IT was as the fortunate inheritor of the fruits of the labours of generations of careful ancestors that Ivan III ascended the grand ducal throne of Moscovy in 1462, in his 23rd year. Roughly speaking, the Grand Duchy proper then embraced the very centre of modern European Russia, with off-shoots extending northwards as far as Lake Byelo and Ustyug on the Sukhona. Round the Grand Duchy were grouped the still nominally independent principalities of Rostov, Tver, and Ryazan, while the semi-dependent Republic of Great Novgorod, with her zavoloche, or colonies, extended from Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland to the northern Dwina and the White Sea. Beyond Novgorod, the sturdy rival Republic of Pskov dominated Lake Peipus and district. In the West, Moscovy was hemmed in by Lithuania, whose territory, far .exceeding that of Moscovy, reached almost up to Kaluga. Eastward and southwards stretched the interminable steppes of the Volga and the Don, still in the possession of the Tatar Hordes.
Ivan was to be a greater ” land-gatherer ” than any of his predecessors, but his task was infinitely easier than theirs had been. Circumstances were entirely in his favour. The minor principalities were ripe for dropping into the lap of Moscovy at the least touch. The Tatar yoke hung very loosely on the shoulders of the Russian Princes ; a single shake might dislodge it. The whole population looked instinctively to Moscow alone for advancement and protection. The Polish Kings, engrossed by the Lithuanian problem, or involved in Bohemo-Hungarian complications, were his only rivals, and they had neither the money nor the time to oppose him seriously. Ivan himself possessed all the acquisitive instincts of his ancestors. Neither morally nor physically can he be called attractive. A tall, lean, furtive man, who stooped so much that he seemed to be hump-backed’, his crooked body was the envelope of a crooked soul. Yet this cunning, stealthy Prince, who carried caution beyond the verge of cowardice, had inherited an inexhaustible fund of .,patience and tenacity; and, if he never took any risks, he never made any mistakes. Nor, to do him justice, was he particularly cruel.
The first to feel the hesitating but retentive grip of Ivan Crookback was the Republic of Great Novgorod.
Great Novgorod held a unique position among the old Russian lands. Belonging at first to Kiev, from whom she originally received her Posadniki, or Presidents, she established her independence about 1135, from which time her Presidents were elected, generally for life, by the Vyeche, or General Assembly of the people, over which they presided. The Vyeche was summoned by the ringing of the great bell of the Cathedral of St Sophia, and sat either in the ancient Palace of Yaroslav or in the great square of St Sophia. For a time Novgorod was the most powerful and progressive State in Russia, owing to her favourable position for foreign trade. She rapidly extended her empire to the White Sea at the expense of the Esths, Finns and Swedes ; successfully resisted more than one hostile league of the Russian Princes, all of whom coveted her wealth ; and, in later times, adroitly played off the North against the South. She also made a bold stand against the Teutonic Knights. At the beginning of the fourteenth century Great Novgorod was at her prime, but her influence declined as the influence of the autocratic northern Grand Dukes increased. They claimed the right of nominating the Vladika, or Archbishop, and often treated the Republic as if she were a subject State; but the subsequent rise of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy once more enabled Novgorod to hold her own by adroitly oscillating between the various Grand Duchies as it suited her convenience. The custom was for the Vyeche to summon any Prince who took the popular fancy to settle in the city and protect it with his druzhina, or body-guard. But all such Princes held their precarious sway on good behaviour, and were superseded at the discretion of the Republic. They could, moreover, do nothing of consequence without the consent of their co-assessor and coadjutor, the Posadnik, who represented popular control in its most stringent form. The Republic also had the absolute control of its foreign policy. All treaties were subscribed on its behalf by the Posadnik and the Vladika, who also declared war and concluded peace on behalf of the Vyeche. From 1393 onwards, the land-gathering policy of Moscovy led to frequent collisions with the Republic, which successfully defended both her colonies and her privileges till 1456, when, by the Peace of Yazhelits, she was obliged to relinquish her great seal, to engage, henceforth, not to harbour the enemies of the Grand Duke, and to pay tribute. In all these contests Novgorod was greatly straitened by the active hostility of the Republic of Pskov, originally a dependency, but now the jealous rival of the older Republic.
The humiliation of Yazhelits rankled in the minds of “the big people” of Novgorod, who could generally command the votes of ” the little people ” in the Vyeche. They realised, too, the danger of the Republic now that all the lesser Grand Duchies, so many possible confederates, had been suppressed, and she stood face to face with Muscovy alone. The turn of Novgorod was bound to come next, sooner or later, unless she strengthened herself with fresh alliances in the meantime. In this crisis Novgorod naturally looked to Casimir IV for protection. As the son of an orthodox mother, and the ruler over millions of orthodox subjects obedient to the ancient metropolitan See of Kiev, he might fairly be considered as much a Russian Prince as Ivan III, and his clemency and liberality were – notorious. A formal alliance was concluded, at the beginning of 1470, between Lithuania and ” the free men of Novgorod,” Casimir undertaking to hasten to their assistance whenever they might be attacked by Moscovy. Natural caution and complications with the Tatars kept Ivan III away from the west during the first eight years of his reign, though he had frequently to complain of the disrespectful tone of Novgorod and the insults inflicted upon his representatives in the city. He knew, however, that he had a powerful ally in the ignorant and violent orthodoxy of the little people” of the Vyeche, so he awaited his opportunity while the materials for a conflagration were slowly accumulating. The spark of ignition was the insolent behaviour of an embassy from Pskov to Moscovy, which, on its way through Novgorod, offered to mediate between the Grand Duke of Moscovy and ” ye, his patrimony,” as they phrased it. At this the pride of the Republic of Novgorod was aroused. The great bell summoned the Vyeche to the square of St Sophia. “We are free men ! we are not the patrimony of the Grand Duke of Moscow ” was the prevailing cry. Then there were loud shouts for King Casimir; and the partisans of Moscovy were stoned and driven out of the Assembly. A last effort at mediation, on the part of the metropolitan of Moscow, having been rejected with scorn, Ivan III (May, 147 1) sent a formal declaration of war to Novgorod.
By June the first of his huge armies, which included in-numerable Tatars and the auxiliaries of Pskov and Tver, fell ravaging into the territory of the Republic. It is clear, from the contemporary lyetopisi, that public opinion in Russia generally was on the side of the aggressor. The Novgorodians were regarded not merely as the enemies of the Grand Duke, but as renegades from the Lord God. ” After being Christians for so many years, they are now going over to the Latins,” naively remarks our chronicler. The Grand Duke, according to this hypothesis, was warring not against fellow-Christians but against heretics and heathens, to whom no sort of mercy could be shewn. He certainly shewed none. The Moscovite hordes burnt and wasted in every direction and haled thousands away into captivity. Casimir, far away on the Bohemian border watching the movements of Matthias Corvinus, and the Livonian Order, appealed to at the eleventh hour, could send no timely help. Nevertheless, Novgorod, left entirely to its own resources, did not submit without a struggle. Despite serious defeats at Korostuina, on Lake Ilman (June 23), and on the Shelona, when 40,000 of them were defeated by 4000 Russians, with the loss of 12,000 men (a defeat due largely to the inveterate insubordination of the Novgorod levies, who would only fight when and how they chose), the men of Novgorod destroyed their suburbs in November and prepared to sustain a long siege. But the supply of corn ran short ; the Moscovite faction raised its head again ; the authorities lost heart, and finally purchased the mediation of Ivan’s Boyars. Peace was concluded at the end of the year on the following terms. Novgorod engaged (1) never to admit a Lithuanian Prince ; (2) to remain in perpetual alliance with Moscow ; and (3) to pay an indemnity of 15,000 rubles. In the circumstances these terms do not appear to be excessive, especially as Novgorod retained her ancient liberties and nearly all her possessions. But the first article, which isolated her politically, sealed her future fate.
During the next seven years the net cast around Novgorod was gradually drawn in. In 1475 Ivan visited the city ” peaceably,” on the plea of adjusting differences and extruding pro-Lithuanians, who were sent in chains to Moscow.
On this occasion Ivan scrupulously observed all the ancient laws and customs, did nothing without the cooperation of the Posadnik, whom he “advised” to renew the expiring commercial treaty with Sweden, and returned to Moscow laden with gifts. Evidently he went to spy out the nakedness of the land, for, shortly afterwards, he sent to enquire what master the Archbishop and all Great Novgorod would be under, and whether they would now accept the Grand Duke’s tyunui, or governors, in all their quarters. The reply was open defiance. The Vyeche was “rung in”; the Boyars of the Moscovite faction were executed as traitors ; and the Republic prepared for war. So strongly did the Posadnik fortify the city that, when Ivan’s armies environed it, in the course of 1476, it was found to be impregnable by assault. Long, spun-out negotiations ensued ; but the best terms the Novgorodians could obtain, in return for absolute submission, were the retention of their local tribunals and immunity from confiscation. The formal oath of allegiance was taken on January 13, 1478. When, on February 17, Ivan quitted his camp and returned to Moscow, he took with him many hostages, all the treaties made between Lithuania and Novgorod, and the famous vyechevy Kolokol, or Assembly-Bell, which was hung up in one of the squares of the Kremlin, among larger and louder bells. But Novgorod could not at once forget her ancient glory. In 1477, 1484, 1487 and 1488 she again asserted herself only to be easily and sternly repressed. In 1487 it was considered necessary to remove 50 of her noblest and wealthiest families to Moscovite territory. In 1488, 7000 more of her Boyars and merchants were transplanted to ” the lower towns’,” which had to fill up the gaps out of their own population. After this, Great Novgorod gave no more trouble to Ivan III. Pskov and Ryazan, as a reward for their obsequiousness to the Grand Duke, were permitted to enjoy their ancient liberties a little longer. Tver, on the other hand, was seized Eastwards, the progress of Ivan III was halting and variable. It was easy enough to deal with the savage Permians and the Voguls in the Upper Kama district. Both these Finnish tribes were subdued by the end of the fifteenth century ; and thus the limits of the Moscovite Empire were extended to the Urals. The independent Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan also acknowledged the sovereignty of Ivan III for a time, though they broke away from him towards the end of his reign. The much reduced Golden Horde still persisted in the Lower Volgan Steppes. In 1480 the Grand Khan, Achmet, egged on by Lithuania, advanced against Moscow with his whole host. Ivan abandoned his army on the Oka and fled abjectly to the outskirts of Moscow. But for the indignant remonstrances of Vassion, the high-spirited metropolitan of Rostov, he would have fled still further, or purchased peace on almost any terms. An unusually severe winter finally compelled Achmet to retire into the Steppe, and, while encamping on the Donets, he was surprised and slain in a night attack (January 6, 1481) by the hostile Khan of the Shaban and Nogai Tatars. This was virtually the end of the Golden Horde. Its place was taken by the Crimean Horde, which, under the Khans of the Girej family, played an important part in Russian history for the next three centuries. Common interests drew Moscovy and the Crimean Khan together. The importance of this alliance to Moscovy may be gauged by the obsequiousness of Ivan III to Khan Mengli Girei, whom he generally addresses as his superior, to whom honour and tribute are due. From 1474, when these friendly relations first began, Ivan thought it necessary to maintain a resident ambassador at the Crimea with what we should now call a secret service fund, consisting, for the most part, of sables and other precious pelts.
It was through the Khan of the Crimea that Moscovy came into contact with the Ottoman Empire. In 1475 the Turks conquered the Crimea and made the Khans subject Princes. Their seat of government was the great slave-exporting port of Kaffa ; and the injury the Pachas inflicted on the lucrative Eastern trade of Moscovy induced Ivan, in 1492, to send a letter of remonstrance to Bajazet II through the hands of Mengli. A special Russian envoy, Mikhail Pleshcheev, sent direct to Stambul on the same errand, in 1497, was dismissed as an ignoramus because, in strict obedience to his instructions, he refused to deliver his credentials to any one but the Sultan personally. This faux-pas put an end to the diplomatic intercourse between Turkey and Moscovy for some time to come.
Meanwhile, in Poland, a sober statesman had been succeeded by an impetuous warrior. This was John Albert, the third son’ of Casimir IV, who (August 27, 1492) was elected King of Poland by the Bishops, Palatines and Castellans, and the representatives of the cities of Cracow, Thorn, Lemberg, Dantzic and Posen. The Lithuanians, in direct violation of the Union of Horodlo, had, a month earlier, elected John Albert’s younger brother, Alexander, their Grand Duke.
The new King, an energetic, enterprising man in the prime of life, rather resembled his heroic uncle Wladislaus, of Varna, than his prudent father. His ambition was military glory and, as the victor of Koposztyna (1487), he already enjoyed a high military reputation. Unfortunately for his far-reaching plans he was chronically impecunious. His father left him nothing but a heavy load of debt; he could draw no revenue from Lithuania; only a month after his coronation he had to pawn one of his villages to the town council of Kazimierz to furnish his table. The poverty of the King had far-reaching political consequences. Dependent on the Szlachta for subsidies, but anxious to get those subsidies without the intolerable necessity of applying in turn to half-a-dozen provincial assemblies, John Albert conceived the bold idea of superseding the Sejmiki, or local Diets, by reviving the Sejm, or National Assembly. The obvious advantages of such a reform were the much needed centralisation of the Polish Government and the relegation of the local assemblies to purely local affairs. The first General Diet met at Piotrkow on January 18, 1493. As usual, the Szlachta insisted on the confirmation of their privileges before considering financial questions. The King signed a new Constitution in 24 articles, but the subsidies he secured in return were so paltry that at the ensuing Diet, which met in 1496, he was as poor as ever. Encouraged by their success three years before, the Szlachta had, meanwhile, formulated a whole series of fresh demands .(most of them at the expense of the other classes of the community) which became statutes before the Assembly arose. One of these statutes exempted the exports and imports of the Szlachta from the payment of all .tolls and other impositions ; a second deprived burgesses of the right of holding extra-mural estates, and those who already possessed the right were to surrender it within a given time under penalty of heavy fines ; a third enacted that, henceforth, prelatures and canonries should be held solely by the descendants on both sides of noble families, except three canonries specially reserved for doctors of theology, canon-law and medicine of plebeian origin. Other statutes restricted the ancient right of the agricultural labourer to migrate to better wage markets, especially at harvest time, and introduced modifications of land-tenure which just stopped short of the socage system 1. Thus the Diet of 1496 introduced that abnormal condition of things which was, ultimately, one of the chief causes of the collapse of Poland. It elevated the Szlachta into a favoured caste apart. The burgesses, forbidden henceforth to hold landed estates, were thereby excluded from all participation in military service with its numerous attendant advantages. In a word, they were excluded as much as possible from the public service, and thus tended to become indifferent to the welfare of their country. Nay, more, their commercial prosperity was seriously imperilled by the fiscal exemptions now granted to their competitors, the great land-owners. The yeomanry of Poland, too, were being degraded into mere serfs and lost much of their ancient spirit. But it was the State which suffered most. The natural equilibrium between the various grades of society was disturbed by these radical changes, and the sources of the national wealth were at the same time diminished.
In abandoning the lower estates to the Szlachta, John Albert had calculated upon the generosity of the latter to relieve him from his financial embarrassments. But here he was disappointed. As a matter of fact, the Diet granted him nothing but an excise duty, which fell entirely upon the burgesses, and a subsidy of four groats per hide of land, which was paid by the peasants. Nevertheless, the King affected to be satisfied, and diverted his attention to foreign affairs. He seems to have determined first to win popularity by means of military glory and then to use the popularity so acquired for the benefit of the Crown. Circumstances at this time seemed especially favourable for a Crusade against the Turks. Under Bajazet II (1481-1512), a weak Prince, whose enemies were those of his own household, the strong tide of Turkish conquest had ceased to flow ; and the Holy See once more summoned Christendom to arms against the arch enemy of the faith. At a Congress, held at Leutschau, in Hungary, attended by the Kings of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary, the Krolewicz Sigismund, Frederick of Brandenburg and some lesser potentates, a plan of campaign was actually arranged, in accordance with which John Albert was to march through Moldavia, retake Kilia and Akkerman, and thus bar the advance of the Ottomans into Poland. Military preparations went on unceasingly during 1495 and 1496, the King travelling from. province to province to stimulate the zeal and the liberality of the Szlachta. His energy was rewarded by the marshalling of the largest army which Poland had ever put into the field. It was at the head of 8o,000 militia that John Albert marched to the border. Meanwhile, rumours that the King of Poland was bent upon conquering Moldavia drove the Hospodar Stephen, already flurried by Hungarian intrigues, into the arms of the Turks, whereupon John Albert turned his arms against the Hospodar. From September 25 to October 16 he besieged the fortress of Suceva in vain; and the subsequent retreat of the Poles through the forests of the Bukowina to Sniatyn, harassed at every step by the enemy, completed the ruin of his army. The same year the Tatar bands ravaged Red Russia. In 1498 the Poles, depressed by these reverses, concluded peace with Stephen and recognised his independence. In June, 1500, a fresh anti-Turkish league was formed at Buda between Venice, Poland, Hungary-Bohemia and France; but it came to nothing, owing to the opposition of the Czech and Magyar magnates and the untimely death of the Polish King.
Oddly enough, the collapse of John Albert’s military adventure coincided with the sudden increase of his power and popularity. Particulars are wanting, but there can be little doubt, from what followed, that treachery or cowardice on the part of the Polish chivalry must have been one of the main causes of the failure of the campaign of Suceva. Anyhow, immediately after his return, the King proceeded to confiscate the estates of hundreds of the nobility, evidently with the approval of the nation. No protest seems to have been made ; the subsequent Diets of 1 498 and 1499 were unusually open-handed ; while the Diet of 1501, so mischievous in other respects, placed the control of the militia entirely in the King’s hands, in order to enable the executive to deal with the chronic danger of Tatar invasions more expeditiously in future. Towards the end of John Albert’s reign the ever-mutinous Teutonic Knights grew acutely troublesome. In 1497 Albert of Saxony was elected Grand Master. He was persuaded by the Emperor to refuse to take the oath of allegiance to Poland on the pretext that, as a Prince of the Empire, he was not subject to the obligations of the Peace of Thom. The difficulties of John Albert prevented him for four years from enforcing his rights as over-lord ; but in 15011 accompanied by the national militia, he proceeded to Thorn and categorically summoned his vassal to appear before him. The Grand Master begged for some modification of the terms of the Peace of Thorn ; but the King was inexorable. The Grand Master still hesitating, heavy artillery was brought up to the Polish camp and then Albert gave way. On June 11, 1501, he did homage for Prussia. A week later the King died suddenly from a stroke of apoplexy.
We do not possess sufficient materials for judging the character of John Albert. The whole history of his reign is mysterious and obscure. Even the principal events in it are so imperfectly recorded that we have no clue to the unravelling of their meaning. Only one thing is obvious the growing confidence of the nation in the King in spite of repeated disasters This seems to prove that the disasters were no fault of his. We feel that we are in the presence of a great man whose opportunity has not yet come, but is coming rapidly. Then death intervenes, and Poland is plunged once more into anarchy and confusion.
Meanwhile, Lithuania had been learning from bitter experience that she was no longer able to stand alone. It is remarkable that during the life-time of Casimir IV, Ivan III abstained from regular warfare against the Grand Duchy. The two Princes contented themselves with ravaging each other’s border provinces by Tatar mercenaries. But, in the second year of Alexander (1493), Ivan compelled Lithuania to cede altogether to the Moscovite portions of the Chernigov territory which, hitherto, they had divided between them. During the negotiations, and on the signature of the peace, Ivan, instead of using the time-honoured title ” Grand Duke of Vladimir and Moscow,” and the Sons of Casimir,1462–1506 suddenly styled himself : ” Ivan, by the grace of God, Gosudar1 of all Russia, etc.” This portentous innovation was never recognised by Alexander, even after he had, in accordance with the conditions of the Peace, married the Grand Duke’s daughter Elena (1495). Ivan’s sensitiveness on this head, even more than the incessant border guerillas and the attempts of the Lithuanian Court to convert Elena to the Roman Faith, was the cause of a second war between Lithuania and Moscovy, which began in 1499. The Lithuanians, completely taken by surprise, were routed on the plain of Mitkowa and at Mstislavl, in 1500, and lost a considerable number of towns and districts, including Bryansk, Serpeisk, Mosalsk, Dorogobuzh and Toropets. The war was concluded by a six years’ truce, on a uti possidetis basis (March 25, 1503); but Alexander, now King of Poland as well as Grand Duke of Lithuania (the two countries had, in 1499, renewed the compact of Horodlo for mutual protection), rejected Ivan’s usurped title of ” Gosudar of all Russia,” as altogether unwarrantable and absurd in the circumstances, which it certainly was.
But Ivan III was now sailing, with a prosperous wind, on the full tide of sovereignty. He was not only victorious abroad, but omnipotent at home. If there was one privilege of the Russian Boyars which might be regarded as inalienable, it was the privilege of transmigration from one Prince to another. So long as there were three or four independent and fairly equal Russian Principalities in existence, it occurred to no one to dispute this privilege. It was always assumed, as a matter of course, in all the treaties made between the various Grand Dukes, who divided the north Russian lands between them. When, however, all the other principalities had bowed down before Moscovy, it is obvious that none of them would care to run the risk of offending the Grand Duke of Moscow by harbouring his fugitive Boyars. Still, the right of trans-migration on the part of the Boyars themselves had never been called in question; and it therefore came as a shock to Russian conservatism when Ivan III deliberately violated this ancient custom by seizing Prince Ivan Obolensky, who had taken refuge in the territory of the Grand Duke’s own brother, Prince Boris of Volok. Boris at once invited his three younger brothers to protest against this act of tyranny; and the protest took the form of an open rebellion in 1480. A reconciliation was patched up by the old Dowager Grand Duchess ; and ultimately, in 1486, a new division of property was made between the Grand Duke and his kinsmen, when, it is needless to say, the younger brethren got by far the worst of the bargain. Perhaps it was from resentment at this chicanery that another brother, Prince Andrew of Uglich, refused, in May, 1491, to render due service to Ivan against the Tatars. Anyhow, in September, the same year, while on a friendly visit to the Grand Duke at Moscow, he was seized along with his brothers and nephews, and they were all sent in chains to remote strong-holds. Ivan then seized their lands, excusing his conduct to the Metropolitan as a prudential measure, designed to prevent Moscovy from again becoming the slave of the Tatars.
No doubt his behaviour was largely determined by his ambitious second consort, Sophia Paleologa (daughter of Thomas, Despot of the Morea, and niece of Constantine, the last Greek Emperor), whom he espoused in 1472. This union was first proposed by Pope Paul II, through Cardinal Bessarion, as a means of establishing papal influence in Moscovy. It assumed that a Princess who had been educated at Rome could have no insuperable aversion from the Catholic Church, and, properly manipulated, might even lead her husband into the right way. The Princess was accompanied to Russia by Cardinal Antonio, who gave great offence to the orthodox by avoiding the ikons and blessing the people with his gloves on. He was not permitted to enter Moscow till his processional crucifix had been hidden in his sledge; and when, the day after the wedding (November 12, 1472), he began to speak of the union of the churches, he was hustled out of the country. But the marriage itself was an event of the highest political importance. It gave to the aspiring young autocracy, just emerging from the restraints of ancient custom, an imperial sanction, inasmuch as the rulers of Moscovy henceforth regarded themselves as the political and religious inheritors of the imperial traditions of New Rome, which Sophia Paleologa brought with her to her adopted country. Ivan’s contemporaries noticed an ominous change in him after his marriage with the descendant of the Byzantine Emperors. According to them, Ivan, hitherto, had been one of the patriarchal Princes of the olden times, who loved his people, respected the aged, and took frequent and familiar council with his servants. But after the event he suddenly grew into a grozny gosudar1, “an austere sovereign,” who held aloof from his subjects, or addressed them (if he addressed them at all) from heights of inaccessible grandeur. Before him the great Boyars, the descendants of Rurik and Gedymin, were expected to do obeisance as reverentially as the meanest muzhik. This unwelcome metamorphosis was generally attributed to Sophia; and there can be no doubt that the attribution was just. Sophia was certainly superior, both in craft and courage, to any of her con-temporaries, and she seems to have made up her mind, from the first, to have her own way. Yet her influence was good on the whole. But for her, Ivan would never have attempted to shake off the shameful Tatar yoke. On the other hand, she acclimatised the palace intrigue, hitherto peculiar to Byzantium, in Moscow, and induced her husband to alter the old order of succession.
By his first wife, Maria of Tver, who died in 1467, Ivan III had one son, Ivan, who was crowned Grand Duke but predeceased his father. He also left one son, Demetrius. By this time, Sophia also had borne her husband an heir, who was christened Vasily Gabriel. The question now arose whether the grandson, or the son by the second marriage, should succeed to the throne. Ivan at first favoured the claims of his grandson, who also had the better right by custom, inasmuch as his father had worn the Grand-Ducal crown. On the other hand, Sophia’s son was the inheritor of the imperial escutcheon of New Rome and all that it implied. The Boyars were on the side of Demetrius and his mother, Elena of Moldavia, but the lesser nobility and the clerks of the Council took the part of Sophia and Vasily. In 1497 a conspiracy to remove Demetrius was discovered. Sophia was thereupon charged with witchcraft ; her partisans were put to death ; and on February 4, 1498, Demetrius was solemnly crowned Autocrat and Gosudar of all Russia at the Uspensky Cathedral, in the presence of the Court. The Boyars of the old school had triumphed, but their triumph was not for long. In January, 1499, the great Boyar families, the Patrikyeevs and the Ryapolovskies, who had been dominant in Moscovy for half a century and represented its most conservative traditions, were arrested, tortured and executed. The discreet contemporary lyetopisi do not venture to furnish particulars of this sudden catastrophe ; but it is significant that from henceforth Demetrius takes the second place. Finally, on April 11, 1502, he was disinherited ; and, three days later, Sophia’s son, Vasily, was crowned Gosudar and Grand Duke. The crafty Greek lady had come off victorious in this silent subterranean struggle for pre-eminency.
It is in the reign of Ivan III that Moscovy first comes into contact with the West. Russia was discovered, much about the same time as America, by a German traveller, Ritter Niklas von Poppel, who, in 1486, brought to Vienna the strange tidings that north-eastern Russia was not, as generally supposed, a part of Poland, but a vast independent State far larger than Poland. In 1489 he was accredited to Ivan III, to whom he was to propose a matrimonial alliance, and he brought back with him, as Ivan’s ambassador, the Greek, George Trachionotes. There were further attempts, in 1491 and 1504, on the part of the Emperor, to attract this mysterious, potential ally within his political orbit, but Ivan III was far too haughty and suspicious to commit himself to anything definite. Presently Europe had tidings of Moscovy of a more disturbing sort. In 1503 the Grand Master of the Livonian Order Walther von Plettenburg, who, as the ally of Lithuania, had been waging war with Ivan III since 1501, informed the Pope that Moscovy would soon either conquer Livonia or, if the fortresses prevented that, would, at least, reduce it to a wilderness, unless His Holiness proclaimed a crusade against these merciless barbarians. Sweden had had a still earlier experience of the savagery of a foe who had studied strategy in the school of the Tatars. In 1466 the Moscovites, for reasons unknown, had invaded Finland and fruitlessly besieged Viborg. In 1467 they ravaged Finland up to Tavastahus, and destroyed an army of 7000 men ; whereupon the Swedes retaliated by capturing Ivangorod, a fortress which Ivan had erected on the Narova, when hostilities seem to have been suspended.
Ivan III died on October 27, 1505, in the 67th year of his age and the 44th of his reign, having survived his second consort two years. By his will he divided his territories among his five sons, Vasily, George, Demetrius, Simeon and Andrew, but the younger brothers were enjoined to look up to Vasily as their father and obey him in all things. They had small temptation to do otherwise, as their petty appanages made them utterly impotent.
Ten months after the death of Ivan III, his rival, Alexander of Poland and Lithuania, followed him into the grave (August 19, 1506). Alexander’s short reign of five years was a succession of blunders, disasters and humiliations. He was a man of good intentions but feeble character, in whom the family virtues of caution and generosity became slothfulness and prodigality. His election as King of Poland (October 4, 1 501) at least put an end to Lithuanian separation, for it was pre-ceded and conditioned by a compact between the Poles and the Lithuanians to the effect that, henceforth, the King of Poland should always be Grand Duke of Lithuania. This, however, was the solitary advantage (though, no doubt, a considerable one) which Poland derived from Alexander, an advantage more than counterbalanced by his incapacity for ruling. During his reign the Senate and the Sejm governed, while the Monarch looked on. The Pacta conventa presented to him at Mielnica for signature, before his coronation, and generally known as the Articles of Mielnica, curtailed the prerogative as regards the distribution of offices, deprived the Crown of the control of the Mint and the regalia, and exempted all the members of the Senate from prosecution by the royal courts. The constitution of 1504 enacted that, henceforth, the royal estates should not be mortgaged without the unanimous consent of the Senate, given during Diet ; that the King should be constantly attended by a permanent council of 24 Senators, relieving each other in rotas of six every six months ; and that the Grand Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor should only be appointed with the concurrence of the Senate and during the session of the Sejm. These enactments were reinforced in 1505, at the Diet of Radom, by the edict Nihil Novi, whereby the King bound himself and his successors never to alter the constitution, or enact any new statute, to the prejudice or injury of the Republic or any member of it, without the previous consent of the Senate and Sejm. The very subsidies granted to the Crown by this Diet had to pass through the hands of Commissioners, who were to examine all receipts paid into the Treasury by the King.
The Senate was justified in protecting the State against the wastefulness of a helplessly good-natured Prince who never had the courage to say “no!” Unfortunately, these self-appointed guardians of the public weal were wrangling mediocrities, unaccustomed to the exercise of sovereignty. The consequence was that, by the end of the reign, domestic affairs, especially financial matters, were in a deplorable condition, while abroad Poland was regarded as politically bankrupt. So low, indeed, did she fall that minor States, like Moldavia and Prussia, which had lately been, or still were, her vassals, became her rivals and despoilers. Stephen of Moldavia, encouraged by the ever anti-Jagiellonic Hungarian magnates, occupied the Woiwodschaft of Pokucie (the portion of Red Russia lying between the Carpathians and the Dniester) in 1502.. Only after years of negotiation was the province recovered from Stephen’s son and successor, Bogdan (Treaty of Lublin, February 16, 1506). Still more offensive were the pretensions of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who aimed not merely at renouncing the homage due to the Polish Crown, but also at recovering West Prussia. The whole dispute was referred to the arbitration of the Holy See, and was still pending when Alexander died.
The last moments of the unfortunate Polish King were cheered by at least one gleam of good fortune. The Peace with Moscovy had been concluded, and no further trouble from that quarter was anticipated, when the Crimean Khan, Mengli, suddenly burst upon defenceless Lithuania with a countless horde. The King already lay on his death-bed ; the border palatines were taken. completely by surprise ; no resistance seemed possible. But, at the eleventh hour, 10,000 men were got together for the defence of Wilna ; and, on August 5, 1506, the Tatar host was annihilated at Kleck by Stanislaus Kiszka and Michael Glinski. Alexander was already speechless when the glad tidings were brought to him, but he expressed his joy by raising grateful hands to heaven. The same evening he expired, in his 45th year.