The Muscovite ruling oligarchy of 1547-1564 : its composition, political behaviour and attitudes towards reform
In recent decades considerable progress has been made in elucidating the assumptions and the dynamics of Muscovite court politics, and further scrutiny is attempted in this enquiry into the ruling oligarchy of 1547-1564. Chapters 1 to 3 are devoted to groundwork. In Chapter 1 an introduction to the ruling oligarchy is provided against the background of Muscovy's contemporary government and population. The goal of territorial aggrandisement pursued by Muscovite rulers from Ivan HI favoured "rationalisation" of the central government and reforms of the army's discipline and technology; moreover, the wars of conquest left untouched no element of the population. Tsar Ivan and his exercise of authority were especially strongly affected: the precedents established by earlier rulers encouraged him to consider Muscovy his private votchina. but such an attitude became increasingly anachronistic as the realms expanded and the tasks of governing it grew too complex for any one man. During the Oprichnina he attempted to resolve this contradiction by ruling autocratically; autocratic rule and those circumstances favouring it by 1564 are the dissertation's main theme. Even before 1564 Ivan IV was the central actor in Muscovite politics, and criteria are advanced whereby advisers close enough to qualify for the ruling oligarchy are identified. The mid-sixteenth century, as a prelude to autocracy, was a critical moment in Muscovite politics; the rich and varied historiography is surveyed in Chapter 2. The sources - their authors, dates, and value as historical evidence - are critically assessed in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 to 7 comprise the heart of the dissertation. In Chapters 4 to 6 an attempt is made to identify members of the ruling oligarchy of 1546-1564; their political behaviour and where feasible, their political attitudes are explored. In Chapter 7 the attitudes individual members maintained towards particular reforms envisaged at mid-century are explored. The dissertation's main conclusions are systematically expounded in Chapter 8, and as appropriate, their broader implications for Russian and European history are brought out.