The Tale of Michael of Tver, Son of Yaroslav
In November 1318, during the political struggle between the princes of Tver and Moscow for the grand principality of Vladimir, Prince Michael of Tver was killed in the Horde due to the intrigues of the Moscow Prince Yuri, son of Daniel. This event formed the subject of The Tale of Michael of Tver, Son of Yaroslav written in late 1319 or early 1320 by someone who witnessed the prince’s murder.14 Most likely its author was Abbot Alexander of the Page Monastery in Tver. In general character and genre the Tale is akin to The Life of Michael of Chernigov discussed above. But whereas the latter work stresses the religious nature of the prince’s feat (he goes to the Horde to denounce the “impious faith”), the cause of the prince’s death is treated differently in The Tale of Michael of Tver.
The Prince of Tver, like the Prince of Chernigov, sets off to the Horde knowing that death awaits him, but he goes there to avert the danger that is threatening his principality from the Horde, to sacrifice himself for the well-being of his land. When the boyars and the prince’s sons suggest that Michael stay at home and that they go to the Horde in his place, the prince replies that by doing so he would save his life, but not avert the disaster threatening the principality of Tver. “You see, my children,” Prince Michael says, “the khan does not summon you, my children, nor anyone else but me to him. It is my head that he seeks.” 15
Michael’s sacrifice is a patriotic act. He appears as the ideal princely ruler. In contrast to Michael of Tver, Prince Yuri of Moscow is in league with the Horde and hostile to Tver. This condemnation of the prince of Moscow is particularly obvious in the final episode, the account of Michael’s death. The Mongol temnik (military commander) Kavgady and Prince Yuri ride up to the naked body of the murdered prince prostrate on the ground. Kavgady is the main denouncer and cunning enemy of the prince in the Tale. But even he, on seeing the prince’s dead body, says angrily to the prince of Moscow: “Is he not your elder brother, like a father unto you, then why does his abandoned body lie naked?” By putting these accusing words in the mouth of Kavgady the author wishes to stress the baseness of the Moscow prince’s act.
The laconic ending of the Tale, in keeping with the whole spirit of the work, stresses the main idea of the work very effectively and testifies vividly to its literary perfection. It describes the moving of Michael’s body: “And they put the body on a wide plank and laid it in a cart, and bound it firm with rope, and carried it across the river called Adezh, which means ‘grief (in Russian); and indeed, brothers, there is grief today for all those who saw the violent death of our lord Prince Michael at that time.”
The Tver story of Prince Michael could not fail to move the Russian reader by its theme and character.
Although created in Tver, The Tale of Michael of Tver became firmly established in Moscow chronicle-writing also. But the Moscow chroniclers sensed the anti-Muscovite sentiment in it and with each redaction of their chronicles omitted or revised everything that showed Yuri of Moscow in a bad light, leaving out the author’s anti-Muscovite attacks. Thus The Tale of Michael of Tver became a story about the death of a Russian prince in the Horde for the land of Russia which was in keeping with the objective historical facts.