Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How Ivan Dealt with his Son-in-Law

Ivan's bitterest foe was Kasimir, master of united Poland and Lithuania. His hand was against him in all parts, now stirring up the smaller princes to rebel, now causing the Tartars of the East to attack their ancient tributary. Just before Kasimir died it was discovered in Moscow that he had engaged a certain prince to put an end to Ivan, either by dagger or poison. The poison was found on the prince's person. He was seized and burned to death, and several whom his confession connected with the plot were punished. Ivan was spoiling for war, and when Kasimir died and left Poland to his eldest son Ian, and Lithuania to Alexander, he resolved to turn the division of power to account.

While he had been engaged in shaking off the Mongol yoke, his faithful ally, Mengli, Kan of the Crimea, kept Lithuania in check, pillaging the Ukraine, that is to say, the Marches of Poland, and sacking Kief and the Monastery of the Caves. Now Mengli Girei turned his arms against the Kan of Saran, and Ivan began to pay off old scores with Lithuania. He was seconded by the celebrated Stephen, Gospodar of Moldavia, whose daughter Helena his son Ivan had married. He won the friendship of Matthew Corvin, King of Hungary. In his army marched many disaffected princes of Lithuania. Peace was made after a short campaign, and the Russian frontier was carried back to the river Diesna.

"Lithuania," said Ivan's envoys to Alexander, "once profited by the ill fortune of Russia to take our land; but to-day things are different."

Alexander sent one of his captains, begging for peace and for the hand of Ivan's daughter Elena.

Ivan consented, and the agreement was drawn up with due solemnity. It was demanded that the princess, his daughter, should under no circumstances change her faith, that she should have a Greek chapel in the palace and an orthodox service.

On a cold January day, after hearing mass in the Assumption Cathedral, with his family and his nobles, Ivan gave his daughter to the Lithuanian envoys. He rode part way with her, and at parting gave her the most careful directions as to her conduct, her dress, her table, her way of travelling. He bade her say her prayers in every cathedral; he told her how to treat the Polish lords and their invitations; but warned her against the refugees from Russia and the descendants of Shemiaka. He scrupulously enjoined upon her to beware of entering Romish churches or monasteries; if her mother-in-law, the Queen, desired her to go to the Catholic Communion in Vilno, she must accompany the Queen to the door and then politely excuse herself, and turn her steps to her own church.

Not long afterwards, Prince Simeon Bielski sent to Ivan for permission to enter his service, saying that he suffered great outrage in Lithuania on account of the true faith. He declared that the Grand Prince Alexander forced Elena to do violence to her conscience, and to wear the Polish dress; that her domestics and orthodox almoners were dismissed, and their places filled by renegades to the faith; that the Greek religion was foully persecuted; and that the assassins of the archbishop of Kief had gone unpunished.

Ivan, ever the champion of orthodoxy, hailed the broken agreement as a pretext for war, and hastened to take the field. His army captured many cities and reconquered all the country between the Diesna and the Sozha. Alexander could not bear to see the conquests of his fathers thus taken from him, and he sent out an army under his captain, Constantine, who fell into an ambush on the banks of the Vedrosha and was captured with all his men.

There was great rejoicing in Moscow.

The war dragged along. The army of the North, furnished by Novgorod and Pskof, made some conquests, but Dimitri, Ivan's son, was unable to take Smolensk. The Kan of the Crimea continued pitilessly to devastate Galitch and Volynia, and Alexander, at the end of his resources, made an alliance with the Livonian Order. The Grand-Master Walter of Plettenberg was more than willing to take up the quarrel, as it gave him a chance to avenge the seizure of the Hanse wares at Novgorod, and the building of the many-towered stronghold of Ivangorod opposite Narva.

Novgorod  Village


Ivan sent an army under two of his princes, which met the grand-master at Siritsa. "The Germans," says the annalist, "let loose the winds upon the Russian host, and fire from cannon and from arquebuses, and when the regiments of Pskof had fled they turned their guns upon the men of Moscow, and so dense was the smoke and so horrible the noise that they also took refuge in flight."

After this victory and several more, sickness fell upon Walter's army, and he had to withdraw in great chagrin. The next year Ivan sent a stronger army, which defeated the "iron men" and caused them a loss of forty thousand killed and prisoners.

Kan Akmat's son, Shig Akmet, the new Kan of the Golden Horde, was making preparations to avenge his father's death upon Moscow. Mengli, the Kan of the Crimea, was on the watch for him, and fell upon him suddenly and cut his army to pieces.

Shig Akmet refused Ivan's offer of friendship and alliance against Lithuania, and took refuge among the Turks. Sarni, where the Russian princes had so many years basely groveled in the dust, was utterly thrown down, and "its ruins were henceforth a home of serpents."

Alexander was now elected King of Poland in place of his brother Ian, who had died, and he was heartily anxious to end the long and ruinous war. His brother, the King of Bohemia and Hungary, sent an embassy, offering his mediation. The Pope also sent to Ivan, urging the need of peace, since the Turks ceased not to threaten Christianity with destruction; since indeed they had taken two Venetian cities in the Morea, and were about to make a descent upon Italy.

"Therefore," said the Pope, "should all Christian governments dwell in peace." The Hungarian envoy, in the name of his king, gave counsel that the first step against the Turk should be the end of the war between Alexander and Ivan. Elena also wrote an affectionate letter to her father, telling how kind and honorable was her husband's treatment of her, and how eager were the king and his family, and the whole land, to have lasting peace, brotherly love, friendship, and aid against the pagans:—

"War, discord, sack and fire of cities and cantons, rivers of Christian blood, wives made widows, children made orphans, slavery, tears, lamentations. Is this thy kindness and love toward me?" she cries. Ivan was for a moment touched, and made a compact of peace to last six years. Alexander agreed not to meddle with Russian lands and to yield to his father-in-law nineteen cities and more than a hundred fortresses and towns.