by Tamara MAKARENKO, Cand.Sc.(Biology), Forensic Medicine Office, Moscow Public Health Committee; and Tatyana PANOVA, Cand.Sc.(History), History Museum of the Moscow Kremlin
Thinking back to the dramatic pages of Russian history in the sixteenth century, the poet Apollon Maikov (1821-1897), who was also a Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, wrote these lines:
That was the age when Venetian poison Invisible, plague-like, lurked in everything: In an epistle and in the Eucharist, and in a winebowl, In meat and drink...
This might look like an overstatement had in not been for our latest research findings... Poison in Russia, as we now know, was a real and effective weapon in the power struggle...
The fitful events of the sixteenth century are usually connoted with the reign of Czar Ivan IV (1533-1584), otherwise known as Ivan the Terrible. Meanwhile the preceding period, just as eventful and enigmatic, somehow lingers in the shadow. The reign of Grand Prince Basil (Vassily) III (1505-1533) and the regency of his widow, Grand Princess Yelena Glinskaya (1533-1538), left a trace in Russian history just as well. Yet it is not the foreign and domestic policies pursued by Russia in those days-described in sufficient detail - that attract our attention. The lives of persons then in power are no less interesting to us. The more so as we are dealing with a regent princess, an exceptional case for the Russia of the Middle Ages when women were kept from playing first fiddle in politics. The eighteenth century, the time of "big-bosomed empresses" on the Russian throne, was yet far off.
The regency of our heroine. Grand Princess Yelena (Helen) Glinskaya, continued for about five years and caused heavy infighting at the princely court. But let us begin at the beginning and recall how this young high-bom woman, who represented one of the greatest families of the Grand Principality of Lithuania, turned up in Muscovy.
The Glinsky family came ... Read more