Ivan the Terrible/Part 2/Chapter 3

Ivan the Terrible by Kazimierz Waliszewski, translated by Lady Mary Loyd
Part II, Chapter III: The Expansion Eastward—The Taking of Kazan




I.—The Remnants of the Mongol Empire.

When Ivan ascended the throne, the Tartar conquest was nothing but an ugly memory. The Empire of Gengiz and Timour had crumbled in the conquerors' hands. On the east and south, the remnants of the Golden Horde, which had set up almost independent khanates or tsarates at Kazan and Astrakan, and on the Crimean steppes, still lay along the frontiers of Muscovy. The Mongol tide, as it drew back to the high Asiatic plateaus, had left little pools on which waves were still rough and eddies threatening, but their onset was steadily weakening. Not an inch of Russian soil was now covered by the flood, which in these countries, as I have said, had never reached the proportions of an ocean. Russian conquest and Russian colonists had taken the offensive, were marching in the track of the old invaders, and penetrating further every year, almost every day, into the huge Finn-Tartar continent. Slowly but surely the Sovereigns of Moscow were widening their borders, and adding more and more vast spheres of influence to their possessions. Vassals once, they had now made themselves the suzerains of the nearest Khans, and Safa Ghireï, Khan of Kazan, paid them tribute.

In the Crimea, however, a new centre of Tartar domination had been established. This power, thanks to a political and military organization, modelled, on much stronger lines, after the old ones, had succeeded in recovering the fealty of the neighbouring khanates, and breaking the bonds which bound them in vassalage to Moscow. This began by being an annoyance, but it soon became a danger. In 1539, Khan Saïp-Ghireï, who had succeeded in getting a footing at Kazan, and had even garrisoned the place, attracted or welcomed Simon Biélski, then a fugitive, to his Court, and sent a message to Moscow which sounded like an echo of the imperious summons of the old days: 'I am going to march, and I do not march in secret. … I shall take thy lands, and if thou followest me, thou wilt not reach mine!' And an undertaking not to lay a finger on Kazan did not suffice the insolent aggressor; he demanded a promise of annual tribute—a return to the shame of the past. From 1539 to 1552, then, there was a struggle, the anguish of which tinctured the boyhood and youth of Ivan, and the details of which my readers will thank me for sparing them. At Kazan the partisans of Safa, and, later, of his son Outémich, a minor, strove with the Muscovite party, which, helped by the most famous warrior of that country, Boulat, succeeded in replacing Saïp's protégé by one of Ivan's, Schah-Ali, or Schig-Aleï. But Saïp, dragging Biélski in his train, and strengthening his forces with a Turkish contingent, and with muskets and heavy ordnance sent him by the Porte, ended by threatening Moscow itself. At that moment the question as to whether the young Tsar was to stay in his capital and bear his share in defending it, or not, was seriously discussed, and it was only thanks to the interference of the Metropolitan Jehosaphat that manly counsels prevailed. On such occasions Ivan's ancestors, even when they had reached a fighting age, had always insured the safety of their own persons. But Moscow, as Jehosaphat pointed out, had now become something more than a mere capital city. It was a metropolis, a holy town, wherein the whole of Russia had deposited all that she held most sacred—her faith and her relics, her hopes and her pride.

So Ivan held his ground, and his very presence made Saïp retire. Behind the Tsar, the crowned boy who would not flee, the Khan's fancy beheld an army strong enough to beat his Tartars, no longer what they had been in Baty's time, plunderers rather than soldiers, now, lovers of easy victories. As Ivan grew older, he did better still. Twice over, in 1548 and 1549, he exposed his own person, and led expeditions—unsuccessful ones indeed—up to the very walls of Kazan. He started too late each time, and the winter overtook him. His regiments melted in the snow, and the Volga swallowed up his artillery. In their desperate quarrels about precedence, the 'men who served' forgot all their duties. Twice over the Tsar, weeping tears of fury, was forced to beat a retreat, while the Crimeans and Kazantsy, plucking up their courage, ravaged his fairest provinces.

But the second expedition did bring some result; a town was founded on the enemy's territory, and quite near Kazan, at the confluence of the Sviaga and the Volga. This town was Sviajsk, and the neighbouring mountaineers, Tchouvaches and Mordvians, soon found it a centre of attraction, while the Kazan Tartars recognised it as an establishment with which they would have to reckon. The Khanate was dismembered, in fact. The Kazan Tartars, forsaken by the Crimeans, who quitted the town to the number of 300 fighting men, leaving their women and children behind them, but sacking everything before they went, displeased with Outémich, whom they betrayed to the Russians, and just as ill-pleased, soon afterwards, with Schah-Ali, ended by asking the Tsar to choose them a ruler, and Ivan fancied himself on the brink of a bloodless triumph. The selected governor, Prince Simon Ivanovitch Mikoulinski, had almost reached the gates of the city in February, 1552, when the intrigues of Schah-Ali, who had quietly retired to Sviajsk, and the intervention, no doubt, of some of Saïp's emissaries, operated a sudden change. The gates remained closely shut. An appeal to arms ensued. Couriers hurried into the Crimea to ask for reinforcements, and the adventure threatened to become a disaster.

At Sviajsk, on which place Mikoulinski had to fall back—for he had but few troops with him—he narrowly escaped being surrounded and destroyed. The plague, and mutiny, which came with the sickness, entered his camp. Debauchery was added to material distress. 'The men shaved off their beards,' so the chronicler tells us, '… and debauched their younger comrades.' The boïars, sitting in council at Moscow, devised none but the most frivolous expedients; they had the sacred relics carried in procession from the Cathedral of the Annunciation to the Cathedral of the Assumption; they sent water consecrated by these same relics to Sviajsk, together with an edifying instruction drawn up by the new Metropolitan, Macarius. Ivan and his closest counsellors felt something else must be done. The prestige of Moscow, the whole future of the Muscovite policy in the countries affected, were at stake. A blow must be dealt, this time, that would win the day, or else all hope of conquest must be relinquished, and the ancient yoke, maybe, assumed once more. Saïp, once grown bolder, would not yield again. The experience of past years proved the necessity for haste. On June 16, 1552, having made over a sort of regency to the Tsarina Anastasia, ordered the liberation of a great number of prisoners, and performed various other pious acts, in the hope of bringing down the heavenly benediction on his undertaking, Ivan set out with all the available forces remaining to him. Of the importance, composition, and quality of these forces, I shall now endeavour to give some approximate idea.

II.—Ivan's Army.

In this country, where the feudal system was unknown, the military organization of the period was, nevertheless, essentially feudal in all its features. In France, naught of such an organization remained, save the ban et l'arrière-ban—a small matter, some 2,000 or 3,000 men, little or nothing in presence of the regular and permanent forces, the real army of modern times. In Russia, Ivan was only beginning to form this new type of contingent, by giving it a nucleus in the shape of the corps called the Striéltsy, a name which appears for the first time in the course of the decisive campaign of 1552 against Kazan. The Striéltsy were arquebus-men (striélat, to fire), recruited from the free class, on a life engagement. Most of them were married men, and they ultimately formed a separate body in which the profession of arms was hereditary. They were armed and equipped in the European fashion, and each received a rouble to build himself a house, another rouble of yearly pay, uniform, powder, and some measures of flour and kacha. These arrangements having proved insufficient, the Government ended by giving land, and allowing the Striéltsy to pursue divers trades, subject to the performance of their military duties. This led to their being confused with the 'men who served.' At the close of Ivan's reign they numbered 12,000 men, 7,500 of whom garrisoned Moscow, and formed, with the town Cossacks, the first body of infantry the Russian Tsars ever possessed. A permanent corps of artillerymen, divided into gunners (pouchkari), fort artillery-men (zatinchtchiki), grenadiers (granattchiki), and artificers, and a special corps of arquebus-men (pistchalniki), was organized at the same time.

All this did not constitute an army. The bulk of the force consisted of the 'men who served,' and of what was called the rat, the germ of another regular force. In war-time two things were done. All or part of the 'men who served' were called out, on the one hand, and on the other, levies were ordered, such and such a town or diocese being obliged to furnish so many foot soldiers or mounted men, recruited outside the military class. This constituted the rat or possokha; and for one campaign alone—that undertaken to recover Polotsk from the Poles-Ivan was to collect 80,000 of these possochniki. They were not disciplined troops, as may well be imagined, nor calculated to cut any very brilliant figure on a battlefield. As a rule, therefore, they were employed in digging earthworks or preparing war material. The Muscovite Government, indeed, permitted its taxpayers to pay a money indemnity of two roubles instead of each man due, and even preferred this plan. It was simply a form of taxation.

Mobilized by circulars sent by the War Office, or Razriad, to the provincial voiévodes, and specifying the number of men to be called out, the points on which they were to be concentrated, and the nature of their armament, the 'men who served,' boïars, boïars' sons, and courtiers (dvorianié), were divided, from Ivan IV.'s time onward, into five regiments—the great regiment, the vanguard, the right hand, the left hand, and the rearguard. When the Tsar was present, a sixth regiment, called 'the Sovereign's regiment,' was added. The first regiment consisted of three, and the others of two divisions, subdivided into 'hundreds' (sotnias). Each regiment was commanded by a voiévode, each division by a lieutenant who ranked as a voiévode, and each sotnia by a dvorianine of the first class. In the Tsar's absence, the whole body was under the orders of a Court voiévode, the magister militarum of the Romans, the generalissimo of the present day, who was surrounded by a numerous staff, which included sborchtchtki, whose business was to bring the troops together; okladtchiki, who had to divide them; possylnyié, lioodi, or aides-de-camp; stanovchtchiki, or engineers; foreign artisans, employed in siege works, provosts, medical men, and priests.

How many men did all this come to? We have no data for the year 1552, but in 1556 the full numbers of the vanguard regiment did not bring it up to 1,500 horsemen. In 1578, in the campaign against Lithuania, the army, though increased by the presence of a Tartar contingent, only numbered 39,681 fighting men in all, made up as follows:

Russian and Circassian Princes 212
Moscow boïars and boïars' sons 9,200
'Men who served' from Novgorod and Iouriev 1,109
Tartars and Mordvians 6,461
Court Striéltsy 2,000
Striéltsy and Cossacks from the provinces 13,119
Possokha from the northern provinces 7,580

Part of the available forces had probably been left to guard the frontier, while every boïar, on the other hand, took at least two ratniki, or fatigue men, with him, and some brought fifty or more.

One traveller of this period, Clement Adams, mentions 90,000 as the total number of men available for the Tsar's service, but adds that he only called out a third of these on his campaigns, being obliged to leave the other two-thirds to guard the fortified places. There is a striking agreement between this calculation and that furnished by the rosters for the year 1578.

Apart from the Striéltsy of the special corps and the possokha, all these troops were mounted. Their armament was of the most varied description. In Ivan's time, the curved Turkish sword and the bow were the favourite arms with most Russians. Only a few substituted pistols or long muskets. An axe hanging at the warrior's saddle-bow, a dagger, and now and then a lance, made up the campaigning equipment. Cuirasses were very little patronized. A few great lords wore them, and of very splendid make, out of vanity, and covered their heads with 'sallets' or 'morions.' There were no spurs—the whip supplied their place. The horseman held his bridle and his bow in his left hand, and clasped his sword and whip with his right. When he shot he dropped the sword and whip, both of which were fastened to a strap. The moment the enemy came within range every arrow flew at once, and, however much or little the adversary's onslaught were checked, the whole body of troops beat a retreat without awaiting the shock of battle. Thus it came about that this cavalry never learnt to stand in the open country against the Polish squadrons, which had been taught to charge right home. Its chief merits were its endurance and its extreme mobility. On their unshod horses, most of them undersized, and all clumsily accoutred, these Russian soldiers covered huge distances, and unflinchingly endured the greatest fatigues and the most extreme privations. Clement Adams and Chancellor show them camping out in the snow, lighting a tiny fire, content with such poor nourishment as a handful of flour mixed with boiling water, and lying down to sleep with no covering but their cloaks, and without even a stone for a pillow. The second of these two English travellers wonders how many of the warriors of his own country, prouder than most men of their valour, would have been able to hold out, even for a month, against these troops, and comes to the conclusion that if these men realized their own strength nobody in the world would be able to stand against them.

But endurance is not everything in war. Ivan's undrilled and undisciplined soldiers did not possess the very elements of their art. The only tactics they knew consisted in surprising the enemy, overwhelming him with a force two or three times larger than his own, and deafening him with their yells and the discordant clangour of their trumpets and cymbals. Brave in their own way—as brave as they were temperate—they were seldom known to sue for mercy, even if they were worn out and on the brink of giving way. But they broke up very easily. They were useless in the service of any skilled strategy, and they were just as useless for siege operations, such as those which awaited Ivan under the walls of Kazan. In cases of defence their superiority was evident. Once shut up and cut off from all chance of taking to their heels in flight, they were extraordinarily tenacious, bore cold and hunger without a murmur, died in their thousands on the earthworks and wooden defences they perpetually repaired, and never gave in till the very last extremity. Hence the constant use in the Muscovite armies of portable defences, shields made of planks, with holes bored for the musket-barrels—these were called khoulaï gorody ('towns on the march')—and hence, also, the precocious development of a very powerful artillery service.

The first cannon the country had ever possessed were of foreign make, but even in Ivan III.'s time, foreign workmen were casting them in Russia. A gun produced by this home factory, and bearing the date of the year 1485, is still preserved in the St. Petersburg arsenal. Under Ivan IV., the war material thus collected included all the European improvements in ballistics—serpentines (here called zmeï), falconets (sokolniki), and mortars of various calibres, amongst which were classed the haufnizy (from the German word haufnitz), the haubitzen of a more modern type, and the volkomiétki (from volk, wolf, and miétat, to launch). No Christian Prince of the period, according to Fletcher, possessed such a quantity of ordnance, and in 1557, Jenkinson speaks with wonder of the Russian gunners' drill, in which he saw them vie with each other, laying their guns with extraordinary swiftness and skill.

The chronicles speak of 150 pieces of ordnance as having been brought under the walls of Kazan in 1552. This figure is probably as much of an exaggeration as that of 150,000 men given as the total effective of the troops which accompanied the guns. But certain it is that the Tsar entered on this campaign with a very considerable force. And yet he must have made a great effort of will to start at all. Apart from that dislike of the risks of war, which he shared with all the Rurikovitchy, other motives must have held him back. His wife was expecting the birth of her first child, and the appeal of the Kazantsy to their Crimean brethren had not been in vain—the bands of the new Khan, Devlet-Ghireï, had already made their appearance before Toula. But the young Tsar would not be turned from his resolve. Toula held out, on August 13 he was at Sviajsk, where the effect produced by his presence was more salutary than that of the holy water and admonitions despatched from Moscow, and on the 23rd he was encamped before Kazan.

III.—The Capture of Kazan.

The ramparts of the town were only built of wood and earth, but from the very outset the garrison, which the chroniclers reckon at 30,000 men, seemed determined on a most obstinate resistance. Judging, and rightly, that it could expect no pardon, it also realized, no doubt, that this meeting was destined to decide a struggle, now centuries old, between two races, two powers, and two religions. Until now, apart from the foundation of a few outposts, such as the new establishment at Sviajsk, Moscow had done no more than exercise reprisals. In Kazan she was to take possession of one of the bulwarks of ancient Islam. Supported by a chief sent from the Crimea, Tsar Indiger-Mohammed, and strengthened by the picked warriors who had come with him, the Tartars revived the memory of their ancient valour, victoriously repulsed the first assaults, and drove Ivan to fear the merciless winter would again overtake him.

In September a fearful storm overthrew quantities of tents in the Russian camp and destroyed a number of storehouses on the Volga, and from the top of their ramparts, in which his artillery failed to make any breach, the besieged began to jeer at the White Tsar. Making obscene gestures, so the chroniclers tell us, turning their backs and lifting up their garments, they cast defiance at him: 'Look, my Lord Tsar, this is how thou. wilt take Kazan. …' And with strange yells and contortions, which passed for sorcerers' spells, they terrified their adversaries' superstitious minds.

Ivan did not flinch. To fight the spells, which had called down torrents of rain, he sent to Moscow for a miraculous cross, which brought back the fine weather, and against the fortifications, which the Tartars so industriously repaired, he appealed to the skill of his foreign engineers, who constructed works of approach which doubled the effect of the Russian fire and hastened the end of the business. In the popular poetry this siege, which really lasted a few weeks, attains the proportions of the Siege of Troy. Ivan is described as having spent eight, or even thirty, years at it. By the end of September, in reality, the artillery had battered a sufficient breach, and a general assault was arranged. This was delivered on October 2, 1552. The result, a complete victory for the besiegers, was a foregone conclusion. But on this occasion Ivan, who had hitherto proved his tenacity and courage, did not distinguish himself. His followers had already grown accustomed to see him take active command. By making them fear, he had taught them to obey him. They looked for him at the head of the columns that moved out to the attack. He was not there. The leader had disappeared; all that was left was the Rurikovitch, who fled before danger, shrank from the bloody struggle, and lingered in prayer before the altars. At dawn, while Prince Michael Vorotynski was blowing up the last works, a solemn office had been said in the chapel erected in the middle of the Muscovite camp, and the legend tells us that the mining operations corresponded with the solemn course of the Orthodox liturgy. The Slav version of the ponem inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum, chanted by the deacons, was followed by the first explosion, and a yet louder one greeted the Gospel verse, 'There shall be but one fold and one Shepherd.' But deacons and sappers alike had done their work; the thing, now, was to mount the breach. Appeals to the God of the Christian and the God of Mahomet were already mingling in the air with the hail of arrows and bullets. A breathless boïar ran in: 'Sire, it is time to start!' he cried; 'your men are at close quarters with the Tartars, and your regiment is waiting for you!' Gravely Ivan replied, in the words of a Scripture text, of which the men of his period and his intellectual calibre carried an inexhaustible supply in their memories. This one conveniently indicated the value of long prayers, and the Tsar did not budge an inch. Then came a second and more pressing summons. The Tartars were recovering their lost ground, and the Sovereign's presence at the head of his troops was absolutely indispensable. … Ivan heaved a deep sigh, shed copious tears, and once more set himself, aloud, this time, to invoke the Divine help.

The whole spirit of his race was expressed in the young Prince's behaviour, and some allowance, too, must be made for his personal temperament and the particularly nervous nature we know him to have possessed.

Was he a coward? No! The man who was soon to face the fury of others, impose his indomitable will by fire and sword, and maintain it, in spite of the hatred, the weak-heartedness, and the defeated conspiracies of his closest comrades, for twenty years, the coming champion of the Opritchnina, could not be a coward. He was the heir of the Russian Princes who had made Russia great, not by prodigies of valour performed on battlefields, but by the dim paths of intrigue, bargain-making, and economy, by miracles of patience, cunning, humiliation, stoically borne; and he was the pupil of the ancient Eastern teachers of his country, who had imparted to him their own Asiatic habits of indifference, scorn of physical effort, and haughty calm. The act of fighting, of dealing blows and running the risk of receiving them, did not enter into their conception of a Sovereign's duty. The master had slaves for all that work. His part was to give his orders, send his men out to die, and say prayers himself.

But the boïars about Ivan did not take this view. One of them, very likely, offered his Sovereign some violence, for at last the Tsar, having exhausted every shift, kissed the miraculous picture of St. Sergius, drank a little holy water, swallowed a morsel of the host, received his chaplain's blessing, harangued the clergy, praying for their pardon, and claiming their blessing too, now he was going 'forth to suffer for the true faith,' mounted his horse, and galloped off to join his regiment. But even then, Kourbski tells us (and it did not occur to the Terrible himself to contradict this eye-witness's assertion), though the battle was nearly over, and there was no reason to fear any fresh onslaught on the part of the besieged forces, some difficulty was experienced in getting the horse and his rider to the front—the boïars had to lay their own hands on the bridle.

The Muscovite standards were already floating over the ramparts, and the leading columns of the assault had entered the town. The carnage began. Six thousand Tartars vainly tried to reach the open country by fording the river Kazanka. Ivan never thought of putting a stop to the bloodshed. Even in the West, a town taken by assault was a town condemned to death. The women and children alone were spared, and they were carried into captivity. After all was done, the Tsar ordered a Te Deum to be sung, and with his own hands planted a great cross on the very spot over which the standard of the last Khan of Kazan had waved during the fight. A church was to be built there, and within two days it was ready and consecrated. By the end of the week two governors, Prince Vassili Siémiénovitch Serebrianyï and Prince Alexander Borissovitch Gorbatyï, were installed in the conquered city, and the victor was hurrying back to Moscow, and to Anastasia.

On his way home, at Vladimir, joyful news awaited him. The Tsarina had borne a son, who received the name of Dmitri. At Taïninskoïé, one of the oldest villages in the vicinity of Moscow, whither Ivan was one day to retire, during the trials which were to follow on this triumph, his brother George and his chief boïars came to offer him their first congratulations. At Moscow the Metropolitan, attended by all his clergy, met him, and compared him to Dmitri Donskoï, to Alexander Nevski, and to Constantine the Great; then, casting himself at the Sovereign's feet, he thanked him for having won this triumph for the country and the Church.

A great triumph it was, indeed,—greater, both in its immediate and its more distant consequences, than Henry II.'s acquisition, that same year, and at the other end of Europe, of the Three Bishoprics.

IV.—The Consequences.

In 1555, Gouriï, first Archbishop of Kazan and Sviajsk, went forth to take up his new post, with a whole following of priests, and his departure was the counterpart of that migration of the Greek clergy which, in Vladimir's time, had brought the true faith from Byzantium to Korsoun. After officiating at the consecration of a Church of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin, built within the Kremlin, in memory of the new conquest, Gouriï took ship, the chants and prayers continuing even on board, and all along the course of the Moskva and the Volga a huge concourse of enthusiasts greeted the representative of the true faith. Russia was beginning an apostolate of her own. The blow delivered on the walls of Kazan had struck the whole of Islam, and the budding prestige of the Crimean Khans had been irreparably shaken. There was to be no more of that talk of 'beating his forehead' in their presence, which had previously appeared in Ivan's correspondence with his redoubtable neighbours, even though he claimed to be on equal terms with the Emperor of Germany and the Sultan of the Turks! From the material point of view alone, Kazan was a most precious prize. This remnant of the Mongol power, set on the middle course of the Volga, and barring the way eastward, had been an obstacle in the way of Russian development, if not an actual menace to Moscow. At Kazan the first collision between Islam and Christianity had occurred, long before this time, when the Mahometan Bulgars, the earliest inhabitants of the place, had fought with the first Princes of the new Russia of the northeast. To Asia, Kazan had been a commercial and industrial centre, to the Mongol Empire, the only solid footing left it in Europe; for, once reduced to the Khanate of the Crimea, it became a mere nomad camp, floating hither and thither over the southern steppes. Astrakan still remained, but once Kazan had fallen, the breaking of the other dyke that barred the onward course of the Muscovite flood became inevitable, and the conquest and process of colonization thus begun were to rush with resistless force towards the rich lands watered by the western tributaries of the Volga, and the eastern affluents of the Don.

Kazan, in short, was the natural rallying-point of all the numerous savage tribes—Tcheremisses, Mordvians, Tchouvaches, Votisks, Bachkirs—dwelling in the mountains and on the plains along both sides of the Volga. The mountaineers, already attracted by the shelter of Sviajsk, were creeping into the bosom of Muscovy; the men of the plains were soon to follow them.

But, in his eagerness to return to the joys of home, and taste the glories prepared for him at Moscow, Ivan had been in too great a hurry to leave the country. The boïars, Kourbski tells us, had pressed him to wait till the spring. Yet they themselves, it may be, had furnished him with good reasons for a contrary decision. Though they had had to drag him by his bridle under the walls of Kazan, at the last moment, his 'men who served' had threatened to forsake him several times before he got there at all, declaring they were worn out, and their strength and resources alike exhausted. A silent struggle was already going on between him and them. He felt he could not hold them, and they saw he was not the man to be long content with a grudging, capricious, and uncertain obedience. The reforms he had accomplished or prepared had evoked a discontent which never lost an opportunity of showing itself, among the higher aristocracy, and Ivan probably felt none too safe in the midst of the warriors who had taken upon themselves to show him his proper place in battle, and put him into it by force.

None the less, as early as in the month of December, the benefits of the victory seemed likely to slip through the victors' fingers. At Kazan and in its neighbourhood alarming symptoms appeared. Open revolt soon followed. The Cossacks and Striéltsy of the occupying force lost 1,000 men in a fight with the tribes of the gornaïa storona (mountainside), and the rebel mountaineers actually founded a new town on the Mecha, some seventy versts from Kazan. In 1554, it became necessary to undertake a regular campaign against these insubordinate hillmen, and five years were to elapse before the peaceable possession of the country was insured. But Moscow had already taken a new and important step in another direction.

V.—The Capture of Astrakan.

In the spring of this same year 1554, 30,000 Muscovites embarked on the Volga, under the orders of Prince George Ivanovitch Pronski, and on August 29, while Ivan was keeping his fête-day at Kolomna, a courier brought him the news of the taking of Astrakan. This was not a final conquest; Pronski contented himself with setting up a Tsar of his own choosing in the town, Derbich-Ali by name, who was obliged to pay a yearly tribute, and guarantee the Muscovites free navigation of the Volga between Kazan and Astrakan. The Muscovite policy was following the game which had worked so well with Schah-Ali at Kazan. The results in this case were similar. Derbich's task, between the new protectors, the native Tartars, who were very impatient of their authority, the Khan of the Crimea, who claimed to exercise his, and the Turks, who seemed inclined to have a finger in the quarrel, was a very difficult one. He soon entered into communication with the Tartar-Nogaïs, a neighbouring tribe, the headship of which was in dispute between two brothers at war with each other, Ismaïl and Iousouf, and, supported by one of these competitors, he sought to make himself independent. A fresh expedition became necessary. Derbich having made a pact with Iousouf, who was afterwards killed by his brother, and then, with the dead man's children, Moscow treated with Ismaïl, who, as the reward of his assistance, claimed certain modest gifts—three hawks, a falcon, a gerfalcon, and a sparrow-hawk, a great deal of lead, a great deal of saffron, a large quantity of colouring matter and paper, and 500,000 nails. … Derbich was driven out. His place was taken by Ismaïl, who in his turn grew unruly, and had to give way to his nephews. Moscow had trouble for many years with all these turbulent vassals; but her acquisition of the mouths of the Volga was definite and final, and the little principalities round the Caucasus, which brought Russia into their own disputes, begged her to arbitrate between them, or craved her support, gradually drew her—unconsciously, or almost against her will—further and further eastward, to new fields of action, which, one by one, perpetually widened the frontiers of her all-absorbing hegemony.

The emigrant colonists followed the progress of this policy, step by step, and now and then even outstripped it. From the banks of the Don and the Terek, where they had already taken root, they spread to the Crimea, to the very gates of Azov, in never-ending enlargement of the sphere called the kazatchina—the Fatherland of the whole floating population of the Empire, a Fatherland of indefinite limits and continually changing borders. The power of the system of territorial aggrandizement thus set in motion was tremendous. But it contained an element of danger.

VI.—The Cossacks.

The authority wielded by the metropolis over this element, so variable and turbulent in its nature, was purely nominal, and destined long so to remain. It was not till 1570 that Novossiltsov, one of Ivan's lieutenants, was to endue it with a little more coherence on the banks of the Don, and it was the third centenary of this event which the present army of the Don celebrated some thirty-four years since. But even in 1577, Ivan was obliged to send Mourachkine with a whole army corps to put down the brigandage and violence of his unruly subjects, and it was then, as it is believed, that Ermak and his comrades, the future conquerors of Siberia, to escape just reprisals, took refuge with the Stroganovs, other colonists of a different type, whose huge possessions touched the borders of Asia.

This led the way to a fresh, and still greater conquest; but meanwhile, the behaviour of these Cossacks and their arbitrary enterprises forced Moscow into an inevitable struggle with the last remnants of the Tartar power. Unable to make Ermak and his armed thousands on the Crimean border bend to his will, Ivan was fain to take the initiative in a duel which was not to end till Catherine II. sat on the Russian throne. As early as 1555—a prelude to the expeditions led by Galitzine and Münnich—he sent out 13,000 men under Chérémétiev. As always happened in such circumstances, the Khan, the swifter and bolder of the two, forestalled his opponent, beat a retreat before the Tsar, but inflicted a serious defeat on his lieutenant. This did not prevent a Cossack detachment, under the diak Rjevski, from making a reconnaissance as far as Otchakoy, and stirring lively emotion and an outbreak of warlike feeling among the Little Russians along the banks of the Dnieper. Then came the turn of a subject of the Polish King's, Prince Dmitri Wisniowieçki, who occupied and fortified an island in the Dnieper—the Khortitsa—and tried to brave the neighbouring Khan by dint of an alliance with the Tsar. He was driven out in 1557, but took his revenge the next year, under the very walls of Azov; while the commander of the Muscovite forces, Daniel Adachev, reached the estuary of the Dnieper, captured two Turkish vessels, landed in the Crimea, and spread terror through that country.

The moment seemed to have arrived when a mighty effort promised to end it all, and the men about Ivan eagerly pressed him to act. But the young and glorious Sovereign had wheeled round already. His enterprising spirit, its back turned on the east, was travelling westward, whither it was drawn by stronger intellectual affinities and more seductive prospects. Livonian affairs held him a and were to absorb him for many a year. It was the story of Peter the Great already.

VII.—The Crimea and Livonia.

The two undertakings were irreconcilable, and however he may have been criticised then or since, the determination at which the Tsar arrived seems fully justified. To go to the Crimea was not the same thing as to go to Kazan or Astrakan. The transport of troops and stores from the banks of the Moskva to those of the Volga was insured by a network of navigable rivers, running, partly at all events, through a comparatively populous country. The other road, once Toula and Pronsk were left behind, was over the desert, through resourceless and shelterless wastes, in which, till the end of the eighteenth century, the ceaseless efforts of Russia's best military leaders were to meet with shipwreck. And behind the Crimea, it must be remembered, lay the risk of having to face Turkey—the Turkey of the sixteenth century, the Turkey of Solyman the Magnificent.

Further, Ivan was not absolutely free to choose. Since 1554, he had been at war with Sweden on account of this same province of Livonia, and on its account, too, but for a succession of truces, always on the point of being broken, he would have been at permanent war with Poland. Thus the solution of the one problem was not so urgent as that of the other. Anxious as the Crimean business was, it could wait. But in Livonia neither Poles nor Swedes would wait, for they could not afford to delay an intervention in which Moscow must forestall them if she was not to be cut off for ever from all access to the Baltic. The ancient colony of the Teutonic knights was reaching that condition with which Poland was one day to become acquainted, and which constitutes, in a sense, a strain on all neighbouring greeds; the house was on fire, and everybody was trying to be the first to put it out. Give the whole thing up? Ivan could not dream of that! Even at Kazan he had only won his victory thanks to Western help, aided by the European engineers and workmen whom he laboured to gather from Germany, Hungary, and Italy. But if in Italy, and to some extent in Germany, a disposition was shown to second his efforts, other European countries, and those his nearest neighbours, kept up a suspicious and hostile attitude, stopping his recruits on the border, forbidding the sale of the most modern war material, and striving to maintain the wall built by centuries of isolation between themselves and their too enterprising neighbour. Livonia was a door—the door which Peter the Great was one day to beat down with mighty strokes. The chance of opening it at once, and that, as it seemed, without any excessive effort, offered now.

Might not Ivan have used the shores of the Gulf of Finland between the mouth of the Siestra and that of the Narova, which were already his, to the same end? This objection has been advanced, but it is not conclusive. The foundation of St. Petersburg had not occurred to the young Tsar. Even if he had possessed the genius of Peter the Great, he would probably have found it impossible to force the huge and unreasonable labour involved in such an undertaking on his subjects. To make that other effort, the value of which is open to discussion, possible, a century and a half later, the century and a half of labour, which insured the triumph of the absolute power and gave the son of Alexis a weapon the son of Vassili never wielded, was indispensable. Peter the Great himself was not to be content with his marshy port on an inhospitable coast, and it seemed, at this time, as if all Ivan had to do was to put out his hand.

In fact, though his undertaking failed, its failure was solely due to a surprise which nothing led him to foresee. This surprise, this miracle, was the ephemeral career of Batory, a real King, in a country which for years had known mock Kings only—a Hungarian cavalier, who broke in the Polish mare, and drove her full gallop to stop the Russian horseman's way. Only ten years this wild ride lasted, but they sufficed to work an utter change in the chances and positions of the two parties: to transform the Poland of the Jagellons, which Moscow knew, and which she could defy, into another Poland, of which she had not dreamt and whose strength she could not gauge; to make the triumph on which the victor of Kazan and Astrakan had so surely reckoned a disaster, and convert the match on which every appearance had encouraged him to stake his fortunes into a most disastrous wager.

He brought the prestige of his recent exploits to it—a glory the splendour of which one only of his successors was to increase, and a popularity none of them attained. The conquests and reforms of Peter the Great, less understood, have consequently been less appreciated. Ivan, the conqueror of Islam, the lawgiver who cared for the humblest, and wrought terrible justice on the 'great' only, forced admiration even from foreigners. No Prince in Christendom, thought Jenkinson in 1557, was so feared by his subjects, and so loved. At the same epoch, Foscarini, the Venetian envoy, eulogizing the justice meted out by this peerless Sovereign through his simple and appropriate laws, and praising his affability, his humanity, the variety of his information, the splendour of his Court, and the strength of his armies, places Batory's future opponent among the foremost Princes of his time. He enumerates, with evident pleasure, his gens d'armes, equipped in the French fashion, his artillery-men, drilled on the Italian system, and his splendidly taught arquebus-men, and affirms that no other European power possessed so formidable a war machine. Ina mirage of victory, his fancy beholds two armies, each numbering 100,000 men, ready to march at a sign from the great Tsar—'which seems almost improbable,' he adds, 'but it is absolutely true.'

The truth, which I have endeavoured to follow strictly, certainly warranted Ivan's momentary belief in the certainty of his superiority over his Polish and Swedish neighbours. He had a numerous army, a well-filled treasury, the advantage of a strongly-constituted power, the assurance which is born of success. All these—power, glory, and popularity, were to be swallowed up in a gulf, the dangers and the depth of which neither he nor any other man could recognise or plumb.