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Ivan the Terrible meditating at the deathbed of his son by Vyacheslav Schwarz (1861)




Ukraine: the Pereiaslav Agreement (1654)

Let us step back a little. What happened to Kievan Rus’? It fragmented into principalities before it fell to the Mongols (See Mongol invasion, Wikipedia). Later, it was ruled by the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1648, Bodhan Khmelnytsky (c 1595-1657), Hetman of the Zaporozhian Host, Ukraine, led a successful insurgency that freed the Zaporozhian Host from the suzerainty of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, in 1654, Bodhan Khmelnytsky allied the independent Ukraine Zaporozhian Host with the Tsardom of Russia, which would benefit Muscovy. Under the last Rurikid Princes, the prospect of a Tsardom of all Russias dwarfed regionalism and such covenants as the Pereiaslav Agreement. In short, Alexander Nevsky‘s bequest to his son Daniel was not modest. Britannica dates the fall of Kievan Rus’ to the Mongol conquest, despite its brief rise as an independent Ukraine Cossack state and the Pereiaslav Agreement.

The title of grand prince of Kiev lost its importance, and the 13th-century Mongol conquest decisively ended Kiev’s power.

(See Kievan Rus’, Britannica.)

The Last Rurikid Princes

Ivan IV, the Terrible, was a self-declared Tsar of all Russias. A “Chosen Council” validated his claim to the tsardom. However, by killing his son in a fit of rage, he ended the Rurik Dynasty. His predecessors initiated:

  • the centralisation of Russia
  • its independence from Mongol suzerains, and
  • Rus’ independence from Roman Christianity

To a large extent, all of the above occurred under the rule of Ivan III, the Great, the son of Vasily II. Ivan the Great married a Byzantine Princess, Sophia, the former Zoë. It was a second marriage, and Sophia was a Catholic. This marriage did not prevent the growth of an Eastern Orthodox Tsardom. Ivan III took back land that had been part of Kievan Rus’, but he failed to reconquer Ukraine. Ivan the Great had two sons: Dmitry, by a first marriage, and Vasily, Sophia’s son. Dmitry was crowned, but Ivan III changed his mind. Vasily II, born to Sophia Palaiologina, would succeed him. Dmitry and his mother were jailed for life.

Vassals of the Golden Horde

Before ascending the throne of a principality, a prince needed a patent from the Khan of the Golden Horde. Dmitry (II) Donskoy won the Battle of Kulikovo (1380), which brought him stature. A century later, in 1480, Ivan III ended the Mongol suzerainty. (See The Great Stand on the Ugra River, Wikipedia.) We know from earlier posts that certain khanates remained: the Crimean Khanate, 1441-1783, and the Kazakh Khanate, 1465-1847 are the best examples, but these khanates did not date to the Mongol Invasion of Kievan Rus’. (See Mongol Invasion of Kievan Rus’ 1237-1242, Wikipedia.) Further annexations would occur, but as of Ivan III, the princes of Rus’ had ceased to be vassals of Mongol khans.

The Centralisation of Russia 

As the Duchy of Moscow grew into the Tsardom of Russia, the competition for the principality of Muscovy was fierce: uncles, brothers and impostors could contest the legitimacy of a claim, fiefs, or fiefdoms. The sorry fate of Vasili II (1415-1462), Ivan III’s father, is a testimonial to fratricidal conflicts. Vasily II’s uncle Yury (1434) and his cousins Vasily the Squint-Eyed and Dmitry Shemyaka (1446–47) laid claim to the throne. Vasily II was arrested and blinded by his cousin Dmitry Shemiyaka (1446). This was extreme cruelty. Despite blindness, Vasily II regained his rightful bequest, and his son, future Ivan III, provided the help blind Vasily II needed.

His son, Vasily III, annexed Pskov in 1510, the appanage of Volokolamsk in 1513, the principalities of Ryazan in 1521, and Novgorod-Seversky in 1522. He also took Smolensk away from Poland. (See Siege of Smolensk, Wikipedia.)

Territorial development between 1300 and 1547
(Grand Duchy of Moscow, Wikipedia)
The Turco-Mongol residual states and domains by the 15th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tsar Ivan IV admires his sixth wife, Vasilisa Melentyeva, by Grigory Sedov, 1875. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fall of the Rurikid Dynasty

As the legend goes, Varangian Viking Prince Rurik was invited to rule an East Slavic territory, where he founded Kievan Rus’. Prince Oleg would rule Novgorod, and Kyiv would be the capital. Several princes of the Rurik dynasty conquered and annexed Rus’ land’s territory. However, the principal architect of a centralised Rus’ was Ivan IV, a self-declared Tsar of all Rus’, recognized by a “Chosen Council.” (See Ivan IV, Britannica and Ivan the Terrible, Wikipedia). However, Ivan IV killed Ivanovich, his son and heir, and a Rurikid prince. Besides, Ivan Ivanovich’s mother was a Romanov, Anastasia Romanovna. Feodor I, Ivan IV’s second son with Anastasia Romanovna, would reign. Still, he was “sickly and weak.” (See Feodor I, Tsar of Russia, Wikipedia.)

Ivan IV, or the Terrible, had a third presumptive heir, his son Dmitry, born to a sixth wife. Maria Nagaya was the sixth wife. (See Ivan the Terrible, Wikipedia.) Had the Eastern Orthodox Church and the people of Rus’ recognized Dmitry Ivanovich as the legitimate heir to the Tsardom of Russia, the Rurikid Dynasty may have survived. The Eastern Church did not recognize sons and daughters born to a third or later wife. It violated its canonical laws. (See Canon Law of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Dmitry of Uglich, Wikipedia.)


Ivan IV killed his son Ivan Ivanovich in a fit of anger. He was a Rurikid, and Boris Godunov (1557-1605) had witnessed the homicide of Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich and Ivan IV’s profound grief. Ivan had a second son by Anastasia Romanova. Feodor was a prince of the Rurik Dynasty, but, as we have noted, Feodor was frail. Ivan IV appointed a regency council led by Boris Godunov, the witness. A third son Dmitry (1582-1591), born to Maria Nagaya, was sent to his appanage, Uglich, where he died mysteriously at 8 years old. Dmitry may have suffered an epileptic crisis. (See Dmitry of Uglich, Wikipedia.) However, one suspects that Boris Godunov had Dmitry killed so he could reign as Tsar. Dmitry was impersonated. A False Dmitry I reigned briefly. Maria Nagaya had “recognized” him for personal gains. She renounced him. Had the genuine Dmitry ascended the throne, he would have been a prince of the Rurik dynasty, but young Dmitri was sent to Uglich. This is how Boris Godunov cleared his way to the throne, ending the Rurikid dynasty. Boris Godunov was of East Slavic and Tatar descent.

Tsarevich Dmitry, by Mikhail Nesterov,
Boris Godunov Overseeing the Studies of his Son, painting by N. Nekrasov (19th century) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boris Godunov is a legendary figure. He was portrayed in Aleksandr Pushkin‘s play Boris Godunov and in an opera by Modest Mussorgsky, also entitled Boris Godunov.

I have not discussed Ivan IV’s oprichnina, a police force that could act with impunity. Nor have I mentioned the Massacre of Novgorod. One pillaged mercilessly. But we have seen that one blinded opponents and killed the rightful heir to the throne in the quest for power. Moreover, we have travelled lightly. There were Tsaritas and interregnums. Ivan IV had two more heirs, but the death of Ivan Ivanovich doomed the Rurik dynasty. Fear of opponents led Ivan IV to surround himself with a force that eliminated accountability. Ivan the Terrible’s oprichnina was a deadly force. They terrorized Rus’. Oprichniki could rape, torture, and kill in the name of power. Another Rurik prince could not ascend the throne.

The entire episode of the oprichnina leaves a bloody imprint on Ivan’s reign, causing some doubts about his mental stability and leaving historians with the impression of a morbidly suspicious and vindictive ruler.

(See Ivan IV, Britannica)

We have another list, and more must be said about Ivan IV. This post will be continued.


Daniel of Moscow‘s Descendants: Rurikid Princes


Love to everyone 💕

Boris Godunov – Coronation scene (Bryn Terfel; The Royal Opera)
Portrait of Ivan IV, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1897 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

© Micheline Walker
22 May 2022