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Ivan the Terrible Biography

Ivan the Terrible Image

IVAN IV, THE TERRIBLE (1530-84), son of Vasili, was born in 1530 and was three years of age when his father died, his mother, Elena Glinski, being left as Regent. The government fell into the hands of the turbulent boyars and passed from the hands of one notable family of boyars to those of another. This gave rise to struggles which were marked by atrocities and numerous executions. These impressions of his youth and his "wretched" education turned Ivan into a dissolute, unbalanced, and cruel man, who was however swayed from time to time by good and noble impulses. These circumstances and his education were also responsible for his hate of the boyars. The Archbishop Macarius, author of the famous Chetee Minei (Lives of the Saints), was the only enlightened man near Ivan. He inspired Ivan with love for reading, developed his intellect, suggested to him the idea of Moscow being the third Rome, and encouraged him in his ambition to raise the Grand Duchy to an "Orthodox Czardom." Ivan had hardly reached his majority when he declared his desire to marry and to be coronated as Czar (q.v.). The solemn act was performed in 1547; the same year he married Anastasia of the house of Romanov (q.v.). The great fire of Moscow and the ensuing revolt of the people "brought fear into Ivan's soul"; he took new councilors, chief among whom were a priest Silvester, a nobleman Adashev, and several notable princes, as Kurbsky, Vorotinsky, etc. By this "chosen council" the government was directed for 13 years, which form the first successful and happy period of the reign of Ivan IV. In 1550 the first Zemski Sober (q.v.), or National Assembly, was summoned. The Sobor considered and sanctioned a new and improved code of laws. In 1551 an Ecclesiastical Sobor codified the rules of church administration and of religious life in general in a book of 100 chapters. As a result of these Sobors, local self-government and administration were radically reformed and developed. In 1552 Kazan was conquered, and in 1556 the conquest of Astrakhan followed. The subjugation of these Tatar Khanates secured peace for the eastern frontier of Muscovy and opened up the gates to the east beyond the Ural Mountains by way of the rivers Kama and Viatka. In 1560 the young wife of Ivan died and Silvester, Adashev, and his "chosen councilors" lost their influence on the Czar; some of them were exiled or imprisoned, others entered the service of Lithuania. Ivan began a life and death struggle against the boyars. In 1564 the Czar left Moscow for the suburb Alexandrovo and in 1565 he addressed to the capital two gramotas (letters, edicts)-one to the clergy and boyars, and the other to the "Orthodox Christians" of Moscow City. In his first gramota the Czar enumerated "the treasons of the boyars, the voyevodas (chiefs of town districts) and of all prikaznikh (officials)." In his second gramota, which was read in the public forum, Ivan thanked the people for their loyalty. The appeal to the people had its effect: a deputation of Muscovites, headed by the clergy, succeeded in gaining Ivan's consent to return to Moscow, on the condition, however, that he should be free to deal with his enemies as he saw fit, and to establish an oprichnina, a sort of separate estate for himself and his household administered by his bodyguard, or oprichniki. With the oprichnina well organized the Czar began his campaign of making the boyars "harmless." One by one he subjected to the jurisdiction of the oprichnina the cities and districts which were situated in the territories of the former udiels (appanages), transferring the descendants of the princely families to the borderlands, where there were no appanage traditions. Their hereditary estates were distributed among his favorites and loyal bodyguards, who thus became landowners. For nearly 20 years, to his very death, Ivan continued this policy, reducing nearly half of the country to the status of oprichnina. The other half, called, in distinction of the oprichnina, zemchina, continued to be governed as formerly by the Boyarskaya Duma (council of boyars). The oprichnina accomplished the task of humiliating the ancient nobility of princely origin and of reducing them to the status of "men of service." The process was accompanied by many cruelties, which gained for Ivan the sobriquet "Terrible." The oprichnina strengthened absolutist tendencies but it weakened the country and may be held responsible for the disastrous end of the wars with Lithuania and Sweden. The subjugation of Kazan and Astrakhan by the Russians brought Russia into contact with the Sultan of Turkey, who repeatedly demanded the return of the Klianates. In 1571 the Crimean Khan, a vassal of Turkey entered and burned Moscow. But when the Tatars appeared the following year near the river Oka, they suffered a terrible defeat. These events, however, led the Russian government to consider the defense of its southern frontier. Heretofore the southern frontier of Muscovy had been along the middle Oka. During the reign of Ivan many Russians settled beyond the Oka on the "ukraina" (border), or in the "wild field." These colonists were known as "free Cossacks"; they did not recognize any governmental authorities, except their own elected atamans (chiefs). In 1571 the Muscovite government began to settle her own colonists and to fortify the "wild field." Towards the end of the sixteenth century the entire field to the rivers Vorskla and northern Donetz was dotted with towns and fortresses and became an integral part of Muscovy. This secured protection against Tatar raids and opened the way for the colonization of the rich black-soil territory of modern middle Russia. The "free Cossacs," however, to avoid submission to Muscovite authorities, left these places and settled in the country at the mouth of the river Don, where they gave rise to the Cossacks of the Don. (See COSSACKS.) The decline of Novgorod made it necessary for Russia to have a port on the Baltic Sea. The Knights of Livonia handicapped the commercial and industrial development of Russia by prohibiting Russian merchants from passing through their territory and preventing foreign merchants artisans, and artists from going to Russia. In 1558 Ivan began a war with Livonia. To avoid annexation to Muscovy. Livonia divided and in separate parts joined Sweden, Lithuania, and Poland (1560-61). In 1576 Stephen Bathory was elected to the Polish-Lithuanian throne and defeated the Muscovites several times. In 1581 peace was concluded through the mediation of the papal emissary, Possevin. Ivan had to give up all his claims in Livonia and to return to Lithuania all the territory formerly conquered by his armies. In 1583 a treaty was made with Sweden according to which Russia had to give up several cities (Yam, Koporie, and Korelu). Two other important events took place during the reign of Ivan IV. In 1553 an English expedition, headed by Chensler, seeking a northwest passage through the Arctic Ocean, made its appearance at the mouth of the northern Dvina. Chensler found his way to Moscow, was favorably received, and returned two years later as the first English Envoy to Russia. In 1584 the city of Archangel was built, and commercial relations with England were entered into. The other important historical event was the beginning (1582) of the conquest of Siberia (q.v.) by Yermak.

Some historians, like Professors Chistowitz and Kovaleoski, find in Ivan the Terrible signs of insanity. In a fit of fury he killed his eldest son, Ivan (1580). Ivan was married seven times. He died in 1584, leaving only two young sons. Consult Kazimierz Waliozewski, Ivan the Terrible (Philadelphia, 1904), containing a bibliography, and A. S. Rappoport, Mad Majesties, or Raving Rulers tend Submissive Subjects (London, 1910).

The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 493-494.