Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

Ivan's Relations with Western Europe

The dealings of Russia with Western Europe during the reign of Ivan III. began to be frequent and important. The Grand Prince made an alliance with John, King of Denmark, who was ambitious to mount the throne of Sweden. He sent to his aid an army under three of his captains, who ravaged the coasts of Finland, but found themselves, after a three months' siege, unable to take Viborg, the walls of which were defended by enormous cannon. Ivan sent a larger army, which joined battle with the Swedes and caused them a loss of seven thousand men. The following year the Swedes had their revenge: with seventy ships they sailed to the mouth of the Nar' a and attacked the newly founded fortress Ivangorod. The Russian commandant saw that the casemates were beginning to catch fire from the red-hot shells, and he made his escape; the stronghold was taken and sacked. This war, however, was short. John of Denmark became King of Sweden.

A curious circumstance brought Russia into relationship with Austria. An Austrian knight, led by his thirst to see all Christian lands, took a letter from the Emperor Frederick III. and visited Moscow. At first he was taken for a Polish spy with designs upon the Grand Prince's life, and his story was scarcely believed. He managed to clear himself; satisfied his curiosity, and came back to tell the Germans that the Prince of Moscow, instead of being the vassal of the King of Poland, was vastly more powerful and rich than he. "His estates are immense," he said, "his people without number, his wisdom beyond belief. Frederick sent the knight back again, secretly to demand the hand of Ivan's daughter for his nephew, the Margrave of Baden, and offering to get Ivan from the Pope the title of King. Ivan proudly answered "that he was through God's grace sovereign of his own countries since the beginning, and by right of his ancestors, and that he held his station from' God himself, and he prayed to God it might be so preserved to him and his children; and as in times past he had never wished the nomination of any other power neither did he now."

Clergy of the Russian Church


The Austrian envoy was troubled in heart and spoke no more of title, but said,—

"The Grand Prince has two daughters: if he be unwilling to give one of them to the Margrave of Baden will he not give one of them to Johann, Prince of Saxony, and the other to the Margrave of Brandenburg?"

Ivan replied by sending George, his favorite Greek ambassador, to the imperial court to declare to the Emperor Frederick that the great sovereign of Russia, the heir of the tsars of Byzantium who gave Rome to the Pope, felt that his daughter was worthy of a higher alliance than with a margrave, even with his son, Maximilian.

Maximilian wished first to see the Princess and to know what her dower should be. Ivan answered that it was not the custom in Russia to set forth their princesses on show, and that after her marriage she should have a dower suited to her high birth, and when he furthermore declared that she must be allowed to have her own religion, Greek priests, and service as long as she lived, nothing more was said of the marriage, but a treaty of alliance was signed at Moscow for mutual aid against the Kings of France and Poland, and frequent embassies were exchanged between the courts. Maximilian was married to Anne of Brittany, and Elena, as has been said, became Queen of Poland.

With the great republic of Venice, "the bride of the Adriatic," then at the height of its power, Ivan had friendly dealings. The envoy who arranged his marriage with Sophia was a native of Venice. The Venetians were at that time involved in a bloody war with the Turks, and were anxious to gain over the Tartars as their allies. When their old countryman, the Grand Prince's envoy, reached Rome the Venetians sent him rich gifts and begged him to take back their envoy to Moscow under his protection and put him on the right way to the Horde. Ivan's envoy readily yielded, but when he came to Moscow he failed to tell the Grand Prince whom he was hiding in his house. It was noised abroad, however, and came to Ivan's ears. He had both the Venetians clapped into prison, and sent his envoy's brother Antonio to Venice to say to the Doge,—

"Why hast thou done this dishonor to me, sending thy envoy stealthily through my land without a word to me?"

The Doge apologized, and begged for the release of the Venetians and for a safe conduct for his envoy to the Kan. The Grand Prince accepted the apology and granted the favor which the Doge asked.

Ivan afterwards sent to Venice for architects and craftsmen. When the Venetian ambassador to Persia, sent to incite Ussum Kassan to make war on Mahomet II., came back from Ispahan in company with Ivan's own Persian envoy the Italian, Marco Rosso, he stopped at Moscow and was greatly impressed by the magnificence of the court and his kind reception by "the Duke Zuanne, Lord of Great White Russia." "When in speaking I respectfully drew back," he says, "the Grand Prince always came closer to me and gave careful heed to all I had to say."

Ambassadors came to Ivan from the furthest east, from Georgia and Siberia. Matthew Corvin of Hungary sent him mining engineers, architects, and silver-smiths. Italy and Germany sent him physicians and all kinds of craftsmen.

Ivan's eldest son, Ivan, the husband of Helena of Moldavia, fell sick and was put under the care of a Jewish leech, Mister  Leon from Venice, for he said,—

"I will cure thy son; if I fail I will answer with my life."

Leon gave him drugs and treated him with hot water, but the young man grew worse and died. The unlucky leech was executed in the public square. Ivan's son left one son, Dimitri. A great contest arose who should be the Grand Prince's successor, this grandson, Dimitri, or Sophia's son, Gabriel-Basil, who inherited from Constantinople the traditions of his "purple-born" ancestors. The Grand Prince hesitated long. The court was divided into two factions. For three generations the throne had come down in the direct line; precedent was on the side of Dimitri; most of the princes and nobles favored him because they hated Sophia and the foreign customs which she brought with her.

Suddenly Ivan came to a decision; he put Basil under guard, drowned six of his partisans in the Moskva River, cut off the hands and feet of others, and threw others into prison. His wrath fell also on Sophia, and he sent her away. She was charged with dealing with witches who came through the river to her chamber and brought her magic spells to put an end to her son's rival and his mother.

He even went so far as to cause his grandson to be crowned. Soon after Ivan changed his mind, imprisoned Helena, Dimitri's mother, and put to death some of his most illustrious boyars. Sophia was restored to favor, and her son, Basil, was proclaimed heir to the throne. Pskof and Novgorod dared to protest. Ivan haughtily replied to the envoys whom they sent,—

"Am I not lord over my grandson and my sons? To whomsoever I will I give the Grand Principality;" and he threw them into prison.

Before Ivan died he framed a new code of laws which had little tenderness for criminals: thieves when caught were to be bastinadoed; death punished the second offence. If a man charged another with theft or murder he was obliged to stand by his words and prove it in a duel. In such contests the men were often dressed in coats of mail, in breast-plate and helmet; they had a lance, a hatchet, and a sort of two-edged dagger. Women and priests were allowed to be represented by a champion. Sometimes the friends of the two parties forgot themselves, and the fight became a general melée  with fists, clubs, and fire-pointed sticks.

During his reign Ivan the Great added four hundred thousand subjects to his rule, and extended his realm from Kief to Kazan. In his treasury was untold wealth: countless crowns of gold, sumptuous plate and costly vases, cups and horns and golden pans, fur collars adorned with jewels and pearls, fur cloaks and caps, embroidered vestments, rings and seals, crosses and ikons, silken damask beds, pillow-cases and pillows embroidered in gold, rich trunks of oak filled with precious things, ivory boxes holding earrings and necklaces, bracelets and thimbles, belts and laces; such treasures had never before been seen in Russia.

Ivan left five sons; to Basil he gave Moscow and sixty of the chief cities of the land; among the others he divided thirty cities and the remaining third of his domain, and he left them this commandment:—

"Do you, my children, George, Dimitri, Simon, and Andrew, receive my son Basil, your eldest brother, in place of me your father; obey him in all things; and thou, my son Basil, hold thy brothers in honor and without reproach."

Thus Basil became Tsar.