Ivan IV, "The Terrible" (Russia) (1530–1584; Ruled 1533–1584)

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IVAN IV, "THE TERRIBLE" (RUSSIA) (15301584; ruled 15331584)

IVAN IV, "THE TERRIBLE" (RUSSIA) (15301584; ruled 15331584), grand prince of Muscovy and, from 1547, first tsar of Russia. The early achievements of Ivan IV Vasil'evich, known as "the Terrible," were clouded by failure in war and repression at home in his later years. The son of Grand Prince Vasilii III and Princess Elena Glinskaia, Ivan was only three when his father died. His mother led a regency with Prince Ivan Telepnev-Obolenskii, but on her death in 1538, a boyar regency took over and proved to be dominated by vicious factional struggles. At first the princes Shuiskii ousted Obolenskii and Metropolitan Daniil (1539), then the princes Bel'skii rose to power, only to be replaced by the Vorontsovs and then once again by the Glinskiis, the relatives of Ivan's mother. In 1547 Metropolitan Makarii crowned the young Ivan tsar. The new official title signified a claim to equality in rank with the Holy Roman emperor, the Ottoman sultans, and the Chingisid Tatar khans, as well as the Byzantine emperors of the past. Shortly afterwards, Ivan married Anastasiia Romanova, a woman of one of the major boyar clans. After a major riot in Moscow against the Glinskii clan led to their fall from favor, the Romanovs became the closest boyar clan to the throne.

The next decade was one of major accomplishments on all fronts. Historians dispute how much influence Ivan's inner circle of informal advisers wielded. It is certain that, along with the boyars, Aleksei Adashev, the tsar's chamberlain and head of the Petitions Office, and Ivan's chaplain Sil'vestr advised Ivan about policy. After several expeditions down the Volga, Ivan conquered the Tatar khanate of Kazan' in 1552 and the Astrakhan' khanate in 1556, giving Russia control of the whole length of the river and the steppe around it. In a few years the Russians had built a fort on the Terek River near present-day Grozny. These spectacular successes changed the balance of power in western Eurasia, as Russia was the first sedentary power to break into the steppe, cutting off its western extension from Central Asia. These conquests laid the foundation for Russian settlement of the Urals and, at the very end of Ivan's reign, the expedition of the Cossack Yermak Timofeyevich into Siberia (15811584), which began the Russian conquest and settlement of northern Asia.

Ivan's internal measures, often anachronistically called reforms, built up the Russian state apparatus on new foundations. In these years new state offices (prikazy) no longer household officescame into being, with an army office (razriad), one for landed estates, and others for bandits, petitions, and other functions. The Ambassadorial Office split off from the treasury in 1549. At the same time, the government continued the policy of ordering local gentry to elect elders to deal with crime and public order, and it replaced the older system of direct collection of taxes by local governors to support their work (kormlenie, or 'feeding') with the requirement for the village community to collect taxes. The older type of provincial government gave way to a more centralized state. In 1550 the government issued a new law code (Sudebnik), really a procedural manual for trials and investigation. In 1551 Ivan called a council of the church that resulted in a series of enactments called the Hundred Chapters, which tried to correct administrative, liturgical, and moral abuses by strengthening episcopal administration as well as the tsar's control.

In 1553 Ivan fell ill and seemed on the point of death, and he tried to guarantee the succession for his infant son. Some boyars supported him, but others feared a regency that would only empower the Romanovs. A third group favored Ivan's cousin, Vladimir of Staritsa, an incapable but certainly legitimate possibility. Fortunately Ivan recovered, but the episode poisoned relations between the tsar and his cousin, as well as with many of the boyars. The poison began to work a decade later.

In 1558 Ivan, confident in his power after the victories over the Tatars, decided to invade and attempt to conquer Livonia, founded in the thirteenth century by a German crusading order on the territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia. The Reformation had destroyed the rationale and unity of the order, and Poland and Russia both craved its lands and trading cities. For Russia, they were the main artery of commerce with Europe. Ivan's army was quickly successful, but the entrance of Poland into the war provided a new enemy. At first victorious over the Poles, Ivan's army bogged down in a long stalemate that lasted until the 1570s, when Poland and Sweden expelled the Russians and divided Livonia between themselves. The failed war was a major burden on the Russian treasury and ruinous for the peasantry, who paid the taxes to support it.

The war also caused discontent among the elite, and in 1564 Prince Andrei Mikhailovich Kurbskii defected to Poland-Lithuania, inaugurating a famous exchange of polemics with Ivan and also contributing to the establishment of the oprichnina. The executions and exactions of the following years struck the boyar elite as well as the gentry and townspeople in Novgorod. In 1575 Ivan suddenly placed a converted Tatar prince, Semen Bekbulatovich, on the throne for a few months, but the strange episode had no consequences. A return to near normalcy failed to improve Russia's position in the war, and a truce with Poland in 1582 brought Ivan no gains for his enormous effort. The one accomplishment was the beginning of the conquest of Siberia under Yermak, but this was sponsored by the Stroganov merchants rather than the government. At the end of Ivan's reign the clans began to return to court and to power, a process completed after Ivan's death.

Ivan's reign was a vivid time, full of light and dark, a reign that saw massive and permanent expansion alongside defeat in war, the foundations of the Russian state apparatus, and enormous political and organizational chaos. The agrarian crisis caused by the Livonian War contributed to the beginnings of serfdom, while trade with England and Holland began and thousands of peasants moved to new and better lands in the south and east. The problems at the core of Ivan IV's reign and his legacy are highly complex, and many aspects remain highly controversial.

See also Baltic Nations ; Boris Godunov (Russia) ; Imperial Expansion, Russia ; Law: Russian ; Livonian War (15581583) ; Oprichnina ; Russia ; Russo-Polish Wars ; Serfdom in Russia ; Vasilii III (Muscovy) .


Camphausen, Hans-Walter. Die Bojarenduma unter Ivan IV: Studien zur altmoskauer Herrschaftsordnung. Frankfurt am Main, 1985.

Platonov, S. F. Ivan the Terrible. Translated by Joseph L. Wieczynski. Gulf Breeze, Fla., 1974.

Skrynnikov, R. G. Ivan the Terrible. Translated by Hugh F. Graham. Gulf Breeze, Fla. 1982.

Soloviev, Sergei M. History of Russia. Vol. 10, The Reign of Ivan the Terrible: Kazan, Astrakhan, Livonia, the Oprichnina and the Polotsk Campaign. Translated by Anthony L. H. Rhinelander. Gulf Breeze, Fla., 1995.

Zimin, A. A. Oprichnina. 2nd ed. Moscow, 2001.

Paul Bushkovitch