Andrei Kurbskii

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kurbskii, Andrei Mikhailovich


Born 1528; died 1583. Russian political and military figure; writer and publicist. One of a line of Yaroslavl princes.

Kurbskii received a good education (he studied grammar, rhetoric, astronomy, and philosophy); Maksim the Greek exerted a great influence on the formation of his world view. In the 1540’s and 1550’s he was one of the individuals closest to Ivan IV Vasilievich. He occupied the highest administrative and military offices, was a member of the Selected Council, and participated in the Kazan campaigns of 1545–52. In connection with military failures in Livonia, the tsar in 1561 placed Kurbskii in charge of the Russian troops in the Baltic area; Kurbskii soon scored a number of victories over the Teutonic Knights and the Poles, after which he became voevoda (military commander) in Iur’ev (Dorpat).

Kurbskii, fearing disgrace after the fall of the government of A. F. Adashev, with whom he was close, fled from Iur’ev to Lithuania on Apr. 30, 1564; the Polish king granted him several estates in Lithuania (including the city of Kovel’) and in Volyn’, and he was accepted as a member of the royal council. In 1564 he headed one of the Polish armies in a war against Russia. Between 1564 and 1579 he sent Ivan IV three letters (initiating the famous correspondence between himself and the tsar), in which he accused him of cruelty and unjustified executions. In 1573 he wrote the History of the Grand Prince of Moscow, a political pamphlet that reflected the ideology of the big aristocracy, which opposed the strengthening of autocratic authority. This work represents at the same time the testimony of a contemporary regarding the 1547 uprising in Moscow, the taking of Kazan, the work of A. F. Adashev’s government (which Kurbskii called the Selected Council), the Livonian War, and other events. His writings are a valuable historical source and are outstanding for their high literary merit.


Soch, vol. 1: Sochineniia original’nye. St. Petersburg, 1914.


Iasinskii, A. N. Soch. Kniazia Kurbskogo kak istoricheskii material. [Kiev] 1889.
Zimin, A. A. “Kogda Kurbskii napisal ‘Istoriiu o velikom kniaze Moskovskom’?” Tr. Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury, vol. 18. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
Skrynnikov, R. G. “Kurbskii i ego pis’ma v Pskovo-Pecherskii monastyr’.” Ibid.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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To state my own conclusion plainly, Erusalimskii has not proven that Prince Andrei Kurbskii put together a miscellany of his own works some time before his death in 1583 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
If Erusalimskii is correct about the Kurbskii corpus, we can take solace in the notion that since the 19th century our field has made some modest, incremental advances in understanding the mind of a remarkable individual: Andrei Kurbskii. From another perspective, the skeptical view that the diverse texts in the miscellanies were written by various people, at various times, for various reasons, has the potential to enrich our understanding of multiple thought worlds.
Kalugin, Andrei Kurbskii i Ivan Graznyi (Teoretieheskie vzgliady i literaturnaia tekhnika drevnerusskogo pisatelia) (Moscow: Iazyki russkoi kultury, 1998), 17-23.
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Had Keenan concentrated on critiquing the Correspondence as a historical source and proved the mythical nature of many of its constructions, founded solely on the "testimony" of Ivan the Terrible or Andrei Kurbskii, it would have been much more difficult to criticize his work.
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