xxxxxAs we have seen, in 1547 (E6) Ivan IV was crowned Tsar of All Russia. He at once set about reforming the country's administration -
IVAN IV "THE TERRIBLE" Ruled 1547 -
Ivan IV: detail, by the Russian painter Victor Vasnetsov (1848-
xxxxxBy the end of his reign in 1505, Ivan the Great, having thrown off Mongol domination, had united much of the diverse territory that made up European Russia. However, when his grandson, Ivan IV, came to the throne in 1533 he was just three years old. The inevitable happened. During his long minority the country was torn apart by a vicious struggle for power among the Boyars, the Russian aristocrats. Only turmoil reigned.
xxxxxAs we have seen, however, all this changed when, in 1547 (E6), at the age of 17, the young Ivan IV was crowned "Tsar and Grand Prince of All Russia". He quickly lived up to his impressive title, though the leading politicians at this time almost certainly played a major part, if not the major part in his undertakings. Anyway, as Tsar, he set about a thorough reform of the country's internal administration -
xxxxxBut it was not to last. Ivan was about to live up to his nickname. In 1560 his wife Anastasia, a member of the Romonov family, died suddenly. The marriage had been a happy one, and perhaps it was this personal tragedy that brought about the onset of some form of mental disorder, prone as he already was to violent fits of temper. Or was it the fact that at this very time his trusted and able field commander Prince Andrey Kurbsky defected to the Poles, blaming him for all the ills of Russia? More likely, it was his abiding fear and mistrust of the boyars, the hereditary nobility, that set him on a steep slope to a reign of terror. Whatever the underlying causes, convinced that his advisors, in collusion with the boyars, had caused his wife's death, and that he was himself in danger, he abandoned Moscow in December 1564 and settled in the village of Aleksandrovsk. He returned the following month, but only after it had been agreed by the Muscovites that he would have the right to exact punishment as he saw fit, and that he would be in personal control of an "oprichnina", a vast area of crown land comprising many wealthy towns and some of the best cultivated regions in Russia.
xxxxxOnce the oprichnina had been set up in 1565, his personal bodyguard -
xxxxxAndxalongside this crazy, internal mayhem went an equally disastrous military policy. In attempting, unsuccessfully, to gain access to the Baltic Sea, Russian forces were engaged in the Livonian War, a bitter, fruitless struggle with Sweden and Lithuania which raged on with ever changing fortunes from 1557 to 1582. For a time Russia held Livonia, but with the entry into the war of Poland, led in 1576 by their king Stephen Bathory, the Tsar's forces were finally crushed in 1582. In this period of his reign, onlyxin the east were Russian forces successful, and this was not due to Ivan, but to the Cossack leader Yermak Timofeyevich. In 1581 he led an expedition of just 840 men across the Ural Mountains and, overrunning the Khanate of Sibir, brought most of the Ob River Basin under the empire's control, leaving the way open for the conquest of Siberia. As we shall see, the Russians eventually reached the Pacific Ocean in 1639 (C1).
xxxxxBy the 1570s the Tsar had become mentally deranged, living a life that alternated between debauchery and total self denial. He remained dangerously unpredictable, and the killings continued. The climax came in 1581 when, in a fit of rage, he throttled his eldest and favourite son, Ivan. He died in 1584, a broken man, and his second son, the feeble-
xxxxxIncidentally, we are told that the nickname "The Terrible" had nothing to do with his later acts of barbarity, but was given to him during his early campaign against the Tatars. His soldiers called him Grozny which, in Russian, means one who is dreaded or awe-
xxxxx...... Yermak Timofeyevich's exploits in western Siberia earned him a place in Russian folklore. His small force of men, having overthrown a much larger army (doubtless helped by the fact that they alone possessed firearms!), then seized the capital of Kashlyk (or Sibir) on the River Irtysh. In 1584, however, while leading a band of cossacks, he was attacked by Khan Kuchum, the leader of Sabir, and, while trying to escape, was drowned in the River Irtysh. The story goes that he could not swim because his coat of chain mail, a gift from the Tsar, was too heavy and took him under the water!
xxxxxAs we have seen, Boris Godunov (c1551-
xxxxxAs we have seen, Boris Godunov (c1551-
xxxxxGodunov was thus responsible for the government of Russia for over twenty years and, considering the state of the empire when he took it over, he did well to keep the country together. Ruthless and autocratic, he has the dubious distinction of being the first Tsar to use Siberia as a place of banishment for dissidents -
xxxxxBut many of these measures put him at odds with the nobility, whilst, at the other end of the social scale, his inability to alleviate the suffering caused by widespread famine stirred up popular opposition throughout the country. Onlyxa spark was needed to blow the country apart and this came in the form of a pretender to the throne, the so called False Dmitry (here illustrated). A de-
xxxxxIncidentally, in 1825 the Russian poet and playwright Alexander Pushkin wrote one of his best known plays, Boris Godunov, based on the Tsar. In this tragedy, mainly in blank verse, he makes Godunov guilty of the murder of the young crown prince, Dmitry, thus adding considerably to the drama of the situation. Some years later his countryman, the composer Modest Mussorgsky, produced an opera partly based on this play. It was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1874.