Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How Dimitri Donski's


After Basil's death a civil war broke out in his family. His brother George of Galitch appealed to the patriarchal law of succession, and as "eldest" claimed the throne of Moscow. His other brothers upheld Basil's son, Basil, a lad ten years of age. The quarrel lasted half a dozen years, and was at last taken to the Kan. George of Galitch won the favor of Tegini, a powerful Tartar murza, who promised to get him the title. Basil's interests were represented by Ivan, a boyar of Moscow, "artful, adroit, full of resources," who kindled the jealousy of the other Tartars at Tegini's power.

"It is in vain," said he, "to lay our cause before the Kan. He cannot escape from Tegini's will, and by his will the throne of Moscow is given to George of Galitch. But what will become of us if the Kan hears Tegini? George will be Grand Prince of Moscow his friends will reign in Lithuania, and at the Horde Tegini will be stronger than we."

By such words "he wounded their hearts as with arrows," and they beat their brows in the dust before the Kan for Basil's sake, and so worked upon the Kan that he threatened Tegini with death if he spoke again in George's favor. All that year there was discord between uncle and nephew. George founded his right upon the ancient customs of his land, brought the chronicles to bear upon his side, and, finally, cited the will of Dimitri of the Don. But Ivan, the boyar of Moscow, said,—

"Prince George demands the throne because of his father's will, Prince Basil, by thy mercy; thou gayest it to his father Basil the son of Dimitri, and he, depending on thy favor, gave it to his son who has already ruled these many years, and has not shaken off thy authority; therefore is he Prince by thy mercy."

This flattery won the Kan; he bade George lead his nephew's horse, and sent a baskak to represent him at the coronation, which for the first time took place at the Cathedral of the Assumption at Moscow. This same year the great Vitovt died. It may perhaps seem strange that this ambitious Prince had not taken advantage of these discords to fulfil the plans of his youth. But fortune did not favor him. His own subjects were rebellious; he quarrelled with the Patriarch of Constantinople; and just as the old man was expecting to be recognized King of Lithuania, and the ambassadors of Sigismond, Emperor of Germany, were bringing him the crown and sceptre, the Poles secured an injunction from the Pope. The Prince, now eighty years of age, fell ill of disappointment and died. His court had been royal in its magnificence; princes, kings, kans, governors, and ambassadors mingled in its gayeties, and each day it is said that seven hundred oxen, fourteen hundred sheep, and numberless fowls were killed to serve the princely board.

Basil owed his throne to the clever boyar Ivan, whose daughter he promised to marry, but the haughty Sofia, Vitovt's daughter, had more ambitious designs for her son. She married him to the Princess Maria, granddaughter of Vladimir the Brave.

They made a grand wedding; among the guests were George's two sons, Basil the Cross-eyed, and Dimitri, surnamed Shemiaka. The Cross-eyed wore around his waist a beautiful golden belt studded with jewels which was once a part of the dower of his grandmother, Dimitri Donski's wife. One of the old nobles knew it and told its romantic story to the Princess Sofia, who snatched it from its owner at the public banquet. The two brothers, not brooking such an open affront, at once mounted horse and rode off to their father.

George, urged by his two sons and the jilted boyar of Moscow, took up arms and made his nephew prisoner. Basil wept and begged to be set free, and George, contrary to his sons' advice, instead of putting him to death, gave him the town of Kostroma. George was now Grand Prince, but he found it an empty glory, for as soon as the men of Moscow learned that Basil was established as governor of Kostroma, they left Moscow, princes, boyars, captains, domestics, all, and pressed around their favorite prince as "bees cluster around their queen." George was forced to let his nephew return to Moscow and take the throne again, but even then he was loath to give up the struggle.

Once more the Kreml, together with Basil's wife and mother, fell into his hands. Hardly was he acknowledged as Grand Prince when he died suddenly at the age of sixty. Another war followed, and Basil took his cousin, Basil the Cross-eyed, prisoner, and in a fit of wrath put out his eyes. His repentance was as quick as his fury; as an act of atonement he set free Shemiaka, who promised to be his faithful ally.

Church in Cathedral Place


About this time the Kan Ulu was expelled from the Golden Horde, and gathering a great army of Tartars, Lithuanians, Novgorod Freebooters, and "good companions" of all races and tongues, he established an empire at Kazan on the ruins of the ancient "White City" of the Bulgars, and began to tyrannize over the Mordva and all the other tribes of the Volga valley. He grew rapidly in power and wealth, and soon came in collision with Basil. A battle took place near Moscow. Shemiaka played the traitor; Basil was left with only fifteen hundred men to bring into the field, but he fought with the energy of despair; an arrow pierced his hand, he lost several fingers by the stroke of a Tartar sword, and at last, struck down by a battle-axe and covered with fifteen wounds, he fell into the hands of the Kan, at whose court he found his faithless ally trying to get himself appointed Grand Prince.

Ulu kept Basil prisoner a few months and then set him free for a small ransom. He came back to Moscow amid the joyous shouts of the people, and with a few companions went to the Trinity Monastery to return thanks to Saint Sergi for his liberation. While he was away his cousin Shemiaka appeared before Moscow with Prince Ivan of Mozhaisk and a band of conspirators, took the Kreml by surprise, and captured Basil's wife and mother and all his treasures. Then they hastened to the monastery after Basil, who hearing the tumult tried to find a horse whereon to escape, but it was in vain. He took refuge in the Church of the Trinity, and the sexton made fast the doors. His enemies rode up the steps and Ivan of Mozhaisk stumbled on the stones and was thrown from his horse. Pale as a corpse at this omen he nevertheless demanded where the Grand Prince was. Basil, hearing his voice, said,—

"Brothers, have mercy upon me. Let me stay here. I will not leave the monastery; I will become a monk,"

Taking the ikon, or picture, from the tomb of Saint Sergi, he went to the church door and said to Prince Ivan,—

"Brother, did we not swear by the living cross, by this ikon, by this church, and this wonder-working tomb, not to do harm to each other? and now I know not what is being done to me."

Prince Ivan replied,—

"Lord, if we have thought to do thee any harm may the same befall us. What we are doing is for Christianity's sake, for thy ransom; for when the Tartars know of this they will lighten thy ransom."

Basil, seeing the treachery, replaced the holy ikon, and, falling prostrate on the "wonder-working tomb," began to pray with such sobs and lamentation that even his enemies were moved. Nevertheless they seized him, and he said, The will of God be done."

He was brought to Moscow, and Shemiaka avenged his brother by plucking out the Grand Prince's eyes and sending him to a far-off city.

Shemiaka mounted the throne, but was so cruel and unjust that he soon won the hatred of all his subjects, who remained always faithful to their luckless Basil. To this day, when a ruler gives an unjust sentence, it is called by the people a "Shemiaka's judgment."

Basil's friends assembled troops in Lithuania, and, with the aid of two sons of Ulu Kan and many princes, took the field. Shemiaka started out against them, but he had no sooner left the city than a revolt broke out, and the blind Basil was restored in triumph to the throne.

Three years later, "the ferocious and implacable" Shemiaka, unable to keep his word, again took the field, but was completely overwhelmed by the Muscovites and Tartars near Galitch. His domains were added to Moscow, and he himself took refuge in Novgorod, where he died by poison, much to the relief of his cousin Basil the Blind.

Novgorod had not ceased to give shelter to his enemies, to disobey his lieutenants, and to show a dangerous spirit of independence. Basil made up his mind to subdue the proud commonwealth. He sent an army and forced the city to give the Prince of Moscow full control and to pay a tribute of ten thousand rubles. Pskof and Viatka also were made to acknowledge his power. He brought to Moscow the young Prince of Riazan, whose father had just died, and governed the province by a lieutenant. He put the grandson of Vladimir the Brave in prison and robbed him of his possessions, in spite of the great services he had done. During Basil's reign the dreadful leather whip, with curled edges, called the knout, was invented, and used unsparingly upon his subjects, whether they were rebels or not.

Timur the Lame had conquered Baiazet the Thunderbolt at Angora, but soon the Turks were again in the full tide of victory and pressing hard upon the Eastern Empire. It seemed that the only way to save Europe from the deluge of these invaders was to unite in a general crusade. It was proposed to hold a Council at Florence and discuss the union of the Greek and Roman churches. The Emperor of Constantinople, who hoped that the Pope and the Western kings would send him aid, signed the act of union; and his example was followed by three of his vicars, seventeen metropolitan bishops, and a host of the lower clergy of his communion. Among them was Isidor, the Metropolitan of Moscow, who came back from Florence, full of zeal for the great reconciliation. The Latin cross suddenly made its appearance in the Russian cathedrals and the name of the Roman Pope was brought into the liturgy. The orthodox Russians were shocked at the change, but no one was more angry than the Grand Prince Basil the Blind. He called Isidor a false shepherd, and so covered him with insults that he was glad to escape with his life to Rome.

Mosque of Saint Sophia at Constantinople


The Greek Empire, deprived of help from the West, fell before the genius of the young Sultan, Mahomet, the Ottoman leader, who launched eighty ships in the harbor of Constantinople, killed the emperor, and changed his palace into a seraglio and the splendid cathedral of Santa Sofia into a Moslem mosque.

From this time Moscow became the chief seat of the Greek Church and a refuge of the artists, writers, and priests of Constantinople, the apostles of the renascence.

At the time of Basil's death the Lithuanian and Tartar empires nearly stifled the little Russian state of Moscow, which eight successive princes had not yet made into a stable kingdom. Riazan and Tver still held aloof; Novgorod and Pskof were ready at any pretext to choose their princes from Lithuania rather than from Moscow. The Empire of the Golden Horde was broken up into several powerful states; Ulu threatened Moscow from the East. A descendant of Timur's old enemy Toktamish, named Azi, had founded an empire in the Crimea, or Krim, and ruled over Mongols and a host of tribes, Greeks and Goths, Armenians, Jews, and Genoese, the remains of ancient conquests. A peasant named Girei had rescued the Kan from death, and as a mark of gratitude the benefactor's name was henceforth used as a title by all the Krim kans. King Kashmir was the powerful monarch of Lithuania and Poland united. It was a critical time for Russia. Great princes began to reorganize the nations of Europe. Charles VII. and Louis XI. in France; the Tudors in England; Frederick III. and Maximilian in Austria; Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain, aided by the wealth brought from the new world beyond the sea. Russia also was destined to be freed from the Mongol yoke and to make mighty strides of progress. When a son, Ivan, was born to Basil the Blind, an old monk living at Novgorod the Great had a vision, and, troubled in spirit, came to the archbishop and said,—

An Armenian


"Verily to-day the Grand Prince triumphs: God has given him an heir. I behold this child making himself illustrious by glorious deeds. He will conquer princes and peoples. But woe to us! Novgorod will fall at his feet and never rise again."

At Basil's death Ivan was two-and-twenty years of age, and had been his father's assistant for a dozen years.