Glinskaya, Yelena Vasilievna

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(d. 1538), the second wife of Grand Prince Basil III and regent for her son Ivan IV from 1533 to 1538.

Yelena Vasilievna Glinskaya was the daughter of Prince Vasily Lvovich Glinsky and his wife Anna, daughter of the Serbian military governor, Stefan Yakshich. After Basil III forced his first wife, Solomonia Saburova, to take the veil in 1525 because of her inability to produce offspring, he entered into a second marriage with Glinskaya in the following year. They bore two sons, the future Ivan IV and his younger brother Yury Vasilyevich.

Because Ivan IV was only three years old at the time of Basil III's death in 1533, Glinskaya became a regent of the Russian state during his minority. Although Basil III had entrusted the care of his widow and sons to relatives of Glinskaya and apparently had not made specific provisions for her regency, the royal mother used her pivotal dynastic position to defend her son's interests against those of rival boyar factions at court. Aided by her presumed lover, Prince Ivan Ovchina-Telepnev-Obolensky, and Metropolitan Daniel, Glinskaya headed up a government marked by efficient policies, both abroad and at home. Her government successfully fended off the efforts of Lithuania, the Crimean khan, and Kazan to encroach on Russian territories. At Glinskaya's death in 1538, Russia was at peace with its neighbors. Domestically, Glinskaya moved to eliminate the power of the remaining appanage princes, who presented a dynastic challenge to the Grand Prince. She initiated the creation and fortification of towns throughout the Russian realm, increasing the protection of the population and that of the realm substantially. In 1535 the regency government introduced a currency reform, adopting a single monetary system, which significantly improved economic conditions in Russia. Glinskaya's government also worked toward the institution of a system of local judicial officials, which was eventually realized in Ivan IV's reign. While Glinskaya managed to keep in check the various aristocratic factions, which sought to increase their influence vis-à-vis the young heir to the throne, the situation quickly reversed after her death. Without the protecting hand of his mother, the young Ivan IV was exposed to the political intrigues of the boyars until his ascendance to the throne in 1547.

As a royal wife, Glinskaya shared the problems of all Muscovite royal women, especially their concern about the production of children and their health. Glinskaya joined her husband on arduous pilgrimages to pray for offspring. Like her predecessor, Saburova, she seems to have believed that her womb could be divinely blessed. Five letters to Glinskaya attributed to Basil III portray the Grand Princess as a devoted mother who struggled to maintain her children's physical and emotional well-being.

Glinskaya's legitimacy and effectiveness as a regent have been the subject of scholarly debate. While earlier studies have treated the grand princess as a figurehead and her regency as a period of transition, recent work on the early sixteenth century stresses Glinskaya's political achievements in her own right. During the reign of her son, the Grand Princess's political and social status was enhanced in the chronicles produced at the royal court, and Glinskaya became a model for future tsars' wives.

See also: basil iii; ivan iv


Miller, David. (1993). "The Cult of Saint Sergius of Radonezh and Its Political Uses." Slavic Review 52(4): 680699.

Pushkareva, Natalia. (1997). Women in Russian History from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century, tr. and ed. Eve Levin. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Thyrêt, Isolde. (2001). Between God and Tsar: Religious Symbolism and the Royal Women of Muscovite Russia. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press.

Isolde ThyrÊt