Ivan the Terrible : Reading Guide
“Ivan was a tragic character, whose progressive statesmanship during the first half of his reign was undone by the violence of his later years, when he became unbalanced psychologically.”
“To put Russia on a par with Europe and invent a "modern" past, they argued that the ad hoc boyar councils and noble assemblies appointed by Ivan were embryos of modern government institutions.”
“The image of the sixteenth-century tsar as a progressive "state-builder"— driven to use terror to force his reforms through against the opposition of the aristocracy.”
Stalin: “Had he destroyed the five feudal clans, there would have been no Time of Troubles.”
Soviet View Post-Stalin
After Stalin's death, when the "cult of personality" was discredited in the USSR, Soviet historians moved toward a broader Marxist view of "class interests" during Ivan's reign.
de Madariaga’s Interpretation
Ivan ‘Grozny’: "awe-inspiring" and "formidable": the tsar responsible for the emergence of a Muscovy capable of conquest beyond its borders. This was achieved by Ivan’s consolidation of a military class which owed its land to ‘service to the state’: the votchina, but then he died without leaving a capable heir, a quick descent into the chaos of the Time of Troubles
Sacred kingship: Ivan saw himself as a god on earth, half divine and half human, who was responsible "for the eternal salvation of his people, for which he would be called upon to answer at the Last Judgment." His sins? repentance for ("drunkenness, fornication, adultery...") rather than for the atrocities perpetrated to maintain and further consolidate his power. His crimes? submit to divine justice and accept your punishment: resistance was a sign of treason and therefore a sin: Stalin's tyranny: the despotism of the "holy Russian tsar."
Almost Freudian implication of Ivan’s pathological paranoia as a ruler in his later years on his violent upbringing and family tragedies: terror, vengeance, preemptive violence with the oprichniki, final irrational violence against his son and heir.
It views Ivan, in her words, "standing in Moscow and looking out over the walls of the Kremlin towards the rest of Europe, and not looking in—and down—into Russia, over its Western border, from outside."
a miserable childhood. the origins of the tsar's pathological behavior in later life? According to Ivan, he was "left to the tender mercies of uncaring boyars” and in retribution at the age of just thirteen, he ordered the brutal killing of Prince Andrei Shuisky. However, he also exhibited an early taste for torturing birds and animals
De Madariaga gives more significance to the education of the young tsar. She constructs a fascinating picture of the literature that influenced his outlook on the world, from the Bible and Apocrypha to medieval ballads and romances and the tales of Dracula, a warrior king who was severe and cruel "for the sake of his subjects."
The Metropolitan Makary was a major influence on the young tsar, de Madariaga argues. A fervent believer in the holy mission of Moscow to become the capital of Orthodox (Eastern) Christianity following the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. Ivan advanced his claim to be the secular head of the Christian world in the East.
Like all the monarchs of sixteenth-century Europe, Ivan set out with the aim of building up his power in his realm. He wanted to extend his sovereignty to the corners of his land and roll back the powers of those princes and boyars who stood in the way of a unified authority.
Property rights were linked more closely to the performance of military service. (votchina) The army was reformed, and a new personal guard of musketeers (strel'tsy) was organized to protect the tsar.
Ivan's realm expanded in the east with the conquest of Kazan (in 1552) and Astrakhan (in 1554). It was this religious mission, an Orthodox crusade, that lay behind the conquest of the Asiatic steppe, rather than any "ideology of imperialism"
Later Years/ Oprichnina
The death of the tsar's wife, Anastasia, in 1560, was the major turning point in Ivan's reign, de Madariaga believes. Anastasia's death unhinged Ivan, who suspected the boyars of having poisoned her. He reacted in a frenzy of violence against the boyar clans. death of the Metropolitan Makary in 1563, left the tsar even more lonely
the oprichnina— a "duplicate state" which he allowed to prey on the rest of his domain
as Stalin became known as "Genghis Khan with a telephone"
a separate domain of the tsar's realm which was carved out of lands that were confiscated from the princes and boyars, who were then expelled from the new territory. The new holders of the land were the oprichniki, a new class of loyal servitors, many of them from quite humble origins, who formed Ivan's private guard.
In 1567 and 1568, a boyar-Polish plot to unseat him from his throne
the Poganaya meadow in Moscow on July 25, 1570
Eventually, the terror swallowed the oprichniki themselves, as Ivan, like Stalin in 1937, became afraid of "enemies" and "traitors" among his most loyal supporters.
In 1571, when hundreds of Muscovites were killed and many more were taken off as slaves by the horsemen. Ivan instructed Maliuta Skuratov. the "eye of the sovereign" (oko gosudarevo)— to carry out a purge of the oprichnik generals
Ivan's final act of violence was the tragic murder of his son in 1581
Three different interpretive approaches each including aspects of the others:
1. Implication of Ivan’s pathological paranoia as a ruler in his later years grew from his violent upbringing: terror, vengeance, preemptive violence with the oprichniki, final irrational violence against his son and heir.
2. Sacred kingship: Ivan saw himself as a god on earth, half divine and half human, who was responsible "for the eternal salvation of his people, for which he would be called upon to answer at the Last Judgment." His sins? drunkeness, fornication, adultery... rather than for the atrocities perpetrated to maintain and further consolidate his power. Remorse? Russia must submit to divine justice and accept its punishment: resistance was a sign of treason and therefore a sin: Stalin's tyranny: the despotism of the "holy Russian tsar."
3. Machiavellian (Stalin) interpretation: any act that promotes the security and power of the Prince is ‘good’ because civil war is the worst case scenario for everyone in the state. Ivan’s creation of the oprichnina? Would Machiavelli have approved? Ivan consolidated the state’s power and thus raised more taxes for his use by rewarding a gang of soldiers loyal only to him (the strelsy, and then the oprichnina) with votchina: land and peasants. However this grant was not hereditary. It depended on the loyalty of the soldier to the tsar. This system worked well for a time, but Ivan eventually had to purge the strelsy and then the oprichnina. When Ivan died he could not even trust his son and heir. The state exploded into the anarchy of the Time of Troubles.