Facts About Ivan The Terrible

Facts About Ivan the Terrible

Ivan the Terrible was the first leader of Russia to be crowned Tsar, as well as the first to claim the title Tsar alongside his traditional title of Grand Duke of Moscow. Ivan was actually known as Ivan IV, and his title of Ivan the Terrible has been placed in doubt by some historians, because very little of Ivan is known except through second-hand sources. No letters, correspondence, or official papers written by Ivan are known to exist. It is important to understand that the origins of Ivan’s nickname lie in the Russian word for terrible, grozny. It means awe-inspiring, as well as dreaded.


Ivan was born in Moscow, on August 25, 1530. His father was Basil III, and his mother was Helen Glinsky. When he just 3 years old, Ivan’s father died, and his mother became official regent. Due to Ivan’s young age, this resulted in a period of political intrigue, marked by violence and disputes.


The dispute over Russian leadership essentially came down to a battle between two different families, the Shuisky and Belsky dynasties. When Ivan was 13 years old, the Shuisky regency was overthrown. But by the time he reached 16, Ivan was ready to crown himself Tsar. He married at age 17, and essentially, took over full control of the government.


Ivan was able to reduce the power of the Russian nobles, as well as the boyars, who were the highest ranking level of the feudal hierarchy. In essence, Ivan brought the nobility and the boyars under the law as represented solely by the will of the Russian Tsar. This made Ivan very popular with the less powerful members of Russian society, because they now were offered protection against the abuses of the nobility.

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Secret Police

Not every member of the lower class saw Ivan as a hero, however. Ivan the Terrible personally handpicked 6,000 guards that became members of a secret police organization called the oprichniki. These policemen were quite forbidding in their black uniforms as they sat on horseback. Ivan guaranteed their loyalty by bribing them with territory taken from dispossessed boyars.

Accidental Killing of Son

Ivan the Terrible committed a great many heinous acts, but perhaps the most tragic for him, personally, was the accidental killing of his son. The series of events commenced with Ivan beating his son’s wife for dressing immodestly while she was pregnant. The beating may have caused her subsequent miscarriage. Ivan’s son, named after himself, violently confronted his father upon learning of the beating. During the argument, Ivan struck his son in the head with a sharply pointed staff, causing the young man’s eventual death. So overcome by grief was Ivan, that he often wandered through the Kremlin at night, howling like a madman.


Ivan was raised as a very religious boy, and his abiding knowledge of scriptures carried over to his adulthood. Nevertheless, he was a very complex Christian who might rise early in the morning to get in several hours of prayer, only to spend the afternoon ordering that any priests who spoke out against him be burned alive. Ivan even ordered that he be buried not in the glamorous clothing a Tsar, but in the very austere trappings of a monk.


Like most Russian leaders, the perceived legacy of Ivan the Terrible undergoes an ebb and flow. For the most part, however, Ivan, despite his terrible tendencies, is recognized as a vital figure in the emergence of Russia as a modern state. Many of his polices were designed to cast aside the feudal heritage, and make Russia a more imposing European power. While certainly not in the same league as Peter the Great, in reference to modernizing Russia, Ivan the Terrible does hold an essential spot in the forward progression of the country.

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