Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Humble Report from the Court of Moscouia

It's been a long time since university for me - more than ten years now since I started, and six since I was tossed out of those halls by the scruff of the neck while desperately clutching to a piece of paper that talks about conferring and degrees and rights, privileges and obligations. Certainly long enough for me to have forgotten a deal of what I did there; nevertheless, I still have the essays.

Essays! The bane of many a student from high school forward. I never had much of a problem with them; hell, I write mini-essays every other day now. Some days, though, it's difficult to come up with an interesting idea in the time I have before I have to shove off to work... days such as today. As I sorted through my folders and files, I came across one that hadn't been modified since March 12, 2003; a 2000-word essay for my second-year Russian History course.

Ordinarily I might balk at posting one of my old essays online. Not only are academic essays frequently dry, but the issue of lazy-ass students trawling the internet or just buying from essay mills is a wide-ranging problem that I don't want to contribute to. This, however, isn't an ordinary essay - it's not often you're given the opportunity to write in the style of a sixteenth-century English ambassador to the court of Ivan the Terrible.

Nor is it the sort of thing that would really pass unnoticed if some student tried to submit it out of the specific circumstances that called for its creation. Since it was as much a creative work as it was an essay - trying to write in as much of an Elizabethan style as possible was a challenge, and the internet in 2003 had far less in the way of easily-found resources on that matter than the internet in 2012.

Unfortunately, I can't remember what sort of mark I got on this. I know I didn't fail, though.

As per the request of her most Gracious and Just Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth of England, the following Report on the nature of the Russian commonwealth and lands has been compiled and submitted by her most humble Ambassador to the court of Ivan IV Groznyy, Emperor of the Russian lands and people. It is my supreme Hope that you will find the material within this Report pleasing, although I regret that I cannot relate my Discoveries in a more detailed manner. A land of great Diversity and Natural Wealth is Russia, and I will Endeavour to relate all about it for the edification of your Majesty.

The lands of Russia, or Moscouia as it is on occasion known, comprise a Realm far larger in physical extent than any Sovereign of Europe, though the Russian people are spread Thinly and inhabit a land that is not known for its Bounty of harvests. In particular the Zamoskov’e region, in which a Majority of Russian farms may be found, the soil is Frozen for five months of Winter and the peasantry is thereby forced to Forage in the manner of common Beasts for sustenance, lest they succumb to Starvation.

Despite its scattered Population, Russia boasts a number of fine Cities and Towns, most of them in proximity to the great river Volga, which for Centuries has been a conduit of Trade of which English merchants have only begun to take Advantage. The chief Cities, beyond the seat of the Tsar’s court at Moscou, are Nouogrod, Rostoue, Volodomer, and Plesko, all of which were absorbed into the greater Dominion of Moscouia under the able Rule of Ivan IV’s grandfathers. Nouogrod in particular is an important Community, as even as recently as a Century ago it formed the center of a great trading Empire that did eager business with the Merchants of Europe.

The traditional political situation of Russia, until its recent Unification under the Grand Princes of Moscou, saw the lands Divided under the rule of multiple Kings and Princes. The current Dominance of Russia by Moscou’s lords owes mainly to this Fragmentation which gave Ivan’s ancestors the opportunity to unite the lands by force of Arms; Ivan himself claims the title Sovereign of All the Russias, but has of late taken advantage of this Title to press his claims of Territory against the crown of Poland-Lituania.

Much of Russia’s history can be considered attempts to rise above the poor Bounty that nature hath granted it. Its first true Kingdoms emerged from Wilderness Towns less than five Hundred Years ago, at a time when your Majesty’s predecessors ruled over Affluent Christian Nations that experienced much Trade and Worthwhile Intercourse with one another. Due to the difficult nature of Survival in Russia, and the lightness to which it was Peopled, these primitive States had a very difficult time rising above mere Subsistence and Barter rather than developing a Civilized Economy and state of Administration.

Not all of Russia’s failings are of its own responsibility, however; with the exception of Nouogrod and other Isolated Towns, the entire land had the Misfortune to fall under the Crude and primitive Whip of the Mongols, or, as the Russians know them, Tartars; while Christian Europe was blessedly spared their Sword, the Towns of Russia were forced to live for two Hundred Years or more under a Pagan Tyranny. They existed as Tributary states to the Mongol kings in their capital city of Sarai, and it was only by Cheating their Overlords through the Tax-collecting authority they had been given that Moscou was able to first gain Primacy in the community of Russian States, then unite them by Force and eject the Tartars from their illegitimate Conquests.

Much of the recent history of Moscou has been centered around expanding opportunities for Trade between Russia and the affluent Kingdoms of Europe. The city of Nouogrod had for some Years been the center of Mercantile Pursuits in the Russian Lands, dealing with Poland, Lituania, and other Nations around or with access to the Baltic Sea. The princes of Moscou inherited the knowledge for conducting effective Commerce from their Tartar overlords in the Golden Horde, which for many Years now has been fully subjected to the Russian Will; the great Livonian Wars, which have only within the last Year come to a conclusion, were waged partially to secure access to the Baltic, now under the domination of Sweden and Poland. The Russians’ main port of Archangel, on the coast of the northern White Sea, is far removed from shipping traffic and is a Dangerous destination to attempt from any European Harbor. It was by little more than Chance that Richard Chancellor’s ship chanced upon any form of Civilization there thirty Years ago.

The domains of Russia are currently under the rule of the Emperor Ivan IV Groznyy, a Russian word which may be taken to mean fearsome, and carries with it the Suggestions of patriotism and Majesty befitting a monarch. His name is Well-Deserved, for he is a most Imposing man and carries himself at state functions with a most Magnificent and Regal Bearing; though renowned for his Intelligence Ivan is likewise Feared for a sometimes cruel and Merciless Manner. He is a pious Man, as much as one can be in a Land that lacks true knowledge of G O D, and as Emperor is charged with Defending the Orthodox Russian Faith, much as your Majesty defends the True and Noble Anglican Church. However Intolerable this may be to the Traders which do business in his lands, the fact remains that so long as we English have refrained from Criticizing their Beliefs, or attempting to Convert them to the True Worship of Christ Jesus, they have Welcomed us and saved their Ire for the Catholics who cannot bear to be Silent.

The practice of Religion is of supreme Importance to the common people of Russia; unlike in England or other enlightened European domains, the Russian people define themselves not by loyalty to a Sovereign but by their submission to the Orthodox Faith and the supremacy of Constantinople. Even in this Practice, however, the Russians are primitive, for many of their Priests are near Illiterate and hardly capable of Comprehending even the universal Word of God. They hold in Respect saints they call iurodivyi, a word that can be taken to mean “fools in Christ,” and in particular I have heard Stories of one Nikola of Plesko, who helped to spare that City from the wave of Confiscations and Executions visited upon Nouogrod by Ivan, from which that once-great City still has yet to recover. Moreover, in their Arrogance some Russians consider them the Sole and Natural Rulers of the Christian Realms; I have seen a letter by Philotheus of Plesko wherein he wrote that, save for Russia, “all Christian states are drowned because of the unbelievers” and that the Tsar of Moscou is “the only tsar for Christians in the whole world.”

The organization of the Russian government is that of Tyranny, most unlike the wise and welcomed rule of your most Gracious Majesty, and lacks knowledge of all the Laws needed to maintain a Just and Civilized State. The word of the Tsar is absolute, and has been for as long as the princes of Moscou have ruled the Russian lands. The rule of Law in Moscou, such as it is, is based upon the Sudebnik legal code, which in itself is no more than a Mechanism appealing to Traditional Beliefs which would permit the Emperor to concentrate a greater degree of Power in his hands and in the hands of his Court. Ivan IV is a ruler in the mold of the ancient Emperors of Rome, and indeed traces his Ancestry back to Prus, the supposed brother of the great Augustus Caesar. In his court he has surrounded himself with men of noble Status, known as boyars, who are Descended from an antique Corps of bodyguards and Cavalrymen.

These boyars are drawn from forty-six of the finest Noble families in Russia, and the Advisory Councils of Ivan’s court are staffed by them in a Hereditary manner. Though subject to the Will of the tsar, these nobles form the Foundation of the Russian Government and its Institutions. The boyar Duma, as the noble council is known, has been given Responsibility for advising the Tsar on matters of State and presiding over major Appeals to the Judiciary, and also on Occasion served as a military Planning council. Though in past Generations the boyars of Moscou enjoyed privileges which in our enlightened homeland of England are mere fading memories, with the Territories granted them ruled without Restriction save those Dictates of the Tsar and the local Peasantry the property of their Lord, recent reforms have Hardened the Tsar’s hand in this matter. This owes mainly to Ivan’s desire to further Unify his realms and to Concentrate authority in the court of Moscou, and he has of Late begun demanding Loyalty and Obedience from his nobility, uprooting them from their ancestral Lands at his whim, and taking a far more active Role in the Administration of these lands.

I have previously said that Ivan has gained a Reputation as a fearsome man, and to elaborate, I have come across Accounts of the recent Past which justify this Perception. Ivan has long had a problem with Traitorous Nobles, with some going so far as to abandon their oath of Loyalty and Defecting to the crown of Poland-Lituania. Though Ivan demonstrated his power Swiftly and Surely, stripping those nobles whom he had reason to believe were disloyal to the throne of their lands, and Forcing others to take monastic Vows. However, even this Action was not enough to convince Ivan that the problem of Treason had been solved, and so acting of his own Accord he embarked upon a most Unusual measure.

In 1565, scarcely twenty-eight Years ago, Ivan grew tired with the Traitors he believed populated the government of Moscou, gathered together his most Trusted advisors and departed the city to a second court and personal Domain north of the city. This institution was termed the oprichnina, which controlled Territory as far North as the White Sea, and served as a duplicate of the Government and Administration in Moscou, but personally controlled by Ivan himself. This oprichnina saw armed men traverse the countryside, terrorizing peasants and killing those suspected of Treason, though many were killed for no reason at all. Ivan eventually returned to rule from Moscou, but the Countryside paid a high price for his Perception of Treason.

Despite such complications of Politics, Russia remains an Attractive land to England’s merchants and traders. By taking Advantage of the great River Volga, to which I have previously alluded, our Traders can access the great markets of Persia and Arabia without traveling those Routes of which the Spanish and Portuguese have long assumed Control.21 Ivan is also greatly Enamored with the Greatness and Prosperity of your Kingdom, and as you may recall, once requested the hand of your kinswoman Lady Mary Hastings. Our Muscovy Company was given exemption from customs payments, as an Enhancement to Trade, and for all its ills Ivan’s oprichnina was steadfast in protecting the Company’s interests.

The native Commodities available for Trade in Russia are Varied. In spite of an unforgiving Climate, Russian Farmers produce a great deal of wheat, rie, barley, oates, and other Crops. It is also quite rich in Furres, and produces pelts of the Blacke fox, Bever, Wulverins, and many others in great quantity, goods which are greatly sought after in the Marketplaces of Turkie, Persia, Georgia and other nations. I have, as of late, heard reports that the adventurer Ermak has conquered parts of the khanate of Sibir, presenting the Prospect of an even Richer trade in Furres in coming Years.

My most Gracious and Glorious Sovereign, it is my supreme Hope that you have found this humble Report on the nature of Russia pleasing. Though it may be far from the Enlightened Centers of European Civilization, Russia is nonetheless Willing and Eager to develop bonds of Friendship and Understanding with our Nation. It is a Marginal land, but one of Promise, and I would hope that your Majesty will, in your Wisdom, maintain these commercial Ties to Russia and so benefit the rulers and the people of both.

Loyal I Remain to Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth of England,

Ambassador to the Court of Moscou, in the Year of our Lord Fifteen Hundred and Eighty-Three.

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