Tsar Ivan the Terrible, or Ivan IV, was born on August 25, 1530 to Grand Prince Vasilii and wife Elena Glinskaya. Even at the beginning of his life, it seemed that Ivan IV was going to have a rather unusual childhood, even by noble Russian family standards. His father, Grand Prince Vasilii III, died when Ivan IV was only three years old. So Ivan IV’s time began as child ruler while his mother was regent until her death in 1538 as stated by John M. Thompson in Russia and the Soviet Union (Thompson, 2012, p. 63).
After being orphaned at the age of eight, it is reasonable to say that Ivan IV went through difficulties that he may not have encountered had his parents survived. This sad beginning to his childhood was only the start and the years following his parents’ deaths shaped his entire life and reign as Russian tsar. For the next eight or so years after his mother’s death, Ivan IV’s personality was distorted due to his complex upbringing. According to Russia and the Soviet Union, Ivan IV was stuck in the middle of “two prominent boyar families, the Shuiskiis and the Belskiis” (Thompson, 2012, p. 1). The boyar families either ignored him completely or abused him. It seemed that Ivan IV only got attention when an official ceremony required his presence or the boyars felt the need to bother him. Ivan IV was surrounded by violence (Strickland, 2012, p. 83). Ivan IV, a growing boy at that time, knew no different, but realized that he was unable to strike back at his tormentors considering they were more than likely stronger and more powerful than himself.
It is reasonable to argue that Ivan IV realized that it would have done no good to strike back against a grown man who could easily end his life and take the position Ivan IV would fill in a few short years. Before his selfappointment as tsar at the age of 16, Ivan IV developed a sense of suspicion and intense rage for all that he had lost and had been forced to encounter. According to his biography, he took this out on animals by torturing them (“Ivan the Terrible”).
Since it was rumored that his mother had died due to poisoning from a boyar, this intensified his rage and hatred for the boyars, specifically the ones he had come into contact with. Now as the first official tsar of Russia, Ivan IV wanted revenge on the people who had tortured him, and had more power to do this. As we know, those who had tortured him had essentially destroyed the personality of a young child and turned him into a psychologically-disturbed leader.
Only when Tsar Ivan IV married Anastasia of the Romanovs, did his cruel personality seem to quiet down (Thompson, 2012, p. 5). However, the more normal version of Tsar Ivan IV only lasted as long as the lifespan of his wife, which was cut short. Tsar Ivan IV’s personality had a clear impact on his reign as leader of Russia. At first, the riots of Moscow called for his attention in the year following his coronation as tsar and he made clear decisions with the help of his able advisors (Thompson, 2012, p. 65). He eventually created the zemskii sobor which he relied on multiple times in the next few years for consultation on many important matters (Thompson, 2012, p. 65).
Another aspect of Tsar Ivan IV’s personality was that of his religious priority. Tsar Ivan IV strengthened the ties with the church and was devoted to ridding Russia of the sinful while “carrying out God’s will” (Thompson, 2012, p. 63). However, the side of Tsar Ivan IV that was and is not widely discussed was that of his innate knowledge of leadership and control in Russia. He was clearly an able, intelligent leader who was troubled, but wanted to do right by his country and his men. After all, that is exactly what he thought he did, even with an unusual mental status.
However, his rage continued to build up and his pathological personality dominated his decisions after his wife Anastasia died. Since Anastasia was said to have a rather calming influence on him, Tsar Ivan IV had to learn to live without his woman, and that changed his more subdued personality to an intense version (Thompson, 2012, p. 65). It was also claimed that due to an illness, rumored to be encephalitis, his personality problem intensified because the disease can cause a character change that produces symptoms similar to schizophrenia (“Ivan IV the Terrible,” 2012).
It is reasonable assumption to say that Tsar Ivan IV did not have luck on his in terms of love (his wife and parents), and his mental health. As his reign progressed, Tsar Ivan IV executed friends, and prestigious bovar families due to suspicions regarding his wife’s death (Thompson, 2012, p. 70). His suspicious nature, and the loss of his wife, made his erratic behavior even more pronounced. Due to his obsession with revenge and justice, Tsar Ivan IV probably used the oprichnina as a “weapon in the struggle with the boyars and princely families” (Thompson, 2012, p. 0). It was his form of punishment to those families for all that he had gone through. Revenge was the mindset of Tsar Ivan IV and it seems that he needed to exert all his influence and power in order to, in a way, conquer the pain he had experienced.
The last two decades of Tsar Ivan IV’s reign can be categorized as a time of extreme psychotic influence. Not only did he murder his own son, heir to the throne, in a fit or rage, but he also “encountered little opposition to his half-mad rule” (Thompson, 2012, p. 1). Society was dominated by the sense of terror that only Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible could exude. The Livonian War used much of the resources of the nation, yet it did not seem to affect Tsar Ivan IV’s determination for power, revenge, and domination (Thompson, 2012, p. 71). When Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible died in 1584, he left behind a throne with no heir. When Tsar Ivan IV is analyzed by today’s standards, historians and psychologists are able to recognize the psychopathic tendencies of the first tsar of Russia.
These three names: Tsar Ivan IV, Ivan the Terrible, Ivan Groznyi, describe a tsar who was intelligent, but paranoid thanks to the problems of his childhood. His mind had begun its decline in childhood, and carried all the way throughout his reign as seen in the decisions he made as tsar. All that mattered was power, a Godly society, and revenge for a child and his family that had been broken many decades before. Society may have been having difficulties as Tsar Ivan IV’s reign was near its end, but he left behind a legacy of a leader who was greatly influenced by his own “terrible” mind.