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Andrey Mikhailovich Kurbsky

Knyaz Andrey Mikhailovich Kurbsky (Андрей Михайлович Курбский in Russian) (1528-1583) was an intimate friend and then a leading political opponent of the Russian tzar Ivan the Terrible. His correspondence with the tzar is a unique source for the history of 16th-century Russia.

Kurbsky belonged to a family of Rurikid princes, which got its name from the village of Kurba near Yaroslavl. At an early age, he gained renown for the courage displayed in the annual campaigns against Kazan. During the decisive siege of Kazan he commanded the right flank of the Russian army and was wounded. Two years later, he defeated the Udmurt rebels and became a boyar. At that time, Kurbsky became one of the closest associates and advisors to the Tsar.

During the Livonian War, Kurbsky led the Russian troops against the fortress of Yuryev, and was victorious. After Ivan failed to renew his commission, Kurbsky defected to Lithuania on April 30, 1564, citing impending repressions as his reason. Later the same year he led a Polish-Lithuanian army against Russia and devastated the region of Velikie Luki. As a reward, Sigismund II August, king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, gave him the town of Kovel in Volhynia, where he lived peacefully, defending his Orthodox subjects from Polish encroachments. Kurbsky becoming the first Russian political emigre.[1]

Kurbsky is best remembered for a series of vitriolic letters he exchanged with the Tsar between 1564 and 1579. In 1573, he wrote a political pamphlet, which voiced the former independent princeling's disapproval of Ivan's slide towards absolutism. In his writings, Kurbsky blames the tsar for a number of pathologically cruel crimes, but historians still disagree as to whether his claims should be given credit. Kurbsky's language is remarkable for abundance of foreign loans, especially from Latin, which he had mastered in emigration. Edward Keenan, a scholar of Russian history, believes that the correspondence is a forgery [1].

A dramatized account of his life, in which he is depicted as the second most powerful aristocrat in Russia, only after the Tsar, who is constantly put under pressure by boyars that want to make him revolt against the imperial authority at Moscow, can be found in the epic work of Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein, "Ivan the Terrible".


  • Ruslan Skrynnikov. Ivan Grosny. Moscow: AST, 2001.
  1. ^ Andrzej Nowak, The Russo-Polish Historical Confrontation, Sarmatian Review, January 1997 Issue

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