Grigori Kotoshikhin on the Education of the Princes and on on the Private Life of the Boyars

[excerpted from Anthology of Russian Literature From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Leo Wiener, ed. and Tr. Pt. 1 (New York, 1902), pp. 135-136]


For the bringing up of the Tsarevich or Tsarevna they select from among the women of all ranks a good, pure, sweet-tempered and healthy woman, and that woman resides for a year in the Upper Palace, in the apartments of the Tsaritsa. At the expiration of the year, the husband of that woman, if she be of noble origin, is made governor of a city, or receives some lands in perpetuity; if she be a scribe's, or some other serving-man's wife, he is promoted and granted a goodly salary; if he be a countryman, he is given a good sum, and both are freed from the taxes and other imposts of the Tsar during their whole lives. The Tsarevich and Tsarevna have also a chief-nurse to look after them, a distinguished boyar's wife, -- an old widow, and a nurse and other servants. When the Tsarevich reaches the
age of five, he is put in the keeping of a renowned boyar, a quiet and wise man, and the latter has for a companion a man from the lower ranks; they also choose from among the children of the boyars a few of the same age as the Tsarevich, to be his servants and butlers. When the time arrives to teach the Tsarevich to read and write, they select teachers from the instructed people, who are of a quiet disposition and not given to drinking; the teacher of writing is chosen from among the Legation scribes; they receive instruction in Russia in no other language, neither Latin, Greek, German nor any other, except Russian.

The Tsareviches and Tsarevnas have each separate apartments and servants to look after them. No one is permitted to see the Tsarevich before his fifteenth year, except those people who serve him, and the boyars and Near People[1]; but after fifteen years he is shown to all people, as his father goes with him to church or to entertainments. When the people find out that he has been presented, they come on purpose from many cities to get a look at him. As the Tsareviches, when they are young, and the elder and younger Tsarevnas go to church, there are borne cloth screens all around them, so that they cannot be seen; likewise, they cannot be seen when they stand in church, except by the clergy, for they are surrounded in church with taffeta, and there are few people in church during that time but boyars and Near People. Similarly, when they travel to the monasteries to pray, their carriages are covered with taffeta. For their winter rides, the Tsaritsa and Tsarevnas use kaptanas, that is, sleighs in the shape of small huts that are covered with velvet or red cloth, with doors at both sides, with mica windows and taffeta curtains; for their summer rides they use kolymagas that are also covered with cloth; these are entered by steps and are made like simple carts on wheels, and not like carriages that hang down on leather straps. These kolymagas and kaptanas have two shafts, and are without an axle; only one horse is hitched in them, with other horses in tandem.


Boyars and Near People live in their houses, both of stone and wood, that are not well arranged; their wives and children live all in separate rooms. Only a few of the greater boyars have their own churches in their courts; and those of the high and middle boyars who have no churches of their own, but who are permitted to have priests at their houses, have the matins and vespers and other prayers said in their own apartments, but they attend mass in any church they may choose; they never have the mass in their own houses. The boyars and Near People pay their priests a yearly salary, according to agreement; if the priests are married people, they receive a monthly allowance of food and drink, but the widowed priests eat at the same table with their boyars.

On church holidays, and on other celebrations, such as name days, birthdays and christenings, they frequently celebrate together.

It is their custom to prepare simple dishes, without seasoning, without berries, or sugar, without pepper, ginger or other spices, and they are little salted and without vinegar. They place on the table one dish at a time; the other dishes are brought from the kitchen and are held in the hands by the servants. The dishes that have little vinegar, salt and pepper are seasoned at the table; there are in all fifty to one hundred such dishes.

The table manners are as follows: before dinner the hosts order their wives to come out and greet their guests. When the women come, they place themselves in the hall, or room, where the guests are dining, at the place of honour,[2] and the guests stand at the door; the women greet the guests with the small salute,[3] but the guests bow to the ground. Then the host makes a low obeisance to his guests and bids them kiss his wife. At the request of his guests, the host kisses his wife first; then the guests make individual bows and, stepping forward, kiss his wife and, walking back again, bow to her once more; she makes the small salute each time she kisses a guest. Then the hostess brings each guest a glass of double- or treble-spiced brandy, the size of the glass being a fourth, or a little more, of a quart. The host makes as many low obeisances as there are guests, asking each one in particular to partake of the brandy which his wife is offering them. By the request of the guests, the host bids his wife to drink first, then he drinks himself, and then the guests are served; the guests make a low obeisance before drinking, and also after they have drunk and as they return the glass. To those that do not drink brandy, a cup of Rumney or Rhine wine, or some other liquor, is offered.

After this drinking the hostess makes a bow to the guests and retires to her apartments to meet her guests, the wives of the boyars. The hostess and the wives of the guests never dine with the men, except at weddings; an exception is also made when the guests are near relatives and there are no outsiders present at the dinner. During the dinner, the host and guests drink after every course a cup of brandy, or Rumney or Rhine wine, and spiced and pure beer, and various kinds of meads. When they bring the round cakes to the table, the host's daughters-in-law, or married daughters, or the wives of near relatives come into the room, and the guests rise and, leaving the table, go to the door and salute the women; then the husbands of the women salute them, and beg the guests to kiss their wives and drink the wine they offer. The guests comply with their request and return to the table, while the women go back to their apartments. After dinner the host and guests drink more freely each other's healths, and drive home again. The boyars' wives dine and drink in the same manner in their own apartments, where there are no men present.

When a boyar or Near Man is about to marry off his son, or himself, or a brother, or nephew, or daughter, or sister, or niece, he, having found out where there is a marriageable girl, sends his friends, men or women, to the father of that girl, to say that such and such a one had sent them to inquire whether he would be willing to give his daughter or relative to him or his relative, and what the girl's dowry would be in the trousseau, money, patrimony and serfs. If the person addressed is willing to give him his daughter, or relative, be replies to the inquiry that he intends to marry off the girl, only he has to consider the matter with his wife and family, and that he will give a definite answer on a certain day; but if he does not wish to give him the girl, knowing that he is a drunkard, or fast, or has some other bad habit, he will say at once that he will not give him the girl, or he will find some excuse for refusing the request.

Having taken counsel with his wife and family, and having decided to give him the girl, he makes a detailed list of her dowry, in money, silver and other ware, dresses, patrimony and serfs, and sends it to the people who had come to him from the prospective bridegroom, and they, in their turn, take it to the bridegroom. Nothing is told of the matter to the prospective bride, who remains in ignorance thereof.

The dowry of the bride appearing satisfactory, the groom sends his people to the bride's parents, to ask them to present the girl. The bride's parents reply that they are willing to show their daughter, only not to the prospective groom, but to his father, mother, sister or near female relative, in whom the groom may have special confidence. On the appointed day the groom sends his mother or sister to inspect the bride; the bride's parents make preparations for that day, attire their daughter in a fine garment, invite their relatives to dinner, and seat their daughter at the table.

When the inspectress arrives, she is met with the honour due her, and is placed at the table near the bride. Sitting at the table, the inspectress converses with the girl on all kinds of subjects, in order to try her mind and manner of speech, and closely watches her face, eyes and special marks, in order to bring a correct report to the bridegroom; having stayed a short time, she returns to the bridegroom. If the inspectress takes no liking to the bride, having discovered that she is silly, or homely, or has imperfect eyes, or is lame, or a poor talker, and so reports to the groom, he gives her up, and that is the last of it. But if the bride has found favour in the inspectress's eyes, and she tells the groom that the girl is good and clever, and perfect in speech and all things, the groom sends his former friends again to the girl's parents, telling them that he likes their daughter, and that he wishes to come to a parley to write the marriage contract, in order to marry her on a certain date. The bride's parents send word to the groom through his trusted people that he should come to the parley with a few of his friends in whom he has most confidence on a certain day, in the forenoon or afternoon.

On the appointed day the groom puts on his best clothes, and drives with his father, or near relatives, or friends whom he loves best to the bride's parents. Upon arrival, the bride's parents and her near relatives meet them with due honour, after which they go into the house and seat themselves according to rank. Having sat a while, the groom's father or other relative remarks that they have come for the good work, as he has bid them: the host answers that he is glad to see them, and that he is ready to take up the matter. Then both sides begin to discuss all kinds of marriage articles and to set the day for the wedding according to how soon they can get ready for it, in a week, a month, half a year, a year, or even more. Then they enter their names and the bride's name and the names of witnesses in the marriage contract, and it is agreed that he is to take the girl on a certain date, without fail, and that the girl is to be turned over to him on that date, without fail; and it is provided in that contract that if the groom does not take the girl on the appointed day, or the father will not give him his daughter on that day, the offending party has to pay 1000, Or 5000, or 10,000, roubles, as the agreement may be. Having stayed a while, and having eaten and drunk, they return home, without having seen the bride, and without the bride having seen the groom; but the mother, or married sister, or wife of some relative comes out to present the groom with some embroidery from the bride.

If after that parley the groom finds out something prejudicial to the bride, or someone interested in the groom tells him that she is deaf, or mute, or maimed, or has some other bad characteristic, and the groom does not want to take her, -and the parents of the bride complain about it to the Patriarch that he has not taken the girl according to the marriage articles, and does not want to take her, and thus has dishonoured her; or the bride's parents, having found out about the groom that he is a drunkard, or diceplayer, or maimed, or has done something bad, will not give him their daughter, and the groom complains to the Patriarch,--the Patriarch institutes an inquiry, and the fine is collected from the guilty party according to the contract, and is given to the groom or bride, as the case may be; and then both may marry whom they please.

But if both parties carry out their agreement, and get ready for the wedding on the appointed day, then the groom invites to the wedding his relatives and such other people as he likes, to be his ceremonial guests, in the same manner as I described before about the Tsar's wedding[4]; on the part of the bride the guests are invited in the same way. On the day of the wedding tables are set at the houses of the groom and bride, and the word being given the groom that it is time to fetch the bride, they all set out according to the ceremonial rank: First the bread- men carry bread on a tray, then, if it be summer, the priest with the cross rides on horseback, but in winter in a sleigh; then follow the boyars, the thousand-man, and the groom.

Having reached the court of the bride's house, they enter the hall in ceremonial order, and the bride's father and his guests meet them with due honour, and the order of the wedding is the same as described in the Tsar's wedding. When the time arrives to drive to church to perform the marriage, the bride's maids ask her parents to give the groom and bride their blessing for the marriage. They bless them with words, but before leaving bless them with a holy image, and, taking their daughter's hand, give her to the groom.

Then the ceremonial guests, the priest, and the groom with his bride, whose hand he is holding, go out of the hall, and her parents and their guests accompany them to the court; the groom places the bride in a kolymaga or kaptana, mounts a horse, or seats himself in a sleigh; the ceremonial guests do likewise, and all drive to the church where they are to be married. The bride's parents and their guests return to the hall, where they eat and drink until news is brought from the groom; the bride is accompanied only by her own and the bridegroom's go-betweens. The two having been united, the whole troop drives to the groom's house, and news is sent to the bride's father that they have been propitiously married. When they arrive at the groom's court, the groom's parents and their guests meet them, and the parents, or those who are in their stead, bless them with the images, and offer them bread and salt, and then all seat themselves at the table and begin to eat, according to the ceremony; and then the bride is unveiled.

The next morning the groom drives out with the bride'smaid to call the guests, those of his and the bride's, to dinner. When he comes to the bride's parents, he thanks them for their having well brought up their daughter, and for having given her to him in perfect health; after having made the round to all the guests, he returns home. When all the guests have arrived, the bride offers gifts to all the ceremonial guests. Before dinner the groom goes with all the company to the palace to make his obeisance to the Tsar. Having arrived in the presence of the Tsar, all make a low obeisance, and the Tsar, without taking off his cap, asks the married couple's health. The groom bows to the ground, and then the Tsar congratulates those who are united in legitimate wedlock, and blesses the married pair with images, and he presents them with forty sables, and for their garments a bolt of velvet, and atlas, and gold-coloured silk, and calamanco, and simple taffeta, and a silver vessel, a pound and a half to two pounds in weight, to each of them; but the bride is not present at the audience. Then the Tsar offers the thousand-man, and bridegroom, and the ceremonial guests a cup of Rumney wine, and then a pitcher of cherry wine, and after they have emptied their wine the Tsar dismisses them.

After arriving home, they begin to eat and drink, and after the dinner the parents and guests bless the married couple with images and make them all kinds of presents, and after dinner the guests drive home. On the third day, the bride and groom and the guests go to dinner to the bride's parents, with all their guests, and after the dinner the bride's parents and their guests make presents to the married couple, and they drive home; and that is the end of the festivity.

During the time that the groom is in the presence of the Tsar, the bride sends in her name presents to the Tsaritsa and Tsarevnas, tidies of taffeta, worked with gold and silver and pearls; the Tsaritsa and Tsarevnas accept these gifts, and send to inquire about the bride's health.

During all the wedding festivities, no women are present, and there is no music, except blowing of horns and beating of drums. The proceeding is the same when a widowed daughter, or sister, or niece is married off : the ceremonial and the festivity are the same.

In the beginning of the festivity, the priest who is to marry the pair receives from the Patriarch and the authorities a permit, with the seal attached to it, to marry them, having first ascertained that the bride and groom are not related by sponsorship, nor by the ties of consanguinity in the sixth and seventh generation, nor that he is the husband of a fourth wife, nor she the wife of a fourth husband; but if he discover that they are related by sponsorship, and so forth, he is not allowed to marry them. Should the priest permit such an unlawful marriage to take place, with his knowledge or without his knowledge, he would be discharged from his priesthood and, if he was knowingly guilty, he has to pay a big fine, and the authorities lock him up for a year; but the married pair is divorced, without being fined, except the sin which they have incurred, and if they have not been previously married three times, they may marry again.

If a widower wants to marry a maiden, the ceremonial at the wedding is the same, but during the wreathing in church the wreath is placed on the groom's right shoulder, whereas the bride wears her wreath upon her head; if a widower for the third time marries a maiden, the ceremonial is the same, but the wreath is placed on the groom's left shoulder, and the bride wears hers upon her head. The same is done when a widow marries for the second or third time. But when a widower marries for the second or third time a widow, then there is no wreathing, and only a prayer is said instead of the wreathing, and the wedding ceremonial is different from the one mentioned above.

The manner of the parley, marriage and ceremonial wedding is the same with the lower orders of the nobility as described above, and the wedding is as sumptuous as they can afford to make it, but they do not call upon the Tsar, except those of his retinue.

Among the merchants and peasants the parley and the ceremonial are exactly the same, but they differ in their acts and dresses from the nobility, each according to his means.

It sometimes happens that a father or mother has two or three daughters, where the eldest daughter is maimed, being blind, or lame, or deaf, or mute, while the other sisters are perfect in shape and beauty and speech. When a man begins to sue for their daughter, and he sends his mother, or sister, or someone else in whom he has confidence to inspect her, the parents sometimes substitute the second or third daughter for their maimed sister, giving her the name of the latter, so that the inspectress, not knowing the deceit, takes a liking to the girl and reports to the groom that she is a proper person to marry. Then the groom, depending upon her words, has a parley with the girl's parents, that be is to marry her upon an appointed day, and that the parents are to give her to him upon the appointed day, and the fine is set so high that the guilty party is not able to pay it. When the wedding takes place, the parents turn over to him the maimed daughter, whose name is given in the articles of marriage, but who is not the one the inspectresses had seen. But the groom cannot discover on the wedding day that she is blind, or disfigured, or has some other defect, or that she is deaf or mute, for at the wedding she is veiled and does not say a word, nor can he know whether she is lame, because her bride's maids lead her under her arms.

But in that case the man who has been deceived complains to the Patriarch and authorities, and these take the articles of marriage and institute an inquiry among the neighbours and housefolk, each one individually, whether the person he had married is the one indicated by name in the marriage articles. If so, the articles are valid, and no faith is to be put in his contention, on the ground that it was his business to be sure whom he was going to marry. But if the neighbours and housefolk depose that the bride is not the same as mentioned by name in the articles, the married pair is divorced, and the parents have to pay a large fine and damages to the groom, and besides the father is beaten with the knout, or his punishment is even more severe, according to the Tsar's will.

The same punishment is meted out to the man who presents his serving maid or a widow in place of his unmarried daughter, by giving her another name and dressing her up so as to look like his daughter, or when his daughter is of short stature and they place her on a high chair in such a way that her defect is not noticeable.

When parents have maimed or old daughters, and no one wants to marry them, they are sent to a monastery to be shorn nuns.

When a man wants to inspect the bride himself, and the parents grant the request, knowing that she is fair and that they need not be ashamed of her, but the groom, having taken no liking to her, decries her with damaging and injurious words, and thus keeps other suitors away from her, -and the bride's parents complain to the Patriarch or authorities: these institute an inquiry, and having found the man guilty, marry him to the girl by force; but if he has married another girl before the complaint has been entered, the girl's disgrace is taken from her by an ukase.

When a man marries off his daughter or sister, and gives her a large dowry in serfs and patrimony, and that daughter or sister, having borne no children, or having borne some who have all died, dies herself,the dowry is all taken from her husband and is turned over to those who had married her off. But if she leaves a son or daughter, the dowry is, for the sake of her child, not taken from her husband.

Gentle reader! Wonder not, it is nothing but the truth when I say that nowhere in the whole world is there such deception practised with marriageable girls as in the kingdom of Muscovy; there does not exist there the custom, as in other countries, for the suitor to see and sue for the bride himself.

The boyars and Near People have in their houses 100, or 200, or 300, or 500, or 1000 servants, male and female, according to their dignity and possessions. These servants receive a yearly salary, if they are married, 2, 3, 5 or 10 roubles, according to their services, and their wearing apparel, and a monthly allowance of bread and victuals; they live in their own rooms in the court of the boyar's house. The best of these married servants are sent out by the boyars every year, by rotation, to their estates and villages, with the order to collect from their peasants the taxes and rents. The unmarried older servants receive some small wages, but the younger ones receive nothing; all the unmarried servants get their wearing apparel, hats, shirts and boots; the older of these servants live in the farther lower apartments, and receive their food and drink from the kitchen; on holidays they receive two cups of brandy each. The female servants who are widows remain living in the houses of their husbands, and they receive a yearly wage and a monthly allowance of food; other widows and girls stay in the rooms of the boyars' wives and daughters, and they receive their wearing apparel, and their food from the boyar's kitchen.

When these girls are grown up, the boyars marry them, and also the widows, to some one of their servants to whom they have taken a liking, but sometimes by force. The wedding takes place in the boyar's hall, according to the rank of the marrying parties; the food and festive dresses are furnished by the boyar. The girls are never married to any person outside the boyar's court, because both male and female servants are his perpetual serfs. In the boyar's house there is an office for all domestic affairs, where an account is kept of income and expenses, and all the affairs of the servants and peasants are investigated and settled.


[1] A division of nobility below the boyars.

[2] In the front corner, under the holy images.

[3] Bending as far as the girdle.

[4]"The wedding ceremony is as follows: on the Tsar's side the first order is the father and mother, or those who are in place of his parents; the second order, the travellers,--the chief priest with the cross, the thousand-man, who is a great personage in that procession, and then the Tsar : eight boyars. The duties of the travellers are as follows: they stay with the Tsar and Tsaritsa at the crowning in church, and at the table occupy higher places than the others; the friends (druzhka), whose duty it is to call the guests to the wedding, to make speeches at the wedding in the name of the thousand-man and Tsar, and to carry presents; the bride's maids (svakha) whose duty it is to watch the Tsaritsa, to dress her and undress her ; the candleholder, who holds the candle when they get the Tsaritsa ready for the crowning ; the breadholders, who carry the bread on litters to and from church (these litters are covered with gold velvet and embroidered cloth and sable furs ; the equerry with his suite. The third order is the sitting boyars, twelve men and twelve women, who sit as guests at the tables, with the Tsar's parents, but do not go to church with the Tsar. The fourth order is of the court, who attend to the food and drink."