Tsarevich Dimitri

Tsarevich Dimitri

Tsarevich Demetrius, or Tsarevich Dimitri, or Dmitriy Ivanovich, also known as Dmitry of Uglich and Dmitry of Moscow, (Дмитрий Иванович, Дмитрий Угличский, Дмитрий Московский in Russian) (October 19, 1582May 15, 1591) was a Russian tsarevich, son of Ivan the Terrible and Maria Nagaya.


After the death of Ivan IV, Dmitry's older brother - Feodor I - ascended to power. However, the actual ruler of the Russian state was Feodor's brother-in-law, a boyar Boris Godunov, who had had a claim on the Russian throne. According to a later widespread version, Godunov wanted to get rid of Dmitry, who could have succeeded the throne in light of Feodor's childlessness. In 1584, Godunov sent Dmitry, his mother and her brothers into exile to the Tsarevich's appanage city of Uglich. On May 15, 1591, Dmitry died from a stab wound, under mysterious circumstances.


Russian chroniclers and later historians offered two possible scenarios of what have happened to Dmitry:

  • Dmitry was killed by the order of Boris Godunov; the assassins made it look like an accident (this version was supported by the prominent 19th century historians Nikolai Karamzin, Sergei Soloviev, Vasily Klyuchevsky and others). The critics of this version point out that Dmitry was Ivan's son from his fifth (or seventh) marriage, and thus illegitimate by the canon law (a maximum of three marriages are allowed in the Russian Orthodox Church). This would make any claim of Dmitry's for the throne dubious at best.
  • Dmitry stabbed himself in the throat during an epileptic seizure, while playing with a knife (this version was supported by historians Mikhail Pogodin, Sergei Platonov, V. K. Klein, Ruslan Skrynnikov and others). The detractors of this scenario assert that, since during an epileptic seizure the palms are wide open, the self-infliction of a fatal wound becomes highly unlikely. However, the official investigation, done at that time, asserted that the Tsarevich's seizure came while he was playing a version of darts game with a knife (v tychku) and thus holding the knife by the blade, turned toward himself. With the knife in that position, the version of self-inflicted wound on the neck while falling forward during seizure appears more likely.

There is also a third version of Dmitry's fate, which found support with some earlier historians Konstantin Bestuzhev-Ryumin, Ivan Belyaev and others. They considered it possible that Godunov's people had tried to assassinate Dmitry, but killed somebody else instead and he managed to escape. This scenario explains the appearance of impostors, sponsored by the Polish nobility (see False Dmitry I, False Dmitry II, False Dmitry III). Most modern Russian historians, however, consider the version of Dmitry's survival improbable, since it is hardly possible that the boy's appearance was unknown to his assassins. Also, it is well-known that many Polish nobles who supported False Dmitry I did not believe his story themselves.

The death of the Tsarevich roused a violent riot in Uglich, instigated by the loud claims of Dmitry's mother Maria Nagaya and her brother Mikhail that Dmitry was murdered. Hearing this, enraged citizens lynched fifteen Dmitry's would-be "assassins", including the local representative of the Moscow government (dyak) and one of Dmitry's playmates. The subsequent official investigation, led by Vasily Shuisky, after a thorough examination of witnesses, concluded the Tsarevich had died from a self-inflicted stab wound to the throat. Following the official investigation, Maria Nagaya was forcibly tonsured as a nun and exiled to a remote convent.

However, when the political circumstances changed, Shuisky retracted his earlier claim of accidental death and asserted that Dmitry was murdered on Godunov's orders. On June 3, 1606, Dmitry's remains were transferred from Uglich to Moscow and his cult soon developed. In the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church, he is venerated as a "Saint Pious Tsarevitch", with feast days of October 19, May 15 and June 3. In the 20th century, the majority of Russian and Soviet historians have given more credit to the conclusions of the first official investigation report under Shuisky, which ruled Dmitry's death to be an accident.

Cultural references

The story of murder is presumed in Aleksandr Pushkin's play Boris Godunov, made into an opera by Modest Mussorgsky.

See also


  • Sergey Platonov. Очерки по истории смуты в Московском государстве XVI-XVII вв. Moscow, 1937.
  • Ruslan Skrynnikov. Лихолетье. Москва в XVI-XVII веках. Moscow, 1988.

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