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Was Ivan the Terrible as terrible as they said about him: What caused the madness of the first Russian tsar
Was Ivan the Terrible as terrible as they said about him: What caused the madness of the first Russian tsar

Ivan the Terrible is often portrayed in art as a stingy and cruel tsar who inspires fear not only in enemies, but also in the common harmless people. During his reign, he destroyed many lives, and went down in history as one of the most brutal rulers in the world. But was Ivan so scary, as they talked about him and what was the reason - further in the article.

1. The early reign of Ivan the Terrible

Tsar's portrait of Ivan the Terrible, unknown artist, 18th century. \ Photo:

Born in 1530, Ivan was crowned the Grand Duke of Moscow at the age of three. At that time, Ivan's crown represented the predecessor state of Russia: the medieval Moscow principality. The young prince came from the Rurik dynasty, one of two royal dynasties, along with the Romanovs, with whom the Rurik families were related.

Scientists suggest that the Rurikovichs descended from the Vikings who migrated to Russia and Ukraine from the early Middle Ages. These Vikings formed the earliest political entity in the region known as Kievan Rus. It was thanks to the Viking immigration to the region that the white Europeans settled this area, the natives of the region had a more Siberian or Turkic appearance and culture.

Envoys from Ermak on the red porch in front of Ivan the Terrible, S.R.Rostvorovsky, 1884. \ Photo:

Ivan lost his father when he was three years old, which is why he inherited the throne so early. His mother, who served as regent at the time, died when he was eight years old, according to rumors, from poisoning. Powerful noble families had to intervene to fill the political void. Various spheres of the nobility vied for control of the state, making a lasting impression on the young Ivan, who was deftly pushed aside. But no matter how eager to get power did not try, everything turned out to be in vain.

At the age of sixteen, at the beginning of 1547, Ivan was crowned Tsar of All Russia, the first of all Russian rulers to claim such a title. At the same time, he married Anastasia Romanova, daughter of the powerful Romanov family, who in 1613 will inherit the throne directly through this marriage. Ironically, the Romanov dynasty also ended with Anastasia Romanova - the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II - in 1918. Although the title implied status on a par with the Western title of emperor, Russian rulers became known as emperors only after the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725).

2. Ivan the Great

Ivan the Terrible, Klavdiy Lebedev, 1900. \ Photo:

From the moment of his accession to the throne until the 1550s, he underwent a series of radical reforms. Fanatically religious, Ivan imported a printing press to Russia to print a series of religious texts. The Tsar also commissioned the construction of a number of churches throughout his state, including St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

At the age of nineteen, Ivan undertook a complete legislative reform, creating a quasi-parliamentary system of lawmaking, called the Zemsky Sobor. The new system housed representatives of all three social classes of feudal Russia: the nobility, the clergy, and even the commoners. Each community was allowed to elect its representative to participate in court cases on their behalf. Rural communities were endowed with self-government rights, including their own distribution of taxes. The peasants were given the right to leave the land on which they worked after the payment of the duty, and they were no longer bound by the contract.

Ivan the Terrible at the body of his murdered son, N.S. Shustov, 1860s. \ Photo:

Ivan also created a permanent Russian military force known as the archers and fought almost continuously alongside them throughout his reign.In Moscow, the unit became a kind of Praetorian Guard under the Tsar and the Kremlin, but also acted as a quasi-police force and fire brigade for the city. The unit was disbanded by Peter the Great in 1689, a scene that included the spectacle of public executions and torture after failing to maintain Peter's legitimacy on the throne.

3. Terrible Oprichnina

Guardsmen, by Nikolai Nevrev, circa 1870s. \ Photo:

During the 1560s, Russia was devastated by famine, blockaded by the Swedes and Poles, and exhausted by a series of unsuccessful conflicts with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Anastasia Romanova, Ivan's first wife, to whom he was extremely attached, died suddenly. The alleged cause of death was poisoning: the same cause of death of Ivan's mother in her youth. These factors are said to have had a detrimental effect on Ivan, destroying his mental health. The rumor about the poisoning made the king paranoid in relation to the nobility closest to the king and queen.

In 1564, Ivan abdicated the throne, citing suspicion and betrayal of the nobility, and fled the country. Despite the political assistance of the Zemsky Sobor, Ivan's court could not make a decision in his absence. The Tsar agreed to return to Russia on the only condition that he could rule with absolute autonomy, including the right to confiscate all the property of those whom he considered traitors, including the nobility. Ivan's word was law.

Tsar Ivan the Terrible, Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, 1897. \ Photo:

Upon his return, he created a detachment of personal protection called the oprichniki, who obeyed only the king. Ivan plunged his country into a politics called Oprichnina, in which it remained for many years. The king allocated most of the land for his guardsmen, where they will carry out torture and executions.

The main goal of this policy was the country's noble class. At the slightest suspicion, Ivan reserved the right to publicly execute or torture anyone he considered a traitor. This paranoia and brutal punishment of his own people paralleled Joseph Stalin during his Purge policy, when he controlled the Soviet Russian government during the 1930s. Almost overnight, Russia became a police state.

4. Madness

Ivan the Terrible and the souls of his victims, Baron Mikhail Konstantinovich Klodt von Jurgensburg. \ Photo:

When the plague struck Novgorod, Ivan's paranoia reached such a degree that he thought it was a ploy of the nobility to overthrow his rule. His own city was plundered and burned.

The political manifestation of the distraught king entailed enormous consequences. The exact number of victims of the Oprichnina is disputed, as is the number of victims of the Stalinist purges. The guardsmen enjoyed many political, legal and social privileges, which they greatly abused. The unit was free to attack anyone they suspected of treason. It was one of the first recorded examples in human history of government surveillance of a population. Many citizens fled Russia, which caused enormous damage to its economy.

Ivan III Vasilievich - the first Russian autocrat. \ Photo:

After the death of his first wife, with whom he had most of the children, Ivan married seven more women. He fathered eight children, only three of whom survived to adulthood. Of the eight women the king was supposed to marry, three died (or most likely were killed) while they were acting as queen. Scholars speculate that powerful aristocratic families poisoned a number of wives in an attempt to force their daughters to marry a neurotic king in order to bring their family line to power.

5. The fall of the king

Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan November 16, 1581, Ilya Repin, 1885. \ Photo:

The most famous example of Ivan's madness can be found in the story of the end of 1581. That year Ivan's eldest son and heir, also named Ivan, turned twenty-seven years old. His wife was pregnant. The family line and the throne line were safe. For unknown reasons, the king fell into a state of blind rage and beat his pregnant daughter-in-law, probably causing a miscarriage. The furious son of Ivan clashed with the tsar, and they entered into a heated confrontation. Ivan the Terrible hit his son in the temple with a staff, killing him on the spot.

In the picture above, the artist depicted a petrified Ivan the Terrible holding his son dying by his own hand.Artist Ilya Repin captured a moment of absolute horror, panic, remorse and grief in the eyes of the king. The painting is an outstanding work of art and is appreciated all over the world.

6. The legacy of Ivan the Terrible

Ivan the Terrible next to the body of his son, Vyacheslav Schwartz, circa 1864. \ Photo:

By killing his own son, Ivan single-handedly put an end to the Rurik dynasty, which sat on the Russian / Moscow throne since 882. He was inherited by his second oldest son Fedor I (b. 1584-1598). Weak in body and mind, the heir was never able to have offspring. After the very shaky reign of Fedor, who had his own set of problems, who grew up without a mother and in the shadow of his paranoid murderous father, Russia entered what is known as the Time of Troubles, a nightmarish succession crisis.

Ivan died of a stroke at the age of fifty-three while playing chess. While his legacy was terrible, it also helped legitimize Russia as a cultural and religious center of power. His foreign policy turned the Russian gaze westward, toward Europe, not eastward, toward Asia. This legacy will be continued by Peter the Great.

Death of Ivan the Terrible after playing chess, 1844. \ Photo:

Ivan's early passion for art manifested itself in himself: this man was a skilled writer and musician. If he had not grown up in an environment that has crippled his sanity so much, it is possible that his reign would have been a time of prolonged progressive reform and tolerance.

Read the next article on how how did Prince Albert live in the shadow of his crowned wife, Queen Victoria and why he could not get the title for many years.

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