Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How Ivan IV. Took the Title of Tsar


After the destruction of the Shuiskis the family of Ivan's mother, the Glinskis, came to the aid of the young prince, who continued to indulge all the passions which his tutors had kindled. He tore out the tongues of his nobles and mutilated those on whom his displeasure fell. He gathered around him a band of reckless young nobles, with whom he played on the streets and squares, fighting, jostling against old women, trampling upon little children, and robbing every one who came in his way. His flatterers shouted, "Oh, brave will be this Prince and manly!"

One day, when he was sixteen, Ivan called before him the Metropolitan and all the boyars, even those who wore their hair long, because they were in disgrace, and proceeded to address them:—

By the mercy of God, and his all-pure Mother, by the prayers and grace of the great wonder-workers, Peter, Alexis, John, Sergi, and all the Russian wonder-workers in whom I put my trust, and with thy blessing, Holy Father, I propose to marry. At first I thought to marry a foreign princess, the daughter of some king or tsar, but afterwards I gave up the thought. I have no wish to marry a foreign princess, for if I marry a wife from a strange land we may not agree, and life would be hard for us. Therefore I wish to marry in my own realm and God will bless it."

The annalist says that the Metropolitan and the boyars wept for very joy at the speech of their young prince; and he continued,—

With thy blessing, my father, and the council of our nobles, I wish before my marriage to perform the ancestral ceremonial as did my forefathers, the tsars and grand princes, and our ancestor, Vladimir Monomak, and mount the throne."

Allegorical picture of the Tsar


Again the boyars rejoiced that their young prince was minded to perform the ancient ceremonial, but they were marvellously surprised that he should take the title of Tsar, which neither his father nor his grandfather had taken. He had read too much, however, not to know that the great kings of the past, Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, David and Solomon, Augustus and Constantine, all bore in the Russian books and Scriptures the title of Tsar; Russian princes and Tartar kans served as his "domestics;" the title of Grand Prince no longer expressed the empire which he wielded: he was the head of a mighty state; hence, at his coronation he took the title about which clustered so many brilliant associations.

Meantime a circular-letter was sent to all the nobles and men-at-arms throughout the land:—

"When these, our letters, reach you, it shall be your duty instantly to repair with your unmarried daughters, if such you have, to our lieutenant in the city for inspection. Conceal not your marriageable daughters under any pretext. Whoever shall conceal a marriageable daughter and not bring her to our lieutenant, on him shall be our great disfavor."

The choice fell upon Anastasia, the young daughter of an ancient family of Moscow, whose father was held in great honor by the Grand Prince Basil. Soon after his marriage a series of misfortunes came upon the young Tsar. Fires broke out; the great bell of the Assumption Cathedral fell to the ground; then there came another fire, such as had never been seen in Moscow; the flames spread like lightning, swept along the river, leaped across to the roof of the Assumption, burned the palaces of the Metropolitan and the Tsar, the arsenal with all its arms, the treasury, the Church of the Annunciation, with the sacred screen and the treasures which the people had left. The Metropolitan, in trying to save the cathedral, was almost suffocated by the smoke; he barely escaped with the picture of the Virgin. The Assumption was spared. The Tsar took his wife, his brother, and his nobles, and fled to a near village, but the most of the city was in ashes; seventeen hundred people perished by the disaster.

The day after the fire it began to be whispered about that the town was burned by magic, that certain people of high station had taken human hearts, soaked them in water, and with the water sprinkled the streets and houses. The whisperings grew into voices. Five days after the fire, on a Sunday, several nobles came into the square before the Assumption, and collected the black people, that is to say, the lower classes, and began to ask, "Who set Moscow on fire?" And the people, who hated the Glinskis, gave a cry, "The Princess Anna Glinskaia and her children and her servants have been working magic." This was what the boyars wanted, because the Glinskis were near the throne and in favor. Neither Prince Michael Glinski, Ivan's grandfather, nor the aged Princess Anna was at this time in Moscow, but George was with the boyars in the square. When he heard the shouts he feared for his life and took refuge in the cathedral. The people, urged by the boyars, rushed after him, killed him, and dragged his body from the Kreml to the market-place. Then they broke into his palace, killed his servants, and left everything desolate. Three days later the mob hastened to the Tsar at his village, and, with loud cries, demanded the Princess Anna and her son. Ivan himself was in danger; with difficulty he succeeded in dispersing the mob. He knew well enough that it was the returned exiles, the Shuiskis, who raised this revolt; he had no intention of yielding to them. But the spectacle of his burning city greatly affected his mind; he saw that his course of life was wrong. A priest, Sylvester, from Novgorod the Great, appeared before him and began to upbraid him from the holy books. In after years Ivan wrote:—

"The pen cannot write nor the tongue describe all the evil and sinful things that I did in my youth. . . . I grew up in neglect, without instruction, the toy of evil-minded boyars. At this time how I sinned before God and what punishments God sent upon us! More than once we tried to avenge ourselves upon our enemies, but all in vain. I did not understand that God was visiting me with great punishments, and I repented not, but oppressed poor Christians with all sorts of violence. The Lord punished me for my sins, now with a deluge, now with pestilence, and yet I did not repent. At last God sent the great fire, and fear came upon my soul and trembling upon my bones. My soul was humbled, and I was moved to tenderness. I saw my sin. I asked forgiveness of the clergy and I forgave the princes and the boyars."

Anastasia, Ivan's young and beautiful wife, was, as an English traveller wrote, "wise and of such hollyness, vertue, and government as she was honnored, beloved and feared of all her subjects. He being yonge and riotous, she ruled him with admirable affabillitie and wisdome."

The priest Sylvester took charge of church affairs, and Alexis Adashef was minister of war and state. Ivan called deputies of all classes to Moscow to deliberate on the reforms which he had in mind. He himself came before the people and delivered a discourse in which he described the disorders and troubles caused by the boyars during his infancy, and asked the people to forget the past and trust in his promises for justice and good government. Thus Ivan began to rule wisely, and the seven years which followed his marriage were the happiest of his long reign.