ALEXANDER NEVSKY, SAINT (1220-1263), grand-duke of Vladimir, was the second son of the grand-duke Yaroslav. His childhood and youth were spent at Great Novgorod, whither his father sent him to rule (1228) with some guardian boyars. In 1239 he married Alexandra, daughter of Prince Bryachislav of Polotsk. At an early age he distinguished himself in constant warfare with the Germans, Swedes and Lithuanians, who tried to wrest Novgorod and Pskov from Russia while she was still suffering from the effects of the terrible Tatar invasion.
The most notable of these battles, whereby he won his honorific epithet of Nevsky (i.e. of the Neva), was fought on the banks of the Neva (July 15 1240) against the famous Swedish statesman, Birger Jarl, whom he utterly defeated, besides wounding him with his lance. In the following year the Teutonic Order, in conjunction with the Order of the Sword, succeeded in capturing Pskov; but Alexander recovered it in 1242, advanced into Livonia, and on the 5th of April defeated the knights on the ice of Lake Peipus and compelled them in the ensuing peace to renounce all their conquests. He also prevented the Swedes (in 1256) from settling in South Finland. On the death of his father (1246) Alexander and his younger brother Andrew went on a two years’ journey into Mongolia to obtain their yarluiki, or letters of investiture, from the Grand Khan, who then disposed of the fate of all the Russian princes. He returned (1250) as grand-duke of Kiev and Novgorod, while to Andrew was given the far more important grand- duchy of Vladimir.
In 1252, however, the Tatars themselves expelled Andrew and placed Alexander on the throne of Vladimir. Alexander henceforth did his best for his country by humbling himself before the Tatars so as to give them no pretext for ravaging the land again. Most of his spare money he devoted to the ransoming of the numerous Russian captives detained at the Golden Horde. But the men of Novgorod, in their semi-independent republic, continued (1255-1257) to give the grand-duke trouble, their chief grievance being the imposition of a Tatar tribute, which they only submitted to in 1259 on the rumour of an impending Tatar invasion. In 1262 the Tatar tribute was felt so grievously all over Russia that preparations were made for a general insurrection, and Alexander, who knew that an abortive rebellion would make the yoke heavier, was obliged to go to the Horde in person to prevent the Tatars from again attacking Russia. He stayed at Sarai, their Volgan capital, all the Winter, and not only succeeded in obtaining a mitigation of the tribute, but also the abolition of the military service previously rendered by the Russians to the Tatars. This was his last service to his country. He died on his way home from the Horde, and in the words of his contemporary, the metropolitan Cyril, “with him the sun of Russia set.” The Orthodox Church has canonized the ruler who gave his whole life for Russia and the Orthodox faith. His relics, discovered in 1380, were in 1724 transferred by Peter the Great from Vladimir to St. Petersburg.
Source: 1911 encyclopedia.
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