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Some days, it’s hard to believe what comes out of Russia. But as the RedState Department of History sat sipping its Stolichnaya vodka this weekend while enjoying a late spring afternoon on the veranda, it was reminded of a time (actually, there are more than a few of them) when nobody really knew what was going on in Russia.

Such as, “who’s running this place, anyway?”

On this date in 1605, the first of three pretenders to the Muscovite throne was crowned — the first of three men to be known as “False Dimitry.”

Our story begins in 1598, with the end of the Rurik Dynasty. The Ruriks had ruled for 21 generations over most of Russia, a period of over 700 years. But with their collapse came a period known in Russian history as the Time of Troubles.

It’s certainly all right historically to use that term – which began with a famine from 1601-03 that killed nearly one-third of the population. Following the famine, the Russians fought, and lost, a war with Poland and Lithuania which saw large sections of the country occupied.

It was in this context that Russia entered into a chaotic period, especially when a man showed up claiming to be the lost son of the Rurik Tsar Ivan IV (known to history as “Ivan the Terrible“).

The issue to some people was that Ivan’s son, known as Dimitry Ivanovich, had died in 1591 under mysterious circumstances. To others, though, it was a miracle and as a result a controversy ensued.

Boris Godunov, who sat on the throne after the death of the last Rurik emperor (his brother in law) naturally didn’t agree, and banished the pretender in 1601. That didn’t stop Our Dimitry, though, and a man now believed to be Grigory Bogdanovich Otrepyev, a member of the Russian gentry, was crowned on this date in 1605 upon the sudden death of Tsar Boris.

Soon Otrepyev became known as the “False Dimitry” and, like so many other rulers of Russia, things didn’t end well for him.  Despite his supporters murdering Tsar Boris’ infant son and heir to give him clear title to the throne, “Dimitry” alienated the Russian court by preferring the Poles who had accompanied him to Moscow. This, among other reasons, resulted in his assassination just a year later.

Otrepyev was succeeded by the man who killed him, Vasily Shuysky. Yet Vasily was not popular with Poles and Lithuanians, so when another man showed up claiming to be Dimitry — who for official purposes, could now have been said to have died twice — he earned great support in Poland, Lithuania and southern Russia. In 1608 he set up his own government in the village of Tushino and rivaled Tsar Vasily in influence. He was thereafter known as the “Thief of Tushino”.

False Dimitry II sent raiding parties to ravage northern Russia until ejected by the Tsar’s forces (and help from Sweden) in 1610. The second “False Dimitry” was wounded on a horseback ride by a courtier he had previously ordered flogged, and eventually died in 1610.

Never one to let a good con work only twice, it was only one year before a third False Dimitry, known as Sidorka, surfaced. This man was a deacon of the church and in 1611, he made his claim to the throne from the city of Pskov — naturally becoming known as the “Thief of Pskov” — but was betrayed and executed in Moscow just one year later.

Russia was fighting a war with Poland while all this was going on, so indeed, it was a Time of Troubles in the country. The next year, though, order was restored through a new dynasty — the Romanovs.

Though, come to think of it, things didn’t really work out well for them, either, did they?

Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!