THE POLISH INVASION: BATORY
After the year 1572, when the election to the Polish monarchy became genuine instead of fictitious, as it had hitherto been, the electoral meetings on the field of Wola developed into what was neither more nor less than a gambling hell. The whole continent of Europe played there, and once only in the course of two centuries did the players cut a King. He was an unknown man. A pure-blooded Hungarian, through his father, Stephen Batory of Somlyo, and his mother, Katherine Telegda, he was of a good family, and nothing more, had seen honourable service with the Imperial armies, and manœuvred in still more successful fashion behind the diplomatic scenes at Vienna and Constantinople—so successfully, indeed, that, thanks to the united goodwill of the Sultan and the Emperor, he found himself Voiévode of Transylvania in 1571, when he was only thirty-eight. In Poland this foreigner was very little known. He was reported to have ruled a small territory exceedingly well, and was said, at a later period, to have studied at the Academy of Padua, at which place, in 1789, the last of his successors on the throne of the Jagellons was to erect a second-rate work by Carlo or Ferrari as a monument to his memory. He learnt no Polish there. When he was elected King, he either talked Latin to his new subjects or held his tongue—the best plan in a country where everybody talked too much. At the election of 1575, he was the Sultan's candidate, in opposition to the Emperor's; for Ivan, as we have seen, had retired, and Maximilian's son based his claim on the Austrian alliance against the Turks. Whether to make war against the Turks, backed by Austria, or to make war against the Muscovites, backed by the neutrality, at all events, if not the assistance, of the Porte—there lay the dilemma! But the Polish electors, wrapped up in their own concerns, were moved and divided by other considerations. The aristocracy leant towards Maximilian, because he offered it titles and money; the lesser nobles went over in a body to the Hungarian, because they were convinced so modest a personage would be their King and their slave too, and that either he would govern through them or they would govern without him, against the oligarchy of the great lords.
The stranger, as it turned out, wanted to be everybody's King, and he knew how to get what he wanted. He began by outstripping his rival at Warsaw. That was easy enough, for haste, on Maximilian's part, meant considerable risk—the Turk had his eye upon him. The Emperor's death, which took place in October, 1576, left Batory alone. All he had to do now was to unravel the difficulties of a position in which Henry of Valois had not even tried to see his way. The ex-voiévode proved himself the possessor of an unexpectedly clear insight, and an unrivalled knowledge of the art of government. Physically, as we see him in a portrait painted in 1583 by an unknown artist, and now preserved in the Church of the Missionary Fathers at Cracow, he was a typical Magyar—short and thick-set, with prominent cheek-bones, a long nose, and a low forehead. The countenance is massive, energetic, rugged. We see no regard for effect, no elegance ; he looks fierce and uncouth. The new King, who, both from necessity and because it suited his tastes, had lived in a most simple way, never dreamt for a moment of changing his habits, nor imagined he had been given a crown so that he might lead an easy life. It was noticed that he never wore gloves, and the story goes that, though he was shod with Polish boots, he scorned the stockings then coming into general use. His health was anything but good. He had been suffering, for a considerable time, from a mysterious complaint which seems to have hastened his end. He had an open sore on his left leg, and a belief grew up, when this trouble grew worse, that, in spite of all his appearance of strength, he had suffered, during his residence at the Emperor's Court, from attacks of epilepsy or apoplexy. The doctors of that period were not over clear-sighted. But the new King showed no sign of anything of this sort when he arrived in Poland. He worked his secretaries to death, spent whole days on horseback, and, whenever he had a moment's leisure, proved himself the boldest of sportsmen.
Mentally he was a curious mixture of stiffness and pliability, of masterfulness and liberalism, of violence and gentleness. When one of the deputies to the Diet raised his voice, he clapped his hand upon his sword, and shouted 'Tace nebulo!' When the King of Sweden put forward claims that displeased him, he repeated the same gesture, and grumbled the words, 'Docebo istum regulum!' Contrary to all precedent, he had a turbulent nobleman belonging to one of the most powerful families in the country condemned and executed. Supplications and threats were all equally vain. 'Canis mortuus non mordet!' was his imperturbable reply. Plectatur!
He treated the rebellious Cossacks after the Tsar's own fashion, had them put to death by dozens, and, so some people asserted, caused their bodies to be cut into pieces. And when, in the course of an audience he was giving a foreigner, a dog ran in and disturbed him, he sent the beast flying to the other end of the room with a blow from his spurred boot. But he knew how to employ more gentle methods with the turbaned suzerain of his former days. In Transylvania he had been half a Protestant, but he was a zealous Catholic once he was in Poland. At the Diet of Election he had been represented by an Arian, Blandrata; his election once ensured, his counsellors were Jesuits.
He intended to be master in his own kingdom, but in the sixteenth century he refused to make a difference between a starost and a Jew. He thought of reducing forced service, and substituting fines for flogging. More than once, on the battlefield, he turned peasants into noblemen; and, hard as he was to others and to himself, this same man was tender-hearted—nay, sentimental—to such a point that his grief for the loss of a friend brought on a serious illness.
At a Court which the last Jagellons had Italianized, and in a country into which the intellectual currents of the day had penetrated freely, he was at first looked on as a peasant. But hardly had be been brought into contact with his new surroundings, before—though he repudiated refinements unsuitable to his character and temperament—he placed himself in the forefront of the most enlightened Princes of his time. He founded the Academy of Wilna; he was the partisan and initiator of the reform of the calendar, the organizer of the postal and financial administrations, the creator of a new judicial system. …
And, above all, he governed. He brought the machine, which was beginning to go astray, back into order, and thus, though a foreigner by birth, habits, and language, he was a fine representative of the living forces of the Poland of the sixteenth century, which was, and still remains—I believe I may say it without offence—the highest historical expression of the Slav race the world has ever seen, a country already sapped by anarchy, but capable, materially speaking, as he was to prove, of a mighty and formidable effort, and prepared, morally speaking, for the noblest conquests of the modern intellect; a land of sublime warriors and inspired poets, of fluent political writers and orators, whose eloquence, sacred or profane, reaches the very heights; where Frycz Modrzewski, with his programme of social reform, claiming universal rights for all, outstripped all the writers of his day, where Kochanowski's grace and feeling made him Ronsard's worthy compeer, and where Skarga was the forerunner of Bossuet.
Foreign and uncouth as were his extraction and appearance, Batory brought all this about by the grace of his own genius. And this being so, he prepared the struggle with Moscow—for Livonia, in the first place, and after that for the very existence of Poland. He saw, in fact, that Poland as he realized her, civilized, well governed, liberal, turbulent, Catholic, must either absorb her great neighbour, and impose her own culture and political system on her, or be herself absorbed and brought into subjection by her.
The coexistence of these two great Slav States, each moving in its own orbit and developing after its own independent, if not contrary, fashion, might not have been so utterly impossible,indeed. But to that end the Poland of the Piasts and the Jagellons should have moved in the direction naturally indicated by her own origin—that is to say, westward—and drawn the Slavs of the west and south after her. Whereas, driven backward by the German Drang nach Osten, Poland had been forced eastward, and had founded a great State, half Polish, half Russian or Ruthenian, half Catholic and half Orthodox, at once a republic and a monarchy, a compound of civilization and barbarism.
There was but one orbit, and a planet too many—two Sovereigns of all the Russias, and only one empire for them to rule.
No sooner had Batory seated himself firmly on his throne than he had to put down a revolt at Dantzig. Though he had had some experience of siege-work, his success on this occasion was not conspicuous. His Poles were not well in hand as yet. And, indeed, his right to be numbered among the great military leaders of his epoch has been disputed. Those who have taken him to be the inventor of the red-hot bullets, which, as a matter of fact, produced little or no effect at the Siege of Dantzig, are certainly mistaken. The use of these engines, according to Meinert (Geschichte des Kriegwesens, i. 370), dates from the beginning of the fifteenth century, at least. It may be, as one of the King's biographers—Albertrandi—asserts, that the Polish army owed him improvements in heavy ordnance, and in its cavalry armament and equipment. More certain titles to fame are the remodelling of the Cossack military system, undertaken during his reign, the raising of a Royal Guard in 1576, and the embodiment, in 1578, of a regular infantry, recruited on the King's own lands. To these local forces Batory added a strong contingent of foreign troops—Hungarian infantry and German cavalry—and thus effected, in the land of his adoption, the revolution which had already modified the bases of military power and the very art of war in Western countries. He endowed Poland with a standing army, equipped and drilled after the European model. And specialists consider the three campaigns, in the course of which he penetrated into the very heart of Muscovy, both well conceived and skilfully carried through, in spite of some failures and weaknesses of detail. Those who have endeavoured to minimize his personal share in them have not been particularly successful. He may not have proved himself a commander of overwhelming talents, and the tactics Ivan adopted may not have given him any opportunity of proving himself one. His real merit lies in the fact that he was a man who knew how to lead, who had the gift, the instinct, the genius of command; and the method he employed to ensure himself every possible advantage in the duel he foresaw to be inevitable between Poland and her Muscovite neighbour may be considered a masterpiece.
Both opponents showed equal resolution in the combat. Up till the moment of Maximilian's death, Ivan clung obstinately to the plan sketched out at Mojaïsk, and sent courier after courier to Vienna. When that event took place, the Tsar dismissed the two Ambassadors Batory had despatched to his Court, one after the other, in his endeavour to gain time, cut short all negotiations by putting forward impossible demands, claimed Kiev, after he had asked for Vitebsk, and would shortly have claimed Warsaw, and turned his mind exclusively to the pursuit of the advantages he had already gained in Livonia.
In March, 1578, he agreed to another three years' truce; but this suspension of hostilities did not extend, of course, to territories on which either party was at home, and both believed themselves to be at home in Livonia. Further, Ivan arbitrarily inserted a clause forbidding the Poles to interfere in Livonian affairs, into the Russian text of the treaty.
The result was a fight, in the spring of that same year, for the possession of Wenden. Ivan had sent out an army of 18,000 men—more than enough, he had reason to think, to make head against the troops commanded by Chodkiewicz and Sapiéha, which were not nearly so numerous, and had hitherto, as we know, been destitute of every kind of necessary. Batory despatched a fresh embassy, and the Tsar told it to wait; 'there would soon be news from Livonia!' The news came, and Ivan learnt that matters at Warsaw had quite altered.
At the very beginning of his reign, Batory had sent the castellan of Sanok, John Herburt, to Stockholm, whence he had returned with a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, for the recovery of Livonia. The course of the Narova was to mark the dividing-line between the possessions acquired, or to be acquired, by the two allies. Now, the Poles, under Andrew Sapiéha, had joined forces with the Swedes, under Boë, had forced the Russians to fight in the open, and had once more proved their own superiority in conflicts of this kind. Four voiévodes had been killed, four more taken prisoners, 6,000 men slaughtered in the Russian camp, Ivan's gunners had strangled themselves across their own guns—this was the news the Tsar received. His Tartar cavalry alone had escaped the disaster, with his Commander-in-Chief Galitzine, who, according to the Polish authorities, hastened the Russian defeat by taking to flight, and carrying several of his more prominent comrades with him—a seasoned warrior, the okolnytchyi Feodor Chérémétiev, and one of the Sovereign's most trusted men, Bowes' enemy, the diak Chtchelkalov.
This put a stop to all thought of truces and negotiations. Ivan dismissed Haraburda, the Polish envoy,.but not until he had taken a characteristic revenge. Ever since Batory's accession he had refused to call the King of Poland his 'brother.' 'Did you not try to elect John Kostka?' he said to the Poles. 'Would you have me call him my brother, too?' Kostka was a private nobleman. 'And what is this Transylvanian Prince of yours?' he went on. 'Nobody ever heard of that principality till now!' Haraburda was obliged to listen to a good deal of talk of this kind. But the Tsar's two Ambassadors, Karpov and Golovine, were still at Warsaw, and Batory treated them accordingly. When he received them on December 3, 1578, he did not rise to his feet, as the protocol demanded, to inquire after their master. So the envoys at once declared themselves unable to discharge their mission. And, indeed, the whole country about them was in a ferment. The Diet, which had been called together on January 19, 1578, had voted an extra war subsidy for the next two years. This was reckoned at 800,000, or even at 1,200,000, florins—no very large sum, indeed, for the annual expenses of keeping up the Spanish army in the Low Countries at that time reached 7,000,000 florins! (Philippson, loc. cit., p. 240). Yet the Republic had never made such an effort before, and if the money paid in had reached the amount calculated on, it would have been amply sufficient. But it was far from doing that. Nevertheless, Batory, who had bent the Diet to his will, managed to find money. He had no personal expenses, and was thus able to pass all the income from his own lands into his war-chest. He obtained credit abroad, and once he had the money, he was able to get the men.
III.—The Polish Army.
The Polish nobles provided him with a splendid body of cavalry, which had lately proved its prowess at Wenden. But the Muscovites seemed more than likely to profit by their late experience, and await the Polish attack under the shelter of their fortress walls. The historian Dlugosz gives us reason to conclude that Poland had possessed infantry troops as early as in the beginning of the fifteenth century, but this body of men—a small one, numbering not more than 2,000—was only armed with pikes. Batory provided a more modern armament—muskets, swords, and battle-axes—and trebled the strength of his infantry by calling out the peasants on the crown lands. Those who enlisted of their own freewill were forgiven all they owed. The volunteers were many, and distinguished themselves by their bravery : some of them performed prodigies of valour. Besides these men, the King had a body of Hungarian infantry, some 5,000 strong, another of Polish infantry equipped in the Hungarian style, and consisting of the serving-men attached to the army, and a third recruited among the nobility. These he reinforced by divers bodies of auxiliaries belonging to the same arm of the service—Germans, who formed themselves into huge squares, Scotsmen, and Cossacks. Into his cavalry he introduced German and Polish arquebus-men.
The total number of troops, including the Lithuanian contingent, does not seem to have exceeded 20,000 men. It is worth remarking that in this war, certain separatist tendencies notwithstanding, Lithuania, or at all events the nobility of the country, which was still half Russian and half Orthodox, was heart and soul with Batory. This fact is acknowledged by the Russian historians themselves (Lappo, 'The Grand Duchy of Lithuania,' 1569–1586, St. Petersburg, 1901, p. 179). The sister nation gave all she could—a few thousand horsemen, who proved most invaluable, during the winter season especially, when, better able to endure the terrible climate and less distant from their own homes, they made up, to some extent, for the dispersal of the main army. This consisted of a mere handful of men, but it was the first, as to composition and quality, in any Slav country. The proportion of foreigners it contained was very large, but in the sixteenth century this was by no means an exceptional case. At the Battle of Dreux (December 19, 1562) Guise had over 12,000 Germans, Swiss, and Spaniards in his army, as against 6,000 Frenchmen, and in his enemy's camp the state of things was similar.
The Poles' weak point, in this and all the succeeding campaigns, was to be their enemy's strong one—artillery. In vain did Batory engage cannon-founders in Germany and even in Italy, and beg the Elector of Saxony to send him siege-guns and ammunition; he never could get enough ordnance together, and his artillerymen, of whom he only had seventy-three in 1580, shrank, in the following year, to twenty.
Taking it altogether, the King must have been a very brave man to face the struggle before him with the resources at his command. For this was no matter of fighting the Battle of Wenden over again, and carrying on deceptive hostilities within the borders of Livonia. In that country, worn out by fifteen years of incessant warfare, the ground crumbled beneath the feet of those who fought for it. It was a struggle between phantom armies for shadowy conquests. There was no possibility of winning any definite future advantage, nor even, in the long-run, of keeping up any campaign at all,in a desert sprinkled with ruins. As early as in 1562, Sigismund-Augustus had arrived at the conclusion that the key of the province must be sought elsewhere, and would only be found by attacking the chief competitor on his own hearthstone at Moscow. He had not succeeded in finding means to enable him to take these bold, offensive measures, but Batory had made up his mind to attempt them; and what he meditated was an invasion, a decisive struggle, a desperate game, in which the stakes were far to exceed the original object of the quarrel. This fight for Livonia was really a battle for the empire of the north-west, in which the hegemony of the Slav nations was to be lost or won.
Now for this enterprise, Poland could only reckon on her own efforts. Sweden had allied herself with her, but solely as far as Livonia was concerned, and within Livonian borders. All Sweden saw in Batory's new plan of campaign was an excuse for keeping herself free. She appealed to the letter of her treaty, and claimed to act independently. When Denmark was sounded, she declined; her relations with Ivan were growing pacific. The Khan offered his support, promised to have his Tartars on the move by the month of August, 1578, and ended by doing nothing at all. And when Batory confided his plans to the Grand Vizier, Mehemet-Sokolli, that illustrious warrior gave him a discouraging reply: 'The Tsar was a formidable foe, and nobody in the whole world, except the Sultan, was fit to measure swords with him.' For the Sultan, too, proposed to observe a strict neutrality. But the King, we may be sure, had foreseen all these disappointments, and made his calculations accordingly.
The point of attack had yet to be selected. The Lithuanians wanted to march on Pskov. Once there, the only road that connected the Russia of those days with the Baltic coast was cut. The way was barred, northward, by a series of lakes, and southward by marshes, rivers, and pathless forests. But before the army could get to Pskov it must either march right through Livonia, and thus deal the final blow to a country it had better spare, or make its way through Russian territory, leaving a ring of fortified places in its rear, and Lithuania without any protection at all. Batory decided to strike first at Polotsk. This town, on the banks of the Dvina, commanded, to some extent, the roads into Livonia and Lithuania. The place had been quite lately snatched from Poland, and thus might fairly lay claim to the King's first attention. He could go on to Pskov afterwards.
This point once settled, the great Hungarian worked wonders, as will be proved by the choice of Svir as his starting-point, which enabled him to conceal the object of his expedition till the very last moment; by his skilful division of his forces on the roads leading to this trysting-place; by his equally skilful flank movement from Svir to Disna, while continuing to screen Wilna and the parks of artillery with the main army; and his ingenious utilization of rivers and boat bridges for his heavy transport. Specialists have objected that this method of acting on the enemy's lines of communication was not known in Europe till towards the close of the seventeenth century. That may be. But inventors of methods are frequently forestalled by men of action.
Yet Batory was not able to carry out his plan according to his original idea. The tryst at Svir had been fixed for May 4, 1579. But, in spite of all the King's energy, there were delays—money, supplies, troops, all fell short. And for this reason, too, the Russian envoys, who had been dragged from town to town and from one audience to another, were not dismissed till June, and not till then did a Polish courier carry the formal declaration of war to Moscow. A few days later Batory had opened his campaign. The army which crossed the Disna with him, on a bridge of boats put together in the space of three hours, numbered, as to the Polish contingent, 6,517 horsemen, 1,338 of whom were Germans or Hungarians; 4,830 foot soldiers, 3,431 of these also being Germans or Hungarians; and 4,000 Lithuanian cavalry, or thereabouts. Among the foreign officers was one George Farensbach, formerly a Colonel in the Danish service, and more recently a General in the Tsar's. His advice was probably most valuable. No more than 15,000 men in all, without reckoning for garrisons and reserves, proposed to invade the huge Empire of Muscovy and make it sue for mercy!
In the Polish camp the opening of the campaign partook of all the peculiarities of the European habits of that day. Before any powder was burnt, a very great deal of ink—even printers' ink—was spilt. Batory's declaration of war was preceded by a long historical exposition, crammed with dates, diplomatic texts, and epigrams. It did not forget Prous, the famous brother of Cæsar-Augustus, from whom Ivan claimed descent. A pamphlet published at Nuremberg in 1580, and of which very few copies now exist, contains, together with a very incorrect reproduction of this document, a vignette which shows Venceslas Lopacinski, the bearer of the message, in the act of performing his mission. The nobleman, a naked sword at his side, holds out the letter to the Tsar with a gesture of defiance. This picture is as unreliable as the letterpress accompanying it, which has lately been corrected by the Abbé Polkowski (Acta Historica, Cracow,. 1887, xi. 162). Ivan never admitted Lopacinski to his presence, and Batory chiefly reckoned for the effect to be produced by his declaration on the publicity he ensured by having it printed in Polish, Hungarian, and German, in the presses he carried about with him during the whole course of his campaign. At Svir, where he arrived on July 15, 1579. the King issued another manifesto, no doubt intended, in his mind, to justify his undertaking, and conciliate public opinion both within and without the borders of the country.
Never, indeed, in any document of the kind, had the leader of an army given proof of such generous feeling. Batory promised to respect the persons, property, and privileges of non-belligerents; he undertook to forbid and put down, as far as he himself was concerned, violence of every kind; nothing was lacking to the formula now grown so commonplace—as commonplace, alas! as it is deceptive. At this period it was a novelty, one of which the Poland of the sixteenth century may well be proud. Never did the leader of an expedition betray greater eagerness to keep himself in mental touch with a sensitive and easily offended public. All future incidents of the campaign were to become the subjects of similar publications. The bibliography of that period contains a mass of pamphlets and printed matter, official or semi-official, dilating or commenting on the most insignificant episodes in the struggle. These literary efforts, which were sent into Poland and Germany, and even as far as Rome, where the King's envoy, Peter Dunin Wolski, Bishop of Polotsk, had them reprinted, were not remarkable for any very scrupulous adherence to historical accuracy. But it was essential to make head somehow or other against the German press, which was exceedingly eager to provide information for a public that was excessively greedy of news. One broadsheet (Zeitung), containing a report of one of Batory's victories, soon ran into four editions. To the paper warfare he so largely employed, the King added, after 1580, all the severities of a rigorous censure, and a German historian (Hausmann, Studien zur Geschichte des König's Stephan, Derpt, 1880, p. 34, etc.) has admitted that an edict then issued pronounced sentence of death on the authors and publishers of hostile works. This may well be, for even in 1576 the publication of a pamphlet at Cracow had. been punished in this fashion, and in Germany the laws of the period were no more merciful.
I note these details because they seem to me indispensable to any faithful picture of the struggle under our consideration. It involved a conflict between two peoples which, though of the same race, nevertheless represented two different worlds set in opposition to each other, and the vari-coloured horde of soldiers from many lands, with its scribes and printers in attendance on it, was, in good sooth, the Latin West, working backwards, under the Slav banner, along the path of the great Oriental invasions. This victorious war may be looked on as Poland's last will and testament, and the story of it, for that reason, must present a certain interest.
In the present day the manifestoes of invading armies do not impose on our credulity. Batory was to be faithful to his. 'Never was any war conducted with greater moderation and more humanity as to labouring men and peaceful citizens.' This testimony in the King's favour is borne by the Russian historian Karamzine ('History of Russia,' ix., chap. v.). It is further proved by two other documents: by a circular addressed by Batory on May 4, 1580, to the nobility of the territory of Polotsk; and, more especially, by the military regulations in force during the campaign. The circular amounted to a charter, ensuring the most precious immunity to the persons affected by it; the regulations forbade the killing of children, old men, and Churchmen, the violating of women, and any destruction of, or damage to, crops, even for the purpose of feeding horses!
In spite of Russian excesses and of provocations acknowledged by Russian authorities, these regulations were faithfully observed. Karamzine speaks of a number of Polish prisoners who were put to death during the early days of the siege of Polotsk by the defenders of that town, and whose bodies were sent floating down the Dvina under the besiegers’ very eyes; but the Polish army set the world an example which might well have been a lesson to the most civilized nations of that period, and hardly ever indulged in reprisals. Provost-Marshals, endowed with far-reaching powers, kept up severe discipline in every rank. The King himself did not spare his own person, and set the best of examples in every way. He forbade all dissipation and all unnecessary luxury, frequently slept on a heap of dry leaves, ate his meals on a wooden trestle 'without a cloth,' and showed no mercy to marauders. At the same time, he strove to raise and keep up moral feeling among his men by appealing to the religious sentiment which was so strong in most of them. Even the passwords he gave them served this purpose. One day it would be 'Lord, forgive us our sins!' and another, 'God punishes the evil-doer!'
All this did not put a stop to certain practices usual, and considered indispensable, in those days, such as that of torturing prisoners to extract information from them. The extreme ardour of the Polish warriors, gentlemen and peasants alike, resulted, especially at the beginning of the war, in some excesses which nobody was able to prevent. Private troopers, riding their horses full gallop, would smash their lances against the walls of a besieged town. Such madmen were not always easy to restrain. The Hungarian infantry, skilled as it was in all siege work, and always first, not only on the breach, but when a chance of pillage offered, was often insubordinate. And between one battle and the next, the turbulent spirit of the szlachta often claimed its rights, and the army discussed the scope of the advantages already gained, and the conditions of the fresh effort demanded of it. But, on the whole, and considering the inherent cruelty of such sanguinary sports as these, at every period and in every country, the war, on the Polish side, was a noble war, and the annals of the sixteenth century have not registered its like in any other country.
Though the courage of the opposing forces was quite as great, the other features apparent in the hostile camp were very different.
IV.—The Russian Army.
If Batory's attempt to get help for his campaign from Sweden had failed, Ivan's at Vienna had met with no better success. Vainly had Kvachnine, whom he had despatched to Rudolph in 1578, striven to obtain the conclusion of the alliance previously suggested to Maximilian. As a preliminary condition, the Emperor insisted on the acknowledgment of his own suzerainty over Livonia! A similar failure awaited the Tsar at the Court of the Khan, who demanded Astrakan and a great deal of money into the bargain. At one moment Ivan had reason to fear he was really going to have the Tartars on his hands, as Batory would have desired. One of the King of Poland's envoys, John Drohojowski, did his utmost, indeed, to negotiate an alliance, in which the Khan would have been included, at Constantinople, but the Porte needed the Tartars to keep the Persians down, and the Tsar and the King were left face to face at last, alone and unallied. Still Ivan had not to beg subsidies from a recalcitrant Diet, or appeal to the goodwill of his subjects to recruit his army. His Empire was his own, with every soul and all the wealth within its borders. When he heard the Poles had marched against him, he threw garrisons into eighty towns on the Oka, the Volga, the Don, and the Dnieper, and ordered the bulk of his forces to concentrate at Novgorod and Pskov.
As to the strength of these forces, the information at our disposal is contradictory in the extreme. Karamzine's reckoning, notoriously exaggerated as to the Polish troops, concerning which we are better informed, would appear to be equally unreliable as to the strength of the Russians. With reference to these, Fletcher, who is generally well posted, has accepted a total of 300,000 men. But some writers, and amongst them Biélaiév, have raised this figure to a million, and Karamzine's view, according to which Ivan might have drowned the Polish army at a word under the wave of Russians, loosed in resistless flood upon Vilna and Warsaw, has thus acquired a new lease of authority. Students of a later date, however, have shed light on the great historian's blunder. According to the calculations of Monsieur Pavloff-Silvanski ('The Men who Served,' p. 117, etc.), after the garrisons already mentioned had been deducted, something like 10,000 warriors out of the 23,000 boïars, boïars' sons, and men belonging to the Court, on whom he could originally reckon, remained at Ivan's disposal. Each of these gentlemen was attended, on an average, by two armed men on horseback, making 30,000 horsemen in all—or 31,596, to give the author's exact figure; and there were 15,119 striéltsy and Cossacks, horse and foot, 6,461 Tartars, and 4,513 men of various arms, comprising a certain number of foreigners—Dutchmen, Scots, Danes, and Greeks—57,689 men out of the total of 110,000 which represented the whole fighting force of the Empire. Forced labour, recruited in varying quantities according to the necessities of each campaign, swelled the ranks of the army very considerably. But these men were only available for camp and fortress duty, or for digging earthworks, and the Polish army was likewise attended by a very numerous train of similar auxiliaries. The proportion between the two sides, to sum it up, was as four to one, or very near it.
This left Ivan with a numerical superiority large enough to impart an appearance of recklessness to Batory's undertaking. But it was an appearance and nothing more. Some historians, swayed by Kourbski's assertions, have supposed the Tsar to have suffered painfully, at this juncture, from the lack of the better military leaders, of whom the Opritchnina had deprived him. The consequences of the great political, social, and economic crisis through which the country had just passed are clearly recognisable in the incidents and the issue of this decisive struggle, but this particular interpretation of them cannot be accepted. The best leader Ivan had employed since his accession was Peter Chouïski, and he did not make a very brilliant show under the walls of Orcha. The country, worn out and sore, was to prove itself incapable of any prolonged effort, but as far as the preliminaries of a campaign were concerned, the Opritchnina left the machinery of war intact. Yet here we see, save for the artillery and a few hundreds of foreign soldiers, and officers, face to face with Batory's European army the ancient fighting-machine of Muscovy, the insufficiency of which Ivan had already proved against the Swedes, and against the Poles themselves, indeed—an agglomeration of armed men whose personal valour, and powers of endurance and of heroic devotion, in officers and men alike, could not make up for its inferior equipment, its want of discipline—or of drill, at all events—and the shortcomings of its leaders.
Ivan's very clear realization of the causes of this weakness influenced his decision at this critical moment as much as his own natural temperament. I have already shown that he was no soldier. Whatever the condition of affairs, the idea of checking the invasion by facing Batory at the head of his boïars cannot have occurred to him. Such a thing had never been seen in Muscovy since the far-distant and legendary days of Dmitri Donskoï; and when another horde of Tartars had threatened the capital, the son of the national hero himself had fled to Kostroma. This was the traditional line of conduct, and on this particular occasion especially, the Tsar was bound to follow it faithfully; the Opritchnina had not robbed him of his army, but if he led out that army to meet Batory and his Poles and Hungarians in the open, he might make up his mind beforehand to a beating.
And, further, Ivan was completely taken in, at first, as to his adversary's plans; he thought his blow would be struck, as in past days, at Livonia. Thus, when he reached Novgorod in July, 1579, he detached a few thousand of his Asiatic cavalry, with orders to receive the enemy's first attack, and these troops, encountering no resistance whatsoever, contented themselves with a repetition of Schah-Ali's exploits; while Batory, leaving the wretched province to its fate, and contenting himself with some mere precautionary measures for the protection of his army on that side, marched straight on Polotsk. By the time the real state of affairs was known in the Russian camp it was too late to provide for the defence of the town. As for barring the Poles' onward progress, such a notion never entered Ivan's head at all. In the most deliberate manner he dispersed his forces, sent one army corps to fight the Swedes under Fellin, another under the walls of Ostrov, ordered Princes Lykov and Paletski to succour Polotsk—though he foresaw they would have to content themselves with harrying the enemy and intercepting food convoys—and made up his mind to a system of flabby defence, interspersed with attempts at diplomacy. And to this system he was to adhere. He hoped, no doubt, to wear the Poles down by a war of sieges, in which Russian obstinacy and the Russian artillery were both likely to serve him well.
And it was a war of sieges, indeed, that Batory had to face, as he had foreseen. But his genius and his luck were to bring the Tsar's strategy and diplomacy to nought.
V.—The Capture of Polotsk.
The siege of Polotsk began early in August, 1579. The garrison behaved with great bravery; the artillery, 107 guns, kept the Poles at bay for a considerable time. But after three weeks, when no succour came, the town was forced to surrender. The Bishop, Cyprian, refused to acknowledge the capitulation, shut himself up, with a certain number of boïars, in the Church of St. Sophia, and it became necessary to reduce them by force. This incident proves how desperate the resistance was. The booty found in this church, believed to be full of treasure, and all over the town, fell far short of the victors' hopes and expectations. The most precious thing they found was a library containing great numbers of chronicles and Slav translations of the Fathers of the Church, and this was burnt. Nevertheless, the capture of the place was a great success for the Poles, and Batory at once proceeded further on his way. He took Sokol, where a terrible massacre occurred, and occupied several forts in the neighbourhood, while Prince Constantine Ostrogski ravaged the province of Siéviéia right up to Starodoub, and Kmita, Starost of Orcha, treated the province of Smolensk in similar fashion. Ivan left them to do their will.
The Tsar took to flight. Hastily leaving Novgorod, he betook himself to Pskov, and from that place, like a true Oriental, to save his own face, and decoy the opposite side into negotiating, he opened a correspondence with the chief Lithuanian nobles—Radziwill, Palatine of Vilna, and Wolowicz, Chancellor of Lithuania. He had been prevented, he said, from sending succour to Polotsk, and was still prevented from retaking the town by force of arms, by the entreaties of his boïars, who were bent on putting a stop to the effusion of Christian blood; wherefore he trusted Radziwill and Wolowicz, inspired by the same feelings, would use their best endeavours to have peace restored.
The reception these overtures obtained may be easily imagined. But the year was drawing to a close, and Batory was not disinclined to accept the semblance of a diplomatic interlude, until the opening of the next campaign, for which he had to make fresh preparations. Lopacinski, the bearer of his declaration of war, had been detained at Moscow; the King demanded his liberation, and Ivan received the victor's messenger, a mere courier, with the greatest civility, and invited him to his own table. Lopacinski was set free, of course; but the Tsar, who did not quite relinquish all his pretensions, expressed a wish to receive a Polish embassy to discuss conditions of peace. The nature of Batory's reply may be easily conceived. He was not the person, now, who could be expected to send ambassadors.
Disconcerted, Ivan fell back on Vienna, whither he sent Athanasius Rezanov with a fresh and more pressing appeal. But he did not show any touch of humility, as yet, in that quarter; for his envoy was told that if the Emperor invited him to his own table he was to refuse any place except the foremost, even if he found himself in the company of the representatives of the French King or the Sultan! And if anybody asked him how the King of Poland had been able to take Polotsk, he was to reply, 'By a surprise, and by violating a three years' truce which he had signed.' Rezanov reached his destination in March, 1580, and was dismissed, as all his predecessors had been. Batory was so well able to stir up revolution in Hungary that the Emperor did not care to disoblige him. And, besides, he swayed Vienna through Rome, and Rome through the Jesuits. After the capture of Polotsk, the Pope had sent the King a sword and lance, which he had solemnly blessed at Mass on Christmas Day, and which were to be ceremoniously presented to him. All Rezanov could get was civil talk. The Viennese authorities thought Batory's money would soon begin to fail. 'He won't be able to feed his soldiers with his Hungarian lice!' said Count Kinski scornfully.
Ivan realized he must lower his tone to Poland. He sent one courier after another to Warsaw, and appeared disposed, at last, to take the initiative, in order to prevent a second campaign, if Batory really intended to undertake another. His couriers were actually told they need not remonstrate if the King did not stand up when he inquired after the Tsar's health! Batory gave the messengers of peace a friendly reception, but continued to hurry forward his preparations. When June came, he gave the Tsar five weeks in which to send him an embassy; otherwise, he said, 'he would mount his horse'; and Ivan, 'noting his neighbour's condescension in satisfying his demands,' as he put it in his instructions, despatched the embassy forthwith. Before it had got halfway, with its huge suite of 500 persons, its leaders learnt there was nothing more for them to do at Warsaw. The King of Poland had 'mounted his horse,' and, followed by his troops, had just started forth from Vilna.
VI.—The Poles in Muscovy.
The capture of Polotsk had made no real breach in the Muscovite Empire. That was a mere taking back of what had once been a Polish possession. It was only now that Batory and his army were really to plunge into the heart of the enemy's country. In the Polish camp opinion was divided, as it had been at the opening of the previous campaign. Some wanted to march from Czasniki, the new point of concentration, half-way between Smolensk and Viélikié-Louki, straight on Smolensk, while others desired to move on Pskov. Batory decided to strike at Viélikié-Louki, a fortress standing in the midst of a rich and populous country, used by the Russians as a storehouse for their war material, and the usual base of their operations against Lithuania.
The invading army, reinforced by the infantry recruited on the royal properties, the organization of which had been somewhat delayed, was a little stronger, numerically speaking, than it had been in the previous year. Its effective strength now amounted to about 17,500 men, 8,321 of whom were Polish or Hungarian infantry, and a Lithuanian contingent which may be reckoned at about 10,000 men. The march to Viélikié-Louki was a severe one. To avoid crossing the Dvina under the guns of Viélije, another fortress in the same region, the Poles cut their way through thick forests, and split up their forces to such an extent that one corps of 6,000 men completely lost contact with the main body of the troops. The foolhardiness of this operation has been criticised, but its boldness would seem justified by the remoteness of the Muscovite forces, which were concentrated at Novgorod, Pskov, and Smolensk, far from the theatre of war, while the body of troops which adventured itself alone was commanded by the new leader of the Polish contingent, in whose person Batory had unexpectedly discovered the best of all his lieutenants. This leader's name was John Zamoyski, and he had succeeded a man of the old school, Nicholas Miéleçki, who, during the previous campaign, had been more distinguished by his bravery than by his military talent. Zamoyski, who was more of the statesman than the warrior, and a former warden of Padua, did not at first appear destined to eclipse him. His conduct was a revelation. While the King carried Ousviat, as he marched along, Zamoyski, by a skilful manœuvre, turned the defences of Viélije, took possession of that town, and joined the main army close to Viélikié-Louki.
Here the Poles found a surprise awaiting them. The Muscovite embassy had arrived. For awhile, Ivan had hesitated as to the course he should pursue. To send it marching after the invading army was a cruel humiliation. After the fall of Viélije, the Tsar summoned one of those assemblies, the story of which I have already told (p. 133, etc.); and as it decided in favour of a desperate resistance, he commanded his Ambassadors, Prince Ivan Sitski, Roman Mikhaïlovitch Pivov, and Thomas Palentiélev, to retrace their steps. But very soon the emissaries sent out to reconnoitre brought back alarming news. 'The Poles were as thick as plant-lice.' And again Ivan made up his mind to treat, though he gave his envoys fresh instructions, which proved him more ready to defend himself on the field of diplomacy than on the battlefield. He offered Batory Courland, which had never belonged to Russia, and sixty-five Livonian towns, skilfully chosen, thirty-five others to remain in his own hands. Sitski and Pivov began by demanding that the siege of Viélikié-Louki should be instantly raised, and they themselves received on Polish ground: for no Tsar had ever consented to treat on his own territory. They received a rather rough reply, and consented to enter on their business without further preliminary. But Batory demanded the whole of Livonia, with Viélikié-Louki and Smolensk as well. The negotiations hung fire, and while the Russian envoys were referring back to the Tsar, Zamoyski was pressing the town hard. Its ramparts, like those of most Muscovite fortresses, were only built of wood—a double range of heavy boards, filled in with soil, which resisted the red-hot balls. And the Polish artillery, weak and badly handled, was quite unable to silence the heavy fire kept up by the besieged. But one fine day a Mazovian peasant set fire to one of the towers at the risk of his own life, and the garrison offered to capitulate. Conditions were actually under discussion, but the Hungarians could not wait. They and their leader, Gaspard Bekiesz, an old political rival of Batory's, always showed an impetuosity as exaggerated as their want of discipline was excessive. Fancying the booty on which they had been reckoning was about to slip through their fingers, or that the lion's share would go to the Poles, they threw themselves upon the town, and in the wild mêlée that ensued nothing was spared. Even monks carrying crosses and ikons in procession were murdered, though Zamoyski vainly strove to restore order. He only succeeded in saving two voiévodes.
As a consequence, the whole of that country lay at the victor's mercy. Prince Khilkov, who had been holding it with a strong detachment of troops, was beaten by the Polish, Hungarian, and German cavalry, under Prince Zbaraski. The town of Nevel was set on fire, and capitulated, and the Poles did not prove over-scrupulous in their observation of the conditions they themselves had granted. In the European warfare of that period this was a pretty general rule. On most occasions, pretexts for neglecting engagements were discovered. Oziérichtche fell almost without a struggle. Zavolotché, better protected by the fact that the waters of the Lake of Podsoch very nearly transformed it into a fortified island, withstood the first assault. A bridge broke down under the besiegers' feet, and the szlachta had already begun to talk of beating a retreat, for its members wanted to get home for Christmas. But Zamoyski, proving himself as cunning a diplomatist as he was a capable leader of troops, induced his Poles and Hungarians to vie with each other on the two bridges he built to replace the broken one. Religious feeling entered into this. Volunteers who had just received the Holy Communion and listened to an appropriate sermon, offered their services to lead the attack, and on October 23, 1580, the town was taken. According to a Polish chronicler, the Muscovite voiévodes, who had been obstinately determined to hold out, were forced into capitulation by a mutiny amongst the garrison.
A single success achieved by one of the Tsar's lieutenants, Ivan Mikhaïlovitch Boutourline, did not compensate for all these disasters. This Muscovite leader surprised the titular Khan of Smolensk, Filon Kmita, on the Lithuanian frontier, surrounded him with a superior force, killed 700 of his men, and took all his artillery—ten guns. But, notwithstanding this, the whole of one large province of Russia was in the hands of the Poles, and when these returned to their winter quarters the Lithuanians carried on the campaign, seized Kholm, burnt Staraïa-Roussa, and even forced their way into Livonia, where they took possession of the castle of Smilten, and, with Magnus' help, ravaged the province of Derpt right up to the Muscovite frontier.
The Swedes, on their side, did not stand idle. In November, 1580, Pontus de la Gardie had made a raid into Carelia, and taken Kexholm, at which place, so the Livonian chroniclers declare, 2,000 Russians met their death. Another body of Swedish troops besieged Padis, some six leagues from Revel, and after thirteen weeks of the most desperate resistance, in the course of which the besieged, commanded by their voiévode Tchikhatchev, devoured hides, straw, and even, as it has been believed, human flesh, the town was carried by assault. Then came the turn of Livonia, where Pontus de la Gardie suddenly appeared in the spring of 1581, and shortly captured Wesemberg. Thus was a third robber making-himself ready to snatch the conquest which had already brought his foes halfway on their victorious road to his capital, from the Tsar's grasp.
And meanwhile Batory, to whom, in February, 1581, the Diet had granted fresh subsidies for another two years, was preparing for his third campaign. With the prestige he had now acquired, with the experience he had gained, and his seasoned army, hot with the glory of so many triumphs—whither would he not go? And on his heels another army followed: the Jesuits, who were carrying on a religious campaign, of which the effects were already felt in the Russo-Lithuanian countries, and even in Livonia. Since 1576, Batory, who favoured these efforts, had been hoping, thus aided, to break the links that bound these countries to Orthodox Russia or Protestant Germany, and at Vilna the Fathers had been able to celebrate the conversion of eighty Lutherans and fifty catechumens of the Greek rite (Lubkovitch, 'Contributions to the History of the Jesuits in the Russo-Lithuanian Countries,' Warsaw, 1888; in Russian).
The aims of this endeavour were far distant, and its nature was most wide-embracing. The triumphant current of Catholicism was to flow across Livonia and so reach Sweden, where, thanks to Catherine Jagellon, Rome had once more gained a footing. When the ground lost there had been recovered, the Reformation was to be shut up and stifled within a hostile circle, and Muscovy, once vanquished, was to undergo recapture by victorious Rome. And thus, under the hero she had chosen to be her leader, and by the victories which contemporary nations already took to be a sign from God, the foremost of the Slav races of that day was to solve the twofold problem, political and religious, on which the future of the North-West of Europe hung, and there was to be an end of the 'third Rome' and all the ambitious hopes therewith connected.
Ivan must have felt all this, no doubt, and must have felt also how powerless he was to avert the danger by force of arms. The ring of fortresses within which he had fancied himself safe was broken. Slowly but surely the tide of invasion was advancing. After Viélikié-Louki, Novgorod and Pskov would open their gates. And the Tsar was less than ever able to think of pitting his ill-equipped, badly-drilled, armed bands, so utterly deficient in cohesion, against these formidable troops, before whom even fortresses could make no stand. The only refuge left him was diplomacy.
VII.—The Diplomatic Interlude
By the month of September, 1580, without even waiting for Rezanov's return, Ivan made up his mind to appeal from Vienna to Rome. His new envoy, Istoma Chevriguine, was ordered to solicit the Pope's intervention, and to represent 'Batoura'—Ivan, a little out of ignorance and a little out of scorn, continued to deform the King's name after this fashion—as being the Sultan's ally. But this effort could not take effect as rapidly as the necessity of the case demanded; wherefore the Tsar's Ambassadors, multiplying their concessions and swallowing the most painful insults in the process, continued to allow the victor to drag them in his train. They had been ordered, in January, 1581, to Warsaw, where, having added a fresh list of Livonian towns to those they had already offered Poland, they flattered themselves they were about to obtain a truce and the preliminaries of a peace. But the answer they were given was, 'The whole of Livonia, or war!' In their report they note the fact of their having been forced by threats and abuse to kiss the hand of the King, who, this time again, when the Tsar's name was pronounced in his presence, had not risen to his feet, nor even desired them to greet the Sovereign in his name, and they had been obliged to depart empty-handed.
Ivan realized that he must give in. He was to bow before Fate, and to bend his back lower and lower. He wrote a mighty humble letter to 'Batoura,' in which—and for the first time—he addressed the King as 'brother,' and announced the departure of another embassy. The envoys, Evstafii Mikhaïlovitch Pouchkine, Feodor Andréiévitch Pissemski, and Andrew Trofinov, were ordered to endure every kind of ill-treatment, and even blows, without complaint. The Tsar had come to that! And he now offered Poland the whole of Livonia, except four towns. He would even give up his title; but he could not refrain from mingling some bitter with all this sweet, and seasoning his final concession with an epigram. The Ambassadors were further to say that, in spite of all, their Sovereign was 'not a Sovereign of yesterday.' If they were asked what they meant, they were to reply, 'The Sovereign who is that knows himself!'
Ivan's cleverness was one of the most dangerous factors in his character, and he was quite capable of sacrificing a province to a sally, and then patching up the damage by some fresh sacrifice of his dignity, which he always fancied himself to be protecting after this fashion.
So eagerly did he hurry forward his envoys' departure that they reached Vilna, where Batory had desired them to meet him, long before the appointed date. In spite of all apparent probabilities, the Tsar still hoped to prevent any resumption of hostilities. But, in the King of Poland's mind, Vilna was but one stage on the road of the new conquests he was meditating. When he reached that town, in May, the Russian Ambassadors heard him demand, not Livonia only, but Novgorod, Pskov, Smolensk, the whole of Siéviéria, and a war indemnity of 400,000 ducats! When Pouchkine and his comrades sent a messenger to Moscow to ask for orders, Batory had him accompanied by a courier of his own, Dzierzek by name, who conveyed an ultimatum which reduced his claims to some extent, but still insisted on Livonia and the indemnity, though he limited his further demands to the razing of certain frontier fortresses. And the Polish King would only wait for his answer till June 4.
At that moment Chévriguine's mission was already producing some preliminary effect. I shall show, a little further on, how the Pope had yielded to the charm of the idea of a mediation, which, even if completely successful, could not have made up, from the Catholic point of view, for the advantages likely to accrue from Poland's decisive triumph. The appointed mediator, a Jesuit named Possevino, was actually at Vilna, and the fact of his presence there was infinitely useful to Ivan. Roma locuta erat. If the Holy See pronounced against the continuance of the war, Poland's onward progress would be checked, and stopped outright, if she persevered, by the thunders of the Vatican. The Tsar fancied so, at all events, and, recovering himself at once, he treated Dzierzek much as Batory had treated his own Ambassadors, and sent his courier back with a letter for the King beginning thus: "We, Ivan Vassilévitch, the humble, Tsar and Grand-Duke of Russia … by the grace of God, and not by the turbulent will of man. …' This opening phrase will enable my readers to guess the rest for themselves. In Kojalowicz's edition the document covers three-and-twenty printed pages. After paraphrasing the Psalms of David after a fashion of his own, calling Batory an Amalek, a Sennacherib, a Maxentius, greedy of bloodshed, and declaring that unless peace was made forthwith he would send no Ambassador into Poland, nor receive any from that country, for the next thirty or forty years, Ivan rejected the ultimatum in every particular. And more: he retracted his previous concessions, and refused to be satisfied with only four Livonian towns. He must keep six-and-thirty—Narva and Derpt among the number—and would only give up Viélikié-Louki and twenty-four small fortified places in the neighbourhood. This was his 'final calculation.'
He was labouring under some illusion as to Possevino's power. When his letter, and the instructions he sent with it, arrived at Vilna, Batory was not there. The King had already reached Polotsk, and was preparing to march out his army. The Jesuit and the Muscovite envoys followed him, and the Papal envoy did his best to mediate. But Pouchkine and Pissemski were as intractable now as they had lately been docile and conciliatory. When Possevino inquired why the Tsar had altered his proposals, 'The New Testament wipes out the Old,' was Pouchkine's scornful answer; 'the King of Poland had refused the Tsar's first offers, and the Tsar was now making others, and would add nothing more—not that!' he added, and twisted a bit of straw in his fingers as he spoke. Batory, on his side, was in no humour for more negotiations. He must, no doubt, show some consideration for the Papal mediation; so he undertook to tell Possevino he would give up the indemnity and the destruction of the strong places. But he certainly never expected the Russians to take him at his word. As a matter of fact, Ivan's Ambassadors turned a deaf ear, and the King, hurrying forward the date of their farewell audience, told them he was going to set forth without more delay, and make war—'not to take Livonia, but everything their master owned.' The Jesuit perceived he would gain nothing here by insistence. He announced his intention of proceeding to the Tsar's Court, in the hope of bringing him back to a better state of mind, and Batory wished him a pleasant journey. But the Polish army was already on its march.
Batory would even have left Ivan's last letter unanswered altogether, but the King's counsellors did not wish the German and Polish gazettes to remain under the impression produced by the insults it had contained. The effusion of ink and blood had been simultaneous up to this, and the same course must be pursued. The royal Chancery was set desperately to work, and evolved an epistle numbering forty pages—so that the insulter might have full measure—which reminded him that his mother had been the daughter of a mere Lithuanian deserter, and attacked his own public and private life, denouncing both his debauchery and his bloodshed. The Tsar had reproached the King with seeking to ally himself with the Sultan. To this Batory triumphantly opposed Ivan's Marriage with a Moslem woman—the Temrioukovna Tsarina—and the customs of his ancestors, 'who licked the mares' milk off the Tartar horses' manes.' His reluctance to making any personal appearance on the battlefield was not forgotten, and that was a fair hit. 'A hen defends her chicks against the hawk and the eagle, but thou, a two-headed eagle, hidest thy head!' This last apostrophe was followed by a challenge to single combat, which my readers may think ridiculous; but such a proposal is quite within the precedents of that period. In 1561, Erik XIV. sent a similar challenge to Dudley, whom he regarded as his rival with Queen Elizabeth. And nobody expected the Tsar to take up the glove.
He never thought of it for an instant, and was more than ever driven to 'hide himself.' His treasury was empty, his country worn out, his boïars demoralized, and all his resources exhausted. At one moment, so the chroniclers assure us, there were not more than 300 men with him at Staritsa. Yet, convinced that Batory's next blow would be struck at Pskov, he contrived to throw a strong garrison, the flower of his troops, into that town. It was well provisioned and supplied with powerful artillery. The Tsar could rely on its keeping back the Poles for a considerable time, and under the walls of the town, even if no relieving army was there to confront him, Batory would meet Moscow's most formidable ally in every one of her wars of defence: winter was close at hand. Possevino had not been in time to stop the King's departure, but the King's campaign had been begun too late.
VIII.—The Siege of Pskov.
He had been obliged to spend the whole spring parleying with his Diet. 'The King has given all he can out of his own pocket,' cried Zamoyski to the deputies. 'What more do you expect of him? Would you have him flay himself alive? He would do it readily enough, if any alchemist had discovered the secret of making gold out of human skin!' When he had contrived to squeeze out subsidies for another year, and that only on condition that the war was brought to an end, the collection of the taxes voted was very much delayed. The King pawned the crown jewels, got 50,000 crowns from the Duke of Anspach, and as much from the Elector of Brandenburg, and started. But at Disna a fresh hitch occurred. The troops were as slow about coming in as the taxes had been. And meanwhile the King was informed that a body of Russian troops which had been collected at Mojaïsk had made a raid into Lithuania towards Smolensk, burnt two thousand villages, laid a whole province waste from Orcha to Mohylev, and carried away the entire population, peasants and nobles alike, to the further bank of the Dnieper. It was not till July 15, and then by travelling sixteen leagues a day, that Batory reached Polotsk, where he reviewed his army; and on the 29th he arrived at Zavolotché, and there held a council. So far was the season advanced that it was difficult to know what course should be pursued. There had been an idea of attacking Novgorod. But, as Ivan had foreseen, the choice fell on Pskov, which was nearer. And even so, it was clear the town would not surrender before the cold weather came. Batory's correspondence proves him to have resolutely accepted the contingency of a winter campaign, in the course of which either Pskov would be taken or Ivan forced to make peace. To retain possession of Pskov, the Tsar would give up Livonia, and, owing to the intervention of Rome and the attitude taken up by the Diet, the King was fain to ask no more, and go no further, for the present.
On August 25 the Poles, who had carried the town of Ostrov as they marched along, arrived under the walls of Pskov. They were struck by the size of the town and its imposing appearance. 'It is like another Paris,' wrote the Secretary of the King's Chancery, Piotrowski, in his diary, which has come down to us. This observation is repeated, word for word, in the 'Memoirs' of Müller, another eye-witness. Pskov, which had been in a state of defence, and kept constantly fortified, for hundreds of years, on account of the proximity of the Germans, possessed stone ramparts, to which a strong surrounding palisade had recently been added. Within the walls two Princes of the Chouïski family, Vassili Feodorovitch and Ivan Petrovitch—the last-named a grandson of the Regent, with whom we made acquaintance during Ivan's minority—both of them brave and experienced men, commanded 30,000 troops, according to Russian authorities, or 40,000, according to the Poles. Both calculations are certainly excessive as regards the effective force available, and properly so-called, and as certainly below the mark. if we reckon the 'eaters of bread,' as Rodolfini, a Venetian who served as a Colonel in the Polish army, denominated the serving-men and labourers who followed in its train, and some of whom, at all events, were capable of using firearms in a moment of need. He reckoned the total of these at 170,000 men. A considerable number of these must also have been attached to the garrison of Pskov, but the information we possess as to that period is quite devoid of the accuracy of our modern statistics. As to the Polish army, more exact data can be had from the Treasury accounts, which I have already consulted. They give us 21,102 men, about half of them infantry—or only 18,940, according to another calculation—as having been under Batory's orders, together with some 10,000 Lithuanians.
It was a small army to undertake the siege of a town 'like Paris.' Heidenstein, the official historian of the campaign (on the Polish side) does mention the 24,000 splendid horses that defiled before the astonished eyes of the natives of the town. But he must have seen double, just as Ivan saw triple, and more, when he complained that 'Batoura' had armed 'all Italy against him.' At the date mentioned by Heidenstein there were only 6,469 Polish and 674 Hungarian cavalry in Batory's camp, and all Italy had sent him was a few engineers, just as France had sent him one or two officers, like that Captain Garon of whom Piotrowski tells us, 'a little man, a good musician, and very brave,' who went, 'dear frog!' and measured the town ditches with his sword. A Gascon this, no doubt—a valiant soldier, we may be sure!
But he could not suffice to capture a first-class fortress which seemed resolved on a desperate resistance. We may even doubt, considering the means Batory had at his disposal, whether he really proposed to lay a regular siege. His artillery did not reach a total of more than twenty guns, and his supply of powder was to fail after the very first week. The King probably reckoned on his cavalry to enable him to cut the town off, and so reduce it by hunger. But he himself was no better prepared for a winter before the walls of Pskov. He had been obliged to spare the nerves of his army, which would have taken fright at the sight of the necessary supplies, the tents and the provisions. And lack of money had combined with the lateness of the date on which he had begun his campaign to upset his plans and throw his calculations out. The game in which he had risked his stake was a most dangerous one, indeed. But his own genius and the forward impulse imparted by his previous successes were strong chances in his favour, and were destined, in fact, to decide the issue of the struggle.
It is not easy to reconstitute the history of this struggle, even, and perhaps especially, from that moral point of view in which its chief interest resides. The Russian and Polish authorities, though they agree as to its details, are in perpetual disagreement as to its essence, as to the attitude of the combatant parties, and the general features of their battles. While one side declares a most important part was played by the sorties made by the besieged, the other asserts that the garrison was not nearly so enterprising, and always hung nervously back under the cover of its own guns. On the other hand, Polish documents lay stress on the constant and effectual work performed by small detachments of Russian troops, which scoured the whole country, worried the besiegers, and interfered with their convoy service. On the Russian side, we are told the population of Pskov was as enthusiastic as its defenders were brave, that it backed them up in all their endeavours, and agreed with them that the town must resist to the bitter end. Another version comes to us from Polish authorities. Nothing but the energy displayed by the Chouïski prevented the tchern (common people) from bringing about a comparatively early capitulation.
As to this last point, we have what would appear decisive testimony from a Russian source. When the two Chouïski were appointed to their joint command, the Tsar made them accompany him to the Church of the Assumption, and there take an oath to defend the town to the last extremity. Several times over they were obliged to make the inhabitants of Pskov take the same oath. This proves the population was not of itself very strongly inclined to hold out. It must be added that the most important Polish document dealing with this episode in our possession, the Abbé Piotrowski's journal, is the production of a malcontent, embittered by the length of the war and the weariness of a winter campaign. Even at Polotsk he had thought Batory was asking too much, and that the war ought to have ended then, without further parley. 'Everybody was tired of it.' At Pskov, naturally, everything was wrong, in his eyes, and as the siege dragged on he grew more and more inclined to exaggerate the suffering on both sides.
The undoubted fact is that the Poles' first attack, on September 8, 1581, was valiantly repulsed by the Russians, who inflicted cruel loss upon their adversaries. Gabriel Bekiesz, brother of the intrepid leader of the Hungarian cavalry, who had himself succumbed to the fatigue endured in the course of the previous campaign, lost his life on this occasion. And it was long before the attempt could be renewed. The Poles' supply of ammunition was already insufficient, and now a powder magazine at Susza exploded. More powder had to be fetched from Riga, and Batory had ample time to study the art of war as expounded in the book by Count Reinhardt von Solms, sent him by the grandson of Charles V.'s illustrious Marshal, while the besieged rained insults on the besiegers: 'Why don't you shoot? There is no common-sense in trying to take a town when you can't make your guns talk! You'll gain nothing if you sit looking at our ramparts for the next two years!'
When the end of October came, cold and fever were decimating the ranks of the Polish army. There were not more than forty horses in any squadron, so Piotrowski tells us, and the Lithuanians were beginning to talk of taking their departure. Batory had to call their leaders together and harangue them. Things grew worse when the King thought it his duty to proceed to Warsaw to persuade the Diet to make another effort. A fresh assault, delivered on November 3, after the expected convoy from Riga had arrived, was no more successful than the first; the guns were dismounted from the batteries, and peace awaited more confidently than ever. The chief command was now in the hands of Zamoyski, and the most recent Polish historians have delighted to exalt his merits to the detriment of the 'Maygar King.' But would he have succeeded in keeping his army together, and inducing it to face the cruel trials of this siege, if he had not been backed by a Sovereign whose temperament and grip were known to all? It is more than doubtful. Without Davout and Lannes, Masséna and Ney, Napoleon would probably have failed to win most of his battles, and it was when he was left with Grouchy that the end came at Waterloo. And all Zamoyski did was to carry out a plan which nobody ascribes to anyone but Batory, and which, in the long-run, was to prove the best possible under the circumstances. The men of Pskov were to be convinced, at last, that a town may be taken 'by looking at it'! The Poles did not fire their guns, but they kept their lines intact, and stopped all communication between the fortress and the outer world, and the supply of provisions Ivan had brought together was not inexhaustible.
Meanwhile, in Livonia, into which country Ivan was now powerless to send a single man, the Swedes were pursuing their victorious career. Poland had now more reason to fear these too independent allies of hers than to hope much from their help. Yet they struck hard blows at the common foe. In the course of the summer Horn and Pontus, at first acting independently, and then in unison, carried Lode, Fickel, and Hapsal, and in September they laid siege to Narva. The German town capitulated, after a siege which, according to the Livonian chroniclers, cost 7,000 lives, and the Russian town was surrendered by Athanasius Biélski. By the end of November all the coasts of the Gulf of Finland were in the hands of the Swedes, who succeeded in capturing the English ships that were bringing war supplies to Ivan. De la Gardie threatened Pernau, Derpt, and Fellin, and was on the point of taking possession of the last ramparts of the Muscovite conquest in that country.
These triumphs produced their natural effect at Pskov, by strengthening the pacific inclinations to which both sides were beginning to lean. At the close of November the besiegers' courage was warmed by an intercepted message from Chouïski to the Tsar. According to its tenor, the town, which was starving, could not hold out much longer unless help was sent. A few days later, indeed, two boïars of the garrison, who had been captured by the Poles, told quite a different tale. The besieged, they said, had plenty of bread and of everything else, except meat. But at that moment Batory's plenipotentiaries were actually starting to meet Ivan's envoys at Iam-Zapolski, and there, under Possevino's mediation, to treat for peace.
The part played by the Pope's Legate in this business has been viewed in various ways. To shed light on the controversy, I must go back to the origin of a mission which, from a more general point of view, marks an epoch in the diplomatic relations between Rome and Moscow.