Story of Russia - R. Van Bergen

Lithuania and Moscow



We have seen that the Tartar invasion stopped short of Novgorod, and turned southeast, thus leaving northwest Russia free. What are now known as the Baltic Provinces, was at that time covered with dense forests, inhabited by the Finns or Suomi, the Tchouds, Jmouds, and Lithuanians, all of the same race and speaking the same language, but constantly at war with one another. In the 13th century a chief named Mindvog, after killing his brothers and sons, united the tribes, and made himself master of Lithuania. He then invaded Russia whose dukes, suffering under the Tartar yoke, were unable to withstand him. He captured Grodno and Novogredek, when he was confronted by Alexander Nevsky and Daniel of Volhynia in front, and by the Knights of Livonia in his rear. In this extremity Mindvog sent to the Pope promising that he would be converted in return for his good services. Pope Innocent IV replied by sending a papal legate to Grodno, where Mindvog and his wife were baptized, and he was made King of Lithuania (1252). Soon after he had a dispute with the Livonian Knights to whom he was forced to cede the country of the Jmouds. He again became a pagan and, marching against the Knights, defeated them. Upon his return from this expedition, he was murdered by a chief named Dovmont whom he had injured. Lithuania again fell into anarchy until another enterprising chief named Gedimin restored order in 1315.

Gedimin invaded Russia, defeated a Russo-Tartar army in 1321, and took Tchernigof and Vladimir. He then went south, where the Russian cities readily opened their gates to him, hoping for relief from the Mongol yoke. He took the old capital Kief, and there had his sons baptized in the Greek church and tried to marry them into the families of Russian dukes. He established his capital at Wilna where he attracted many German artists and mechanics by granting them special privileges. He died a pagan, in 1340, dividing his country among his sons and his brother.

One of his sons, Olgerd, succeeded in getting possession of the whole, and then started upon a career of conquest. He first attacked Novgorod, where one of his brothers had taken refuge, and made conquests east and south, until he reached the Black Sea. Although he was a pagan, Simeon the Proud, Grand Duke of Moscow, gave him his daughter; but this did not prevent Olgerd from waging war with Simeon's successors. In 1368, he defeated the Tartars of the Lower Dneiper, and destroyed Cherson in the Crimea.

When he died he followed Gedimin's example by dividing his territories among his sons, but one of them, Jagellon, became sole ruler by putting his brothers to flight and his uncle to death. At this time the Russian language was adopted and with it the Greek Church, although Jagellon was still a pagan. When he married Hedwiga, the heiress to the Kingdom of Poland, he embraced the Roman Catholic church; in 1386, he went to Cracow, where the was crowned King of Poland, and soon after gave orders that his people must join the same church, converting them as Vladimir had introduced Christianity among the people of Kief. Jagellon made Cracow his capital. Some time afterwards one of his cousins, Vitovt, raised a revolt against him in Lithuania, and Jagellon was compelled to cede that territory to him. Thus Vitovt became Grand Duke of Lithuania.

Vitovt married the sister of Vassili, Grand Duke of Moscow, and extended his domain toward the east. He invaded Smolensk, whose Grand Duke Sviatoslaf, when fighting in Russia, had taken a delight in impaling and burning alive Russian women and children. That savage had been killed in 1387, in a battle with the Lithuanians, and his son had succeeded him. Vitovt, before Smolensk, invited this prince and his brothers to visit him in his tent. They accepted and were warmly received, but when they were ready to depart, they were told that they were prisoners of war. Smolensk was taken by surprise, and pillaged.

Vitovt contemplated the conquest of Russia. His territory bordered in the east on Souzdal and Riazan. He had defeated an army of Tartars in the south, and was making preparations for a hold stroke. Collecting an army of Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, and five hundred Knights of the Teutonic Order, the set out from Kief and came upon the Tartar army near Pultowa where, in 1300, he suffered a serious defeat. He recovered from this blow, and after some time began a war with the Teutonic Order which he defeated in 1410, at the battle of the Tannenberg. He thereupon re-annexed the Jmoud country.

Vitovt had given up his designs upon Russia; he planned to raise Lithuania into a kingdom, and to have a Metropolitan of its own, instead of being dependent upon the head of the Greek Church at Moscow. He succeeded in the last-named object, but met with a check in the former, and, as he was eighty years old, the disappointment caused an illness from which he died, in 1430. After his death, Lithuania had no more influence upon Russia. Sometimes it had a grand duke of its own, at other times it was united with Poland. In 1501, it became the property of the King of Poland, who added to his title that of Grand Duke of Lithuania. Its nobles spoke the Polish language.

It was necessary to sketch in a few words the history of Lithuania, not only because it is part of Russia to-day, but because it has always been claimed by Russia. The history of that country, however, from the beginning of the 14th century, is centered about Muscovia, the territory of the Grand Duke of Moscow. At the time of the Lithuanian conquest, Muscovia was bounded on the north by Tver, on the east by Souzdal, on the south by Riazan, and on the west by Lithuania. It belonged to Alexander Nevski, who at his death left it to his son Daniel. Its area was increased by him by the towns of Peréiaslaf, Zabiesski and Kolomma. Daniel died in 1303, and was buried in the church of St. Michael the Archangel, which remained the burial place of the Muscovite princes until the time of Peter the Great.

The next grand duke was Daniel's son George, whose first act was to capture the Duke of Smolensk from whom he took the town of Mojaisk. In 1304 the Grand Duke of Souzdal died. Michael of Tver claimed the succession as the eldest of the family, but George of Moscow contested it. Michael was supported by the boyards of Vladimir and the people of Novgorod; the khan at Saraï also declared in his favor, and Michael was installed. George, however, was not satisfied and began a war; he was defeated in battle, and twice besieged in Moscow. Suddenly he heard that the khan was dead; he hastened to Saraï, and there made friends with the new Khan Uzbeck, who gave him his sister Kontchaka in marriage, and ordered that George should have possession of Souzdal. He returned to Moscow with a Tartar army and Michael, considering the odds, proposed to cede Vladimir on condition that his own patrimony of Tver should remain intact. George refused, and the war broke out anew. Michael defeated him and captured Kontchaka and the Tartar general, but he released his prisoners, and the dispute was again brought before the khan. George took good care to be at Saraï, and having ample means at his disposal from his poll-tax collecting, distributed bribes right and left. Michael, confident in the justice of his cause, committed the mistake of sending his twelve year-old son in charge of high boyards, to represent him; but when he was informed of George's methods, he, too, proceeded to Saraï, after making his will. Upon his arrival, he was accused of having drawn his sword upon the Khan's envoy, and of having poisoned Kontchaka. Uzbeck would not even listen to such absurd complaints, but George invented other falsehoods, and at last Michael was arrested. The khan went on a hunting trip in the Caucasus, and the wretched Duke of Tver was dragged after him in chains. One day he was put in the pillory in the market of a populous town, where the people crowded around him to look at the man who, a short time before, was a powerful prince in his own country. Michaels boyards urged him to escape, but he dreaded the khan's vengeance upon his family and people. George increased his bribes, and thus secured the order that Michael should be put to death.

One of Michael's pages came to the tent occupied by him, and told him that George and a Tartar general were approaching. "I know what their object is." said the unfortunate duke. He at once sent his young son to one of the khan's wives, who had promised to protect the child. The two men came to the tent and ordered the Tver boyards to leave. Hired assassins were called in, and a Russian ruffian named Romanetz stabbed the unfortunate duke. When George and the Tartar entered, they saw the nude corpse; it had been despoiled. The Tartar was shocked. "What!" he cried, "Will you allow the body of your uncle to be outraged!" George only smiled; but one of his attendants threw a cloak over the murdered man.

When Michael's children grew up, one of his sons, Dmitri of the Terrible Eyes, secured some friends at the khan's court. He obtained the title of grand duke, and a baskak received orders to install him. When George heard this, he hurried to Saraï; there the two men met, and Dmitri, drawing his sword, killed his father's murderer (1325). Dmitri was arrested and put to death by order of the khan, but his brother Alexander was permitted to succeed him at Tver.

This duke was in sympathy with the people. Suffering under the oppression of the Tartar tax collectors, the people revolted under the leadership of Alexander. The palace of the baskak was attacked, and he and his attendants were killed. Uzbeck, incited by Ivan Kalita, George's brother and successor at Moscow, prepared to take revenge, when Ivan volunteered to punish Tver, as well as Riazan and Novgorod which had given evidence of sympathy. The offer was accepted, and Ivan at the head of a Muscovite army reënforced by 50,000 Tartars marched upon the doomed city. Alexander and his brothers fled. Tver and two other cities were sacked, the Duke of Riazan was put to death, and Novgorod had to pay a heavy fine. Ivan thought that his services would procure him Tver and Riazan, but Uzbeck did not intend to extend the power of the treacherous family, and Constantine, another son of Michael, was made Duke of Tver. He and Ivan went to Saraï, where the latter was ordered to bring Alexander before the khan. The prince had found an asylum in Pskof, where Ivan's messengers appeared to demand his surrender. The envoys urged him to give himself up under the plea "not to expose a Christian people to the wrath of the infidels." The people of Pskof thought otherwise. "Do not go to the Horde, my lord," said they; "whatever happens, we will die with you." Alexander refused to obey the summons, and the people of Pskof began to construct a new fort. Ivan Kalita, the Grand Duke of Moscow, persuaded the Metropolitan to place Alexander and Pskof under the ban of the Church, which was done. We see here a Christian prince persecuting a relative, and a Christian priest excommunicating a Christian people, all to please an infidel conqueror! Still the people of Pskof refused to yield, but Alexander left the city and took refuge in Lithuania. Then Pskof informed Ivan of his departure, saying, "Alexander is gone; all Pskof swears it, from the smallest to the greatest, popes, monks, nuns, orphans, women, and children." (1329.)

Some years afterwards an attempt was made by Alexander to recover Tver. He went to Saraï with some of his boyards. There he made submission. "Lord, all-powerful Czar," he said, "if I have done anything against you, I have come hither to receive of you life or death. Do as God inspires you; I am ready for either." Uzbeck pardoned him and Alexander returned to Tver. This did not please Ivan Kalita, who knew that he was hated everywhere, and that his enemies only needed a leader. He went to Saraï where he told Uzbeck that Alexander was a very dangerous enemy to the Tartars. Alexander was summoned to appear and when he complied, he was arrested, condemned to death, and beheaded.