Ivan IV, or also known as Ivan the Terrible, gained huge amounts of land during his reign and created a centrally controlled Russia. He had a complex personality. He was intelligent but brutal and sadistic. He watched as prisoners were boiled, burned and fried. He destroyed villages, towns and even cities. Thousands were slaughtered, leaving others to wonder if Russia would survive this era.
To understand why Ivan IV was such a vicious ruler, let’s take a look at his tragic childhood which contributed to his infamous behaviour. His father, Grand Prince Vasily III had waited for years to have a son who can extend the family’s reign. His second wife, Elena Glinskaya, successfully bore him two sons. Ivan was born on August 25, 1530. Two years later, his younger brother Yuri was born.
In 1533, Vasily noticed a small sore on his leg which turned into a pus-filled boil which grew and stank horribly. His doctors used a common cure of the time where they bled Vasily and poured vodka on the boil. They succeeded, but he was weakened and soon enough developed blood poisoning. In his last remaining moments, he wished for Ivan to become the grand prince of Russia. However, Ivan was only three at the time and he was obviously not ready to rule.
So, his father assigned a council of advisors who were called boyars (noblemen) to run the country and look after Ivan. After the death of his father, that year, his mother, Elena, ruled Russia as Regent until her sudden death on April 3, 1538. Ivan believed that his mother was poisoned. Her death was the beginning of a power struggle.
A rivalry between the Shuiskys and the Belsky families escalated into a bloody feud. Armed men roamed the palace, seeking out enemies and frequently bursting into Ivan's room, where they shoved him aside and took whatever they wanted. Murders, beatings, verbal and physical abuse became commonplace in the palace. He spent his childhood in terror and fear. The only time he received attention was when a ceremony occurred. He was cleaned and dressed exquisitely for the visitors. Afterwards, he was abandoned, neglected, humiliated, beaten and hungry.
The environment nurtured his hatred for the boyar class, whom he suspected of being involved in his mother’s death. Unable to strike out at his tormentors, Ivan took out his frustrations on defenceless animals; he tore feathers off birds, pierced their eyes and slit their bodies open. For the next 4 years, this molded much of his ruthless and suspicious nature.
In 1542, Ivan stood up for himself. He had Andrei Shuisky, who was the most powerful boyar, beaten to death and fed to the hounds while 30 others were hanged. This made it clear that Ivan was no longer a helpless little boy. By the time Ivan was 13 years old, he was 6 feet tall with a broad chest and long, thin arms. He loved hunting and killing because he got a sick pleasure from the pain of creatures. He developed sadistic interests such as taking animals to the top of buildings and throwing them down. He roamed the Moscow streets with a gang of young scoundrels, drinking, and knocking down elders.
Despite his violence, Ivan was very religious and attended church often. Christianity gave him identity and purpose. He continued to read books at an incredible pace, mainly religious and historical texts. At times Ivan was very devoted; he used to throw himself before the icons, banging his head against the floor. It resulted in a callous on his forehead.
At the age of 16, Ivan was about to take control of Russia. On January 16, 1547, Ivan was crowned tsar of Russia. He became more brutal, paranoid and boosted his authority. In that same year, Ivan began to look for a wife and he married Anastasia Romanovna. She was the first tsarina and she was beautiful and kind. She kept Ivan’s cruelty in check and had a calming effect on him. He loved her dearly and she was part of his soul.
Some months later,...