Terribly Great

Ivan IV Vasilyevich, commonly known as Ivan the Terrible or Ivan the Fearsome, was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547. The last title was used by all his successors. Ivan was the first son of Vasili III and his second wife, Elena Glinskaya, who was of half Serbian and half Litvin descent. When Ivan was three years old, his father died from an abscess and inflammation on his leg that developed into blood poisoning.

Ivan was proclaimed the Grand Prince of Moscow at the request of his father. His mother Elena Glinskaya initially acted as regent, but she died of what many believe to be assassination by poison. During his reign, Russia conquered the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan and Sibir, becoming a multicontinental state spanning approximately. Ivan exercised autocratic control over Russia’s hereditary nobility and developed a bureaucracy to administer his new territories. He transformed Russia from a medieval state into an empire, though at immense cost to its people, and its broader, long-term economy. Ivan established close ties with the Kingdom of England. Russo-English relations can be traced to 1551.

Now, with the use of English merchants, Ivan engaged in a long correspondence with Elizabeth I of England. While the queen focused on commerce, Ivan was more interested in a military alliance. Historic sources present disparate accounts of Ivan’s complex personality: he was described as intelligent and devout, yet given to rages and prone to episodic outbreaks of mental instability that increased with his age. In one such outburst, he killed his son and heir Ivan Ivanovich.

This left his younger son, the pious but politically ineffectual Feodor Ivanovich, to inherit the throne. Ivan was an able diplomat, a patron of arts and trade, and founder of the Moscow Print Yard, Russia’s first publishing house. He was popular among Russia’s commoners (Ivan the Terrible in Russian folklore), and he is also noted for his paranoia and harsh treatment of the Russian nobility. Ivan died from a stroke while playing chess with Bogdan Belsky on 28 March 1584. Upon Ivan’s death, the Russian throne was left to his unfit and childless middle son Feodor. Feodor died childless in 1598, ushering in the Time of Troubles.

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