Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How Ivan the Great Humiliated Novgorod


Ivan, the fortunate heir of wise, ambitious, sparing ancestry, a cold, calm, imperious prince, born a despot, had no design of running risks by an appeal to arms when he could reach his ends by peaceful measures. Stephen of Moldavia said of him: Ivan is a strange man; he adds to his dominion by sitting at home and sleeping, while I can barely defend my own boundaries though I fight every day." He was willing to be thought a coward so long as he could outweary his foes by parleying and delay.

He was terrible in appearance; he hated women, and if by chance he met them his looks were so fierce that they fainted away. At dinner he drank so much wine that he was often oppressed with sleep, and his guests waited in silent terror until he awoke and began to rally them. He was hypocritical and cruel; he put his relatives to death and publicly wept for them; he whipped and mutilated, tortured and burned to death, nobles of the highest rank.

Ivan first quarrelled with Novgorod; he wanted the archbishop to be named by the Metropolitan of Moscow; he sent word: "Let my inheritance Great Novgorod beat the forehead (to bow so low that the brow touches the ground signifies in Russian to prefer a petition, or ask a favor) to me and I will spare it. Let Novgorod take my officers without complaint, as was the custom in the days of my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather."

The men of Novgorod thought that they could despise his authority, and they declined to "beat the forehead" to the new prince or adopt his suggestions. In his slow, decisive way he sent word to Pskof and said,—

"In case Novgorod the Great refuses to obey me according to the ancient custom, then shall Pskof my inheritance aid me, the Grand Prince, against Novgorod the Great to uphold my rights."

The men of Pskof were loath to embroil themselves with the neighbor city, and they sent messengers to Novgorod saying,—

"The Grand Prince will lead us against you. He wishes your submission; but if you beat the forehead to him we too shall have to yield."

As the messenger ceased speaking a voice was heard in the assembly:—

"We do not wish the Grand Prince of Moscow. We do not wish to be called his inheritance. We are free. We will not suffer insults from Moscow. We prefer' to yield ourselves up to Kashmir, King of Poland."

The council was divided into two factions: some shouted, "Long live orthodox Moscow! Long live our Grand Prince Ivan, and our father, the Metropolitan Philip!" others shouted, "Hurrah for the King!"

The leaders of the anti-Moscow party were Martha, the widow of a former posadnik, and her two grown up sons. She was of ready speech and eloquent, very bold and rich. Her party was the stronger, and after much tumult it was voted to give the city into the protection of the King of Poland. A formal act was drawn up with great solemnity: the commonwealth was to enjoy the ancient rights granted by Fiery Fame and which their elected princes had respected.

When Ivan heard of this act he called a council of his brothers, the Metropolitan, the archbishops, his boyars, and his captains, and told them that Novgorod must be brought to terms; and he demanded their opinion whether it were better to take immediate steps or wait for winter.

"The territory of Novgorod," said the Grand Prince, "is full of lakes and rivers and impassable marshes, and in days gone by those who went in summer against Novgorod lost many men."

But the council, more energetic than the Prince, decided to begin the war forthwith, and the chronicle says that "the Grand Prince went out against the men of Novgorod not as against Christians but as against pagans and backsliders, for they were traitors not only to their master but to God the Lord; and as his ancestor, the Grand Prince Dimitri, measured his strength with the godless Mamai, so did the orthodox Grand Prince John attack these traitors."

His captains conquered the lands of the northern Dvina, and, aided by Tartar horsemen, cruelly ravaged the possessions of the "perfidious men of Novgorod," cutting off the lips and noses of those whom they took alive. The cowardly King Kashmir stirred not for the relief of Novgorod the Great, but one of Martha's sons hastily gathered an army of forty thousand ill-trained soldiers and went out to the banks of the Shelona. Four thousand Muscovites dashed through the river and attacked the artisan-soldiers of Novgorod and put them to flight, though they were ten to one. Ivan made the rebels sign a shameful treaty and pay a large fine in silver rubles.

"At this time," says the chronicle, "the land was lawless and cared not for princes nor listened to them, and there was much evil done, murders, thefts, unjust divisions of property, and every one's hand was turned against his neighbor."

Many of the citizens, therefore, seeing that their discords were always on the increase, longed for Ivan's strong arm, and his party in the old city grew apace. At last he went in person and in peace to visit his inheritance. When he was yet a long way off the chief bishop and the posadnik and the nobles of Novgorod came to meet him, bringing splendid gifts. He entered the city welcomed by a loyal throng. He made his abode in the citadel but at first refused the hospitality of the city. A great boyar came and humbly "beat his forehead," begging the Grand Prince to dine at his house, but the invitation was declined. On the next day Ivan made a dinner and bade the chief bishop and the posadnik, and all the former mayors, and the captains of police, and many rich merchants, and while they were dining he let them see what a host of citizens came to him with their complaints. He was encouraged to establish a court, and from all the region round they came and brought him webs of cloth, and money, and gifts of wine, and he heard them all. He assumed more and more power. He suddenly arrested the posadnik and other leading citizens on charge of treason, and when the chief bishop came and beat his forehead before him, begging him to show mercy and let the prisoners go on bail, he said,—

"Not so; for it is known to thee, O servant of God, it is known to my inheritance, Novgorod the Great, that heretofore much mischief has been done by these men, and even now whatever trouble arises comes from them." That very day he sent the posadnik and three others to Moscow loaded with chains.

After he went back to Moscow the chief bishop and several boyars followed him and begged him to free the prisoners of Novgorod. He received them kindly in his palace, but not one of the exiles did he let go.

Still the quarrels of the factions continued. Many citizens, not being able to wait until Ivan should come again to Novgorod, brought their complaints to the Prince in Moscow. The posadnik was called before the Prince's tribunal to defend himself from many charges, and in turn many nobles and people of lower rank, the rustics, the nuns, widows, and all who felt aggrieved, came to complain of each other. "Never had this happened from the beginning, when the land first was, when the princes from Rurik down went to Kief and Vladimir. One only, the Grand Prince John, the son of Basil, brought them to this pass."

Afterwards two envoys from Novgorod went to the Grand Prince and, either by treachery' or by a slip of the tongue, called him Proprietor, or Sovereign, instead of "My Lord." He took advantage of this mistake and sent his bailiffs to seize the old palace of Fiery Fame, which for centuries had been looked upon as the temple of their liberties.

When the news of this fresh act of tyranny spread through the city the great tocsin of the Council rang once more with wild alarm. The people gathered together and put the Grand Prince's friends to death without mercy, and word was sent to Moscow:—

"We beat the forehead to thee as our lord, but we will not call thee proprietor; the court of thy deputies may meet in the citadel as of yore, but thy bailiff shall not dwell among us and we will not give up the palace of Fiery Fame."

Ivan heard the message, and said to the Metropolitan,—

"I did not desire sovereignty over them; they themselves besought me, and now they disavow it and give me the lie."

The Metropolitan, Ivan's mother and brothers, the nobles and captains, all Moscow, urged him to go forth against Novgorod the Great, the ally of Lithuania and the Pope of Rome, the enemy of the true faith. With a great army he marched against the rebel city, and when he drew near, the chief bishop, with the mayors and a throng of people, came out to meet him and beat their foreheads in the dust before him and said,—

"Lord Proprietor, John, son of Basil, Grand Prince of Russia! thou hast shown thy wrath upon thine inheritance, upon Novgorod the Great; thy sword and thy fire ravaged the land; the blood of Christians flowed. Have mercy upon thine inheritance, hold back thy sword, quench thy fire, let the blood of Christians cease to flow. Gospodin! Gosudar! So be it: let thy ban fall upon the nobles of Novgorod, take them to Moscow, but have pity on thine inheritance, Novgorod the Great."

Ivan listened to them, but answered never a word. The next day he sent three of his boyars to make known his demands:—

"I will reign at Novgorod the Great as I do at home in Moscow. No longer shall the bell call you to council; the office of the posadnik shall cease; the whole principality shall be mine."

Six days the men of Novgorod took counsel together. It was in vain that the patriotic party shouted, "Let us die for liberty and Saint Sofia!" The treaty was signed, giving the old commonwealth fully into Ivan's power. He sent Lady Martha and her grandson and many of the chief citizens to Moscow, and seized their goods. When he himself returned to his capital the great tocsin of the Council went too, and was placed in the public square of the Kreml, together with the other bells, the emblems of liberty.

Afterwards, when Moscow was threatened with an invasion of the Golden Horde, the men of Novgorod took occasion once more to seek Kasimir's help, but the envoy had hardly left the city when Ivan suddenly appeared before them. His cannon thundered at the walls, and he sent word:—

"I am the guardian of the guiltless and your lord. Open the gates. When I enter the city I will spare the innocent."

At last the gates were opened and the people fell on their faces and begged for forgiveness, which the Grand Prince granted, saying, loud enough for all to hear,—

"I, your proprietor, grant peace to all the guiltless. Have no fear."

Nevertheless, after he had heard mass in Saint Sofia, and dined with the posadnik, he caused fifty of the chief enemies of Moscow to be clapped into prison. They, being put to the torture, named the chief bishop and many more as traitors. The chief bishop was stripped of his possessions and sent to a distant monastery under guard, a hundred of the patriots were put to death, and a hundred men-at-arms and merchants were banished to Eastern cities. Not even then did he cease his cruelty; he listened to any charges which the men of Novgorod made against each other, at one time putting four nobles to death, at another torturing thirty citizens, sacking their houses, and sending their wives and children into exile. At another time he caused several thousand men, women, and children to be transplanted to the towns of Suzdal and their places to be filled with merchants from other places.

Bosnian Merchant


Ivan struck one last and terrible blow at the prosperity of the old city when he pillaged the German market. The Grand-Master of the town of Reval had unjustly treated some Russian merchants. Ivan angrily demanded satisfaction from the Livonian Order. His demands were rejected with insults. He then forbade all dealings with the Germans, and arrested in Novgorod fifty of the Hanse merchants and put them in prison, where several of them died. He carried off to Moscow three hundred wagon-loads of gold, silver, jewels, furs, silks, and other precious merchandise. The tale of this violence was noised throughout Northern Europe, and it was many long years before the merchants of Reval and Riga, Dorpat and Narva, again made their appearance in Russian lands.

Thus the Grand Prince killed the goose which laid the golden eggs.