The First Tsar: Ivan The Terrible

By | December 3, 2019

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Ivan the Terrible killing his son; painting by Ilya Repin. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

In terms of historic notoriety, few have the equal of Ivan IV, also called Ivan Groznyi, meaning Ivan the Terrible. Ivan was the first of the Tsars of Russia who set an autocratic pattern that would be followed for centuries.

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The Grand Duchy of Muscovy. Source: (Wikipedia)

A Dysfunctional Childhood

The future Tsar was born as Ivan Vasilievich on August 25, 1530, near Moscow. The Prince was the son of Vasilii III the Grand Duke of Muscovy. Vasilii died by the time Ivan was three, leaving his wife, Ivan’s mother Elena Glinskaya in control of the throne. Elena, however, proved ineffective in the face of the powerful aristocrats, the boyars of Muscovy. When Ivan was seven, his mother died — likely by poisoning.

Ivan and his younger brother Yuri were at the mercy of the boyars who manipulated the young princes for their own ends. Sources tell how the princes routinely witnessed violence, intrigue, backstabbing, and murder. They were essentially captives of their own court. Reduced to poverty and near starvation, they were paraded out in public view only when it was of the interest of one of the vying boyar families. This abuse marked itself well on Ivan who was reported to have tortured birds and animals as a boy.