The long reign of Ivan IV saw the transformation of Muscovy into a multiethnic empire through ambitious political, military, and cultural projects, which revolved around the controversial figure of the monarch.
ivan iv and the rurikid dynasty
Born to the ruling Moscow branch of the Rurikid dynasty, Ivan nominally became grand prince at the age of three after the death of his father, Grand Prince Vasily III. During the regency of Ivan's mother, Yelena Glinskaya, from 1533 to 1538, ruling circles strengthened Ivan's position as nominal ruler by eliminating Prince Andrei Ivanovich of Staritsa and Prince Yury Ivanovich of Dmitrov, representatives of the royal family's collateral branches. Ivan's status as dynastic leader was reinforced during his coronation as tsar on January 16, 1547. Drawing extensively on Byzantine and Muscovite coronation rituals and literary texts to reveal the divine sanction for Ivan's power, the ceremony posited continuity between his rule and the rule of the Byzantine emperors and Kievan princes. Ivan continued the aggressive policy of his ancestors toward the collateral branches of the dynasty by eliminating his cousin, Prince Vladimir Andreyevich of Staritsa (1569).
Ivan was married several times. His wives were from Muscovite elite clans (Anastasia Zakharina Romanova, Maria Nagaya) and from relatively obscure gentry families (Marfa Sobakina, Anna Koltovskaya, Anna Vasilchikova). He also tried to raise the status of the dynasty by establishing matrimonial ties with foreign ruling houses, but succeeded only in marrying the Caucasian Princess Maria (Kuchenei) (1561). Throughout his reign, Ivan sought to secure the succession of power for
his sons, although he accidentally killed his elder son Ivan (1581). The tsar's other son, the reportedly mentally challenged Fyodor, eventually inherited the throne.
ivan iv and his court
When Ivan was a minor, power was in the hands of influential courtiers. Under Yelena Glinskaya, Prince Mikhail Lvovich Glinsky competed for power with Yelena's favorite, Prince Ivan Fyodorovich Ovchina-Obolensky. Yelena's death (1538) was followed by fierce competition between the princely clans of Shuyskys, Belskys, Kubenskys, and Glinskys, and the boyar Vorontsov clan. After his coronation, Ivan attempted to stabilize the situation at court through improving the registry of elite military servitors, providing them with prestige landholdings around Moscow, and regulating service relations among the elite during campaigns. The authorities limited the right of some princely families to dispose of their lands in order to pursue the lands policy. Ivan granted top court ranks to a wide circle of elite servitors, which especially benefited the tsarina's relatives, the Zakharins-Yurevs. Ivan also favored officials of lower origin, Alexei Fyodorovich Adashev and Ivan Mikhaylovich Viskovaty, though some experts question their influence at court. Historians sometimes call the ruling circles of the 1550s "the chosen council," but this vague literary term is apparently irrelevant to governmental institutions.
Beginning in 1564, Ivan IV subjected his court to accusations of treason, executions, and disgraces by establishing the Oprichnina. Despite the subsequent abolition of the Oprichnina in 1572, Ivan continued to favor some of its former members. Among them were the elite Nagoy and Godunov families, including Ivan's relative and would-be tsar Boris Godunov. The established princely Shuysky and Mstislavsky clans and the Zakharin-Yurev boyar family retained their high positions at court throughout Ivan's reign.
Ivan's court also included Tatar servitors, including prominent members of the Chingissid dynasty, who received the title of tsar. Ivan granted the last survivor of those Tatar tsars, Simeon Bekbulatovich (Sain-Bulat), the title of grand prince of Moscow and official jurisdiction over a considerable part of the realm. Historians usually interpret the reign of Simeon (1575–1576) as a parody of the Muscovite political system. It may be that Ivan, in granting Simeon the new title, sought to deprive Simeon of the title of tsar and thereby eliminate a possible Chingissid succession to the throne.
ivan iv and his realm
In the 1550s, Ivan IV and his advisors attempted to standardize judicial and administrative practices across the country by introducing a new law code (1550) and delegating routine administrative and financial tasks to the increasingly structured chancelleries. The keeping of law and order and control of the local population's mobility became the tasks of locally elected officials, in turn accountable to the central chancelleries. The remote northern territories enjoyed a greater autonomy in local affairs than the central parts of the country.
Albeit limited and inconsistent, these reforms allowed Ivan to maintain an approximately 70,000-man army and to pursue an aggressive foreign policy. With the capture of the Tatar states of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556), Ivan acquired vast territories populated with a multiethnic, predominantly Muslim population with distinctive cultural and economic traditions. The conquest of those lands, whose peoples remained rebellious throughout Ivan's reign, contributed to the tension between Muscovy and the powerful Muslim states of Crimea and Turkey, which jointly attacked Astrakhan in 1569. The Crimean khan devastated Moscow in 1571, but Ivan's commanders inflicted a defeat on him in 1572. Ivan failed to avoid simultaneous involvement in military conflicts on several fronts. Without settling the conflict in the south, he launched a war against his western neighbor, Livonia, in 1558. Historians traditionally interpret the Livonian War (1558–1583) in geopolitical terms, asserting that Ivan was looking for passage to the Baltic Sea to expand overseas trade. Revisionists explain the war's origins in terms of Ivan's short-range interest in getting tribute. The Livonian war only resulted in human and material losses for Muscovy. Ivan supported commercial relations between Muscovy and England, but attempts to conclude a political union with the queen of England were in vain. The war, famines, epidemics, and the Oprichnina caused a profound economic crisis in Muscovy, especially in the Novgorod region. By the end of Ivan's reign, peasants abandoned 70 to 98 percent of arable land throughout the country. Many of them fled to the periphery of the realm, including Siberia, whose colonization intensified in the early 1580s.
ivan iv and the orthodox church
Ivan IV cultivated a close relationship with the Orthodox Church through regular pilgrimages and generous donations to monasteries. The symbolism of court religious rituals, in which the tsar participated with the metropolitan, and the semiotics of Ivan's residence in the Kremlin stressed the divine character of the tsar's power and the prevailing harmony between the tsar and the church. In 1551, Ivan participated in a church council that attempted to systematize religious practices and the jurisdiction of church courts. Metropolitan Macarius, head of the church and a close advisor to the tsar, sponsored an ideology of militant Orthodoxy that presented the tsar as champion and protector of the true faith. Macarius also played a part in conducting domestic and foreign policy. Contrary to traditional views, the court priest Silvester apparently did not exert political influence on the tsar. Ivan demonstrated a flexible attitude toward the landownership of the church and its tax privileges. Ivan often played ecclesiastical leaders off each other and even deposed disloyal hierarchs.
controversy over ivan's personality and historical role
Ivan is credited with writing diplomatic letters to European monarchs, epistles to elite servitors and clerics, and a reply to a Protestant pastor. Dmitry Likhachev, J. L. I. Fennell, and other specialists describe Ivan as an erudite writer who developed a peculiar literary style through the use of different genres, specific syntax, irony, parody, and mockery of opponents. According to his writings, Ivan, traumatized by childhood memories of boyar arbitrariness, sought through terror to justify his autocratic rule and to prevent the boyars from regaining power. Edward Keenan argues that Ivan was illiterate, never wrote the works attributed to him, and was a puppet in the hands of influential boyar clans. The majority of experts do not share Keenan's view. All information on the influence of particular individuals and clans on Ivan comes from biased sources and should be treated with caution.
Nikolay Karamzin created an influential romantic image of an Ivan who first favored pious counselors but later became a tyrant. Many historians have explained Ivan's erratic policy in psychological terms (Nikolay Kostomarov, Vasily Klyuchevsky); some have assumed a mental disorder (Pavel Kovalevsky, D. M. Glagolev, Richard Hellie, Robert Crummey). The autopsy performed on Ivan's remains in 1963 suggests that Ivan might have suffered from a spinal disease, but it is unclear how the illness affected his behavior. The probability that Ivan was poisoned should be minimized. Other historians sought to rationalize Ivan's behavior, presuming that he acted as a protector of state interests in a struggle with boyar hereditary privileges (Sergei Solovyov, Sergei Platonov). According to Platonov, Ivan was a national democratic leader whose policy relied on the nonaristocratic gentry. This concept was revived in Stalinist historiography, which implicitly paralleled Ivan and Stalin by praising the tsar for strengthening the centralized Russian state through harsh measures (Robert Vipper, Sergei Bakhrushin, Ivan Smirnov). Stepan Veselovsky and Vladimir Kobrin subjected Platonov's concept to devastating criticism. Beginning in the 1960s, Soviet historians saw Ivan's policy as a struggle against various elements of feudal fragmentation (Alexander Zimin, Kobrin, Ruslan Skrynnikov). The political liberalization of the late 1980s evoked totalitarian interpretations of Ivan's rule (the later works of Kobrin and Skrynnikov). Boris Uspensky, Priscilla Hunt, and Andrei Yurganov explain Ivan's behavior in terms of the cultural myths of the tsar's power.
See also: autocracy; basil iii; glinskaya, elena vasilyevna; kievan rus; kurbsky, andrei mikhailovich; makary, metropolitan; muscovy; oprichnina; othrodoxy
Bogatyrev, Sergei. (1995). "Grozny tsar ili groznoe vremya? Psikhologichesky obraz Ivana Groznogo v istoriografii." Russian History 22:285–308.
Fennell. J.L.I. ed., tr. (1955). The Correspondence between Prince Kurbsky and Tsar Ivan IV of Russia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fennell, John. (1987). "Ivan IV As a Writer." Russian History 14:145–154.
Kalugin, V. V. (1998). Andrey Kurbsky i Ivan Grozny. Teoreticheskie vzglyady i literaturnaya tekhnika drevnerusskogo pisatelya. Moscow: Yazyki russkoy kultury.
Keenan, Edward L. (1971). The Kurbskii–Groznyi Apocrypha: The Seventeenth-Century Genesis of the "Correspondence" Attributed to Prince A. M. Kurbskii and Tsar Ivan IV, with an appendix by Daniel C. Waugh. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kliuchevsky, V. O. (1912). A History of Russia, tr. C. J. Hogarth, vol. 2. London: J. M. Dent and Sons.
Hunt, Priscilla. (1993). "Ivan IV's Personal Mythology of Kingship." Slavic Review 52:769–809.
Perrie, Maureen. (2001). The Cult of Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia. Basingstoke, NY: Palgrave.
Platonov, S. F. (1986). Ivan the Terrible, ed. and tr. Joseph L. Wieczynski, with "In Search of Ivan the Terrible" by Richard Hellie. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press.
Rowland, Daniel. (1995). "Ivan the Terrible As a Carolingian Renaissance Prince." In Kamen Kraeugln, Rhetoric of the Medieval Slavic World: Essays Presented to Edward Keenan on His Sixtieth Birthday by His Colleagues and Students. Harvard Ukrainian Studies, vol. 19, ed. Nancy Shields Kollmann; Donald Ostrowski; Andrei Pliguzov; and Daniel Rowland. Cambridge, MA: The Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University.
Skrynnikov, Ruslan G. (1981). Ivan the Terrible, ed. and tr. Hugh F. Graham. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press.
Ivan IV (1530-1584), known as Ivan the Terrible, was the first Russian sovereign to be crowned czar and to hold czar as his official title in addition to the traditional title of grand duke of Moscow.
The reign of Ivan IV was the culmination of Russian historical developments that began with the rise of Moscow in the early 14th century. The results of these developments were the growth of a unified centralized state governed by an autocracy and the formation of a dominant class of serving gentry, the pomeshchiki.
Very little is actually known about Ivan. None of his papers, notes, or correspondence has survived. It is not possible to establish a precise chronology or to give a trustworthy factual account of Ivan's personal life. There are whole successions of years without a single reference to Ivan himself. All that is possible under these circumstances is to make surmises that are more or less in accord with the evidence of the scanty material that has survived.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to contemporary students of Russian history in understanding Ivan is the epithet accorded him—"the Terrible" or "the Dread." This epithet indicates sadistic and irrational traits in his character, and there is sufficient evidence to make Ivan's reign a study in abnormal psychology. It is said that as a boy he took delight in throwing young animals to their death from high rooftops. He also formed the habit of robbing and beating the people of his capital. There is also the terrible event in 1581, when Ivan, in a fit of anger, lashed out at his 27-year-old son, Ivan Ivanovich, and struck him dead with an iron-pointed staff.
It would, therefore, be foolish to argue that the personality of Ivan IV is irrelevant to an understanding of his reign. It has been shown, in fact, that there was a very real cause for the monstrous aspects of Ivan's personality. A contemporary study of Ivan's skeleton showed that he must have suffered horribly for many years from osteophytes, which virtually fused his spine.
Ivan was born on Aug. 25, 1530, in Moscow. His father was Basil III and his mother Helen Glinsky, a Russian of Lithuanian origin. Ivan was only 3 years old when his father died in 1533. His mother became regent, and the throne rapidly degenerated into a center of wild violence, intrigue, and denunciation as rival boyar families disputed the Glinksy regency. At times they brought their feuds into the Kremlin itself.
Evidence indicates that Ivan was a sensitive, intelligent boy with a remarkably quick and intuitive mind. He became quite aware of all the intrigues around him and of the precariousness of his own position. He was neglected and at times treated with scorn. Apparently, he was even short of food and clothes. This environment, therefore, nourished a hatred for the boyars that revealed itself in Ivan's later policies toward them.
In 1538 Glinsky died suddenly, and years of strife and misrule ensued. In 1547, however, Ivan decided, much to the astonishment of those around him, to be crowned, not as grand prince, but as czar (God's anointed). In the same year Ivan married Anastasia Romanov. The marriage seems to have been a happy one, and when Anastasia died in 1560, deep grief overcame Ivan. Although he married four more times, he was never able to recapture the happiness he had enjoyed with Anastasia.
In 1547 Ivan also appointed the Selected Council, largely dominated by men of modest social standing. He allowed himself to be both directed and restrained by this Council, even agreeing to do nothing without its approval. The period following the Council's creation is generally considered the constructive period of Ivan's reign.
In 1550 Ivan called the first of two zemskii sobors (consultative assemblies) to meet during his reign. Although knowledge of the assemblies is fragmentary (some historians even deny that there was an assembly in 1550), they appear not to have been elected but appointed by Ivan himself and to have served in a purely advisory capacity. Approval was given, however, to several of Ivan's projected reforms. In 1552 a reform in local government was instituted. In those areas where the local population could guarantee a fixed amount of state dues to the treasury, officials elected from and by the local inhabitants were given the right to collect taxes in lieu of the old governors, who were abolished in such areas.
The Law Code of 1550 was another important reform of the early part of Ivan's reign. It was concerned primarily with discouraging the use of customary law in the courts, and it introduced the principle of statutory law.
Ivan, a devout churchman, called a church council in 1551. Among other matters, the council considered liturgical questions and passed reforms which tightened and perfected the organization of the Church. Ivan was also concerned with standardizing and organizing the responsibilities and duties of the service class. In 1556 he issued a decree which provided new regulations concerning the length, nature, and form of service which a member of the nobility was expected to render.
Among Ivan's military accomplishments was the destruction of the Tatar khanates of Kazan in 1552 and Astrakhan in 1556. Thus, of the three Tatar states in the region of Russia, only the Crimean Tatars remained unconquered by Muscovy. With the addition of Kazan and Astrakhan, Muscovy now extended to the Urals in the east and to the Caspian Sea in the south. Russia also began its expansion to the east beyond the Urals at this time and before Ivan's death had established itself in Siberia. Ivan's ambition to restore to Muscovy the western territories which had been annexed by Lithuania in the 16th century, however, was unrealized.
Another of Ivan's ambitions, contact with the West, was achieved. In 1553 an English sea captain, Richard Chancellor, landed on the Russian shore near the mouth of the Northern Dvina River and made his way to Moscow. Upon his return to England, Chancellor became one of the founders of the Muscovy Company, to which Ivan gave special trade privileges. Although traders of other nations, Dutch and French, began to appear, the English dominated the Russian trade with centers in many Russian towns.
Despite governmental improvements at home and successes abroad, the constructive or early period of Ivan's rule was not to endure. He broke with his Selected Council, turned against many of his former advisers, and introduced a reign of terror against the boyars. The major turning point came in 1560, when Anastasia died quite suddenly. Convinced that his advisers, backed by the boyars, had caused her death, Ivan condemned them and turned against the nobility. In 1564 he abandoned Moscow. What his intentions were is not clear, although he threatened to abdicate and denounced the boyars for their greed and treachery. Confused and frightened, the people of Moscow begged the Czar to return and rule over them. His eventual agreement to return was dependent upon two basic conditions: the creation of a territorial and political subdivision—the oprichnina—to be managed entirely at the discretion of the Czar; and Ivan's right to punish traitors and wrongdoers, executing them when necessary and confiscating their possessions.
The area encompassed by the oprichnina was a large one, constituting about one-half of the existing Muscovite state. It also included most of the wealthy towns, trading routes, and cultivated areas and was, therefore, a stronghold of wealthy old boyar families. Ivan's establishment of his rule over the area necessarily involved, then, displacement (and destruction) of the major boyar families in Russia. This task fell to his special bodyguards, a select group known as the oprichniki.
In 1584 Ivan's health began to fail. As portents of death came to obsess him, he called on witches and soothsayers to aid him, but to no avail. The end came on March 18, 1584. In a final testament he willed his kingdom to Feodor, his oldest surviving son. Although the transition from Ivan to Feodor was relatively easy and quiet, Muscovy itself was, according to most observers, on the verge of anarchy.
There are several biographies of Ivan in English. The best is probably K. Waliszewski, Ivan the Terrible (trans. 1904). Robert Wipper justifies Ivan's actions in Ivan Grozny (trans., 3d ed. 1947). Other biographies include Stephen Graham, Ivan the Terrible: Life of Ivan IV of Russia (1933), and A. M. Kurbsky, Prince A. M. Kurbsky's History of Ivan IV, edited and translated by J. L. I. Fennell (1965). For a vivid self-portrait of Ivan as well as a justification of his actions see The Correspondence between Prince A. M. Kurbsky and Tsar Ivan IV of Russia, 1564-79, edited and translated by J. L. I. Fennell (1955). A contemporary account of Ivan's Russia is Giles Fletcher, Of the Rus Commonwealth, edited by Albert J. Schmidt (1966). British trade with Russia can be studied in T. S. Willan, The Early History of the Russia Company, 1553-1603 (1956). □