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Tsar Ivan IV, called "the dreadful, " left two sons at his death in 1584. Dimitri, from Ivan's seventh marriage, was only two years old and unrecognized by the Orthodox Church, so his 27-year-old half-brother Fyodor was named Ivan's successor. But Fyodor I was mentally retarded and de facto incapable of independent government decisions. A regency council of five princes ruled for him. One of this circle, Boris Godunov, succeeded in gradually eliminating his competitors and gaining more and more influence. Fjodor died childless on January 7, 1598. Now Boris Godunov openly seized power.

He was assisted by Jove, Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia, who considered Godunov to be a capable regent and also owed him the increase of the Archdiocese of Moscow to a patriarchate. Boris Godunov was in February 1598 by the Russian Estates Representation (Semski Sobor) choose and proclaim the Tsar; his coronation took place on 1 September. Dimitri Ivanovich, however, had died of a stab wound in 1591 under unclear circumstances. The Czar had ordered his assassination, asserted an increasingly strong nobility opposition, which, despite its foreign policy and economic success, was no longer silent. A mass starvation crisis and the appearance of a "false Dimitri" who claimed the Tsar's throne plunged Godunov's rule into a deep crisis, during which he died unexpectedly in 1605.

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