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On this date in Russian history… January 16, 1547

Ivan IV of Russia (also known as Ivan the Terrible) becomes the first ruler to be crowned Tsar of All Russia.

Portrait of Ivan IV by Viktor Vasnetsov 1897

Ivan IV Vasilyevich (25 August 1530 – 28 March 1584) was the son of Vasili III and his second wife, Elena Glinskaya.  At the age of three, Ivan became Grand Prince of Moscow when his father died of blood poisoning.  His mother acted as regent until her untimely death by poisoning five years later, leading to much speculation that she had been assassinated.

At the age of 16, Ivan proclaimed himself Tsar.  By being crowned Tsar, Ivan was sending a message to the world and to Russia: he was now the one and only supreme ruler of the country, and his will was not to be questioned.  Unlike his grandfather, Ivan III, Ivan IV Vasilyevich earned the sobriquet ‘the Terrible’, not ‘the Great’.

Ivan the Terrible Showing His Treasures to Jerome Harsey, Ambassador to Elizabeth I. by Alexander Litovchenko 1875

While perhaps not the darkest period in Russia’s history, Ivan ‘grozny’s’ reign was marked by much bloodshed and turmoil.  However, his reign also saw the origins of the modern Russian political structure.

Historic sources present disparate accounts of Ivan’s personality:  intelligent and devout, yet given to rages; he was prone to episodic outbreaks of mental illness.  It was one such outburst that resulted in the death of his groomed and chosen heir, Ivan Ivanovich.  As a consequence, upon Ivan IV’s death in 1584, the Tsardom was passed down to his younger son… the weak and intellectually disabled Feodor I of Russia.

Ivan the Terrible And His Son Ivan 16 November 1581 - by Ilya Repin 1885

Ivan's repentance. He asks a father superior of the Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery to let him take the tonsure at his monastery. Painting by Klavdiy Lebedev

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(All images are in the public domain.)

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