The son of Tsar Michael I and Eudoxia Stryeshnevaya, he was a youth at his father's death on July 23, 1645. Acceding to the throne, he was committed to the care of the boyarin Boris Ivanovich Morozov, a shrewd and sensible guardian, sufficiently enlightened to recognize the needs of his country, and by no means inaccessible to Western ideas. Morozov's foreign policy was pacificatory. He secured a truce with Poland and carefully avoided complications with the Ottoman Empire. His domestic policy was severely equitable, and aimed at relieving the public burdens by limiting the privileges of foreign traders and abolishing a great many useless and expensive court offices. On the 17th of January 1648 he procured the marriage of the tsar with Maria Miloslavskaya, himself marrying her sister, Anna, ten days later, both daughters of Ilya Danilovich Miloslavsky (1594 - 1668). Morozov was very unpopular however, regarded as a typical self-seeking 17th century boyar and was generally detested and blamed for sorcery and witchcraft. In May 1648 the people of Moscow rose against them, and the young Tsar was compelled to dismiss them and exile Boris to a northern monastery.
Alexei's marriage was a success, however, and she bore him thirteen children in twenty-one years of marriage: five sons and eight daughters, and died in her fourteenth childbirth. Four sons survived her, (Alexis, Fyodor, Simeon, and Ivan) but within six months two of these had died, including Alexis, the sixteen-year-old heir to the throne.
Their children were:
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In 1653 the weakness and disorder of Poland, which had just emerged from the savage Cossack war, encouraged Aleksey to attempt to recover from her secular rival the old Russian lands. On the 1st of October 1653 a national assembly met at Moscow to sanction the war and find the means of carrying it out, and in April 1654 the army was blessed by Nikon (now patriarch). The campaign of 1654 was an uninterrupted triumph, and scores of towns, including the important fortress of Smolensk, fell into the hands of the Muscovites. In January 1655 the rout of Ochmatov arrested their progress; but in the summer of the same year, the sudden invasion by Charles X of Sweden for the moment swept the Polish state out of existence; the Muscovites, unopposed, quickly appropriated nearly everything which was not already occupied by the Swedes, and when at last the Poles offered to negotiate, the whole grand-duchy of Lithuania was the least of the demands of Aleksey. Fortunately for Poland, the Tsar and the king of Sweden now quarrelled over the apportionment of the spoils, and at the end of May 1656 Aleksey, stimulated by the emperor and the other enemies of Sweden, declared war against her.
Great things were expected of the Swedish war, but nothing came of it. Dorpat was taken, but countless multitudes were lost in vain before Riga. In the meantime Poland had so far recovered herself as to become a much more dangerous foe than Sweden, and, as it was impossible to wage war with both simultaneously, the Tsar resolved to rid himself of the Swedes first. This he did by the peace of Kardis (July 2, 1661), whereby Muscovy retroceded all her conquests. The Polish war dragged on for six years longer and was then concluded by a truce, nominally for thirteen years, which proved the most durable of treaties.
By the truce of Andrusovo (February 11, 1667) Vitebsk, Polotsk and Polish Livonia were restored to Poland, but the infinitely more important Smolensk and Kiev remained in the hands of Russia together with the whole eastern bank of the Dnepr River. This truce was the achievement of Athanasy Orduin-Nashchokin, the first Russian chancellor and diplomat in the modern sense, who after the disgrace of Nikon became the Tsar's first minister till 1670, when he was superseded by the equally able Artamon Matvyeev, whose beneficent influence prevailed to the end of Aleksey's reign.
It is the crowning merit of the Tsar Aleksey that he discovered so many great men (like Nikon, Orduin, Matvyeev, the best of Peter's precursors) and suitably employed them. He was not a man of superior strength of character, or he would never have submitted to the dictation of Nikon. But, on the other hand, he was naturally, if timorously, progressive, or he would never have encouraged the great reforming boyarin Matvyeev. His education was necessarily narrow; yet he was learned in his way, wrote verses, and even began a history of his own times. His last years, notwithstanding the terrible rebellion of Stenka Razin, were deservedly tranquil.
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