The ambassadors sent to discuss the matter delayed, drew out the negotiations, pleaded, prevaricated — hoping that Ivan would die, that help would come, that something, anything, might happen — until Ivan lost patience and went to war.
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Hellmann believes that Ivan was sincere in his concern over the tribute, that he refused to compromise on this issue because it concerned his imperial rights as Tsar, and therefore that the declaration of war came because Ivan saw the necessity to enforce his authority wherever it was threatened. The tribute was the actual cause of war, not a pretext for deeper designs. Nevertheless, public opinion was hard to shake, especially when aspects of its beliefs were confirmed: if Ivan had not been insane, then he must have been a man with cunning plans for unifying Russia and creating a strong centralized state.
Against this popular view a number of new publications appeared, each stating that Ivan could not be understood as a modern man. He was, they emphasized, a man of his own times. Long-range policy was less important than opportunism, rationality less vital than emotion. Pride, tradition, ignorance probably meant more than cool deliberation and planning, although those latter virtues were certainly not absent.
Certainly Ivan was proud and stubborn enough to make war over an issue such as tribute, particularly if he thought he could win the war easily. Norbert Angermann reviewed the possible reasons for Ivan's attack on Livonia. He concluded that trade was not a sufficient grounds for his anger.
Metropolit Makarij und Ivan der Schreckliche
Ivan had little understanding of the need to improve the economy by supporting foreign trade, and he had no love for his own merchant class — something he later demonstrated by his massacre of the Novgorodians. But Ivan was consistent in claiming hereditary rights over Livonia, rights he supported later by installing Russian officials in conquered lands and founding Russian Orthodox Churches there.
He alone, not the Rada or any of his advisors, made the decision for war.
It was an individual decision, an expression of a typical Muscovite drive to advance the imperial frontiers in all directions. Knud Rasmussen reached much the same conclusion, that the attack of was Ivan's seizure of an opportune moment, a time when Poland-Lithuania was hindered by a Tatar attack from intervening in what appeared would be a short and decisive dampaign. In Rasmussen's view, the Crimean Tatars were the decisive factor: Poland-Lithuania and Moscow each sought to embroil the other in war with the dangerous Tatars, which would present the party at peace with the opportunity to seize border lands from both enemies.
Curiously enough, Ivan periodically dreamed of ridding himself of the Tatar menace through an alliance with Poland-Lithuania. Eric Tiberg covered the same ground in a long continued article. Although disassociating himself from minor errors by Angermann and Rasmussen, he spoke out strongly against the mercantile reasons for the outbreak of war. He pointed out that the Tsar gave varying reasons for his attack, and naturally included any motive he could think of, among which were valid complaints by Russian merchants.
The first time these complaints were mentioned, however, was in ! Far more significant was the Livonian intervention in to prevent German military experts from traveling to Russia to aid in the wars against Kazan and Astrakhan, an intervention the Tsar viewed as an unfriendly act; and, subsequently, talks between Poland-Lithuania and Livonia about a military alliance. The Tsar began to apply pressure in , extracting a treaty from Dorpat that was interpreted as a commitment by all Livonia to pay a heavy tribute. This sudden interest in Livonia is not to be understood apart from Sigismund ll's similar interest in that country; it was part of the military and political confrontation of the two great empires, not an adventure separate from other Russian concerns.
Tiberg emphasized that Ivan was not moving north just because he now felt safe in the south and east and wanted to conquer more territory; he was not safe in the south and east, as subsequent events proved — the Crimean Tatars were still a danger. His Livonian policy was part of his contest with Poland-Lithuania: when the Livonians signed the Treaty of Pozwol, establishing a military alliance with Poland-Lithuania, he understood its intent to be the ultimate subjection of Livonia to Sigismund Augustus.
Therefore, he struck at Livonia while the Polish king was still unable to intervene there. Ivan expected to overrun that country with little resistance and thereby gain an advantage over his western rival. The western reaction to this Russian pressure is similarly controversial. A crucial point to understand is that not all Germans in Livonia felt themselves equally affected by the complicated diplomacy that preceded the outbreak of war.
The Russian claims were at first specifically and solely directed at Dorpat. Therefore, the other Livonians did not take a great interest in them. Secondly, the history of the Dorpat diocese had long demonstrated that the inland church was concerned with different problems than those concerning the litorial Germans. The Dorpaters had conducted an independent diplomacy for several centuries and had fought wars against Pskov and Novgorod without calling on the other Livonian powers for assistance.
Moreover, the Dorpat bishop had often fought against the Livonian Knights, even to the extent of calling in foreign powers to aid against them. Therefore, there was an ancient tradition of independence in Dorpat. Now, in an era when the Livonian Confederation was unable to act in unison, the bishop, the nobles, and the burghers of Dorpat saw to their own salvation as best they could. That they miscalculated in their policy is hardly a matter of dispute: why they miscalculated, and what their plans were are questions still hotly debated.
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The failure of Dorpat and the Livonian Confederation to prevent an attack by Moscow caused the Livonians to look abroad for help. In effect, only King Sigismund was in a position to render sufficient aid to rescue the country.
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Nevertheless, the long-standing fear of his attempting to dominate the country caused the Livonians to hesitate and delay. Ever they sought to put off the day when independence would be acknowledged as lost. This day eventually came, but it dawned only slowly and did not cover more than the southern regions along the Dvina River. Ultimately, to understand the reasons for the outbreak of the war one returns to those presented by Balthasar Russow, whose Livonian Chronicle is one of the basic contemporary sources for Ivan IV: a failure on the part of the Germans governing Livonia.
Walther Kirchner, whose excellent book The Rise of the Baltic Question focused historians' attention on the Livonian Wars in , discussed the tribute in , the trade, and the Russian churches as important but minor matters compared to the German refusal to pay the Dorpat tax; the refusal infuriated a tsar who was already developing autocratic habits and who had massed an army on the border as a means of threatening the Livonians; meanwhile, the Livonians had made no preparations for war lest it "provoke" Ivan IV.
Ivan had not intended to become as involved in Livonian campaigns as he did, but he could not pass up the opportunity that had presented itself. In effect, according to Kirchner, the Livonian War was an accident. The Livonian Confederation asked for help, but since the Livonians refused to surrender their independence in return for the expensive and risky military aid, the King of Poland-Lithuania did not send armies. Thus, the way was open for further Russian advances. Erich Donnert's book on the Baltic Question is useful for understanding this aspect of the war.
Time erodes the best of scholarship; our conceptions of the past continually change as scholars bring forth new ideas and cast them into the arena, where they struggle on their own for acceptance. What is clear is that we dare not judge motivations for past actions by modern standards. Ivan could have analyzed his position in geo-political terms and concluded that he should attack his divided opponents before they united against him; but many historians do not believe that he thought in that manner.
The evidence seems to indicate that emotion, tradition, and accident were more important than rational planning. He may not have even intended to start a major war at all. The war had great consequences for Lithuania.
First of all, the Moscovite advance westward was delayed for years. Secondly, the long-delayed formal union with Poland was hastened and finally accomplished on terms that resulted in widespread Polonization. Lithuania, which had often leaned toward the east in the past, now cast its lot definitely with the west. Crowell, , pp. Hugh Graham. Lippencott, , pp. This was first printed in , but attracted little notice until the late Stalinist period, when historians saw a definite comparison between Ivan's policies and the contemporary preventive wars against Poland, the Baltic states, and Finland.
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