sin of the people”. Their sphere of attention must also include “the powers-that-be”. All the authors writing about the Time of Troubles provide a description of the tsars, from Ivan the Terrible to Michael Romanov. These descriptions reveal most clearly the literary discovery that Dmitry Likhachev has termed “the discovery of character”.9 According to him, this is, briefly, as follows.

In mediaeval historiography man is “absolutised”, that is to say, he is for the most part (but not always, as we have already seen) either absolutely good or absolutely evil. The authors of the beginning of the seventeenth century no longer regard the good and evil elements in a person’s character as something fixed and immutable. Character changes and contrasts no longer upset the writer; on the contrary, he indicates reasons for these changes. They are, alongside human free will, the influence of other people, vanity and so on. Man combines all sorts of traits, both good and bad.

This discovery can be illustrated by the descriptions of Boris Godunov that abound in works on the Time of Troubles. It is interesting that in their discussion of Boris none of the authors can help qualifying their remarks. “Although he was skilled in ruling the realm,” Abraham Palitsyn writes of him, “he was not versed in the Holy Scriptures and hence did not observe the commandment about brotherly love.” Khvorostinin writes: “Al­though he was not learned in the Scriptures and scholarly things, yet he possessed a firm natural wit.” Even Shakhovskoy, discussing him as the murderer of Prince Dmitry, thought it necessary to say a few good words about the “most wise and sensible mind” of Boris Godunov!

For Ivan Timofeyev the combination of good and bad in one person acquires the importance of an aesthetic principle: “Insofar as we have told of Boris’ evil doings, it behoves us not to keep silent about his good deeds to men.”

This literary principle is proclaimed and established in the 1617 redaction of the Chronograph. Here a contradictory and changeable character is typical of the overwhelming majority of the personages, from Ivan the Terrible to the Patriarch Her- mogenes and Boris Godunov, Vasily Shuisky, Kozma Minin and Ivan Zarutsky, one of the Cossack leaders. The compiler of the 1617 Chronograph gives this feature theoretical substantiation: “No one has a blameless life.” The Chronograph was to some extent an official work to be emulated. Its authority helped to establish the “discovery of character” in Russian literature.