Ivan the Terrible: A Storm that Shook Russia

Ivan the Terrible shows his treasures to the English ambassador Horsey, by Alexander Litovchenko (1875) / Russian Museum, Wikimedia Commons

A storm shook Moscow on August 25, 1530, and as the thunder rolled, Ivan IV was born.

Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Journalist and Historian
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief


A storm shook Moscow on August 25, 1530, and as the thunder rolled, Ivan IV was born.According to legend, a priest had warned Ivan’s father that he would have a wicked son.“Your states will be prey to terror and tears; rivers of blood will flow,” the priest is supposed to have said. If he did say that, he was right.

The boy who was to become Ivan IV was a troubled, angry child. Unfortunately, for the Russian people, he became their czar. This grandson of Ivan the Great launched a reign of terror that earned him the reputation of being terrifying and eventually the title Ivan the Terrible.

When Ivan was three, his father died. Ivan became the Grand Prince of Muscovy, but he was only a child. The real ruling power rested inthe hands of his mother, Yelena Glinskaya, and the boyars who supported her.

Yelena ruled for the next five years, receiving advice from relatives and boyars. Suddenly, one day she doubled over with pain and,within hours, she was dead. Some people believed that Ivan’smother had been poisoned.

Only eight years old, Ivan was alone in the world and still far too young to rule Muscovy. A power struggle broke out among the boyars for control over young Ivan.

As a young boy, Ivan probably felt afraid and uncertain. He spent his childhood being told he was a ruler, but for the most part, he was ignored. As the Grand Prince of Muscovy, Ivan lived in Moscow’s Kremlin, where life was filled with violence as the nobles fought for power. He saw people unfairly arrested, exiled, and even killed, and he grew to distrust everyone around him.

A Czar is Crowned

Ivan IV was crowned as czar when he was still a teenager

Ivan wanted to be crowned Czar of Russia. His grandfather, Ivan III, had claimed the title, but no Russian monarch had ever been crowned czar.

“Grand Prince” or “Czar”? It made little difference to the boyars. They agreed to his wishes. In Moscow on January 16, 1547, when he was not yet seventeen years old, Ivan was crowned Holy Czar, Monarch of All the Russians.

Czar Ivan IV was now ready to marry. According to tradition, boyars introduced their daughters to him. When Ivan saw Anastasia Romanovna, he offered her a jeweled handkerchief. He had found the woman he wanted to marry.

The Empire Builder

Ivan IV built St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. The architect who worked on the cathedral with Ivan IV was from Italy.

Ivan IV worked to expand his country’s holdings to the east, including parts of Siberia, the largest part of present-day Russia.

In addition to parts of Siberia, Ivan added more lands to his territory by waging war with his neighbors to the south and west.

To celebrate one of his victories, Ivan built the beautiful onion-domed cathedral of St. Basil’s in Moscow. One legend says that Ivan asked the architect if he could ever build another church as fine as St. Basil’s. When the architect said that he could, Ivan supposedly had the poor architect blinded to make sure he would not.

Spreading Terror

Ivan distrusted the boyars. He became more and more suspicious of them and began to suspect that enemies surrounded him.He began to persecute some of the boyars.

After giving birth to her sixth child, Czarina Anastasia became ill and died. The grieving czar fell into a sorrow that was close to madness. Once, in a fit of rage, he even struck and killed his favorite son.

As Ivan’s temper grew worse, he became more vicious. He ordered arrests and executions. After a long, nasty reign, Ivan IV died in 1584 and left behind an empire of suffering, rebellious people.The years of disorder after Ivan’s death became known as the “Time of Troubles”.

Originally published by the Core Knowledge Foundation under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.



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