Alexei was born on 19 March of 1629, the son
of Mikhail and his second wife Evdokin
Streshnevskaia. He was reasonably well educated as a child, certainly much more
so than his father. His tutor was Boris Morozov, one of his father's favorites,
who acted as Alexei's advisor, when he was crowned Tsar at age 16 in 1645. The
clever Morozov tried to consolidate his position by marrying the sister of
Alexei's bride, Maria Miloslavskaia. They had thirteen children prior to her
death in 1669, but only two weak sons, Fedor and
Ivan, and eight strong daughters survived. The most forceful and ambitious of
these was Sophia, who became regent after Fedor died.
Alexei married Natalia Naryshkina in 1671 and they had two children, a
daughter, Natalia, and a son, Peter.
Summary of the reign:
In 1648 Morozov was, nevertheless, ousted in the popular uprising over the
salt tax. Alexei called the Zemski Sobor into session and conceeded the repeal
of the salt tax. The stability of the throne still depended on the support of
the military service class, the dvoriane, who demanded increased control
over their peasants. This resulted in Alexei's issuing of the Ulozhenie
(law code) of 1649, which drasticly reduced the opportunities for the peasants
to escape their land owners and effectively expanded and confirmed serfdom for
Russia for the next 200+ years. During his entire reign Alexei was faced with
repeated popular uprisings, albeit mostly local, except for the mass rebellion
led by Stenka Razin between 1660 and 1671. He remained beholden to the military
servicemen for support and continued to give precedence to their demands at the
expense of the serfs and poor townspeople.
Most notably, Alexei was greatly interested in things Western, both to increase
Russia's economic and military strength and to bring the popular culture more
into the European orbit. To do this he had to forcefully overcome great
internal opposition. His significant contributions in all these areas are often
overlooked in the manner in which Peter's reforms are credited with having
created a new Russia. Alexei devoted himself to improving the modernization and
effecient economic managment of crown lands. He imported Western military
experts and embraced the creation of new military units organized and outfitted
along Western lines. He encouraged the development and expansion of foreign
trade, but his initial favoritism of Western merchants led to domestic unrest.
In 1667 he promulgated a new economic and trade code in an effort to increase
government revenue and provide relief for Russian merchants from foreign
competition in the domestic market.
On the foreign front, Alexei was more successful than his recent predecessors.
Russia was recognized by European nations as an important power. He gained much
territory in Ukraine at the expense of Poland, including all the left bank not
controled by the Crimean Tatars and Kiev on the right bank of the Dnepr.
During his reign the great schism in the Orthodox church began out of a
struggle between the reform-minded Patriatch Nikon and those who stubbornly
held to their belief in the old Russian ways, hence the term "Old
Believers". Ironically, it was the reformers who were seeking to return
Russian ritual to the oldest roots in Greek Orthodoxy and the "Old
Believers" who were championing practices that had crept into Russia over
Alexei was a kindly but not overly intelligent person who surrounded himself
with generally capable advisors. He devoted much personal attention to
government business as well as economic activities.
When he died suddenly on 29 January of 1676 he left the throne to his sickly
son, Fedor, who managed to survive for six years.
1650 Rebellion in Pskov
1654-56 Smolensk War, with Poland
1655 - campaign against Vilno
1656-58 - War with Sweden, Russians captured
Dorpat but not Riga
1660- 1671 - Stenka Razin rebellion
1667 - Armistice of Andrusovo
1667-1676 - Siege of Solovetskii Monastery
1686 - Peace treaty with Poland