Ivan the Terrible


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Ivan the Terrible:

see Ivan IVIvan IV
or Ivan the Terrible,
1530–84, grand duke of Moscow (1533–84), the first Russian ruler to assume formally the title of czar. Early Reign

Ivan succeeded his father Vasily III, who died in 1533, under the regency of his mother.
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Ivan the Terrible, who has been compared to Vlad the Impaler.

Ivan the Terrible (1530–1584)

(pop culture)

Ivan the Terrible was the first czar of Russia. His arbitrary and cruel behavior led to his comparison with Vlad the Impaler, the historical Dracula. Ivan inherited the title of Grand Duke of Moscovy when he was three and grew up watching the leading families (the boyars) of his land lead the countries through a period of chaos as they fought among themselves for bits of power. He was seventeen when a Chosen Council emerged to bring about reform. Although they succeeded in ending the chaos, Ivan continually fought with them over a multitude of administrative matters. In 1564, in frustration, he suddenly abdicated. When the people demanded his return, he was able to dictate the terms of his reinstatement and gain almost absolute power.

He moved quickly to establish his own ruling elite, the Oprichnina, which wrested much of the remaining power from the boyars.

Ivan’s reign of two decades was marked, in part, by his conquest of the lands along the Volga River and his movement into Siberia, as well as by a disastrous war in which he unsuccessfully tried to capture Livonia (today Estonia). He is most remembered however, not for his political actions, but for his personal conduct. In his desire to establish a strong central Russian government, he was quick to punish (and even execute) many who challenged his rule or in any way showed disrespect for what he considered his exalted status. He manifested symptoms of extreme paranoia and had a quick and fiery temper. In 1580, in a moment of rage, he killed his own son, a prospective heir.

Outstanding among the traits remembered by his contemporaries, Ivan possessed a dark sense of humor, quite similar to that attributed to Vlad. It often characterized the tortures and executions of those who became the objects of his rage. As one historian, S. K. Rosovetskii, has noted, many of the stories told about Ivan were variations of those originally ascribed to Vlad a century earlier. For example, there was a Romanian folk story about the leading citizens of the town of Tirgoviste, Dracula’s capital. The citizens had mocked Dracula’s brother. In revenge, he rounded up the leading citizens (the boyars) following Easter Day celebrations and, in their fine clothes, he marched them off to work on building Castle Dracula. Ivan, it was reported, did something quite similar in the town of Volgoda when the people slighted him on Easter morning. He rounded them up, still dressed in their Easter finery, to build a new city wall for the town.

Possibly the most famous Dracula story told of Ivan concerned the Turkish envoy who refused to remove his hat in Dracula’s presence. Dracula, in turn, had the man’s hat nailed to the top of his head. Ivan, it was reported, did the same thing to an Italian diplomat (or in an alternative account, to a French ambassador).

Ivan, like Vlad, often turned on powerful figures in Russian society and humiliated them to prevent their return to the dignity of their offices. The story was told, for example, of his attack on Pimen, the Russian Orthodox metropolitan of Novgorod. He stripped Pimen of his church vestments, had him dressed as a strolling minstrel (an occupation denounced by the church), then staged a mock wedding in which Pimen was married to a mare. Presenting the defrocked prelate with the signs of his new status, a bagpipe and a lyre, Ivan sent him from the city.

Ivan differed from Vlad in his sexual appetite. He was a polygamist with seven wives and as many as 50 concubines. He also left his immediate successors with a very mixed inheritance. Although he had expanded the territory of Russia, he left behind a bankrupt country, and discontent with his rule grew steadily. Ivan, however, died quietly in the middle of a chess game on March 18, 1584.

Sources:

de Madariaga, Isabel. Ivan the Terrible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. 256 pp.
Parrie, Maureen. The Image of Ivan the Terrible in Russian Folklore. London: Cambridge University Press, 1987. 269 pp.

Ivan the Terrible

(1533–1584) his reign was characterized by murder and terror. [Russ. Hist.: EB, 9: 1179–1180]
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