Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

Defeat in the West—Conquest in the East

After the capture of the two Volga cities, Ivan's ministers urged him to turn his arms against the Krim Kan and put an end to the last Tartar Horde. But he had more ambitious designs, and certain grievances to avenge upon the Livonian Order. The year of the Great Fire, a Saxon named Schlitte was in Moscow, and had many long talks with the Tsar concerning the spread of civilization in Germany. Finally Ivan sent him back to engage for the Russian service a number of physicians, apothecaries, printers, locksmiths, interpreters, artists, and other craftsmen. The Livonian Order demanded of the Emperor the right to stop these craftsmen on the road, lest Russia, growing enlightened, should also grow too strong. Just as they were going to take ship at Lubeck, Schlitte was arrested and imprisoned, and his men were scattered; one of them, Meister  Hans, tried to escape to Moscow, but after various mishaps, was caught and put to death. Ivan was angry, but at the time was fully occupied with Kazan.

Afterwards, when envoys of the Livonian Order came to Moscow and wished to make a treaty with the Tsar, Ivan complained that they had despoiled his merchants. His demands for tribute led to war. The Russian army took Narva, Dorpat, and eighteen other places, and the ancient Russian city of Polotsk.

At first it seemed as though Ivan were going to be as successful in the West as he was in the East. Sigismond, King of Poland, who had come to the assistance of the Order, demanded a truce. Ivan assembled the great council of the Empire, and, standing upon the circular stone tribune of the Red Place, asked their opinion. The council decided against granting it, and offered men and arms to continue the war. The Kan of the Crimea made common cause with Sigismond. He invaded Russia and took Ivan completely by surprise. He set the suburbs of Moscow on fire; the fire spread to the town, and burned the whole in four hours; nothing but the Kreml was left. Then he withdrew with one hundred and fifty thousand prisoners, and when Ivan came back to Moscow, Tartar envoys stood before him and presented him with a knife "to stick himself withal," and gave him this insolent message from the Kan:—

"I burn, I lay waste everything because of Kazan and Astrakan; all your riches I reduce to ashes. I came to you and I have burned Moscow. I wished to have your crown and your head, but you did not show yourself; you came not out against me and yet you boast to be the Tsar of Russia. You were too full of shame to stand and fight me! Will you live and be my friend? Then yield to me our sacred cities, Kazan and Astrakan. If you have nothing but money to offer me it is useless, were it the riches of the whole world. What I want is Kazan and Astrakan. The roads which lead into your empire, I have seen them, I know them."

The next year he came again, but Ivan was ready for him and drove him back with great slaughter. The Kan sent envoys to the Tsar, begging humbly for the Tartar cities, and promised never to return; but Ivan was not to be bribed, he returned answer:—

The Red Palace


"Now there is only one cimetar opposed to us, that of the Krim; but once Kazan was a second, and Astrakan a third, the Nogai a fourth."

The same year the King of Poland died, and some of the nobles wished to elect the son of Ivan the Terrible, and thus unite the two great Slav empires, whose discords, arising mainly from religious differences, threatened the ruin of one or both of them. Ivan, however, wanted the crown for himself, and when the Polish ambassadors came to Moscow to ask for his son, he set forth his own claims and tried to defend himself from the charges of cruelty brought against him by his subjects:—

"Many among you say that I am cruel. It is true that I am cruel and prone to anger: I do not deny it—but to whom, I ask, am I cruel? I am cruel to any one who is cruel to me. To the good! ah, I would give them gladly the robe and chain that I wear. It is nothing strange that your princes love their subjects, because their subjects love them. Mine gave me over to the Krim Tartars. My captains did not even warn me of their coming. Perhaps it was hard for them to vanquish a force so numberless, but if they had lost a few thousand men, and brought me a whip or a lash from the Tartars, I should have rejoiced. I feared not the Tartar forces; but when I saw the treason of my men I turned aside a little from the Tartars. Then they invaded Moscow, which might have been defended with a few thousand men. But when the nobles fail, what can the people do? Moscow was in flames and I knew nothing about it. If some of my men were afterwards punished, it was for their crimes. I ask you, do you punish or spare traitors? I think you punish them."

But, in spite of Ivan's promise "to observe the laws, and to guard and even to extend the liberties of Poland," he failed in his wooing. The French ambassador caused Henry, brother of Charles IX., to be proclaimed king. This was the year of the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Henry soon fled from Warsaw, and Stephan Batori was elected king. Batori was one of the most ambitious and energetic men of his time, and entered into the war with Russia with all his heart. He suddenly appeared with a superb army before Polotsk and took it. The Russian gunners in despair hanged themselves to their guns. Batori made alliance with Sweden and invaded Northern Russia; but Pskof, defended by Prince Basil Shuiski, marked the limits of his successes. The young king, after three months of fruitless siege and assault, was obliged to withdraw. The Tsar was discouraged by his losses, and asked the mediation of the Pope, who sent to Moscow a Jesuit with a history of the Council of Florence and with orders to include the Union of the Two Churches in his negotiations. The envoy succeeded in making a truce between the two sovereigns, but Ivan was forced to cede Polotsk and all Livonia, thus bringing to naught the labors of thirty years.

The Conquest of Siberia

Ivan the Terrible was disappointed in the result of his struggle with the civilization of the West, and if his bold enterprise for "cutting a window into Europe" was premature and a failure, his empire on the other hand was strengthened in the East. The princes of the Caucasus began to ask the protection of Russia against each other and the Krim Tartars. The Kazaks of the Don acknowledged the Tsar as their sovereign. Persia and the lands of Central Asia began to open long vistas of conquest.

Most romantic in its history was the conquest of Siberia. Early in Ivan's reign Gregory Strogonof came to the Tsar, and beat the forehead, and said that eighty-eight versts below Great Permia, on both sides of the Kama, lay desert places, black forests, rivers and lakes, which brought no revenue to the Tsar. Gregory asked to have this land to build cities, to fortify them with cannon and arquebuses, and so to make use of "the silver beyond the Kama." Ivan gave his consent, and the Strogonofs, with ten thousand men besides bondslaves, began to found new cities and centres of wealth.

Siberian cap


A chief of the Don Kazaks, condemned to death but afterwards pardoned by the Tsar, took service with Simon Strogonof and his nephew. At the head of less than a thousand reckless adventurers, he crossed the "mountain girdle" of the Urals, and entered the wide forests of Siberia; everywhere the musket triumphed over the bow. Makmetkul, who met them in battle, wrote to his cousin, the Kan Kutchum,—

"The Russians are mighty in war; when they shoot, fire flashes from their bows, smoke bursts forth, and there is loud thunder. Their arrows are not seen, but they wound indeed, and they strike to the death. It is useless to hide behind any manner of shield; they pierce through all things."

The Kazak brigand defeated the Kan in many battles, and took Sibir, his capital, with all the royal treasure. Then he deliberated with his men whether to go back or onward. "Brothers," said he, "where shall we go? It is now autumn; the rivers begin to freeze. But let us not go back and bring upon us shame and reproach. Let us trust in God. He helps the helpless. Let us remember the vow we made to the Strogonofs. We cannot go back without shame. If God will help us, then even after death our fame in these lands will never grow less, and our glory will be eternal."

The men voted to go on; they brought the regions around the Irtysh and the Obi into subjection, and Iermak, the Kazak, sent word to the Tsar that he had conquered for him a new kingdom. As for Iermak, a year or two later, he was surprised by his foes, and in trying to swim the great river which he had discovered, he sank by the weight of his coat of mail. He became a hero among the people, and his glorious deeds are celebrated in many a song; by the church he was looked upon as a saint, and it was believed that miracles were worked at his tomb.