Dmitry Donskoy

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Dmitry Donskoy (Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy; 12.10.1350, Moscow, now Russian Federation – 19.05.1389) – Grand Prince of Muscovy (1359) and Vladimir (from 1362, with intermissions).

Canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as the Venerable, is commemorated on May 19 (OS). A descendant of the Grand Prince Yuri Dolgoruky of Kyiv. Grandson of Ivan Danilovich Kalita, Grand Prince of Muscovy and Vladimir; son of Ivan Ivanovich Krasny (the Red), Grand Prince of Muscovy and Vladimir (1353–1359), and his second wife Aleksandra. Became the ruler of the Great Principality of Muscovy in childhood; was enthroned by Moscow boyars who took advantage of internecine feuds in the Golden Horde and tense relations between Khans of the Golden Horde and Grand Princes of Vladimir to establish Dmitry Donskoy as a Grand Prince. During the childhood of Dmitry the boyar government was headed by Alexius (Biakont; 1354–1378), Metropolitan of Kyiv, Moscow, and All Rus. This government carried on the struggle of the Great Principality of Muscovy for its hegemony over other Russian principalities rather successfully, thus, it obtained from the Golden Horde a yarlyk (patent) for Dmitry Donskoy for the throne of the Grand Prince of Vladimir. This diplomatic victory was strengthened by the marriage of Dmitry Donskoy with Yevdokia (1366), daughter of Dmitry Konstantinovich, the previous Grand Prince of Vladimir (1360–1363). At the same time an appanage system was under formation in Muscovy: in 1364, under the blessing of Metropolitan Alexius an agreement was concluded between Dmitry Donskoy and his brother Vladimir Andreyevich the Bold, who, though he got the town of Serpukhov (now in Moscow Oblast, Russian Federation), acknowledged himself a vassal of the Grand Prince of Muscovy.

At the age of 18, Dmitry Donskoy assumed full power; still he considered opinion of the Metropolitan and boyars. At that time the Great Principality of Tver, headed by Grand Prince Mikhail Aleksandrovich, was the main rival of Muscovy. Mikhail’s sister Iuliana was married to the Grand Duke of Lithuania Olgierd, who supported Tver (now the city in the Russian Federation) in its confrontation with Muscovy. In 1368 Dmitry Donskoy treacherously captured Prince Mikhail but under the pressure of the Golden Horde was forced to free him. After that, the Muscovite army took Gorodok (now the village in Tver Oblast, Russian Federation) at the River Staritsa (a tributary of the Volga). This entailed the war between Muscovy and the Tver Principality supported by Olgierd. On December 21, 1368, the army of the Great Principality of Lithuania crushed Muscovite troops at the River Trostnia, after which besieged Moscow but could not take it. During a new war against Tver Dmitry Donskoy first gained a victory over it and also plundered the Smolensk Principality, but later again had to withstand a siege of Moscow by Olgierd’s troops (December 6–14, 1370). After the retreat of Olgierd Dmitry Donskoy defeated Prince Mikhail of Tver and later, in 1371, concluded a peace treaty with the Great Principality of Lithuania strengthening it by the marriage of Elena Olgierdovna and Vladimir Andreyevich. The next confrontation (bloodless) of Dmitry Donskoy and Mikhail, again supported by Olgierd, ended in a peace treaty in the summer of 1372. Several years later, Dmitry Donskoy collected a large army from several principalities and captured Tver (September 3, 1375), whereupon the Great Principality of Tver was considerably weakened.

The strengthening of Muscovy displeasured the Golden Horde but the powerfulinvasion of the Horde, which led to the defeat of Muscovite troops at the Pyana River (a tributary of the Sura, the Volga basin) in 1377, was suspended by Dmitry Donskoy’s victory over the Murza Begich at the River Vozha (a tributary of the Oka, the Volga Basin) on August 11, 1378. Dmitry Donskoy proved to be a good diplomat, which is testified by his expert use of feuds in the Great Principality of Lithuania after the death of Olgierd. Andrei and Dmitry Olgierdovichi took part of the Grand Prince of Muscovy, which enabled Muscovy to seize the town of Pereslavl-Zalessky (now in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russian Federation) and strengthen its positions in the Siversk land. Considering the complex situation in the Rus Orthodox Church after the death of the Metropolitan Alexius and a failed attempt to install Mikhail (Mityai) as a new Metropolitan, Dmitry Donskoy had to acknowledge Kiprian as a new Metropolitan. Dmitry Donskoy enjoyed the support of Saint Sergiy Radonezhsky, Stefan Makhrisky (a Kyivite by origin), Dimitry Prilutsky, Dionisiy, and others, which was of great importance for the consolidation of Rus principalities around the Grand Principality of Muscovy in its anti-Horde struggle. Considerable forces of Andrei and Dmitry Olgierdovichi and Prince Dmitry Mikhailovich (Koriatovich) Bobrok-Volynsky joined Dmitry Donskoy’s army. A large-scale battle against troops of the Golden Horde took place on September 8, 1380 at the Kulikovo Field (at the confluence of the Nepriadva and Don). This battle ended with the victory of Dmitry over Khan Mamai, hence the Prince got the name Donskoy (of the Don). Contrary to the widespread opinion, he did not prove himself to be a notable military leader and in some situations even showed lack of determination, but this cannot diminish the great international significance of the Battle of Kulikovo, which precipitated the liberation of the Rus lands from subjection.

Still, this victory did not lead to the liquidation of the domination of the Golden Horde and already in 1382 Khan Tokhtamysh, through treachery, captured Moscow, the defence of which was headed by Lithuanian Prince Ostei, and burnt it down, as well as some other towns. The Tatars killed over 24,000 Muscovites, not counting those drown and burnt. Dmitry Donskoy did not dare to set out against Tokhtamysh and retreated to Kostroma (now a town in the Russian Federation). Later he head to give the Khan his son Vasily as a hostage. In 1385 Vasily managed to flee first to Moldova and later to Ukraine. That same year Dmitry Donskoy made peace with Oleg Ivanovich, Grand Prince of Ryazan (who previously was an ally of Tokhtamysh and Dmitry Donskoy once ravaged Ryazan lands for that), and gave his daughter Sofia in marriage to Oleg’s son Fedor. In the winter of 1385–1386 he inflicted a heavy blow to Novgorod the Great, but as a result of the Union of Krewo (1385) the influence of Muscovy upon the western direction, primarily in the Smolensk Principality, diminished.

In general, under Dmitry Donskoy the Muscovite domain enlarged, though at the cost of innumerable human losses and material damage. In 1389, Dmitry Donskoy introduced a new (territorial) principle of formation of the army, limited somewhat rights of boyars, and furthered the centralization of power. Very important for the strengthening of the Grand Prince power and Muscovy in general was the transference of the Great Principality of Vladimir to his son Vasily Dmitryevich, Grand Prince of Muscovy, under his will; other sons got ordinary appanages. Dmitry Donskoy initiated construction of stone fortifications of the Moscow Kremlin, promoted erection of churches and monasteries.

Portrait of Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy. Miniature from The Title Book of Tsars, 1672