Ivan the Terrible

By Guest Author: Jack Seabrook, aged 14.

Russia's leader Ivan Vasilyevich (also known as Ivan the Terrible) was Russia's Tsar whose reign lasted from 1547-1584.

He was the Tsar of all Russians until his death.

ivan the vasili x

Ivan was born in Kolomenskoye, Moscow, on the 25th August 1530. He was the oldest son of Vasili III and Elana Glinskaya.

Ivans childhood may have been the reason for him becoming Ivan the Terrible. Through his own letters it is said that Ivan and his brother Yuri often felt neglected and offended by higher ranked people like the Boyars (aristocrats). Their father died when Ivan was only three years old so even at such a young age he was declared as the Grand Prince of Moscow.

ivan glinskaya x

Their mother was at first a regent but she died five years later when Ivan was eight; another traumatising experience for such young boys.

Ivan was always smart and a keen reader; early on he started dreaming of unlimited power. He was crowned Tsar of all Russians at age 16, the first ruler to officially assume the title. He started out as a reformer and he managed to revise the whole law code and create his own elite standing army. He also wanted to turn Russia into a strong military state. In 1552 Ivan crushed the Tatar (Turkic-speaking people living in central Russia along the Volga river and the Ural mountains); then, the Astrakhan (a city standing on the banks of the Volga river). These campaigns began Russia's expansion into Serbia therefore, bringing a large Muslim population with it and turning Russia into a multi-ethnic/multi-religious state.

ivan the anastasia x

On the 3rd February 1547 Ivan married Anastasia Romanovna. Anastasia was selected as the best wife for Ivan from between 500-and 1500 other mates. This shows that marrying out of choice and love was not an option for Ivan, probably because of his rank, being ruler of Russia.

Soon Ivan’s life took a dramatic turn when in 1553 he had a near life threatening illness. Then several years later his dear wife Anastasia died. Ivan, suspecting that the nobles had poisoned Anastasia and planned to remove him from the throne he embarked on a campaign to kill the hereditary nobles.

Next a new rule was set up called Oprichnina or Separate Estate. It was a rule where separate territories or cities across Russia were separated from the rest of the realm. The Oprichninas, members handpicked by the Tsar, were Ivan’s personal favourites who spread terror all over Russia.

ivan the oprichinas x

The Oprichninas all dressed in black and rode on black horses carrying dog's heads and brooms.

These were symbols to sniff out treason and sweep away the Tsars enemies - they were known for their cruelty and torture.

In the 1560s there were heavy military losses along with a severe drought, and a devastating famine around the whole country. Russia's most wealthy areas soon became deserted and Ivan's military luck was also not going very well either. Then there was another big blow for Ivan when his closest adviser Prince Andrey Kurbskey deserted to the Lithuanians and let their troops devastate, one of Russia's regions.

This betrayal deeply hurt Ivan.

Later in 1571 the Crimean Taters ravaged the unprotected cities and towns around Moscow and then set fire to the capital itself. Luckily after this Ivan managed to defeat the Lithuanians in the west but by that time Russia could no longer cope and peace was concluded.

Meanwhile Ivan’s temper was becoming more erratic, instead of fits of rage he had bouts of religious humility and instead of drunken feasts he was fasting in remote Monasteries.

In 1581 Ivan accidently killed his eldest son (also called Ivan) during an argument when he hit him with a pointed staff. Most likely wanting another son who could be heir to the throne Ivan changed from one wife to another.

It is not known as to exactly how many wives Ivan had but he married at least several times.

After his death on 18th March 1584, Russia would have to be ruled by his unfit and childless son Feodor.

When the Tsar’s remains were examined in the 1960s, it was concluded that poisoning caused his death.

Quiz 2 - Ivan the Terrible

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