Upon the death of Alexis, in 1676, his eldest son Feodor succeeded him. It is only necessary to mention one significant act in his short reign—the destruction of the Books of Pedigrees. The question of precedence among the great families was the source of endless disputes, and no man would accept a position inferior to any held by his ancestors, nor would serve under a man with an ancestry inferior to his own. Feodor asked that the Books of Pedigrees be sent to him for examination, and then had them every one thrown into the fire and burned. This must have been his last act, for his death and this holocaust of ancestral claims both occurred in the year 1682.
PETER STUDIES EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION
A history of Russia naively designates one of its chapters “The Period of Troubles”! When was there not a period of troubles in this land? The historian wearies, and doubtless the reader too, of such prolonged disorder and calamity. But a chapter telling of peace and tranquillity would have to be invented. The particular sort of trouble that developed upon the death of Feodor was of a new variety. Alexis had left two families of children, one by his first wife and the other by Natalia. There is not time to tell of all the steps by which Sophia, daughter of the first marriage, came to be the power behind the throne upon which sat her feeble brother Ivan, and her half-brother Peter, aged ten years. Sophia was an ambitious, strong-willed, strong-minded woman, who dared to emancipate herself from the tyranny of Russian custom.
The terem, of which we hear so much, was the part of the palace sacred to the Tsaritsa and the Princesses—upon whose faces no man ever looked. If a physician were needed he might feel the pulse and the temperature through a piece of gauze—but see the face never. It is said that two nobles who one day accidentally met Natalia coming from her chapel were deprived of rank in consequence.
But the terem, with “its twenty-seven locks,” was not going to confine the sister of Peter. She met the eyes of men in public; studied them well, too; and then selected the instruments for her designs of effacing Peter and his mother, and herself becoming sovereign indeed. A rumor was circulated that the imbecile Ivan (who was alive) had been strangled by Natalia’s family. In the tumult which followed one of her brothers, Peter’s uncle, was torn from Natalia’s arms and cut to pieces. But this was only one small incident in the horrid tragedy. Then, after discovering that the Prince was not dead, the bloodstains in the palace were washed up, and the two brothers were placed upon the throne under the Regency of Sophia. But while she was outraging the feelings of the people by her contempt for ancient customs, and while her friendship with her Minister, Prince Galitsuin, was becoming a public scandal, Sophia was at the same time being defeated in a campaign against the Turks at the Crimea; and her popularity was gone.