The Southern Dvina flowed from the heart of Russia into the Baltic near Riga, but through hostile Livonia. The headwaters of the Dvina and the Volga were not far apart and could have been connected by canals, thus providing a water route that might atone for the disproportion of Russia's enormous landmass to her coasts and ports. The Baltic would unite with the Caspian and the Black Sea, and East and West would meet.
In 1557, Ivan sent an army to Livonia, which ravaged the country brutally, burning houses and crops, enslaving men and raping women until they died. When Livonia appealed for help, Stephen Bathory roused the Poles and led them to victory over the Russians at Polotsk, and Ivan yielded Livonia to Poland. However, long before this set back, his campaign had led to revolts on the home front. Merchants whom Ivan had thought to benefit decided that the war was too costly and disruptive. The nobles had opposed it as bound to untie the Baltic powers against a Russia still feudal in political and military organization. During and before the war, Ivan had suspected the boyars of conspiracies against his throne, and in a nearly fatal illness in 1553, he learned that a powerful group of nobles was planning, when he died, were planning to repudiate his son Dmitri and crown Prince Vladimir, who mother was disbursing large gifts to the army. Suspecting his closest advisors, Sylvester and Adashef, were flirting with treasonable boyars, he dismissed them in 1560 with violence.
Several of the boyars deserted to Poland and took up arms against Russian, including Ivan's friend and leading general, Prince Andrei Kurbski, who sent Ivan a letter from Poland that amounted to a declaration of war. It is said that when Ivan read the letter, he nailed a foot of the bearer to the floor with one blow of his royal staff. Furthermore, Ivan believed that they had poisoned Anastasia. It is these plots and desertions that highlight the most famous and peculiar event of Ivan's reign.
On December 13, 1564, Ivan IV left Moscow with his family, his icons, his treasury, and small force of soldiery, and went to his summer home at Alexandrovask. He sent Moscow two proclamations. One stated that the boyars, the bureaucracy, and the Church had conspired against him and the state, therefore "with great sorrow" he now resigned his throne and would live in retirement. The second, assured the people of Moscow that he loved them and that they might rest assured of his lasting good will. Actually, Ivan had favored the commoners and merchants against the aristocracy, thus they cried out against the nobility and clergy and demanded that the bishops and boyars go to the tsar and beg him to resume his throne. They did, and Ivan agreed to "take unto him his state anew," on conditions that he would later specify.
In February 1565, Ivan IV returned to Moscow and summoned the national assembly of clergy and boyars. He announced that he would execute the leaders of the opposition, and confiscate their property. He would assume full power without consulting the nobles or assembly, and he would banish all who disobeyed his edicts.
Fearing a revolt of the masses, the assembly yielded. Ivan announced that Russia would be divided into two parts: one, the Zemstchina or assemblage of provinces, would remain under the government of the boyars and their duma, but would be taxable in gross by the tsar and be subject to him for military and foreign affairs; the other part, the Oprichmina, or "separate estate," would be ruled by him and be composed of lands assigned by him to the separate class, chosen by him to police and administer this half-realm, to guard it from sedition, and to give him personal protection and special military service. By the end of his reign, the Oprichmina included nearly half of Russia, much of Moscow, and the most important trade routes. The revolution had elevated a new class to political power, and the promoted Russian commerce and industry. However, armed only with his personal soldiery and the unreliable support of the merchants and populace, legend claims that Ivan, then thirty-five, aged twenty years.
Ivan made Alexandrovsk his regular residence, and transformed it into a fortified citadel. It is believed that the strain of the revolt and the failure of the long war with Livaonia, may have "disordered" a never quite balanced mind. His guardsmen were clothed like monks in black cassocks and skull caps. He called himself their abbot, sang in their choir, attended Mass with them daily, and so fervently prostrated himself before the altar that his forehead was repeatedly bruised, all of which added to the awe that he inspired. Russia began to mingle reverence with the fear it felt for him, and even the armed oprichnik were so abject before him that they came to be called his court.
Ivan's revolution had its terror, for those who opposed it and were caught were executed without mercy. One report estimates the casualties of his wrath at more than three thousand. Others estimate the victims at more than ten thousand. According to reports, the victim would be executed "with his wife," or "with his wife and children," and in one instance, "with ten men who came to his help." Noble families were the first victims of Ivan's terror, and torture was often used to extract confessions, including methods such as ripping out fingernails and pulling limbs out of joint. Moreover, Ivan enjoyed toying with his victims. For example, he gave Ivan Fyodorov, a wealthy noble, his robes and scepter and then sat him on his throne. He then took off his hat and bowed, saying "just as it is in my power to put you on this throne, it is also in my power to remove you from it," after which he stabbed Fyodorov in the chest, and had his disemboweled body dragged through the Kremlin and thrown into the square. Ivan ordered Prince Vladimir and his wife to drink poison, while at the same time his mother and twelve nuns were killed at the Goritsky Monastery. So great and widespread was Ivan's wrath that the city appeared empty, prompting folk songs with lyrics such as "Wherever Ivan the Terrible went, there the cocks don't crow."
Andrei Yurganov, Candidate of History and Assistant Professor at the Russian State Humanitarian University, writes in the January 1997 issue of Russian Life, that on one particular day Ivan's executions reached massive scale. A wooden stand was built and fires started, over which rested a cauldron of boiling water. Three hundred men, who had already been tortured, were brought to the execution site. Ivan showed clemency and forgave more than third of the condemned, then executed the rest, beginning with statesman and diplomat, Ivan Viskovaty, who was "torn limb from limb." Yurganov notes that on that day, "fathers, mothers and children were executed indiscriminately."
Ivan's terror climaxed in Novgorod in January 1570. He had recently given the archbishop a large sum of money and believed this ensured the church's loyalty, however supposedly a document was found, pledging cooperation with Poland in an attempt to overthrow the tsar. More than five hundred monks and priests were arrested, and those clerics who could not pay fifty rubles' ransom were flogged to death, while the archbishop was unfrocked and jailed. According to the Third Chronicle of Norvgorod, a massacre ensued for five weeks, and often 500 persons were slain in one day. In fact, official records number the dead at 2,770. Ivan did not limit his wrath to executions. Because many merchants were thought to have been involved in the conspiracy, soldiers were ordered to burn all the shops in the city, as well as the homes of the merchants, along with the farmhouses. He then returned to Moscow and celebrated with a royal ball. Ivan felt his actions were completely justified, and even had the monks pray for the souls of his victims.
Ivan abolished the oprichnina around 1572, probably due to the continuing Tatar threat, for they had reached Moscow in 1571 because there were no defensive barriers, thus they reached the capital without resistance, leaving undefended settlements in ruins. A fire spread from Kitaigorod, the merchant's quarter, to the Kremlin, and according to reports, so many were killed that there was no one left to bury the dead.
Ivan fled north to Bellozero near Vologda, and when Davlet Geray attacked again in 1572, Ivan succeeded in uniting the forces of the oprichnina and zemschina under the command of Prince Mikhail Vorotynsky, and defeated Geray. The division of Russia into the oprichnina and zemshchina had proved disastrous to defensive capabilities. Moreover, the oprinchnina ravaged the majority of the land under its control, forcing peasant to flee the country, which in turn strengthened the role of serfdom in Russia.…