|Fig.1: If anything's terrible,|
it's that robe.
Ivan was born to Vasili III, Grand Prince of Moscow, in the grand year of 1530, emerging from the womb with a grand fanfare and an equally grand placenta. Moscow was just one of many principalities that emerged after Kievan Rus', the first Russian state, got their Rus' kicked by the Mongols in the 13th century (it's okay, Kievan Rus', you're not alone). However, Moscow slowly but surely grew in size and prominence in Eastern Europe, increasing its territory by 10,000% between 1300 and Ivan's birth. Vasili III died in 1533, making Ivan the ruling Grand Prince at the age of three. As he was not considered old enough to take power himself (lazy kids these days), members of the Russian nobility, known as boyars, effectively ruled in his name. Ivan's mother, Elena Glinskaya, attempted to take control of the government, and succeeded in imprisoning many of the boyar regents for being unruly as they ruled. Unfortunately, Elena died suddenly in 1538, most likely after being poisoned by some ambitious boyars who were sick of asking her if Ivan could come out to play. Losing both his parents at a young age seemed to create some psychological issues for Ivan, and taking out his grumpiness on the boyars would become his favorite stress-relieving activity once he got older.
|Fig.2: Unfortunately, Saint Basil's|
Cathedral is not as tasty as it looks.
But then the Livonian War happened. Ivan wished to gain an outlet to the Baltic Sea, and taking over their weak western neighbor of Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) seemed like the way to do it that involved the least amount of paperwork. The Russian invasion did pretty well at first, mostly because Livonia's allies of Denmark and Sweden were too busy fighting each other (talk about bad timing). However, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (formed when Poland and Lithuania were caught sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G) stepped up to challenge Russia's claim to the region in 1562, halting their advance. Russia took care of the lovey-dovey couple by 1570, only to have Sweden and Denmark put their differences aside to team up and join the war. The alliance not only kicked the Russians out of Livonia, but attacked cities that had been under Moscow's control for decades (such as Pskov, which really could have bought a vowel). A truce was signed in 1582, and Livonia was split between Denmark, Sweden, and Poland-Lithuania, with Russia being forced to watch with grumbling bellies and smacking lips. The 24-year war devastated Russia's economy and population, and they didn't even get anything out of it. (Sounds like a college-degree nowadays...)
Ivan became more and more...well...terrible as the war dragged on. It didn't help that his boyars were still acting like they owned the place, and used the Tsardom's money and power to suit their own needs. On top of that, Ivan's beautiful wife, Anastasia Romanovna, died of an illness which resembled Ivan's mother's own demise by way of poisoning. The ice finally cracked when Ivan's most trusted advisor, Andrey Kurbsky, bolted to Poland-Lithuania after his military victories were not celebrated enough. Ivan responded to all these pressures by holing himself up in a palace outside of Moscow and threatening to abdicate the throne. Fearful of what would happen without a strong, demanding ruler always telling them what to do (Russians have grown accustomed to that sort of thing), the boyars and the clergy begged Ivan to come back to Moscow. Ivan coyly put fingers on his lips and said, "Hmmm, lemme think about it," before demanding that he be given absolute control over Russian affairs. The boyars said, "What's the worst that could happen?" Ivan was going to show them the worst that could happen.
|Fig.3: When Ivan says, "Have a seat," RUN!|
The Oprichnina finally ended in 1571 after the oprichniki lost the ability to play their intimidation card; they lost to an invading force of Tatars from Crimea, and then allowed them to set Moscow on fire again. Ivan decided to raise a regular army to defend Russia, doing so the next year when a Crimean-Ottoman army of 120,000 men was stopped dead in their tracks (literally) at the Battle of Molodi. This convinced Russia's enemies to the south and west to lay off for a little while, giving Ivan time to pick on the folks to the east. It was during Ivan's reign that Russia started to become the behemoth it is today. Ivan hired the Stroganov family, already renowned for their creamy beef dish, to explore and settle in the lands across the Ural Mountains into what is known as Siberia. In 1582, they allowed a Cossack named Vasiliy Timofeyevich (known by his lovely nickname, Yermak) to lead an army in order to conquer the region. After the victory that year at the Battle of Chuvash Cape over a local khan, Yermak reported to Ivan that all of Siberia was now his, which was an equivalent to saying you're the biggest Quentin Tarantino fan when you've really only seen Pulp Fiction (you poser). Nonetheless, the eastward momentum of the Russians would only get stronger, eventually reaching all the way to Sarah Palin's doorstep.
|Fig.4: At least they're finally spending|
some father-son time together!
On March 28, 1584, Ivan suffered a stroke while playing a game of chess, and died shortly thereafter (talk about a terribly boring way to go). Once tsar, Feodor lost more and more control over those pesky boyars, who then went crazy like it was Winter Break (there's no Spring in Russia, remember) once Feodor died in 1598. In this period, understatedly known as the "Time of Troubles" (which totally isn't what I call the time after I ate that expired frozen burrito), boyars fought each other to become tsar, Russia's neighbors invaded her borders, and a famine killed nearly two million people. This sort of thing proves that Ivan the Terrible's terribleness didn't merely stop at his death. Yes, he solidified Russia's territory, developed it into an imperial power, created one of Moscow's most famous landmarks, and perfected the scowl grumpy people still use today. But at what cost, man? The countless people who died in his wars, oppressions, and drunken tirades would all say there was nothing good about being terrible. Maybe someone should make a new, less confusing epithet for Tsar Ivan (I would, but my mama warned me about using such language).