Magazine Poland

On this Day, in 1611: the deposed Russian Tsar pledged allegiance to the Polish Crown

On October 29, 1611, the deposed Tsar Vasili Shuysky of Russia and his retinue took an oath of allegiance to King Sigismund III Vasa of Poland and his teenage son, Prince Władysław, in the Senate Hall of the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

The Time of Troubles in Russia was a period of political instability, marred by lawlessness and anarchy. It shortly followed the death of Ivan the Terrible, who had founded the Tsardom of Russia as the successor of the Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1547.

False Dmitry and the Time of Troubles

The death of Ivan the Terrible’s son and successor, Fyodor I, in 1598, led to a violent succession crisis, during which many conspiracies claimed that Fyodor’s younger brother, Dmitry, was still alive, and with numerous usurpers and false Dmitrys claiming the title of tsar. In 1603, the first and arguably most successful of the usurpers appeared in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Still hoping to reclaim the Swedish throne from his uncle, Charles IX, King Sigismund III Vasa of Poland saw this as the perfect opportunity to extend his influence over Russia and to unite Polish and Russian forces against the Swedish crown. The staunchly Catholic king was supported in his ambition to unite Poland and Sweden under one Catholic kingdom by Pope Clement VIII, who also hoped to increase his influence over the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Poles crossed the border into Russia with a small force of 4,000 Poles, Lithuanians, Russian exiles, German mercenaries and Cossacks, and in 1605, Sigismund’s protege made a triumphal entrance into Moscow, where he was crowned Tsar Dmitry I.

But False Dmitry quickly became unpopular. Eleven months later, an anti-Polish uprising broke out in Moscow. Headed by Vasili Shuysky, a massive number of boyars and commoners stormed the Kremlin and killed the usurper. Hundreds of Dmitriy’s Commonwealth supporters were also killed, imprisoned or forced to leave Russia. Vasili Shuyski was elected tsar and, as Vasili IV, he signed a military alliance with Charles IX of Sweden.

This time, Sigismund wanted Russia for himself and got permission to declare war from the Polish Sejm, who had been persuaded by promises of Polish colonialism comparing Russia to the Indian empires of the New World, full of golden cities and easy to conquer.

The Shuysky Tribute

A massive Polish army under the command of Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski crossed the border in September 1609 and laid siege to Smolensk before marching on Moscow. Meanwhile, Sigismund received a delegation of Russian nobles opposed to the tsar, known as the Seven Boyars, who agreed to accept the Polish king’s teenage son Władysław as Tsar of Russia.

In July 1610, the Polish army secured a decisive victory at the Battle of Klushino, where 7,000 winged hussars, led by the Hetman himself, defeated the numerically superior combined Russian and Swedish forces. The battle, remembered as one of the greatest triumphs of the Polish cavalry and an example of excellence and supremacy of the Polish military at the time, marked a turning point in the war.

Soon after the battle, Tsar Vasili IV was ousted by the Seven Boyars and Żółkiewski entered Moscow with little opposition. The Seven Boyars then proclaimed Władysław IV Vasa as the new Tsar of Russia.

A year later, Hetman Żółkiewski held a victory procession and marched his army into Warsaw bringing Vasily Shuysky and his brothers Dmitry and Ivan with him. The deposed tsar gave the oath of allegiance to King Sigismund III Vasa and Prince Władysław in the Senate Hall of the Royal Castle, an act which became known as the Shuysky Tribute.

Żółkiewski also brought back with him Patriarch Filaret, who would ascend to power in Russia later on as the father and de facto ruler behind the back of his son Michael I of Russia, the founder of the Romanov Dynasty.

Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.

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