Basil (Russ. Vasily), the name of four grand-dukes of Moscow and tsars of Muscovy.
Basil I. Dmitrevich (1371-1425), son of Dmitri (Demetrius) Donskoi, whom he succeeded in 1389, married Sophia, the daughter of Vitovt, grand-duke of Lithuania. In his reign the grand-duchy of Muscovy became practically hereditary, and asserted its supremacy over all the surrounding principalities. Nevertheless Basil received his yarluik, or investiture, from the Golden Horde and was compelled to pay tribute to the grand khan, Tokhtamuish. He annexed the principality of Suzdal to Moscovy, together with Murom, Kozelsk Peremyshl, and other places; reduced the grand-duchy of Rostov to a state of vassalage; and acquired territory from the republic of Great Novgorod by treaty. In his reign occurred the invasion of Timur (1395), who ruined the Volgan regions, but did not penetrate so far as Moscow. Indeed Timur's raid was of service to the Russian prince as it all but wiped out the Golden Horde, which for the next twelve years was in a state of anarchy. During the whole of this time no tribute was paid to the khan, though vast sums of money were collected in the Moscow treasury for military purposes.
In 1408 the Mirza Edigei ravaged Muscovite territory, but was unable to take Moscow. In 1412, however, Basil found it necessary to pay the long-deferred visit of submission to the Horde. The most important ecclesiastical event of the reign was the elevation of the Bulgarian, Gregory Tsamblak, to the metropolitan see of Kiev (1425) by Vitovt, grand-duke of Lithuania; the immediate political consequence of which was the weakening of the hold of Muscovy on the south-western Russian states. During Basil's reign a terrible visitation of the "Black Death" decimated the population.
See T. Schiemann, Russland bis ins 17. Jahrhundert (Gotha, 1885-1887).
Basil II., called Temny ("the Blind") (1415-1462), son of the preceding, succeeded his father as grand-duke of Moscow in 1425. He was a man of small ability and unusual timidity, though not without tenacity of purpose. Nevertheless, during his reign Moscow steadily increased in power, as if to show that the personality of the grand-dukes had become quite a subordinate factor in its development. In 1430 Basil was seized by his uncle, George of Halicz, and sent a prisoner to Kostroma; but the nation, dissatisfied with George, released Basil and in 1433 he returned in triumph to Moscow. George, however, took the field against him and Basil fled to Novgorod. On the death of George, Basil was at constant variance with George's children, one of whom, Basil, he had blinded; but in 1445 the grand-duke fell into the hands of blind Basil's brother, Shemyak, and was himself deprived of his sight and banished to Uglich (1445). The clergy and people, however, being devoted to the grand-duke, assisted him not only to recover his throne a second time, but to put Shemyak to flight, and to seize Halicz, his patrimony.
During the remainder of Basil II.'s reign he slowly and unobtrusively added district after district to the grand-duchy of Muscovy, so that, in fine, only the republics of Novgorod and Pskov and the principalities of Tver and Vereya remained independent of Moscow. Yet all this time the realm was overrun continually by the Tatars and Lithuanians, and suffered severely from their depredations. Basil's reign saw the foundation of the Solovetsk monastery and the rise of the khanate of the Crimea. In 1448 the north Russian Church became virtually independent of the patriarchal see of Constantinople by adopting the practice of selecting its metropolitan from among native priests and prelates exclusively.
Basil III., Ivanovich (1479-1533), tsar of Muscovy, son of Ivan III. and Sophia Palaeologa, succeeded his father in 1505. A crafty prince, with all the tenacity of his race, Basil succeeded in incorporating with Muscovy the last remnants of the ancient independent principalities, by accusing the princes of Ryazan and Syeversk of conspiracy against him, seizing their persons, and annexing their domains (1517-1523). Seven years earlier (24th of January 1510) the last free republic of old Russia, Pskov, was deprived of its charter and assembly-bell, which were sent to Moscow, and tsarish governors were appointed to rule it. Basil also took advantage of the difficult position of Sigismund of Poland to capture Smolensk, the great eastern fortress of Poland (1512), chiefly through the aid of the rebel Lithuanian, Prince Michael Glinsky, who provided him with artillery and engineers from western Europe. The loss of Smolensk was the first serious injury inflicted by Muscovy on Poland and only the exigencies of Sigismund compelled him to acquiesce in its surrender (1522). Equally successful, on the whole, was Basil against the Tatars. Although in 1519 he was obliged to buy off the khan of the Crimea, Mahommed Girai, under the very walls of Moscow, towards the end of his reign he established the Russian influence on the Volga, and in 1530 placed the pretender Elanyei on the throne of Kazan. Basil was the first grand-duke of Moscow who adopted the title of tsar and the double-headed eagle of the East Roman empire.
By his second wife, Helena Glinska, whom he married in 1526, Basil had a son Ivan, who succeeded him as Ivan IV.
See Sigismund Herberstain, Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii (Vienna, 1549); P. A. Byelov, Russian History Previous to the Reforms of Peter the Great (Russ.), (Petersburg, 1895); E. I. Kashprovsky, The War of Basil III. with Sigismund I. (Russ.), (Nyezhin, 1899).
Basil IV., Shuisky (d. 1612), tsar of Muscovy, was during the reigns of Theodore I. and Boris Godunov, one of the leading boyars of Muscovy. It was he who, in obedience to the secret orders of Tsar Boris, went to Uglich to inquire into the cause of the death of Demetrius, the infant son of Ivan the Terrible, who had been murdered there by the agents of Boris. Shuisky obsequiously reported that it was a case of suicide; yet, on the death of Boris and the accession of his son Theodore II., the false boyar, in order to gain favour with the first false Demetrius, went back upon his own words and recognized the pretender as the real Demetrius, thus bringing about the assassination of the young Theodore. Shuisky then plotted against the false Demetrius and procured his death (May 1606) also by publicly confessing that the real Demetrius had been indeed slain and that the reigning tsar was an impostor. This was the viler in him as the pseudo-Demetrius had already forgiven him one conspiracy. Shuisky's adherents thereupon proclaimed him tsar (19th of May 1606). He reigned till the 19th of July 1610, but was never generally recognized. Even in Moscow itself he had little or no authority, and was only not deposed by the dominant boyars because they had none to put in his place.
Only the popularity of his heroic cousin, Prince Michael Skopin-Shuisky, who led his armies and fought his battles for him, and soldiers from Sweden, whose assistance he purchased by a disgraceful cession of Russian territory, kept him for a time on his unstable throne. In 1610 he was deposed, made a monk, and finally carried off as a trophy by the Polish grand hetman, Stanislaus Zolkiewski. He died at Warsaw in 1612.
See D. I. Ilovaisky, The Troubled Period of the Muscovite Realm (Russ.), (Moscow, 1894); S. I. Platonov, Sketches of the Great Anarchy in the Realm of Moscow (Petersburg, 1899); D. V. Tsvyeltev, Tsar Vasily Shuisky (Russ.), (Warsaw, 1901-1903); R. Nisbet Bain, Slavonic Europe, ch. viii. (Cambridge, 1907).
(R. N. B.)