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The Oprichnina (1565-1572)
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The Oprichnina (1565-1572)

In January 1565 Ivan IV arrived to Alexandrova Sloboda, his own residence. From there he dispatched to Moscow two official documents. In the first letter he accused the church hierarchs and all feudal lords in treason, the second one was addressed to Moscow population, it stated that the Tsar anger did not applied to ordinary inhabitants. Moscow community forced the boyards to beg the Tsar to take the throne again. Ivan IV agreed, but stipulated for the right to execute and pardon at his own discretion.

Ivan IV divided the state into two parts: the oprichnina - his personal lands and the zemshina. The oprichnina included the most economically developed areas of the country: trading cities situated along navigable rivers, basic centres of salt production and strategically important advanced posts at the western and southwest borders. These lands were inhabited by noblemen who formed Oprichnina - special armed force. Former local landowners were moved to the zemshina. The oprichnina developed its own centralized machinery of government that was parallel to the bodies of the zemshina: the Duma and Departments. The zemshina was governed by the government of I.M. Viskovaty.

Oprichniki (the troopers) wore monk's black robes and strapped dog's heads and brooms to the saddles as the sign of loyalty to the Tsar and their willingness to 'sweep out' every treason in the state. De facto Oprichnina represented the punitive mechanism combining queer mixture of exterior attributes of a monastic order and mobster's manners. To maintain the Oprichnina guards (initially 1000 strong, later 5 times more) Ivan the Terrible demanded huge sums: 100 thousand roubles, what equaled 2 million quarters of rye.

Oprichnina was headed by relatives of the late Tsarina Anastasia - V.M. Yuriyev, A.D. Basmanov and Prince М.Т. Cherkassky, a brother of Kabardinian Princess Maria Temryukovna, the second wife of the Tsar Ivan IV (this marriage was contracted in 1561). Prince A.I. Vyazemsky, Boyard Vasily Gryaznoy and a nobleman G.L. Malyuta Skuratov-Belsky, who was in charge of executions and tortures, were the most prominent figures among Oprichnina guards. The first victims of Oprichnina were clergymen: Archimandrite German (1568) and the deposed Metropolitan Phillip, he openly refused to bless the Tsar and was strangled by Skuratov in Tver in 1569. The Novgorod Archbishop Pimen, Phillip's opponent, also shared the same bitter lot. In the autumn of the same year Prince Vladimir Staritsky was killed together with all his family. Mass executions of princes and noblemen went on, but common people were not spared either.

A terrible pogrom of Novgorod in the winter of 1569/70 was committed by the order of Ivan IV. It lasted a month and a half. During this time from 3 to 10 thousand people of all ages and classes were killed and tormented to death in the city. With the assistance of the Tsar mass repressions were launched in Moscow in the summer of 1570. Hundreds of people were put to death. The terror was completely unpredictable and so utterly dreadful. On average, every killed boyard accounted for 3-4 ordinary landowners, and every landowner - for 10 commoners. In the year of 1570 it was now the turn of Oprichnina organizers to face the same ill fate - all of them were killed not less brutally than they had killed the others before.

Paradoxical though it may seem, but it was the Crimean Khan Devlet-Girey who helped to put an end to Oprichnina. He burst through to Moscow in the summer of 1571 through the fault of Oprichnina guards who showed no resistance. Khan did not besiege the city but set it on fire. Moscow was burnt to the ground. Bodies of the burnt and suffocated were being removed for almost two months. Ivan the Terrible realized at last that the State was in mortal danger. Joint troops of the zemshina and oprichnina commanded by Prince M.I. Vorotynsky smashed the Crimean Khan's Army at Molody Village (50 km from Moscow). The country was saved. But that could not save Vorotynsky himself. In a year after this glorious victory he was arrested and brutally killed.

Oprichnina was abolished in 1572. The lands were consolidated again. In 1575 the Tsar tried to re-establish Oprichnina in a slightly modified form. He entitled himself the Prince of Moscow and nominated Kasimov Tsarevitch Simeon Bekbulatovich the Tsar and the Grand Duke. But this diversion did not last long (less than a year). Oprichnina worsened economic and political position of Russia. Its result was awful - plundered villages and cities, scattering peasants. Defeat in the Livonian War and forays of Tatars also laid a hard burden.

More favorable situation developed at this period in the East of the country. The Siberian Khanate - remains of The Golden Horde - declared its vassalage in the middle of 1550's. But Khan Kuchum came to power and levied the war against Rus. Annexation of the Western Siberia was greatly contributed by a family of Ural merchants - the Stroganovs, who had own troops. Cossack Ataman Ermak Timofeyevich with a squadron six hundred strong set out in 1581 against Khan Kuchum and crushed his army in 1582. However, the victory did not bring a total control over the vast Siberian territories. In 1585 Ataman Ermak was ambushed. He drowned in the Irtysh River. In 80-90's the flow of Russian colonization of the Western Siberia went on and the outpost cities, such as Tyumen (1586) and Tobolsk (1587) were founded.

Overall results of the reign of Ivan Vasiliyevich the Terrible were extremely contradictory. The major result of his almost 50-years reign was formation of centralized Russian State equal to the great empires of the past. In XVI century Rus gained high international authority. It possessed powerful bureaucratic and military machinery headed personally by the Tsar of All-Russia. However, it was also the period when Russia waged exhausting and fruitless Livonian War that was accompanied by the terrible Oprichnina terror inside the country. Oprichnina, in fact, was the forced centralization without necessary social and economic preconditions; the regime masked its weakness with a "subsystem" of total terror.

The personality of Ivan IV, an unbridled medieval tyrant, always provoked contradictory attitude of historians. But the phenomenon of the Tsar-tyrant on the Russian throne in the epoch of formation of national European States should be apparently considered as natural. (At about the same time Henry VIII ruled in England, Ludwig XI in France and Phillip II in Spain).

Last years of Ivan IV were tragic. Along with the death of his elder son Ivan (Ivan the Terrible killed him himself in 1581) died the hope to have a worthy successor: the second son, Feodor, was imbecile; the third son, Dmitry, was born by Maria Nagaya, the sixth wife of Ivan the Terrible, only in 1582. Ivan IV died on March 18, 1584. He exerted great influence upon the course of events of Russian history of XVI century. This influence of his has not got any simple appraisal in the historical literature to present day. Queer combination of rather inconsistent features in his character was noted already by his contemporaries: extreme suspiciousness and judiciousness, sophisticated cruelty and care for his troops, improbable arrogance and humility and etc. Ivan IV, undoubtedly, possessed merits of an outstanding statesman. He was highly educated, had keen intellect from birth and was gifted with publicist's talent. He was a skilful commander, a remarkable strategist and a shrewd politician. He set precise aims in internal and foreign policy and steadily went towards their realization by all means.

The bloody reign of the first Moscow Tsar was forever engraved on the memory of his contemporaries. The people 'awarded' Ivan Vasiliyevich with a nickname Terrible. But the cruelty of the Tsar Ivan could not be explained only by pathological reasons. The Spirit of violence, superstitions and disdain for human life penetrated the whole atmosphere of Middle Ages.

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