Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
In 1652 one of the most remarkable Russian monarchs passed away at a rugged field camp somewhere in central Europe.
Finally succumbing to the dangers of living her life in the world’s direct centre, Eleanor of Russia released her hold over the cumbersome limbs of a union that spanned from Vienna to Archangelsk
Her marvellous personality had been the female counterweight to the intrusive and tricky mentality of her arch-rival and nemesis, Nicolas I Henri de Bourbon – King of France and Navarre. She had fought him through stealth and open warfare in a manic devotion to her new home in Austria. And in the end she paid with her life, leaving an incompetent son on the Habsburg throne and her homeland in the hands of the boyars
She had been a determined woman who held court in the heart of counter-reformatory Catholicism whilst keeping her Orthodox convictions alive with prayer and liturgy imported from Moscow. In her body the two old churches came as close as ever to a reunion as ever before, despite the fact that the Empress’ son Leopold was being raised into the warm embrace of the Catholic faith.
But whilst Eleanor guided Vienna through the times of trouble following in the wake of the wars with France, Russia continued to expand and thrive under the guidance of her appointed governors and loyal boyars.
Finalizing the submission of the Kazan and Nogai Khanates, the armies of the Tsaritsa
marched out of the city founded by her father, Tsaritsyn, to the shores of the Caspian and the mouths of the Volga wherefrom the brigades of the Orthodox swept the southern belly of mother Russia clear of Muslim unbelievers. Forts were razed and villages torched and plunder and prestige swelled in Moscow to the immense pleasure of the administration.
To the West, the free city of Pskov was incorporated into the Tsardom and the trading hub’s ramparts reinforced as a bulwark against the threats posed by both Protestant Sweden and Catholic Poland.
Russian cavalry march across the frozen steppes surrounding the river Don.
It was the fear of the latter that had haunted the Kremlin throughout the reign of Eleanor’s stewards. For whilst the Austrians hoped that the Polish-Lithuanian Sejm
would muster their massive hosts in defence against the Protestant onslaught, Russia looked with horror at the approximation between Vienna and Cracow.
Alas, Polish paranoia centred on a perceived Habsburg-Romanov encirclement of the Commonwealth broke Eleanor’s hope of swaying her Slavic cousins to the defence of the gates of Vienna. As a result, the relations between the Austrian and Polish governments deteriorated from lukewarm to ice-cold and as such the Hussaria was patrolling around Smolensk when Claude de Villeneuve took the Habsburg capital.
Whilst Austria stumbled into anarchy before the helpless eyes of Cardinal-Infante Maximillian von Habsburg, the Kremlin felt the winds blowing her way once again. Rushing the closest living relative to Eleanor unto the Russian throne, a nephew named Michael, the boyars and the emerging streltsy corps proclaimed de jure and de facto independence from their Habsburg entanglements.
Poland, however, instead of sighing in relief, immediately resolved to capitalize on their eastern neighbour’s turbulent domestic situation… and invaded.
In a series of wars that lasted 15 years (1652-1667), Russia came close to defeat when commonwealth forces laid siege to Moscow itself and shelled the city’s fortress viciously. Michael did not waver and thanks to the Polish king Casimir IV Sobieski’s distraction by the Swedish conquest of Danzig, the Orthodox armies drove the invaders back to Smolensk – cementing Russian suzerainty over the city for all eternity.
Slowly and steadily, the Tsardom lumbered westwards in pursuit of the Polish invaders, until in 1664, the Tsar found himself and his armies encamped outside the Golden Gate of Kiev – the enemy entrenched within. The city of Kiev, home to the very first Rus state, had for decades been under the iron heel of Lithuanian and Polish lordship and although Cossacks and other steppe tribes more loyal to Orthodox Kremlin than to papist Cracow had resisted the ‘Latins’, the town and its fortress were firmly in the hands of the commonwealth. That was until the Russian army entered ‘little Russia’ and laid waste to the Polish administrative system.
Still, it would take months of fruitless siege and untold sallies by the defenders before the city’s commander – a certain voivode named Janusz Radziwiłł – attempted, in union with supposedly advancing relief forces under the command of the Casimir’s son, attempted to break the cordon of Kiev.
Expansion of the Tsardom of Russia.
On a beautiful clear march morning, Radziwiłł bombarded the Russian trenches before leading his garrisoned battalions out of the city’s central gates in a surprise attack that caught the Tsar’s army completely off guard.
However, the Russians quickly resolved and despite suffering severe causalities, a number of regiments completed their deployment to the van of the camp in time to take the Polish onslaught head on and stall them.
Resisting the ferocious assault for several hours, the brigades anchored their left flank on the Dnieper whilst the Russian commander of the rear, Timofey Petrovich, directed the boyar cavalry out of their quarters and to the continuously more and more exposed flank of Radziwiłł’s stretched lines.
Whilst the stressed batteries on the walls of Kiev continued to spray death and destructions across the Orthodox camp, Petrovich’s horse companies stroked up their battle cries and under the command of two Cossack officers, Bulba and Tovkatsj, they hammered into the dismounted Hussaria that held the communication nerve between Kiev and the front alive.
Just as it seemed that the main Polish force was about to cut off from its vital stream of supplies and reinforcements fate intervened on the ‘Latin’ side.
Fires had been started on the edge of the Russian camp and as the Kiev artillery stopped its rain of death, Casimir’s son, Jan, stormed the trenches with fresh troops from the other side of the river. The famed Winged Hussars made good of their renown that day at the expense of the Orthodox.
Sweeping his mounted crack troops across the Orthodox positions like a painter would apply a brush to a screen, Jan Sobieski forced the Muscovite cavalry off the field and made mincemeat of the streltsy infantry and conscript footmen. The relief of Kiev had thus been achieved and the Russian counter-invasion of the Commonwealth buffer zones in the Ukraine (‘little Russia’) thwarted.
The Battle outside Kiev brought a definitive end to the Russian incursion into Polish-Lithuanian territory, but regular battles would still be frequent in the border areas and around Orthodox-held Smolensk and Chernigov.
Whilst his army fled in confusion, Petrovich none the less took command of the Russian left flank and led the streltsy regiments away in good order whilst the Polish relief forces were busy pursuing the shattered boyar formations. Many a boyar and Cossack were driven into the dark waters of the Dnieper where few made it to the other bank.
Tovkatsj had fallen when his company was engaged by Polish hussars, but Bulba rallied the faltering Orthodox Cossacks and dexterously led a good part of the cavalry away from Kiev. A story of the battle reports that Bulba, not wanting to leave anything for the Poles, halted his horse and dismounted in the midst of a swarm of Catholic arrows and bullets in order to pick up his pipe which he had lost during the retreat.
The two commanders met up not far from Kiev and brought the rather reduced Russian army back towards friendly Severia (historical area close to the city of Chernigov) where they made camp.
Despite his success at breaking the siege, Prince Sobieski was reluctant to commence a new offensive campaign reasoning that it would be more prudent to cement his base of operations on the Dnieper than to risk a new confrontation.
Thus what was later known as ‘the Polish Intervention’ became reduced to mere cavalry engagements between the various Cossack groups that divided themselves between the two warring sides.
In the course of three years the sporadic skirmishes died off and inactivity descended on the lines separating the ‘Latins’ from the Russians. Finding himself unable to drive the enemy from the occupied territories, Casimir IV resigned himself to surrendering the cities of Chernigov and Smolensk to the Muscovite Tsar alongside their respective surrounding areas.
The peace that descended on Eastern Europe in 1667 would be an uncertain peace. For although the Muscovite Tsardom had trumped the Polish invasion and successfully taken territory and important cities from the enemy, the Commonwealth remained a powerful neighbour – a neighbour that with the treaty of 1667 had an axe to grind with the Romanovs in Kremlin…
Polish emissaries attempt to negotiate a truce with Tsar Michael inside the Kremlin.
However, Michael would not live long to enjoy the spoils of his victory. In 1669 the Tsar passed away in Pskov and his son Alexis Romanov succeeded him as ruler of a vastly expanded Russia that faced many dangers as well as many opportunities.
To the South, the Ottoman Empire still held the Crimea as well as large chunks of the Caucasus – dominions that had become havens for Tartar raiders that still ventured into the Russian steppes in pursuit of loot and glory. Such Muslim footholds on the keystone of the Black Sea mattered little to the Tsar, however – for the Padishah of the Sublime State had other interests than expanding in the mountainous regions that separated Georgia from the domains of the Terek Cossacks.
In the East there lay a large, wild and bountiful land ripe for the taking of Alexis’ explorers and settlers. Not many of the original powerful Mongol and Kazan Khagnates remained and thus the route towards the rising sun seemed clear.
But for the time being it was the doings of the rearing Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the rising tension in the Baltic that filled the strategic planning of the Kremlin…
Do you know your AARland? What epic Russian AAR does this name refer to?