ELENA IVANOVNA (April 18, 1474 in Moscow - January 20, 1513 in Braslav in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania), the Grand Duchess of Lithuania, Queen of Poland, since February 18, 1495 the wife of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Alexander Kazimirovich Jagiellon


  • Ivan III Vasilievich, the Grand Duke of Moscow and Vladimir (1462–1505)



The daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan III and Sophia Thominichna Palaiologina was born on April 18, 1474 [XV, p. 301]. The Moscow Chronicals contains a short record about this event. The situation is complicated by the fact that the sources contain information about another Elena, who was born ten years later, in 1484 [XIV, p. 216]. As a rule, the chronicles speak of the daughter of Ivan Vasilyevich in tandem with another Theodosia. The presence of two pairs of daughters of Ivan III, bearing the names of Elena and Theodosia and born with an equal time interval of ten years (1474 and 1475 and 1484 and 1485), made researchers doubt the reliability of such information. Scientists assumed that some of the "paired" daughters did not exist at all and an error crept into the sources (for more details about the mentions in the chronicals, see: 16, pp. 38–39; 17, pp. 399–401). It is also known about another Elena, who was born in 1476 [XV, p. 308]. Which of the mentioned Elenas eventually became the wife of the Lithuanian duke Alexander is a controversial issue, but most researchers today are unanimous in the opinion that she was the eldest of the daughters of Ivan III, Elena, who was born in 1474 * [16, p. 41; 17, p. 399-404; 21; 22, ch. 4; 27, p. 102].

Elena spent her childhood in Moscow, where she probably received a good education at home, as can be judged by the artistic style of her letters. In 1480 little Elena, together with her brother and sister, was taken by Sophia Palaiologina from Moscow to Beloozero to the monastery of St. Cyril of Belozersk. As it was still unknown how the campaign against Moscow of Khan Akhmat would end, Ivan III tried to hide his family in a safe place [21]. A year later, the family of the Grand Prince would return to the capital.

The first attempt at matchmaking to Elena was made in 1488, when the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III proposed to Ivan III to marry his daughter to his nephew, Margrave of Baden Albrecht [XI, cl. 6; 16, p. 42]. Elena at that time was about 14 years old - the standard age for marriage. The wedding, however, did not take place and the princess remained in her parents' house for several more years.

The marriage with the Lithuanian Duke Alexander Jagaillon was arranged according to political considerations [VII, No. 105; VIII, p. 185; XIII, p. 225; XVI, p. 292, 363; XVIII, p. 68-80; 1, p. 181; 5, p. 202; 8, p. 98-99; 11; 20, p. 131; 25; 26]. He had to, if not put to an end, then at least suspend the constant military conflicts that flared up now and then between Moscow and the Polish-Lithuanian state. This union influenced the domestic political situation: as S.M. Kashtanov believes, the daughter's marriage with the Grand Duke of Lithuania strengthened the position of Sophia, and, therefore, Vasily Ivanovich in their confrontation with Elena of Moldavia and Dmitry the Grandson [13].

Negotiations began in 1492 at the initiative of the Lithuanian side and in 1494 an agreement was reached on the wedding of Elena and Alexander [XVIII, p. 70, 71, 74, 117]. The princesses were not invited to the audience of Sophia Palaiologina with the ambassadors, where the conditions of marriage were discussed, probably in order to prevent a situation when the ambassadors could choose whom to marry the Lithuanian prince [XVIII, p. 117; 16, p. 42]. By the decision of the parents and in accordance with tradition, the eldest daughter of Ivan III was given in marriage. On February 6, 1494, an absentee betrothal took place in Moscow, at which Elena and her sisters and brothers were present [XVIII, p. 124]. The Moscow embassy in Lithuania, along with discussing the details of the engagement, prepared the first "eternal" peace between Rus and Lithuania, which, however, lasted only until 1500 [ibid., p. 114-138, p. 139-144]. Elena retained the right to remain in the Orthodox faith, however, in the final text of the document, the Lithuanians unilaterally tried to include a phrase about the possibility of changing the faith to Catholicism at the request of the princess (the Rus version of the agreement did not imply such a free choice) **. The text was not accepted by the Rus side and unwanted corrections were removed. Researchers believe that the preservation of the Orthodox faith helped Elena to maintain close contacts with Moscow and distance herself from the Polish-Lithuanian nobility [23, p. 62–63].  

The wedding took place on February 15, 1495 in Vilna [IX, p. 322-323; XVII, p. 169; XVIII, p. 186]. Together with Elena, noble boyars left for Lithuania with families that made up the princess's court, but all of them were subsequently sent back. The wedding took place in a Catholic cathedral, the Orthodox priest during the service sang loudly the prayers that were supposed to be in the "Greek" faith, so the ceremony was neither Catholic nor Orthodox [22, ch. 4].

Despite the isolation in which Elena found herself surrounded by the Catholic nobility, she managed to gain a certain influence. Historians admit that Alexander listened to the advice of the young wife and was probably attached to her. So, for example, it is believed that the successor of Joseph (Bolgarinovich), Jonah, became the Metropolitan of Kiev at the request of Elena [29, p. 307-309]. She also often accompanied her husband on his numerous trips around the country.

However, contradictions in the married couple could not be avoided. Elena was in constant correspondence with her father and mother and carefully followed their instructions in communicating with her husband, especially at first. Despite the terms of the peace in 1494, Ivan III did not return the occupied lands to Lithuania, and Alexander in response did not allocate the desired volosts to his wife, about which Elena informed her father and received advice to be more persistent [23, p. 63; 29, p. 307-309]. Many researchers believe that Elena became a victim of the opposite political ambitions of her father and husband and was constantly, in the words of Y. G. Alekseev, "between a rock and a hard place." In 1499, the ambassadors informed Ivan III about the illness of Princess Elena, which could have been provoked by a nervous breakdown and miscarriage [8; 22, ch. 4].

Elena's Orthodox faith remained a stumbling block in relations with her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Habsburg, and the Catholic part of the Lithuanian court [6, p. 265; 34]. During the next Rus-Lithuanian war, the reason for which was Alexander's refusal to build an Orthodox church for his wife, religious pressure on the princess intensified. The Pope himself intervened in the matter, but Elena remained in Orthodoxy [4, p. 33; 18, p. 111-120; 23, p. 64]. When Alexander took the Polish crown in 1501, Elena refused to be crowned, so as not to recognize the pontiff's supremacy. During her reign, several Orthodox churches were built in Vilna, which, against the background of general Catholicization and Polonization of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, looked like a victory, albeit a small one.

Correspondence with Ivan III shows how Elena gradually turned from an obedient "servant" of the Rus sovereign into an independent and wise ruler. Her court becomes the center of attraction for the Orthodox (Rus) nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and she herself becomes a link between Rus and Lithuania. During the war of 1500-1503 she is already was giving advice to Ivan III, striving to restore peace between states as soon as possible [VII, No. 192 / XXXI-LII, No. 200; XII, p. 48; XIII, p. 243; XVIII, p. 363-412, 468-474; 20, p. 146]. The emissaries of the sovereign addressed her with secret messages, delivering news about the political situation in Moscow, and listened to her judgments. Elena herself received cardinals and prelates from Europe and even participated in the discussion about the marriage of her brother Vasily Ivanovich: Ivan III, wishing to intermarry with some of the European courts, asked his daughter to find out about the princesses of marriageable age [22, ch. 4; 24].

Elena's position was shaken after the death of Alexander in 1506. The Grand Duke of Lithuania and the King of Poland died childless. The sluggish attempt of Vasily III to claim the Polish throne through the mediation of his sister was not crowned with success, and Alexander's younger brother Sigismund I, nicknamed the Old, was elected the king. An ardent adherent of Catholicism, the new king did not hide the fact that Elena was, in fact, a hostage at the Polish-Lithuanian court. He did not hesitate to use her as a mediator in negotiations with Vasily III on the conclusion of another peace after the next Rus-Lithuanian war [3, p. 798; 8; 15; 31, p. 311]. It is difficult to say at what exact moment Elena's position became so unbearable or life-threatening that she conceived an escape to her homeland. The Grand Duchess was arrested in the fall of 1512, accused of preparing to escape. The Vilna voivode Nikolai Radziwill and Trotsk voivode Grigory Ostikovich took Elena straight out of the church during her trip to the Braslav estate [28, p. 181]. The princess was brought first to Troki, then to Birshtany [XVIII, p. 497, 523-525, 8]. Vojtech Klochko testified against her, confirming Elena's plans to return to Moscow. Indirectly, the impending escape may be evidenced by the fact that before leaving Vilna, the princess sent her treasury ahead of herself, and the detachments of M. Y. Shchuka Kutuzov, M. S. Vorontsov and A. N. Buturlina were pulled up to the border with the Lithuanian state from the side of Velikiye Luki. Sigismund the Old, in his correspondence with Vasily III, until the very end, denied the princess's arrest, explaining her detention by the restless situation at the border [6; 12, p. 173-203; 34, p. 139].

Between January 29 and February 26, 1513 Elena died, apparently, she was poisoned [XVIII, p. 254; 8; 31, p. 319-327]. Elena Ivanovna was buried in Vilna in the Prechistensky Cathedral (Cathedral of the Dormition of the Most Pure Mother of God) [2].

The death of the Grand Duchess of Lithuania, sister of Vasily III, Elena Ivanovna, was the reason for the start of a new protracted war between Rus and the Polish-Lithuanian state, as a result of which the Smolensk lands became part of Rus.

* A.A. Zimin, although he considered Elena the eldest daughter, believed that she was born in 1476 [9, p. 283].

** According to some researchers, this postscript about the possibility of changing the faith in the future became one of the reasons for the subsequent disgrace of Rus diplomats who concluded a final agreement with Lithuania, princes Ivan Yuryevich Patrikeev and Semeon Ivanovich Ryapolovsky [32, p. 308-316; 19, p. 97; 30, p. 137]. A.I. Filyushkin disagrees with this [on the conflict see: 28, p. 32-37].


Purchases of the Grand Duchess: The earliest purchase of the Grand Duchess was the estate of Zhagora, which she donated in 1486 to the Prechistensky Cathedral in Vilna. On February 12, 1509, Jan Filipovich, doctor and canon of Vilna, sold "for forever" to Duchess Elena the paternal land with a stone cellar in Vilna castle for 90 kopecks. In June 1510, the Elena`s boyar, G. Pustoshinsky, asked her for the land of Sobekhlebtsov in Sadov, bought by the Grand Duchess in Volyn from Pan Bogdan Gostsky, and was granted this property [14]. Land holdings granted by the Grand Duchess for life, «до живота»: The first record about the possessions that were under the control of Elena Ivanovna refers to 1497. In the privilege of Alexander Kazimirovich to Vladyka of Smolensk Joseph dated March 17, 1497 is said about the monastery lands and servants living in the vicinity of the possessions of Elena Ivanovna: «Его людем тым, которые седят за Рачовою, почонши от реки Большое Рачовы обапол дороги великое, что идет к перевозу об одну стороны дороги, до Днепра об другую стороны дороги и уверх Днепра за Малую Рачовку до Вору, где воля седит нашое великое кнегини Олены». The privilege mentions the lands of the Grand Duchess between the rivers Malaya Rachovka (flows in the eastern part of Smolensk) and Vorey (left tributary of the Ugra River) near Smolensk. Probably, to Elena belonged Velena in Samogotia, since both of her marginal people Martin Yakubovich and Butrim Yakubovich Nemirovich had the titles of Vilna governors. On July 24, 1501, the Kotyaginsky (Kotyazhin) court of the Grand Duchess is mentioned, which Pan Yuri Ilyinich, the Marshal of the Grand Duke Alexander, unsuccessfully tried to take possession of. On August 28, 1501, Alexander Kazimirovich gave his wife “for eternity” the courts of Knyazhichi, Teterin, the castle on Popov Gora (which were previously held by Prince Ivan Yuryevich Izheslavsky), the courtyards of Smolnyane and Gorodishche, Losishche, Chirchinsky lands (formerly owned by Prince S.I.Belsky). In 1503 the sources name the court of the Grand Duchess Birshtana in the Birshtan district. The content of Sigismund the Old's privilege to clerk I.B.Sopega dated February 24, 1509 indicates that Oboltsy and Oboletsky povet were granted to Elena Ivanovna by Alexander Kazimirovich. It is known that Alexander Kazimirovich handed over the Stoklish volost to his wife. Alexander Kazimirovich granted Elena Ivanovna a palace in Gurah near Vilna, a courtyard of Ezdno (Yezno) and Yezenskaya (Yeznenskaya) volost, Kotyazhinsky povet, Basin's courtyard in Novgorodsky povet, Teterinsky povet, Braslavl (modern Braslav) with povet (including Ukol Volost and Ukol) , courtyards of Rakishka and Onikshtami in the Vilna voivodeship, Vilkeysky povet, volosts of Dirvan, Veshven (Veshvyan), Birzhen (Berzhansk) in Samogitia (Zhmudi). In addition, Elena Ivanovna was given by her husband «до живота» the Sadovo estate in the Volyn land, the Melnik castle, the Nosovo courtyard in the Melnytsky district in the upper reaches of the Bialka river, the Smolnyany courtyard in the Orshinsky district, the Mogilev castle with the district. King Sigismund granted Elena Ivanovna on January 5, 1507 the castle of Belsk with Sarazh and Bryansk and with all the boyars and servants who are worthy and taxing people and tributaries of the Belsk povet «до живота ее милости». In addition to Belsk, Elena owned the Gorodisk povet. On March 12, 1510, the Polish king transferred the monastery of St. Trinity in Vilna to «ее живота», «а по ее милости животе тот манастырь и подане есть у воли нашой и наследников наших» [14].


Voytch (Voytko) Yanovich Klochko, ochmister [I, no. 236, p. 92; III, no. 189, p. 226; IV, no. 29, p. 31; X, p. 83; 14].

Ivan Semenovich Sapega (Ivan Sapezhich, Yan Sapega), chancellor [VII, no. 37, p. 28-29; V, p. 64, 66; 14].

Mikolai Yundilovich (Yundila), chief executive officer [II, no. 113, p. 121; 14].

Yuri Nikolaevich Radziwill, solicitor [XVIII, p. 171; 14].

Martin Yakubovich Butrim, kraichiy.

Butrim Yakubovich Nemirovich, kraichiy.

Prince Matvey Mikitinich, governor of Knyazhitsky and Teterinsky, then governor of Mogilev and Onikshensky.

Mitya Ivanovich, housekeeper, governor of Oboletsky.

Yan Mikhailovich, podskarbiy.

Grishko Ivanovich, a clerk, then a scribe.

Esman Ivanovich, clerk.

Mashitsa, cook [14].


Among those who received a salary in Smolnyany in 1500 was Ivashka the camerlegno (chamberlain) of the Grand Duchess. Janek was named the grand duchess's chamberlain in 1502 in Minsk. Probably, Ivan and Janek are the same person (Iohannes, Ian, Ivaszko). There are also the names of two more princess chamberlains: the camerlegues of the Grand Duchess in Polotsk in 1500 were Knyazhik / Knezhik (Knyeszyk) and Matsko (Maczko) [14].


The boyars of Grand Duchess Elena were Ivashko Yatskovich, Fedko Ignatievich, Yan Verbilo, Stepan Demidovich, Ivan Borisovich Sumarok and Fedko Nesterovich, Bogdan Mikolaevich, the Braslav boyars Pashko Ilyinich, Kgetovt Kalenikovich and Mitko Fyodorovich, Ilyaevich Ilyevich and Slovik and Sidorovich boyorovich, Mogilevich Tishko Grigory Pustoshinsky, boyar of Gedroit Baltromey Stankovich.

Aleksey Panevich, Matsko Dashkevich, Mogilev tradesman Omelyan Voronovich are named as the servants of the duchess.

Elena's nobles were Alexander Ternovsky, Fedor Demidovich Mamchich, Vasily Gregorovich.


The governor of Stocklish (Stocklish district) was Mikhail Basa, governors of Samogitian volosts were Pans Stanko, Martin, Pyotr Belevichi, Voytko Paevich, tiuns in the same volosts were Pans Stanko Ivashkovich and Petr Soshkovich, governor of Dirvansky Slovik Ivashkovich, governor of Sadichevsky Yakov. At the end of 1503 - beginning of 1504, prince Konstantin Gagara was named the governor in the Smolnany parish.


Fyodor Shestakov served to Elena, as well as messengers Andrey Derzhkoy, Alexey and Yakut Semichovs, "Muscovites" Grigory Unkovsky, Vasily Kinbarov, Vasily Grigorievich Kobylin. Elena Ivanovna was close to the Novgorod noblewoman Fetinya Borisovaya (Boris's wife). Probably, Fetinya's husband, the Novgorod boyar Boris, served the Grand Duchess as well [14].

Elena Ivanovna's women's court:

In 1499, among the recipients of the salary were listed; the Grand Duchess`s main old lady named Panna Yanova (antique domine apud ducissam magnam maiori), the old lady who led the ladies-in-waiting (antique domine puellarum), the ladies-in-waiting Anna, Ovdotya, Marinka, Ulyana, Alexandra.

Panna Yanova, obviously, held the post of the mistress (housekeeper) of the women's court of Elena Ivanovna [14].


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