Education and Culture under Peter the Great
Two Capitals, Two Languages

The Boyars’Beards

Two boyars of the name of Buynosov and Kurnosov lived in Moscow. Their names have been famous for several generations already, their houses were beautiful and richly furnished, and both had more than a thousand serfs at their service.

Но больше всего бояре гордились своими бородами (but more than anything, the boyars were proud of their beards). And both had a long, fluffy beard. Buynosov’s one was large like a shovel, and Kurnosov’s one was long, resembling a horse’s tail.

gt;And suddenly came an decree from the Tsar: to shave all beards. При Петре заводили новые порядки: и бороды брить приказывали, и платье иноземного образца носить, и кофе пить, и табак курить (new orders were taken place under Peter the Great: Beards had to be shaved, European style clothes were to replace traditional Russian ones, people should drink coffee and smoke), and many other changes like that.

When they learned about this decree, Buynosov and Kurnosov sighed and moaned. They decided not to shave their beards, and to make sure the Tsar wouldn’t know about it, they took the decision to pretend to be sick.

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But soon after, the Tsar remembered the two nobles, and sent for them. Стали бояре спорить, кому идти первым (the two boyars argued to who would go first).

– You go first, – said Buynosov. – No, you, – answered Kurnosov.

There was a draw to decide who would go, and fate chose Buynosov. The nobleman presented himself to the Tsar, and kneeled.

– Не губи, государь (have mercy, Your Majesty), – said the nobleman, – don’t bring shame upon an old man! – Stand up! – shouted Peter. – Не в бороде, боярин, ум – в голове (intelligence is not in one’s beard, boyar, but in one’s head).

And Buynosov went down on all four and said again: “Have mercy, Your Majesty.” Peter getting angry at him, called his servants and ordered them to shave the boyar’s beard.

When Buynosov arrived back to Kurnosov, he was in tears, hiding his bare chin behind his hands, unable to tell the detail of his humiliation. Kurnosov was terrified about going to see the Tsar. He took the decision to ask advise to Menshikov, главный помощник и советник Петра (the Tsar’s personal assistant and counsellor).

– Help me, Alexander Danilych, talk to the Tsar, – asked Kurnosov.

Menshikov though for a long time how he would start this conversation with Peter the Great. At the end, he came to him and said:

– Your Majesty, what about giving a chance to bearded boyars to keep their beard in exchange of a tax? At least, this money could be of good use for your state.

And the state treasury was quite low at that time. The Tsar thought for a while and agreed. The rejoiced Kursovov hurried to pay his due, получил медный знак с надписью: “Деньги взяты” (and received a copper token with this word: “Paid”). Kurnosov wore this token around the neck, like a cross. And he would lift his beard and show it to everyone who kept on asking him why he hadn’t shave his beard.

And now Kursonov was even prouder. One year passed, the tax collector appeared again, asking for a new payment.

Как так! (how come?) – asked Kurnosov with indignation. – I’ve already paid! – and he showed his token. – Hey, the delay is passed for this token, – answered the collector. – You need a new one.

And Kurnosov paid again. And again a year later. And Kurnosov became thoughtful. He could see that soon, nothing would be left from his wealth apart from his beard.

So when the collector came back for the third time, he found Kurnosov sitted, chin bare, looking at him with a mad look. The next day Menshikov told the Tsar about it. Peter began to laugh.

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– It was necessary for them, he said, – to get used to the new order. And concerning the money, it’s you, Danilych, who wisely thought about it. С одной курносовской бороды мы получили столько денег, что можно сшить мундиры для целой дивизии (with Kurnosov beard, we received so much money, that we can sew uniform for an entire division).

Ирина Антонова