Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How Ivan the Great


When Ivan was a lad of twelve and beginning to share his father's throne, he was married to Maria, the daughter of Boris, Grand Prince of Tver. She did not live long: it is said that one of her women procured from a witch a magic belt which poisoned her. She left one son also named Ivan.

Two years later a Greek named George, ambassador from the Pope of Rome, made his appearance at Ivan's court, with a letter from Cardinal Bessarion.

At the time that the Turks took Constantinople, the Emperor's brother Thomas escaped with his family to Rome, where he died leaving two sons and a cultured and beautiful daughter, Sophia, whom the Pope took into his protection.

The Cardinal's envoy assured Ivan that the Pope aid him the honor to offer him Sophia's hand, which had been refused to many royal suitors, including the King of France and the Duke of Milan.

The Grand Prince heard the message and was troubled; but the Metropolitan was delighted, and said,—

"God sends thee this illustrious spouse, a branch of the imperial tree which once overshadowed all orthodox Christianity. Happy alliance, which will make of Moscow another Constantinople and give its grand princes all the rights of the Grecian tsars!"

After a solemn consultation with his mother and his nobles, at the next moon he sent to Rome as ambassador the master of his mint, John Friazin, Italian born, who came back with the portrait of the Princess and a passport for Russian ambassadors through all the lands holding the Roman faith.

The Grand Prince was charmed, and again his mint-master made the long journey to Rome, this time empowered to sign the marriage bond. The Pope, dreaming of a union between the churches of the West and East, and seeing in the Grand Prince of Moscow a mighty ally against Mahomet II., who was boasting that he would feed his horse from the altar of Saint Paul's, found no great difficulty in believing all that the wily mint-master said; and he on his part caring not a straw for either form of faith, "told what was not, promised what could not be, so that the event desired no less in Moscow than in Rome might be brought about."

St. Nicholas Church and St. Nicholas gate


On a beautiful day of June the Princess Sophia, richly dowered by the Pope, and escorted by Cardinal Antonio, and with a host of Greeks and Italians in her train, left Rome to meet her northern lord. No hasty trip was this, but slow and dignified: from Rome to Lubeck, from Lubeck by sea in a gorgeously decorated ship to Reval.

On an October day, the Council-bell of Pskof was heard to ring, and when the citizens hastily gathered in the Court, Nicholas, the herald from Reval, rose to address them:—

"The daughter of the Grecian tsar is on her away across the sea, is bound for Moscow,—the daughter of Thomas, Prince of the Morea, the niece of Constantine, Tsar of Tsargrad, Sophia, and she is to be our sovereign lady, and to the Grand Prince Ivan a wife, and do ye, men of Pskof, prepare to receive her honorably."

Having thus spoken the herald passed on to Novgorod and to Moscow. The people of Pskof made all preparations to welcome the Princess; the posadnik and the aldermen, the boyars and the men-at-arms, went out to their borders to meet her, and waited for her eight full days on the banks of the Embach. The river was gay with boats and banners, and when at last she came they filled cups and golden horns with wine and mead, and beat their foreheads before her. Sophia graciously accepted their homage and, escorted by a splendid train, rode into Pskof. First she went to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity with the Cardinal and her friends, and afterwards to the palace, where again the officials of the city and the boyars and all Pskof brought gifts,—wine and mead and meats and food and horses for her friends and servants. They also gave her gifts of money, and the mint-master was not forgotten: ten silver rubles was his share.

When the Princess saw what honor the citizens of Pskof were doing her, she made a graceful little speech:—

"Now I am anxious to set out upon my way to meet my lord and your sovereign at Moscow. For your honorable reception of me, for your bread, wine, and mead, I thank you. When, God willing, I am in Moscow and occasion arises, I shall always look out zealously for your interests."

Having thus spoken she bade farewell to the posadnik and to all Pskof, and departed to Novgorod.

While being entertained in Novgorod the Great the Grand Prince held another council with his mother, his brothers, and his nobles, touching the manner of receiving the Grecian Princess. Hitherto into whatsoever city she came the Cardiff Antonio had walked before her with the Latin cross in his hand, and some declared that such a scandal should never be allowed in holy Moscow, and others brought to mind how the Roman faith had been treated by Basil the Blind, and how Isidor, Metropolitan of Moscow, had been ruined by it. Ivan was perplexed and asked the opinion of Philip, his Metropolitan, who replied,—

"It is contrary to all right for such an ambassador to enter the city with his cross, or even to draw nigh. If thou, wishing to do him honor, permittest him to do this, when he enters the city by one gate, I, thy father, shall go out by another. It is an outrage for us to think of such a thing, since he who dallies with a false faith is recreant to his own."

The Grand Prince sent a noble to take away the offensive cross and hide it in his sledge. Antonio was at first inclined to resist, but yielded in spite of the secret advice of Ivan's mint-master, who wished due honor to be paid to the Pope's envoy. On the first day of December Sophia entered Moscow, and was immediately married to the Grand Prince with great pomp.

Cathedral of the Assumption


Sophia brought with her all the pageantries of Constantinople. In her train were the wily statesmen, the learned theologians, the skilful artists of the East. Under the direction of her Greek and Italian architects Ivan caused the kreml to be surrounded with new white stone walls, solid and high, topped with notched battlements, and guarded by eighteen towers. Pietro of Milan built the gate afterwards called "Our Saviour," which no one can enter covered, and another Italian built the gate of St. Nicholas, the avenger of perjury, before whose image suitors make solemn oath.

At Ivan's request, Aristotle of Bologna, the favorite architect of Western popes and kings, came with his son, Andrew, and his apprentice, at a salary of ten rubles a month. He rebuilt the Cathedral of the Assumption, where, for four hundred years, the Russian tsars have been crowned. Russian architects had made many efforts to build this church. Aristotle inspected the works, praised the smoothness of the walls, but said the lime was not properly made. He caused a battering-ram of his own invention to be set up, and wonderful to relate, says an old chronicle, the foundations which had taken three years to build he succeeded in laying flat in less time than is credible.. Then he placed solid foundations and built the cathedral in four years.

When it was done Ivan sent to all his cities and gathered the metropolitans and archbishops, bishops and clergy, and made a great consecration service. Countless candles lighted up the pillars overlaid with solid gold, and threw a sombre glow upon the faces of the, saints and angels, brought out the details of the "Last Judgment" and "The End of the World" painted on the walls, gleamed on the diamonds and jewels of the screens, and drove away the shadows which forever dwell about its windowless, dungeon-like vaults.

Aristotle, besides building Ivan's churches, coined money for him, invented a pontoon bridge to be used in his attack upon Novgorod, and cast the cannon which enabled him to conquer the lesser princes and Kazan. Paolo Bossio of Genoa cast for him the tsar of guns, a mighty monster which rests a silent guardian of the Kreml walls. After the completion of the Assumption Cathedral Ivan ordered an Italian to build him a stone palace with a gilded roof. This was called the palace of cut stone, and was afterwards used for the reception of ambassadors. The Red Stair case, from the top of which the tsars showed the light of their eyes to the people, still exists, and the Terem, or women's apartment, with its painted ceiling; the vaulted Hall of Council, and the oratory where Ivan's guardian saints are pictured on backgrounds of gold.

Arms of Russia


Ivan the Great, by his marriage with the Grecian Princess, became the heir of the Emperors of Constantinople and of the Roman Caesars. He took for his new arms the double-headed eagle, the symbol of imperial power. Russia henceforth is not a dismembered collection of principalities but an Empire.