Boris Godunov, was the ruler of Russia directly before the Time of Troubles. While this in and of itself is bad enough it is his 1597 decree which tied the peasants to the land, thereby officially legitimizing serfdom that places him on this list of worst Russian rulers. His rule though had a number of positives but his edict tying the peasantry to the land trumps any good he did.
Born in 1551, Boris Godunov’s family was of Tatar origin being descendants of the Mongol Horde. We first learn about him in 1570 when he is mentioned as an archer of the guard during a campaign in Serpeisk. He became an oprichnik, a member of the secret police. Boris eventually married Maria Grigorievna Skuratova-Belskaya daughter of the head of the Oprichnina which benefited his career.
Eventually Boris Godunov made his way into the court of Ivan the Terrible because of the marriage between Boris’s daughter Irina Godunova and the Tsar’s second son and future Tsar Feodor. It was an unusual match as Feodor was only 14 and Irina was 24 which was considered old for a marriage. It is likely that it was because of his feeble mindedness that a women of her age was chosen. At the time of the wedding in 1580 Boris Godunov was elevated to the position of boyar.
Before his death Ivan the Terrible, decided that a council led by Boris Godunov, Feodor Nikitich Romanov, Vasili Shuiski would guide his weak minded son. This effectively put a great deal of power into Boris’s hands as his daughter was the new Tsar’s wife. When Tsar Feodor died in 1598 there was one person who was left related to Ivan IV and that was his child Dmitri. The church did not recognize the relation as it was Ivan’s child from his 7th wife but Godunov took no chances. He had the child and mother sent into exile but a few years later the child died. The manner of his death, self-inflicted stabbing while having a seizure was questionable at best.
A Zemsky Sobor was held to choose a new Tsar and Boris Godunov was selected. His reign, which lasted from 1598 to 1605 started out as a prosperous time but that changed with the famine times between 1601-1603. The Tsar was blamed for the bad times as many believed it was punishment for the murder of Dmitri. When Godunov died in 1605 few mourned his passing. The country quickly disintegrated into chaos and plunged into war against competing factions for control of Russia.