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Man and autocrat Vasili III in the Presidential Library’s materials

25 March 2019

March 25, 2019 marks the 540th anniversary of the birth of Grand Prince of Moscow Vasili III.

Historically, this ruler of Russia is given a rather modest place in the works of scientists and fiction, and in terms of the number of portraits, he loses visibly to other princes and tsars. Nevertheless, Vasili left his mark in history - moreover, very significant - He was called "the last collector of the Russian land". It was often mentioned that he, like no other sovereign, was human... It can be proved in the extensive digital collections of the Presidential Library. Copies of many rare editions devoted to the reign of Vasili III are available on the portal of the institution.

Vasili was born in 1479 in the family of Ivan III the Great and Byzantine princess Sofia Paleolog. After the death in 1490 of the heir to the throne, Ivan the Young joined the struggle for the grand princely throne and, having won, became the co-ruler of his father until his death.

Vasili Ivanovich dedicated his life to the continuation of the parent's business - unification of the still partially fragmented Russia around Moscow and strengthening the vertical of power. First of all, starting to rule independently, the young grand duke assured the favorites of Ivan III that his son favored them. Here is what Nikolai Karamzin writes in his History of the Russian State (1842), the electronic version of which is available on the Presidential Library’s portal.

During the years of his rule, Vasili III finally eliminated the system of specific principalities. As a result, Pskov, Volotsky, Ryazan and Novgorod-Seversky princes became part of Russia. Uniting the land, the grand duke, it seemed, was aware of the full responsibility for the steps taken and personally delved into all the subtleties that concerned state transformations. For example, subordinating Pskov to the will of Moscow, he spent a kind of mixing of the population: he moved Pskov with whole families to other lands, and in his turn, sent Pskov residents from other regions of the country. This is detailed in the book of the famous writer, historian and journalist Nikolai Polevoy “The History of the Russian People”.

Solving difficult issues of domestic policy, Vasili III had to play a skillful political game with the western neighbors - Poland and Lithuania, who had since ancient times encroached on the Russian lands. And in this case, the Moscow Grand Prince can be called an innovator with confidence: he wanted to prevent wars and bloodshed in a very unusual way for those times - by uniting countries into one state under his rule. At the same time, Vasili Ivanovich promised to respect the right of peoples to profess their Catholic faith for them.  

But there were two more serious opponents that the Russian sovereign needed to constantly restrain — the Crimean and Kazan Khanates. From time to time Tatars made ruinous raids on our lands. The war with them was fought with varying success. However, military setbacks only hardened Vasily Ivanovich. News of the failure of one of the campaigns in Kazan did not upset him at all. The Grand Duke grieved a completely different circumstance: “Vasili had perfect composure, having learned all the circumstances of the march; he was even angry with a German who, saving his guns, did not protect himself. “People who know are more than cannons”, - he said“, - writes Nikolai Polevoy.

Speaking about the personal qualities of Vasili III, it is worth noting his attitude to political rivals: very often, punishing them, he quickly forgave. According to researchers, this was due to the love of a woman who softened the heart of the Grand Duke. He was married twice. The first spouse Solomoniya Saburova, the marriage with whom was childless, though he did not love her but had warm friendly feelings towards her. Vasili Ivanovich tested the present all-consuming feeling to Princess Elena Glinskaya. It was she that made the sovereign to divorce - a difficult and condemning process at that time. It is reflected in the “History of the Russian People” by Polevoy.

One way or another, this particular union, with Elena, became happy: in 1530 a heir was born in the family of the Moscow prince - Ivan. The same one, who would then be called the Terrible ... Two years later, the princess gave birth to her second son, Yuri.

Vasili III was not destined to bring up his children. In 1533 he died. The cause of death, according to some sources, was a subcutaneous abscess. A number of scientists suggest that it was the last stage of cancer, but then in Russia they had no idea about this disease. Elena Glinskaya, known for her steep temper and steel unfeminine character, having learned about the death of her husband, probably for the first time showed her deep feelings in public. This moment is described in the aforementioned work of Nikolai Polevoy: “Elena ... lost her senses. She fainted for about two hours. The next day, they dug a grave in the Cathedral of the Archangel, beside the tomb of John III, and beautifully buried Vasili. The people wept and sobbed, as if they had a premonition of their terrible future”.