Blind Prince Vasily
If you believe the chroniclers, Vasily II (or Basil II) was under the patronage of higher powers from the early days. According to legend, at the time of his birth, the Moscow priest heard the voice of heaven, which announced to him: “Go and give name to Grand Duke Vasily!” He went to Grand Duchess Sofia and was surprised to learn that she had just given birth to a son. When Vasily headed the state and his uncle Yuri tried to take power from him, a pestilence began in the city of the latter, and stopped only after he abandoned his claims to the throne. Once, during the reign of Vasily, the Lithuanian army attempted to invade Russia, but suddenly a storm began. Frightened Lithuanians immediately concluded peace with the prince. And yet, despite the intervention of higher powers, the fate of Vasily II was very tragic. After all, a third of his life he was blind.
The boy ascended the Muscovite throne at the age of ten. All his childhood and youth Vasily fought with his uncle, Yuri Dmitrievich, who tried to take the throne from his nephew. In 1434, Yuri succeeded. He defeated the army of 19-year-old Vasily and occupied the Russian throne. But Yuri ruled for only about two months and then he suddenly died.
The eldest son of Yuri, Vasily Kosoy (the Squint), immediately declared himself the new grand prince. However, his brothers Dmitry Shemyaka and Dmitry the Red did not support the impostor.
“We don’t want to see you on the throne,” they said to Kosoy and sent a messenger to Nizhny Novgorod, where Vasily II was hiding.
“We recognize you as our oldest brother,” Shemyaka and the Red said. – We give ourselves in your patronage and pledge to serve you!”
Vasily II happily returned to Moscow and gave the former enemies lands. Kosoy hurried to Kostroma, where he began to gather troops for the war.
Vasily Kosoy was famous for cruelty. For example, the chroniclers mention such a case: when his comrade Prince Roman tried to leave Kosoy secretly, he caught him and ordered to cut off his arm and leg.
Having gathered an army, Vasily Kosoy began ravaging the Russian lands mercilessly: he passed along the Meta River, along Bezhetsk and Zavolochye, where “there was much evil from him.” Then his army moved to Moscow. Learning that the enemy was approaching the capital, Vasily II went out to meet him with his squad. The armies of cousins met on January 6, 1435 near Yaroslavl. “And there was a battle between them. God helped Grand Duke Vasily Vasilyevich,” the chronicle said.
Defeated Kosoy fled to Kashin. But even the loss of the troops did not cool down his fighting fervor. In Kostroma he began to gather a new army. Vasily II did not wait Kosoy to destroy the Russian lands again, and soon Moscow regiments approached Kostroma. However, that time there was no fight. Their armies were divided by melted river, which did not allow them to come together in battle. Both Vasilys agreed to make peace.
However, their peace did not last long. Having stayed in Dmitrov only a month, Kosoy went to Kostroma again and gathered an army there. When the winter road was opened, his army moved to Ustyug. Taking the city, Kosoy arranged a real massacre there: he killed the grand duke’s viceroy and many people.
Meanwhile, Dmitry Shemyaka went to Moscow to invite the Grand Duke to his wedding. And he came to the capital at the very moment when the news of Kosoy’s treachery came. Angry Vasily II thought that Shemyaka was also plotting against him and ordered to chain his ally.
In the spring of 1436, the army of Kosoy moved to Moscow. Vasily II with his regiments hurried to meet them. Opponents met near Rostov. That time, Vasily Kosoy did not manage to flee, he was caught and the Grand Duke commanded to blind his cousin! Dmitry Shemyaka was freed.
In 1437, Khan Ulugh Muhammad, expelled from the horde, appeared in the Russian borders and occupied Belev. Vasily II sent Shemyaka and the Red to drive the invader away. Khan saw the Russian army and sent ambassadors to make peace. “I give you my son Mahmud as a pledge and will fulfill everything you require,” said Ulugh Muhammad. “When I return the Horde to myself, I promise never to touch the Russian land and free it from tribute.”
However, Shemyaka and the Red refused.
– Well, we can only accept death as heroes! – sighed Ulugh Muhammad and attacked the Russian regiments.
And then the unexpected happened. The Russian soldiers suddenly ran away. The astonished brothers had no choice but to follow their fleeing troops.
The following year, Ulugh Muhammad became a khan of Kazan and his troops began to raid the Russian lands. After another attack on Russia in 1444, Vasily II sent an army against the Tatars, which managed to defeat the forward detachment of Khan. Ulugh Muhammad wanted to take revenge and sent to Russia an army led by his two sons. The Russians made their enemies turn their backs in flight and it would seem that victory was inevitable. But instead of finishing off the retreating enemy, the warriors of the Grand Duke … began to rob the defeated Tatar soldiers! Seeing this, the Tatars stopped, managed to re-group their regiments and attacked the enemy. The Russian warriors, randomly scattered across the battlefield, did not expect and this time they had to flee. Vasily II himself fought like a hero. When the Tatars grabbed him, his hand was shot through, several fingers were cut off and blood was shed all over his body.
In captivity, Vasily received unexpected news. It turned out that Khan Ulugh Muhammad suggested Dmitry Shemyaka the title of Grand Duke! Moreover, he happily agreed!
However, the new ruler did not enjoy power for long. Soon the khan began to suspect that Shemyaka killed his ambassador. Dmitry decided to rule independently of the Horde and it was better to achieve submission from the former ruler. The Khan let Vasily go, but took large ransom.
Fearing the wrath of the returned prince, Shemyaka hurriedly fled from Moscow. However, his fears were in vain – the Grand Duke forgave Dmitry and asked him to reconcile. Vasily could not even think what terrible consequences his kindness would lead to. It turned out that Shemyaka liked to sit on the throne, and he, like his brother Kosoy, decided to regain the Russian throne no matter what. True, unlike Kosoy, he did not start a war, but decided to act by conspiracy and intrigue. Shemyaka secretly began to turn princes and boyars against Vasily. More and more people were indignant.
In February 1446, the Grand Duke learned that Dmitry Shemyaka and Ivan Mozhaisky were coming with the army. Vasily was seized and the next day he was brought to Moscow to Shemyaka.
– Why do you like Tatars and give them Russian cities? Why do you exhaust people with taxes? Why have you blinded our brother, Vasily Kosoy?
And Shemyaka ordered to blind the Grand Duke. However, Dmitry was such a ruler that soon many people began to desire the return of Vasily. Already in the same 1446, the blind prince’s army helped him regain the Russian throne.
Despite the blindness, Grand Duke Vasily Vasilyevich reigned for another 16 years after that, until he died in 1462.
The wife of Vasily II was Maria Yaroslavna, the daughter of the prince Yaroslav Borovsky. In October 1432, their betrothal took place, and on February 8, 1433, there was a wedding. Vasily and Maria had ten children.