Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How Moscow Triumphed Over Tver

During all this time the name of Moscow has scarcely been heard. In the annals it is mentioned as one of the many small cities burnt by the Tartars. It had been founded about a century before by George Long Hand, who was one day returning from a visit to his son, Andrew God-loved, Prince of Suzdal, and came to the banks of a picturesque river. The Grand Prince was charmed with the view, and stayed to refresh himself at one of the villages which nestled amid the thick pines along the shore. Stephen, the proprietor of the domain, gave his visitor so surly a welcome that the Grand Prince lost his temper, and bade his men seize Stephen and drown him. He then took possession of the land, and built a stockade upon the hill where now the Kreml rises with its towns, palaces, and churches. He called his new fortress Moskva, or Moscow, from the name of the river. His son, Andrew God-loved, took pleasure in enlarging and adorning it.

Moscow remained obscure until the time of Daniel, the son of Alexander, the hero of the Neva, who made it the head of a small principality. At his death he was buried in the Church of Michael the Archangel, which for the next four hundred years was the tomb of Russian princes.

Between the house of Moscow and the house of Tver arose a bitter feud for the possession of the throne of Suzdal. Michael of Tver was the eldest of the family; the nobles of Vladimir and Suzdal and the burghers of Novgorod hailed him as Grand Prince. The Kan of Sarai, before whom the matter was brought, decided in his favor, and ordered him to be crowned. But his nephew, George, the son of Daniel, put forth his claims in so lawless a spirit that Michael was obliged twice to besiege him in Moscow, and made him swear to keep the peace.

Kreml of Moscow


Prince George was not the man to stick to his word or to hold his hand from any treachery. He managed to win over the republic of Novgorod, which gave him an army. He went out against his uncle and was defeated.

About this time the Kan of Sarai died, and George hastened to the Horde, where he won the heart of the new Kan's sister, and married her under the Christian name of Agatha. His brother-in-law immediately decided against Michael, and gave George a Mongol army with which to conquer the Grand Principality. Michael offered to make terms, but George again broke his word and began to ravage Michael's lands round about Tver. Michael took an army and went out against his nephew, and again put him to rout. George's Tartar wife, his brother Boris, his Mongol general, and nearly all the leaders of the Kan's army, fell into Michael's hands, who had the wisdom to treat his prisoners with all honor and respect. Unfortunately Agatha sickened and died, and when, for the third time, the dispute of the two princes was taken to the Kan's tribunal, George was wise enough to go in person, distributed costly gifts to all the Kan's family, and accused his uncle of drawing his sword against the Kan and of poisoning his sister.

Michael at first sent his young son, Constantine, a boy of twelve, to represent him, but when he heard of his nephew's plots he deemed it best to follow him. So he made his will and shared his estates among his children, knowing well that he might never more return.

For some weeks after his arrival the Kan paid no heed to the Grand Prince, nor deigned to look at the rich gifts which he brought in token of homage. George, meanwhile, ceased not from his slanders, and at last a tent was spread and Michael was brought before his judges, who declared him guilty. He was condemned to death and loaded with chains. Soon after the Kan went to hunt through the mountains of the Caucasus. It was a brilliant spectacle as he left Sarai, accompanied by his richly dressed nobles; by a hundred thousand soldiers in glittering uniform, and mounted on fine horses; by merchants with countless chariots filled with the costliest treasures of the East; by Russian princes and boyars dressed in long floating kaftans, with turbans surmounted by aigrets of precious stones, with sabres and poniards in belt and bows and arrows in their hands. Where they camped reigned all the pomp and luxury of an Eastern city.

The unhappy Michael was dragged in the Kan's train far among the forests of Dagestan. One day they reached a great town and the prisoner was exhibited in the market-place, and the people crowded around and pitied him, saying to one another,—

"Do you know this captive in the stocks only a few moons ago was a mighty prince in his own land?"

Michael might have escaped, because the Kan cared no whit what became of him, but he refused to take advantage of his chances, telling his faithful nobles,—

"I will never degrade myself by flight; better for me to perish than for my people to suffer."

At last the Kan yielded to George's constant bribes and prayers, and gave the order for his rival's death. One of Michael's pages saw George and a Tartar lord drawing near followed by a throng of people. He hastened to warn his master. "I know why he comes," said the brave prince, and he prepared to die, giving last messages for his wife and children, and sending his little son, Constantine, for protection, to one of the Kan's wives who was interested in him.

George came near the tent which served as Michael's prison and sent his ruffians to do their cruel work. They threw the prince on the ground, tore off his garments and trampled upon him, and a Russian wretch who played the traitor plunged a dagger into his side and plucked out his heart. Then George entered the tent and looked upon the naked body, and the Tartar lord, Kavgadi, to whom Michael had been generous and kind, turned and said,—

"What! wilt thou allow thy uncle's body to be put to shame?"

Michael's followers took their murdered prince back to Tver, and his body, "incorruptible as that of a saint," was laid in a silver coffin in the great cathedral, on whose walls artists afterwards painted the scene of his martyrdom. He became the patron saint of the city, and George, freed of his rival and still upheld by the Kan, took possession of Moscow, Suzdal, Vladimir, and Novgorod.

Some years later George was called to the Horde to answer the charge of keeping back the tribute. There he was met by his cousin, Dimitri, "of the Terrible Eyes," who had a father to avenge. Out of the scabbard flashed his sword, and the Prince of Moscow lay dead at his feet The Kan was inclined to pardon the young prince, but George's friends insisted that if he did so it would encourage the Russians in boldness and be a deathless stain on his memory. After a year's imprisonment the Kan ordered him to be beheaded, and appointed his brother, Alexander, prince in his place. The next year, however, the Kan's tax-collector appealed with a strong body-guard in the streets of Tver, and the citizens, angered either by his cruel conduct or by the rumor that the baskak  ha come to kill the prince, seize the throne, and force them to become Mahometans, rose in rebellion and massacred the Tartar and all his suite. Alexander, carried away by the popular madness, himself led the assault upon the palace where the baskak was hiding, and was the first to apply the torch.

Such an insult the Kan could not forgive. He deposed Alexander. Ivan, called Money Bag  , who had succeeded his brother George at Moscow, offered to finish the ruin of Tver. The Kan gave him the title of Grand Prince and an army of fifty thousand Tartars, with which he cruelly ravaged his kinsman's principality. Alexander and his brother lost their courage, and, deserting their people, fled to Pskof. The Kan demanded Alexander of the victorious Ivan, whose ambassadors forthwith repaired to Pskof and summoned the citizens to deliver up the fugitive prince.

"Do not expose a Christian people to the wrath of the infidels," said they; but the men of Pskof, heroic and faithful to the end, .said to Alexander,—

"Do not go my lord; whatever happens we will die with thee." And they •bade the ambassadors begone, and made ready to defend themselves and their prince; nor did they yield even when Ivan got together an army, and when Theognost, the head of the church, threatened them with God's wrath. But Alexander, as usual, deemed discretion the better part of valor, and again fled, and the men of Pskof, greatly relieved, sent word to the grand prince:—

"Alexander has gone; all Pskof swears it, from the smallest to the greatest, popes, monks, nuns, orphans, women, and children."

After a short abiding in Lithuania Alexander determined to submit to the Kan's mercy. He took his nobles and went boldly to the Golden Horde, and beating his forehead in the dust before the terrible Uzbek Kan, he said,—

"Lord, all-powerful Tsar, if I have done aught against thee I am come hither to receive from thee life or death. Do as God inspires thee. I am ready for any fate."

The Kan admired his frankness and courage and gave him a full pardon. Hardly -had he reached Tver before Ivan, who thought he was forever rid of his rival, hastened to Sarai and painted Alexander as the most dangerous enemy of the Tartars. The Kan was persuaded, and again bade Alexander appear before his tribunal. This time he was put to death and his son Theodore. The other princes of Tver, seeing that the Kan had faith only in the wily Prince of Moscow, made their submission by sending the great bell of the cathedral to Money Bag  Novgorod also was required to pay him a double tax on every head, and as he acted as the Kan's baskak he took pains to keep as much for his own treasury as he gave the Kan. Thus he was able to buy many towns and lands and add them to his domain.

Under Ivan Vladimir remained the legal capital of Suzdal, but he was all the time working to make Moscow the real capital. He built many magnificent churches and or the Cathedral of the Assumption, which he enriched with vessels of silver and gold, with costly ornaments of every kind, and pictures framed in precious stones. The metropolitan bishop, Peter, lived there most of the time, and his successor, Theognost, who threatened Pskof with the wrath of God, made it his chief residence, so that the religious headship of Russia passed entirely from Vladimir to Moscow. St. Peter, the first actual metropolitan of Moscow, painted a great picture of the Assumption, and himself selected the place of his tomb in the new cathedral. His prophecy concerning the future of Moscow and Ivan Money Bag  was more than fulfilled:—

"Prince Ivan," said the old man, "God will bless thee and raise thee above all other princes, and this thy town above all other towns. Thy race shall reign in this place during many centuries; their hands shall conquer all their enemies; the saints shall make their dwelling here, and here shall my bones repose."

Ivan reigned securely by means of his wealth and influence with the Kan. Trade began to thrive; markets and fairs were founded; the merchants of Asia and Europe met on the Volga, and every year thousands of pounds of silver were collected for the greedy and unwarlike prince, whose moneybag always hung at his belt instead of a sword.

Ivan loved to talk with the monks of his Monastery of the Transfiguration, and when he felt the end of his days draw nigh he let himself be tonsured and put on the dress of a monk and a new name. When he died he divided his domain among his three sons, but he gave the largest share to the eldest, Simeon, and forbade the principality of Moscow to be divided.

From now until the time of Peter the Great, Russian history centres about this "princely and magnificant" city on the Moskva. Its princes, politic and persevering, prudent and pitiless, of gloomy and terrible mien, whose foreheads were marked by the seal of fate; who gained their ends by intrigue, corruption, the purchase of consciences, servility to the kans, faithlessness to their equals, murder and treachery, the tax-gatherers and police of the Tartars, were to gather Russia together and make the scattered fragments into a mighty empire.

Monastery of ST. Sergius at Troitsa


As soon as Ivan Money Bag  died many princes rose up to dispute the principality of Vladimir with his sons. The eldest, Simeon, went to the Horde and spoke eloquently of his father's faithfulness to the kans; but it was not his winged words nor his arguments, but his father's treasure, which moved the infidels, and he returned to be crowned in the Cathedral of Vladimir. He was the first to take the title, Grand Prince of all the Russias, and he so mightily domineered over the other princes that he was called the Haughty. The men of Novgorod at first resisted his claims, but his army soon brought them to terms. The chief event of his reign was the foundation of the famous Trinity Monastery, which became the richest in Russia, and was surrounded with ramparts and solid brick walls, with a triple row of embrasures and nine lofty towers, which in after days many times withstood the assaults of Catholics and infidels. It was founded by holy St. Sergius, who left Moscow and took up his abode amid the thick forests along a beaver-haunted stream. His first companion was a huge bear, but it was not long before many monks joined themselves to him.

"At that time there were near Moscow," says old Richard Eden, "woods of exceeding bigness in the which black wolves and white bears are hunted. The cause where of may be the extreme cold of the North which doth greatly alter the complexion of beasts and is the mother of whiteness as the Philosophers affirm. They have also great plenty of bees whereby they have such abundance of honey and wax that it is with them of small price;"

"For," says another ancient writer, "in the stocks or bodies of exceeding great and hollow trees are sometimes found great pools or lakes of Honey. Dimitri the ambassador of the Duke of Moscow whom he sent to the Bishop of Rome not many years since made relation that a husbandman of the Country not far from the place where he remained seeking in the woods for Honey descended into a great hollow tree full of Honey into the which he slipped up to the breast and lied there only with Honey for the space of two days calling in vain for help in that desert of woods: and that in fine despairing of help he escaped by a marvelous chance, being drawn out by a great Bear that descended into the tree with her loins downward after the manner of men. For when the man (as present necessity and opportunity served) perceived the Bear to be within his reach, he suddenly clasped her about the loins with his arms and with a terrible cry provoked the beast to enforce her strength to leap out of the tree and therewith to draw him out as it chanced indeed." [archaic spelling corrected]

Such in the middle of the fourteenth century was the neighborhood of "Holy Mother Moskva." A stranger visiting the city would have seen the metal-founder, Boris, casting sweet-toned bells for the churches, and many Greek and Russian artists adorning the cathedrals of the Kreml with their stiff and conventional paintings.

The Black Death


The reign of Simeon the Haughty was cut short by his sudden death. The terrible plague known as the Black Death  came sweeping over from thickly peopled China. Hardly a country in Europe was spared from its ravages. In a few months thirteen millions of men perished. Among the victims was the Prince of all the Russias: He left a will written on paper, which now for the first time took the place of parchment. He was succeeded by his peace-loving brother, Ivan.