Before he was born, many omens, prophecies and dreams were told about the child born to the second wife of Vasily III. One prophecy came from the patriarch of Jerusalem, who had warned Vasily that if he divorced and married his second wife, he would have an "evil son." Another prophecy was given by the the wife of the Khan of Kazan, who upon learning of Ivan's birth, said to her husband, "A Tsar is born among you: two teeth has he. With one he will devour us; but with the other-you." As if to make their words come true at birth, Ivan was born in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Just as interesting as the omens and birth is Ivan's geanology. (Maybe this will give a clue to his actions!) In it one can see generations of conflict. He was part Greek through his grandmother. Through his mother, he was a descendent of Khan Mamay of the Golden Horde. But, through his father, he was a descendent of Dmitry Donskoy, the Khan's enemy.
According to Platonov, the reason Ivan was so "terrible" was because of the harsh lessons he learned as a child. Ivan became Tsar of Moscow when he was 3 years old. But he did not actually rule until later.The regents, named by his father on his deathbed, were jealous and greedy for power. Intrigues and plots ruled the day. Outwardly, Ivan and his brother were treated like the princes they were, but, when not in the public eye, Ivan and his brother were treated harshly. The regents killed and tortured people in front of Ivan. Sometimes, Ivan was awakened at night by a regent or noble fleeing from the people who wanted to kill him.
At an early age, Ivan showed how the regents' actions influenced him. He tortured animals and dropped them from the high towers of the Kremlin. Then he ran down the stairs to watch the die a slow death. People who were weaker than him were also targets of his torturing. Horse riding was one way of doing so. Ivan would run his horse through the city, not caring if people were hurt getting out of his way, or killed byt he horses' hooves. As he got older, Ivan became started to work with the boyars. Sometimes he would get angry. Once he was so angry at one of the regents that he had the noble taken away by the kennel-keepers. There seems to have been a misunderstanding, becasue the noble was killed by the dogs. Because of the treatment of his childhood, Ivan learned the hidden side of ruling at an early age.
Perhaps, it is because of his youthfully obtained knowledge, that Ivan became the ruler that he did. He knew from experience what would happen if he wasn't a stong ruler. As a Tsar, when Ivan met someone new, he would look for the thing to fear in that person, then, he would do whatever it took to minimize whatever that something was that he would fear. It might require taking harsh action, but then Ivan wouldn't have to worry about that person becoming too powerful.
Along with the early influences of the boyars, also came the influence of ideas gained from the books that Ivan read. He, to the chagrin of the regents, read everything that he could get his hands on. Although there wasn't much to read, what Ivan read, including the Bible, religious books, and some of the Western books that had been brought in from the Byzantine Empire, was influential.
The New Tsar
The fisrt ruler to be crowned Tsar, Ivan planned his own corronation and wedding to the smallest detail, even though he was only 16 years old.. Everything had to be perfect for the future Tsar. He was crowned in 1547 and married a month later. Ivan married a young Russian lady from the Romanov family. He did this despite the unspoken rule that the ruler should marry a foreign princess. This is where the later, more famous Romaovs received their claim to the throne. Ivan's first marriage is supposed to have been a love match. But it would be the first of seven marriages.
The early part of Ivan's reign is considered his best part. He had a close group of counselors, many of whom were connected to the church in different ways. Two of the most influential were the Metropolitan of Moscow, Sylvester, and his freind, Alexi Adashev. They influenced Ivan to reform some of the laws and the church for the better. He called the zemskii sobor where he asked for and listened to ideas for reforms for Russia. Ivan was very religious during this time. He called a Church council in 1551. It clearly stated the relation between the Church and the state. A new legal code was presented in 1550. Reforms in the military were made. These included defense lines, changing the emphasis of the army and adding new regiments. After these reforms, Ivan set out to use his military in a series of wars. During this time, Ivan showed little signs of what was to come in the future. In fact, it was only after his wife died that the influence of the church ended and Ivan's cruel side once again come out.
During his period of reforms, Ivan was also building a cathedral in Moscow. Ivan's reforms and cathedral can be seen in the overview of the Church History. The St. Basil's Cathedral (also called the Cathedral of the Intersession) was built by Ivan to commerate his victory over the Mongols at Kazan, now part of Tatarstan.
The Break and Reign of Terror
Scholars disagree on when, exactly, the break from good to evil occured for Ivan. Some say that after his illness, there was a marked change. But all agree that after Anastasia died Ivan became more cruel.
In 1553, Ivan became ill. He was told that he was going to die and that he should make a will. He designated all his lands, but wanted the boyars to swear alliance to his young son, Dmitry, who was not even a year old. The boyars refused. They wanted to have a strong ruler, not a child with regents. Ivan's childhood and the actions of the Regents at that time were still too close for comfort. Ivan was outraged by the boyars refusal and disobediance. Even though they eventually did swear to allow Dmitry on the throne, Ivan was dissatisfied with them and the power they had over him.
In 1560, Anastasia suddenly died. Ivan believed that Sylvester and Adashev had worked together to poison her. Anastasia's death came during the time when Ivan was consolidating his power against the boyars. Anastasia's death made Ivan step up his plan to get power form the boyar. In 1564, Ivan suddenly changed the way he ruled. He moved his family to an estate outside of Moscow. A letter was sent to the boyars, informing them that Ivan was abdicating from the trone . This terrified the boyars. They went to the estate and begged the Tsar to come back and rule as he was supposed to. Ivan agreed to do this but only if the boyars would agree to some provisions. These provisions included allowing Ivan to split the country. There would be two different governments in Russia. Ivan would have direct control of his part of the land. The boyars agreed to Ivan's demands. Ivan came back to Moscow stronger that ever. The major instrument of terror during Ivan's reign was the oprichnina. (This was such a major part of Ivan's reign that I had to dedicate a whole page to it!) It mirrored the zemchina. But, unlike the zemchina, it was directly under Ivan's control.
Culture during Ivan's Riegn
For all the trouble that Ivan gave his people during his reign, there were some good things that happened. The Orthodox Church continued to grow and contributed to the arts of Russia. Because the Church grew, so did the making of Icons.
Ivan even had a favorite town. When he wasn't building on to his home or his new palace in Moscow, all his money went to Uglich.
The End of Ivan's Reign
In 1581, Ivan killed his son Ivan, the successor to the throne, in a fit of rage. Ivan's son had his father's temperment. One day, Ivan IV walked into the apartment of Ivan (the son) and started criticizing Ivan's seven month pregnant wife about her dress. Ivan was so enraged by her unacceptabe dress, that he started to hit her. His son heard her screaming and ran in. He tried to stop his father. Ivan IV was so enraged with his son's actions that he took his taff and struck his son on the head, killing him. Because of his kicks and blows, Ivan's daughter-in-law also lost her child. In one day, Ivan killed the future Tsar and Tsarvich of Russia. Recognizing this, Ivan was instantly remorseful about his actions, but nothing could be done. With the death of Ivan IV and his son,Fedor, a half-witted man who liked the Church and ringing bells, ruled the country. (The first son, Dmitry had died.) Because of this tragedy, after Ivan's death in 1584, the country entered a Time of Troubles. He had left Russia without a strong ruler. Because of the troubles after Ivan's death, some peple actually wished that Ivan was still there to rule them!