15-16 century was a time of great change in Europe in both political and social fields. Feudal ways of ruling nations changed. Strong European countries became centralized with strong royal administration and armies became more powerful. Once weak feudal nations slowly became empires. At this time the nation that was unable to make significant changes became prey to other much stronger nations.
Livonia had strong neighbors- Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was largest country in Europe spanning from the Baltic sea to the Black Sea. Sweden started to gain ambitions to control the Baltic Sea. Denmark also rivalled for mastery in the Baltic. However even stronger and dangerous enemy was tempting to get Baltic region. It was Russia. In 8-9 century Kievan Rus was the first form of the Russian Empire, but it broke in many weak duchies. Duchies such as Pskov, Polotsk and Novgorod often tried to interfere Baltic region by attacking local tribes and forcing to pay fees for them. But they were too weak to conquer the Baltic peoples. When German Crusaders took Baltic lands by force, Russians were unable to do anything about it. Another weakening factor was Mongol invasion- in 13th century Mongolian Hordes destroyed Russian cities and imposed so-called Mongol-Tatar yoke. Kiev fell in direct Mongolian rule, while Novgorod was more independent but still fed up with Mongols. The Mongols created a country called the Golden Horde with Sarai as capital. Mongols controlled Russian Duchies with use of fees and taxes and tried not to make them too strong. However because of inner conflicts within the Horde the yoke got weaker. In 1380 the forces of Moscow defeated the Mongol army at the Battle of Kulikovo. This great battle however was more a result of an inner Mongol power struggle than effort of Russian liberation. Mongol power stayed and in 1382 the Mongols revenged by burning Moscow. But Mongols were crushed by Mongolian ruler Timur (Tamerlan) from Samarkand who destroyed Sarai but spared Moscow. In 1480 Moscow destroyed Mongol army at the Battle at River Ugra and no longer saw them as their senior rulers. Mongol yoke ended and Moscow became a prime duchy in Russia. The Russians learned many things from Mongols, such as brutal ways of ruling and the lack of justice. Grand Duke of Ivan III captured Novgorod and Pskov. When 1455 Constantinople the center of the Orthodox Church was taken by the Ottomans, Ivan III declared that Moscow has become a Third Rome- the center of Eastern Christianity and heir of Roman Empire. That was beginning of the Russian imperialism.
Heir of Ivan III was Vasily III. In 1530 Ivan his son was born. In 1533 Vasily III was dead. Ivan IV was crowned as Czar of all Russia. Since he was child first years of his rule the power was managed by boyars. Ivan IV reached his prominence when he led the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. Both cities were owned by the Mongols and that was the end of Mongol influence in Russia.
After the fall of Kazan Ivan IV took his eyes on Livonia. Ivan IV wanted free port to the west and connect trade routes from the Baltic to Caspian Sea. Only Russian port on the Baltic Sea was Ivangorod right next to Narva, but it was too small and shallow. Russia required Livonia to pay taxes for Dorpat (Tartu) to keep peace. But in 1557 Livonians could not pay money to Ivan IV triggering his anger. Russia at first could not invade Livonia because relations with Poland-Lithuania were not secured. But in 1557 Kazan was captured and Russian army got large reinforcements from local Tatar tribes. Livonia still was not paying the money. Before that Russians managed to defeat Han of Crimea and stop Sweden. Grip on Livonia was getting stronger and Livonian cities asked for Polish help. In 1557 Livonia signed anti-Russian alliance with Poland-Lithuania and Order was under Polish protection. Russia saw this as a threat to its security and in 1558 declared war on Livonia.
Livonia was invaded by Russian forces and large groups of Tatar Hordes. Narva surrendered to Russia first, next was Dorpat. Sweden, Poland-Lithuania tried to force Russians leave Livonia, but without any luck. Russians pillaged Livonia killed civilians and in 1559 the Livonian Order gave up their independence to Poland-Lithuania. Order became part of the Polish army and their lands were given to them. Ivan IV tried to persuade Poland-Lithuania to join war against Muslim rulers of Crimea, but Lithuania disproved such proposal and helped the Han of Crimea. In 1560 August 2 Russians completely destroyed the Livonian army at the Battle of Ergeme. In same time Ivan IV started repressions against its aides. On August 7 Ivan IV lost his beloved wife Anastasia. It was a great tragedy for Ivan and probably caused mental breakdown. Some say that Ivan IV turned evil after this and deserved his nickname ‘Terrible’. Ivan married again many times and most of his future wife’s were killed by his orders.
During the next years’ wars with brief cease-fire continued. Russia confronted Poland and Sweden and was unable to win. In Moscow Ivan IV continued bloody repressions accompanied by orgies and heavy drinking. In 1563 Russians captured Lithuanian controlled Polotsk.
The war started to shift against Russia when Crimean Tatars won many victories in 1579. They even devastated Moscow. Meanwhile after death of Polish king Sigismund Augustus throne was taken by energetic Stepfan Batory who started many successful attacks against Russia. He recaptured Polotsk and head deep into the Russian land almost threatening Ivan’s IV safety. Sweden chased away Russians from Estonian part of Livonia. In 1581 Swedish mercenary forces captured Narva making heavy blow to Ivan IV. In November 1581 Ivan did heavy blow for himself by killing his son Ivan in spike of anger. Ivan IV now lost his heir. His remaining son Feodor was sick with Down syndrome and unable to rule. This was end of Rurikovich dynasty. Next year Russia made peace deal with Poland-Lithuania and Sweden.
Livonian Confederation ceased to exist. Northern Livonia with Reval (Tallin) and Narve was given to Sweden. Rest of Livonia was given to Poland-Lithuania. The New Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was established, its Duke was the last Master of the Livonian Order Gotthard Kettler. It was an autonomous nation with Jelgava as a capitol. Rest of Latvia was under direct jurisdiction of Poland. Riga tried to resist and was independent for many years but was captured by the Poles.
Russia lost in her first attempt to get way to the west. After Ivan IV death Russia felled in civil war together with Polish invasion. Peace in the Baltic was kept until 1600 when Sweden and Poland-Lithuania started wars for Latvian territory. It was Czar Peter I who again tried to “carve a window to Europe” and succeed in 1721 realizing an Ivan’s dream.
Madariaga, Isabel de. (2005) Ivan the Terrible: First Tsar of Russia. New York. Yale University Press.
Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte