He was born in 1415 the fifth son of Vasilii
I Dmitriyevich, grand prince of Moscow and Sofia Vitovtovna, Lithuanian
princess, and was the only son to survive him. He married in 1433 to Maria,
daughter of Yaroslav Vladimirovich, appanage prince
of Maloyaroslavl. His sons were Yuri Starshi, crown prince of Moscow, who died
at age 4 in 1441; Ivan III, grand prince of Moscow;
Yuri Mladshi, appanage prince of Mozhaisk; Andrei Bol'shoi Goryii, appanage prince of Uglich;
Semyon, crown prince of Moscow, who died at age 2 in 1449; Boris, appanage prince of Volotsk; Andrei Men'shoi, appanage prince of Vologoda and
Taruss. His daughter was Anna. The family is shown on this chart.
The reign of Vasilii II as Grand Duke of Moscow began in 1425. During his reign
there were three civil wars going on simultaneously in each of three areas
which in turn were engaged in a three-way international war. In the west there
was war between the various claimants for Lithuania and Poland, such as that
between Michael, son of Sigismund, and Casimir IV, son of Iagailo. In Muscovy
there was war between Vasilii II and his cousin, Prince Dmitrii Shemiaka. In
the east there was a three way war between various khans for the leadership of
the Golden Horde. In addition, there were independent states such as Tver, and
Novgorod, trying to take advantage where they could.
The three main states, Lithuania, Muscovy, and the Horde were also engaged
in an unending struggle to overcome each other. There were military operations
in the west and between Muscovy and Lithuania, as well as the main campaigns
involving Muscovy and the Tatars during the 1400's to 1460's, these are
essential to a clear understanding of further developments. During this period
the Khanates of Kazan, Kasimov, and Crimea were founded and received their
1443-44 - During the winter a strong group of Tatars led by the Juchid
Prince, Mustafa, attacked Riazan land. This group was from Sarai, where Khan
Kuchuk Mahmed ruled the Horde. Grand Duke Vasilii II sent troops together with
the Riazan Cossacks and Mordvinians on snowshoes, to aid the town. They
destroyed the Tatar army.(1)
1444 - Khan Uleg Mahmed led his horde from Belev down the Oka River to Gorodets
and besieged the Russian garrison.
1444-45 - During the winter, Uleg Mahmed attacked Murom. Muscovite troops under
Vasilii II himself drove the Tatars off; yet, Vasilii could not relieve
Gorodets, therefore the Russians abandoned it. Uleg Mahmed now sent part of his
army under command of his sons, Mahmudek and Yakub, against Suzdal.(2)
July 7, 1445 - Vasilii II arrived at Suzdal, and, not waiting for his own Tatar
vassals, attacked the 3,500 Tatars with his 1,500 men. The Tatars won and
captured Vasilii. This small battle had great lasting historical significance.
The Tatar princes brought Vasilii II to their father, Uleg Mahmed, who moved
the Tatar army toward Kazan. Meanwhile, Moscow prepared for the expected attack
and mobilized the militia. Vasilii managed to gain the friendship of the Khan's
sons, Yakub and Kasim. Khan Uleg Mahmed set Vasilii free for ransom, tribute,
and certain favors. Then the Khan's own son, Mahmudek, murdered his father and
took command of the Tatar army. He moved the force to Kazan and set up the new
Khanate of Kazan in the fall of 1445.(3)
Princes Yakub and Kasim fled to the Circassian land on the Dnieper River. When
Vasilii arrived back in Moscow, he expanded his policy of recruiting Tatar
khans and princes to help him.(4) They were more
loyal to him than were many Russians and were useful against his Russian
Internal opposition, led by Prince Dmitri Shemiaka, deposed Vasilii II
temporarily, but his supporters, with significant Tatar help from Yakub and
Kasim, reinstated Vasilii. Vasilii then established the new Khanate at Gorodetz
and made Kasim the Khan. Kasim and the other Tatar princes continued to support
Vasilii in war with Dmitri in 1449, 1450, and 1452, as well as against other
Tatars. Vasilii selected Gorodetz-on-the-Oka as capital for the new Khanate due
to its strategic location on the approaches to Moscow, and to its being
inhabited by Meshcherians and not by many Russians. Kasim received the town in
1452, and after his death, it was renamed Kasimov (1471). This was a master
stroke that gained Moscow great Tatar support and political as well as military
1444-48 -Livonia waged serious war on Novgorod and tried to capture it. After
1448 there was little trouble from Livonia, which was at war with Poland.
1446 -Vasilii II used the considerable services of his Tatar Tsarevichi, Kasim
and Yakub, against their brother, Mahmudek. They also gave valuable service
against Dmitri Shemiaka and against the Tatars of the Golden Horde. Vasilii
conducted a major campaign against Kazan. In the west, the Russians were on the
defensive against the Teutonic Knights and Livonians.
1447 - Mahmudek's strong army sent against Moscow, lost in battle.
1449 - King Casimir gave support to Hajji Gerei, a Juchid prince living in
Lithuania and a relative of Uleg Mahmed, to attack the Horde. Hajji Gerei
seized the Crimea from Said Ahmed, Khan of the Great Horde, in retaliation for
Said's support of Michael of Kiev against Casimir in Lithuania. The Gerei
family ruled the Crimea until the late 18th century.(7)
1449 - Said Ahmed sent part of his Horde army against Moscow. Twenty miles from
Moscow the Tsarevich Kasim and his Tatar troops defeated the Horde Tatars and
recovered all prisoners and booty.
1450 - Vasilii II's army of Russians and Tatars blocked another Great Horde
Tatar invasion of Riazan land by routing then on the Bitiug River.
1451 - Another Tatar invasion reached the walls of Moscow. The main army of
Said Ahmed led the attack. On news of his approach, Vasilii II went north to
raise more troops. The Moscow garrison had both artillery and handguns. The
Tatars arrived on 2 July and burned the suburbs, but the defenders repulsed
their assault on the citadel. During the night, the Tatars retreated.
1452 - Viatka had supported Dmitri Shemiaka against Vasilii II. Therefore,
after his victory, Vasilii sent troops against Viatka, but the campaign was a
1456 - Vasilii II led his armies against Novgorod, because the city had
sheltered Dmitri Shemiaka after 1452. The Muscovite army under Prince Ivan
Striga-Obolensky looted Rusa, causing Novgorod to send 5,000 cavalry in full
armor armed with lances to defend the town. In the battle of Rusa the Muscovite
archer cavalry shot the Novgorodian horses and routed their army. The new
treaty forced on Novgorod by the Grand Duke was a serious blow to its freedom.
1460 - Vasilii renewed his attacks on Viatka and won a victory, after which
Viatka pledged allegiance.(8) Soon after
becoming the new Khan of the Golden Horde the same year, Ahmed attacked
Periaslavl in Riazan territory. He attempted to restore the Russian tribute,
1462 - Vasilii II died and was succeeded by his son, Ivan III.
1. George Vernadsky, A History of Russia, 5
Volumes New Haven, Yale University Press, 1953-1969, Volume III, p. 316. This
is the first mention of Cossacks in the Russian records.
2. ibid. Vol III, p. 317.
3. Some authorities say that the Khanate was already in
being under Mahmudek's father, Uleg Mahmed.
4. The Russians recognized the same importance of
geneology for the Tatars as they did for themselves. They always refered only
to direct decendance of Chingis Kahn as tsar, tsarivich, etc; just as they
reserved the title of prince for decendants of Rurik and Gedymin.
5. ibid. Vol III, p. 318-320. J Fennell,
Ivan the Great of Moscow, New York, St. Martins, 1962, p. 14.
6. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol III, p. 331.
7. ibid. p. 329; and Fennell, op.
cit. p. 14.
8. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol. III p. 329-330,
and Vol IV p. 43.
9. ibid. Vol IV p. 73.