Sigismond, with trivial excuses, detained his son in Poland, while, under various pretexts, he continued to pour his troops into Russia. Ten thousand armed Poles were sent to Moscow to be in readiness to receive the newly-elected monarch upon his arrival. Their general, Stanislaus, artfully contrived even to place a thousand of these Polish troops in garrison in the citadel of Moscow. These foreign soldiers at last became so insolent that there was a general rising of the populace, and they were threatened with utter extermination. The storm of passion thus raised, no earthly power could quell. The awful slaughter was commenced, and the Poles, conscious of their danger, resorted to the horrible but only measure which could save them from destruction. They immediately set fire to the city in many different places. The city then consisted of one hundred and eighty thousand houses, most of them being of wood. As the flames rose, sweeping from house to house and from street to street, the inhabitants, distracted by the endeavor to save their wives, their children and their property, threw down their arms and dispersed. When thus helpless, the Poles fell upon them, and one of the most awful massacres ensued of which history gives any record. A hundred thousand of the wretched people of Moscow perished beneath the Polish cimeters. For fifteen days the depopulated and smouldering capital was surrendered to pillage. The royal treasury, the churches, the convents were all plundered. The Poles, then, laden with booty, but leaving a garrison in the citadel, evacuated the ruined city and commenced their march to Poland.
These horrors roused the Russians. An army under a heroic general, Zachary Lippenow, besieged the Polish garrison, starved them into a surrender, and put them all to death. The nobles then met, declared the election of Ladislaus void, on account of his not coming to Moscow to accept it, and again proceeded to the choice of a sovereign. After long deliberation, one man ventured to propose a candidate very different from any who had before been thought of. It was Michael Feodor Romanow. He was a studious, philosophic young man, seventeen years of age. His father was archbishop of Rostow, a man of exalted reputation, both for genius and piety. Michael, with his mother, was in a convent at Castroma. It was modestly urged that in this young man there were centered all the qualifications essential for the promotion of the tranquillity of the State. There were but three males of his family living, and thus the State would avoid the evil of having numerous relatives of the prince to be cared for. He was entirely free from embroilments in the late troubles. As his father was a clergyman of known piety and virtue, he would counsel his son to peace, and would conscientiously seek the best good of the empire.
The proposition, sustained by such views, was accepted with general acclaim. There were several nobles from Castroma who testified that though they were not personally acquainted with young Romanow, they believed him to be a youth of unusual intelligence, discretion and moral worth. As the nobles were anxious not to act hastily in a matter of such great importance, they dispatched two of their number to Castroma with a letter to the mother of Michael, urging her to repair immediately with her son to Moscow.