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Ivan the Terrible—Tsar of Russia

August 25th, 1530, Moscow, Russia, 6:00 PM, LMT. (Source: Ivan the Terrible by Robert Payne) Died, March 18, 1584, OS, Moscow, Russia.

(Ascendant, Aquarius: Sun conjunct Mars in Virgo; Moon, Venus and Jupiter all loosely conjunct in Libra; Mercury retrograde in Leo; Saturn in Gemini conjunct the IC; Uranus in Cancer; Neptune in Pisces; Pluto in Capricorn oppose Juno)   

Ivan was an unusually complex and tortured man—intensely religious yet outrageously cruel. While he contributed to a number of needed reforms (for instance, of the army and the legal system), and the expansion foreign trade, he also ruled tyrannically in a bizarre manner. It is said that the death of his first wife (he married seven times—stellium in Libra with a Venus/Jupiter conjuction, Uranus in H5 square Jupiter and Venus) deranged his mind and led to his cruelties. Pluto from H12 opposed the asteroid of marriage, Juno in H6, showing the loss or destruction of his partners.           

His Sun/Mars conjunction in sixth ray Virgo reinforced the cruel tendencies of his first and sixth ray combination. Megalomania was enflamed by Mercury, ruler of his Virgo Sun, place, retrograde, in egoistic Leo. Aquarius, his Ascendant, contributed to his eccentricity; and his capacity to be pathologically detached from his cruel behavior (followed by intense fits of remorse, penitence and self-castigation—sixth and fourth rays).


Tsar Ivan the Terrible, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Ivan IV Vasilyevich

(August 25, 1530, Moscow – March 18, 1584, Moscow) was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547 and was the first ruler of Russia to assume the title of tsar (or czar). His long reign saw the conquest of Tartary[citation needed] and Siberia and subsequent transformation of Russia into a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. This tsar retains his place in the Russian tradition simply as Ivan Grozny (which translates into English as Ivan the Fearsome). He is commonly referred to in English as Ivan the Terrible with "terrible" in the somewhat archaic sense of "inspiring fear".

Early reign
Ivan (or Ioann, as his name is rendered in Church Slavonic) was a long-awaited son of Vasili III. Upon his father's death, he formally came to the throne at the age of three, but his minority was dominated by regents. Initially his mother Elena Glinskaya acted as regent, but she died when Ivan was only eight. She was replaced as regent by boyars from the Shuisky family until Ivan assumed power in 1544. According to his own letters, Ivan customarily felt neglected and offended by the mighty boyars from the Shuisky and Belsky families. These traumatic experiences may have contributed to his hatred of the boyars and to his mental instability. He was known to throw cats and dogs out of the Kremlin windows, among other cruel acts.

Ivory throne of Ivan the Terrible.Ivan was crowned tsar with Monomakh's Cap at the Cathedral of the Dormition at age sixteen on January 16, 1547. Despite calamities triggered by the Great Fire of 1547, the early part of his reign was one of peaceful reforms and modernization. Ivan revised the law code (known as the sudebnik), created a standing army (the streltsy), established the Zemsky Sobor, the council of the nobles (known as the Chosen Council), and confirmed the position of the Church with the Council of the Hundred Chapters, which unified the rituals and ecclesiastical regulations of the entire country. He introduced the local self-management in rural regions, mainly in the Northeast of Russia, populated by the state peasantry. During his reign the first printing press was introduced to Russia (although the first Russian printers Ivan Fedorov and Pyotr Mstislavets had to flee from Moscow to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania).

In 1547 Hans Schlitte, the agent of Ivan, employed handicraftsmen in Germany for work in Russia. However all these handicraftsmen were arrested in Lübeck at the request of Poland and Livonia. The German merchant companies ignored the new port built by Ivan on the river Narva in 1550 and delivered the goods still in the Baltic ports owned by Livonia. Russia remained isolated from sea trade.

Ivan formed new trading connections, opening up the White Sea and the port of Arkhangelsk to the Muscovy Company of English merchants. In 1552 he defeated the Kazan Khanate, whose armies had repeatedly devastated the Northeast of Russia [1], and annexed its territory. In 1556, he annexed the Astrakhan Khanate and destroyed the largest slave market on the river Volga. These conquests complicated the migration of the aggressive nomadic hordes from Asia to Europe through Volga and transformed Russia into a multinational and multiconfessional state. He had St. Basil's Cathedral constructed in Moscow to commemorate the seizure of Kazan. Legend has it that he was so impressed with the structure that he had the architects blinded, so that they could never design anything as beautiful again.

Ivan married 7 times, sometimes divorcing his wife a week after the marriage.Other less positive aspects of this period include the introduction of the first laws restricting the mobility of the peasants, which would eventually lead to serfdom. The dramatic change in Ivan's personality is traditionally linked to his near-fatal illness in 1553 and the death of his first wife, Anastasia Romanovna. Ivan suspected boyars of poisoning his wife and of plotting to replace him on the throne with his cousin, Vladimir of Staritsa. In addition, during that illness Ivan had asked the boyars to swear an oath of allegiance to his eldest son, an infant at the time. Many boyars refused, deeming the tsar's health too hopeless to survive. This angered Ivan and added to his distrust of the boyars. There followed brutal reprisals and murders of innocent people, including Metropolitan Philip and Prince Alexander Gorbatyi-Shuisky.

Also problematic was the 1565 formation of the Oprichnina. The Oprichnina was the section of Russia (mainly the Northeast) directly ruled by Ivan and policed by his personal servicemen, the Oprichniki. This whole system of Oprichnina has been viewed by some historians as a tool against the omnipotent hereditary nobility of Russia (boyars) who opposed the absolutist drive of the tsar, while others have interpreted it as a sign of the paranoia and mental deterioration of the tsar.

Later reign
The latter half of Ivan's reign was far less successful. Although Khan Devlet I Giray of Crimea repeatedly devastated Moscow region and even set Moscow on fire in 1571, the tsar supported Yermak's conquest of Tatar Siberia, adopting a policy of empire-building, which led him to launch a victorious war of seaward expansion to the west, only to find himself fighting the Swedes, Lithuanians, Poles, and the Livonian Teutonic Knights.

For twenty-four years the Livonian War dragged on, damaging the Russian economy and military but winning Russia no territory. In the 1560s the combination of drought and famine, Polish-Lithuanian raids, Tatar attacks, and the sea-trading blockade carried out by the Swedes, Poles and the Hanseatic League devastated Russia. The price of grain increased by a factor of ten. Epidemics of the plague killed 10,000 in Novgorod. In 1570 the plague killed 600-1000 in Moscow daily. [2]. Ivan's closest advisor, Prince Andrei Kurbsky, defected to the Lithuanians, headed the Lithuanian troops and devastated the Russian region of Velikiye Luki. This treachery deeply hurt Ivan. As the Oprichnina continued, Ivan became mentally unstable and physically disabled. In one week, he could easily pass from the most depraved orgies to prayers and fasting in a remote northern monastery.

Ivan the Terrible killing his son by Ilya RepinBecause he gradually grew unbalanced and violent, the Oprichniks under Malyuta Skuratov soon got out of hand and became murderous thugs. They massacred nobles and peasants, and conscripted men to fight the war in Livonia. Depopulation and famine ensued. What had been by far the richest area of Russia became the poorest. In a dispute with the wealthy city of Novgorod, Ivan ordered the Oprichniks to murder inhabitants of this city, which was never to regain its former prosperity. Between thirty and forty thousand might have been killed during the infamous Massacre of Novgorod in 1570; many others were deported elsewhere.[3] Yet the official death toll named 1,500 of Novgorod big people (nobility) and only mentioned about the same number of smaller people. Many modern researchers estimate number of victims between two and three thousand. (After the famine and epidemics of 1560s the population of Novgorod did not exceed 10,000-20,000.) [4]

In 1581, Ivan beat his pregnant daughter-in-law for wearing immodest clothing, causing a miscarriage. His son, also named Ivan, upon learning of this, engaged in a heated argument with his father, which resulted in Ivan striking his son in the head with his pointed staff, causing his son's (accidental) death. This event is depicted in the famous painting by Ilya Repin, Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan on Friday, November 16, 1581 better known as Ivan the Terrible killing his son.

Death and legacy
Ivan's murder of his son brought about the extinction of the Rurik Dynasty and the Time of Troubles.Although it is thought by many that Ivan died while setting up a chess board, it is more likely that he died while playing chess with Bogdan Belsky on March 18, 1584. When Ivan's tomb was opened during renovations in the 1960s, his remains were examined and discovered to contain very high amounts of mercury, indicating a high probability that he was poisoned. Modern suspicion falls on his advisors Belsky and Boris Godunov (who became tsar in 1598). Three days earlier, Ivan had allegedly attempted to rape Irina, Godunov's sister and Feodor's wife. Her cries attracted Godunov and Belsky to the noise, whereupon Ivan let Irina go, but Belsky and Godunov considered themselves marked for death. The tradition says that they either poisoned or strangled Ivan in fear for their own lives. The mercury found in Ivan's remains may also be related to treatment for syphilis, which it is speculated that Ivan had. Upon Ivan's death, the ravaged kingdom was left to his unfit and childless son Feodor.

D.S. Mirsky called Ivan "a pamphleteer of genius". The epistles attributed to him are the masterpieces of old Russian (perhaps all Russian) political journalism. They may be too full of texts from the Scriptures and the Fathers, and their Church Slavonic is not always correct. But they are full of cruel irony, expressed in pointedly forcible terms.

Ivan's repentance: he asks a father superior of the Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery to let him take the tonsure at his monastery.The shameless bully and the great polemicist are seen together in a flash when he taunts runaway Kurbsky with the question: "If you are so sure of your righteousness, why did you run away and not prefer martyrdom at my hands?" Such strokes were well calculated to drive his correspondent into a rage. "The part of the cruel tyrant elaborately upbraiding an escaped victim while he continues torturing those in his reach may be detestable, but Ivan plays it with truly Shakespearian breadth of imagination".[5].

Besides his letters to Kurbsky he wrote other satirical invectives to men in his power. The best is his letter to the abbot of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, where he pours out all the poison of his grim irony on the unascetic life of the boyars, shorn monks, and those exiled by his order. His picture of their luxurious life in the citadel of ascetism is a masterpiece of trenchant sarcasm.

Ivan IV of Russia

Ivan IV "the Terrible" of Russia (1530-1584) was a cruel tyrant, who never knew the meaning of moderation; he drank too much, laughed too loudly and hated and loved too fiercely. And he never forgot anything. Ivan was definitely smart and despite his cruelty, his reign is a great one in Russian annals. In Russia Ivan was called "Grozny", which has always been translated to "the Terrible", but actually means "the Awesome".

Ivan was only 3 years old when his father died. His uncle Yuri challenged his rights to the throne, was arrested and imprisoned in a dungeon. There he was left to starve. Ivan's mother, Jelena Glinsky, assumed power and was regent for five years. She had Ivan's other uncle killed, but a short time afterwards she suddenly died, almost surely poisoned. A week later her confidant, Prince Ivan Obolensky 1, was arrested and beaten to death by his jailers. While his mother had been indifferent toward Ivan, Obolensky's sister, Agrafena, had been his beloved nurse. Now she was sent to a convent.

Not yet 8 years old, Ivan was an intelligent, sensitive boy and an insatiable reader. Without Agrafena to look after him, Ivan's loneliness deepened. The boyars alternately neglected or molested him; Ivan and his deaf-mute brother Yuri often went about hungry and threadbare. No one cared about his health or well being and Ivan became a beggar in his own palace. A rivalry between the Shuisky and the Belsky families escalated into a bloody feud. Armed men roamed the palace, seeking out enemies and frequently bursting into Ivan's quarters, where they shoved the Grand Prince aside, overturned the furniture and took whatever they wanted. Murders, beatings, verbal and physical abuse became commonplace in the palace. Unable to strike out at his tormentors, Ivan took out his frustrations on defenceless animals; he tore feathers off birds, pierced their eyes and slit open their bodies.

The ruthless Shuiskys gradually gained more power. In 1539 the Shuiskys led a raid on the palace, rounding up a number of Ivan's remaining confidants. They had the loyal Fyodor Mishurin skinned alive and left on public view in a Moscow square. On December 29, 1543, 13-year-old Ivan suddenly ordered the arrest of Prince Andrew Shuisky, who was reputed to be a cruel and corrupt person. He was thrown into an enclosure with a pack of starved hunting dogs. The rule of the boyars had ended.

By then, Ivan was already a disturbed young man and an accomplished drinker. He threw dogs and cats from the Kremlin walls to watch them suffer, and roamed the Moscow streets with a gang of young scoundrels, drinking, knocking down old people and raping women. He often disposed of rape victims by having them hanged, strangled, buried alive or thrown to the bears. He became an excellent horseman and was fond of hunting. Killing animals was not his only delight; Ivan also enjoyed robbing and beating up farmers. Meanwhile he continued to devour books at an incredible pace, mainly religious and historical texts. At times Ivan was very devote; he used to throw himself before the icons, banging his head against the floor. It resulted in a callosity at his forehead. Once Ivan even did a public confession of his sins in Moscow.

In 1547 Ivan was finally crowned Tsar of all Russians. He had taken methodical and meticulous care in preparing for his coronation. Later, when he decided to choose a wife, Ivan had eligible young Princesses and daughters of noblemen presented to him in a kind of 'Miss Russia Contest'. He instantly fell for the beauty and charm of Anastasia Romanovna and married her. By all accounts Anastasia had a quieting effect on Ivan. He called her his "little heifer" and they were to have 13 years of wedded bless. Anastasia bore him six children of whom only two survived infancy.

In the first years of his reign Ivan was advised by three devote men: Alexej Adasjev, the priest Silvester and the metropolitan Macarius. Ivan reformed the government and reduced both corruption and the influence of the boyar families. He also reformed the church and the army, creating an elite force, the Streltsi. Subsequently, Ivan conquered the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan near the Wolga River. In 1558 he conquered the Baltic cities Narva and Polotsk and started trading directly with England.

In the midst of these wars, in March 1553, Ivan had fallen ill with a high fever. During his illness Ivan demanded the Princes and boyars to swear an oath of allegiance to his baby son Dmitri, but most were unwilling to do so. Ivan recovered, but he never forgave the treachery of those around him when they thought he was dying. Henceforth his policy was to set up a strong centralised state and to oppress and destroy his enemies within it. A few months later the Royal couple was visiting a monastery to give thanks to God for Ivan's recovery, when a nurse accidentally dropped Dmitri into the river. The baby drowned.

In the summer of 1560 Anastasia succumbed to a lingering illness. At her death Ivan suffered a severe emotional collapse. He banged his head on the floor in full view of the court and smashed his furniture. His suspicion deepened into paranoia. Angry and depressed, with his old cruelty resurfacing, Ivan raged against the boyars. He suspected them of having Anastasia 2 poisoned and although he had no actual evidence against the boyars, he had a number of them tortured and executed. His advisor Adasjev died in prison, Silvester was exiled and in 1563 Macarius died of natural causes. Ivan had alternately violent fits of temper and feelings of remorse, while blasphemy and superstition succeeded his pious moods.

Shortly before Christmas in 1564, Ivan suddenly packed his belongings and treasures, secretly left Moscow and announced his intention to abdicate. The populace called for his return. After a month of negotiations Ivan agreed to come back, demanding absolute power to punish anyone he considered disloyal and to dispose of their estates as he wished. It is likely that Ivan deliberately used his threat as a weapon against the boyars' resistance to strengthen his position as absolute ruler of Russia.

The instruments of Ivan's new rule were the 'Oprichniki', who were handpicked by Ivan and had to swear him a personal oath of allegiance. The mere sight of the Oprichniki instilled fear: they dressed in black and rode black horses3. Many were criminals4 without any remorse about killing anyone Ivan disliked. The Oprichniki didn't hesitate to burst into a church during mass, either abducting the priest or murdering him in front of the altar. Subsequently, Ivan founded a pseudo-monastic order: he was the 'abbot' and his Oprichniki were the 'monks'. They regularly performed sacrilegious masses that were followed by extended orgies of sex, rape and torture. Frequently Ivan would act as master of the rituals, in which, with sharp and hissing-hot pincers, ribs were torn out of men's chests. Drunken licentiousness was alternated with passionate acts of repentance. After throwing himself down before the altar with such vehemence that his forehead would be bloody and covered with bruises, Ivan would rise and read sermons on the Christian virtues to his drunken retainers.

Ivan the Terrible used to carry a metal-pointed staff with him, which he used to lash out at people who offended him. Once, he had peasant women stripped naked and used as target practice by his Oprichniki. Another time, he had several hundred beggars drowned in a lake. A boyar was set on a barrel of gunpowder and blown to bits. Jerome Horsey wrote how Prince Boris Telupa "was drawn upon a long sharp-made stake, which entered the lower part of his body and came out of his neck; upon which he languished a horrible pain for 15 hours alive, and spoke to his mother, brought to behold that woeful sight. And she was given to 100 gunners, who defiled her to death, and the Emperor's hungry hounds devoured her flesh and bones". His treasurer, Nikita Funikov, was boiled to death in a cauldron. His councillor, Ivan Viskovaty, was hung, while Ivan's entourage took turns hacking off pieces of his body.

In 1570, on the basis of unproved accusations of treason, Ivan sacked and burned the city of Novgorod and tortured, mutilated, impaled, roasted, and otherwise massacred its citizens. A German mercenary wrote: "Mounting a horse and brandishing a spear, he charged in and ran people through while his son watched the entertainment...". Novgorod's archbishop was first sewn up in a bearskin and then hunted to death by a pack of hounds. Men, women and children were tied to sleighs, which were then run into the freezing waters of the Volkhov River. The mass of corpses made it flood its banks. Novgorod never recovered. Later the city of Pskov suffered a similar fate.

After two years of bad harvests, a plague epidemic ravaged the countryside in 1570. The next year Moscow was devastated by a fire. The Crimean Tartars, the Turks, the Lithuanians and the Swedes threatened Russia's borders. Ivan lost Narva, but the Tartar invasion was stopped after their sacking of Moscow. In 1572 Ivan suddenly dismissed the Oprichniki. Some of Ivan's strangest behaviour occurred that year, when he again abdicated and placed a Tartar general, Simeon Bekboelatovitch, on the Moscow throne, while he retired to a country estate. Ivan made regular visits to the capital to pay homage to the new Tsar. The charade lasted for a year.

Ivan's married life had become unstable, underlining his egocentricity, insecurity and manic temperament. In 1561 he had married a Circassian beauty, Maria Temriukovna, but he soon tired of her. Two years after her death in 1569 he married Martha Sobakin, a merchant's daughter, but she died two weeks later. Ivan's fourth wife was Anna Koltovskaya, whom he sent to a convent in 1575. He married a fifth time to Anna Wassilchikura, who was soon replaced by Wassilissa Melentiewna. She foolishly took a lover, who was impaled under Wassilissa's window before she, too, was dispatched to a convent. After his seventh wedding day Ivan discovered that his new bride, Maria Dolgurukaya, was not a virgin anymore. He had her drowned the next day. His eight and last wife was Maria Nagaya, whom Ivan married in 1581.

Ivan had always had quite a good relationship with his eldest son, and young Ivan had proved himself at Novgorod. On November 19, 1581 Ivan became angry with his son's pregnant wife, because of the clothes she wore, and beat her up. As a result she miscarried. His son argued with his father about this beating. In a sudden fit of rage, Ivan the Terrible raised his iron-tipped staff and struck his son a mortal blow to the head. The Prince lay in a coma for several days before succumbing to his festering wound. Ivan IV was overcome by extreme grief, knocking his head against his son's coffin.

Ivan's mistrust, sadism and uncontrolled rages suggest an abnormal personality. His disturbing behaviour can be traced back to his traumatic childhood. After his illness of 1553, which could have been pneumonia or encephalitis5, and the death of his first wife in 1560, Ivan's erratic and cruel behaviour increased. He had some psychopathic characteristics; his quick mood shifts, unreliability, egocentricity and his impersonal sex life and lack of lasting emotions. His first mock abdication shows that he was a master at manipulating other people, while convincing them of his good intentions. He was without any compassion for his subjects, whom he beat up, robbed or raped just for fun. His personal friendships were of short duration and his friends usually ended up dead. Some examples are the fate of Adasjev and Silvester and the impalement his brother-in-law, when his third wife died. However, he did show signs of remorse after the death of his son. Ivan became addicted to the ingestion of mercury, which he kept bubbling in a cauldron in his room for his consumption. Later the exhumation of his body showed that he suffered from mercury poisoning. His bones showed signs of syphilic ostratis. Ivan's sexual promiscuity with both sexes, his last illness and many features of his personality support a diagnosis of syphilis, a venereal disease that was often 'treated' with mercury. However, it can not be determined indisputably if Ivan's problems were basically organic or psychological.

By the end of his life, Ivan was habitually bad tempered. Daniel von Bruchau stated that in his rages Ivan "foamed at the mouth like a horse". He had long looked older than his years with long white hair dangling from a bald pate onto his shoulders. In his last years, he had to be carried on a litter. His body swelled, the skin peeled and gave off a terrible odour. Jerome Horsey wrote: "The Emperor began grievously to swell in his cods, with which he had most horribly offended above fifty years, boasting of a thousand virgins he had deflowered and thousands of children of his begetting destroyed." In 1584, as he was preparing to play a game of chess, Ivan fainted suddenly and died. During his reign hardly a family of noble birth had not been touched by his murders, and some had been completely eliminated. Countless acres of cultivated land had been abandoned by farmers during the terror of the Oprichniki, and forests had begun reclaiming the land.


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