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Open Thread: Let's Talk About The False Dmitris!

Russia

Ever since I casually mentioned the False Dmitris in that top ten post last week, the Editrix has been all "No, for real, you should write a post about that! And also do more posts about your weird shit that has nothing to do with politics, for open threads!"

That, I guess, is what I am doing now, because Dok is off today.

SO. I have always been super into Russian Imperial history, but I got REALLY into it at the start of the Trump administration. Mostly because I found it very soothing to read about past governments that were also extremely fucked up and/or run by literal toddlers. Not even kidding, I would even sometimes put this multi-part Russian history documentary on in order to get to sleep.

Anyway, the whole False Dmitris thing is basically one of my favorite things to have ever happened in all of history and I think about it a lot for some reason. This is the first time, I believe, that I have tried to explain this whole thing while sober, so bear with me and enjoy!


Once upon a time, in, you know, Russia, Ivan the Terrible had a bunch of wives. Not all at the same time, mind you. He had a bunch of kids with the first wife, most of whom died pretty young. Then the wife died, and that was kind of the thing that pushed him over the edge and made him go all batshit crazy and, well, terrible.

After that he married a series of other ladies who then either also died or were sent off to go be nuns or were fictional. Like, two of them were maybe fictional and no one is really sure if he was actually married to these ladies or if someone just made them up later. One of them he was supposedly only married to for a day before discovering she wasn't a virgin and throwing her into hole in a frozen river. The other fictional one was a concubine -- and that marriage supposedly ended by him impaling the dude she was cheating on him with and then sending her off to a nunnery as well.

Vasilisa Melentyeva, who probably did not actually exist.

Admittedly, I am way more into the fictional wives than the real ones.

His last (and 5th or 7th, depending on whether or not you think two of them were fictional) wife was Maria Nagaya, who was not fictional, and he had another kid with her. Dmitri. AKA Dmitri of Uglich, AKA Dmitri Ivanovich. This was actually his second kid named Dmitri (the first died as an infant) and his third son in total. He had daughters too, but I don't think any of them made it past puberty. When Dmitri was but a wee baby, Ivan the Terrible murdered his eldest son, also named Ivan. Why? Ivan the Terrible said his son's pregnant wife dressed like a slut and then beat her so badly she miscarrried, so Son Ivan attacked him, and Terrible Ivan ended up killing Son Ivan with a pointed staff.

This is, however, apparently some point of contention with Russian Nationalists who don't believe he actually did that and also think all the stuff about Ivan being terrible was made up.

Ilya Repin's famous painting of Ivan and Ivan, post-murder

(SIDENOTE: Last year some dude attacked that painting while screaming about how Ivan the Terrible didn't actually murder his son and then claimed vodka made him do it.)

Anyway Ivan the Terrible died a few years after his son Ivan, and then his teenage son Feodor became Tsar.

BUT NOT REALLY, because Feodor was not all there and also did not give two shits about being Tsar. So he basically just let his council and his brother-in-law, Boris Gudunov, run everything. Boris was very into this plan, because he wanted to be Tsar.

Anyway, when Dmitry was just a toddler, Boris and the council sent him and his mom off to live in exile in Uglich, supposedly so Boris could be sure that he'd be Tsar when Feodor kicked it (which did actually come to pass in 1598). Even though Dmitry was technically illegitimate (only Ivan's first three marriages counted, and then the Russian Orthodox church cut him off) and would not actually have even been in line for the throne. Technically.

So Dmitry and his mom stay in Uglich when he's like 8-10 years old, at which point he has a seizure while holding a knife and stabs himself in the throat. SUPPOSEDLY. It was either an accident or he was murdered on the orders of Boris Gudonov, depending on who you ask. Either way, he was dead.

OR WAS HE?

Yes, he was dead.

But nine years later in 1600, this dude pops up out of nowhere all "Tadaaaa! I am Dmitry! I didn't die! My mom totally knew Boris was gonna kill me so she sent me off to Poland and now I am back to be TSAR." The Poles and the Cossacks and a bunch of other people in Russia backed him, so he formed an army and tried storming into Moscow. It did not go well!

But then Boris Gudonov died of some kind of illness or maybe a stroke. His kid was then crowned Tsar for a hot minute, but then "Dmitry" got to Moscow and his mom said it was him and was all "Oh yeah I totally did send him to Poland, that happened! This is for sure my son and not just some random Polish dude." about things -- so pretty much everyone decided to go along with him and make him the Tsar and kill all the Gudunovs. Because 15th century Russia.

ALAS, False Dmitry I only got to be Tsar for 11 months before he got himself murdered by some boyars who were afraid he was gonna make everyone convert to Catholicism. There was a whole riot and everything, he jumped out a window to try to escape but broke his leg and was shot. He was then cremated and maybe his ashes were put in a cannon and shot towards Poland. Either way, he was dead.

OR WAS HE?

Yes, he was dead.

But a year later in 1610, another guy comes out of the woodwork and he's like "SURPRISE! It's me! Dmitri! I didn't actually die that other time either!," and False Dmitry I's wife was all "Oh yeah, that's definitely him. I'd know him anywhere!" and that guy gets an army together and he storms Moscow too. It did not go too well and he ended up getting drunk and getting murdered by a Tatar prince.

Having drunk deep at dinner...he ordered a sleigh to be harnessed, taking flasks of mead to the sleigh. Coming out into the open country, he drank with some boyars. Prince Peter Ouroussoff, together with those several score horsemen with whom he was in league, was riding after him, apparently escorting him. And when the imposter had drunk very well with the boyars, Ouroussoff drew from his holster a pistol which he had ready, and galloping up to the sleigh first shot him with the pistol, then cutting off his head and hand with his saber, took to the road.

And once again, Dmitry was dead.

OR WAS HE?

Because 1611 rolls around and LOOK, another freaking Dmitri. And again, some people are like "Well this seems plausible!" and go along with him, and he actually gets to be Tsar for a couple weeks. Then, surprise, surprise, he gets murdered too.

After that, I think, people stopped trying to be Dmitri.

That is about all I've got, really, so enjoy your open thread!

Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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