Ivan the Terrible

Ivan Terrible

His true name was Ivan Vasilievich.

On 25 August 1530, Ivan is born, the highly anticipated son of the Grand Duke of Russia, Vasili III. Ivan’s birth is for the residents of the time the long awaited moment since he would be the first son of the Prince. When he was born, the Kremlin was struck by a lightning which caused a serious fire and baby Ivan already had two teeth. These signs were regarded as of divine origin and interpreted in the following manner: He will tear down the country’s enemies with one tooth and with the other one he will bite his own people.

Because of his tender age, Ivan was considered an obstacle by the contender families, reason for which his mother, Elena and the squire Obolenski Telepnev started a series of arrests among the most feared landowners. The desire for power of the boyar families has become so great that the persecuted became persecutors, so the “prey” became Ivan’s mother, Elena Glinski and the squire Obolenski Telepnev, both patrons of Ivan.

Their death has turned Russia into an open battle field for the power between the noble families. The families who have managed to put their imprint on the baby Ivan were Šuiski and Bielski, families due to which he will face hunger, cruelty, wickedness, beating and indifference. It is said that being inside the walls of the Kremlin, Ivan had a deviating behavior because his fun was considered to be plucking the birds feathers and throwing the baby birds from the walls.

Ivan is crowned Tsar of Russia in Moscow on 16 January 1547. A month later, he married the daughter of an old noble family of noble heritage, Anastasia Romanovna at the Assumption Cathedral. Tsarina Anastasia will give birth to two girls and two boys. After the death of Anastasia, Ivan will marry in 1561 with the daughter of the Circassian Prince, Temriuk, who was baptized and given the name of Maria. In 1571, Ivan married for the third time with Marfa Sobakina, then in 1572 with Anna Koltovski, daughter of a courtier, in 1575 with Anna Vasilcikova, in 1579 with Vasilisa Melentieva, in 1580 with Maria Dolgorukaya and in 1581 with Maria Feodorovna Nagaya, the daughter of an officer of the court. The reign of the first Tsar of Russia can be divided into two periods: a prosperous one, full of wide-ranging reforms and benefits and the second one of full of the Tsar’s issues, shrouded in the mist of his madness.

The Oprichniki violence is encouraged by the Tsar which rewards them with goods taken from traitors. Soon, they became feared and detested. Among the boyars, the Tsar will start a series of brutal murders, in which most of them will be tortured and the Tsar will personally take part. Paradoxically, after each crime, the Tsar retired for a few hours to spend his time in prayer.

The highlight of his madness and cruelty after which he got the name of “Grozny” (Terrible) is the massacre of Novgorod from 1570, whose continuity was intended to be in the city of Pskov. Under the pretext of an existent letter in which the willingness of the residents of the two cities to submit to Poland was noticed, Ivan orders the Oprichniki to kill the entire population. The massacre lasted for five weeks, during which around the town, there were raised walls so that no people could escape. The officials were arrested and the priests were killed. The residents were brought in front of Ivan and his son, where they were tortured. “I entered Novgorod with a horse and left with 49 horses and 22 loaded wagons”, said Ivan.

The great decline starts on 15 November 1581 when Ivan’s wife, who was pregnant, saw her  daughter-in-law wearing a light dress instead of three dresses as it was the custom. She beat her so hard that she had to abort. The angry Tsarevich raises his voice against his father, the sovereign, which in a huff he randomly strikes his son with the iron tip of his stick and mortally wounds him. His son’s death became the drop that filled the glass. Ivan could sleep only a few hours per night. The debauchery, excess of food and drink ruined his health. Because not even the doctor’s potions, nor the priest’s prayers couldn’t stop the disease, Ivan called the sorcerers. From all parts of the country, astrologers, fortune tellers and quacks arrive to Moscow. The conclusions of what they will see, however, were to be hidden, but he found out by chance that the astrologers have calculated his time of death, 18 March 1584.

The calculations of the astrologers and soothsayers came true on 18 March 1584. Ivan the Terrible, died during a game of chess with Bogdan Bielski. It is said that Ivan died of a disease of the intestines and of the urogenital system, but after Stalin ordered the exhumation of Ivan the Terrible, to these conditions, mercury poisoning was added.

According to testimonies of the time, Ivan was a genius diplomat, a true political visionary, an exceptional wielder of the pen, being considered a particularly religious man. His intelligence was overshadowed by his bouts of paranoia and depression, which led to extreme violence.

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