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Ivan the Terrible by Robert Payne
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Ivan the Terrible

by Robert Payne

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A prolific author Robert Payne has written books with such titles as: The Dream and the Tomb, The Great Garbo, The Life and Death of Hitler, The Life and Death of Lenin, The rise and Fall of Stalin, The Great Man: A Portrait of Winston Churchill, among others. Nikita Romanoff was a world-renowned historian and a grand-nephew of Tsar Nicholas II. Their purpose in writing Ivan the Terrible is to provide anyone interested in their research biographical information of life in the times of this bazar tsar, and a better understanding of Russia in general. An introduction to the book is missing. The unorthodox system of reference makes it seem like a novel as there are no footnotes, but anything in quotation marks can be found by page number.
Being obsessed with finding an heir to the throne is familiar to students of European history. Everyone knows about the struggles of Henry the VIII, his divorce of Catherine of Aragon, his fight with the church, all because of the desire for a son to take over the kingdom upon his death. It is fascinating to read about the same type of problem with Ivan IV’s father Grand Prince Vasily. Vasiily did not need the church’s permission to divorce his wife who was a “barren fig tree” (1) he just did it. He did however; receive a curse from the Patriarch of Jerusalem: “If you should do this evil thing, you shall have an evil son. . . .” (2). Undeterred the wife of Grand Prince Vasily III was sent off to a nunnery. A very curious practice; were nunneries and monasteries a sort of prison?
Vasily’s new bride was a Lithuanian Princess. Who claimed to be a descendant of the Tatar Mamcy who laid waste to Muscovy. Understandably there were mixed feelings about this marriage among the Boyars.
Lifestyles varied greatly in these times. There were the very rich and those just as poor as dirt. There were 15 Boyer families of enormous prestige wealth and power, and princely families of infinite graduations or grades (27). When the longed for son arrived he was dedicated to St. Sergei’s and named Ivan. He grew up not knowing much about the lives of ordinary people. He became fascinated by church rituals and learned long passages of scripture. His heroes were David, Solomon, Augustus, Constantine, and Theodosius (35). Later he would claim to be a descendant of Caesar Augustus.
He was only three years old when his father died, and was treated badly by the Boyars. He became very suspicious of treachery throughout his life. Every time something happened that displeased him he suspected treason. He was this way throughout his life. As a young Tsar he treated the people very badly. If citizens came to complain of bad conditions, he would make them very sorry they came. He would do something like pour hot wine on their heads and make them lie in the snow.
At times he could become somewhat thoughtful and reflective of why bad things would happen. He might even listen to the Archpriest Sylvester from time to time. Once after Moscow burned down he even fasted and spent his time among monks and priest (85). This type of attitude did not usually last very long.
War and conquest for religious reasons seems to be as old as the hills and Ivan IV was not the exception this line of thought. We the Tatars in the east were causing problems he believed the fight was for the Orthodox faith” (91). On November 24th 1549 with 60,000 men Ivan set out against the Tatars of Kazan. They had been blessed by the Metropolitan Makery, and were determined with God’s help to punish and conquer the Tatars. Ivan saw himself as a Joshua or Gideon smiting the enemies of God (100). He personally directed the siege of Kazan and took full credit for the victory adding another crown for his prideful head. He had promised to take of the widows and orphans of those killed in this conquest but seems to have forgotten that promise.
The Khan of Kazan Yediger Makhmet became a Christian and Ivan went to the Moskva River to see him baptized. The had to cut a hole in the ice Makhmet was wearing only a white linen shroud and came through the service just fine but the Tsar caught pneumonia. This sickness had a profound effect on the rest of his life, as it further convinced him that those around him were disloyally to him and to his son the Tsarevich Dmitry. He thought he was going to die and wanted the boyars to swear allegiance to his son. This experience made him even more suspicious than ever, more resentful and cunning than ever. This sickness “was a nightmare from which he emerged like a man clothed in the colors of a nightmare” (143).
Ivan often sought the prayers and intersession of monks and saints in a crisis. He prayed and pleaded for divine help in killing the Tatars of Kazan. Before this or any large endeavor he would set out on a pilgrimage to a distant monastery. Before the siege of Kazan he went on pilgrimage to the Troitsa-Sergeyevsky Monastery (100). He believed icons had power as well as the cross. At times he had given gold and jewels to monks and monasteries in exchange for prayers. When he recovered enough from his sickness he set out for the Kirillov Monastery at Beloozero, far in the north. Though Ivan often asked for prayers he seldom sought of listened to advice. A holy man named Maxim the Greek told him not to make this trip. Maxim rebuked Ivan for not looking after the widows and orphans of the soldiers killed at Kazan. Maxim told him not to make this pilgrimage but to return and keep his promises to take care of the soldier’s families. He told Ivan that if he did not listen to him Ivan’s son would not come home alive. Whether he said this or it is a legend it did happen that Ivan’s son did not come home alive as a nurse dropped him in a river and he drowned.
Soon after this war broke out with Livonia and Lithuania. Ivan’s invasions of these places did not go well. Any of his advisors who dared to disagree with anything at all was seen by Ivan as treason. One of his best advisors a man named Kurbsky escaped to Lithuania. During this time His wife Anastasia died of mysterious causes and of causes Ivan suspected she had been poisoned. Anastasia’s wisdom and devotion to Ivan had kept his more carnal nature from surfacing. Now with her gone whatever intelligence the Tsar had proceeds quickly faded away.
His next wife Kocheney Temrinkovna was a daughter of a Circassian chieftain. She was beautiful but cruel, she enjoyed bearbaiting and watching executions (201, 203). It is interesting that Ivan’s temper grew more violent in winter (204). However, anytime of the year he could be very cruel. If someone was suspected of treachery not only he but his whole family were killed (206). Ivan was very affected emotionally by the death of someone close to him such as a wife of brother Yury, but began to delight in the deaths of those he thought were traitors.
Traitors were any who did not agree with him. Some boyars thought they should fight the Crimean Tatars rather than fight the Lithuanians. Of course this caused a conflict. After the death of the Metropolitan Makery no new Metropolitan had been appointed. Ivan did not have to answer to anybody for his crimes. He felt that kill whoever he wanted whenever and however he wanted. His pride further increased after the victory over Polotsk (209).
It is unfortunate he did not listen to wise counsel from men like Prince Kurbsky who protested the senseless killing. Ivan responded that he had a God given right to root out evil wherever he sees it (210).
Ivan set up a separate Kingdom the Oprichnina, at a place in the forest called Alexandrova Sloboda. He selected certain nobles and boyars the oprichniki, separated ones, they were like Nazis officers who had power over life and death. They took oaths not to have anything to do with people not in the Oprichnina. They began a reign of death and terror on any suspected of “treason”. Who know where they got all the names of people to kill. 20-40 a day were torched and killed at Alexandra Sloboda. Ivan would often read the names of those he wanted killed while in church. Then the oprichniki would ride out to loot the whole area, murder rape and torture any they pleased, they were allowed to keep the property of all they killed.
It is baffling that the people did not rise up at this time against the Tsar. It is worthy of note that there were great men amongst these great monsters. Like the metropolitan Philipp who “defended truth and goodness with no fear of death- he denounced the tsar for his crimes”. And admonished the people to “care more about the Tsar of all the earth, than the earthly tsar” (258). No one could survive saying something like that.
Just when you think that things could not get any worse, they do. Ivan sets out with his private army to capture and kill whole towns. The whole town of Novagrarod was surround and destroyed most everyone in the town killed and what plunder that could not be carried away was burned. It would be surprising if the Tatars did not attack at this time. Which they did
Ivan took no active part in the defense from the invading Tatars but kept a safe distance. He took full credit, but also realized the importance of the army, more important than the oprichnina, which was doomed from then on (329). The tsar did not want to mend his ways. He hated Prince Vorotoysky because he became so popular due to his daring on the battle field against the Tatars (339). He ordered his 4th wife to a nunnery and executed her relatives (345).
He became fearful of witches, and traitors and made suggestion to Queen Elizabeth that they should make a refugee arrangement in in case either one of them had to leave the country. She said he could come to England if he wanted be she saw no need to take refuge in Russia (352).
He decide to take some time off from being the tsar and placed the Khan of Kasimov on the throne. He still received ambassadors, and after a year he resumed being the tsar.
His first order of business was raising money to support war with Livonia. He looked to the church and ordered them to make an inventory all their properties (374). After all he thought the church are but vile sinners anyway. This seems a strange attitude for one who had often asked for their prayers. The church drug their feet with this request and Ivan lost patience. He had seven fat monks eaten by bears. Finally he church came up with the needed donations (375).
The beginning of serfdom of the peasants also began at this time of trouble as Ivan degreed that no peasant could leave his masters service (375).
Ivan thought that Pope Gregory XIII and German Emperor Rudolph were his allies (386). He also expected England to help him fight King Stephen Bathory of Lithuania. England was interested in a trade agreement with Russia but had no interest in sending soldiers. As Ivan saw it he was defending Christ, the tsar and the fatherland (389). This type of motto would still be held by tsars for the next 300 years!
Petitions came to ask for the leadership of the Tsarevich Ivan to lead the soldiers to victory. The Tsar flew into rage and killed his son (391). After this he became somewhat of a changed man. He closed down Alexandrova Sloboda (400). He also proposed to divide his wealth to monasteries is (395).
He died in his fifties of a whole boat load of diseases.
The book was kind of hard to get into at first and I procrastinated its reading far too long. Due partly to so many strange sounding names, I found it hard to follow. After I got through the first two or three chapters I found it quite fascinating if a bit depressing. Since I knew virtually nothing about Russian history before taking the class and reading this book and the text book, which by the way I think is excellent for a text book: What I do know has been learned in a short time, and it is still digesting.
I had no Idea of the influence played by the Orthodox Church in the history of Russia. I have heard that after the Communist Revolution the church was suppressed. Perhaps that was a reaction to the long influence of the church and its wealth and power. In Ivan’s time he was absolute, above church and state and a combination of both. The head of the church was appointed by him.
I could not understand why the ordinary people did not rise up against him, and even went to him and begged him to come back and be their tsar when he pretended to quit them. It seems they felt more secure from foreign invaders having an all-powerful monarch. Freedom was not as important then- perhaps not even so now. I think there is some desire for democracy, but that is not the same thing as freedom. Democracy, I think today’s Russians may be able to relate to a little bit if it is put in terms of equality. Equality seems to be very important, and I can understand why: It never existed in the past. Ivan the terrible was the law, the constitution, the divinely appointed all powerful tsar.
In Ivan’s time there was no such thing as free speech, if you said the wrong thing you were doomed. So, why did not free speech catch on after the Communist Revolution? Freedom to leave the country never caught on either. If you fled the country in Ivan’s time the family you left behind was doomed to suffer. The Communist never changed that policy.
Ivan saw in himself the continuation of the Roman Empire, he was reaching back to the time of Augustus Caesar. But he was also reaching further back to the time of David and Solomon. He felt that he could do whatever he felt like doing, he wanted the power of both heaven and earth. Solomon built the temple, Ivan built Cathedrals both wrote psalms and hymns. There is an interesting painting of the tsar on page 407, he is holding a poker in one hand and a large ball with a cross on it in the other. I have seen similar portraits of other monarchs going back to the time of Charlemagne. It seems to that Russia was not so different than Europe. The same themes can be seen throughout, the struggle between the power of the church and the monarchs, extreme privilege and extreme poverty, and the struggles between the nobility and monarchy. ( )
  Helangelo | Apr 25, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0815412290, Paperback)

Czar Ivan IV (1530-1584), the first Russian ruler to take the title czar, is known as one of the worst tyrants in history, but few people among the general public know how he got such an infamous reputation. Relying on extensive research based heavily on original Russian sources, this definitive biography depicts an incredibly complex man living in a time of simple, harsh realities. Robert Payne, the distinguished author of many historical and biographical works, and Russian scholar Nikita Romanoff, describe in vivid and lively detail Ivan's callous upbringing; the poisoning of his second wife and the murder of his son; his obsession with religion and sin; his predilection for mass murder, evidenced by his massacre of 30,000 citizens of Novgorod; yet his remarkable intelligence as a ruler, supporting the growth of trade and expanding Russia's borders.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:35 -0400)

Czar Ivan IV (1530-1584), the first Russian ruler to take the title czar, is known as one of the worst tyrants in history, but few people among the general public know how he got such an infamous reputation. Relying on extensive research based heavily on original Russian sources, this definitive biography depicts an incredibly complex man living in a time of simple, harsh realities. Robert Payne, the distinguished author of many historical and biographical works, and Russian scholar Nikita Romanoff, describe in vivid and lively detail Ivan's callous upbringing; the poisoning of his second wife and the murder of his son; his obsession with religion and sin; his predilection for mass murder, evidenced by his massacre of 30,000 citizens of Novgorod; yet his remarkable intelligence as a ruler, supporting the growth of trade and expanding Russia's borders.

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