WE have seen how the Jagiellos laid the foundation of the Polish Monarchy; we have also seen how that monarchy was arrested in its development, and diverted from its purpose, by the centrifugal tendencies of a jealous and undisciplined aristocracy. In Moscovy, meanwhile, the principles of monarchy were gaining steadily in strength. The last vestige of semi-independence disappeared when Pskov, ” with much weeping and wailing,” was forced, in 1510, to surrender her ” assembly bell ” and charter, as Novgorod had done a few years earlier. Something also had been recovered from the West. The Grand Dukes of Moscovy, now, occasionally adopting, with caution and circumspection, the higher title of Tsar’, were pursuing their traditional policy of collecting together the old Russian lands. Both Sigismund I and Sigismund II had been obliged to fall back before the gradual but persistent pressure of their gigantic neighbour, though the capture of Smolensk, in 1514, was the first substantial triumph of the Moscovite over the Pole. But the advance of Moscovy westwards was repeatedly interrupted and retarded by the interference of the Crimean Tatars and their allies. The Giraj dynasty, which reigned in the Crimea, had been willing enough to live amicably with the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and Moscovy so long as they themselves were in constant fear of the Golden Horde of Kipchak and the Sultan of Turkey. But when the Golden Horde collapsed and the Ottoman Power visibly declined, the Crimean Khans raised their heads once more, claimed to be the Suzerains of Moscovy and Lithuania, and habitually blackmailed the two Grand Duchies with perfect impunity. Even Sigismund I thought it expedient to accept yarluiki, or .letters of investiture, from the Khan for his Lithuanian provinces, and for years the Lithuanians paid to the Tatars tribute known as Orduinshchina, or the “Horde Tax.”
Moscovy fared much worse, because the Tatars were nearer neighbours and her powers of resistance were feebler. The military efficiency of Lithuania was still far superior to that of Moscovy; and in the Dnieperian Cossacks she possessed valiant if capricious defenders. The Cossacks of Moscovy, on the other hand, were few, remote, and scattered ; and her own untrained and ill-armed levies were rarely a match for the Tatar hordes. Throughout the reign of Vasily III (15051533) Moscovy was warring incessantly against these alert and ubiquitous marauders ; and in nearly every encounter they were victorious. Kazan was the chief bone of contention between the Khan of the Crimea and the Moscovite Grand Duke. In 1518 the throne of Kazan fell vacant ; and Vasily enthroned thereon Shig Ali, the hereditary foe of the Girais, who drove him out in 1521, and placed Saip, brother of the Crimean Khan, Mahomet, on the throne, in his stead. The same year, Khan Mahomet raided Vasily’s territory up to the very walls of Moscow, carrying off 80,000 captives who were sold as slaves at Perekop and Kaffa. In the following year, Mahomet conquered Astrakhan, hitherto an independent Khanate ; but his allies, the Nogai Tatars, alarmed by his threatening pre-dominance, suddenly turned against and slew him, and ravaged the Crimea terribly. Vasily at once took advantage of this to build a fortress, Vasilsarsk, in Kazan territory as a preliminary to the conquest of the Khanates. But a first expedition of 150,000 men was baffled, in 1524, by the Cheremiss horse-men in the pay of Kazan ; and a second expedition, six years later, under Michael Glinsky, which seemed to have every chance of success, failed through the refusal of the Boyars to obey the orders of their Lithuanian commander.
The fact that Michael Glinsky led the second expedition against Kazan shews that his star was once more in the ascendant in Moscovy. He returned to court shortly after the Grand Duke’s marriage (in Jan. 1526), with Glinsky’s niece Helena, Vasily’s first consort, Solomona, having been divorced for sterility, though not without considerable opposition from the Conservatives, and immured in a monastery in 1525. From henceforth Glinsky remained the Grand Duke’s chief counsellor; and, on his death-bed, Vasily appointed Glinsky one of the guardians of his eldest son and succes’sor Ivan IV, then a child of three.
Vasily III expired on December 3, 1533. Shortly before his death, he took the monkish habit under the name of Varlam. He seems to have been a kindly Prince of somewhat timid character, with a tincture of letters and no very great liking for war, though unswervingly pursuing the traditional forward policy of his House.
Vasily III had appointed the Tsaritsa Helena Regent during the minority of his son, with a Duma, or Council, to assist her. By far the most eminent and capable member of the Council was Michael Glinsky, but, unfortunately, he quarrelled with his niece’s equerry and paramour, Prince Ivan Oschin-Telepnev-Obolensky and, as the reward of his presumption, was immured in a dungeon and slowly starved to death, only eight months after Helena’s accession to power, August, 1534. It was a stupid as well as a barbarous and unnatural act on the Regent’s part, for both she, as a foreigner, and Obolensky, as an upstart, were detested by the Boyars, who lost no time in plotting against them both, even invoking the assistance of both Turkey and Lithuania against this regimen of women. Nevertheless, Helena maintained her position for four years, when she died suddenly, April 3, 1538. We have very good authority for believing that she was poisoned by enemies who could not get rid of her in any other way. The most notable event of her brief reign was the renewal of the truce with Lithuania for five years, from 1537, after a short and bloody but indecisive war.
The ex-equerry Prince Ivan Oschin-Telepnev-Obolensky now stood alone and defenceless, face to face, with numerous powerful enemies. Of these enemies, the man who hated the upstart most was, naturally, the man who considered himself best fitted to fill the upstart’s place. This was Prince Vasily Shuisky. Vasily Shuisky, 24 years earlier, had prevented Smolensk from falling into the hands of the Poles, after the catastrophe of Orsza, by hanging all the principal citizens on the ramparts of the fortress in the sight of the besieging army. A man so energetic in the public service would not be less energetic in the attainment of his private ends. A week after the Regent’s death, Shuisky flung her favourite into prison, where starvation and chains of excessive weight soon killed him. The favourite’s sister, Agrafina, the little Grand Duke’s nurse, was, at the same time, made a nun and sent to the distant monastery of Kargopol. All those who had been proscribed by the late Government were then released, but among them was a Boyar whose presence at court did not promise Vasily Shuisky a long ascendency. This formidable rival was the Boyar Ivan Byelsky, a descendant of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gedymin, and connected by marriage with the reigning Grand Duke of Moscovy. Byelsky had, moreover, been imprisoned for no fault of his, and he was not the man to forget either his pretensions or his sufferings. A struggle for power immediately ensued. At first the Shuiskies prevailed, and the Byelskies returned to the dungeons from which they had just emerged. Then Vasily Shuisky died, and his brother Ivan took the lead of the Party.
Ivan Shuisky’s violence drew a protest from the Metropolitan Daniel, who was ,promptly suppressed; but Daniel’s successor, Josafat, first procured the release of Ivan Byelsky, and then Byelsky and the Metropolitan together succeeded in overthrowing Ivan Shuisky, July 1540. But the Shuiskies had strong supporters among the Boyars of Great Novgorod where the family was very popular (a Shuisky had been the last Governor of independent Novgorod) ; and a conspiracy was formed against Byelsky and the Metropolitan. Between two and three o’clock in the morning of January 3, 1542, Ivan Byelsky was seized in his house at Moscow, conveyed to Byelozero and there murdered. The Metropolitan sought refuge in the apartments of the Grand Duke. Thither the conspirators pursued and horribly maltreated him, in the presence of the helpless and terrified Ivan, suddenly aroused from his slumbers. The unfortunate Metropolitan, more dead than alive, was finally banished to a distant monastery. Makary, Archbishop of Novgorod, was thereupon made Metropolitan of Moscow in the place of Josafat. The Shuiskies now felt secure ; but, twelve months later, their suspicious fears of the Grand Duke’s favourite instructor, Theodore Vorontsov, drove them to commit a crowning outrage. On September 9, 1543, while Vorontsov was dining with the Grand Duke in his private apartments, three of the Shuiskies, with their hirelings, burst into the room, seized Vorontsov, tore the clothes from his body, and fell to beating him savagely. They would have killed him outright but for the tears and supplications of Ivan ; but, though the young Prince saved Vorontsov’s life, he could not prevent the Shuiskies from banishing his friend to Kostroma.
The kidnapping of Vorontsov was the last overt act of violence on the part of the Boyars. A little more than three months later, Ivan, now in his 14th year, asserted his authority by overthrowing the first magnate in the land. On December 19, 1543, he suddenly delivered Prince Andrei Shuisky into the hands of the palace dog-keepers, who beat him to death as they dragged him off to prison. Shuisky’s chief counsellors were banished at the same time. A year of suspense ensued. Then a fresh batch of Boyars, who had been concerned in the Vorontsov outrage and the conspiracy against the Metropolitan Josafat, were seized and exiled (Dec. 16, 1544). On September 10, 1545, Athanasy Buturlin had his tongue cut out for indecorous language ; ” and henceforth,” says the contemporary lyetopis, “the Boyars began to fear and obey the Gosudar.”
The people with whom Ivan now consorted were his kinsfolk on his mother’s side, represented by his grand-mother the Princess Anna Glinska and her family. But two things are already patent, the young Ivan’s distrust of the Boyars and the higher classes generally, and his independence of character. He listened to advice, but initiated everything. Thus when, in May 1546, his meditated expedition to Kolumna against the Tatars was frustrated by the mutiny of the Novgorodian musketeers, the official selected to investigate the matter was the dumny dyak, or clerk of the council, Zakharov a plebeian. Again, shortly afterwards, Ivan suddenly declared his intention of assuming the title of Tsar, a title which his father and grandfather could never make up their minds to adopt openly; and, on January 16, 1547, he was crowned Tsar by the Metropolitan. Previously to this, he had expressed the desire to marry, and, from the scores of virgins sent from every province of the Tsardom to Moscow for his inspection, he chose him to wife Anastasia the daughter of Roman Zakharin-Koshkin, a member of one of the most ancient and loyal of the old Boyar families, better known by its later name of Romanov. The marriage, which took place on February 3, 1547, was a very happy one. A few months after the wedding Moscow was visited by a series of terrible conflagrations, April 12 and 20, June 3 and 21, which reduced half the city to ashes and compelled the Tsar and the Metropolitan to seek refuge outside its walls. On June 26 an ‘enquiry into the cause of the catastrophe was held in the great square of the Kremlin, when the crowd, encouraged by the Boyars, accused the Glinskies of causing the fire by witch-craft. They had, the accusers said, seethed human hearts, torn from living bodies, in boiling water and sprinkled the water about the city. Hence the disaster. The excited mob thereupon murdered Prince Yury Glinsky in the adjoining Uspensky Cathedral, whither he had sought refuge, and then proceeded to the village of Vorobeva, where the Tsar was staying, and demanded that the aged Princess Anna Glinska and the other members of her family should be delivered up. The rioters were dispersed, however, and their ringleaders punished. This mysterious plot, which seems to have been a desperate attempt on the part of the dispossessed Shuiskies to ruin the dominant Glinskies, had very important consequences and profoundly affected the young Prince, whose peculiar character, the pivot of the whole situation, it now behoves us to consider a little more closely.
Ivan IV was in every respect precocious, his intellect and his sensibility were equally alert ; but, from the first, there was what we should call a neurotic strain in his character which required careful watching and pruning if the gifted child were to develop normally. Unfortunately, from infancy, he was practically left to himself. His father died when he was three, his mother when he was seven ; and he grew up in a brutal and degrading environment where he learnt, betimes, to hold human life and human dignity in contempt. He himself has told us, how the leading Boyars wantonly wounded his childish pride and his childish affections ; how they rudely sprawled upon his father’s bed in their young sovereign’s presence ; how they made for themselves “vessels of silver and vessels of gold” out of his father’s treasures ; how, after his mother’s death, they trampled upon and tore her clothes to pieces in their search for jewels. “And,” he proceeds, ” what did not my little brother and I suffer for want of proper food and clothing?
They were never kind to us, they never treated us as children ought to be treated.” He was shrewd enough to observe that the very men who, in private, treated him as if he were “a deaf and dumb fool without understanding,” in public, at the reception of foreign ambassadors for instance, stood humbly round the throne in the guise of servants. Those about him, too, with an eye to their own future advantage, did not fail to remind him that he was the great Gosudar and that these insolent and domineering Boyars were, after all, but his subjects. No wonder then, if, in his impotence, he brooded continually over his wrongs, and meditated future vengeance on those who were now usurping his authority. As the eager, inquisitive child grew older, and read all that there was to be read in those days the Scriptures, the Fathers, Church history, Roman history, Russian chronicleshe sought everywhere, especially in Holy Writ, for texts and precedents in favour of his own divinely appointed authority. He looked forward to the day when he should be, on the throne of Moscow, what Solomon had been on the throne of Jerusalem, and Constantine or Theodosius on the throne of Constantinople. Ivan IV was, indeed, the first Tsar, not so much because he first assumed the title at his coronation, as because he was the first to invent, and consistently act up to, a regular theory of autocracy focussed in the person of the Tsar. But, on the other hand, this perpetual brooding over wrongs and injuries, still unavenged, fostered the morbid irritability of a passionate nature naturally prone to pride and cruelty. Hideous stories have come down to us of Ivan’s fiendish treatment of dumb creatures, and of his brutal practical jokes, as, for instance, when he ordered boiling wine to be poured over the heads of a deputation from Pskov. So far from any attempt being made to restrain the young savage, his attendants and domestics seem to have encouraged him to even worse excesses by their applause. And already there are current hints of even darker and more disgusting vices. Ivan himself, in his 20th year, publicly declared, in a moment of deep repentance : “I cannot describe nor can the human tongue express the vileness of the sins of my youth.”
The occasion on which these words were uttered marks a turning point in the life of Ivan IV. The great fire of Moscow had startled a conscience very susceptible to religious terrors. Ivan saw in it a last divine warning, and ” a great fear came into my soul and a great trembling into my bones.” After consulting the Metropolitan, he summoned representatives from all the Russian towns and provinces to meet on Easter Day, 15501, in the Red Square at Moscow. He addressed the multitude from the Lobnoe Myesto, or public place of execution. First came a sort of open confession. Then he explained that the bad government of the past had been due to the Boyars, who had misruled the realm during his infancy ; but that, henceforth, he was going to rule his people himself in justice and equity. Finally he introduced upon the scene two men of his own choosing, who, henceforth, were to be his chief ministers and instruments, men of humble birth but lofty virtue, “chosen for the health of my soul and…to help me watch over the nation committed to me by God.” It was an unheard-of, a revolutionary proceeding, thus to prefer ” the lowliest of the people ” to the traditional ruling classes ; but Ivan had now permanently broken with the Boyars. He was already statesman enough to discern that they could not be fitted into the new order of things which he foresaw must come. The Boyars had shewn themselves incapable of rising to the idea of a commonwealth with equal rights for all. Their outlook was exclusively personal. They had no patriotism, no public spirit. The ties which bound them to their country were of the loosest and feeblest. Ivan meditated the regeneration of Moscovy; and the only men who could assist him in his task were men who would look steadily forward to the future because they had no past to look back upon, men who would unflinchingly obey their Gosudar because they owed their significance, their whole political existence to him alone. These men of good will be discovered in Aleksyei Adashev and the monk Sylvester.
We know very little of the antecedents of Adashev and Sylvester. The former is first mentioned in February 1547, when, on the occasion of the Tsar’s marriage, he made the nuptial bed and escorted the bridegroom to his praenuptial bath. His influence began at the time of the Great Fire. Sylvester was a simple monk of the Annunciation Monastery at Moscow who attracted Ivan’s attention, about the same time, by the earnestness with which he pleaded for those in disgrace, or ‘under condemnation. But, whatever their origin, morally they were, perhaps, the best men in Moscovy of their day; and their influence over the young Tsar, for the next four years, was profoundly beneficial.
The administration of Adashev and Sylvester coincides with the most glorious period of Ivan’s reignthe period of the conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan.
From 1539 to 1549 the Crimean Prince, Saip Girai, had been left in undisturbed possession of Kazan. On his death in 1549, Ivan placed Shig Ali, a Kazanian refugee at Moscow, on the throne of Kazan, on condition that all the Christian captives were set free. 60,000 of them were accordingly released, but Ivan was informed that just as many more were still working in chains ; and when, in the course of 1551, disturbances broke out in Kazan itself, and one of the two factions offered the Khanate to Ivan, he resolved to take it by force of arms. On June 15, 1552, he quitted Moscow at the head of his host. The hardships of the difficult two months’ march through virgin forests and the endless steppe were lightened by the services of the savage Cheremisses and Mordvinians who, overawed by the magnitude of Ivan’s forces, offered him sub-mission, built bridges, pointed out fords, and brought him supplies of corn. The rivers abounded with fish, the forests with game ; and ‘ the elks were so tame that, in the words of the lyetopis they came and offered themselves up for slaughter.” At last, on August 20, Ivan stood before Kazan, with an army of 150,000 men and 50 guns. Kazan was defended only by wooden walls ; but behind, these walls stood 30,000 fanatical Moslem warriors, determined to sell their lives dearly. At the very beginning of the siege Ivan’s fortitude was put to a severe test. A tempest blew down his tents, destroyed most of his boats on the Volga, and ruined his stores. The raw young army was profoundly discouraged. Not so Ivan. He ordered fresh supplies to be brought up from Moscow, declared his intention of spending the whole winter before Kazan if necessary, and put heart into his men by frequent harangues in which he appealed as much to their piety as to their valour. He also reconnoitred the fortress day and night, discovered the most convenient spots for attacking it, and ordered large wooden towers to be built at intervals round the walls, and guns to be planted on the towers. On August .3o a relief force, under the Tatar Prince Yapucha, which had given the besiegers much trouble, was routed and dispersed. On September 4 one of Ivan’s German engineers deprived the city of its subterranean water supply by blowing up the gallery by which they gained access to it. A part of the wall was blown down at the same time. But the spirit of the besiegers was still unbroken. They drank muddy water, sheltered themselves in long trenches from the fire of the towers, and, when the trenches were mined, had recourse to tarasui, or huge barrels filled with earth, behind which they continued the struggle. On September 30 the tarasui were also blown up; and then, for a whole week, not a dart or arrow flew out of Kazan. Then the whole garrison made a sortie and all but pierced the Russian lines, but were repulsed at last, the besiegers at the same time occupying two of the bastions and penetrating into the tower. Sunday, October 2, was then fixed for a general assault, but counter-preparations were made in the fortress the night before ; and when Ivan, for the last time, offered a free pardon to the Kazanese if they would do homage, they exclaimed with one voice : ” We will not do homage ! Russia is on the bastions, Russia is within the walls; it matters not ; we will fight to the death ! ” Shortly before dawn, two terrific explosions brought down a large portion of the main wall, and the Moscovites mounted the breach shouting : ” God be with us ! ” A desperate contest ensued on the walls, in the gates, round every mosque, and in front of the .Khan’s palace. Ivan was at his devotions when the first explosion filled the air with flying beams and mangled corpses. Messenger after messenger hurried from the fortress to the chapel to urge him to come. ” Come, oh Ivan ! thy troops wait for thee ! “” Come at once, oh Ivan ! to sustain the hearts of thy servants ! ” they cried. But Ivan, who was no hero, waited till the service was over, and even then he lingered before the ikon of St Sergius and performed a whole series of devotions before he mounted his war-horse. By the time he entered the town the Moscovite banners were already waving triumphantly on the walls ; and, though the mêlée was prolonged till evening, the victory was virtually won. On October 4, when the city had been cleansed of corpses (not a soul had been left alive), the Tsar visited it for the second time, and on the spot where, with his own hand, he planted a splendid cross, the foundations of the Cathedral of the Annunciation were solemnly laid.
We must transfer ourselves to the sixteenth century to appreciate adequately the full significance of the conquest of Kazan. Ivan’s contemporaries regarded it as a mighty feat of arms, rivalling the exploits of the ancient, semi-mythical Russian Princes, those incomparable heroes who had gone forth to conquer fresh dominions, and to whom the later Princes, tributary to the Tatars, looked up with wonder and envy. Russia had already begun to recover land which she regarded as her own, the Lithuanian provinces for instance ; but the conquest of Kazan was something quite new, quite different. It was the first territorial conquest from the Tatars before whom Moscovy had humbled herself for generations. It was this which gave to it its extraordinary importance. At last, in the fulness of time, there had arisen in Moscovy a Gosudar who brought back the glorious era of foreign conquest. No wonder then if Ivan IV stood, in the opinion of his contemporaries, so much higher than his immediate forerunners, and, in fact, eclipsed them all.
But, all exaggeration apart, the conquest of Kazan was an epoch-making event in the history of Eastern Europe. At Kazan, Central Asia, in the name of Muhammad, had fought behind its last trench against Christian Europe marshalled beneath the banner of the Gosudar of Moscovy. Kazan fell, and the Volga became a Russian river. Nothing could now restrain the natural advance of the young Russian State towards the east and the south-east. It took, indeed, five years of hard fighting (15551560) to conquer the savage Chuvasses, Votiaks, Bashkirs and Mordvinians, between the Oka and the Kama, who had hitherto been subject to Kazan ; but Astrakhan fell, almost without a blow, in July 1554, and was formally incorporated with Moscovy in 1557. The conquest of Astrakhan brought Moscovy into direct contact, for the first time, with a whole world of petty, contending principalities in the Caucasus, many of whom hastened to place themselves beneath the protection of the strong Tsar from the North.
Ivan was also the first Tsar who attacked the Crimea. In. 1555 he sent Ivan Sheremetev against Perekop with 13)000 men; and Sheremetev routed the Tatars in a two days’ battle at Sudbishenska, capturing So camels and 60,000 horses. Almost simultaneously the daring raids of the Polish Cossacks, under Rzewuski and Wisniowiecki, who penetrated as far as Oczakow, opened the eyes of the Moscovites to the essential weakness of the Crimean Tatars. Some of Ivan’s counsellors, including Adashev and Sylvester, now advised him to make an end of the Crimean Khanate, as he had previously made an end of the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan. By so doing, they urged, he would rid himself of chronic freebooters whose incalculable raids not only impoverished the State but made it necessary to keep up a standing army, at an enormous expense. Ivan unhesitatingly rejected their advice ; and there can be no doubt that, in this respect, he saw much further than his counsellors. Kazan and Astrakhan were comparatively easy to conquer, because the Moscovites could approach almost up to their very walls by rivers abounding with fish and flowing through forests full of meat and honey. The Crimea was separated from Moscovy by the endless barren steppe which, in those days, began as far north as Tula and Pronsk. It might be easy for lightly armed and mounted Cossacks, even then, to penetrate thither ; but an army like the Moscovite armies of the sixteenth century would have perished half-way for want of sustenance. And even if, by sonie extraordinary concurrence of fortunate circumstances, Ivan had succeeded in subjugating the Crimea, how could he have held it against the whole might of the Ottoman Empire with the absolute command of the sea? A century later, the great Golitsuin attempted the same thing, under far more favourable conditionsand failed. A century later still the famous marshal Münnich, with all the appliances of modern warfare at his command, attempted it againand he also failed. Ivan IV, wiser in his generation, knew that the thing was impossible, and did not attempt it. It was upon Livonia that his eyes were fixed, Livonia which promised him towns by the dozen, fortresses by the score, and above all, a seaboard, and direct communication with the rest of Europe.
Ivan IV, like Peter I after him, clearly recognised the necessity of raising Moscovy to the level of her neighbours. He proposed to do so by encouraging foreigners to settle among his subjects and teach them the arts and sciences of the more highly civilised West. So early as 1547, when only 17, he sent the Saxon Schlitte to Germany to hire and bring to Moscow as many master-workmen and skilled artificers as he could procure. Schlitte, with the permission of the Emperor Charles V, collected 123 of such men and brought them to Liibeck for the purpose of shipping them to Moscovy. But the Livonian agent at Lübeck representing to the Emperor the danger of such a step, Schlitte was imprisoned and his men were dispersed. Moscovy’s neighbours, Sweden and Poland, were equally apprehensive of any attempt to civilise her. Their safety lay in her ignorance and isolation ; and they did their best to keep her ignorant and isolated. Ivan was there-fore obliged to help himself as best he could. His opportunity carne on the break-up of the dominion of the Order of the Sword. During 1557 and 1558 Livonia was systematically ravaged by the Moscovite hordes, largely composed of savage Mordvinians and Cheremisses, who reduced everything outside the walls of the fortresses to ashes, “not even sparing the child in its mother’s womb.” The Livonian authorities were too divided amongst themselves, the nobility and burgesses were too lazy and selfish, to sustain a vigorous combined resistance, so that the Moscovites steadily gained ground. Narva and Dorpat were captured in May and August 1558 respectively ; other fortresses were seriously threatened ; the terrified Livonians, as already recorded, voluntarily placed themselves beneath the protection of Poland; and, in January 156o, Sigismund II sent Martin Volodkov to Moscow to bid Ivan IV cease from molesting Livonia, now a province of the Polish Crown.
In Moscovy itself, meanwhile, events were happening which had far-reaching consequences.
Holy fear had prompted Ivan IV, in 1550, to submit himself to the moral and religious guidance of the monk Sylvester, in whose motives he had the most absolute confidence. As time went on, it was very natural that Ivan should also consult this infallible mentor on political questions. It was equally natural that Sylvester should expect to be deferred to in temporal as well as in spiritual matters. But great saints are not always shrewd politicians, and so now, when Ivan and Sylvester differed, as they were bound to differ on political grounds, the Tsar happened to be in the right and the monk in the wrong. Sylvester was in favour of the conquest of the Crimea, but opposed the conquest of Livonia, whereas Ivan took the opposite view. Finding that, for once, he could not prevail, Sylvester was offended, and, exchanging arguments for reproaches and prognostications, solemnly declared that all Ivan’s subsequent misfortunes were so many divine visitations upon his obstinacy. We know enough of Ivan’s character to be quite sure that he would never break with a friend whom he really trusted, but unfortunately Ivan no longer trusted Sylvester. Six years previously, mysterious and still inexplicable circumstances had made an incurable rift in their friendship. In 1553, on returning from Kazan, the Tsar had fallen so ill that he was generally believed to be on the point of death; and all the Boyars and dignitaries were summoned to his bedside to swear allegiance to his infant son Demetrius. But Sylvester raised difficulties. He rather favoured the pretensions of Ivan’s cousin, Prince Vladimir Andreevich, though he must have been well aware that Vladimir’s accession would mean the removal, perhaps the violent removal, of the infant Demetrius and the ruin of his kinsfolk the Zakharin-Romanovs. Adashev’s conduct on the same occasion was most ambiguous. He hesitated for a long time to render the requisite oath of allegiance to Demetrius, and listened, without a word of protest, to the seditious utterances of the large party of Boyars who supported the Pretender. The peculiar conduct of Sylvester and Adashev at this crisis has been ascribed to their jealousy of the Zakharin-Romanovs and their growing ill-will towards their former ally the Tsaritsa Anastasia, whom their adherents openly denounced as a second Eudoxia’. But, whatever may have been the cause of their backsliding, it alienated Ivan. Nor can we very much blame him. The very men whom, to use his own words, he had “raised from the dunghill to set among Princes,” the very men whom he had treated not as servants but as friends, and one of whom he had revered as a father, had failed him at the critical moment, had been content to commit the beloved wife and the infant son of their benefactor to certain destruction ! We cannot wonder if, after this, he secretly distrusted them, though he continued to employ them for six years longer. Then the Livonian dispute arose and both of them disappear from the scene, Sylvester into a monastery, at his own request, and Adashev in honourable exile as a general in Livonia, where he died the same year (1560).
The ten good years of the Sylvester period (15501560) were followed by the ten evil years which saw the establishment of the Oprichina, the martyrdom of St Philip of Moscow, and the savage destruction of Great Novgorod (1560-1570). At the very beginning of this horrible decennium, Ivan lost his consort Anastasia and his infant heir Demetrius. Then the Boyars began to murmur because of the absence of Sylvester ; and, apparently, for the details are obscure, a plot was set on foot to bring him back. At this, the slumbering demon in Ivan broke loose ; and deeds were committed which made the whole Court stand aghast. It was now that Prince Michael Repnin was murdered at a banquet for refusing to wear a mask and dance in public, two things abominable in the eyes of all pious Moscovites. It was now that Prince Jury Kashkin was struck dead in the Cathedral during the reading of the Gospels. It was now that “one little word from the lips of the Gosudar was regarded as a sentence of death. It was now that Prince Andrei Mikhailovich Kurbsky, Ivan’s intimate friend, who shared with him his bookish tastes, fled to Sigismund II, after losing the engagement of Newel, when he heard that the Tsar had ” blamed” him. To his treasonable desertionfor so Ivan not unnaturally regarded itwe owe the priceless correspondence which gives us a glimpse into the very soul of the Tsar, but its effect upon Ivan personally was dire indeed. If, he argued, one of the greatest of the Boyars, and his own familiar friend, could betray him first and then abuse him, how could he hope to live in safety among the other Boyars whom he knew to be the sympathisers of Kurbsky? To kill them all was impossible, but he could, at least, live apart from these potential traitors, and this he resolved to do. On January 3, 1565, the Tsar, who had quitted Moscow with his whole Court on December 32 15642 addressed to the Metropolitan a letter to be read to the people in which he declared that, unable to endure any longer the treachery and villainy of the Boyars, he had resolved to abdicate and seek some safe refuge abroad. The whole population thereupon besought him, with tears, ” to rule them as he pleased and take the Government into his own hands,” so long as he did not leave them defenceless against their enemies, like sheep without a shepherd. Sure now of the support of the great majority of the Russian people, Ivan consented to remain ; but he entrenched himself within a peculiar institution, the Oprichina, or “Separate Estate.” Certain towns and districts, or parts thereof, all over Russia, were separated from the rest of the realm ; and their revenues were assigned to the maintenance of the Tsar’s new court and household, which was to consist, in the first instance, of one thousand carefully selected Boyars and lesser dignitaries, with their families and suites. In the midst of these Ivan henceforth lived exclusively, those outside the Oprichina being denied all access to him. The Boyars and gentry not included in the Oprichina were removed from the towns and districts assigned to the Oprichina and given estates elsewhere. Even in Moscow itself certain streets and suburbs were taken into the Oprichina, and their former owners or occupiers were transferred to other parts of the city. The Oprichina was no constitutional innovation. The Duma, or Council of Boyars, still attended to all the details of the administration. The old Boyars still retained their old offices and dignitaries, The only difference was that Ivan had cut himself off from them ; they were not even to communicate with him, except on matters of exceptional and extraordinary importance.
The Oprichina was founded because the Tsar suspected his great men of hating him, and because he would henceforth be surrounded by none but well-disposed persons. The Oprichniki, his exclusive favourites, were bound, in their own interests, to assume an offensive attitude towards everyone outside their charmed circle, were bound to harden the Tsar’s heart against all possible disturbers. Their first notable victim was the Metropolitan Philip, whose saintly life had compelled Ivan to take him from a hermitage to place him on the archiepiscopal throne of Moscow. Philip now greatly angered Ivan, first, by urging the abolition of so unchristian an institution as the Oprichina, and secondly, by repeatedly pleading, with all the fearlessness of holiness, for the victims of Ivan’s cruelty. “Silence! all I ask of you is silence ! ” the Tsar would cry. “Our silence would lay on thy soul sins which bring forth. death ! ” was Philip’s constant answer. At last Ivan’s patience wore out ; and, on November 8, 1568, Philip was dragged, with contumely, from the Uspensky Cathedral and banished to a monastery at Tver. In 1569 Ivan sent his favourite Oprichnik, the infamous Malyiita1 Skuratov, to ask a blessing of Philip. Refusal meant instant death, but Philip did not hesitate. “I bless only the good for their good deeds,” he said, and Skuratov strangled him on the spot.
Ivan had stopped at Tver to murder St Philip while on his way to destroy the second wealthiest city in his Tsardom Great Novgorod.
In the course of 1559, one Peter, a vagabond malefactor from Volhynia, who had been punished at Novgorod for some offence, came to Moscow with a tale that the Magistrates of Novgorod were about to hand over their city to Sigismund II and. that proofs of the plot were to be found in a letter signed by the Bishop and concealed behind an ikon of the Blessed Virgin in the Cathedral of St Sophia. The Tsar sent Peter back to Novgorod with some of the Oprichniki ; and, sure enough, the incriminating letter was found in the place indicated. There is only too much reason to believe that this document was Peter’s own fabrication. Ivan, however, believed every word of it, and without confronting the Novgorodians with their secret accuser, without any preliminary enquiry, he collected an army and set off to punish Novgorod. Late in December 1569 the Tsar broke into the land, his own land, as an enemy and ravaged it like a wild beast. From Klina on the borders of Tver up to the very walls of Great Novgorod every-thing was destroyed. On January 2, 1570, the advance guard of the Tsar’s bodyguard reached Novgorod and built a strong and high wall round it so that none might escape. All the churches and monasteries were sealed up, all the principal inhabitants were arrested and imprisoned till the Tsar should come. On the 6th Ivan arrived with 1500 musketeers and quartered them upon the Gorodishcha or Merchants’ Town. On the 7th all the abbots and priors in the city were publicly beaten to death on an elevated scaffold, and their dead bodies sent to their respective monasteries for burial. On the 8th Ivan proceeded to the Cathedral of. St Sophia to hear mass. The Bishop met him half-way on the Volkhovsky Bridge in full canonicals surrounded by his clergy, and, as usual, presented the cross for the Tsar to kiss. ” Avaunt thou of evil repute ! ” cried Ivan. “That is no cross that thou bearest, but a weapon to wound my heart ! ” Ivan then followed the Bishop to the Cathedral and, after mass, went on to the episcopal palace as the Bishop’s guest. They had scarce sat down to meat, when the Tsar uttered a terrible yell. It was the signal for the arrest of the Bishop and the sacking of the Cathedral and all the intramural churches. This done, Ivan returned to the Gorodishcha and the chief laymen of Novgorod, with their wives and children, were brought forth for punishment. First they were singed on “a cunning instrument of fire ” which the contemporary lyetopis calls ” a grill” ; then they were dragged in sledges to the bridge over the Volkhov, bound hand and foot, the children fastened to their mother’s necks, and thrown into the river, where men in boats despatched them with spears, axes and boathooks as they came to the surface. This carnage went on day after day for five weeks. Then Ivan went round Novgorod and saw that every monastery was systematically and thoroughly plundered, and the cattle and other property of the monks destroyed. All the warehouses in the merchants’ quarters were similarly plundered. Then came the turn of the suburbs. House after house was visited and ransacked ; the doors and the windows were smashed to pieces. The men at arms simultaneously wrecked all the monasteries, churches and manor houses within a circuit of 100 miles. At last, on February 131 the Tsar’s wrath was appeased; and he allowed the miserable remnants of the population of Great Novgorod to go on living, as best they might, amidst the ruins of their city, once so mighty and splendid.
The decennium 1560-1570 was on the whole a propitious period for the Moscovite arms abroad. The interminable Livonian war, a war of raids and sieges, frequently interrupted by fruitless negotiations, was waged with equal tenacity and brutality by Ivan, who won more and more of the smaller interior towns and castles, but could not reach the coast, where the Poles, Swedes and Danes had already forestalled him. It also involved him in indecisive and expensive wars with Lithuania and Sweden. On February 15, 1563, the Moscovites captured the important fortress of Polock, additionally valuable as the great trade emporium of the Dwina district. But the Poles, as usual, were victorious in the open field ; and .in 1570 hostilities were suspended by a three years’ truce. The war with Sweden began in 1571. In 1572 Ivan invaded Esthonia with 80,000 men and captured Wittenstein by storm, on which occasion his favourite Malyuta Skuratov was slain. In revenge for this, Ivan burnt all the Swedish prisoners alive. Subsequently Karkus and Nyfort were also taken, but all these successes were neutralised by Klas Totte’s victory at Lode, which led to the signature of a two years’ truce with Sweden from Tuly 20, 1575. During these years Moscovy suffered terribly from the raids of Devlet Girai, Khan of the Crimea. In May 15 71, 120,000 Tatars appeared before Moscow and burnt the whole city, except the Kremlin, when 80,000 people perished and 150,000 were taken captive. In 1572 Devlet again reappeared in the Oka district with 120,000 men ; but was routed on the banks of the Lopasna, 50 miles from Moscow, by the Boyars (July 31–Aug. 1).
The Livonian-Lithuanian war was resumed in 1575, in which year Ivan’s forces captured Pernau. In the following year Esthonia was again invaded by the Moscovites; and Leal, Lode, and other places fell. In 1 577 Ivan failed to take Reval ; and in 1578 he was routed at Wenden, by the combined Poles and Swedes, with the loss of a third of his army. It is evident from the extensive preparations which he made for the coming campaign of 1579 that he regarded it as likely to prove decisive of the fate of Livonia. Ile seems, at first, to have been confident of success. His material resources were immense, and he entertained such a poor opinion of ” Obatura,” as the Lithuanians called the new King of Poland, Stephen Bathory, that he would not even address him as ” my cousin,” but contemptuously alluded to him as ” my neighbour.” What reason had he to fear an obscure stranger from the depths of Transylvania whom he could outnumber a hundred to one? Ivan’s envoys had also reported that the new King of Poland was extremely unpopular ; that the Pans were disinclined to wage war; and that the Sejm would grant no supplies for offensive operations in Lithuania. The envoys reported truly. Bathory difficulties were indeed enormous, but it is just because he grappled with and overcame those difficulties that he deserves the name of great. It was he who first made regular infantry the leading arm in warfare in eastern, as it had long been the leading arm in western Europe. Compared with his highly-trained Magyars and Germans, the Moscovite levies were but undisciplined hordes. His artillery too was excellent, his means of transport relatively rapid ; and, in the chancellor Zamoyski and his own countryman Gaspar Bekes, he had for his lieutenants two of the greatest captains of the age.
In June 1579 Bathory sent Ivan a formal declaration of war for breaking the Livonian truce. In July he resolved, at a Council of War, to recover Polock, the possession of which would enable him to keep open his communications with Riga, and defend simultaneously Livonia and Lithuania. Ivan was diverted towards Livonia by false reports of the King’s advance in that direction. Polock was valiantly defended by the Moscovite Voevodes ; and the besiegers found it difficult to support themselves in a thinly populated country devastated beforehand. Torrential rains also blocked the roads, and the draft horses died in hundreds. At first, Bathory refused to risk an assault, as failure would mean a shameful retreat ; but, at last, his Magyars, encouraged by the promise of a rich reward, crept up to the fortress by night and fired the wooden walls in so many places that the besieged could not extinguish the conflagration. On September 25 the town was taken by assault. Colonel Weigand, one of the King’s German officers, who had been at many sieges, said he had never seen so many corpses all together as at Polock. This ended the campaign, and Bathory returned to Wilna. Peace negotiations were now reopened ; but, as Bathory demanded Livonia, Wielkie Luki, Smolensk, Pskov and Novgorod, – while Ivan would only surrender 24 Livonian towns and castles, the war was resumed. Bathory could obtain little or no help from his Polish subjects, who were rather alarmed than gratified by his successes. But his brother Christopher, Prince of Transylvania, and his friend Zamoyski liberally supplied him with money and troops, so that he took the field in 1580 with an army of 50,000 men, of whom 21,000 were infantry. Wielkie Luki was now taken by Zamoyski and Zbarasky defeated the Moscovites at Toropets ; but, on the other hand, an attempt to surprise Smolensk led to a Polish defeat at Spasski Lugi. The same year, the Swedes captured Kexholm in Carelia, Padis in Esthonia, and Wesenberg in Livonia from the Moscovites.
Bathory’s increasing difficulties (he was now obliged to borrow from the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony, and from his own vassal the Duke of Prussia) and Ivan’s disasters induced them both to reopen negotiations ; but the Tsar still, obstinately, refused to part with the whole of Livonia or pay a war indemnity. In his rage Bathory sent him a letter calling him a “sneaking wolf” and a ” vile venomous cur,” and challenging him to single combat as the quickest way of ending the war. ” Why dost thou not come forth and meet me in the open field,” concluded Bathory ” why dost thou not defend thine own subjects? Even a poor little hen covers her chickens with her wings when a hawk hovers in the air above her ; but thou, a two-headed eagle forsooth, for such thy seal proclaims thee, dost nothing but skulk away and hide.” Ivan was, indeed, no man of valour. Timidity had been hereditary in his family for generations. But he was wise enough to recognise that, in warfare, quality is superior to quantity, and he prudently avoided pitting ,his useless myriads against Bathory’s handful of veterans. Nor did his political foresight fail him. He had become convinced that in the circumstances, and against such an antagonist as Bathory the Livonian enterprise was a mistake ; and he was already casting about for an honourable withdrawal from it. Bathory involuntarily, gave him his opportunity.
The King of Poland had been advised to open the campaign of 1581 by besieging Pskov, but, on pitching his camp beneath the city (Aug. 26), he at once perceived that he was attempting the impossible. Pskov was the strongest fortress in the east of Europe. For whole centuries the chief care of the Pskovians had been to make it impregnable to the attacks of the Teutonic Knights. Within its colossal walls was a garrison of 50,000 infantry and 7000 cavalry, provided with an adequate supply of the best artillery procurable. To make any impression upon it, Bathory required at least double as many men as he had brought with him. But to retreat now was out of the question. On September 1 the first trenches were dug; on the 7th the first cannonade began ; and on the 8th a general assault was made with such élan that two of the principal bastions were captured, one by the Poles and the other by the Magyars. For a moment the fortress seemed to be won. But the besieged were rallied by the Voevode, Prince Ivan Shuisky, and the Igumen Tikhon ; the bastions were recaptured ; and the assailants hurled back with the loss of 5000 men, including Gaspar Bekes, a host in himself. Then Báthory’s powder ran out, and he had to wait for weeks till he received fresh supplies from Riga. But to retreat now was to lose everything ; and Bathory declared his intention to prosecute the siege throughout the winter. A dangerous mutiny at once broke out in the Polish section of the army. The Szlachta, unused to rigid discipline, demanded to be led home, and it was only the energetic intervention of Zamoyski which saved the situation. He punished the mutineers without the slightest regard for birth or station ; and, when several young nobles had been publicly flogged and a few more had been publicly hanged, order was restored and the King was able to go to Poland for reinforcements, leaving Zamoyski behind him in supreme command. Meanwhile, the Swedes, operating from Esthonia and Finland, had captured a whole series of Moscovite fortresses on the Neva, while Christopher Radziwill, the Grand Hetman of Lithuania, penetrated as far as the Volga. Ivan, now in extremities, invoked the intervention of Pope Gregory XIII and the Jesuit, Cardinal Antonio Possevino, appeared at the village of Kierova Gora, midway between the two camps, where negotiations were opened in December 1581.
Ever since Schlitte’s mission to Germany, the Holy See had had hopes of the conversion of Ivan. In 1561 Pius IV had invited him to send deputies to the Council of Trent and join the Holy League against the Turk. The Tsar, however, made no response to these overtures ; and, though he gladly availed himself of the mediation of Possevino, he never had the slightest intention of submitting to the supremacy of Rome. Possevino soon convinced himself of this, and came to the conclusion that Livonia had better be in the hands of a Catholic Prince like Bathory. The 10 years’ truce which was finally concluded, on January 15, 1582, at Zapolsk was very favourable to Poland. Ivan surrendered the whole of Livonia, with Polock and Wielicz, to Bathory and received back Wielkie, Luki, Zawolocie and Newel. Thus Poland had succeeded in excluding Moscovy from the Baltic and thus prevented the natural development of the Moscovite State for many years. Ivan at the same time was obliged to conclude a three years’ truce, on the river Ilyusa, with Sweden, who thereby retained her Ingrian conquests, Jama, Ivangorod and Koporye, thus cutting off Moscovy from the Gulf of Finland also.
Thus, despite all the efforts of Ivan IV to secure it, the Baltic seaboard was lost to Moscovy. The Tsar had now to be content with the more modest programme of qualifying his subjects to resume the struggle at some future time with a fairer prospect of success. This could only be done by tempting foreign specialists to Moscovy to instruct the Moscovites in the arts of war and peace. It was to England, the one friendly anti-Catholic Power, that Ivan primarily looked for assistance in this respect.
The relations between Moscovy and England began in 1553, when Richard Chancellor discovered the White Sea, was conveyed to Moscow by the astonished natives, and there had an audience of Ivan sitting on his throne in full regalia. In 1555 Chancellor returned to Moscovy as the special envoy of Queen Mary and negotiated a commercial treaty very advantageous to the newly-formed Anglo-Russian Company. Similar favours were granted in England to the first Russian envoy, Osip Nepyea, who brought back with him to Moscovy numerous doctors, master-masons, carpenters and other useful people. In 1570 Sigismund II of Poland warned Elizabeth against assisting a potentate who was increasing in power every year and might, one day, conquer every one if the proper arms were put into his hands. “Your Highness,” he concluded, ” cannot be aware of the strength of the enemy. Hitherto we have only been able to keep him under because he was a stranger to civilisation.” But Elizabeth doubtless regarded these warnings with suspicion as coming from a papist. The same year, when Ivan sounded her on the subject of granting him an asylum in case of need, she assured her “dear brother, the great Emperor and Grand Duke,” that she ‘would willingly grant him and his family safe quarters in England, whenever he desired them. After the Peace of Zapoisk, Ivan despatched Theodore Pisemsky to England on a double mission (1582). He was to contract a political alliance with England against Poland, and a matrimonial alliance between Ivan and a kinswoman of the Queen’s, preferably Mary Hastings, daughter of the Earl of Huntingdon, concerning whom Pisemsky reported most favourably. Both projects came to nothing. The political alliance was declined as being too adventurous. The matrimonial alliance foundered on the unwillingness of the bride elect to trust herself to a groom of such very ill repute. Elizabeth softened the pill as much as possible in an extremely courteous epistle to Ivan in which his ” true friend and dear sister ” declared she would fain make his personal acquaintance. She also sent him a number of skilled artificers, engineers, gunners, and one of her own doctors. These politenesses were rendered in the hope of getting, in return, the monopoly of the Russian trade, but the special English envoy, Boyce, failed to obtain any such concession.
In the last years of his reign Ivan was somewhat consoled for his failure in the west, by the unexpected acquisition of territory in the east.
All this while, the movement of the Russian people towards the Urals had continued uninterruptedly ; and beyond the Urals the tidings of the fall of Kazan and Astrakhan had important political consequences. In 1555 Ediger, Khan of the Tatar region of Tobolsk, had placed himself beneath the high protection of the Tsar and engaged to pay a tribute of pelts. Three years later, the wealthy and enterprising firm of Stroganov received a charter from the Tsar to colonise and exploit the vast waste lands extending north-eastwards in the basins of the rivers Kama and Chusovaya, at their own expense. They began by building the fort of Kankor and the town of Kergedan. The latter had wooden walls thirty fathoms thick on stone foundations. In 1572 the Stroganovs suppressed a confederacy of the surrounding savagesOstiaks, Cheremisses and Bashkirs. In 1573 the Siberian Khan, Mametkul, crossed the Urals and plundered the Ostiak tributaries of the Stroganovs. The Stroganovs retaliated by also crossing the Urals with an armed force and planting a fort on the river Tobola. Thus the colonization of Siberia began. In 1579 fresh out-breaks of the Voguls and other savages compelled the Stroganovs to hire 54o Don Cossacks with their Hetman Ermak, or Yermak, to defend their territories on the Kama ; and, after a three years’ war (1579-1581)3 the hostile tribes were reduced to a tributary condition. On September 1, 158r, Ermak, with a force of 840 Cossacks and 30o German mercenaries, was sent to render similar services in Siberia. On the banks of the Tobola, and again on the banks of the Irtuish, the musket prevailed over the bow and arrow. Khan Mametkul was vanquished ; his stockaded fortress, Sibir, was taken by assault (Oct. 16) ; and the Moscovite sphere of influence was extended to the Obi.
Ivan IV did not live to hear the final result of Ermak’s triumphs. So early as 1573, when he was only in his 43rd year, he told the Lithuanian Ambassador, Garaburda, that he was already an old man. And, indeed, the horrible life he led, and the hideous diseases which had long been consuming him, must needs have prematurely aged the strongest of men. Ivan’s failing health could not have been improved by the miseries and the humiliations of the war with Bathory. His marriage in 1561 with a savage Circassian Princess, christened Maria, did not tend to improve him morally. Maria died in 1569; and in 1571 Ivan married Martha Sobakina, the daughter of a Novgorod merchant, who died within a month. Then, contrary to the precepts of the Orthodox Church, he took unto himself a fourth wife, Anna Koltovskaya, whom, three years later, he shut up in a monastery. In 1580 he married, for the fifth time, Martha Nagaya, who bore him a son, Demetrius. In November the same year, in a fit of insane fury at some contradiction or reproach’, he struck his beloved eldest surviving son Ivan, a Prince of rare promise, one blow, and the blow proved fatal.
The wretched father, in an agony of remorse, summoned his trembling Boyars, told them of his crime, and declared himself unfit to reign any longer. Then, inasmuch as his second son Theodore was weak-witted, he commanded them to choose the worthiest from among themselves to reign in his stead. But the Boyars, fearing some dark trick, would not hear of his abdication, and vowed they would obey none but him. Ivan survived this catastrophe a couple of years. In the beginning of 1584 he was attacked by a new and indescribably loathsome disease ; and a circular letter, addressed to all the churches and monasteries in the Tsardom, implored constant supplications for “the forgiveness and healing of one accursed.” In his worst spasms the name of his murdered son was constantly upon his lips. Yet, to the very last, he refused nothing to his vilest appetites. Death released him from his sufferings and his. sins on March x8, 15 84. Feeling better, he had sat down to a game of chess, when he suddenly fell backwards in his chair and was removed to his bed in a dying condition. As he lay there, he signified his wish to be received into the strictest religious order. It was as the hermit-monk Jonah that Ivan the Terrible breathed his last.
Ivan IV was undoubtedly a man of genius. His political foresight was extraordinary. He anticipated the ideals of Peter the Great, and only failed in realising them because his natural resources, in the long run, proved to be insufficient. But admiration for his talents must not blind us to his moral ruthlessness. He himself confessed, “I know that I am evil”; but such a confession, in a man of his strong will and superior education, was a condemnation, not an excuse. Nor is it right to blame the viciousness and brutality of Russian society in the sixteenth century for Ivan’s excesses. The same society which produced Malyuta Skuratov also produced St Philip of Moscow. The better class of society in sixteenth century Moscovy reprobated Ivan’s misdeeds by the mouth of St Philip ; and, by refusing to listen to St Philip, Ivan sank below the moral standard of his age. Nor is this all. Ivan left Moscovite society much worse than he found it. Instead of attempting to heal he stimulated its moral disorders. He found it cruel and coarse, he left it coarser and crueller still. With his contempt of human life, with his love of cruel and bloody expedients, with his indifference to the moral responsibility of his high calling, he sowed the terrible seed of that horrible harvest the Smutnaya Vremya or ” Age of confusion,” when the Russian State, torn to pieces by pretenders and adventurers, all but disappeared from the face of the earth.
Personally, Ivan was tall and well made, with high shoulders and a broad chest. His eyes were small and restless, his nose hooked, his beard and moustaches of imposing length. The habits acquired in later life gave to his face that sinister and troubled expression which so powerfully impressed foreigners; and an enigmatical smile always played around his lips. His memory was extraordinary, his energy indefatigable. The hardest worked man in his realm, he, nevertheless, made it a practice to attend to every petition personally ; and every complainant, especially if he belonged to the middle and lower orders, had free access to him at all times. Like his father before him, he loved the relatively learned society of prelates, priests and monks ; and, in his palace, at Alexandrovna Sloboda, the whole court was arranged on the model of a monastery, Ivan himself acting as Igumen, or Abbot. With the middle and lower classes, whom, like Louis XI before him, he always favoured at the expense of the nobles, he was deservedly popular; and he was the first Tsar who summoned and took the advice of national assemblies on important occasions.