Vasilii III (Muscovy) (1479–1533; ruled 1505–1533)

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VASILII III (MUSCOVY) (14791533; ruled 15051533)

VASILII III (MUSCOVY) (14791533; ruled 15051533), grand prince of Muscovy. Vasilii III Ivanovich was the second son of Ivan III. His mother was the Greek princess Sofiia Paleologue. Coming to the throne in 1505, he pursued his father's policy of expansion and consolidation of territory. In 1510 he annexed the trading town of Pskov and in 1514 captured Smolensk from Poland-Lithuania. In 15201521 Vasilii imprisoned the last Ryazan prince for treasonous relations with the Tatars and absorbed his territory. Repeated raids by the Crimean Tatars on the southern border posed serious problems but did not prevent him from repeatedly trying to establish his candidates as khans of Kazan' on the Volga. A truce with Lithuania in 1522 allowed him to consolidate his gains, establishing Russia's western frontier for a century.

Internally Vasilii inherited the apparatus of his father's state and maintained it, at the same time asserting control over the small appanages of his junior kinsmen. His marriage to Solomoniia Saburova, the daughter of an important boyar clan, produced no heirs in twenty years, and in 1525, with the support of the church, Vasilii dissolved the marriage and forced her to become a nun. He quickly married Princess Elena Glinskaia, the daughter of a refugee prince from Lithuania whose uncle, Prince Mikhail Glinskii, had led a revolt against his sovereign, Sigismund I of Poland-Lithuania, in 1508. The Glinskii family were great magnates of Tatar origin who came to play an important role at the Russian court.

Religious issues intertwined with court rivalries marked the politics of Vasilii's reign. In 1507 Vasilii took Joseph of Volokolamsk and his monastery under his personal protection and supported Joseph in his conflicts with the church hierarchy. From 1509 Joseph's critic, the monk Vassian Patrikeev, son of the exiled prince Ivan Patrikeev, was also prominent at court, and he remained influential until about 1522. In those years Vasilii and Metropolitan Varlaam brought Maximus the Greek (Michael Trivolis, c. 14801556) to Russia to correct the Slavonic translations of Greek liturgical texts. Maximus combined philological skills acquired in Venice and Florence with traditional Orthodox belief, but he and Vassian both fell afoul of the new metropolitan, Daniil (15211539). Maximus was tried for heresy as well as for political comments in 1525 and again, with Vassian, in 1531, after which both were removed from their positions and sent into monastic exile. Maximus left a large body of devotional and theological writings. Though he was critical of excessive monastic wealth, his views remained within conventional teachings. During the same period Vasilii exiled several prominent boyars, the princes Shuiskii, Vorotynskii, and others, and Maximus's ally Ivan Nikoforovich Bersen'-Beklemishev was executed in 1525 for criticism of both the metropolitan and the grand prince.

The birth of an heir, Ivan Vasil'evichthe future Ivan IV, the Terriblein 1530 ensured the succession, but Vasilii died in 1533. A regency, with its accompanying political instability, followed his death.

See also Ivan III (Muscovy) ; Ivan IV, "the Terrible" (Russia) ; Russia .


Crummey, Robert O. The Formation of Muscovy 13041613. London and New York, 1987.

Solov'ev, Sergei M. History of Russia. Vol. 9, The Age of Vasily III. Translated by Hugh F. Graham. Gulf Breeze, Fla., 1976.

Zimin, A. A. Rossiia Na Poroge Novogo Vremeni. Moscow, 1972.

Paul Bushkovitch