England – Russia, an Old Partnership – Part III

Dear Readers:

Continuing with my review of Chapter X of the book by Giles Fletcher the Elder.  Where we left off, Giles had described the role of the Dyaks (“servants” or “deacons”), members of the lower nobility who shadowed the higher-blood Dukes in the regions (not unlike Commissars!), reported back to the Tsar, and did most of the real governing out there in the provinces.  The Dyaks held appointed, not hereditary posts, and were replaced on a regular rotation, to ensure that they themselves not get too uppity about their own importance.  The Dyaks were not paid very much; this encouraged them to fleece the locals; which also ensured that the locals would not fall in love with their governors nor follow them into any major bunt or rebellion against Moscow.  As a George Soros of the time might have said, Corruption was built into the very fabric of the Autocratic system!

Left to right: Ivan the Terrible, Eisenstein, and young Ivan

In short, Ivan Grozny did everything in his power to break down the traditional Russian nobility, to prevent Russia from breaking up into princely fiefdoms, as it had done so in the earlier Middle Ages.  Only a strong centralized government could withstand the lemming-like series of foreign invasions and various hordes ascending on the good Christian people of Rus.  Sergei Eisenstein’s art film Ivan Grozny was not that far off the mark in this respect, as it depicted Ivan’s conflicts with the various higher boyar families.  (Of course, Eisenstein, writing the film under the eagle eye of Stalin, had to gild the lily and portray Ivan as a proto-socialist and champion of the working class, although that was not the case at all; we’ll get to the lot of the common man eventually…)  What is true, is that the unpopularity of the regional governors enabled the birth of the myth “Bad Boyar – Good Tsar” among the frustrated common people.  “If only the Tsar in distant Moscow, knew what these crooks were doing to us…”  Ha ha, he knew exactly what was happening, down to a tee, you fools!

The Major Towns

Next our friend Giles describes some special places in the Russian Empire which serve as the border between Russia and the outside (=hostile) world.  The four major border towns are:  Smolensk, Pskov, Novgorod, and Kazan.  The first three lying towards “Polonia” and Sweden; the later “bordereth far of upon the Chrim Tartar“.  To govern these border towns, the Tsar appointed four Dukes of high ranking nobility who also served in his privie council.  These Dukes are rotated out every four years and are paid 700 rubles a year for their service (sometimes only 400).  [By the way, I like the way the materialistic Giles gets right down to the issue of how much money these people are paid; he is a good reporter in this respect, and this is the kind of reporting that needs to be done!]  Giles adds that “Many of these places that are of greatest importance, and almost the whole countrie, is managed at this time by the Godonoes and their clients.”

Vasnetsov painting: the Moscow Kremlin at the time of Ivan III

As for Moscow, the seat of the government, the city itself is governed by the Emperor’s Council.  “All matters there, both civill and criminall, are heard and determined in the severall courtes held by some of the said consell, that reside there all the yeare long.”

Here again, even in Moscow, it is the Dyaks who do all the grunt work:  They ensure that the buildings are cleaned and repaired, the estates kept in good order; they levy taxes, and so on.  This is done via a local court system called Zemsky.  To this Zemsky court a man will bring his servant whom he suspects of theft, and the servant will be tortured and whipped until he confesses.  Giles calls this the “pudkey”, I think he means to say the word “porka” (Russian Порка), and no it doesn’t mean a “porking”, it means a good whipping, from the Russian verb пороть (to strike, smack).

Sidebar on whipping:  While this method of punishment was clearly in use in Russia since ancient times, it was not introduced into the Russian army until 1701, under Peter the Great, following the Swedish model.  The Swedes were apparently masters of the military porka.  The Poles, on the other hand, introduced the polka into the army.  [That last bit a lame joke.]

Peter the Great: “I want to build a place where we can dance the polka!”

Besides the Dyak and the Zemsky Court, the various neighborhoods of Moscow are governed by “starosts” (in Russian, literally “Elders”, Giles also calls them “aldermen”, which is the same thing, just the German word.)  Underneath the alderman is the “sotskoy” (“centurion”) or constable; and under the latter are the “desyatskies” or decurions.  Each decurion is responsible for overseeing 10 households.  Dear Readers:  are you starting to see how this totalitarian pyramid scheme works?  One decurion oversees 10 households.  One centurion oversees 10 decurions.  One alderman oversees 10 centurions….  Before you know it, people balloon at an exponential rate, and every single person has their own personal spy!  It’s like the Stasi.  As Giles notes, sinisterly:  “whereby everie disorder is sooner spide, and the common service hath the quicker dispatch.  The whole number of citizens, poore and rich, are reduced into companies.”  All the easier to control you, my dears, and to quickly nip any trouble or dissent in the bud!

Or, one might say, that, in Moscow at least, no tiny mouse could fart without the Tsar’s knowing of it.  But what about the common people, you ask?  Was there no mercy for them at all?

[to be continued]

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