Alexander, Nevskoi

, grand duke of Russia, and a saint of the Russian church, is so often mentioned on account of the order of knighthood instituted to his honour by Peter the Great, and yet is so little known out of Russia, that an article may well be allowed him here. He was born in 1218, and seems to have been a man of strong character, of personal courage, and bodily | strength. The almost incessant wars in which his father Yaroslauf was engaged with Tshingis khan and the neighbouring horcles of Mongoies, inspired him early in life with a passion for conquest. Probably too an unhappy conceit entertained by the princes of those times and those countries, might have contributed somewhat to prepare Alexander for the part of the hero he. afterwards performed. This was the custom of conferring on young princes particular provinces as apanages or viceroyalties. Yaroslauf had in 1227 changed his residence at Novgorod for that of Pereyaslaf, leaving in the former place his two eldest sons, Feodor and Alexander, as his representative, under the guidance of two experienced boyars. However small the share that a boy of ten years old, as Alexander then was, could take in the government; yet it must have been of advantage to him to be thus initiated in a situation preparatory to the exercise of that power he was one day to enjoy in his own right. Five years afterwards Feodor died; and now Alexander was alone viceroy of Novgorod he was not an apanaged prince till 1239, when his father took possession of Vladimir. He now married a princess of the province of Polotzk, and the first care of his government was to secure the country against the attacks of the Tshudes (among whom are particularly to be understood the Esthonians), who were partly turbulent subjects, and partly piratical neighbours of the principality of Novgorod. To this end he built a line of forts along the river Shelonia, which falls into the Ilmenlake. But a more imminent danger soon furnished him with an opportunity of performing far greater service to his nation. Incited by the oppressions exercised by the Tartars on southern Russia, the northern borderers formed a league to subdue Novgorod; and thought it necessary to begin their enterprise the sooner, as, from the accounts they had received by one of their chiefs, who had gained a personal knowledge of Alexander at Novgorod, the young prince would shortly be too powerful for them. The warlike king of Denmark, Valdemar II. at that time possessed a considerable portion of Esthonia, together with Reval, which he had lately built .*


This account is conformable with that given in the Petersburg journals. However, it is necessary to mention that the whole of this transaction is very obscurely related by the Russian historians; and therefore, from their different representations, nothing is left but to take the most probable, since none can be perfectly relied on. In general, what is here mentioned of the Danes, is attributed to the Swedes.

He had long been in alliance with the | Teutonic knights of Livonia, which he renewed in 1233; ift which treaty they agreed upon a combined expedition against the Russians. This was accordingly undertaken in 1239. A very considerable fleet came to land on the banks of the Neva, while the Swedes were coming down from Ladoga to attack them by land. An embassy was sent to Alexander, commanding him immediately to submit, or to stake his fortunes on a decisive battle. He made choice of the latter. Too near the enemy, and too distant from his father, he had no hope of any foreign succour, and his army was extremely weak. In the presence of his people he solemnly implored the assistance of heaven, was certified of it by the formal benediction of the archbishop; and thus raised the efficacy of the only support he had, the courage of his soldiers. Having their strength increased by the persuasion that the hosts of heaven were on theic­'side, they went to battle, and began the attack. This was at six in the morning. The two armies were closely engaged during the whole day, and the slaughter continued till night put an end to the contest. The field was covered with the bodies of the slain. Three ship-loads of them were sunk in the sea, and the rest were thrown together in pits. On the side of the Novgorodians only 20 men were killed, say the chronicles; perhaps by an error of the writers, perhaps in the meaning that only the principal citizens of Novgorod are reckoned. But most likely this statement is one of those poeac extravagancies which are not to be mistaken in perusing the Russian accounts of this battle. In the ancient history of all nations a certain lively colouring is used in describing the decisive transactions of early times; a natural consequence of the intimate concern the chronologer takes in the successes of his conntry, and the enthusiasm with which he wishes to represent it as a nation of heroes. Thus the old historians mention six mighty warriors, who, by some signal act in this battle, have handed down their names to the latest posterity. It is impossible not to imagine we are perusing a fragment of romance, when we read, that Gavriela Alexiri pursued a king’s son on horseback into a ship, fell into the sea, came back unhurt, and slew a general and two bishops. Sbislauf was armed only with an axe, Jacob Polotshanin with nothing but a sword, and both killed a multitude of the ene r my. Sava rushed into the enemy’s camp, destroyed the tent of the general, &c. Alexander, our heroic saint, is | also indebted to this poetical colouring (perhaps to a vulgar ballad) for his canonization and his fame. He sprung like a lion upon the leader of the hostile troops, and cleft his face in two with a stroke of his sword. This personage, according to the Russian annalists, was no less a man than the king of the northern regions himself. And this act it was that procured our Alexander the surname of Nevskoi, i.e. the conqueror on the banks of the Neva. Peter the Great took a politic advantage of the enthusiasm of the nation, for this Alexander, in order to procure a religious interest for his new city of Petersburg. On the spat where, according to the common opinion, the holy hero had earned the glorious name of Nevskoi, he caused the foundations of a monastery to be laid in 1712, to which he afterwards, in 1723, caused the bones of the great duke to be brought. Peter gave orders that the relics of the saints of Volodimer should be brought to Petersburg (a distance of 700 miles) attended by great solemnities. Between 300 and 400 priests accompanied the procession. On their arrival, the emperor himself, with all his court, went out to meet them; and the coffin, inclosed in a case of copper strongly gilt, was deposited in the monastery with great ceremony. This monastery of St. Alexander Nevskoi is about five versts from the castle at Petersburg, in an agreeable situation on the bank of the Neva. It has gradually been enlarged by the several sovereigns since the emperor Peter; and the present empress has built a magnificent church within its walls, and a sumptuous mausoleum for herself and her descendants. The shrine of the saint is of massy silver, of great value, but both the workmanship and the inscription in a bad taste. The order of knighthood of St. Alexander Nevskoi was properly instituted by Peter the Great in 1722; but he died before he had appointed the knights. This was done by Catherine I. in June 1725. The number of the knights are at present about 135, among whom are one or more crowned heads. 1

Compiled for the last edition of this Dictionary by one of its Editors, a gentleman well versed in Russian history.—Coxe’s Travels into Russia.