Ivan the Terrible, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Ivan IV Vasilyevich
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
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 , 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.
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.
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
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. . 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
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. 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.) 
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.
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"..
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
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.
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.
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.