Continuing with my review of Chapter X of the book by Giles Fletcher the Elder. Recall that Giles was sent to visit Russia by Mary Queen of Scots, in an attempt to restore the trade relationship which had begun, haltingly, under the respective reigns of Mary and Ivan Grozny. The English were very interested in Russian products, such as furs and other luxury items. The new Tsar, Fedor Ivanovich, was not as interested in the English as was his father. But Fedor’s Consigliere, Boris Godunov, was an accomplished diplomat in his own right, and was willing to meet with the English delegation.
Giles visited Moscow, met with all the important people, also travelled to a few other cities and gathered valuable information about the Russian economy, political system, people and culture. Like a hound with a nose for dissent, he honed in on the key points of the Russian political infrastructure. I think it is safe to call Giles Fletcher the Father of modern Kremlinology!
Again, I cannot speak to the historical accuracy of any of this; maybe real historians would know. For starters, Giles keeps referring to the ruling dynasty of Russia as the “Beala”, and I for one never heard this term before. Generally, I believe this first dynasty is referred to as the “Ruriks”. But anyhow, let us proceed…
After breaking down the Russian state into 4 major parts, each governed by a governor (who happens to live in Moscow, accompanying the Tsar’s entourage); in turn these tetarchies are broken down further. Most of this autocratic system of government had been put together by Ivan Grozny, and it was a brilliant (as Giles admitted) way of ruling such a vast Empire from the center and overcoming the internecine princely and inter-clan wars that had destroyed Old Rus more than once. Ivan, following in his dad’s footsteps, rebuilt Russia practically from scratch and was a genius at pitting noble strata against each other so that none of them could ever make a claim to the throne, nor set up their private empires within the empire. Oh, I know what Westies are thinking: That this same methodology is used to this very day, to keep Moscow in charge of the provinces, and Putin in charge of Moscow! And there is even a tiny grain of truth in that…
Within each of the four tetarchies, there were provinces, each province governed by a Duke (from the higher ranks of the nobility) who actually lived out there, usually in the major town. And — here is the most brilliant part! — even the Dukes were not allowed to get too uppity, because each Duke had a Dyak (usually translated as a “Deacon”, but not in the religious sense; from the Greek “diakonos”, “servant”). The Dyak was technically the “secretary” or “servant” of the Duke, but, as Giles notes sinisterly, the Dyak was actually the one in charge! (Commissar, anyone?) The servant became the master. The Dyak was of the lower nobility, and, even though he lived among the locals, was loyal only to the Tsar in Moscow! It goes without saying, that if the Duke got too uppity, then the Dyak would snitch back to the Tsar. This was the so-called “Vertical Power” model that enabled the Russian Empire to survive centuries of Hordish invasions, to grow and expand, and remain more or less intact, right up to that final catastrophe of 1991.
Recall that in my earlier post, about Dmitry Ivanovich, the child-prince of Uglich, the local Dyak in Uglich was a man named Mikhail Bityagovsky, appointed to his post by the de-facto Tsar Boris Godunov. The events ensuing upon the death of Prince Dmitry of Uglich show that there was at least a faction, among the local townspeople, who were inclined to rebellion against Moscow. These people took out their rage against Moscow’s Commissar, Bityagovsky, who was torn apart, limb from limb, by the angry mob.
As reprisal, Godunov’s emissary Prince Vasily Shuisky, ordered the execution of 200 townspeople; and exiled 60 entire families to Siberia. Thus was an incipient regional rebellion nipped in the bud.
Aside from breaking down church doors with a battering ram and snitching to the Tsar, what were the other duties in the normal “day in the life” of a regional Dyak? Firstly, to listen to all civil matters within their precinct. “To which purpose they have under them certeine offices, as gubnoy starets or coroners, who, besides the trial of selfe murders, are to attach felons.”
Not exactly sure what Giles means by “selfe murders”. Suicides? Or people who committed a homicide in the act of taking a selfie? In either case, these civil and minor criminal cases must have kept the Dyak pretty busy. It is noted that people out in the boondocks, if they disagreed with the ruling of the “coroner” had the right to appeal to the Dyak in the main town; and even take their appeal all the way to “the higher court at Mosko of the emperours counsel, where lie all appeales.”
In cases of major crimes, such as theft, murder and treason, the Dyak had the right to apprehend, interrogate, and imprison the suspect, but did not have the right to pass the judgement or perform the execution. Instead, the Dyak would ascertain and collect all the facts, and send this case on up to Moscow, where the tetrarch in charge of this area would bring the matter to the Tsar’s council chamber.
Another component of the Dyak’s job description was to pass on the Tsar’s proclamations, collect taxes, muster the soldiers when ordered, and divers other duties as assigned. These Dyaks were the workhorses of the Russian Empire! Giles notes that the Dyak (as also the Duke) was appointed to the office directly by the Tsar. But it is not a tenured position. The Dyak only serves for a number of years, and then is replaced. This too shows the genius of the system: Lest the Dyaks themselves become too uppity and attempt to build their own little fiefdoms!
To further prevent regional separatism, the Tsar ensures that the Dyak appointed to a given province is not even from that province! “They are men of themselves of no credite nor favour with the people where they governe, being neither borne nor brought up among them, nor yet having inheritance of there own there or elsewhere. Onely of the emperor they have for that service an 100 markes a yeare, he that hath most, some fiftie, some but thirtie. Which maketh them more suspected and odious to the people, because being so bare, and coming fresh and hungrie upon them lightly every yeare, they rack and spoile them without all regard of justice or conscience.”
In other words, as George Soros might say, Corruption is built into the very Autocratic system itself! All part of the cunning plan contrived by Ivan Grozny. The Dyaks do all the work for the Tsar, yet are deliberately underpaid and have no job security. This virtually ensures that they will fleece the local people they are put amongst, and hence there is no chance of any Dyak becoming a popular local hero to lead the regional rebellion against Moscow. Brilliant!
[to be continued]