Vasily II of Moscow

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Vasily II Vasiliyevich Tyomniy (Blind) (Василий II Васильевич Тёмный in Russian) (10 March 1415 – 27 March 1462, Moscow) was the Grand Prince of Moscow whose long reign (1425-1462) was plagued by the greatest civil war of Old Russian history.


First ten years of internecine struggle

Vasily II was the youngest son of Vasily I of Moscow by Sophia of Lithuania, the only daughter of Vytautas the Great, and the only son to survive his father (his elder brother Ivan died in 1417 at the age of 22). On his father's death Vasily was proclaimed Grand Duke at the tender age of 10. His mother acted as a regent. His uncle, Yuri of Zvenigorod (Prince of Galich-Mersky), and his two sons, Vasily the Cross-Eyed and Dmitry Shemyaka, seized on the opportunity to advance their own claims to the throne. These claims were based on the Testament of Dmitri Donskoi, Yuri's father and Vasily's grandfather, who had stated that if Vasily I died Yuri would succeed his appanage. However, Dmitri had written the testament when Vasily I had no children of his own, and it might be argued that this provision had been made only for the case of Vasily's childless death. Vasily's claim was supported by Vytautas, his maternal grandfather. The underlying causes for the great feudal war that followed are disputed. There are reasons to believe that Yuri's family, whose Northern dominions were rich in salt, ore, and other minerals could offer Russia a more liberal, prosperous path of development[citation needed].

Upon Vytautas' death in 1430, Yuri went to the Golden Horde, returning with a license to take the Moscow throne. But the Khan did not support him any further, largely due to the devices of the Smolensk princeling and Moscow boyarin Ivan Vsevolzhsky. When Yuri assembled an army and attacked Moscow, Vasily, betrayed by Vsevolzhsky, was defeated and captured by his enemies (1433). Upon being proclaimed Grand Duke of Moscow, Yuri pardoned his nephew and sent him to reign in the town of Kolomna. That proved to be a mistake, as Vasily immediately started to plot against his uncle and gather all sort of malcontents. Feeling how insecure his throne was, Yuri resigned and then left Moscow for his Northern hometown. When Vasily returned to Moscow, he had Vsevolzhsky blinded as a traitor.

Meanwhile, Yuri's claim was inherited by his sons who decided to continue the fight. They managed to defeat Vasily, who had to seek refuge in the Golden Horde. After Yuri died in 1434, Vasili the Cross-Eyed entered the Kremlin and was proclaimed new Grand Duke. Dmitry Shemyaka, who had his own plans for the throne, quarreled with his brother and concluded an alliance with Vasily II. Together they managed to banish Vasily the Cross-Eyed from the Kremlin in 1435. The latter was captured and blinded, which effectively removed him from the contest for the throne.

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