ARTAMON SERGEYEVICH MATVEYEV (1625–1682)

220px-Matveyev_Artamon_portrait

Military officer, diplomat, courtier, boyar.

The son of a non-noble bureaucrat, Artamon Matveyev began his career at the age of thirteen as a court page and companion to the future Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. He soon became colonel of a musketeer regiment and traveled much of Russia and its borderlands on military and diplomatic missions. He helped negotiate the union of Ukraine with Russia in 1654, defended the tsar in the Copper Riots of 1662, and guarded many foreign embassies, including the clerics arriving to judge Patriarch Nikon in 1666 and 1667. By 1669, although still a musketeer colonel, he had become a stolnik (table attendant, a high court rank), namestnik (honorary governor-general) of Serpukhov, and head of the Ukrainian Chancellery (Malorossysky Prikaz).

Soon his fortunes rose even higher. After the death of Tsaritsa Maria Miloslavskaya, the tsar is said to have visited Matveyev’s home and met the family’s foster daughter Natalia Naryshkina, whom he married. This made Matveyev the tsar’s de facto father-in-law, traditionally a very powerful position in Muscovite politics. He quickly added leadership of the Department of Foreign Affairs or Posolsky Prikaz (in effect becoming Russia’s prime minister), several other diplomatic or regional departments, and the State Pharmacy to his Ukrainian Chancellery post. He skillfully formulated foreign policy and dealt with governments as diverse as England, Poland, the Vatican, Persia, China, and Bukhara. He also improved Russia’s medical facilities, headed publishing, mining, and industrial ventures for the tsar, and organized the creation of a Western-style court theater.

Foreign visitors noted his diverse responsibilities. They often referred to him as “factotum,” the man who does everything. They also remarked on his knowledge of and interest in their societies. A patron of education and the arts, he kept musicians in his home, had his son taught Latin, and collected foreign books, clocks, paintings, and furniture. He remained close to the tsar, although he rose slowly through the higher ranks. At the birth of the future Peter the Great in 1672, he was made okolnichy (majordomo), and in 1674 he received the highest Muscovite court rank, boyar.

With the sudden death of Tsar Alexei in 1676, things changed. The succession of sickly fourteen-year-old Tsar Fyodor brought the Miloslavsky family back into power. Matveyev immediately began to lose posts, prominence, and respect. During his journey into “honorable exile”—provincial governorship in Siberia—he was convicted of sorcery. He was stripped of rank and possessions and exiled, first to the prison town of Pustozersk and later to Mezen. Tsar Fyodor’s death and Peter’s accession in 1682 brought Matveyev back to Moscow in triumph, but only days later he was killed when pro- Miloslavsky rioters surged through the capital.

Because of his decades of service, his prominence, fall, and dramatic death, and a collection of autobiographical letters from exile, Matveyev received frequent and generally favorable attention from Russian writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Their works ranged from scholarly biographies and articles to poems, plays, and children’s books. He became less visible in the twentieth century, when Soviet historians lost interest in supporters of the old regime. To date there has been only fragmentary treatment of his life in English.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Bushkovitch, Paul. (2001). Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671–1725. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

 

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