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Vasili III of Russia

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Vasili III
Sovereign of all Russia
Engraving by André Thevet, 1584
Grand Prince of Moscow and all Russia
Reign6 November 1505 – 3 December 1533
Coronation14 April 1502
PredecessorIvan III
SuccessorIvan IV
Born25 March 1479
Moscow, Grand Principality of Moscow
Died3 December 1533(1533-12-03) (aged 54)
Moscow, Grand Principality of Moscow
(m. 1505; div. 1525)
(m. 1526)
Vasily Ivanovich
FatherIvan III of Russia
MotherSophia Paleologue
ReligionRussian Orthodox

Vasili III Ivanovich (Russian: Василий III Иванович; 25 March 1479 – 3 December 1533) was Grand Prince of Moscow and all Russia from 1505 until his death in 1533.[1][2] He was the son of Ivan III and Sophia Paleologue and was christened with the name Gavriil (Гавриил). Following on the ambitions of his predecessor Ivan, Vasili conquered Pskov, Ryazan and Smolensk as well as strengthening Russian influence in Kazan and to the Volga region. Several nobles were either exiled, sentenced or executed for criticizing his policies.

Foreign affairs[edit]

Map of Moscovia published by Sigismund von Herberstein in 1549

Vasili III maintained the policies initiated by his father Ivan III, focusing much of his reign on consolidating the territorial gains achieved by Ivan. Vasili annexed the last surviving autonomous provinces: Pskov in 1510, appanage of Volokolamsk in 1513, principalities of Ryazan in 1521 and Novgorod-Seversky in 1522.[citation needed]

Vasili also took advantage of the difficult position of Sigismund of Poland to capture Smolensk, the great eastern fortress of Lithuania (siege started 1512, ended in 1514), chiefly through the aid of the rebel Lithuanian, Prince Mikhail Glinski, who provided him with artillery and engineers. The loss of Smolensk was an important injury inflicted by Russia on Lithuania in the course of the Russo-Lithuanian Wars and only the exigencies of Sigismund compelled him to acquiesce in its surrender (1522).[3]

In 1521 Vasili received an emissary of the neighboring Iranian Safavid Empire, sent by Shah Ismail I whose ambitions were to construct an Irano-Russian alliance against the common enemy, the Ottoman Empire.[4]

Vasili saw some success against the Crimean Khanate. Although in 1519 his armies were defeated along the Oka River and he was obliged to buy off the Crimean khan, Mehmed I Giray, under the very walls of Moscow, towards the end of his reign he established Russian influence on the Volga. In 1531–32 he placed the pretender Cangali khan on the throne of Khanate of Kazan.[3]

Vasili was the first grand-duke of Moscow who adopted the title of tsar and the double-headed eagle of the Byzantine Empire.[3]

Family life[edit]

The Church of Ascension was built by Vasili III to commemorate the birth of his heir.

By 1526 when he was 47 years old, Vasili had been married to Solomonia Saburova for over 20 years with no heir to his throne being produced. Conscious of her husband's disappointment, Solomonia tried to remedy this by consulting sorcerers and going on pilgrimages. When this proved unsuccessful, Vasili consulted the boyars, announcing that he did not trust his two brothers to handle Russia's affairs.[citation needed]

The boyars suggested that he take a new wife, and despite much opposition from the clergy, he divorced his barren wife and married Princess Elena Glinskaya, the daughter of a Serbian princess and niece of his friend Michael Glinski. Not many of the boyars approved of his choice, as Elena was of Catholic upbringing. Vasili was so smitten that he defied Russian social norms and trimmed his beard to appear younger. After three days of matrimonial festivity, the couple consummated their marriage, though initially it appeared that Elena was as sterile as Solomonia. The Russian populace began to suspect this was a sign of God's disapproval of the marriage. However, to the great joy of Vasili and the populace, the new tsaritsa gave birth to a son, who would succeed him as Ivan IV. Three years later, a second son, Yuri, was born.[5] According to a story, Solomonia Saburova also bore a son in the convent where she had been confined, just several months after the controversial divorce.[citation needed]

He had three brothers: Yuri (born in 1480), Simeon (born in 1487) and Andrei (born in 1490), as well as five sisters: Elena (born and died in 1474), Feodosiya (born and died in 1475), another Elena (born 1476), another Feodosiya (born 1485) and Eudoxia (born 1492).[5]


Whilst out hunting on horseback near Volokolamsk, Vasili felt a great pain in his right hip, the result of an abscess. He was transported to the village of Kolp, where he was visited by two German doctors who were unable to stop the infection with conventional remedies. Believing that his time was short, Vasili requested to be returned to Moscow, where he was kept in the Saint Joseph Cathedral along the way. By 25 November 1533, Vasili reached Moscow and asked to be made a monk before dying. Taking on the name Varlaam, Vasili died at midnight, 3 December 1533.[5]


Vasili III in culture[edit]

Vasili was the subject of the opera Neprigozhaya by composer Ella Adayevskaya

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Filjushkin, Alexander (2008). Ivan the Terrible : a military history. London. ISBN 9781848325043.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ MacKenzie, David (2002). A history of Russia, the Soviet Union, and beyond (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. p. 115. ISBN 9780534586980.
  3. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainBain, Robert Nisbet (1911). "Basil s.v. Basil III.". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 468–469.
  4. ^ Relations between Tehran and Moscow, 1979–2014. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Troyat, Henri (1993). Ivan le terrible (in French). Flammarion. ISBN 2-08-064473-4.
Regnal titles
Preceded by Grand Prince of Moscow
Succeeded by