Fyodor I "the Bellringer" of Russia (1557-1598) was feeble-minded, but his subjects considered his state as an especially inspired, childish form of wisdom. He spent most of his time in monotonous prayer, and took special delight in ringing church bells.

In 1584 the 27-year-old Fyodor I "the Bellringer" (1557-1598) was crowned Tsar of Russia. He was born on 31-5-1557 as son of Tsar Ivan IV "the Terrible" (1530-1584) and his first wife, Anastasia Romanov. In appearance Fyodor was virtually the opposite of his father, except for their prominent nose. Ivan IV the terrible was tall and robust; Fyodor was small and had short arms and practically no neck. His spindle-legs were too weak to properly support his body and made him stoop and shuffle. His eyes had a glazed look, and his face wore a permanent guileless smile that was variously ascribed to religious ecstasy or simple-mindedness, depending on the observer's point of view. Fyodor I of Russia

Gentle and quiet Fyodor was believed to be a mentally retarded weakling who lacked the intelligence to rule. Ivan the terrible, too, perceived his son ill-equipped to be Tsar, and - anticipating his own death - Ivan had tried to smooth the path for his "humbly gifted" son by creating a five-member advisory council to help him rule. The council included Ivan Shuisky, Nikita Romanov, and Boris Godunov, whose sister Irina had married  Fyodor in 1580. The first years of Fyodor's reign were marked by a power struggle between the Princely Shuisky Family and Boris Godunov, but by the end of 1587 Boris Godunov was the only remaining member of the council. He became a substitute Tsar, because Fyodor was not only unfit to rule, but also not interested in doing so.

In 16th century Russia feeble-mindedness was considered an especially inspired, childish form of wisdom, a "foolishness in Christ". The phenomenon was known as "iurodstvo" and the person exemplifying it as a "iurodivyi". Apparently Russians characteristically looked upon such persons with respect, if not with reverence. Fyodor definitely was a  "iurodivyi". He spent most of his time in monotonous prayer and his only other pursuit was visiting monasteries and churches throughout his realm. He took special delight in ringing the bells that called the faithful to the mass. Because of his devoutness and his love of church services, his subjects began to call Fyodor "The Sanctified Tsar" and "The Bellringer". The most important achievement during Fyodor's reign was the creation of an independent patriarchate of Moscow for the Russian-Orthodox church, equal to the five old patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem.

Fyodor's marriage to Irina Godunov did not produce any surviving children. Fyodor had a young half-brother, Dmitri (1581-1591), but Dmitri's mother had been the eight wife of Ivan IV the terrible. The Orthodox Church recognised a man's right to no more than three wives, so Dmitri was illegitimate. Boris Godunov had him banished from the capital. Fyodor genuinely loved his half-brother and wept when Dmitri was sent away, but he did not interfere. In 1591 the boy was dead. According to one rumour, Dmitri's throat had been slit, while another said that "the boy had been playing with a knife and had fallen on the blade during an epileptic seizure". Tsar Fyodor was greatly saddened by Dmitri's death and appears never to have questioned whether Boris Godunov was involved in his half-brother's death or not. When Fyodor died peacefully in his bed in 1598 after a brief illness, the long-ruling dynasty of Rurik came to an end. Boris "Good-enough" became the new Tsar.

Copyright 1996, 2000 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved.



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