. . .This only is certain, that there is nothing certain; and nothing more miserable and yet more arrogant than man. — Pliny the Elder

Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole




How Andrew, Autocrat of the North,
Destroyed Kief

The sons of Vladimir looked with longing eyes upon the principality of Kief, and for more than half a century their quarrels deluged the land with blood.

George Long-Hand, settled at Suzdal in the tranquil forests of the far North-west, was not content with the appanage which his father gave him, but spent all his strength in his struggle with his brother and nephews, the princes of Volynia and Galitch. After many adventures he had the comfort of gaining his end. He died in two years, however, at the moment when a league was forming to expel him. One of the leaguers, hearing the news, cried,—

"I thank thee, great God, that by the sudden death of our enemy, thou hast spared us the need of shedding his blood."

His son, Andrew God-loved, was a new type of prince: ambitious, sharp, close, shrewd, imperious, pitiless, the father of the tsars of Moscow, with not mg to recall the chivalrous, light-hearted, restless, careless princes of the South.

Andrew refused to heed his father's will, and divide his inheritance with his three brothers; they were forced to take refuge with their mother, a Greek princess, at the court of the Emperor Manuel at Constantinople. The men of Suzdal approved of this act, and by their own will chose Andrew as their prince. He had no wish to mount the throne of Kief, but let his nephews and cousins dispute the succession among themselves. The power of the royal city of the Dnieper was already beginning to wane. A great fire broke out the year before Monomak died, and burned two days, destroying hundreds of churches and laying the whole city in ashes. Andrew of Suzdal gave Kief its death-blow. He sent against it his son with an immense army brought by eleven princes who joined in the league. For three days they besieged the old city and at last took the walls by assault.

"Many times had this mother of Russian cities been besieged and oppressed. She had often opened to her enemies her Golden Gate, but none before had ever entered by force. To their eternal shame the victors forgot that they too were Russians. For three days not only the houses but the monasteries, churches, and even the temples, St. Sophia and the 'Tithe,' were given over to pillage. The precious pictures, the priestly ornaments, the books, and the bells, all were taken away."

After sacking the capital of St. Vladimir, Andrew attacked Novgorod, but when the citizens saw the foe under their walls and remembered what fate had befallen the city of the Dnieper, they swore to die for their laws and liberties, for their holy church St. Sophia. John, their archbishop, took the wonder-working picture of the Mother of God and paraded it with great pomp around the walls; and the story is told that when an arrow shot by a soldier of Suzdal struck the sacred image of the Virgin, she turned her face toward the city and deluged the archbishop's robes with a flood of miraculous tears. Instant panic seized the besiegers; they fled in dismay, and the men of Novgorod made so many prisoners that, as their annalist contemptuously said, "You could buy six Suzdalians for half a silver pound." The Novgorodians had to go to Suzdal for bread, and they were soon led to make peace and accept the prince whom Andrew imposed upon them. At this time his only son died, but this misfortune did not curb his haughtiness and ambition. Venging Fame the Brave, of Smolensk, and his brothers rebelled against him, dared his threats, and took Kief. Andrew sent a herald to them, saying,—

"Ye are rebels, the principality of Kief is mine;" and bade them to go back, each to his own place.

Venging Fame the Brave, says the annalist, feared no one but God, and when he heard Andrew's message he insulted the herald by shaving off his hair and beard and said,—

"Go tell these words to thy prince: Until now we have been glad to look upon thee as a father, but since thou dost not blush to treat us like slaves and common people, since thou hast forgotten that thou art speaking to princes, we laugh at thy threats: fulfil them; we appeal to the judgment of God."

Andrew was angry at the insult and the bold message, and sent an army under twenty vassal princes to carry out his vengeance. They besieged the "Brave" for several months in a fortress not far from Kief, but the judgment of God upheld the disobedient prince; he divided his enemies' forces, made a victorious sortie, and put them to flight.

The next year Andrew's nobles, spurred on by his wife, resolved to free themselves from his tyranny. They fell upon him by night in his favorite palace and cruelly murdered him.

Andrew God-loved was three centuries ahead of his time. He saw the influence which the clergy had upon the common people, and he won the friendship of the priests, "posing as a pious prince," often rising by night to worship in the cathedral, and giving liberal alms to the poor.

He had a thorough distrust of popular liberty, and rather than make his residence at either of the chief cities of his province he chose to live free from the annoyances of city liberties and institutions in a small town named after his grandfather, Vladimir. He told his subjects that as he slept one night in his tent pitched beside the road to Suzdal, the Mother of God carne to him in a dream and bade him take her miraculous image, the handiwork of the Apostle Luke, to Vladimir and make it his capital. He also built a church and monastery on the spot where the Virgin showed herself to him, and it was in his wooden palace at the village which sprang up around it that his boyars put him to death. Andrew, taking the title of grand prince, made Vladimir a new Kief. The chronicle mentions a fire which broke out ten years after his death and destroyed two hundred and thirty churches and the Cathedral of Our Lady, with its golden dome and all its precious ornaments, its lustres and silver lamps, its costly utensils, the robes of the priests adorned with gold and pearls, and its wonder-working pictures framed in beautiful jewels.

"Andrew's distrust of popular liberty, his despotic treatment of the boyars, his efforts to suppress the appanages, his proud bearing toward the other Russian princes, his alliance with the clergy, and his plan of transporting the religious metropolis of all the Russias to the valley of the Oka, are signs of a political programme which ten generations of princes failed to carry out. The hour was not yet come; Andrew had not enough power, nor Suzda1 resources enough, to subjugate the rest of Russia."