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Ivan the Terrible Becomes Czar - History

Ivan the Terrible Becomes Czar - History

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On January 17th Ivan IV had himself crowned the czar of all of Russia. He was the first Russian ruler to be crowned czar.

Ivan the Terrible, Russian Ivan Grozny, Russian in full Ivan Vasilyevich, also called Ivan IV, (born August 25, 1530, Kolomenskoye, near Moscow [Russia]—died March 18, 1584, Moscow), grand prince of Moscow (1533–84) and the first to be proclaimed tsar of Russia (from 1547).

Throughout the 17th century, the social and political importance of the boyars declined. Early in the 18th century, Tsar Peter I the Great abolished the rank and title of boyar and made state service the exclusive means of attaining a high position in the bureaucratic hierarchy.

Ivan the Terrible

In 1547, Ivan IV, grandson of Ivan the Great, was crowned the first czar of all Russia (the term czar was derived from caesar) in the Kremlin's Uspensky Cathedral. In addition, Moscow became the capital of the Holy Russian Empire.

In the same year, Ivan married Anastasia Romanov. He married several more times after her death in 1560, but this first marriage seems to have been the happiest. The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917, and traces its claim to the throne through Anastasia's brother, Nikitu.

Ivan ruled with a deep-seated paranoia and ruthlessness it's said that he gouged out the eyes of the architects who built St. Basil's so that a cathedral of such beauty could never again be created.

The czar's power became absolute when Ivan the Terrible succeeded in conquering the remaining independent principalities, such as Siberia. The state also assigned a master to the peasants who worked the lands around an estate, setting in stone the system of serfdom.

Ivan organised the Streltsy (members of the army elite) to govern his districts and the Oprichniki (the first police force) to suppress boyar (ruling-class nobles) rebellion.

He confiscated the property of the boyars and granted state property to those who served him. Since his soldiers were tenured to the state for life, their land grants became hereditary and they formed a new ruling elite.

In 1582, after the Livonian War with Poland and Sweden, Russia lost her far northern territories and her access to the Baltic. In the same year, the czar also killed his son, Ivan, in a fit of rage.

When Ivan the Terrible died in 1584, Russia was left in a state of almost total political and economic ruin.

Expansions and Reforms

Only two weeks after his coronation, Ivan married Anastasia Romanova, the first woman to bear the formal title of tsarina and a member of the Romanov family, who would come to power after Ivan’s Rurik dynasty faltered after his death. The couple would go on to have three daughters and three sons, including Ivan’s eventual successor, Feodor I.

Almost immediately, Ivan was faced with a major crisis when the Great Fire of 1547 swept through Moscow, devastating huge portions of the city and leaving thousands dead or homeless. Blame fell on Ivan’s maternal Glinski relatives, and their power was all but destroyed. Aside from this disaster, however, Ivan’s early reign was relatively peaceful, leaving him time to make major reforms. He updated the legal code, created a parliament and a council of nobles, introduced local self-government to rural areas, founded a standing army, and established the use of the printing press, all within the first few years of his reign.

Ivan also opened up Russia to a certain amount of international trade. He allowed the English Muscovy Company to access and trade with his country and even struck up a correspondence with Queen Elizabeth I. Nearer to home, he took advantage of pro-Russia sentiments in nearby Kazan and conquered his Tatar neighbors, leading to annexation of the entire Middle Volga region. To commemorate his conquest, Ivan had several churches built, most famously St. Basil’s Cathedral, now the iconic image of Moscow’s Red Square. Contrary to legend, he did not force the architect to be blinded after completing the cathedral architect Postnik Yakovlev went on to design several other churches. Ivan’s reign also saw Russian exploration and expansion into the northern region of Siberia.

Ivan IV Was a "Terrible" Leader (Or, How Ivan Became Ivan the Terrible)

Twenty-five years and countless lives later, Ivan’s invasion of Livonia had achieved nothing.

Ivan IV Vasilyevich, first czar of all the Russians, has gone down as one of history’s most notorious despots, infamous for the terrors he carried out among his subjects. Less well known are the numerous and bloody wars he fought to expand his realm. Isolation on the bleak steppes of Eurasia was a fact of life for the state of Muscovy. Wanting to lead his people to prosperity, Ivan’s determined eyes gazed westward toward the Baltic, where he could open his realm to European trade and forge an empire worthy of his crown. In the end, the war he waged there would last a quarter century, consuming his reign and becoming nothing short of an obsession. By the time it was over, Ivan had earned a new title to go along with that of czar: “Ivan the Terrible.”

Expanding Russia to the Sea

Generations of Muscovite rulers had dreamed of expanding their principality to the sea, but by the mid-16th century Muscovy was yet to possess a port on northern waters. Ivan’s grandfather, Ivan III, upon his conquest of the Republic of Novgorod in the 1470s had inherited a narrow slice of territory where the Neva River flowed into the Gulf of Bothnia. There he constructed the fortress of Ivangorod, opposite the wealthy Livonian city of Narva. Lying too far inland, Ivangorod never became a commercial success. By the time of Ivan IV’s coronation in 1547, Muscovy was still geographically and economically isolated.

Muscovites could be forgiven for feeling paranoid about their landlocked entrapment their Baltic neighbors gave them every reason to be. The regional powers of Denmark, Sweden, and Poland-Lithuania feared the growth of Moscow. To them, Muscovy was a mysterious and superstitious land whose alien form of Orthodox Christianity was contemptible. While Muscovy sought direct contact with the West by way of the sea, its neighbors worked to prevent it through a virtual blockade whereby Western goods and technology, especially weapons, could not reach Ivan’s lands. Occasionally, the blockade led to war. Poland-Lithuania fought to maintain Muscovy’s isolation until a truce in 1532, while Sweden briefly warred with the Muscovites until 1557. The ensuing peace treaty brought a Swedish pledge to refrain from participating in any future coalitions against Muscovy. This provided Ivan with the flexibility to turn elsewhere for conquest: the fledgling state of Livonia.

The Crumbling Livonia

A patchwork of commercial cities spread out through modern-day Latvia and Estonia, Livonia was the most prominent economic menace to Muscovy. The Livonians were middlemen in the trade to Ivan’s lands, and their high tariffs crippled Muscovite growth and limited trade. Ivan understood that the prosperity of his new empire relied on the demise of the independent Livonian states. As it turned out, time was working in his favor. The Hanseatic League, an organization of northern trading cities to which Riga, Reval, and Narva belonged, had long passed its heyday. The growth of cohesive states, most significantly Denmark, doomed the Hanse, whose resources simply could not compete with more modern states. Furthermore, Livonia’s other prominent power, the Livonian Order of Knights, was also suffering rapid decline. Created centuries before for the purpose of converting the heathen peoples of the eastern Baltic, by the mid-16th century the order’s largely Protestant German knights had settled into luxurious complacency as estate holders. The demise of their energy heralded the accompanying decline of their significance and military strength as well.

In 1558, the order held some 60 castles, while independent cities, notably Riga and Dorpat, controlled roughly 50 more. Although often well armed with the latest in gunpowder technology, the fortresses were also obsolete and severely undermanned due to an overemphasis on mounted soldiers. Livonia was falling apart, and powers like Sweden and Lithuania were plotting to collect the spoils of its inevitable disintegration. Ivan, whose personal stake in Livonia’s fall was higher than anyone’s, was determined to grab his just desserts.

“Here is a Little Thing That Will Grow Great”

An invasion required an air of legitimacy. For that Ivan turned to the Livonian city of Dorpat, which he claimed owed Muscovy 50 years’ worth of tribute dating back to a treaty signed in 1503. When pressured, Dorpat demurred and attempted to negotiate a reduction in payments. Soon afterward, the Bishop of Dorpat delivered a letter of protest to the Muscovite ambassador, who replied prophetically, “Here is a little thing that will grow great.” Within a short time, the Livonians caved in and promised to pay the tribute in full, but when their embassy arrived in Moscow empty handed, they effectively gave Ivan all the justification he needed to invade. On January 22, 1558, the Muscovite army crossed into Livonia.

Despite the best efforts of the Baltic powers, the Muscovite army was equal to its closest rivals technologically and militarily. Like the Livonians, the Muscovites relied heavily on cavalry, which in their case was a feudal levy provided by landholders as a condition for keeping their estates. Much of the infantry was formed in a similar fashion with the exception of the streltsy, a hereditary division of musketeers. Initially the streltsy was a mere 3,000 strong, but within only a few years would swell to over 15,000 men. Reinforcing the Muscovites was a large contingent of Cheremis, Circassians, Bashkirs, and Kazan Tatars who fought as vassals. The savage Tatars were particularly adept at instilling terror in the hearts of their enemies.

Ivan the Terrible’s Invasion of Livonia

The 40,000-strong Muscovite army entered Livonian territory near the town of Neuhausen. Its three columns were jointly commanded by Ivan’s uncle, Mikhail Glinsky, and the Khan of Kazimov, Shah Ali, who led the 7,000-man Tatar contingent. Ivan’s close friend, Andrey Kurbsky, led the rear guard. Initially, the Livonians believed that the czar had come only to collect his tribute, but when Ivan refused an envoy who belatedly brought the tribute they quickly realized that it had all been a pretext. Ivan’s primary objective was not Dorpat but Narva, his window to the sea. In the meantime, the Muscovites bypassed or isolated the fortresses in their path and concentrated on looting the countryside to fuel their advance. Livonian towns were temporarily spared, but their fields were laid to waste.

The Muscovite army immediately commenced bombarding Narva upon reaching the city in early May. Defenders hunkered down and prepared for a long siege while sending out pleas for help in every direction. Reinforcements from Reval and Fellin soon arrived, but such gestures of defiance only enraged Ivan. On May 11, a large fire broke out in the center of the city that the Muscovites would later claim was caused by the attempted burning of two religious icons that, despite being the center of the conflagration, miraculously survived. The besiegers used the ensuing chaos as cover to successfully storm the walls and capture the city.

With Narva safely in his hands, Ivan next turned to gobbling up the rest of Livonia. Syrensk and Neuhausen capitulated without much trouble, and on July 19 Dorpat surrendered to Ivan’s Tatars in exchange for guarantees of its traditional liberties and trading privileges. The deal was greatly facilitated by the restraint shown by the Tatars, whom Ivan forbade to pillage the city. All across Livonia peasants were rising against their German masters, something the czar was keen to encourage through demonstrations of his benevolence. The lack of popular resistance enabled the Muscovites to raid as far inland as Riga. Before the close of the year, some 20 fortresses lay under their control.

A Six-Month Truce

The Livonian Order and remaining independent cities frantically begged for assistance from anyone who would listen, but their pleas produced very little. The Hanse was in no position to aid its fellow cities, and the Holy Roman Emperor offered nothing beyond his sympathies. Gotthard Kettler, elected as the new Grand Master of the Order, petitioned Poland-Lithuania for help, but King Sigismund was reluctant to intercede for fear of inciting a conflict with Sweden or Denmark. Sweden, meanwhile, showed interest in replacing the Livonians as the middlemen in the Muscovite trade, which was now flourishing out of Narva. King Gustav Vasa played a delicate game of placating Ivan while attempting to curb Muscovy’s improved trading conditions. It was not until early 1559 that the Livonians at last received a glimmer of hope when King Frederick II of Denmark volunteered to mediate a truce.

It was not a moment too soon. The Muscovites, having crossed the Dvina River, were rampaging through Courland and closing in on Riga. Ivan was in no mood for a truce, but the czar’s chief adviser, Alexei Adashev, implored him to accept the Danish offer, fearing Tatar activity along Muscovy’s southern border. Having failed the previous summer to coax Sigismund into an alliance, Ivan worried that a Baltic coalition was forming against him, although Sigismund’s rejection was a direct result of Ivan’s exorbitant stipulations rather than any plans of his own to attack. Grudgingly, Ivan agreed to a six-month truce in May 1559, even though the order’s refusal to come under his suzerainty and Denmark’s empty yet annoying claim to Livonia as a Danish dependency left a bitter taste in his mouth.

6 Major Accomplishments of Ivan The Terrible

Many people in history are infamous and yet subjects of great interest. Ivan the Terrible or Ivan IV was one such personality. Born to the lineage of Ivan the Great, Ivan the Terrible has several accomplishments but he is mostly remembered for his flaws and some grave errors which have been attributed to his disorders.

1. The First Czar of Russia

Ivan IV was became the first Tsar, also spelled as Czar, of Russia. Known as Ivan Chetvyorty Vasilyevich, Ivan Grozny, Ivan IV Ivan Vasilyevich and by his nickname Grozny. Ivan the Terrible ruled Russia from 1533 to 1584. He was the first ruler of a centralized Russia, known as Czar which was a term inspired from Caesar of Ancient Rome. Although his means were not righteous, he was responsible for massive expansions of Russian territory. At one point in time, he ruled the largest nation on the planet and he managed to maintain a completely centralized system of administration. Even the dynasties in China and the likes of Genghis Khan had to rely on governors and representations in their vast kingdoms.

2. Military Conquests

During the ancient times and even during the reign of the various dynasties in China, expansion of European territories or colonies, during the dark medieval age in Europe and the Mongolian dominance in Asia, violence and ruthless approaches to war have always been the cornerstone of military strategy. They have often paved the foundation for rapid expansion, growth of military might and a dominating presence in the lands conquered. Ivan the Terrible was not known as such when he started conquering the lands in control of the khanates. His long reign from 1533 to 1584 was partly solidified when at the early phases of his rule he defeated the khanates of Astrakhan, Kazan and Siberia.

Ivan the Terrible was very intelligent. He had a sharp mind and a penchant for shrewdness. Whether it was the fallout of his complex behavior or his uncontrollable rage was a byproduct of the way his mind worked is unclear.

3. Effective Czar of Muscovy

Ivan the Terrible was then known as Ivan IV when he became the czar of Muscovy. During the early years of his reign, when he was married to Anastasia Romanovna, he proved to be a very effective ruler. He institutionalized several reforms that established self rule or a kind of self governance in rural Russia. He also brought in tax reforms, statutory laws and religious reforms, mostly pertaining to the church. It must be noted that during this time, the Mongols were circling around to usurp more land and had sufficient dominance in lands up to the Baltic Sea. Ivan IV managed to thwart all offensive attempts and he eventually succeeded in conquering those lands that would become an integral part of centralized Russia.

4. Expansion of Russia

Ivan IV had a penchant for expansion, which became evident when he started conquering lands as far as the Urals and the Caspian Sea. It was during this time, from 1552 to 1556, that Ivan IV started becoming more violent in his ways. He wanted to build a buffer zone between Russia and the Mongols.

5. Economic Turmoil

Ivan IV got obsessed with expansions and with the Mongols. In his attempt to establish his reign, he ignored the economy. Although he was vocal about his protection of the orthodox religious beliefs, his support got eroded with time and efforts such as the commissioning of the basilica in Red Square in Moscow did not go down well with the noble families or the influential strategists in the kingdom.

6. The Infamous Breakdown

This cannot be called an achievement but Ivan IV became Ivan the Terrible after his wife’s death. He suffered from depression and became a recluse as a result. Many noble families deserted him and he lost popular support during this mourning phase. He left Moscow and wanted to abdicate the throne, although it is not known if it was a serious threat that he would follow through.

Upon his return, Ivan the Terrible became paranoid. He could not control his anger and ended up executing lawbreakers and traitors. His justice and subsequently his authority were challenged every time he initiated what was seen as an unfair execution. He wouldn’t just execute the traitors and law breakers but also confiscate their properties. Amidst declining popularity and rising intolerance on his part, he started destroying the major noble families in Russia. His misgivings and ill treatments met an unforgivable consequence when he mistakenly killed his own son.

Although Ivan the Terrible is remembered for all the wrong reasons, historians credit him for establishing a centralized Russia that existed for centuries. After his death, the country was in disarray but the existence or Russia as we know it today was established by Ivan IV.

The Grand Principality of Moscow

The Grand Principality of Moscow (also known as the Grand Duchy of Moscow or Muscovy) was the state that preceded the Tsardom of Russia. Moscow was established as a small trading town around the 12th century and was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Rus in the following century. In 1263, Moscow, which still was an insignificant town, was given to Daniel I, the youngest son of Alexander Nevsky, following the latter’s death. Daniel and his descendants sought to unify the Russian lands. The unification of the Great Russian lands was completed during the reign of Ivan III Vasilyevich (known also as Ivan the Great ). By the time of Ivan’s death in 1505, the Grand Prince of Moscow was also the ruler of Russia proper.

Ivan III was succeeded by his son Vasili III, whose reign was relatively uneventful. Vasili’s significance, however, lies in the fact that he was the father of Ivan IV, who succeeded him as the Grand Prince of Moscow at the age of three in 1533. He would be the last Grand Prince of Moscow, and the first Tsar of Russia. Although Ivan IV founded the Tsardom of Russia, and was the first Russian ruler to have been officially crowned Tsar of Russia, the concept itself can be traced back to the reign of Ivan III.

Whilst Ivan III was completing the unification of Russia, the Byzantine Empire had come to an end as Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Ottomans proceeded to invade the Balkans, thus leaving the Grand Prince of Moscow as the only remaining Orthodox monarch in the world. As a result of this, there were calls for Moscow to be recognized as the successor of Constantinople, and the ‘third Rome’. Moreover, in 1472, Ivan III married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, Zoe (later Sophia) Palaiologina, who brought the traditions of the Byzantine court to Moscow with her.

7 facts about Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian tsar

Tsar Ivan IV Conquering Kazan in 1552, 1880. Kazan, the capital of the Tatar Khanate of Kazan, fell to the Russian army of Ivan the Terrible after a siege in 1552. Many of the city's defenders and civilian inhabitants were massacred.

1. He was the first Russian tsar

In 1547, upon reaching adulthood, Ivan was crowned Tsar of All Russia. Before him all rulers of Muscovy were Grand Princes. Ivan was the first to appoint himself tsar, "Caesar," in the European tradition of "emperor," whose power comes directly from God.

Such a title gave Russia and its ruler significant weight in the eyes of European monarchs. Ivan the Terrible was recognized emperor by Queen Elizabeth I, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II from the House of Habsburg and others. Ivan carried on a long correspondence with Elizabeth and according to legend, even asked for her hand. She declined the proposal but it was precisely at that time that Russia and England first began trading with each other.

Portrait of Ivan IV by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1897 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). Source:

2. He began as a reformer

In his youth Ivan IV tried to govern in a progressive manner: In 1549-1560 he administered the country together with an informal government called the Elected Rada (a circle of confidants, young representatives of the aristocracy and the clergy).

The Rada implemented a series of important reforms, concentrated power in the hands of the tsar and limited the boyars' authority. Ivan later dissolved the assembly and began governing alone.

3. He carried out the first mass repressions in Russia

In 1565, after the Elected Rada came the oprichnina, an era of cruel repressions. The tsar divided Russian territory into the Zemschina, where the boyars maintained their authority, and the Oprichnina, which Ivan ruled directly with the help of his oprichniki (bodyguards that made up the national guard).

The nucleus of the Oprichnina, according to contemporary German aristocrats Taube and Krause, consisted of a certain "church order," headed personally by Tsar Ivan. The members of the order dressed like monks and prayed together with the tsar. Their symbols were a dog's head and a broom. "This means that first they bite like dogs and then sweep everything redundant out of the country," wrote Taube and Krause.

Until 1572 the oprichniki terrorized the boyars and their supporters, eliminating entire families. "Even women and children were killed, women who were accused of infidelity were mockingly abused and people were tortured publicly in the cruelest of ways," wrote historian Dmitry Volodikhin. At the end of this period even the leading oprichniki were killed. Historians estimate that at least 4,500 people died in these purges &ndash a large number for the times.

4. He waged wars

Ivan spent all his rule warring, trying to expand the country's territory. On the one hand he defeated the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan, uniting them with Russia. He also appropriated the Volga and Urals and began exploring the vast lands of Siberia.

But on the other hand, Russia lost the Livonian War (1558-1583) against Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and could not gain access to the Baltic Sea. For decades the central part of Russia was raided by Crimean Tatars. In 1571 they even made it to Moscow and burned everything except the Kremlin. The Tatars were defeated, but Russia was financially ruined.

Ivan the Terrible killing his son painting by Ilya Repin. Source:

5. He was contradictory and suspicious

Ivan sincerely believed in God and generously donated to monasteries, even though priests were also killed on his orders. Educated, a good orator, with the help of Danish book printers in Moscow Ivan IV established the first printing house in Russia and required the clergy to organize schools to teach children how to read and write. During his time even something similar to conservatories appeared in Moscow.

At the same time he was extremely cruel and vindictive (a trait which particularly manifested itself during the Oprichnina), personally giving orders for the most sophisticated executions. "We are free to admire our slaves and we are free to execute them," said Ivan.

6. He had a hard childhood

Ivan's father died in 1533, when the heir was only three years old. That year Ivan formally became Grand Prince of Muscovy, although obviously he could not govern the country. Influential boyars, representatives of the old aristocracy, fought for power.

When Ivan was eight he became an orphan. The Shuisky princes, who were his guardians, neglected him and even, according to Ivan, did not give him enough food. Historian Sergei Solovyov believes that it was Ivan's tough upbringing that formed his cruel character: "Self-interest, contempt for the common good, contempt for life and your neighbor's honor is what the Shuiskys sowed &ndash that's how Ivan the Terrible grew up," said Solovyov.

7. He was unhappy in his personal life

Ivan had at least six wives. He had eight children, most of whom died in infancy. His oldest child Ivan died in 1581. A series of chronicles say that the tsar accidentally killed the tsarevich, hitting him with a staff during an argument &ndash though some researchers believe this is a myth, saying that the tsarevich died from an illness.

Tsar Ivan IV admires his sixth wife Vasilisa Melentyeva. 1875 painting by Grigory Sedov. Source:

One of the most famous paintings in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is dedicated to this legend: Ivan the Terrible killing his son by Ilya Repin. It shows Ivan, an old man with mad bulging eyes, embracing his dying son, having realized in horror what he has just done.

Why was Ivan so terrible?

Today, the word ‘terrible’ can be used to describe anything from a particularly bad meal to a natural disaster that kills millions of people. Back in the 16th Century when it was a nickname bestowed on the Russian ruler Ivan IV, it specifically meant ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘powerful’ and ‘formidable’. However, if we examine the reign of one of the most paranoid, bloodthirsty and unpredictable men who has ever ruled the country, maybe the modern definition of ‘extremely bad’ isn’t so wide of the mark after all? So, what exactly made Ivan so terrible?

The seeds of the dreadful human being Ivan would become were sewn in his miserable childhood. His father, Vasili the Grand Prince of Moscow, died when Ivan was just three years old and his mother passed away when he was eight. The young prince then became the object of power struggles between various members of the nobility, in particular, the powerful Shuisky and Belesky families. While the royal court descended into a dangerous chaos of murder and intrigue, Ivan and his deaf-mute brother Iurii were treated no better than a couple of street urchins.

Ivan the Terrible

There were times when Ivan and his sibling were left clothed in rags and on the verge of starvation. 'My brother Iurii, of blessed memory, and me they brought up like vagrants and children of the poorest,' Ivan wrote in a letter to his close friend Prince Andrei Kurbsky. 'What have I suffered for want of garments and food!' Being neglected and treated as a political football made Ivan mistrust the nobility: a mistrust would fester into blinding hatred as he grew older. When he became Tsar, his mistreatment would come back to bite the noble families of Ivan’s realm in the most spectacular fashion. However, that was all in the future. Unable to take his frustrations out on his tormentors, Ivan took his anger and resentment out on animals instead, pulling the feathers out of live birds and throwing dogs and cats out of windows.

At the age of thirteen, Ivan finally bared his teeth. The powerful Shuisky family were by this time the de facto rulers of Russia having emerged victorious from their power struggle with the Belskeys to have control over the prince. However, they had not reckoned on the boy they had ignored and abused for so many years. At a feast held in 1453, Ivan accused the most powerful of the Shuiskys, Prince Andrei, of mismanaging the country and had him arrested and put to death. Some say the unfortunate Andrei was torn apart by hungry hunting dogs, though a more credible story is that Andrei’s jailers beat him to death.

Full power was transferred to Ivan on his sixteenth birthday. Two weeks later, he married his first wife, Anastasia. There was nothing particularly terrible about Ivan’s early years on the throne. Indeed, it was a time of relative peace and progress. He introduced reforms that included an update of the penal code introduced by his grandfather, the establishment of a standing army and the introduction of regional self-governance. Ivan also introduced the first printing presses into Russia and ordered the construction of the magnificent St. Basil’s Cathedral following his conquest of the Tartar region of Kazan. There is a story that persists to this day that Ivan was so impressed with the finished cathedral that he had the architect blinded so he could never produce anything so beautiful again. There is no evidence that the blinding ever took place, but it’s a testament to Ivan’s reputation that many are still prepared to believe he was capable of such a vile and uncultured act.

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What tipped Ivan over the edge and turned him from a reasonable ruler into a full-blown tyrant were two events that both took place in 1558 and 1560. The first was the betrayal of his great friend Prince Kurbsky. The nobleman defected to the Lithuanians during Ivan’s ill-fated attempt to conquer the Baltic territory of Livonia in 1558. Kurbsky took charge of the Lithuanian army and, alongside forces from Poland and Sweden, handed Russia a defeat that left Ivan beside himself with fury and more convinced than ever that his country’s nobility was out to get him. The second event was the death of his beloved wife Anastasia in 1560. Ivan was certain that his wife had been poisoned by his enemies. While no evidence could be found of poison at the time, a 20th Century examination of the Tsarina’s bones uncovered unusually high levels of mercury, indicating that the paranoid young monarch might well have been right for once.

Ivan’s initial reaction to the death of his wife and the betrayal of his friend was to remove himself from Moscow to Alexandrov, a town located 120 kilometres northeast of the Russian capital. Here, he wrote two letters signalling his intention to abdicate. His council of noblemen and clergymen attempted to rule in his absence, but when this proved impossible, an envoy was sent to beg Ivan to change his mind. He did so, on the proviso that he be given the right to seize the lands of those who had betrayed him and execute anyone he suspected of treason. The desperate council and clergy agreed to Ivan’s demands. It was to prove a costly mistake.

Favourite execution methods included boiling alive, impalement, being roasted over an open fire or being torn limb

Ivan returned to Moscow and set about separating the country into two administrative areas. One would be ruled by the nobility and the other, named the Oprichnina, would be governed by Ivan himself in any way he saw fit. This, it turned out, involved the torture and execution of the vast majority of his political rivals and pretty much anyone else who got in his way. To police his new territory, Ivan created the Oprichniki. Dressed all in black, the Oprichniki were Ivan’s personal bodyguard and enforcers who roamed the newly created territory doing the Tsar’s bidding. The Oprichniki were given carte blanche to torture and murder anyone Ivan suspected of betrayal. A gang of paid thugs loathed and feared by everyone in the Oprichnina, the Oprichniki rode around with severed dogs’ heads attached to their saddles to symbolise the sniffing out of traitors. It soon became a common sight in the towns and villages of the Oprichnina to see peasants, the middle classes and the high-born fleeing for their lives as word spread that the Oprichniki were in the area.

The Oprichniki were utterly ruthless. Anyone Ivan suspected of disloyalty was tortured and horribly put to death. Favourite execution methods included boiling alive, impalement, being roasted over an open fire or being torn limb from limb by horses. To live in the territory ruled over by Ivan and the Oprichniki was to live in a permanent state of fear, as was amply demonstrated by the terrible fate that fell on Novgorod – Russia’s second-largest city and Moscow’s most powerful rival.

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Convinced that the city’s leaders, clergy and most prominent citizens were conspiring against him, Ivan ordered an assault on the city in 1570. Priests and monks were rounded up and beaten to death while their churches and monasteries were ransacked. Prominent merchants, officials and noblemen were tortured and executed many were roasted alive on specially constructed frying pans. As these poor unfortunates suffered slow and agonising deaths, their wives and children fared no better. They were rounded up, tied up and thrown in the river Volkhov. Any unfortunates who tried to escape were pushed under the icy waters and drowned by soldiers armed with boat hooks, spears and axes.

It would take centuries for Novgorod to fully recover from the attack

Merchants lower down the social ladder were targeted by the Oprichniki, who were ordered to seize all profitable goods and destroy storehouses and shops. Anyone who attempted to resist was killed, as indeed were many who offered no resistance. The poor fared no better. The city was full of destitute peasants looking for work as a result of a series of famines that had occurred in the region over the previous few years. Along with the evicted merchants and their families, these poor souls were thrown out of the city and left to freeze and starve to death in the harsh Russian winter.

All in all, the orgy of bloodshed and destruction visited on Novgorod resulted in the deaths of an estimated 12,000 of its citizens. With its administrative and religious structures destroyed, its prominent citizens executed, its commercial centre a gutted shell and most of its wealth stolen, the city was so decimated by the attack that it ceased to be Russia’s second city. Most of what remained of its population fled the ruins for a better life elsewhere. It would take centuries for Novgorod to fully recover from the attack, and it would never again be a rival to Moscow. Novgorod was just one of many examples of Ivan’s merciless approach to conquest. He was very much 'a sack the city and kill everyone in it' kind of man throughout the long years of his brutal rule.

Nobody, not even his own family, was safe from Ivan the Terrible.

The massacre of Novgorod proved to be the last moment in the sun for the hated Oprichniki. Ivan’s crushing paranoia had already led him to begin to suspect its leaders of conspiring against him before the sacking of the city, and an attack on Moscow by the Tartars that the Oprichniki failed to repel convinced Ivan that they were not as loyal as they professed to be. The organisation was disbanded and many of its leaders were executed in 1571. The Oprichnina region itself was abolished in 1572, after which it became an offence punishable by death even to mention the word.

Ivan’s constant warmongering, brutalising of his own population, attacks on the clergy, nobility and middle classes, torturing and executing of anyone he felt was against him and raiding of the nation’s wealth eventually brought the Russian economy to its knees, and things did not improve as Ivan aged and his mental health deteriorated even further. One of the last brutal acts of his reign occurred in 1581 when, upon encountering his heavily pregnant daughter-in-law in a state of undress, he beat her so severely that she miscarried. On hearing the news of the loss of his unborn child, Ivan’s second son confronted his father. Ivan, who always carried a sharpened baton around which he used to to beat anyone who displeased him, hit his son over the head so hard that he collapsed and died several days later. Nobody, not even his own family, was safe from Ivan the Terrible.

Ivan died from a stroke while playing chess with a close friend in 1584 at the age of fifty-three. His kingdom passed to his middle son, a feeble-minded fool called Feodor who died childless in 1598, plunging Russia into a period of lawlessness and anarchy that came to be known as the ‘Time of Troubles’.

9 facts about 'the Anarchy': England's dark period of lawlessness and war

From butchering his subjects to slaughtering the citizens of the towns and cities he conquered to the killing of his own son, Ivan was terrible in both the old and new definition of the word. He had started as a reasonable ruler, but his escalating paranoia and the deterioration of his mental health from 1558 onwards turned him into a monstrous tyrant who left death, destruction and economic ruin in his wake. Yes, Ivan the Terrible truly was as terrible as his nickname suggests.

Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible

The Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible (Russian: Лицевой летописный свод , romanized: Litsevoy letopisny svod) is the largest compilation of historical information ever assembled in medieval Russia. It covers the period from the creation of the world to the year 1567. [1] It is also informally known as the Tsar Book (Царь-книга), in an analogy with Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon [2]

The set of manuscripts was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible specifically for his royal library. [1] The literal meaning of the Russian title is "face chronicle," alluding to the numerous hand-painted miniatures. The compilation consists of 10 volumes, containing about 10 thousand sheets of rag paper. It is illustrated with more than 16 thousand miniatures.

The volumes are grouped in a relatively chronological order and include four major areas: Biblical History, History of Rome, History of Byzantium and Russian history. The titles and contents of the 10 volumes are:

  1. Museum Miscellany (Музейский сборник, State Historical Museum) – 1031 pages, 1677 miniatures. Sacred Hebrew and Greek history, from the creation of the world to the destruction of Troy in the 13th century BC.
  2. Chronograph Miscellany (Хронографический сборник, Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences) – 1469 pages, 2549 miniatures. History of the ancient East, the Hellenistic world, and ancient Rome from the 11th century BC to the 70s in the 1st century AD.
  3. Face Chronograph (Лицевой хронограф, Russian National Library) – 1217 pages, 2191 miniature. History of the ancient Roman Empire from the 70s in the 1st century to 337 AD, and Byzantine history to the 10th century.
  4. Galitzine Volume (Голицынский том, RNL) – 1035 pages, 1964 miniatures. Russian history from 1114–1247 and 1425-1472.
  5. Laptev Volume (Лаптевский том, RNL) – 1005 pages, 1951 miniatures. Russian history from 1116-1252.
  6. Osterman Volume I (Остермановский первый том, LRAS) – 802 pages, 1552 miniatures. Russian history from 1254-1378.
  7. Osterman Volume II (Остермановский второй том, LRAS) – 887 pages, 1581 miniature. Russian history from 1378-1424.
  8. Shumilov Volume (Шумиловский том, RNL) – 986 pages, 1893 miniatures. Russian history in 1425, and 1478-1533.
  9. Synod Volume (Синодальный том, SHM) – 626 pages, 1125 miniatures. Russian history from 1533–1542, and 1553-1567.
  10. Regal Book (Царственная книга, SHM) – 687 pages, 1291 miniature. Russian history from 1533-1553.

The manuscript is thought to have been created between 1568 and 1576. The work seems to have been started as early as the 1540s. [3] It was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible for the royal library for the purposes of educating his children. [ citation needed ] The tsar's confidant Aleksey Adashev was involved in the creation of the work. [3]

Facial Chronicle. Two-page opening with description of Abraham's Theophany ( Gen 18 )

Watch the video: Ivan the Terrible - the first Russian tsar I ITS HISTORY (August 2022).