Ivan IV the Terrible - Biography

Ivan didn’t immediately become known as Terrible. Born near Moscow on August 25, 1530, Ivan was the long-awaited son of Vasily III. His father died when the boy was only three and Ivan was proclaimed the Grand Prince of Moscow. At first, his mother Yelena Glinskaya acted as a regent, but she died when Ivan was eight years old. Ivan saw her replaced by a group of noblemen fiercely fighting for power.

Treated with respect in public but neglected in private, he was growing up lonely and often humiliated by his mighty regents. Abuse, violence and murders were commonplace in the palace. It’s believed Ivan’s miserable childhood largely explains his hatred of the nobles and his later repressions against them.

Smart and a keen reader, early on Ivan started dreaming of unlimited power. In 1547, aged 16, he was finally crowned Czar of all Russia, the first ruler to officially assume the title. The young ruler started out as a reformer, modernising and centralising the country. He revised the law code, created an elite standing army and introduced local self-management in rural regions. The first printing press was introduced in Russia and new trade routes opened up.

Ivan also pressed to turn his country into a military heavyweight. Back then, the Tatar armies repeatedly devastated Russia’s northeast. In 1552 Ivan crushed the Tatar stronghold of Kazan and then another one – Astrakhan.

These campaigns began Russia’s expansion into Siberia, annexing a large Muslim population and turning Russia into a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state.

One of Moscow’s most famous landmarks is a reminder of this drive to expand Russia’s borders. St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square was built by Ivan’s order to commemorate Kazan’s invasion and other key victories in the Tatar campaign. A popular legend has it that the work was done by two architects – Postnik and Barma. When Ivan saw the finished cathedral he liked it so much that he had the architects blinded to prevent them from building anything like it elsewhere. ...


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