Russian history 49. Family and court of Ivan III

The unusually fast growth of Muscovy was accompanied by important changes in the court life. Ivan's first wife, daughter of Boris, knyaz of Tver, Maria Borisovna, died in 1467, when Ivan III was less than 30 years old. They had one son, Ivan Ivanovich Molodoy (the Young). This was also a period of the fast growth of the diplomatic relationships between Moscow and the Western Europe. The Pope hoped to bring Muscovy under his control and he offered to arrange the marriage of Ivan III with the niece of the last emperor of Constantinople Zoe-Sophia Paleologue. After the Turks seized Constantinople in 1453, Thomas, the brother of the killed emperor Constantine Paleologue, escaped to Italy. He died and his children were raised at the court of the Pope in the spirit of the Union of Florence, so the Pope hoped that after this marriage Sophia will introduce the Union of Florence in Rus. Ivan III agreed and in 1472 Sophia arrived to Moscow. However, the Pope's hopes were not fulfilled. The papal ambassador did not succeed. Sophia did not even attempt to raise this question. This marriage brought no results to the European catholicism, but there were certain consequences for Muscovy.

First, it assisted the relationships between Muscovy and the West, particularly with Italy. There were Greeks and Italians among the Sophia's retinue. Many others arrived later. They worked for the grand knyaz as architects and engineers, at cannon factories and mints. Sometimes they became Ivan's ambassadors to Europe. The Italians were called "fryazins" in Muscovy (from fryag < franc). The names of Ivan Fryazin, Marc Fryazin, Anthony Fryazin were known in Moscow. The best known Italian architect was Aristotle Fioravanti, who built the Uspensky (Dormition) cathedral and the Palace of Facets in the Moscow Kremlin. Kremlin in general was reconstructed and ornamented by the Italians. Besides the Italians, the Germans also were numerous in Rus, but they were not as respected as specialists. Only German doctors were especially respected. There were also many noble foreign guests (like Sophia's relatives) and ambassadors of the Western European countries. By the way, the ambassadors of the Roman emperor proposed Ivan III to accept the title of the king, which he rejected. A new ceremonial ritual for the foreign ambassadors was developed, and it was totally different from the one used in the times of the Mongol occupation. The life of the court in general changed, became more complicated.

Second, the Muscovites explained the changes in the character of Ivan III by this marriage. They spoke that since the arrival of Sophia and the Greeks, "the land was confused and great misfortunes came with them." The grand knyaz was not as easily accessible as before, he often angered and punished the boyars. It seemed that he began to think of himself as of the heir of the Greek emperors and adopted the Byzantine coat-of-arms, the double-headed eagle. In the end of his life, Ivan III ceased all contacts with Sophia. They disagreed on the question of the succession. Ivan the Young died in 1490 and he had one son, Dimitri. But the grand knyaz already had another son, Vasily, born by Sophia. First, Ivan III preferred Dimitri and sent away Sophia and Vasily. He proclaimed Dimitri the tsar (note, not the grand knyaz, but the first tsar). A year later, though, the things changed. Dimitri was exiled and Vasily got the title of the grand knyaz and became the co-ruler of Ivan III.

The Muscovites used to blame Sophia for the multiple novelties at the court and for the changes in the behaviour of Ivan III. Her influence, however, should not be overestimated. Had it not been for her, the grand knyaz of Moscow would still recognize his own new power and the relations with the West would still develop. These events naturally fitted the direction of the Russian history, which made the grand knyaz of Muscovy the single ruler of the Russian nation and a neighbor of some European countries.

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