The veil was dropped too suddenly. The citizens were not prepared for so abrupt and uncompromising an assertion of authority.
Continuing Ivan The Great Unites Russia And Breaks The Tartar Yoke,
our selection from History of Russia by Robert Bell published in 1838. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Ivan The Great Unites Russia And Breaks The Tartar Yoke.
Time: 1462 – 1505
Never before had the Novgorodians gone out from their own walls to sue or receive judgment; but so seductive and treacherous were the professions of Ivan that, unsuspicious of his designs, they consented to appear before his throne. Throughout the whole of these encroachments on the ancient usages in which the rights of the people resided, he appeared to be lifted above all personal or tyrannical views. Marpha, the ambitious widow, who had stirred up the revolt and sought to attach Novgorod to Lithuania, had never been molested; and even the principal persons who were most conspicuous in resisting his authority at the outset were suffered to remain unharmed. These instances of magnanimity, as they were believed to be, lulled the distrust of the citizens, and seduced them by degrees to abandon their old customs one by one at his bidding. For seven years he continued with unwearied perseverance to wean them from all those distinctive habits that marked their original character and separated them from the rest of the empire; and at last, when he thought that he had succeeded in obliterating their attachment to the republican form of government, he advanced his claim to the absolute sovereignty, which was now sanctioned by numberless acts of submission, and by traitorous voices of assent within the council of the citizens.
At an audience to which he admitted an envoy, that officer, either willfully or by accident, addressed him by the name of sovereign; and Ivan, instantly seizing upon the inadvertency, claimed all the privileges of an absolute master. He required that the republic should surrender its expiring rights into his hands, and take a solemn oath of allegiance; that his boyars should be received within its gates, with full authority to exercise their almost irresponsible control over the city; that the palace of Yaroslaff, the temple of Novgorodian liberty, should be given up to his viceroy; that the forum should be abolished; and that the popular assemblies, and all the corresponding immunities of the people, should be abrogated forever.
The veil was dropped too suddenly. The citizens were not prepared for so abrupt and uncompromising an assertion of authority. Hitherto they had admitted the innovations of the Grand Prince, but it was of their own free will. They did not expect that he would ground any right of sovereignty upon their voluntary acquiescence in his character of arbitrator and ally; and the news of his despotic claim filled them with despair and indignation. The great bell, which had formerly been the emblem of their citizenship, now tolled for the last time. They assembled in the market-place in tumultuous crowds, and summoning the treacherous or imprudent envoy before them, they tried him by a clamorous and summary process, and, before the sentence was completed, tore him limb from limb. Believing that some of the nobles were accessory to the surrender of their freedom, they fell upon those they suspected, and murdered them in the streets, thus hastening, and confirming by their intemperance, the final alienation of the wealthy classes from their cause; and having by these acts of unbridled desperation given the last demonstrations of their independence, they once more threw themselves into the arms of Lithuania, which were open to receive them.
But Ivan was prepared for this demonstration of passion. His measures were too deeply taken to suffer surprise by any course which the Novgorodians, in their righteous hatred of oppression, might think fit to adopt. When he learned the reception they gave to his mandate, he affected the most painful astonishment. He declared that he alone was the party aggrieved, that he alone was deceived; that they had laid snares for his counsel and countenance; and that even when, yielding to their universal requisition, he had consented to take upon him the toils of government, they had the audacity to confront him with an imposition in the face of Russia, to shed the blood of their fellow-men, and to insult heaven and the empire by calling into the sacred limits the soldiers of an adverse religion and a foreign power. These ingenious remonstrances were addressed to the priests, the nobles, and the people, and had the desired effect. The bishops embarked zealously in the crusade, and the people entered willingly into the delusion. The dependent republic of Pskof and the principality of Twer, paralyzed in the convulsion, appeared to waver; but Ivan, resolved to deprive Novgorod of any help they might ultimately be tempted to offer, drew out their military strength, under the form of a contingency, and left them powerless. Yet, although strongly reinforced on all sides, he still avoided a contest. With a mingled exhibition of revenge and attachment, he threatened and propitiated in the same breath.
“I will reign supreme at Novgorod,” he exclaimed; “as I do at Moscow. You must surrender all to me; your posadnik, and the bell that calls your national council together;” and at the same time he professed his determination to respect those very liberties which by these demands were to be sacrificed forever. The Novgorodians, terrified by the immense force Ivan had collected, which it seemed he only used to menace, and not to destroy, attempted to capitulate; but he was insensible to all their representations, and, even while he promised them their freedom, he refused to grant it. The armament, mighty as it was, which he had prepared, was kept aloof to threaten and not to strike. He acted as if he feared to risk the issue of a contest with any of his enemies, or as if he were unwilling to suffer the loss consequent even upon victory. He wanted to overbear by terror rather than by arms, so that the fearful agency of his name might do the work of conquest more powerfully and at less cost than his armies, which must have been thinned by battles, and might have been subdued by fortune. So long as he could preserve his terrible ascendancy by the force of the fear which he inspired, he was secure; but the single defeat, or the doubtful issue of a solitary struggle, might reduce the potent charm of his unvanquished power. In this way he drew the chain tighter; and in the agonies of the protracted and narrowing pressure, Novgorod, unable to resist, died in agonies of despair.
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