Events take place in 1478 during the reign of Iann III, which assimilates the leveled principalities into a single power. Novgorodians do not want to part with these grand dukes freemen, do not agree to join their lands to Muscovy and decide to resist the numerous army of the sovereign.
The sound of the bell called the townspeople to the Great Square. The famous townsman Delinsky from the frontal place announces the people’s veche: Prince Moscow sent a boyar of Kholmsky, who read the demands of John.
In a long speech, the boyar calls citizens of Novgorod to join the Moscow principality, rebukes for prosperity, trade and friendly ties with Poland and Lithuania while Russia is drowning in blood. The sovereign will not stop, until he crushes the foreign yoke. If Novgorod does not want voluntary adherence – a brave army, ready to crush the Tatars, will appear and pacify the rebels. So peace or war?
After the ardent speech of the envoy Ioanov, under the cheers
of the crowd, the famous town-dweller Martha Boretska, is rising to the frontal place. She asks: is it really the fault of the Novgorodians in their well-being? Novgorod did not participate in the feuds of the princes, but bravely defended itself against Batu, who wanted to tear down the city. Fathers preferred honor and freedom to slavery. If the Novgorodians go to bow to John – they will lose both glory and prosperity.
The people do not let the posadnitsa finish speaking, calls for war are heard louder. The ambassador with sorrow agrees: let there be war. Everywhere in the city, the alarm is heard as a sign of war. Marfa hurried to her grandfather – the pious Theodosius. The elder sees disaster. With her, the woman brought the young orphan Miroslava, asks to be blessed with a knight to fight. In the morning, Martha convinces the council to establish Miroslava as its leader.
Sensing the evil, on the eve of the battle, Martha gives her daughter Xenia for Miroslava. The bride himself is crowned by the bishop himself. Marfa tells the newlyweds his story, what a gentle wife was. Only after the
death of his beloved husband, that he lived and breathed his fatherland, she became a defender of Novgorod’s liberties. The messenger sent to the neighbors returned with an unhappy news: Pskov refused to support Novgorod. The defenders began to arm even more resolutely and stepped forward to meet the select army of the sovereign.
For a long time there was no news from the battlefield. Then a chariot appeared in the clouds of dust. Martha immediately realized: Miroslav was killed, John – the winner. In a cruel secession, many Novgorodians were killed, and two sons of Martha were killed. The posadnitsa asks the citizens: do not they regret the disobedience? If they crash – let her head be sent to John, he will forgive the others. The townspeople are ready to die, but not to surrender Novgorod. The battles are boiling again. John, unable to defeat the city in open battle, passes to a long siege.
There is a famine, in the fights the last desperate defenders are dying, the enemies of Marfa begin to murmur ever more loudly. The elder Feodosia is elected as a posadnik, he hands over the keys to Novgorod to the victor. John forgives all the townspeople, he only needs one sacrifice… Having risen on the scaffold, Martha exclaims: “I die a Novgorod citizen.”
As a sign of the abolition of the Novgorod veche, the bell is removed from the tower and taken to Moscow.