Today’s installment concludes Ivan The Great Unites Russia And Breaks The Tartar Yoke,
our selection from History of Russia by Robert Bell published in 1838. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of six thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Ivan The Great Unites Russia And Breaks The Tartar Yoke.
Time: 1462 – 1505
Ivan was surrounded by two hundred thousand soldiers; reinforcements were thronging constantly to his side; the enemy was cut off from all assistance from his ally of Lithuania; and one word of encouragement would have set all these advantages into action. The troops only awaited the signal to rush upon the invaders; but Ivan, amid these flattering and animated circumstances, was dispirited. Even the voice of the Church addressed him in vain. He was utterly paralyzed; and cowardice had so completely taken possession of his mind that when the early winter had set in and frozen the river, so as to obliterate the obstacle that separated him from the troops of the Khan, he was seized with consternation, and fled in the wildest disorder from his position. He was so alarmed that he could not even preserve any regularity on the retreat, and all was confusion and panic.
So disgraceful an abandonment of his duty, which in other times must have cost him his throne, if not his life, was not visited with that rigor by the Russians which so glaring a defection deserved. The sovereign Prince was removed to too great a distance from the people to be judged of with precision or promptitude. The motives of his acts were not accessible to the multitude, who, accustomed to despotism, had not yet learned to question the wisdom of their rulers. The rapid advances that had been made toward the concentration of the governing power in the autocratical form, limited still more the means of popular observation and the vigor of the popular check upon the supreme authority. The Grand Prince stood so much aloof from his subjects, surrounded by special advisers and court favorites, that even the language of remonstrance, which sometimes reached his ears, was so softened in its progress that its harshness was that of subservient admonition; and he was as little shaken by the smothered discontent of the people as they were roused by an open sacrifice of their interests. But not alone was this reverence for the autocracy so great as to protect the autocrat from violent reprisals on the part of his subjects; but the national veneration for the descendant of St. Vladimir and the stock of Rurik was sufficient to absorb all the indignation which the weakness or the wickedness of the Prince might have aroused.
Ivan, however, independently of those acts of prejudice and ignorance which preserved him from the wrath which he had so wantonly provoked, was destined to find all the unfavorable circumstances of his position changed into the most extraordinary and unexpected advantages. In the crisis of his despair the fortunes of the day turned to his favor. While he hung behind the Lugra, seeking a base and humiliating compromise at the hands of the enemy, his lieutenant of Svenigorod, and his ally the Khan of the Crimea, advanced upon the Golden Horde, and pushed their victorious arms into the very den of the Tartars, at the time that the Tartar forces were drawn off in the invasion of Russia. Speedy intelligence of this disaster having reached the enemy, he made a precipitate retreat, in the hope of reaching his fastnesses on the frontier in time to avert the destruction that threatened him; but the Russians had been too rapid in their movements; and the work of devastation, begun by them, was completed by a band of marauding Tartars, who entered soon after they retired, and, carrying away the women and the remnant of the treasures left behind, reduced the city of the Golden Horde to ashes before the distant army could accomplish its retrograde march. Nor was this all the triumph that Ivan was called upon to share, without any participation in the danger. The return of the Tartars was arrested midway by a hetman of the Cossacks and the mirza of the Nogais, who, falling upon the confused and disorderly ranks, on their ill-conducted flight homeward, cut them in pieces, and left scarcely a living vestige on the field of the ancient and implacable enemies of the country.
The extinction of the Tartars was final. The Golden Horde was annihilated, and the scourge of Russia and her princes was no more. In a better educated state of society, these events, so sudden and so important, must have been attributed to proximate and obvious causes — the combinations of operations over which Ivan had no control, and the dismay into which the Tartars were surprised, followed up quickly by overwhelming masses who possessed the superiority in numbers and in plan. Ivan, who could lay no claim to the honors of the enterprise, would not have been associated in its results had the people been instructed in the respect which was due to themselves. But the Russians, profoundly venerating the person of the Grand Prince, and accustomed to consider him as the depository of a wisdom refined above the sphere of ordinary mortality, did not hesitate to ascribe this transcendent exploit to the genius of the reluctant autocrat. They looked back upon his pusillanimity with awe, and extracted from his apparent fears the subtle elements of a second providence. He was no longer the coward and the waverer. He had seen the body of the future, before its extreme shadows had darkened other men’s vision; and the whole course of his timid bearing, even including his flight from the Lugra, was interpreted into a prudent and prophetic policy, wonderful in its progress and sublime in its consequences. Without risking a life, or spilling a drop of blood, and merely by an evasive diversion of his means, he had vanquished the Asiatic spoiler; and at the very moment that the people were disposed to doubt his skill and his courage, he had actually destroyed the giant by turning the arms of his own nation against him. Such was the unanimous feeling of Russia. Transferring the glory of their signal deliverance from those who had achieved it to him who had evaded the responsibility of the attempt, they worshipped, in the Grand Prince, the incarnation of the new-born liberty.
This ends our series of passages on Ivan The Great Unites Russia And Breaks The Tartar Yoke (A.D. 1462-1505) by Robert Bell from his book History of Russia published in 1838. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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