Vasili III of Russia. Who is who — Moscow Travel Guide

Vasili III of Russia

Vasili III Ivanovich was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1505 to 1533

St. Basil of Caesarea and prince Vasili III of Russia on icon
pinterest button

He was the son of Ivan III Vasiliyevich and Sophia Paleologue and was christened with the name Gavriil.

He had three brothers; Yuri, born in 1480, Simeon, born in 1487 and Andrei, born in 1490, as well as five sisters: Elena (born and died in 1474), Feodosiya (born and died in 1475), another Elena (born 1476), another Feodosiya (born 1485) and Eudoxia (born 1492).

Vasili III of Russia
pinterest button Vasili III of Russia André Thévet, Public Domain

Foreign affairs

Vasili III continued the policies of his father Ivan III and spent most of his reign consolidating Ivan's gains. Vasili annexed the last surviving autonomous provinces: Pskov in 1510, appanage of Volokolamsk in 1513, principalities of Ryazan in 1521 and Novgorod-Seversky in 1522.

Vasili also took advantage of the difficult position of Sigismund of Poland to capture Smolensk, the great eastern fortress of Lithuania (siege started 1512, ended in 1514), chiefly through the aid of the rebel Lithuanian, Prince Mikhail Glinski, who provided him with artillery and engineers.

The loss of Smolensk was an important injury inflicted by Russia on Lithuania in the course of the Russo-Lithuanian Wars and only the exigencies of Sigismund compelled him to acquiesce in its surrender (1522).

St. Basil of Caesarea and prince Vasili III of Russia on icon
pinterest button St. Basil of Caesarea and prince Vasili III of Russia on icon Shakko, GNU 1.2

Equally successful were Vasili's actions against the Crimean Khanate. Although in 1519 he was obliged to buy off the khan of the Crimea, Mehmed I Giray, under the very walls of Moscow, towards the end of his reign he established Russian influence on the Volga. In 1531–32 he placed the pretender Cangali khan on the throne of Kazan.

Domestic affairs

In his internal policy, Vasili III enjoyed the support of the Church in his struggle with the feudal opposition.

In 1521, metropolitan Varlaam was banished for refusing to participate in Vasili's fight against an appanage prince Vasili Ivanovich Shemyachich. Rurikid princes Vasili Shuisky and Ivan Vorotynsky were also sent into exile. The diplomat and statesman, Ivan Bersen-Beklemishev, was executed in 1525 for criticizing Vasili's policies. Maximus the Greek (publicist), Vassian Patrikeyev (statesman) and others were sentenced for the same reason in 1525 and 1531.

During the reign of Vasili III, the gentry's landownership increased; authorities were actively trying to limit immunities and privileges of boyars and nobility.

Family life

By 1526 when he was 47 years old, Vasili had been married to Solomonia Saburova for over 20 years with no heir to his throne being produced.

Conscious of her husband's disappointment, Solomonia tried to remedy this by consulting sorcerers and going on pilgrimages. When this proved unsuccessful, Vasili consulted the boyars, announcing that he did not trust his two brothers to handle Russia's affairs.

Grand Prince of Moscow, Vasily III, brings his bride, Elena Glinskaya, into the palace.
pinterest button Grand Prince of Moscow, Vasily III, brings his bride, Elena Glinskaya, into the palace. Klavdiy Lebedev, Public Domain

The boyars suggested that he take a new wife, and despite much opposition from the clergy, he divorced his barren wife and married Princess Elena Glinskaya, the daughter of a Serbian princess and niece of his friend Michael Glinski. Not many of the boyars approved of his choice, as Elena was of Catholic upringing.

Vasili was so smitten that he defied Russian social norms and trimmed his beard to appear younger. After three days of matrimonial festivity, the couple consummated their marriage, only to discover that Elena appeared to be just as sterile as Solomonia.

The Russian populace began suspect this to be a sign of God's disapproval of the marriage. However, to the great joy of Vasili and the populace, the new tsaritsa gave birth to a son, who succeeded him as Ivan IV. Three years later, a second son, Yuri was born. According to a story, Solomonia Saburova also bore a son in the convent where she had been confined, just several months after the controversial divorce.


Whilst out hunting on horseback near Volokolamsk, Vasili felt a great pain in his right hip, the result of an abscess. He was transported to the village of Kolp, where he was visited by two German doctors who were unable to stop the infection with conventional remedies.

Believing that his time was short, Vasili requested to be returned to Moscow, where he was kept in the Saint Joseph Cathedral along the way.

By 25 November 1533, Vasili reached Moscow and asked to be made a monk before dying. Taking on the name Varlaam, Vasili died at midnight, 4 December 1533.

Years of life: 25 March 1479 – 3 December 1533, Moscow

Useful Information

Vasili III Ivanovich
Russian: Василий III Иванович
also Basil
He was christened with the name Gavriil (Гавриил)

Vasili III

Reign6 November 1505 – 13 December 1533
Coronation14 April 1502
PredecessorIvan III
SuccessorIvan IV
ConsortSolomonia Saburova
Elena Glinskaya
IssueIvan Vasilevich
Yuri Vasilevich
Full name
Vasily Ivanovich
FatherIvan III
MotherSophia Paleologue
Born25 March 1479
Died3 December 1533 (aged 54)
Moscow, Grand Duchy of Moscow
BurialArchangel Cathedral
ReligionEastern Orthodox