January 16, 1547: Why Was Ivan Terrible?

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A Brief History

On January 16, 1547, Ivan Vasilyevich IV was crowned Czar of All The Russias.

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find Ivan not only becoming the first Czar (the Russian equivalent of Caesar, often spelled Tsar) but also getting the frightening moniker Ivan the Terrible!

Ivan initially assumed the title Grand Prince of Moscow, what the Russian ruler was called then, when he was just 3 years old.  He managed to crown himself Czar at age 17, somewhat precocious to say the least.

Under Ivan’s forceful leadership, Russia expanded by conquering adjacent lands in central Asia and Siberia.  To this day Russia remains the largest country (by area) in the world and is a great power.  Before Ivan, Russia was not so powerful, which he sought to “correct,” a goal he partly attained.

Gaining vast lands peopled by populations of diverse ethnicities, religions and languages must have been a trying experience, and Ivan went about his business in a ruthless and somewhat paranoid manner.

Being prone to fits of rage, Ivan The Terrible lived up to his name by killing his son and heir personally!  Unfortunately, this action left a far less capable son as his heir, but Ivan did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it, and nobody was going to stop him!  It is actually believed he suffered from a form of mental illness although intelligent and loved by the masses.

Saddled with a corrupt and disloyal nobility, Ivan was dismayed to the point of abdication!  In the chaos that ensued, he was persuaded to return as Czar, but he did so only with caveat that he would wield absolute power.  He did so with a vengeance, having many nobles killed or exiled.

During his reign, the first laws tying peasants to the land were implemented and resulted in their near-slave status as serfs.  The nobles who had survived benefited from this; the peasants, not so much!

Ivan died of a stroke while engaged in that great Russian pastime, playing chess.  He was only 53 years old and left Russia with a weak and unfit heir, having lived up to his terrible appellation.  For good reason, he ranks ninth of the list of “Top 10 Worst Abuses of Power in History“!

Question for students (and subscribers): Why was Ivan terrible?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more on Ivan the Terrible, please read…

Pavlov, Andrei and Maureen Perrie.  Ivan the Terrible.  Routledge, 2003.

Payne, Robert and Nikita Romanoff.  Ivan the Terrible.  Cooper Square Press, 2002.

Price, Sean.  Ivan the Terrible (A Wicked History).  Franklin Watts, 2008.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.