Ivan IV of Russia
Ivan came to the throne at age three and was crowned Tsar at age sixteen on January 16, 1547. The early part of reign was one of peaceful reforms and modernization. Ivan introduced the first printing press to Russia, revised the law code, and created a standing army. He established the Zemsky Sobor, the council of the nobles, and subordinated the church to the state, systematising rituals and regulations.
Ivan formed new trading connections, opening up the White Sea and the port of Archangel to English merchants. He also annexed the Kazan and Astrakhan Khanates to the east. He had St. Basil's Cathedral constructed in Moscow to commemorate the seizure of Kazan. Legend has it that he was so impressed with the structure that he had the architects blinded, so that they could never design anything as beautiful again. Other less positive aspects of this period include the introduction of the first laws restricting the peasants, which would eventually lead to serfdom. Also later problematic was the 1564 formation of the Oprichina. The Oprichina was the section of Russia directly ruled by Ivan, which was policed by his personal secret service, the Oprichniki.
The latter half of Ivan's reign was far less successful. Ivan launched a war of westward expansion and found himself fighting the Swedes, Lithuanians, Poles, and the Teutonic Knights. For twenty-two years the war dragged on, damaging the Russian economy and military but winning it no territory. Ivan's best friend and closest advisor defected to the Poles, deeply hurting Ivan. At the same time his beloved wife died, perhaps murdered by the Boyars. Ivan also became very sick and physically disabled.
He gradually grew unbalanced and violent. The Oprichniki soon got out of hand and became murderous thugs. They murdered nobles and peasants and left the Oprichina poor and depopulated. What had been by far the richest area of Russia became the poorest. In a dispute with Novgorod, Ivan ordered the Oprichniki to murder all the inhabitants. Between thirty and forty thousand were killed. In 1581, Ivan killed his only intelligent son after beating his son's pregnant wife so hard that she miscarried. Upon Ivan's death the now ravaged kingdom was left to his unfit son Feodor.
Ivan's life forms the subject of two famous films by Sergei Eisenstein.
|List of Russian Tsars||
About the films: