Ivan the tyrant
Stalin admired him. The rest of Europe believed he was mad. What is certain is that he was one of the most ruthless tyrants in history.
The name 'Ivan the Terrible' conjours up images of senseless cruelty and paranoia. Yet, for many in Russia, he is a national hero. Ivan appears to be a man of huge contradictions - a man of God who personally tortured his victims and beat his own son to death; a hardened despot who often behaved like a coward, asking his ally, Elizabeth I of England, for political asylum; a man who believed himself chosen to save the souls of his people, but who brutally put thousands to death in carefully orchestrated purges.
Born in 1530, Ivan was only three when he inherited the Russian throne following his father's death. At the age of seven, tragedy struck again when his mother was poisoned by nobles at court. By his early teens, he was already displaying some of his uglier traits. He would throw live animals from towers and appeared to derive pleasure from doing so.
Ivan was crowned Russia's first Tsar at the age of 17. Three weeks later he married, having chosen his bride in a national virgin competition. Virgins over the age of twelve were brought to the Kremlin to be paraded before him. He chose Anastasia, the daughter of a minor noble, and their marriage proved to be a very close one.
Ivan had huge ambitions for his new Imperial dynasty. He launched a holy war against Russia's traditional enemy - the Tartars - showing no mercy to these Muslim peoples and decimating their cultural heritage. Ivan's conquest of Kazan and later Astrakhan and Siberia gave birth to a sixteenth century personality cult glorifying him as the Orthodox crusader.
His wife Anastasia helped to hold his cruelty in check, but in 1560 she died. He accused his nobles of poisoning her, and became even more mentally unstable. Until recently, most scholars have dismissed Ivan's accusation of murder as evidence of his paranoia. But recent forensic tests on Anastasia's remains have revealed more than ten times the normal levels of mercury in her hair. It is likely, that Anastasia was indeed murdered, sending Ivan into a downward spiral of murder and cruelty.
He set up a bodyguard that has been described as Russia's first 'secret police' - the Oprichniki - as a religious brotherhood sworn to protecting God's Tsar. In reality, they became marauding thugs, ready to commit any crime in the Tsar's name. Ivan sentenced thousands to internal exile in far flung parts of the empire. Others were condemned to death; their families and servants often killed as well. Ivan would give detailed orders about the executions, using biblically inspired tortures to reconstruct the sufferings of hell. More than 3,000 people lost their lives in Ivan's attack on Novgorod alone. In a fit of rage, Ivan struck his son and heir dead with his staff. Mad with sorrow and guilt, he had a dramatic volte face, posthumously forgiving all those he'd executed and paying for prayers to be said for their souls. Before his death, Ivan was re-christened as the monk Jonah and buried in his monk's habit - in the hope of finding ultimate forgiveness.
In December 1564, in a dramatic move, the tsar, accompanied by his family and members of his household, left Moscow, ostensibly never to return. The royal caravan, however, did not travel far and settled down in the nearby Aleksandrovskaia Sloboda, which was to serve as Ivan's official residence until the end of his reign. Shortly thereafter Ivan, in messages to the Muscovites, announced his intention to abdicate. He bitterly attacked the boyars and the clergy, whose failings had allegedly forced him to renounce his royal status, but he exonerated the merchants, artisans, and the common people from all responsibility.
The not-unexpected result of this curious maneuver was the prayerful request of the Muscovites to Ivan to reconsider his decision and to resume his duties on his own terms. This he agreed to do; the price was a large indemnity to defray the cost of the royal flight, the surrender and execution of the leading boyars, and the creation of the oprichnina, a royal domain directly controlled by the tsar.
An ancient term, oprichnina signifies an entailed domain and was used to describe the estate settled on the widow of a sovereign prince. The choice of the term was presumably Ivan's own; he liked to think of himself as an orphan or a widower. Under the new dispensation the territory of the nation was split into two parts: zemshchina and oprichnina. The former was administered by the traditional institutions, from the boyar duma down; oprichnina, the personal domain of the tsar, had its own administrative agencies independent of those of the zemshchina.
Oprichnina presumably had two main objectives: the first, of a passing nature, was the extermination of treason; and the second, of lasting significance, was the elimination of the political influence of the landed aristocracy. In pursuit of the former goal the oprichniki were actually agents of the security police. This function was emphasized by their appearance; the emblem of their authority was a broom and a dog's head attached to their saddles. The second objective--the destruction of the influence of the landed aristocracy--was achieved by a mass transfer of the population , a familiar policy used extensively by Vasili II, Ivan III and Vasili III. The territories assigned to oprichnina, including streets in Moscow and other urban centers, were cleared of property owners and occupants and settled by the oprichniki. The dispossessed owners, among then many boyars and former princes, were given estates in service tenure elsewhere, preferably in distant border regions. There was nothing new in this policy except the scale on which it was implemented. The resulting elimination of the influence of the landed aristocracy and the mass transfer of land were the chief political, economic and social consequences of the oprichnina.
There are a variety of opinions about the long-range historical significance of this strange experiment of Ivan's. According to one view, a blend of practical and economic factors and vague plans of a totalitarian state are involved here. Ivan wanted to have an area immediately at his disposal with all intermediate authorities removed. In other words, he may have made a semi-conscious effort to eliminate the feudal structure, what there was of it in Russia. He therefore had to make a clean sweep in order to create a new state on a new social basis.
The oprichnina state was a form of self-government. The crown created a monopoly of all the trade through the oprichnina. The retail trade in liquor was controlled by the state. A new bureaucracy and new state army was created. Newly conquered lands were annexed to the oprichnina and not the zemshchina. There was an attempt to assimilate the varied races and minorities in Russia. The Tartar element was absorbed. Ivan seemed to be trying to create a Great Russian nationality, transcending loyalty to Muscovy. New administrators replaced the boyars and usurped their functions as local administrators.
The oprichnina delivered the final blow to the appanage system. It opened Russia's windows to the East, particularly China and India' It was also a social and political revolution, since Ivan and his oprichniki made violent attacks on the monks and the church. The oprichniki lived a raucous and pagan life of undisciplined exuberance and excess.
The oprichniki constituted a security police whose relentless aim was to purge the land of treacherous elements. Ivan's victims suffered heartless torture. Many were drowned or strangled or flogged to death; some were impaled, others roasted on a spit, still others fried in large skillets. The entire city of Novgorod was put to torture on the charge that its archbishop was planning to hand over the city to the Lithuanians. Sixty thousand of its citizens were butchered in a week-long orgy. But churchmen, boyars, and merchants whom Ivan suspected of treason were not the only ones to suffer. His favorites, the oprichniki leaders, died in an agonizing torture more fiendish than anything they had devised for their victims.
Ivan gathered around him at the Alexandrov Monastery, which became his headquarters and residence, a picked bodyguard of three hundred oprichniks whom he clothed in monk's garb and whom he commanded as abbot. His prodigious drinking bouts with his companions alternated with courts of cruelty where he tried out new methods of torture against his unfortunate victims. On occasion the tsar himself led the church service, preaching temperance and virtuous living to his oprichnik-monks and offering prayers for those he had condemned to death.
The name oprichnina disappeared seven years after its adoption, and the expanding territory under the new administration took on the name of ''court land'' or "domain land''. It became a state within the state, complete with its own regularly constituted organization and functioning under time- honored administrative forms, but under completely new, unquestionably loyal officials, who owed their position, their land, and their very lives to the service they rendered the tsar.
Here in his "domain" where the tsar ruled without let or hindrance, Ivan executed or tonsured or banished most of the old hereditary landowners and confiscated their estates. He transplanted thousands of leading families from one district to another in an obvious effort to destroy their influence, for he saw their power as a threat to good government and even to national survival. A few old boyar families voluntarily surrendered their lands and sought service in the new order, but in each case they received in exchange for their ancestral holdings distant new estates which they retained only under service tenure. The new landowner-vassal relationship made the gentry in the domain land completely subservient to the tsar.
The overall picture of Russia was one of hopeless confusion. The oprichnina or domain affected only certain localities, some of them sprinkled about over the land and surrounded by the old boyaral estates which made up the zemshchina. Two of Novgorod's five districts were domain or court land, the other three part of the zemshchina; some of the streets of Moscow were in the oprichnina, the rest outside. In general, the boyaral estates on the Lithuanian frontier and those lying to the east and south near Tatar territory remained outside the new domain administration. Such territories, however, suffered their own confusion and turmoil from the war with Lithuania and the annual Tartar raids.
The consequences of the oprichnina were revolutionary. Although Ivan did not destroy the aristocratic element in Russia-- enough of it, survived to launch a civil war after his death-- he so weakened and altered it that the aristocracy was never again the same' In dispossessing tee old boyars who had held their land by hereditary right, even when he merely transplanted them to some distant new estate which they held by service tenure, he uprooted them, destroyed their old connections, deprived them of their old adherents, and took away their local position of respect which generations on the old estates had brought their families. No longer was there any material or social basis for the haughty independence they had once known. From that time forward they were ''service gentry'' whose position and well-being depended upon their service to the state. But Ivan left the task half finished to Peter the Great a century later.
The old hereditary boyars were not the only ones to experience the rooting out of old ties. When the new pomestchiks took over the estates confiscated from some defiant old landowner, they received with it the peasants who had worked the fields for centuries. Whatever rights the peasants had maintained under their old masters melted away under the new, for the government tightened the curbs upon the peasant's right to move in order to bind him firmly in the service of the pomestchik, who required maintenance and support if he in turn were to render his service obligation to the state. The system that the oprichnina created was a two-storied house of service, or in fact slavery, with the pomestchiks occupying the upper story and the peasants, rapidly becoming serfs, occupying the lower.
Two years before his own death in 1584 Ivan quarreled with his oldest son and in the heat of argument stabbed him to death. He never overcame the grief his vicious temper had brought him. The murder doomed the dynasty to extinction, for Ivan's sole remaining heir, his younger son Fedor, was a simpleton whose marriage was barren.
The end of the dynasty would bring turmoil. The chaos in which Ivan left the administration, the bitterly resentment of the boyars who had survived his purges, the sense of insecurity and fright felt by men of every class, the foreign enemies whose hatred of Russia Ivan's campaigns of pillage, torture, and desolation had sharpened--all compounded to leave the land weak and divided. For many years there would be serious question whether the nation could survive. Although Ivan Iv left the government of Russia, or Muscovy as the sixteenth century still Called it, in turmoil if not in chaos, the framework of the central administration remained essentially what it had been under Ivan III. The grand prince, become a tsar at the coronation of Ivan the Terrible, was customarily the oldest surviving son of the late ruler. The same dynasty--called variously the line of Rurik or the line of Daniel or the line of Monomakh--had succeeded in unbroken descent since the time of Daniel, the youngest son of Alexander Nevsky.
Although Ivan IV claimed to rule by divine right and fought every check upon his authority, custom required the prince or tsar to seek the advice of the boyar duma which met frequently, sometimes daily, with the tsar presiding. The Sudebnik, the law code that Ivan IV issued in 1550, even required the duma's approval of all important decisions. Laws or ukazes declared' in Duma meetings began, '.The tsar has directed and the boyars have agreed..' There can be no doubt of Ivan's ability to cow any who might oppose his will in the duma. Yet it was, in part at least, to free himself from even this mild restraint that the tsar convoked the Zemskii Sobor to still the voice of the boyars in a chorus of commoners votes, and then organized the oprichnina to avoid meeting with the duma altogether.
As the small principality of Moscow grew into the Russian state and acquired enormous territory, the household officials who had served the prince when his patrimony was hardly larger than a great landowners estate could not handle the multiplicity of problems facing the nation-state. New government bureaus called prizes were set up, each headed by an appointee of the grand prince and staffed with a corps of clerks. Some of these bureaus dealt with particular governmental functions, whereas others administered new lands added by conquest.
One prikaz handled receipts and disbursements like any treasury department in the West; another supervised embassies sent abroad and foreign missions received in Moscow like any foreign ministry in western Europe; still another dealt with military matters like any western war office. Alongside these bureaus created on functional lines were other bureaus whose responsibility it was to deal with all types of administrative matters in a given territory, particularly in one recently acquired. A prikaz for Novgorod governed that wide area after its absorption by Ivan III . When the principality of Tver was added to Moscow there had to be a prikaz to administer it.
The conquest of Kazan added another to this growing list, and late in the sixteenth century another prikaz, or bureau or colonial office, came into existence to govern Siberia. There was no order and little logic in the way in which these bureaus proliferated. A new function added or a new district conquered seemed to dictate the creation of another prikaz. By the end of the sixteenth century there were thirty such departments; by the time Peter the Great a century later swept them away and set up a new administrative pattern the number had doubled. Often their functions overlapped; several of them, for example, gathered and spent revenue. *Despite some remarkable achievements, all in all Ivan the Terrible set the stage for an era of unbelievable confusion and disorder which has gone down in history as the Time of Trouble.