Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How Ivan Wrote his Name in Blood

The age of Ivan the Terrible was an age of cruelty; it was the century of Henry VIII. in England, of Ferdinand and the Inquisition in Spain, of Catherine de' Medici and the great massacres in France. The influence of the Tartar slavery was seen in the severity of the new laws. For a debt a man could be tied up and beaten three hours a day; if, after a month, no one was moved to pay his debt for him, he was sold as a slave. Thieves and murderers were hanged, beheaded, broken on the wheel, drowned under the ice, or whipped with sinews which were made to give a sore lash and bite into the flesh." Sorcerers were roasted alive in cages; traitors were tortured by iron hooks which tore their sides into ten thousand pieces; false coiners had to swallow molten metal. The noble had the life and death of his peasants in his hand.

A keen observer of Ivan's time says the basest and wretchedest servant, "that stoupeth and croucheth like a dogge to the gentleman and licketh up the dust that lyeth at his feete, is an intollerable tyrant when he hath the advantage. By this means," says he, "the whole country is filled with rapine and murder. They make no account of the life of a man." The same barbarism was seen in the treatment of woman: she was shut up in the top room of the house; no eyes could look upon her face; she was considered the property of the man; her glory and honor was "to obey her husband as the slave obeys his master." Sylvester, Ivan's minister, in his famous book of instructions, warned husbands to correct their wives with loving and judicious punishment, but not to use too thick sticks or to whip them unduly before their servants.

de' Medici


To illustrate Russian manners Herberstein tells this story: "There is at Moscow a certain German, a blacksmith named Jordan, who married a Russian woman. After she had lived some time with her husband she one day thus lovingly addressed him: 'Why is it, my dearest husband, that you do not love me?' The husband replied, 'I do love you with all my heart.' 'I have as yet seen no proofs of your love,' said she. The husband asked what proofs she wished. She replied; 'You have never beaten me.' 'Really,' said the man, 'I did not think blows were proofs of love; however, I will not fail even in this respect.' And not long after," says Herberstein, "he beat her most cruelly, and confessed to me that after that process his wife showed much greater affection for him." The Russian proverb says: "I love thee like my soul, but I beat thee like my jacket." Amid this general ignorance and barbarism it was not strange that Ivan, whose youthful brutality was applauded by his tutors, should have led his countrymen in what an Englishman called the "supersuperlatives of crueltie."

The year after the capture of Kazan he fell ill and was thought to be dying. The boyars seized the chance to rebel against him; they refused to swear allegiance to his son Dimitri; they made Ivan's cousin Vladimir the head of their plot; his mother spoke many seditious words and distributed gifts to the army. The noisy talk of the boyars came to Ivan's sick-bed: he saw the danger which threatened his wife and son. He called his faithful nobles around him and said,—

"You gave me and my son an oath to serve us, but many boyars wish not to see my son on the throne; thus, if I happen by the will of God to die, forget not, I pray you, that you have kissed the cross; give not my son to the boyars to destroy; fly with him to some foreign land, whithersoever God will lead you."

Then he turned to his wife's relatives, the Romanofs. "Why these terrors?" said he; "think you the boyars will have mercy upon you? You will be their first victims. Die then for my son and his mother; leave not my wife to the fury of the boyars."

Ivan got well, but henceforth he was a changed man. Sylvester was exiled; Adashef was sent to Dorpat. Shortly after their disgrace the wise and gentle Anastasia died suddenly. Ivan believed that she was poisoned. Even then the Tsar was not the Terrible. He sent the mutinous boyars to the monastery of St. Cyril on the White Lake; in one of his letters to the monks he complains that the prisoners reigned in their cells like the Tsar, drank as though it were a wedding or a baptism, and distributed iced fruits, cake, and sweetmeats.

"When the treason of that dog, Alexis Adashef, and his friends was discovered," says Ivan in a letter, "we let our wrath be tempered with mercy. We condemned not the guilty to death, but banished them. When they set on foot against us a perfidious plot, then only, seeing their wicked stubbornness and their undying treason, we inflicted on the guilty the penalty of their crimes."

The flight of his chief boyar, Prince Kurbski, a descendant of Rurik, was what caused the Tsar to be more severe. Prince Kurbski, as we have seen, bore a famous part against the Tartars at Tula and Kazan. Angry at the fall of Ivan's ministers, he basely allowed four thousand Poles to beat fifteen thousand Russians. Having reason to fear the Tsar's vengeance, he secretly left his camp at Vendur with one servant, and took service with the King of Poland: He sent back his servant Vaska, who delivered to the Tsar a long letter expressing in severest terms the Prince's grievances, and declaring that Sigismond August would "load him with favors and consolations for his misfortunes." Ivan, according to the tradition, took his iron-pointed staff and nailed the messenger's foot to the Red Staircase while the letter was being Read. Then he gave him over to the torturers, who worked their cruelest tortures upon him: His constancy won Ivan's praise, who wrote back to Kurbski: "Let thy servant Vaska shame thee.! He kept his truth to, thee before the Tsar and the people. Having given thee his word of faith, he kept it even before the gates of death." The correspondence of the Tsar and his exile is one of the most curious literary monuments of the sixteenth century. "They exchanged many letters, in which the one showed a great knowledge of the sacred and profane authors, close reasoning, and bitter irony the other, an indignant and tragic eloquence."



Ivan, whose suspicions were fully aroused by Prince Kurbski's conduct and by the plots which the friends of his exiled ministers were weaving, suddenly quitted Moscow with his servants and treasures, and retired to one of his favorite villages, whence he wrote a letter to the Metropolitan, complaining of the plots and faithlessness of the nobles and the clergy. He sent word to the people of Moscow that he had no displeasure or lack of trust in them. Great was the terror and perplexity in the capital; when the people heard the Tsar's message sobs and cries were heard; "Alas! woe! we have sinned before God and angered the Tsar. His great mercy we have changed into wrath and fury. And now to whom shall we go? Who will pardon us and free us from the attacks of our foes? How can the flock live without the shepherd? If the sheep have no shepherd the wolves ravage them." The people feared the boyars; the boyars trembled before the people, and they besought the Metropolitan, saying: "We all come to thee with our heads, begging thee to go to the Tsar and ask his grace." When the people with the clergy came in procession to ask his pardon, Ivan consented to resume the throne, but only on his own conditions. And now for seven years there was a most extraordinary system of government. Ivan came back to Moscow. He divided the villages and cities of the empire into two parts. In charge of the larger of these divisions he left the ancient council of boyars; this was called "the rule of the land." With his own creatures he formed a new court, a new council and administration, to which he gave control of the part of Moscow and the twenty towns and villages which fell to his own private share. He surrounded himself with a body-guard of a thousand men, who were distinguished by a dog's head and a broom hung from the saddle-bow. They were indeed meant to bite and to sweep away the Tsar's enemies.

A reign of terror hung over Russia during the rest of Ivan's life.

The Metropolitan Philip could not endure the sight of so much suffering. He came boldly before the Tsar.

The Tsar: Keep silence, I tell thee, hold thy peace, Holy Father,—hold thy peace and give me thy blessing.

Philip: If I held my peace my silence would be a sin against thy soul.

The Tsar: My subjects rise against me to seek my hurt. What hast thou to do with my councils?

Philip: I am the shepherd of the flock.

The Tsar: Philip, dare not my power lest my anger fall upon thee. I bid thee give up thine office!

Philip: I sought not the place, neither by myself nor by others. Why dost thou remove me?

Ivan, amid the tears of the people, caused the brave Metropolitan to be literally swept out of the cathedral and exiled from Moscow; the next year he sent his ruffian, Skuratof, to demand his blessing. "How can I bless him when I see my country in mourning?" said Philip: The next moment he was seized and strangled.

Among the memorials of the monastery of St. Cyril is a letter from Ivan the Terrible asking the prayers of the church for his victims. The list numbers thirty-four hundred and seventy persons, of whom nine hundred and eighty-six are mentioned by name: "Kazarin Dubrovski and his two sons, with ten men who come to their help; "twenty men of this village, eighty of that." "Remember, Lord, the souls of thy servants, in number fifteen hundred and five men of Novgorod." Such are the sinister contents of this curious letter. Relatives, favorites, boyars, peasants, all fell alike before the suspicious wrath of the tyrant.

Church of St. Basil the Blessed


He himself was never free from fears for his life. He sent to Queen Elizabeth to ask an assurance by oath and faith that in case any misfortune fell upon either of them, or if they were obliged to go out of their own country, they should find safe asylum each in the land of the other.

Queen Elizabeth's reply was as follows:—

"Thorough Gods goodnes allwais shewed unto us we have no manner of doubt of the Contynuance of our peacable gouernment without danger eyther of our subiects or of any forren ennemys."

But a secret despatch with the Queen's privy seal and signed by Nicholas Bacon and William Cecil, offered the Tsar an asylum:—

"Wee offer that yf at anie time it so mishappe that you lord our brother emperour and great duke, bee by anie casuall chaunce, either of secrite conspiracie or outward hostillitie, driven to change your countries and shall like to repaire into our Kingdome and dominions with the noble empresse your wife and youre deare children the princes, wee shall with such honors and curtesies receive and intreate your highnes then, as shall become so great a prince."

In this interchange of letters Ivan soon perceived that the Queen cared more for her own profit than for his. He returned a spiteful answer, rehearsing his kind acts to her merchants and ending with this outburst of anger:—

"We had thought that thou wert sovereign in thine own country and ruled with sovereign power, caring for the honor and profit of thy country; hence we wished to treat with thee as with a sovereign. But we perceive that other men and not thyself rule thy country, and not men indeed but boorish merchants, and thou, wench that thou art, behavest like a wench."

About the time that Ivan was building his treasure castle and making secret preparations to take refuge from his boyars in England, he gave up his power to a foreigner, a prisoner, a Tartar vassal. He himself seemed ashamed of this farce: he told Sylvester, the interpreter, that "though he seemed to have enthroned another, yet he had not so far resigned but that he was able to take the imperial dignity to himself again." And when ambassadors came from the Emperor Maximilian, he had them brought to one of his reserved towns, and they, not suspecting that there was any other lord of Russia, declared on their knightly honor that neither in Rome nor in Spain had they met with a more sumptuous reception.

Ivan's character was a strange mixture of greatness and meanness, of liberality and superstition. He liked foreigners and allowed them to trade freely, but "he kept up an undignified rivalry with his own subjects," forced them to sell to him their honey, wax, and furs at a low price, saying, "My people are like my beard, the oftener it is shaven the thicker it grows; they are like sheep that must need be shorn once a year at the least to keep them from being over-laden with the wool."

Ivan was religious, and built "in hys tyme above 40 faire stone churches richly bedaect and adorned within and the turrets all gilt with fine pure gold." The most curious church, perhaps, in the world is that of Basil the Blessed, who "was idiotic for Christ's sake." The legend says that Ivan built it in memory of the capture of Kazan, and put out the eyes of the Italian architect to prevent his building another like it. "It is," says a recent traveller, the most chimerical of all architectural creations, an edifice without a prototype, a riddle for the eye. Picture a maze of incoherent chapels, porches, cells, projections, and galleries, knotted in one fantastic huddle and surmounted by a crowd of carved towers, turbaned cupolas, and Tartar bulbs, each of a different size and style, painted in every possible color, a harlequin in stone with a casque of gold."

Ivan wished to be the patron of printing, and he engaged a German to set up a press and print a Russian Bible at Moscow; but the people looked upon the art as impious, and so persecuted the printer that he had to flee for his life. At first Ivan greatly harassed the dealers in magic, burying them alive with wild animals, but toward the end of his life superstition grew upon him.

The year of his death a comet appeared which he took as a fatal omen. He caused threescore sorcerers to be gathered from the far North and daintily entreated them in Moscow. But the great blazing star over the city and all the signs were against him. He was wont to play with precious stones, believing that they possessed marvellous properties. Just before his death the Englishman, Horsey, was with him in the treasury. The loadstone," said Ivan, "you all know, hath great and hidden virtue, without which the seas that at compass the world are not navigable, nor can the bounds or circles of the world be known. Mahomet, the Persian prophet, his tomb of steel hangs in the mosque at Derbent most miraculously. This fair coral and this fair turquoise by nature are orient colors; put them on my hand and arm. I am poisoned with disease. You see they show their virtue by the change of their pure color into pale. It declares my death." Then taking his staff royal, garnished with precious stones which cost seventy thousand marks, he said: "The ruby, oh! this is most comfortable to the heart, brain, vigor, and memory of man; it clarifies congealed and corrupt blood. The emerald has the nature of the rainbow; the precious stone is an enemy to uncleanness. The sapphire I greatly delight in: it preserves and encreaseth courage, joys the heart, is pleasing to all the vital senses, and is precious and very soothing to the eyes."

After the death of Anastasia, Ivan the Terrible married in succession a number of wives, all of whom came to a more or less violent death. His seventh wife was Maria Nagoi. Shortly before the birth of her son Dimitri, Ivan tried to make a foreign alliance; first he asked the sister of the King of Poland; then he sent his envoy to England, to negotiate a treaty by which the two countries might be linked together in firm amity, and to demand an interview with Lady Mary Hastings, niece of the Queen, to get her portrait, inquire her age, and notice if she were of good height, of plump person and fair complexion. The Russian, when he saw the lady, "cast down his countenance, fell prostrate at her feet, rose, ran back from her, his face still towards her; she and the rest admiring at his manner. Then he said by an interpreter that it did suffice him to behold the angel he hoped should be his master's spouse, and commended her angelical countenance, state, and admirable beauty." As the news of Dimitri's birth followed the envoy to England, Sir Jerome Bowes was sent "with a riche standing

cupp, conteyning in it greate nombere of peeces of plat artificially wrought," which he was to present to the Tsar and explain at the same time the impossibility of the proposed marriage.

The Tsar's quick temper and his ready use of the terrible iron staff led to a sad tragedy. In a discussion with his son, Ivan; he struck him a sudden and deadly blow. His fierce anger was changed in an instant to grief as fierce.

Three years only he survived his favorite son. He died in the midst of a game of chess; just as he was setting up the king, he fell back in a swoon. That night the government was put into the hands of five lords whom he had named as guardians of Theodore, his feeble-minded son.

In spite of Ivan's cruelties, he kept the love of his people in a marvellous way. His exploits are celebrated in whole cycles of song. In the cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, in a "coffin of cypress, lies Ivan the Terrible, the orthodox Tsar."