Ivan IV

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
An opinion-based essay on Russia's notorious ruler Ivan IV

Submitted: September 05, 2015

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Submitted: September 05, 2015

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Grand Prince of Moscow, Tsar of Siberia, and Tsar of all Russias, Ivan IV Vasilyevich, also known as Ivan Groznyj (meaning stern or formidable), was one of the most decorated figures in Russian politics and history. However, contrary to his many titles, more than sixty thousand nobilities were tortured and killed during his reign. Ivan IV Vasilyevich may have been one of the most decorated rulers in Russian history, but his reign was a failure due to his paranoia, demonstrated by the Oprichnina, his brutal personality, shown in the murdering of his son, and his costly war campaigns, which devastated the Russian economy. It was his blunders that eventually led to the political and economic struggles of Russia.

 The struggles of Russia began with the tsar’s paranoia, which caused the slaughter of thousands of nobilities. His mental disorders were formed mainly by two factors: his first wife’s sudden death and the defection of his advisor Prince Andrei Kurbsky. The tsar had a very affectionate relationship with his wife, Anastasia Romanovna. In her story Ivan the Terrible, author Carole Bos claims that “Ivan selected Anastasia from a gathering of potential brides. One could reasonably expect that such a marriage would not be happy. Ivan and Anastasia, however, were devoted to each other.” (Bos) However, at the age of 25, Romanovna died. The tsar believed that she had been poisoned, and surprisingly, scientists experimented with her hair and discovered high amounts of mercuric salts. Having been always suspicious of the boyars, he accused them of his wife’s death. His mental status became more deteriorated when his advisor, Prince Andrei Kurbsky defected to the Lithuanians. Tomas Venclova, in his article The Prince and His Czar- Letter From Exile, notes “perhaps he [Andrei Kurbsky] displayed some sympathy with the executed and ruined, many of whom were his friends and relatives.” (Venclova) Consequently, Kurbsky marched Lithuanian troops into Russia and destroyed the Russian region of Velikiye Luki. As both events occurred almost concurrently, the tsar’s paranoia was exacerbated, leading to horrific massacres.

 How the tsar’s suspicions devastated Russia is demonstrated in the Oprichnina. Apprehending treason by nobles, he abdicated the throne in 1564. However, the Russians pleaded for his return, and he agreed upon the condition of creating Oprichnina, a special territory governed solely by the tsar. The Oprichnina made landlords terribly suffer. Historian Robert Wilde, writer of the article The Oprichnina of Ivan IV, states that “existing landowners were often evicted, and their fates varied from resettlement to execution.” (Wilde) Nevertheless, it was not only the boyars who were harmed, the common people suffered from heavy taxation, paying “in one year as much as [they] used to pay in ten,” notes Janet Martin, author of the book Medieval Russia, 980-1584. (Martin, 410) As the Oprichniki, the tsar’s personal guards, were not held accountable for their actions, they were free to engage in tyranny, including false accusations. The accused were tortured, executed, and in the documentary The Most Evil Men in History-Ivan the Terrible, Professor Lindsey Hughes comments that “perhaps the most intriguing was the use of giant frying pans in which the victims were slowly fried.” (Hughes) The tsar’s horrific invention terrified the Russian people.

 At the same time, Ivan IV Vasilyevich also struggled with his choleric temper, and this ultimately led to the end of his bloodline. Although the tsar had many sons, many of them had died early, and his second son, Feodor, was already suffering from illness. His first son, Ivan Ivanovich, therefore, was the only Tsarevich (prince) capable of becoming the heir. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the tsar from engaging in a heated argument with him. On November 19th, 1581, Ivan IV became angry by “his daughter-in-law’s choice of clothes,” says Carol Bos, the tsar “boxed her ears” when she refused. (Bos) As the quarrel became more violent, the tsar became more aggravated. Then, suddenly, he struck his son with his iron-tipped staff. Ivan Ivanovich soon died in a comma. Though the throne was passed to Feodor, he died childless, ushering into the Time of Troubles. For two decades, Russia suffered from famine, foreign invasions, and civil uprisings, losing more than a third of its population. The nation entered into a period of despair all because of Ivan Groznyj’s choleric temper. He was not only a killer of his adversaries; he was also a murderer of his own family.
 

Apart from his personality, the tsar’s greatest blunders were his economic policies and his war campaigns which worsened the Russian economy. Ivan IV inherited a government that was suffering from debts, and tried to stabilize the economy by raising revenue through taxes. However the policies were ineffective due to his ongoing expansion campaigns. Author Janet Martin states that "it was the military campaigns themselves... that were responsible for the increasing government expenses." (Martin, 404) His longest and most unsuccessful campaign, the 24 year Livonian war, described as “almost as senseless as today's war in the Persian Gulf,” by Tomas Venclova (Venclova), excessively drained resources. Huge amounts of money and supplies were needed, while many men were called to fight on the front lines. Thus, fields were left uncultivated, which made taxation more difficult. Martin describes Moscow as "from its core, where its centralized political structures depended upon a dying dynasty, to its frontiers, where its villages stood depopulated and its fields lay fallow, was on the brink of ruin.” (Martin, 415) Defeat, drought, and disease left Russia in ruins, with the once most populated cities deserted. Ivan IV’s economic policies were useless; his lust for expansion blinded him from confronting the desperate problems of the Russian people. 
 

The thirty-seven years of Ivan Groznyj’s reign was the point of unrecoverable decline for the Rurik dynasty. His suspicion towards nobilities, formed by several incidents in his life, led to the massacres of boyars. His uncontrollable temper led to the end of his bloodline, consequently leading to the instability of Russia. Furthermore, his ambitions for Russia damaged Russia; it left the economy deteriorated. He was not the leader of his people. Blinded by paranoia, he was a killer, who, along with the Oprichniki, tortured the innocent.


© Copyright 2020 Linus Le Leon. All rights reserved.

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