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The Presidential Library illustrates contradictions of Ivan the Terrible

16 January 2019

On January 16, 1547, Grand Duke Ivan IV was solemnly coronated becoming famous all over the world by the nickname Grozny. The ceremony of his anointing to Russian reign took place in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. It was headed by the famous historical and religious figure - Metropolitan Macarius. The cross of the Life-giving Tree, as well as the barmas and the crown of Monomakh were laid on Ivan Vasilyevich. Thus, he became the first tsar of our country. It was emphasized that his power was of divine origin, and Ivan himself was proclaimed the successor to the emperors of Byzantium, who fell in the XVI century under the onslaught of the Turks.

The royal title allowed new Russian sovereign to rise in the eyes of the Western European monarchs. “Grand Duke” was the title of Ivan Vasilyevich's predecessors - was translated to most languages ​​as “Prince”, “Grand Duke”, then the word “Tsar” already stood in line with the “King”.

The digital collections of the Presidential Library contain more than 1500 unique materials dedicated to Ivan the Terrible. Many rare documents are available on the institution's portal. They allow us to see in different ways far from an unambiguous figure of the tsar, to make his clear portrait.

The future Russian tsar was born in August 1530 in the family of Grand Duke of Moscow Vasily III and Princess Elena Glinskaya. Legend has it that at the time Ivan was born, bad weather raged, a thunderstorm broke out that scared people — a rather superstitious society at that time saw this as a bad sign...

When the boy was three years old, his father died, and the boyars took up the upbringing of the young ruler of Russia, under the will of Vasily III. That's just the nature of a talented child, they began to send in the wrong direction, the book says N. I. Fomin "The Memorable Marriage of Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich Grozny" (1834), an electronic copy of which is available on the Presidential Library’s portal: "Ivan was born with a soul capable of everything great, passion passionate, strong by will: his life in both periods is a lot of evidence. Parenting distorted these gifts of nature. Being almost a baby after his parents, he did not have any supervision over him. The people around him did not understand the sacred duty of implanting the rules of virtue in him - they only put into it disastrous thoughts about his strength and power, condoned his cruel inclinations, fulfilled all the whims, hoping to gain favor of the future Emperor. Character has been directed to the side of vice, and evil has taken root”.  

Despite the obviously vicious path, which the teachers of the future tsar stubbornly guided, the gift of the ruler and strategist not only did not suffer, but also strengthened. This is noted by the famous Polish historian K. F. Valishevsky in his book “Ivan the Terrible (1530–1584)” (1912), which can also be “flipped through” on the Presidential Library’s portal: “Of course, the idea of ​​this person and his associates cannot be separated from some horrible scenes ... but through these ominous visions you will nevertheless notice what I called the sunrise". Valishevsky believes that cruelty was a feature of most of the rulers of that era, including from Western Europe. Moreover, the scientist writes, largely due to the steel character of Ivan Vasilyevich, Russia flourished rapidly, eventually becoming the largest world power: “Do you know any European state in the 16th century, one chapter of which would represent an idyll? .. Pay your eyes to the giant plain where this people worked, between the Urals and the Carpathians, between the Black and White Seas, and you will see that it was not affection, tenderness and goodness that could mix, grind and merge into an inseparable whole 20 different races that now make up Russia It is possible that with this work, Ivan the 4th was more cruel than the mores of his age. But in the legends and historical criticism, the epithet “Grozny” became synonymous with cruelty without meaning and without justification, purely barbaric origin, brought to extremes in its manifestations, and for someone who knows the power of words, the consequences leave no doubt: the word imposed a false concept on things".

A similar point of view belongs to the Russian historian Robert Wipper. In his book "Ivan the Terrible" (1922) he puts Ivan IV far above his illustrious monarch contemporaries: "Ivan the Terrible, a contemporary of Elizabeth of England, Philip II of Spain and Wilhelm of Orange, has to solve military, administrative and international tasks similar to the goals of the creators New European powers, but in a more difficult situation: with the talents of a diplomat and an organizer, he may be superior to all of them”.

Indeed, to argue with the fact that Ivan the Terrible was an innovator and a brilliant statesman is almost impossible. During his reign, he conquered the Kazan and Astrakhan khanates, annexed Western Siberia and Bashkiria to the Russian state. One of the main symbols of our country - St. Basil's Cathedral on the Red Square in Moscow - was built by order of the first Russian tsar in honor of the victory over the Tatar hordes. Moreover, it was under Ivan IV that civil society actually originated. In 1547, after a series of terrible fires in Moscow, which almost destroyed the capital, the autocrat decided to involve people from all corners of the country in discussing state issues - this was how he hoped to ensure the safety of his subjects - and convened the first Zemsky Sobor. "In this speech, he expressed to the people that he knows that all the misfortunes of the people stemmed from the unworthy government entrusted with his father’s management, but that from now on he would rule the state and elect rulers, and bowing to the people on all four sides, I asked him to forgive the rude and ignorant boyars and not to avenge them. The Tsar and the people began to cry, ”writes I. V. Belyaev in his study “Tsar and Grand Duke John IV Vasilyevich the Terrible, Moscow and All Rus’” (1866).

Also, according to the decrees of Ivan the Terrible, reforms were carried out in the army, the judicial system and state administration. In particular, local government has been introduced. The tsar paid much attention to culture - it was under him that typography emerged in Russia.

However, this is only one side of the coin. The other one was less attractive. It was it which prevented Ivan IV from entering the history as the king-converter, which almost two centuries later Peter the Great succeeded. You can read about this in the aforementioned book by N. I. Fomin “The Memorable Marriage of Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich Grozny”: “The character of Tsar Ivan the Terrible belongs to those few characters that seem to appoint nature to celebrate their strength in them. Born in the age of the uneducated, rude among the people, alien education, standing still at the first stage of citizenship, he showed abilities unusual in the wise science of government and, perhaps, would have deprived Peter of fame to be the first Sovereign in Russia, if fate, to our misfortune, did not unite all possible circumstances for seducing him from the path leading to immortality: he became a tyrant”.

The deep drama of the internal contradictions of Ivan the Terrible is well reflected in the book “Ivan the Terrible (1530–1584)” by K. F. Valishevsky: “Everything that Peter and Catherine committed was designed, started and partly carried out on this first morning of civilization, which too soon the evening twilight fell. Who did this? - The man about whom Custine writes that he crossed all the bounds of evil, permitted, put it that way, in that sphere by God to create it, the criminal, whose face is a nightmare and name is Horror; rival Nero and Caligula - Grozny!"