CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN PRINCE ANDREW KURBSKY AND IVAN IV


Prince Andrew Kurbskii
First Epistle to Tsar

Russian translation by UK essay at "КОРРЕСПОНДЕНЦИЯ МЕЖДУ ПРИНЦЕМ Андреем Курбским и Иваном IV"
Czech translation by Barbora Lebedová accessible at "Vztah Mezi Kníže Andrej Kurbsky a Ivan IV"
Slovak translation by Sandra Knudsen accessible at "Korespondence Mezi Princ Andrew Kurbsky a Ivan IV"
Ukrainian translation by Sandi Wolfe accessible at " КОРЕСПОНДЕНЦІЯ МІЖ ПРИНЦОМ Андреєм Курбським та Іваном IV"

To the tsar, exalted above all by God, who appeared (formerly) most illustrious, particularly in the Orthodox faith, but who has now, in consequence of our sins, been found to be the contrary of this. If you have understanding, may you understand this with your leprous conscience - such a conscience as cannot be found even amongst the godless peoples. And I have not let my tongue say more than this on all these matters in turn; but because of the bitterest persecution from your power, with much sorrow in my heart will I hasten to inform you of a little.

Wherefore, O tsar, have you destroyed the strong in Israel and subjected to various forms of death the voevodas given you by God?' And wherefore have you spilled their victorious holy blood in the churches of God during sacerdotal ceremonies, and stained the thresholds of the churches with their blood of martyrs? And why have you conceived against your well-wishers and against those who lay down their lives for you unheard-of torments and persecutions and death, falsely accusing the Orthodox of treachery and magic and other abuses, and endeavouring with zeal to turn light into darkness and to call sweet bitter? What guilt did they commit before you, O tsar and in what way did they, the champions of Christianity, anger you? Have they not destroyed proud kingdoms and by their heroic bravery made subject to you in all things those in whose servitude our forefathers formerly were? Was it not through the keenness of their understanding that the strong German towns were given to you by God? Thus have you remunerated [your] poor [servants], destroying us by whole families? Think you yourself immortal, O tsar? Or have you been enticed into unheard-of heresy, as one no longer wishing to stand before the impartial judge, Jesus, begotten of God, who will judge according to justice the universe and especially the vainglorious tormentors, and who unhesitatingly will question them "right to the hairs of their sins," as the saying goes? He is my Christ who sitteth on the throne of the Cherubims at the right hand of the power of the Almighty in the highest - the judge between you and me.

What evil and persecution have I not suffered from you! What ills and misfortunes have you not brought upon me! And what iniquitous tissues of lies have you not woven against me! But I cannot now recount the various misfortunes at your hands which have beset me owing to their multitude and since I am still filled with the grief of my soul. But, to conclude, I can summarize them all thus: of everything have I been deprived; I have been driven from the land of God without guilt, hounded by you. I did not ask with words, nor did I beseech you with tearful plaint; nor yet did I win from you any mercy through the intercession of the hierarchy. You have recompensed me with evil for good and for my love with implacable hatred. My blood, spilled like water for you, cries out against you to my Lord. God sees into hearts - in my mind have I ardently reflected and my conscience have I placed as a witness, and I have sought and pried within my thoughts, and, examining myself, I know not now - nor have I ever found - my guilt in aught before you. In front of your army have I marched - and marched again; and no dishonour have I brought upon you; but only brilliant victories, with the help of the angel of the Lord, have I won for your glory, and never have I turned the back of your regiments to the foe. But far more, I achieved most glorious conquests to increase your renown and this, not in one year, nor yet in two - but throughout many years have I toiled with much sweat and patience; and always have I been separated from my fatherland, and little have I seen my parents, and my wife have I not known; but always in far distant towns have I stood in arms against your foes and I suffered many wants and natural illnesses, of which my Lord Jesus Christ is witness. Still more, I was visited with wounds inflicted by barbarian hands in various battles and all my body is already afflicted with sores. But to you, O tsar, was all this as nought; rather do you show us your intolerable wrath and bitterest hatred, and, furthermore, burning stoves.

And I wanted to relate all my military deeds in turn which I have accomplished for your glory by the strength of my Christ, but I have not recounted them for this reason, that God knows better than man. For he is the recompenser for all these things, and not only for them, but also for a cup of cold water; and I know that you yourself are not unaware of them. And furthermore may this be known to you, O tsar; you will, I think , no longer see my face in this world until the glorious coming of my Christ. Think not that concerning these things I will remain silent before you; to my end will I incessantly cry out with tears against you to the everlasting Trinity, in which I believe; and I call to my aid the Mother of the Lord of the Cherubims, my hope and protectress, Our Lady, the Mother of God, and all the Saints, the elect of God, and my master and forefather, Prince Fedor Rostislavich, whose corpse remains imperishable, preserved throughout the ages, and emits from the grave sweet odours, sweeter than aromatics, and, by the grave of the Holy Ghost, pours forth miraculous healing streams, as you, O tsar, know well..

Deem not, O tsar, and think not upon us with your sophistic thoughts, as though we had already perished, massacred by you in our innocence and banished and driven out by you without justice; rejoice not in this, glorying, as it were, in a vain victory; those massacred by you, standing at the throne of our Lord, ask vengeance against you; while we who have been banished and driven out by you without justice from the land cry out day and night to God, however much in your pride you may boast in this temporal, fleeting life, devising vessels of torture against the Christian race, yea, and abusing and trampling on the Angelic Form, O with the approbation of your flatterers and comrades of the table, your quarrelsome boyars, the destroyers of your soul and body, who urge you on to erotic deeds and, together with their children, act more [viciously] than the priests of Cronus. So much for this. And this epistle, soaked in my tears, will I order to be put into my grave with me, when I come with you before the judgment of my God, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Written in Wolmar, the town of my master, King Augustus Sigismund, from whom I hope to receive much reward and comfort for all my sorrow, by his sovereign grace, and still more with God's help. I have heard from sacred writings that a destroyer will be sent by the devil against the human race, a destroyer conceived in fornication, the Antichrist, hostile to God; and now I have seen a counsellor, known to all, who was born in adultery and who today whispers falsehoods in the ears of the tsar and sheds Christian blood like water and has already destroyed the strong and noble in Israel, as one in agreement with the Antichrist in deed. It is not fitting, O tsar, to show indulgence to such men! In the first law of the Lord it is written. "A Moabite and an Ammonite and a bastard to the tenth generation shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord."


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Ivan IV: Epistle of the Tsar and Sovereign to All His Russian Tsardom Against Those Who Have Broken the Pledge of Allegiance, Against Prince Andrei Kurbskii and His Comrades, Concerning Their Treacheries.

Our God, the Trinity, who has existed since eternity but now as Father, Son and Holy Ghost, has neither beginning nor end; through him we live and move about, through him kings rule and the mighty write laws. By our Lord Jesus Christ the victorious standard of God's only Word and the blessed Cross, which has never been vanquished, have been given to Emperor Constantine, first in piety, and to all the orthodox tsars and protectors of orthodoxy and, insofar as the Word of God has been fulfilled, they, in eagle's flight, have reached all the godly servants of God's Word, until a spark of piety has fallen upon the Russian realm. The autocracy, by God's will, had its origin in Grand Prince Vladimir, who had enlightened all Russia through the holy baptism, and the great Tsar Vladiinir Monomakh, who had received memorable honours from the Greeks, and the valiant great Tsar Alexander Nevskii, who had obtained a great victory over the godless Germans, and the praiseworthy great Tsar Dmitrii, who had obtained a great victory over the sons of Hagar beyond the Don, then it passed to the avenger of wrongs, our ancestor, the great Tsar Ivan, the gatherer of the Russian lands from among the ancestral possessions, and to our father of blessed memory, the great Tsar Vasilii until it reached us, the humble sceptre-bearer of the Russian empire.

But we praise God for the great favour he has shown me in not permitting my right hand to become stained by the blood of my race: for we have not snatched the realm from anyone, but by the will of God and the blessing of our ancestors and parents, were we born in the realm, were brought up there and enthroned, taking, by the will of God and the blessing of our ancestors and parents, what belonged to us, and not seizing that which was not ours. Here follows the command of the orthodox, truly Christian autocrat, the possessor of many kingdoms - our humble Christian answer to him who was an orthodox, true Christian and a boyar of our realm, a councillor and a general, but now is a criminal before the blessed, vivifying cross of the Lord, a destroyer of Christians, a servant of the enemies of Christianity, who has departed from the divine worship of the images and has trodden underfoot all sacred commands, destroyed the holy edifices, vilified and trampled the holy vessels and images, who unites in one person Leo the Isaurian, Constantine Kopronymos and Leo of Armenia - to Prince Andrei Mikhailovich Kurbskii, who through treachery wanted to become a ruler of Iaroslavl.

Wherefore, O Prince, if you regard yourself to have piety, have you lost your soul? What will you give in its place on the day of the terrible judgment? Even if you should acquire the whole world, death will reach you in the end! Why have you sold your soul for your body's sake? Is it because you were afraid of death at the false instigation of your demons and influential friends and advisers? . . .

Are you not ashamed before your slave Vaska Shibanov, who preserved his piety and, having attached himself to you with a kiss of the cross, did not reject you before the tsar and the whole people, though standing at the gate of death, but praised you and was all too ready to die for you? But you did not emulate his devotion: on account of a single angry word of mine, have you lost not only your own soul, but the souls of all your ancestors: for, by God's will, had they been given as servants to our grandfather, the great tsar, and they gave their souls to him and served him up to their death, and ordered you, their children, to serve the children and grandchildren of our grandfather. But you have forgotten everything and traitorously, like a dog, have you transgressed the oath and have gone over to the enemies of Christianity, and, not considering your wrath, you utter stupid words, hurling, as it were, stones at the sky....

We have never spilled blood in the churches. As for the victorious, saintly blood - there has none appeared in our land, as far as we know. The thresholds of the churches: as far as our means and intelligence permit and our subjects are eager to serve us, the churches of the Lord are resplendent with all kinds of adornments, and through the gifts which we have offered since your satanic domination, not only the thresholds and pavements, but even the antechambers shine with ornaments, so that all strangers may see them. We do not stain the thresholds of the churches with any blood, and there are no martyrs of faith with us nowadays. . . . Tortures and persecutions and deaths in many forms we have devised against no one. As to treasons and magic, it is true, such dogs everywhere suffer capital punishment. . . .

It had pleased God to take away our mother, the pious Tsarina Elena, from the earthly kingdom to the kingdom of heaven. My brother Iurii, who now rests in heaven, and I were left orphans and, as we received no care from anyone, we laid our trust in the Holy Virgin, and in the prayers of all the saints, and in the blessing of our parents. When I was in my eighth year, our subjects acted according to their will, for they found the empire without a ruler, and did not deign to bestow their voluntary attention upon us, their master, but were bent on acquiring wealth and glory, and were quarrelling with each other. And what have they not done! How many boyars, how many friends of our father and generals they have killed! And they seized the farms and villages and possessions of our uncles, and established themselves therein. The treasure of our mother they trod underfoot and pierced with sharp sticks, and transferred it to the great treasure, but some of it they grabbed themselves; and that was done by your grandfather Mikhaylo Tuchkov. The Princes Vasilii and Ivan Shuiskii took it upon themselves to have me in their keeping, and those who had been the chief traitors of our father and mother they let out of prison, and they made friends with them. In the court belonging to our uncle Prince Vasilii Shuiskii, with a Judas crowd, fell upon our father confessor Fedor Mishurin, and insulted him, and killed him; and they imprisoned Prince Ivan Fedorovich Belskii and many others in various places, and armed themselves against the realm; they ousted metropolitan Daniil from the metropolitan see and banished him: and thus they improved their opportunity, and began to rule themselves.

My brother Iurii, of blessed memory, and me they brought up like vagrants and children of the poorest. What have I suffered for want of garments and food! And all that against my will and as did not become my extreme youth. I shall mention just one thing: once in my childhood we were playing, Prince Ivan Vasilievich Shuiskii was sitting on a bench, leaning with his elbow against our father's bed, and even putting his foot upon it; he treated us not as a parent, but as a master ... who could bear such presumption? How can I recount all miseries which I have suffered in my youth? Often did I dine late, against my will. What had become of the treasure left me by my father? They had carried everything away, under the cunning pretext that they had to pay the boyar children from it, but, in reality, they had kept it back from them, to their own advantage, and had not paid them off according to their deserts; and they had also held back an immense treasure of my grand-father and father, and made it into gold and silver vessels scribing thereupon the names of their parents, as if they been their inheritance. . . . It is hardly necessary to mention what became of the treasure of our uncles: they appropriated it all to themselves! Then they attacked towns and villages, tortured the people most cruelly, brought much misery upon them and mercilessly pillaged the possessions of the inhabitants.

When we reached the age of fifteen, we, inspired by God, undertook to rule our own realm and, with the aid of almighty God, we ruled our realm in peace and undisturbed, according to our will. But it happened then that, on account of our sins, a fire having spread, by God's will, the royal city of Moscow was consumed. Our boyars, the traitors whom you call martyrs, whose names I shall purposely pass over in silence, made use of the favourable opportunity for their mean treachery, whispered into the ears of a stupid crowd that the mother of my mother, Princess Anna Glinskaia, with all her children and household, was in the habit of extracting men's hearts, and that by a similar sorcery she had put Moscow on fire, and that we knew of her doings. By the instigation of these our traitors, a mass of insensate people, crying in the manner of the Jews, came to the apostolic cathedral of the holy martyr Dmitrii of Saloniki, dragged out of it our boyar Iurii Vasil'evich Glinskii, pulled him inhumanly into the Cathedral of the Assumption, and killed this innocent man in the church. Opposite the metropolitan's palace they stained the floor of the church with his blood, dragged his body through the front door, and exposed him on the market-place as a criminal - everybody knows about this murder in the church. We were then living in the village of Vorobievo; the same traitors instigated the populace to kill us under this pretext and you, dog, repeat the lie that we were keeping from them Prince Iurii's mother, Princess Anna, and his brother Prince Mikhail. How is one not to laugh at such stupidity? Why should we be incendiaries in our own empire? ...

You say that your blood has been spilled in wars with foreigners, and you add, in your foolishness, that it cries to God against us. That is ridiculous. It has been spilled by one and it cries out against another. If it is true that your blood has been spilled by the enemy, then you have done your duty to your country; if you had not done so, you would not have been a Christian but a barbarian - but that is not our affair. How much more ours, that has been spilled by you, cries out to the Lord against you! Not with wounds, nor drops of blood, , but with much sweating and toiling have I been burdened by you unnecessarily and above my strength! Your many meannesses and persecutions have caused me, instead of blood, to shed many tears, and to utter sobs and have anguish of my soul...

You say you want to put your letter in your grave: that shows that you have completely renounced your Christianity! For God has ordered not to resist evil, but you renounce the final pardon which is granted to the ignorant; therefore it is not even proper that any Mass shall be sung after you. In our patrimony, in the country of Lifland, you name the city of Wolmar as belonging to our enemy, King Sigismund: by this you only complete the treachery of a vicious dog ...

Written in our great Russia, in the famous, imperial, capital city of Moscow, on the steps of our imperial threshold, in the year from the creation of the world 7072 (1564), the fifth day of July.

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