Russian history 31: First knyazes of Suzdal

Vladimir Monomakh visited Suzdal and Rostov only rarely, and his son, Yuri Dolgorukiy, should be regarded as the first knyaz of Suzdal. He spent many years of his youth there, but he still belonged to the generation of the knyazes whose main interests and hopes were linked with Kiev. As soon as he saw a chance to become the grand prince, he left his lands, participated in the feuds of the southern knyazes and finally became the grand prince in 1154 in Kiev, where he died in 1157.

His son, Andrei Bogolyubski, ruled these lands together with his father and together with his father he fought in the south. When Yuri became the knyaz of Kiev, he made Andrei the ruler of Vyshgorod, about 15 kilmeters from Kiev. But Andrei did not intend to stay in the south and soon he left against his father's will to Vladimir, a town on river Klyazma which had been presented to him by Yuri Dolgorukiy a long time ago. When Yuri died, the people of Suzdal and Rostov accepted Andrei as the new knyaz, in spite of his brothers, who had more rights to inherit this throne. But Andrei did not move to any of these larger and older cities. However weak, the tradition of veche was still alive there and Andrei chose the monocracy. He sent the most stubborn boyars into exile and lived in a small palace in Bogolyubovo, near Vladimir, where he could feel himself the only master of the province. To increase the importance of small Vladimir, he built rich stone temples and fortified the city. The most important of these temples was the Uspensky cathedral, especially when Andrei brought the famous icon of Mary, mother of Christ, painted by St.Luke. Andrei took this icon from Vyshgorod. Later, in 1395, it was relocated to Moscow, where it is still kept in the Moscow Uspensky cathedral.

Having achieved monocracy in the Suzdal-Rostov province, Andrei wished to spread his influence to other parts of Rus. Many knyazes of Novgorod subjugated to him and the Novgorodians rebelled against him from time to time. In 1170, they defeated Andrei's army, but in the end he overcame them due to the ultimate anti-Novgorod weapon he possessed: he closed the borders of his province for the Novgorod merchants and prohibited export of grain to Novgorod. At last, hunger made the Novgorodians to ask for peace.

Andrei Bogolyubski also wished to control Kiev. When his nephew Mstislav Izyaslavich became the grand prince, Andrei sent his army against him and occupied Kiev (1169).The Suzdalians were robbing and burning Kiev for two days. Then, Andrei gave the city to one of his younger brothers, without even visiting the captured city. He lived in Vladimir, but was titled the grand prince and demanded submission from the southern knyazes. So, the knyaz of Suzdal and Rostov obtained the highest position among other knyazes of Rus.

Bogolyubski was the knyaz of a new kind, striving for power not only in his own land, but all over Rus. Conservative minds opposed him, but the people who understood the advantages of monocracy, regarded him as the ideal lord. Both views may be found in the chronicles. His despotic nature, though, was such a burden for his retinue that in 1175 they killed him in his favorite Bogolyubovo and sacked his palace.

After the death of Andrei, citizens of Rostov and Suzdal asked his nephews to be their knyaz, but the "younger" cities Vladimir and Pereyaslavl preferred his brothers. During this feud, in which citizens took active participation, Suzdal and Rostov lost. Vladimir finally became the capital of the Suzdal province and it was ruled by Andrei's younger brother Vsevolod (nicknamed the Big Nest). The time of his ruling (1176-1212) was the golden age of the duchy of Suzdal and Rostov. Novgorod and Kiev also belonged to Vsevolod and even the distant knyazes of Galich sought for his support and protection.

In the end of his life he deprived his son Konstantin of his inheritance rights, because Konstantin planned to give the leadership back to the "elder" cities, Rostov and Suzdal. Vsevolod'd second son, Yuri, became the new knyaz. Konstantin attempted to use the hostility of the Novgorodians. Both Yuri and his younger brothers (Yaroslav and Svyatoslav) ruled Novgorod with a rod of iron. So, Novgorod asked one of the descendants of Monomakh, knyaz of Toropets, Mstislav Mstislavich (nicknamed the Dashing) for assistance. He came from Toropets with his army and led Novgorodians to Suzdal. Konstantin joined Mstislav. The decisive battle took place not far from Vladimir, on river Lipitsa (1216). Novgorodians, led by Konstantin and Mstislav, defeated Yuri, who fled from the battlefield and the city of Vladimir became Konstantin's prize. Novgorod re-gained its autonomy and the monocracy ceased to exist in the duchy of Suzdal and Rostov. The grand prince's throne was in Vladimir, and other cities were ruled by his brothers and nephews, who were more or less independent from him. The order of succession was modelled after Kiev — brother ruled after the elder brother, nephews after the uncle. The only difference between Suzdal Rus and Kievan Rus was that veches had no power in the cities and the knyazes were the only power in their appanages, called udels.

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