Elena Glinskaya ruled what would become Russia as regent for her son, wisely and ably in fact, until her life and reign were brought to brutal ends. Elena Vasilyevna Glinskaya was born in or around 1510, to Vasili Glinsky and Ana Glinskaya, a Serbian princess. The family claimed descent from a Mongol leader. By 1525, Grand Prince Vasili III of Moscow was determined to divorce his wife, Solomonia. Though she was very beautiful and a good person, she had not given birth to a child, and Vasili thought Elena would be perfect for the job of mothering an heir “because of the beauty of her face and her young age.”

The Russian Orthodox Church opposed the whole thing, but Vasili succeeded in divorcing his wife, and she was forced to take the veil after twenty years of marriage. Elena and Vasili married in 1526 when she was just fifteen and he was over thirty-one years older. Elena was under immense pressure to have a son for the next very tense four years, until she finally gave birth to Ivan Vasilievich, later Ivan IV of Moscow. She then had another son named Yuri. No more children would follow, as Vasili would die the next year.

On his deathbed, Vasili named Elena as regent for their oldest son Ivan, who was just three. We don’t know exactly if she legally held the position, only that she acted with the power of a regent. The boyars, or Russian nobles, answered to her, so she did have the power she needed. The period between Vasili and Elena’s deaths is known as the Reign of Elena. Her brothers-in-law were her biggest threats, but Elena had them both imprisoned. She was known to be a very capable leader, reforming currency to make a unified monetary system in her vast principality. She signed an armistice with Lithuania, built a defensive wall around Moscow, freed prisoners, and much more. 

There were, however, conflicts between the boyars, as there always are. Despite being a good ruler, it was those that tarnished the reputation of her reign. In 1538, she was poisoned by the boyars and died at the age of twenty-eight. Most historians believe that Elena was poisoned by the Shuisky family, who took power after Elena’s death. Her sons, Ivan and Yuri, were only pawns and were often left hungry and in tattered clothes. Ivan would go on to take power and crown himself as Tsar of Russia, not just Grand Prince of Moscow. He outdid Henry VIII and took eight wives, though two might have been fictional. They all also had less than happy fates: poisoned, poisoned, poisoned, imprisoned, murdered, imprisoned, drowned, and survived.

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