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Ivan the Terrible, Tsar of All Russia

10.September 2012

Crowned as the first царь всея Руси (Tsar of all Russia), Иван Четвёртый Васильевич (Ivan IV Vasilyevich, 1530-1584) controlled the largest nation on Earth and transformed Russia into a multiethnic and therefore multi-confessional state spanning more than 4,000,000 km.

Ivan IV better known under the nickname of Иван Грозный (Ivan the Terrible), is famous for his rages and outbreaks of mental illness that later led him to the persecution and execution of thousands of members of the aristocracy. But his nickname “грозный” shouldn’t be taken in the sense of “bad” or “evil”, but rather as “inspiring fear” or “formidable”.

But Ivan was also a fine diplomat, which can be proved by the close ties he established with England to which Ivan gave special trade privileges. Ivan was also a patron of arts and trade.

Ivan was aged three when his father, Vassily III, died and he was proclaimed великий князь Московский (Grand Prince of Moscow). His mother, Elena Glinskaya, acted as a regent until her death when Ivan was eight. He was crowned Tsar of All the Russia at the age of 16.

During the early part of his reign, Ivan осуществил ряд реформ (brought a number of reforms) and modernisation to Russia. He introduced the first printing press in the country in 1553 and ordered the construction of St. Basil’s Cathedral to commemorate the seizure of Kazan. В 1550 году был принят новый судебник, который ужесточил правила перехода крестьян (In 1550, he established the first laws restricting the mobility of the peasants), which would eventually lead to serfdom.

In 1560, Ivan lost is 1st wife, Anastasia Romanovna, supposing by poisoning, which affected a lot his personality and his mental health, making him to rule the country with a deep-seated paranoia and ruthlessness. Convinced that his advisers were responsible of her death, he turned against them and the nobility.

During the following years, Ivan not only had to face the treason of some of his close friends, but also raids from the Polish-Lithuanians, invasions from the Tatar, sea-trading blockade from the Swedes, and a famine that extended on the whole territory of Russia.

In 1564, he left Moscow and threatened to abdicate, alleging the treason of the nobility and the clergy. But the boyar court was unable to rule without him, and he eventually agreed to return if he could create a peculiar institution, опричнина (the oprichnina or “separate estate”), and if he was granted the right to confiscate the possessions and punish the traitors.

The oprichnina was not to replace neither the duma, which still was in charge of the administration, neither the boyars. A 1000 of oprichniki were carefully selected among boyars and lower dignitaries. Those men would protect the tsar, serve as intermediates but of course, being favourites, they would serve their own interests first.

In 1582, in one of his fit of rage, Ivan the Terrible killed his son and chosen heir, Ivan Ivanovich.

Ivan died on March 18, 1584, leaving the country in a terrible political and economical state in the hands of his oldest surviving son, Feodor.

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