Ivan IV was the first ‘Tsar of Russia’ (also called Tzar or Czar). However, his grandfather Ivan III had similar control and power but didn’t have the title. Born on August 25, 1530, Ivan IV was crowned the Grand Prince of Moscow post his father’s death. During the first 5 years of his rule, his mother was the ‘Regent’, serving until her death. After that, the family members took over her post. On January 16, 1547, Ivan was formally made the ‘Tsar of Russia’ at the age of mere 16. He had under his control the largest nation in the world then. Moscow became the capital of the mighty Tsardom of Russia.
In the same year of his coronation, he married his first wife Anastasia Romanov. After her death, he remarried many times. But historians consider his first marriage to be the most pleasant and happiest. During the early years of his rule, the legal system and local & national government saw many reforms. A standing army was also created. His rule was however, labelled as ‘terrible’.
A Ruthless ‘Terrible’ Ruler
In history, he is notoriously known as Ivan the Terrible. He had a complex personality and prone to sudden mood changes. Although he was a devout Christian, he didn’t mind killing priests. He also didn’t mind resorting to ruthless ways to exhibit or expand his control. To strengthen his position, he implemented many reforms to curb the power of the aristocrats. Later, he adopted more brutal measures to limit their powers. To undermine nobles, he confiscated their properties and distributed among those who were under his service. He used force to suppress the rebellion. He extended his reign to independent principalities like Siberia. He also brought about the system of serfdom. His cruel ways knew no bounds. He even gouged out the eyes of St. Basil’s architects so that they couldn’t recreate such a monument again.
He got even worse after his first wife Anastasia died in 1560. Ivan grew violent and became mentally unstable. During the years 1561 to 1581, he married 6 more times. None of which turned out to be successful. All his wives were either found dead in mysterious situations or were sent to a convent.
During his reign in the later years, Russia got severely damaged by famine, terror, and war. And Ivan continued to grow more unstable and violent. In an argument, he killed his own son too. Ivan came to be called Grozny, which translates to ‘terrible’ in English.
In 1582, his empire suffered a major setback as he lost northern territories to Sweden and Poland after the Livonian War. When he died in the year 1584, he left Russia in an economic and political turmoil.