Boretskaya, Marfa Ivanovna

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Charismatic leader of the Novgorodian resistance to Muscovite domination in the 1470s.

Marfa Boretskaya ("Marfa Posadnitsa") was born into the politically prominent Loshinsky family, and married Isaac Andreyevich Boretsky, a wealthy boyar, who served as mayor (posadnik ) of Novgorod from 1438 to 1439 and in 1453. She bore two sons, Dmitry and Fyodor. Marfa was widowed in the 1460s but remained one of the wealthiest individuals in Novgorod who owned slaves and sizable estates. Peasants on her lands to the north of Novgorod engaged in fishing, fur hunting, livestock raising, and salt boiling. Her southern estates produced edible grains and flax.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, the relations between the principalities of Moscow and Novgorod, long strained by chronic disputes over trade, taxes, and legal jurisdiction, intensified into overt hostilities. The campaign of 1471 was purportedly undertaken by Ivan III as a response to the efforts of a party of Novgorodian boyars to ally themselves with King Casimir of Lithuania. Marfa is accused in an anonymous essay, preserved in a single copy of the Sophia First Chronicle, of plotting to marry the Lithuanian nobleman Michael Olelkovich and rule Novgorod with him under the sovereignty of the Lithuanian king. The Cathedral of St. Sophia, seat of the archbishops and emblem of Novgorodian independence, would have thereby come under Catholic jurisdiction. No other sources corroborate these charges against Marfa, although her son Dmitry, who served as mayor during 1470 and 1471, fought against Moscow in the decisive Battle of Shelon (July 14, 1471) and was executed at the order of Ivan III on July 24, 1471. Her other son Fyodor has also been identified with the pro-Lithuanian faction in Novgorod. The evidence for his activity is ambiguous. Nevertheless, he was arrested in 1476 and exiled to Murom, where he died that same year. Following the final campaign of 1478, Ivan III ordered that Muscovite governors be introduced into Novgorod and that the landowning elite be evicted and resettled. On February 7, 1478, Marfa was arrested. Her property was confiscated, and she was exiled. The date of her death is not known.

See also: cathedral of st. sophia, novgorod; ivan iii; muscovy; novgorod the great; posadnik


Lenhoff, Gail, and Martin, Janet. (2000). "Marfa Boretskaia, Posadnitsa of Novgorod: A Reconsideration of Her Legend and Her Life." Slavic Review 59(2): 343368.

Gail Lenhoff