Page images

[1533 A.D.] acquired in the best universities and in conversation with men of enlightenment. Vasili received him with marked favour. When he saw the library, Maxine, in a transport of enthusiasm and astonishment, exclaimed: "Sire! all Greece does not now possess such treasures, neither does Italy, where Latin fanaticism has reduced to ashes many of the works of our theologians which my compatriots had saved from the Mohammedan barbarians." The grand prince listened to him with the liveliest pleasure and confided the library to his care. The zealous Greek made a catalogue of the books which had been until then unknown to the Slavonic people. By desire of the sovereign, and with the assistance of three Muscovites, Vasili, Dmitri and Michael Medovartzov, he translated the commentary of the psalter. Approved by the metropolitan Varlaam and all the ecclesiastical council, this important work made Maxine famous, and so endeared him to the grand prince that he could not part with him, and daily conversed with him on matters of religion. The wise Greek was not, however, dazzled by these honours, and though grateful to Vasili, he earnestly implored him to allow him to return to the quiet of his retreat at Mount Athos: "There," said he, "will I praise your name and tell my compatriots that in the world there still exists a Christian czar, mighty and great, who, if it pleases the Most High, may yet deliver us from the tyranny of the infidel." But Vasili only replied by fresh signs of favour and kept him nine years in Moscow; this time was spent by Maxine in the translation of various works, in correcting errors in the ancient translations, and in composing works of piety of which more than a hundred are known to us. Having free access to the grand prince, he sometimes interceded for the noblemen who had fallen in disgrace and regained for them the sovereign's favour. This excited the dissatisfaction and envy of many persons, in particular of the clergy and of the worldly-minded monks of St. Joseph, who enjoyed the favour of Vasili. The humble-minded metropolitan Varlaam had cared little for earthly matters, but his successor, the proud Daniel, soon declared himself the enemy of the foreigner. It began to be asked: "Who is this man who dares to deface our sacred church books and restore to favour the disgraced boyars?" Some tried to prove that he was a heretic, others represented him to the grand prince as an ungrateful calumniator who censured the acts of the sovereign behind his back. It was at this time that Vasili was divorced from the unfortunate Solomonia, and it is said that this pious ecclesiastic did really disapprove of it; however we find amongst his works a discourse against those who repudiate their wives without lawful cause. Always disposed to take the part of the oppressed, he secretly received them in his cell and sometimes heard injurious speeches directed against the sovereign and the metropolitan. Thus the unfortunate boyar Ivan Beklemishef complained to him of the irascibility of Vasili, and said that formerly the venerable pastors of the church had restrained the sovereigns from indulging their passions and committing injustice, whereas now Moscow no longer had a metropolitan, for Daniel only bore the name and the mask of a pastor, without thinking that he ought to be the guide of consciences and the protector of the innocent; he also said that Maxine would never be allowed to leave Russia, because the grand prince and the metropolitan feared his indiscretions in other countries, where he might publish the tale of their faults and weaknesses. At last Maxine's enemies so irritated the grand prince against him, that he ordered him to be brought to judgment and Maxine was condemned to be confined in one of the monasteries of Iver, having been found guilty of falsely interpreting the Holy Scriptures and the dogmas of the church. According to the opinion of some contemporaries the charge was a

[1533 A.D.]

calumny invented by Jonas, archimandrite of the Tchudov monastery, Vassian, bishop of Kolomna, and the metropolitan.f


There is one event in the private life of Vasili Ivanovitch which has great importance on the subsequent course of history, and throws a clearer light on the relations of men and parties at this epoch. This event is his divorce and second marriage. Vasili Ivanovitch had first contracted a marriage in the year of his father's death with Solomonia Sabourov; but they had no children and Solomonia vainly resorted to sorcery in order to have children and keep the love of her husband. The grand prince no longer loved her and decided to divorce her. He consulted his boyars, laying stress on the fact that he had no heir and that his brothers did not understand how to govern their own appanages; it is said that the boyars replied "The unfruitful fig-tree is cut down and cast out of the vineyard." The sovereign then turned with the same question to the spiritual powers: the metropolitan Daniel gave his entire consent, but the monk Vassian, known in the world as Prince Vasili Patrikeiev, who, together with his father, had been forced to become a monk during the reign of Ivan because he belonged to the party of Helen, but who was now greatly esteemed by Vasili, was against the divorce and was therefore banished from the monastery of Simon to that of Joseph. Maxine the Greek and Prince Simon Kurbski were also against the divorce, and suffered for their opinion; and the boyar Beklemishev, who was on friendly terms with Maxine, was executed. Solomonia was made to take the veil at the convent of Suzdal and Vasili married Helen Vasilievna Glinski, the niece of Michael Glinski who had been liberated from prison (1526). From this marriage Vasili had two sons; Ivan (born 1530) and Iuri (born 1533). Vasili's love for his second wife was so great that according to Herberstein he had his beard cut off to please her. Towards the end of 1533 Vasili fell ill and died on December 3rd, leaving as his heir his infant son Ivan.b


The rôle and the character of Ivan IV have been and still are very differently appreciated by Russian historians. Karamzin, who has never submitted his accounts and his documents to a sufficiently severe critic, sees in him a prince who, naturally vicious and cruel, gave, under restriction to two virtuous ministers, a few years of tranquillity to Russia; and who subsequently, abandoning himself to the fury of his passions, appalled Europe as well as the empire with what the historian designates "seven epochs of massacres." Kostomarov re-echoes the opinions of Karamzin.

Another school, represented by Soloviev and Zabielin, has manifested a greater defiance towards the prejudiced statements of Kurbski, chief of the oligarchical party; towards Guagnini, a courtier of the king of Poland; towards Tanbe and Kruse, traitors to the sovereign who had taken them into his service. Above all, they have taken into account the times and the society in whose midst Ivan the Terrible lived. They concern themselves less with his morals as an individual than with his rôle as instrument of the historical development of Russia. Did not the French historians during long years misinterpret the enormous services rendered by Louis XI in the great work of the unification of France and of the creation of the modern

[1583 A.D.] state? His justification was at length achieved after a more minute examination into documents and circumstances.

At the time when Ivan succeeded his father the struggle of the central power against the forces of the past had changed character. The old Russian states, which had held so long in check the new power of Moscow; the principalities of Tver, Riazan, Suzdal, Novgorod-Seversk; the republics of Novgorod, Pskov, Viatka had lost their independence. Their possessions had served to aggrandise those of Moscow. All northern and eastern Russia was thus united under the sceptre of the_grand_prince. To the ceaseless struggles constantly breaking out against Tver, Riazan, Novgorod, was to succeed the great foreign strife - the holy war against Lithuania, the Tatars, the Swedes.

Precisely because the work of the unification of Great Russia was accomplished, the resistance in the interior against the prince's authority was to become more active. The descendants of reigning families dispossessed by force of bribery or arms, the servitors of those old royal houses, had entered the service of the masters of Moscow. His court was composed of crownless princes- the Chouiski, the Kurbski, the Vorotinski; descendants of ancient appanaged princes, proud of the blood of Rurik which coursed through their veins. Others were descended from the Lithuanian Gedimine, or from the baptised Tatar Monzas.


All these princes, as well as the powerful boyars of Tver, Riazan, Novgorod, were become the boyars of the grand prince. There was for all only one court at which they could serve that of Moscow. When Russia had been divided into sovereign states, the discontented boyars had been at liberty to change masters to pass from the service of Tchernigov into that of Kiev, from that of Suzdal into that of Novgorod. Now, whither could they go? Outside of Moscow, there were only foreign rulers, enemies of Russia. To make use of the ancient right to change masters was to go over to the enemy — it was treason. "To change" and "to betray" were become synonymous: the Russian word izmiyanit (third person singular of "to change") was become the word izmiyanik ("traitor").

The Russian boyar could take refuge neither with the Germans, the Swedes, nor the Tatars; he could go only to the sovereign of Lithuania but this was the worst possible species of change, the most pernicious form of treason. The prince of Moscow knew well that the war with Lithuania that state which Polish in the west, by its Russian provinces, in the east exercised a dangerous attraction over subjects of Moscow-was a struggle for existence. Lithuania was not only a foreign enemy - it was a domestic enemy, with intercourse and sympathies in the very heart of the Russian state, even in the palace of the czar; her formidable hand was felt in all intrigues, in all conspiracies. The foreign war against Lithuania, the domestic war against the Russian oligarchy are but two different phases of the same war- the heaviest and most perilous of all those undertaken by the grand prince of Moscow. The dispossessed princes, the boyars of the old independent states had given up the struggle against him on the field of battle; they continued to struggle against him in his own court.

It was no longer war between state and state; it was intestine strife that of the oligarchy against autocratic power. Resigned to the loss of their sovereignty, the new prince-boyars of Moscow were not yet resigned to their position as mere subjects. The struggle was thus limited to a narrower field, and was therefore the more desperate. The court at Moscow was a tilt-yard, whence none could emerge without a change of masters- the Lithuanian


[ocr errors]

[1533 A.D.]

for the Muscovite without treason: hence the furious nature of the war of two principles under Ivan IV.e


On the death of his father, Ivan was only three years of age. Helena, his mother, a woman unfit for the toils of government, impure in her conduct, and without judgment, assumed the office of regent, which she shared with a paramour, whose elevation to such a height caused universal disgust, particularly among the princes of the blood and the nobility. The measures which had of late years been adopted towards the boyars were not forgotten by that

haughty class; and now that the infirm state of the throne gave them a fair pretext for complaint, they conspired against the regent, partly with a view to remove so unpopular and degraded a person from the imperial seat, but principally that they might take advantage of the minority of the czar, and seize upon the empire for their own ends. The circumstances in which the death of Vasili left the country were favourable to these designs. The licentiousness that prevailed at court, the absence of a strict and responsible head, and the confusion that generally took the place of the order that had previously prevailed, assisted the treacherous nobles in their treasonable projects. They had long panted for revenge and restitution, and the time seemed to be ripe for the execution of their plans. Amongst the most prominent members of this patrician league, were the three paternal uncles of the young prince. They made no scruple of exhibiting their feelings; and they at last grew so clamourous, that the regent, on the ground that they entertained designs upon the throne, condemned them to loathsome dungeons, where they died in lingering torments. Their followers and abettors suffered by torture and the worst kinds of ignominious punishment. These examples spread such consternation amongst the rest of the conspirators, that they fled to Lithuania and the Crimea, where they endeavoured to inspire a sympathy in their misfortunes. But the regent, whose time appears to have been solely dedicated to the worst description of pleasures, being unable to preserve herself without despotism, succeeded in overcoming the enemies whom her own conduct was so mainly instrumental in creating.


The reign of lascivious folly and wanton rigour was not, however, destined to survive the wrath of the nobles. For five years, intestine jealousies and thickening plots plunged the country into anarchy; and, at last, the regent died suddenly, having, it is believed, fallen by poison administered through the agency of the revengeful boyars. The spectacle of one criminal executing summary justice upon another, is not destitute of some moral utility; and in this case it might have had its beneficial influence, were it not that the

[1588 A.D.]

principal conspirators had no sooner taken off the regent than they violently seized upon the guardianship of the throne.

The foremost persons in this drama were the Shuiski — a family that had long been treated with suspicion by the czars, their insolent bearing having always exposed them to distrust. Prince Shuiski was appointed president of the council of the boyars, to whom the administration of affairs was confided, and although his malignant purposes were kept in check by the crowd of equally ambitious persons that surrounded him, he possessed sufficient opportunities to consummate a variety of wrongs upon the resources of the state and upon obnoxious individuals thus revenging himself indiscriminately for the ancient injuries his race had suffered. During this iniquitous rule, which exhibited the extraordinary features of a government composed of persons with different interests, pressing forward to the same end, and making a common prey of the trust that was reposed in their hands, Russia was despoiled in every quarter. The Tatars, freed for a season from the watchful vigilance of the throne, roamed at large through the provinces, pillaging and slaying wherever they went; and this enormous guilt was crowned by the rapacious exactions and sanguinary proscriptions of the council. The young Ivan was subjected to the most brutal insults: his education was designedly neglected; he was kept in total ignorance of public affairs, that he might be rendered unqualified to assume the hereditary power; and Prince Shuiski, in the midst of these base intrigues against the future czar, was often seen to treat him in a contemptuous and degrading manner. On one occasion he stretched forth his legs, and pressed the weight of his feet on the body of the boy. Perhaps these unexampled provocations, and the privations to which he was condemned, produced the germs of a character which was afterwards developed in such terrible magnificence. The fiend that lived in the heart of Ivan might not have been born with him; it was probably generated by the cruelties and wrongs that were practised on his youth.

In vain the Belski, moderate and wise, and the primate, influenced by the purest motives, remonstrated against the ruinous proceedings of the council. The voice of admonition was lost in the hideous orgies of the boyars, until a sudden invasion by the Tatars awakened them to a sense of their peril. They rallied, order was restored, and Russia was preserved. But the danger was no sooner over than the Shuiski returned in all their former strength, seized upon Moscow in the dead of the night, penetrated to the couch of Ivan, and, dragging him out of his sleep, endeavoured to destroy his intellect by filling him with sudden terror. The primate, whose mild representations had displeased them, was ill-treated and deposed: and the prince Belski, who could not be prevailed upon to link his fortunes with their desperate courses, was murdered in the height of their frenzy. Even those members of their own body who, touched by some intermittent pity, ventured to expostulate, were beaten in the chamber of their deliberations, and cast out from amongst them.

Under such unpropitious auspices as these, the young Ivan, the inheritor of a consolidated empire, grew up to manhood. His disposition, naturally fierce, headstrong, and vindictive, was most insidiously cultivated into ferocity by the artful counsellors that surrounded him. His earliest amusements were the torture of wild animals, the ignoble feat of riding over old men and women, flinging stones from ambuscades upon the passers-by, and precipitating dogs and cats from the summit of his palace. Such entertainments as these, the sport of boyhood, gave unfortunately too correct a prognostic

« PreviousContinue »