Mstislav Vladimirovich, son of Gita, since 1088 reigned in Novgorod, Rostov, Smolensk, Pereyaslavl and other cities, participated in princely congresses, in campaigns against the Polovtsians, played an outstanding role in organizing the defense of Novgorod land from the raids of western neighbors, became the Grand Duke Kiev in 1125. He died in 1132.
Chroniclers, and then some historians call him Mstislav the Great, thus paying a well-deserved tribute to this statesman. The ill-wishers of Vladimir Monomakh’s eldest son accuse him of not being able to stop the flaring up civil strife , not coping with the Polovtsians, that is, not completing his father’s business. Historians who assess Mstislav’s activities negatively, as it were, sign a verdict to all Monomashichs who allegedly did not solve the tasks assigned to them by history.
But is the verdict fair? Are the accusations against Mstislav the Great, whose years of great reign fall exactly at the time when the strife of the princes finally got out of Kiev’s control? The fading capital, which lost its former power without financial support from the Varangian path, in the second quarter of the XII century could no longer keep the large and small principalities in obedience. The pyramid of power created by the Rurikovichs with a top in Kiev began to collapse. Mstislav, no matter how great he was, could not stop this objective process of fragmentation . But that is why he is great because he was able to mitigate the consequences of these painful changes for the country.
Mstislav fought with civil strife in the ways and means that he considered necessary and important. To put an end to this evil, he decided to inflict a crushing blow on the princes of Polotsk, the descendants of Rogneda, who, in the opinion of the Grand Duke of Kiev, became the root cause of the strife. They really posed a constant threat to peace within the state, pursued an independent policy, and often did not obey the supreme authority.
They had a good reason. It is known that the mother of Vladimir I Svyatoslavich was the housekeeper Malusha, and not the legitimate wife of Rogned, whose descendants have been trying for more than a hundred years to win back their right to the Grand Duke’s throne from the descendants of Malusha.
In 1127, as punishment for the fact that the Polotsk princes refused to participate in the next campaign against the Polovtsy, Mstislav ordered the appanage princes of Turov, Vladimir, Kursk, Smolensk, and other cities to start military operations against the apostates all at once on the agreed day. Allied forces defeated the Polotsk citizens. Rogneda’s nest was destroyed. The princes of Polotsk with their families were exiled … to Constantinople.
However, the strife did not end. On the territory of the Kiev state, new centers of civil strife arose: Chernigov, Pereyaslavl, Novgorod, always striving for independence … A multi-headed dragon attacked the Russian land: Mstislav cut off one head, and several new ones grew up instead.
The future founder of Moscow, Yuri Vladimirovich, Prince of Suzdal, did not take part in the internecine struggle for the time being, oddly enough. All the years of his elder brother’s reign, Yuri sat in the Rostov-Suzdal land, was engaged in its arrangement, helping fellow citizens who fled here from strife to develop the lands of Opolye. The positive results of the economic activity of Yuri Vladimirovich in the Rostov- Suzdal land in the twenties and thirties will be noticed a little later, in the second half of the 12th century, when cities in the Zaokskaya oblast begin to emerge one after another, when the center of the country’s political life begins to move from the Dnieper region to the east.
After the death of Mstislav on April 15, 1132, the next son of Vladimir Monomakh, Yaropolk, took the grand throne in seniority, and from the same year, Prince of Suzdal Yuri Vladimirovich joined the active political life of Kievan Rus.
On Sunday, April 17, the solemn ceremony of Yaropolk’s accession to the Grand Duke’s throne took place. However, after the celebration, Yuri Vladimirovich did not leave for the Rostov-Suzdal land, where important things awaited him. This strange behavior is explained by the fact that in Kiev with the reign of Yaropolk, the situation of the Monomashichs worsened due to contradictions between them and the appanage princes, as well as between the appanage princes themselves.
The reason for the next discord was the vast Pereyaslavl region in the south of Kievan Rus. Chernigov and other appanage princes tried to tear this rich land to pieces, to pull it apart according to their destinies. Yaropolk behaved strangely in this matter: as if he had forgotten that he needed to take care of strengthening the central government, and not indulge the ambitions of appanage princes. Yuri Vladimirovich, anticipating trouble, left Kiev with his squad for Ostersky Gorodets, vigilantly watching the events from there.
By agreement with Yaropolk, Vsevolod burst into Pereyaslavl. This was a signal for other appanage princes – they quickly equipped squads. But the prince of Suzdal was ahead of them. “Vsevolod sat down in Pereyaslavl in the morning, and Yuri drove him out before lunch,” the chronicler testifies . It was truly a leopard jump. Having expelled his nephew from the city, Yuri returned Pereyaslavl to the central government and eight days later left for Gorodets.
But the matter did not end there. Several more times Monomakh’s grandchildren encroached on the city. Yuri Vladimirovich calmed down only when the principality of Pereyaslavskoe went to his brother Vyacheslav. Piously fulfilling his father’s order, he stood up for the Monomashic cause.
But the brothers did not always respond in kind. Vyacheslav, a man with oddities, with quirks, a sluggish, mediocre ruler, often rudely reprimanded the future founder of Moscow: “I was already bearded when you were just born.” In this remark, there is no despair of old people, when they no longer have enough words to admonish the young, it contains only the arrogance of a spoiled person, unkind and stupid.
Meanwhile, strife flared up every day. Yuri took part in it on the side of Yaropolk. Vsevolod Olgovich, the Chernigov prince, together with the princes Izyaslav and Svyatoslav Mstislavich, in the early spring of 1134, almost captured Kiev. Suddenly they attacked the suburbs, devastated them. “Some people were taken away, others were killed,” the chronicle says. “People could not cross the Dnieper and transport livestock.” The princes approached Kiev with their squads, stood for three days near the city and suddenly retreated and fled north to the Chernigov land.
Who scared the hijackers? Most likely, this was done by Yuri Vladimirovich, with whom they recently fought on Zhdanova Hill.