IVAN IV., called " the Terrible " (1530-1584), tsar of Muscovy, was the son of Vasily [Basil] III. Ivanovich, grand duke of Muscovy, by his second wife, Helena Glinska. Born on the 25th of August 1530, he was proclaimed grand duke on the death of his father (1533), and took the government into his own hands in 1544, being then fourteen years old. Ivan IV. was in every respect precocious; but from the first there was what we should now call a neurotic strain in his character. His father died when he was three, his mother when he was only seven, and he grew up in a brutal and degrading environment where he learnt to hold human life and human dignity in contempt. He was maltreated by the leading boyars whom successive revolutions placed at the head of affairs, and hence he conceived an inextinguishable hatred of their whole order and a corresponding fondness for the merchant class, their natural enemies. At a very early age he entertained an exalted idea of his own divine authority, and his studies were largely devoted to searching in the Scriptures and the Slavonic chronicles for sanctions and precedents for the exercise and development of his right divine. He first asserted his power by literally throwing to the dogs the last of his boyar tyrants, and shortly afterwards announced his intention of assuming the title of tsar, a title which his father and grandfather had coveted but never dared to assume publicly. On the 16th of January 1547, he was crowned the first Russian tsar by the metropolitan of Moscow; on the 3rd of February in the same year he selected as his wife from among the virgins gathered from all parts of Russia for his inspection, Anastasia Zakharina-Koshkina, the scion of an ancient and noble family better known by its later name of Romanov.
Hitherto, by his own showing, the private life of the young tsar had been unspeakably abominable, but his sensitive conscience (he was naturally religious) induced him, in 1550, to summon a Zemsky Sobor or national assembly, the first of its kind, to which he made a curious public confession of the sins of his youth, and at the same time promised that the realm of Russia (for whose dilapidation he blamed the boyar regents) should henceforth be governed justly and mercifully. In 1551 the tsar submitted to a synod of prelates a hundred questions as to the best mode of remedying existing evils, for which reason the decrees of this synod are generally called utoglaii or cenlwia. The decennium extending from 1550 to 1560 was the good period of Ivan IV. 's reign, when he deliberately broke away from his disreputable past and surrounded himself with good men of lowly origin. It was not only that he hated and distrusted the boyars, but he was already statesman enough to discern that they could not be fitted into the new order of things which he aimed at introducing. Ivan meditated the regeneration of Muscovy, and the only men who could assist him in his task were men who could look steadily forward to the future because they had no past to look back upon, men who would unflinchingly obey their sovereign because they owed their whole political significance to him alone. The chief of these men of good-will were Alexis Adashev and the monk Sylvester, men of so obscure an origin that almost every detail of their lives is conjectural, but both of them, morally, the best Muscovites of their day. Their influence upon the young tsar was profoundly beneficial, and the period of their administration coincides with the most glorious period of Ivan's reign the period of the conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan.
In the course of 1551 one of the factions of Kazan offered the whole khanate to the young tsar, and on the 20th of August 1552 he stood before its walls with an army of 150,000 men and 50 guns. The siege was long and costly; the army suffered severely; and only the tenacity of the tsar kept it in camp for six weeks. But on the 2nd of October the fortress, which had been heroically defended, was taken by assault. The conquest of Kazan was an epoch-making event in the history of eastern Europe. It was not only the first territorial conquest from the Tatars, before whom Muscovy had humbled herself for generations; at Kazan Asia, in the name of Mahomet, had fought behind its last trench against Christian Europe marshalled beneath the banner of the tsar of Muscovy. For the first time the Volga became a Russian river. Nothing could now retard the natural advance of the young Russian state towards the east and the south-east. In 1554 Astrakhan fell almost without a blow. By 1560 all the Finnic and Tatar tribes between the Oka and the Kama had become Russian subjects. Ivan was also the first tsar who dared to attack the Crimea. In 1555 he sent Ivan Sheremetev against Perekop, and Sheremetev routed the Tatars in a great two days' battle at Sudbishenska. Some of Ivan's advisers, including both Sylvester and Adashev, now advised him to make an end of the Crimean khanate, as he had already made an end of the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan. But Ivan, wiser in his generation, knew that the thing was impossible, in view of the immense distance to be traversed, and the predominance of the Grand Turk from whom it would have to be wrested. It was upon Livonia that his eyes were fixed, which was comparatively near at hand and promised him a seaboard and direct communication with western Europe. Ivan IV., like Peter I. after him, clearly recognized the necessity of raising Muscovy to the level of her neighbours. He proposed to do so by promoting a wholesale immigration into his tsardom of master-workmen and skilled artificers. But all his neighbours, apprehensive of the consequences of a civilized Muscovy, combined to thwart him. Charles V. even went so far as to disperse 123 skilled Germans whom Ivan's agent had collected and brought to Liibeck for shipment to a Baltic port. After this, Ivan was obliged to help himself as best he could. His opportunity seemed to have come when, in the middle of the 16th century, the Order of the Sword broke up, and the possession of Livonia was fiercely contested between Sweden, Poland and Denmark. Ivan intervened in 1558 and quickly captured Narva, Dorpat and a dozen smaller fortresses; then, in 1560, Livonia placed herself beneath the protection of Poland, and King Sigismund II. warned Ivan off the premises.
By this time, Ivan had entered upon the second and evil portion of his reign. As early as 1553 he had ceased to trust Sylvester and Adashev, owing to their extraordinary backwardness in supporting the claims of his infant son to the throne while he himself lay at 'the point of death. The ambiguous and ungrateful conduct of the tsar's intimate friends and proteges on this occasion has never been satisfactorily explained, and he had good reason to resent it. Nevertheless, on his recovery, much to his credit, he overlooked it, and they continued to direct affairs for six years longer. Then the dispute about the Crimea arose, and Ivan became convinced that they were mediocre politicians as well as untrustworthy friends. In 1560 both of them disappeared from the scene, Sylvester into a monastery at his own request, while Adashev died the same year, in honourable exile as a general in Livonia. The death of his deeply beloved consort Anastasia and his son Demetrius, and the desertion of his one bosom friend Prince Kurbsky, about the same time, seem to have infuriated Ivan against God and man. During the next ten years (1560-1570) terrible and horrible things happened in the realm of Muscovy. The tsar himself lived in an atmosphere of apprehension, imagining that every man's hand was against him. On the 3rd of December 1564 he quitted Moscow with his whole family. On the 3rd of January 1565 he declared in an open letter addressed to the metropolitan his intention to abdicate. The common people, whom he had always favoured at the expense of the boyars, thereupon implored him to come back on his own terms. He consented to do so, but entrenched himself within a peculiar institution, the oprichina or " separate estate." Certain towns and districts all over Russia were separated from the rest of the realm, and their revenues were assigned to the maintenance of the tsar's new court and household, which was to consist of 1000 carefully selected boyars and lower dignitaries, with their families and suites, in the midst of whom Ivan henceforth lived exclusively. The oprichina was no constitutional innovation. The duma, or council, still attended to all the details of the administration; the old boyars still retained their ancient offices and dignities. The only difference was that the tsar had cut himself off from them, and they were net even to communicate with him except on extraordinary and exceptional occasions. The oprichniki, as being the exclusive favourites of the tsar, naturally, in their own interests, hardened the tsar's heart against all outsiders, and trampled with impunity upon every one beyond the charmed circle. Their first and most notable victim was Philip, the saintly metropolitan of Moscow, who was strangled for condemning the oprichina as an unchristian institution, and refusing to bless the tsar (1569). Ivan had stopped at Tver, to murder St Philip, while on his way to destroy the second wealthiest city in his tsardom Great Novgorod. A delator of infamous character, one Peter, had accused the authorities of the city to the tsar of conspiracy; Ivan, without even confronting the Novgorodians with their accuser, proceeded at the end of 1569 to punish them. After ravaging the land, his own land, like a wild beast, he entered the city on the 8th of January 1570, and for the next five weeks, systematically and deliberately, day after day, massacred batches of every class of the population. Every monastery, church, manor-house, warehouse and farm within a circuit of 100 m. was then wrecked, plundered and left roofless, all goods were pillaged, all cattle destroyed. Not till the 13th of February were the miserable remnants of the population permitted to rebuild their houses and cultivate their fields once more.
An intermittent and desultory war, with Sweden and Poland simultaneously, for the possession of Livonia and Esthonia, went on from 1560 to 1582. Ivan's generals (he himself rarely took the field) were generally successful at first, and bore down their enemies by sheer numbers, capturing scores of fortresses and towns. But in the end the superior military efficiency of the Swedes and Poles invariably prevailed. Ivan was also unfortunate in having for his chief antagonist Stephen Bathory, one of the greatest captains of the age. Thus all his strenuous efforts, all his enormous sacrifices, came to nothing. The West was too strong for him. By the peace of Zapoli (January 15th, 1582) he surrendered Livonia with Polotsk to Bathory, and by the truce of Ilyusa he at the same time abandoned Ingria to the Swedes. The Baltic seaboard was lost to Muscovy for another century and a half. In his latter years Ivan cultivated friendly relations with England, in the hope of securing some share in the benefits of civilization from the friendship of Queen Elizabeth, one of whose ladies, Mary Hastings, he wished to marry, though his fifth wife, Martha Nagaya, was still alive. Towards the end of his life Ivan was partially consoled for his failure in the west by the unexpected acquisition of the kingdom of Siberia in the east, which was first subdued by the Cossack hetman Ermak or Yermak in 1581.
In November 1 580 Ivan in a fit of ungovernable fury at some contradiction or reproach, struck his eldest surviving son Ivan, a prince of rare promise, whom he passionately loved, a blow which proved fatal. In an agony of remorse, he would now have . abdicated " as being unworthy to reign longer "; but his trembling boyars, fearing some dark ruse, refused to obey any one but himself. Three years later, on the 18th of March 1584, while playing at chess, he suddenly fell backwards in his chair and was removed to his bed in a dying condition. At' the last moment he assumed the hood of the strictest order of hermits, and died as the monk Jonah.
Ivan IV. was undoubtedly a man of great natural ability. His political foresight was extraordinary. He anticipated the ideals of Peter the Great, and only failed in realizing them because his material resources were inadequate. But admiration of his talents must not blind us to his moral worthlessness, nor is it right to cast the blame for his excesses on the brutal and vicious society in which he lived. The same society which produced his infamous favourites also produced St Philip of Moscow, and by refusing to listen to.St Philip Ivan sank below even the not very lofty moral standard of his own age. He certainly left Muscovite society worse than he found it, and so prepared the way for the horrors of " the Great Anarchy." Personally, Ivan was tall and well-made, with high shoulders and a broad chest. His eyes were small and restless, his nose hooked, he had a beard and moustaches of imposing length. His face had a sinister, troubled expression; but an enigmatical smile played perpetually around his lips. He was the best educated and the hardest worked man of his age. His memory was astonishing, his energy indefatigable. As far as possible he saw to everything personally, and never sent away a petitioner of the lower orders.
See S. M. Solov'ev, History of Russia (Rus.) vol. v. (St Petersburg, 1895); A. Bruckner, Geschichte Russian/Is bis zum Ende des iSten Jahrhunderts (Gotha, 1896); E. Tikhomirov, The first Tsar of Moscovy, Ivan IV. (Rus.) (Moscow, 1888); L. G. T. Tidander, Kriget mellan Sverige och Ryssland aren 1555-155? (Vesteras, 1888); P. Pierling, Un Arbitrage pontifical au X VI' siecle entre la Pologne et la Russie (Bruxelles, 1890); V. V. Novodvorsky, The Struggle for Livonia, 1570-1582 (Rus.) (St Petersburg, 1904); K. Waliszcwski, Ivan le terrible (Paris, 1904) ; R. N. Bain, Slavonic Europe, ch. 5 (Cambridge, 1907).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)