Childhood & Early Life
Ivan III Vasilyevich was born on January 22, 1440, in the Grand Duchy of Moscow, as the oldest child of Vasili II of Russia, Grand Prince of Moscow, and Maria of Borovsk. He was born in the midst of the greatest civil war of Old Russian history and was only five when his father was captured and blinded by his cousin during an unsuccessful coup.
Ivan, who was initially hidden in a monastery before being smuggled to safety, was eventually given away to his father's opponents, who had exiled Vasili II. Thanks to his supporters, his father was called back and was able to regain the throne, following which he declared ten-year-old Ivan his co-ruler to secure his succession.
Ivan III was seven when he was solemnly affianced to Maria of Tver, the daughter of the Grand Prince of Tver, a political arrangement that emerged out of a land acquisition by his family. He married her at the age of 12 in 1452 and for the next ten years, followed his father around as his co-regent and gained experience in governance and the art of war.
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Ivan III of Russia succeeded his father as Grand Prince of Moscow after his death on March 27, 1462, and peacefully ruled for the first five years of his reign. He was a tributary of the Khan of the Golden Horde when he ascended the throne and soon began re-conquering lands ruled by his forefathers, starting with the annexation of Yaroslavl in 1463.
In 1467, the fragile peace between the Khanate of Kazan and Muscovite Russia was broken after Ivan launched a campaign against Ibrahim of Kazan in support of his ally Qasim Khan. The same year, his wife Maria died, possibly due to poisoning, raising questions about the future of their only son, Ivan Ivanovich, and prompting him to contemplate another marriage.
In 1469, Pope Paul II sought to bind Muscovy to the Holy See by proposing the marriage of Ivan III and Zoë Palaiologina, niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI. Since the fall of Constantinople, Russians were already propagating the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome, because of which this proposal aligned well with the Muscovites.
As the power of Moscow grew, the Republic of Novgorod had sought protection from Casimir IV, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania, which was considered an act of apostasy from Orthodoxy by Moscow.
In 1471, Ivan's generals won the battles at the Shelon River and on the Northern Dvina, forcing a peace proposal that ceded a considerable portion of the northern territories to Russia.
Following his second marriage in 1472, Ivan III made the imperial double-headed eagle Russia's coat of arms, modeled court ceremonials on the Byzantine and took the unofficial title of 'Tsar and Autocrat'. Zoë, who was adopted by the Papacy after her father's death and was possibly raised as Catholic, reverted to Orthodoxy and changed her name to 'Sofia', nullifying the Pope's hopes of re-uniting the two faiths.
Ivan III's conquest of Novgorod continued throughout the decade as his sovereignty was challenged by open declaration of seeking help from Lithuania again in front of the Moscow ambassadors.
He surrounded Novgorod in 1478, forcing it to recognize his direct rule, stripped the majority of its land, and for another decade, punished dissent by removing affluent families of Novgorod to pro-Rus' cities.
He gradually absorbed the other principalities: purchasing Rostov in 1474, and annexing Tver in 1485 and Vyatka in 1489, but his brothers were deprived from reaping the benefits of his conquest. Previously, he had to appease his three surviving bothers after he seized the land of his eldest brother Yury following his death without an heir in 1472.
Ivan gradually seized the lands of his brothers Andrei the Younger, who fled to Lithuania and died in 1481, and Andrei the Elder, who died in prison in 1493 for non-cooperation with Crimean Khanate against the Golden Horde. The last of his brothers, Boris, died in 1494 leaving his land to his two sons, one of whom died in 1503 and the other died in 1515, allowing Ivan to seize his land.
Ivan had stopped paying the customary tribute to the grand Khan Ahmed in 1476 and successfully fended off a military campaign against Muscovy in 1480. As the Golden Horde scattered following the death of Ahmed in an attack by Ivak, the Khan of the Nogay Horde, Ivan took the opportunity to reduce the Khanate of Kazan to a temporary vassal-state.
He had a peaceful relationship with the sultans of Ottoman Empire and forged an alliance with Khan Mengli I Giray of Crimea against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. His influence with the Muslim rulers prompted several Christian rulers in the Caucasus to send embassies seeking alliance with him, even though it had little effect on the far away region.
He had formed an offensive alliance with Hans of Denmark and regularly corresponded with Emperor Maximilian I, who even called him "brother". His attempt at conquering Viborg from Sweden during the Russo-Swedish War (1495–1497) was foiled by Swedish general Lord Knut Posse.
After Poland and Lithuania separated following the death of Casimir IV in 1492, Ivan repeatedly attacked Lithuania until Casimir's son Alexander attempted at saving his land by marrying Ivan's daughter Helena. However, he was eventually forced to take up arms against Ivan's aggressiveness in 1499, only to lose the war and cede several regions to Ivan in 1503.
Death & Succession
Ivan III of Russia faced a succession problem after his oldest son, Ivan Ivanovich (Ivan the Young), died of gout in 1490, for which Ivan suspected foul play by his second wife Sofia. He took eight years before nominating his grandson, Ivan the Young’s son, Dmitry, as his heir, which caused a rebellion by Sofia, who wanted her eldest son Vasily to inherit the throne.
After foiling the rebellion, Ivan crowned Dmitry the Grand Prince of Moscow in 1498, but was forced to give Vasily the title after he defected to the Lithuanians threatening another rebellion in 1500. Dmitry and his mother Yelena were imprisoned, where both of them died, and Vasily III succeeded Ivan following his death on October 27, 1505.