The Poles opened the campaign by crossing the frontiers with a large army, seizing several minor cities and laying siege to the important fortress of Polotzk. After a long siege, which constituted one of those terrific tragedies of blood and woe with which the pages of history are filled, but which no pen can describe and no imagination can conceive, the city, a pile of gory and smouldering ruins, fell into the hands of the Poles. Battle after battle, siege after siege ensued, in nearly all of which the Poles were successful. They were guided by their monarch in person, a veteran warrior, who possessed extraordinary military skill. The blasts of winter drove both parties from the field. But, in the earliest spring, the campaign was opened again with redoubled energy. Again the Poles, who had obtained strong reinforcements of troops from Germany and Hungary, were signally successful. Though the fighting was constant and arduous, the whole campaign was but a series of conquests on the part of Stephen, and when the snows of another winter whitened the fields, the Polish banners were waving over large portions of the Russian territory. The details of these scenes are revolting. Fire, blood and the brutal passions of demoniac men were combined in deeds of horror, the recital of which makes the ears to tingle.
Before the buds of another spring had opened into leaf, the contending armies were again upon the march. Poland had now succeeded in enlisting Sweden in her cause, and Russia began to be quite seriously imperiled. Riga, on the Dwina, soon fell into the hands of the Poles, and their banners were resistlessly on the advance. Ivan IV., much dejected, proposed terms of peace. Stephen refused to treat unless Russia would surrender the whole of Livonia, a province nearly three times as large as the State of Massachusetts, to Poland. The tzar was compelled essentially to yield to these hard terms.
The treaty of peace was signed on the 15th of January, 1582. Ivan IV. surrendered to Poland all of Livonia which bordered on Poland, which contained thirty-four towns and castles, together with several other important fortresses on the frontiers. A truce was concluded for ten years, should both parties live so long. But should either die, the survivor was at liberty immediately to attack the territory of the deceased. No mention whatever was made of Sweden in this treaty. This neglect gave such offense to the Swedish court, that, in petty revenge, they sent an Italian cook to the Polish court as an embassador with the most arrogant demands. Stephen very wisely treated the insult, which he probably deserved, with contempt.