Ivan the Terrible/Part 2/Chapter 1
THE YOUTH OF IVAN
THE FIRST RUSSIAN TSAR
I.—The Birth of the Terrible.
On Ivan the Terrible's birthday, August 25 (September 4), 1530, the whole country was filled with the noise of thunder, and with awful flashes of lightning. Even when the child began to stir in his mother's womb, the Muscovite armies fighting before Kazan had felt a flush of eagerness and valour such as they had never known before. More genuine than the prodigies of which popular legend has thus preserved the memory were the shocks which at that moment were staggering all Europe. Luther and Calvin, Wycliff and Huss, had made their entry on the world's stage, and from one end of Western Christendom to the other, on battlefields where brother fought against brother, and on public squares that bristled with scaffolds, in churches torn with distress and courts shaken by revolution, Catholics and Protestants, soldiers and priests, Princes and varlets, were striving to turn the great shout of liberty that had rung from the battlements of the Wartburg into a war-cry, an instrument of massacre and oppression. Shaken to her foundations, the Church, from her begging friars to her Pope, was arming to fight for her privileges; but within the walls of Rome, shattered by the assault of the German troops, the Holy Empire and France were disputing the empire of the world. In the North, the religious reform was serving as a stepping-stone for the new dynasty that was climbing to the Norwegian and Swedish thrones, and Muscovy, wrapped in centuries of isolation, had no part in these events—was not aware of them, or scarcely felt their distant consequences. Yet Time was labouring to reknot the bonds Time had himself untied. Western Europe was beginning, in some quarters at all events, to take an interest in the mysterious neighbour by whom she herself was scorned and disowned. As early as the fifteenth century, when the leaven which was to destroy her internal unity and harmony was already working within her, she had watched the rising of yet another peril above her horizon. Answering the tempest against the Papacy that roared within her boundaries, she had heard the mighty clamour of Islam, making ready to assault the Christian world. Stirred by the twofold threat, Rome and Vienna, Genoa and Venice, had looked about them for some new support, and had discovered Russia. Ever since that day, Italian diplomats and Levantine agents had been labouring to bridge the gulf. By his marriage with the daughter of the Paleologus, Ivan IV.'s grandfather had entered the family of the European Princes, under the auspices of the Holy See. In 1473, the Venetian Senate reminded the Muscovite monarch of his claim to the Byzantine inheritance. In 1480 and 1490, the direct heir, Andrew Paleologus, tried to strike a bargain as to his rights, at Moscow. He failed, and began to treat with Charles VIII. of France. But Rome was still supposed to hold the key of this treasure, and Rome, so men fancied, would dispose of it to secure a Russian army to fight the Turks. In 1484, Sixtus IV. found it necessary to reassure Casimir, King of Poland, who imagined his own rights, as an elder member of the Slav family, threatened.
Ivan III., who cared more for realities than for imaginary titles, sent one scornful refusal after another. Yet the matter of the Russian provinces, claimed alike by Muscovy and Poland, was dependent on the hypothesis of a great Slav empire, strengthened by the investiture of Rome. The new diplomatic combinations which arose in this sphere of rival influences and dominations themselves endued the Pan-Russian idea with body and strength.
Though the Grand Duke dismissed Andrew Paleologus to seek other buyers, he gave a far better reception to the Emperor's envoy, Von Turn. He avowed himself ready to make an alliance with Maximilian, with the eventual object of opposing Islam, but to settle historic accounts with his Polish neighbour, in the first place. Without waiting for any Papal bulls, he allowed his subjects to call him by the name of Tsar, which corresponded, in the imagination of the orthodox, with the Imperial dignity and the claim to the inheritance of Byzantium. And to this, in 1483, he added, by his own authority, the title of Sovereign of all the Russias, which amounted to an assertion of his rights over Kiev and Vilna.
This autonomous solution of the great Oriental problem had been long since prepared. The south-western Slavs had been the first to perceive it. In the fourteenth century Douchan, a Servian, and Alexander, a Bulgarian, had both suggested it, when each dreamt a conquest of Constantinople, and began by proclaiming himself Emperor. A reference to the building of a new tsargrad (imperial city) at Tyrnov appears in the manuscripts of that date. But, as Monsieur Milioukoy has justly observed, before the Russia of the sixteenth century could appropriate this programme of national greatness, she had to await an impulse that was to come from Europe, just as the Russia of the seventeenth century was to feel a similar external impetus before she could conceive and accept the reform of Peter the Great.
When Ivan III. died, in 1505, he left five sons, and divided his inheritance among them. But to Vassili, the eldest, he gave not one-third, according to precedent, but two-thirds—seventy-six towns and provinces, including the capital. Vassili had married, as his first wife, the daughter of a boïar, Salomelouriévna Sabourov. He had no children; and mourned the fact. 'The birds are happy!' he would say when he looked into a nest. The spells to which the barren wife had recourse produced no effect. A council of boïars, summoned in 1525, proposed another expedient, coinciding, no doubt, with the husband's secret desires. 'A barren fig-tree must be cast out of the field!' One councillor alone, the bearer of a name soon to win lustre in the camp of the aristocratic opposition, Simon Kourbski, dared raise his voice in defence of the sacred bond about to be broken, and his protest was supported by the members of the clergy who represented the reform party, Vassiane Patrikiévy and Maximus the Greek. They were overruled. Salome was thrown into a cloister, and Vassili led Helen Glinski, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, to the altar. He was desperately in Jove with her, and the barrenness of his repudiated wife was probably a mere pretext. Since the Muscovite Sovereigns had given up taking their wives from foreign Courts, a habit had come in of opening a sort of beauty competition among the native ladies, from whom the master made his choice. Hundreds were brought together from every corner of the country. Now, on this occasion nothing of the kind seems to have been attempted.
A beautiful woman, who, thanks to her origin, had enjoyed a comparatively superior education, Helen Glinski possessed charms which Vassili could not have found in any Muscovite. Her father, Vassili Lvovitch, had died when she was very young, and she had grown up under the guardianship of her uncle Michael, a former comrade-in-arms of Albert of Saxony and the Emperor Maximilian, a wandering knight, whose adventures had led him to Italy, where he had even become a Catholic. Thus did Western Europe find her way back into the Kremlin. According to Herberstein, Vassili went so far as to shave off his beard to please his new partner, and this in itself was almost a revolution.
This second marriage, called adulterous by the 'monks from beyond the Volga,' did not promise, however, to be more blessed by Heaven than the first. There was talk already of a son born to Salome in her convent. But at last the prayers of a more indulgent monk, Paphnucius Borovski—afterwards declared a worker of miracles and canonized, as a reward for this one—were granted. Helen brought the longed-for heir into the world. Three years later, on October 15, 1533, she bore a second son, George, and immediately afterwards she was left a widow. Ivan III. had altered the succession, according to which the throne, in former times, had passed to the dead Sovereign's brothers. The regency, at all events, should have been theirs. That Ivan left any other order seems uncertain. But Helen, the scion of a race of adventurers, energetic and ambitious, had a strong party behind her, and knew how to use it so as to grasp power, and keep it.
She made a twofold blunder by refusing to share it with her uncle, a gifted man, and giving the lion's share to her lover, Prince Telepniév-Obolenski, a mere muddler. Trouble soon began. Helen, having thrust her own uncle and one of Vassili's brothers, George, into prison, found herself in difficulties with another brother-in-law, Andrew, who had received Staritsa as his appanage, and avowed himself discontented with his share. She reached the brink of civil war, and only escaped it by laying an ambush into which the Prince fell. He departed, in his turn, into one of those Muscovite dungeons which so seldom yielded up their prey. Hunger and the weight of the chains with which he was loaded hastened his end, and his adherents, to the number of about thirty, garnished gibbets set at stated intervals along the road from Moscow to Novgorod. Novgorod had seemed inclined to send the vanquished man armed help.
Thus for several years Helen struggled on, forced, as well, to hold her own against enemies beyond the border, Tartars and Poles, who joined hands to take advantage of the weakness of her Government. In 1538, her foes at home had recourse to poison, it is thought, and Ivan was orphaned. Then the power fell into the hands of the boïars, and oligarchy was soon expressed in anarchy.
II.—The Government of the Boïars.
Left to himself, Obolenski at once lost his footing in the tempest. Rivals whom the Regent had been able to hold in check now rushed upon an easy revenge. Above the ruins of a decimated party the Chouïski raised their heads. By their origin they stood very near the throne, and their pretensions aimed at something more than a mere temporary supremacy. They belonged, like Vassili and Ivan, to the line of Alexander Nevski, the elder branch of a family of which the reigning house was only a younger one, and the height to which their dreams of ambition soared may be conceived. Within a week they had got rid of the favourite, who disappeared into an oubliette, in which Ivan lost his natural guardian and even his foster-mother, Obolenski's sister, Agraféna, who shared her brother’s fate. But Vassili Vassilévitch Chouïski and his cousin Andrew, who came out of prison at this juncture, found themselves face to face with another apparition. The opening of the dungeons had brought a whole army of competitors into the lists, and among them Prince Ivan Biélski, who had no intention of giving way to any other person. He advanced the claims of his own ancestor, Guédymin, as against those of the descendants of Rurik. His father, Feodor, had married a Princess of Riazan, niece of Ivan III. His brother Simon, molested by Helen, had fled, and found in Poland, in the Crimea, and even at Constantinople, something better than a refuge—an alliance that enabled him to claim his hereditary possessions, Biélsk and Riazan, annexed to the Muscovite Empire.
Thus, in the struggle which, from 1538 to 1543, filled Moscow with violence and carnage, and from which Ivan's own person and the integrity of his inheritance found no protection save in the antagonism of the rival families and their eagerness to destroy each other, the whole existence of the work accomplished by the younger branch of the Rurikovitchy was threatened. But the child had to pass through cruel trials. In their triumph the Chouïski lost all moderation, sacked the Tsar's treasury, and made themselves absolute masters. Ivan Chouïski, who had become head of the family on the death of Vassili Vassilévitch, forgot all respect. 'In my presence,' wrote Ivan IV. at a later date 'he stretched out his booted feet on my father’s bed.' And he remembered, too, that the victor of the hour, who had been covered by a shabby pelisse, ended by eating off gold plate. 'He certainly did not inherit that from his father. If he had, he would have begun by getting himself a better coat. And meanwhile I was suffering privations, lacking everything, even to food and clothing.' The young Sovereign suffered in his affections too. First his foster-mother had been taken from him, then, in 1543, he was deprived of his earliest friend, Feodor Siémiénovitch Vorontsov. This unhappy man, whom the Chouïski hunted into a room in the Kremlin, beat, and threatened with death, owed his bare life to the intervention of the Metropolitan; but even this could not prevent him from being exiled to Kostroma. The Metropolitan throne itself, indeed, had to suffer attack. Whenever a coup d'état placed one family or the other in power, the holder of the see changed too. In 1539, the Biélski put Jehosaphat in the place of Daniel. In 1542, when the Chouïski got the upper hand and sent Ivan Biélski to Bielooziéro, the Metropolitan shared his disgrace. The provinces received no better treatment. Under the Chouïski's rule especially, barbarity and confusion were rife. Except at Novgorod, in which town they had supporters and favoured friends, their representatives, as the chroniclers tell us, behaved 'like wild beasts.' Everybody who could took to his heels, and the towns stood empty. The Italian architect Friasini, who had been summoned to Russia, and permanently established there by Vassili, escaped and got across the frontier just when he was being sent to Siebiéje to direct the construction of the fortifications there. He told the Bishop of Derpt the boïars were making everybody’s life impossible. The Biélski were more humane, and likewise more intelligent. It was during their short tenure of power that the first charters—forerunners of the autonomous communal system—were granted. But none of these men had any idea of government save an abuse of power.
While subjecting their country to a most intolerable tyranny, they were teaching its future master the most odious of lessons. Thanks to them, violence in every form took hold of the boy's feelings and imagination, and inspired him, body and soul. Violent he was to be, like them, growing up as he did in an atmosphere of perpetual battle, ready to give back blow for blow, desperately nervous, cruel, irritable. His earliest pleasures, shared with the companions chosen for him, were hideous, like everything about him. Seeing men tortured under his eyes, he tortured beasts till he should be able to do likewise. His great amusement was to throw dogs down from the top of one of the castle terraces and enjoy their anguish. He was given his way, he was even encouraged in it. The men's turn was soon to come.
It was a rash undertaking for the Chouïski and the Biélski, who brought the boy up in this fashion, to claim any lengthy control over an autocrat who would soon have a beard on his chin, and was already old enough to realize his own position. He beheld the very men who offended and ill-used him in private, who quarrelled over his patrimony, and used it, one after the other for, their own convenience, go back to their real rank when there was any official function—Court festivity or reception of a foreign Ambassador—bend lowly before his throne, become crawling slaves. He was soon to turn this lesson to account. In September, 1543, he had allowed himself to be parted from Vorontsov. In the December of that year, having previously put the docility of his dog-boys to the test, he had Andrew Chouïski carried off by them. The rogues obeyed, and even went beyond their orders, for they strangled the boïar, whom they had been told to hale to prison. Ivan held it well done, and everybody understood that Russia's master, at all events, if not her government, was changed.
The boïars he had spared went on governing in their own way, but they did not venture to cross their Sovereign, who, before Louis XIV., had, after his own fashion, spoken the words, L'état, c'est moi! He began to go about the streets now, thrashing the men he met, violating the women, and always applauded by those about him. Feodor Vorontsov, whom he had recalled from exile, was one of these; but the master's favour was already veering towards more docile comrades, whose names and parentage shielded them less from his caprice.
Ivan preferred his dog-boys to members of the aristocracy, whom he was apt to suspect and dread as being fresh Chouíski. In May, 1546, while he was hunting near Kolomna, he found himself face to face with a troop of armed men who barred his way. They were the Novgorod musketeers, coming to complain of their governor. Ivan, who understood nothing about their business, ordered them to be put aside. There was a scuffle, in the course of which several shots were exchanged. The young Prince was not hurt, but he was very much frightened. His physical courage was always to fail him. In addition to a very probable hereditary predisposition, the terrors of his childhood had made him nervous in the extreme, his body shivered and his soul was troubled at the slightest alarm. He took to his heels, imagined a plot, and ordered an inquiry. A candidate for his favour, Vassili Zakharov, at that moment a plain diak, had no difficulty in obtaining a hearing for his accusation of Vorontsov and his family, already under suspicion and in semi-disgrace. The pupil at once went far beyond his teachers. The Terrible came upon the scene. There was work for the executioner and. his scaffold. He was not to enjoy many idle hours in future. Feodor Vorontsov and one of his cousins lost their heads. Other presumed accomplices took their way into exile.
Zakharov may not have been the sole author of this catastrophe. In the Sovereign's intimate surroundings a man had already appeared, whose character and career a whole school of history has delighted to idealize, associating therewith a brilliant period in the new reign, which, thanks to his influence, according to its view, was freed from bloody excess, and stuffed with noble effort and glorious exploits. Alexis Adachev, a man of humble origin, who had been in the Sovereign's household since the year 1543, was borne on the Court registers as one of the officers of the bedchamber, 'makers of the bed.' I shall endeavour, later, to define this man's character and the part he played.
Towards the end of this same year, 1546, Ivan was to affirm his emancipation in yet more decisive fashion. On December 17 the news ran through Moscow that the Grand Duke had resolved to marry, and to marry a daughter of the soil.
III.—Marriage and Coronation.
This resolution was probably not so sudden as it has generally been taken to have been. As early as 1543 an embassy had been sent into Poland; Feodor Ivanovitch Soukine and Istoma Stoianov, the envoys, were desired to let it be understood that the Prince was old enough to look about for a wife (Bantich-Kamiénski, Correspondance Diplomatique, Lectures de la Société d'Histoire, 1860, p. 72). Other attempts of the same nature would appear to have been made, and it was only after many failures that Ivan’s pride bowed to the necessity of an alliance that would not revive the tradition of Jaroslav. He was resolved, at all events, to make up for his discomfiture to some extent. The day after that on which his decision had been announced, a Te Deum was sung in the Cathedrai of the Assumption, and after it, Ivan, calling his boïars together, announced that he intended to be crowned likewise, and this, not like his predecessors, as Grand Duke, but under the title of Tsar, to which they had hitherto made no formal claim.
Tsar, Emperor—the two titles were synonymous in the language of the country, though the first, indeed, had lost caste owing to the discredit brought on it, amidst the dismemberment of the Mongol power, by the crowd of Tartar princelets—some of them tributaries to Moscow, or mere heads of provinces in her pay—who had assumed it. Yet the lords of ancient Byzantium had borne it, too, and it was the Empire of the East that Ivan dreamt of raising up once more in the new capital of the Orthodox world. Church literature had long been labouring towards this resurrection. In all books written in the Slav tongue the word tsar was used indifferently to denote the Kings of Judæa, the rulers of Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon, the Emperors of Constantinople and of Rome. At the same time, by perpetual insinuation, by cunningly-suggested freaks of fancy, the illusion of an historical descent connecting the rulers of Moscow with these predecessors filled the readers' imaginations, and slowly permeated the national mind. Was not Muscovy the 'Sixth Empire' mentioned in the Apocalypse? And had not the house of Rurik, before the days of Sophia Paleologus, won a right to the inheritance of the Porphyrogenetes, to that of Constantine the Great, and even to that of the Roman Cæesars themselves? We have seen that for centuries the idea of a 'third Rome' had been floating like a dream in the Slavonic world, and perpetually seeking some more definite form. After the fall of the Slav Empires in Bulgaria and Servia, after'the conquest of the Balkan Peninsula by the Turks, this dream was naturally driven northward. Cyprian the Bulgarian, sent in 1382 from Constantinople to Moscow to fill the Metropolitan see, brought with him the phraseology elaborated by Ephimus at Tyrnov, and found it was received by willing ears. Immediately after the fall of Constantinople, all those who had escaped the shipwreck of Southern Slavdom turned their final hopes in this direction. Pakhomii the Servian, in his turn, revealed a solemn recognition of the imperial title of the Moscow Sovereigns by the Emperor John Paleologus. Other writers set to work to bring the investiture into harmony with the sacred texts. They had already succeeded in applying these prophecies to Alexander of Bulgaria. It required less effort to transfer them from one Slav Prince to another. According to the Greek tradition, Ishmael was to be vanquished by a 'fair' people, and the word for 'fair' in Russian is roussyii. One of the best-known of the legends of Byzantine origin current among the Slav peoples—one which travelled westward in the German poem of Apollonius of Tyre, and the old French romances dealing with Oberon and Huon of Bordeaux, relates that the imperial Insignia of the Porphyrogenetes came from Babylon, whither the Eastern Emperor Leo had sent to fetch them. Other legends referred to the acquisition of these insignia by Vladimir Monomachus, or St. Vladimir. In the Stépiénnaia Kniga Macarius learnedly explains that Vladimir, when he was dying, confided this sacred treasure to his sixth son, George, so that he and his descendants might keep watch and ward over it till a Prince capable of making use of it should arise in Russia. As early as in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, on the other hand, Slav genealogists had contrived to trace the descent of the Bulgarian Assanids from an illustrious Roman house, and in the fourteenth they likewise discovered a relationship between the Servian Nemanitch and the Emperor Constantine—nay, even with Augustus himself. Thus, when Macarius introduced a Prouss, brother of Augustus, whose descendant Rurik was supposed to be, into his life of St. Olga, a Russian Princess, he was only following former precedents.
The title now claimed by the son of Vassili was all this: a whole world of myths and symbols, of glorious memories and ambitious dreams, made flesh in living and tangible reality.
The coronation took place on January 16, 1547, and nothing which might heighten its glories was forgotten. In presence of a mighty concourse, amidst the joyous pealing of bells and all the mustered pomp of Church and Throne, Bishops, priests, and monks prayed God to grant the new Tsar the light of justice and of truth, while all around him his boïars scattered handfuls of gold pieces, emblems of the prosperity which was his promised lot. Yet the heir of the Greek and Roman Emperors did not venture to make known his pretensions to the foreign Sovereigns. He knew both his father and his grandfather had met with a rebuff. Vassili had succeeded, in 1514, in slipping the title of Cæsar into a treaty with the Emperor Maximilian. But Vienna, disowning her own plenipotentiary, Snitzpanner, had refused to sign until the text was altered. Poland, too, was irreconcilable as to this matter. Some of the small German States and the Patriarch of Constantinople were the only powers that showed any disposition to oblige, now they themselves offered the sole hope of dignity left to the professors of the Orthodox faith. And even in this quarter Ivan thought it well to delay his application till the morrow of his greatest victories in the year 1561, and offered with it, then, a liberal donation. He met with very moderate success. The Patriarch Jehosaphat did indeed acknowledge the son of Vassili as Tsar, and as the descendant of Princess Anne, the Emperor Basil's sister. He even went so far as to offer, superfluously, to renew the coronation ceremony by the intervention of a Metropolitan despatched for that purpose. But out of the thirty-seven signatures which adorned the charter sent from Constantinople to Moscow, five-and-thirty were later to be recognised as forgeries (Pierling, 'Russia and the Holy See,' i. 319; Milioukov, 'Essays on the History of Russian Culture,' iii. 71, founded on Regel Analecta Byzantino Rossica, 1891).
Even the Orthodox Church held aloof,though the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch vied with each other in their zealous acceptance of the accomplished fact, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem went still farther, and proclaimed the new Tsar 'the head of Christendom.' The great body of the Eastern clergy refused to follow this lead, and the Tsarate was fain to enter this community, wherein it claimed the highest place of all, by a low-browed door, and to stumble on the threshold. But the Muscovite people knew naught of these details. In the poetry of the bylines, wherein facts and dates were hopelessly confused, the national pride and the popular fancy worked in unison, casting a veil of fascinating fiction over humble beginnings and early discomfitures. In these the bearer of the Imperial insignia, passing from Babylon to Constantinople, where he found the Empire laid in ruins and the Orthodox faith endangered, travelled from the shores of the Bosphorus to the banks of the Volga, never halting till he reached the camp before Kazan, and there fell in with the true Defender of the Church, the conqueror of Islam. On the panels of the symbolic throne still shown in the Cathedral of the Assumption, the native artists spent their skill on representations of other and similar myths, and, within the limits of his huge dominions at all events, Ivan felt himself girdled by a radiance of power and glory such as no ancestor of his had ever known.
His marriage was to bring him a happiness such as few of them, we may be sure, had tasted, either. The bride had been chosen, this time, according to the accepted rule. All the marriageable girls in the Empire belonging to the class of the 'men who serve' had been ordered to repair to Moscow. A huge building containing many rooms, each with twelve beds in it, had been prepared for their reception. On the occasion of Vassili's first marriage, 500 beauties, according to Francesco da Collo, or 1,500, according to Herberstein, had thus been brought together. These figures probably apply to two successive choices out of the general mass of competitors, and a preliminary selection had no doubt been made in the various provinces. At Byzantium, where the same practice was in vogue, the provincial governors received detailed instructions for the purpose, with directions as to the height and other qualifications required. When the seraglio had received all its inmates, the Sovereign, accompanied by one man, chosen among his oldest courtiers, took his way there. He walked through all the rooms, and presented each fair lady with a kerchief embroidered with gold and gems, which he threw upon her bosom. His choice once made, gifts were bestowed on the companions of the bride, and the were sent back to their own homes.
After this fashion, in the year 1547, the Tsar's choice fell on Anastasia, the fatherless daughter of Iouriévitch Zakharine-Kochkine, of an ancient boïar family, which, amidst the ruin of the princely families, had contrived, thanks to an avoidance of those perilous rivalries from which the young Sovereign had suffered so bitterly, to retain its place close to the throne. It is not impossible, indeed, that even on this occasion the customary competition was a mere matter of form. The Zakharine-Kochkine were favourites of Fortune. Like the Chérémétiev, the Kolytchev, and the Kobyline, they were said to be the descendants of a certain Andrew Kobyla, a Prussian fugitive, so the chroniclers assert. But the national vanity, at a later date, turned 'Prussia' into 'Novgorod'—there was a quarter of that city the denizens of which were commonly called Prussians. Kobyla's Slav origin cannot be contested. His very name proves it. Kobyla stands for 'mare' both in Russian and Polish, and it is a well-known fact that the present capital of the Germanic nation stands on Slav soil.
We have no details concerning Ivan's marriage, but those given in the preceding chapter of this work are applicable to the occasion. The young Tsar was as much in love with his wife as his father had been before him, and long years afterwards he was to call up, with bitter regret, the joys, all too soon cut down, of a union in which he seems to have found every satisfaction and pleasure known to body, heart, and mind. But his honeymoon was soon and cruelly disturbed. He was married on February 3, 1547. Less than three months after that date, a whole quarter of his capital was destroyed by fire. Ivan was torn from the sweet peace in which he had seemed to revel, and which those about him had rejoicingly accepted as the guerdon of a happier future. The fair and gracious Anastasia was already looked on as the good angel destined to dispel the Sovereign's fits of fury, and insure his subjects' peace. But this was but a dream, and it may well be, in a country which is the home of legend, that an influence the visible effects of which are not attributable to any permanent cause was somewhat magnified. Ivan's irritable nature, which had slumbered for a time, woke suddenly to life. When the inhabitants of Pskov came, in their turn, on June 30, 1547, to make a complaint against their governor, the Tsar gave them a worse reception than that he had bestowed on their fellows of Novgorod. Returning to the cruel pastime of his boyish days, he poured lighted brandy all over them, and then, having had them stripped, would have proceeded, no doubt, to put them to death, had not a lucky diversion turned his mind from this particular form of entertainment. The scene had taken place in the village of Ostrovka, close to the capital, and just at this crisis a messenger arrived bearing bad news: the great bell of the Kremlin had fallen down. It was a gloomy portent, the presage, according to the spirit of those days, of other and more terrible catastrophes. And this time, indeed, the omen was to come true, amidst events destined to bring fresh characters on the scene, and change the face of the lately-opened reign. Ivan forgot all about his victims. Calling for a horse, he galloped to the scene of the accident.
IV.—Sylvester and Adachev.
Once again, on June 21, fire devoured Moscow, and this time its ravages exceeded anything ever seen within the memory of man. The Kremlin itself suffered. The cupola of the Cathedral of the Assumption, the Tsar's palace and the Metropolitan's, the treasury, the arsenal, two monasteries, and several churches, with all the wealth within them, were consumed by the flames. The Metropolitan Macarius was nearly suffocated, tumbled down in his flight, and hurt himself severely. Seventeen hundred victims, men, women, and children, were burnt alive. Every shop in the mercantile quarter was destroyed. Ivan was left without a roof over his head. He took refuge in the village of Vorobiévo, on that 'mountain of the sparrows' whence Napoleon was to catch his first glimpse of the city which was to be the tomb of his glory, and there the Tsar held a council. His confessor, Feodor Barmine, talked about witchcraft, to which, according to him, the disaster was due. In this connection, indeed, there was a legend. The sorcerers were supposed to take human hearts, torn out of corpses, to dip them in a pail of water, and then kindle the fire by watering the streets with the contents of the pail. A few boïars backed the accusation, and the search for the culprits began. Swayed by a treacherous suggestion, the crowd gathered on a Sunday, some few days later, before the blackened ruins of the cathedral, mentioned names. Helen's regency had left some bitter grudges behind it. Undying hate pursued her mother and her brothers. Witnesses were found who had seen them drench the streets and walls with the maleficent liquid. The Tsar's uncle, Prince Michael Vassilévitch Glinski, was living with his mother on a distant property near Rjevo, but his brother George was close at hand. He sought refuge in the very church the firing of which was laid at his door. The mob pursued him inside it, dragged his corpse to the spot where condemned criminals were executed, hunted his servants. Three days later the murderers presented themselves at Vorobiévo, clamouring for fresh victims. Andrew Chouïski's relations and adherents, who had been exiled after his execution, and subsequently recalled and restored to the Sovereign’s household and favour, urged him on to bloody reprisals.
But Ivan was soon to reveal himself. It was a tragic and decisive hour. If the son of Vassili had yielded to this criminal pressure he would have entered on a course which would have made his only mark on history a mark of blood. To yield was not in his nature. A merciless judge he was—too merciless very often—but he was always to hold full mastery over his own judicial acts. Whatever he thought of the accusation—and at his age, especially, and superstitious as he was, like all his contemporaries, he may very well have thought it plausible—accusers who were bold enough to encroach on his own rights by dictating or even forestalling his decisions struck him, no doubt, as being more guilty than any incendiary, genuine or supposed. He rose up, showed himself as he was, established his reputation. Behind the tyrant the Russians knew already, they perceived the Sovereign they were about to know. Michael Glinski, who had fled towards the Lithuanian frontier, had been caught by one of the Chouïski, Peter by name. Ivan had set him free, and he would not have the mother touched. The executioner had work to do, but the heads he took off belonged to the abettors of disturbance, who had hoped to build their own fortunes, or gratify their own resentments, on the ashes of the ruined capital.
Ivan's earliest biographer, Kourbski, has introduced an episode into his history of these events which must have misled the imagination of many of his successors. Just when Ivan was in dispute with the half-tipsy murderers, a man, an unknown priest, whose aspect resembled that given, in local iconography, to prophets, appeared in the Tsar's presence. His finger was uplifted, his expression at once threatening and inspired. With all the authority of a Divine messenger, we are told, and quoting many a Scripture text, he boldly asserted that what was happening was a manifest sign of God's wrath. He is even declared to have supported his claim by revelations and miracles. This last feature would suffice to edify us as to the nature of the story, even if we did not possess other information enabling us to reconstitute the historical truth. Sylvester, the author of the Domostroï, to whom Kourbski has chosen to attribute this curious intervention, could not have been a stranger to Ivan, seeing that for several years he had served the Church of the Assumption, the priest or proto-pope of which was, by virtue of his position, the Sovereign's own confessor. He was on friendly terms with Prince Vladimir Andréiévitch, one of the Tsar's uncles, for whom he had already successfully interceded in 1541, and thus his influence, though still circumscribed within the narrow limits imposed by the humble priest's worldly position and intellectual quality, was evidently of much older standing, and had been exercised in a far more natural manner.
Kourbski, no doubt, remembered Nathan's coming into the presence of David; but there was nothing prophetic about the language of the Domostroï. A moment was certainly approaching at which, without any question of miraculous intervention, other and quite as humble persons in the Tsar's household were to rise to foremost rank. Ivan, as he realized the necessity for a change in his methods of government, was to look about for new men to fit new positions. Unconsciously, we may be sure, he was to imitate Louis XI. 'Distrusting, and not without good cause, highly-placed men, and honest men, he was fain to discover in the unknown herd some bold fellow or other—one of those who, without having learnt anything, succeed by their own instinct.'
Like that other terrible monarch, and in closely analogous circumstances, Ivan, too, was 'to love none but those he made himself, and who, but for him, would have been nothing at all' (Michelet, Histoire de France, vii. 262). Nothing is more probable than that the catastrophe of 1547 may have led up to this moment, and that Sylvester may have risen into prominence amidst the troubles which attended it. But nothing, on the other hand, proves that the influence over his young Sovereign ascribed to him by Kourbski and other historians was acquired at that particular juncture.
And, further, was he a man whose gifts would ever have enabled him to enact such a part in connection with a man of Ivan's calibre? The Domostroï does not give us the idea of a very far-seeing politician, nor a moral teacher of a particularly high order. Apart from this book, the only three epistles from the pen of its author preserved to us are mere twaddle and nonsense. And that addressed to Ivan—its authenticity, indeed, is doubtful—is by no means the least foolish of the three. Its only injunctions as regards morals are connected with the avoidance of the sin of sodomy. But as an inculcator of virtue, Ivan already possessed Macarius. Sylvester, much inferior to this prelate in acquirements, and with an intellectual outlook far below that of the chosen circle gathered around Maximus the Greek, neither embodied nor represented anything striking or seductive. Subsequent to the year 1547 he is said to have performed the duties of a teacher—duties of a kind calculated to produce some impression on his young master's mind. It had become necessary to redecorate the rooms of the Grand Duke's ruined palace. In every country and at every period, mural paintings have been a faithful expression of the feeling of the century producing them. In Russia, during the sixteenth century, no difference existed, in this respect, between secular and religious edifices. In every building, the style and subjects of the decoration were almost identical, and chiefly drawn from Scripture or from ecclesiastical tradition. Sylvester seems to have been appointed to overlook the work of the artists at the Kremlin. The paintings then executed were till the end of the seventeenth century, and Monsieur Zabiéline ('Private Life of the Tsars,' p. 149) has been able to give us an exact account of them. The only conclusion at all flattering to the pope to be drawn therefrom is his possession of certain courtly aptitudes already brought into relief in the Domostroï. Whether as a repentant sinner or—and this more especially—as a triumphant conqueror, as Joshua entering a vanquished city or Solomon pouring forth a flood of beneficent wisdom, Ivan's is the figure perpetually limned in the huge apotheosis that typified and idealized all the great facts and glories of his reign. And though the young Sovereign may have found some means to edification in these pictures, he must have discovered still more, and more persuasive, temptations to pride, while the scenes of carnage connected with the triumphs of the Biblical conqueror, the 'cutting off of every living soul' represented on the broken walls of these ravaged Jerichoes, were not calculated to soften the inherent ferocity of his instincts.
Sylvester's apologists have further credited him with a somewhat novel piece of daring, to which the work of the unknown artists he is said to have inspired bears witness. The figure of a woman 'with her sleeves dropped as if she was dancing' close beside the hieratic presentment of the Christ, gave rise to scandal and to an ecclesiastical prosecution. But Macarius himself appeared as the champion of art, and defended the artist's right thus to symbolize debauchery amidst the other vices confounded and put to shame by the word of the Divine Master. The introduction of a certain flow of innovation into the plastic art of Russia unquestionably dates from this epoch, and this was due to a current of foreign influences with which Sylvester certainly had nothing to do. In two ikons simultaneously painted by Pskovian artists for the Church of the Annunciation, Rovinski has recognised an undoubted imitation of Cimabue and Perugino.
But the reforming period of Ivan's reign only began with the convocation of an assembly of which the date and precise nature cannot, so far, be clearly settled, but which certainly did not meet till at least two years after the disaster of 1547. At that moment, too, Alexis Adachev appears upon the scene, and joins hands with Sylvester. Yet during the whole course of this assembly, it is Macarius who plays the leading part. Sylvester hardly appears at all, and it is only thanks to a false and subsequent interpretation of the information at disposal that a part, which closer observation convinces us neither was capable of playing, has been ascribed to the two comrades. Round Adachev particularly a legend has grown up, so wide and full that in most historians' eyes the Terrible himself has been almost eclipsed by his own servant. Deceived by the self-interested assertions of a political ally—I refer to Kourbski—and by the Sovereign's own, they have, as it were, put the henchman in his master's place; they have made him think and act instead of his lord, and, taking him in conjunction with Sylvester, they have imagined a bicephalous government, which they suppose to have endowed Russia, for the space of ten years, with every imaginable kind of prosperity.
I shall endeavour, further on, to set forth the elements of a very different state of, matters, and give men and things their proper values. Kourbski's testimony, like that of the monarch himself, was borne after the two favourites had fallen. At that moment Kourbski, himself a voluntary exile, was endeavouring to avenge his own disappointed ambition by means of more or less ingenious inventions, and Ivan was always a proficient in that sort of fiction which enabled him to divest himself of his personal responsibility by casting it on his enemies. During the struggle into which the Sovereign's reforming policy was soon to draw him, and in which he was doomed to strive till the close of his long and stormy career, it would be difficult indeed to discover the party at the head of which the pope and his comrade put themselves, or which they even joined. Parvenus, both of them, they have been taken to represent the new blood brought in by Ivan to oppose the old boïar oligarchy. But to this oligarchy Kourbski belonged heart and soul, and he was the friend and accomplice of Sylvester and Adachev. Other contradictions, just as inexplicable, can only be avoided by taking the two partners for what they were—mere dummies. Ivan used them against the boïars, but they preferred to use the boïars, and even to make common cause with those they used. Then Ivan crushed them, and called other utility actors to his aid. Let us come to facts.
V.—The First Assembly: Russian Parliamentarianism.
In 1547, Ivan had held his own against the mob and the mob-leaders who had egged him on to crime. He had done justice, and several heads had fallen. But after that time, as before it, the boïars held the reins of government, and the tumult of which Moscow had been the scene was as nothing compared with the more permanent disturbances which continued to torture and mangle the whole country. Two or three more years elapsed before Ivan could persuade himself that this intolerable system must be suppressed, or that he himself was strong enough to suppress it. It was in 1549 or 1550—this latter date seems the most probable—that he finally made up his mind. At that time, according to the chroniclers, he convoked an assembly of all classes from every province, at Moscow. The sitting and the palaver were held in the open air, on the Red Square in front of the Kremlin. The Tsar spoke first, and brought his accusation against his untrustworthy boïars. He set forth a long list of their misdeeds, and announced that they were about to come to an end, and to be replaced by 'the triumph of virtue—and of love.' In conclusion, he turned towards the Metropolitan: 'I beseech thee, holy master, to be my help and mainstay in this work, which, as I know, obtains thy favour. Thou knowest that when my father died I was but four years old. My other kinsmen took no care of me, and my powerful boïars thought of nothing but abusing their own strength … and while they multiplied their rapines and their excesses, I, because of my youth, was deaf and dumb. They ruled as masters. Oh, peculators, depredators, and dishonest judges, how will you answer now for the blood and the tears that have been shed through you?My hands are clean from that blood! But you, make you ready for the chastisement you have deserved! Then, bowing on every side, the Sovereign begged his audience to forget 'for a space' the misdeeds from which they might have suffered, because 'it was not possible to repair them all.' But thenceforward he himself, as far as might be, would be their judge and their defender.
That very day Adachev was raised to the rank of okolnitchyï, and appointed to attend to all petitions. Ivan ordered him to look with most particular care into those presented by the humblest of his subjects, and to have no fear of the resentment of the great lords, 'the monopolizers of the great posts, and the oppressors of the poor and weak.'
This story requires some explanation. Ivan was always a great lover of scenic effect, and though he may not have indulged to the very letter in the lyric effusions the chroniclers have put into his mouth, and of which he himself has given us several versions, he may very well have discoursed on the Red Square in similar terms and under similar circumstances, for he was always a great talker. But what was the object of the scenic effect and of his speech? In the young monarch's appearance before his assembled subjects the Slavophiles hail a striking example, an ideal relationship between the ruler and the ruled—a relationship rooted in love, a characteristic trait of the Slav race, the only one capable of conceiving such a basis. Many historians, on the other hand, have taken the whole thing to be an appeal to the popular imagination against the boïar domination. These are all fancies.
We have no sure information as to the composition of the assembly of 1550, but if we judge by those convoked on later occasions, the representation of, the popular element in it seems more than doubtful. We have nothing to prove that the representative principle existed in it in any form or to any extent whatever. A passage in the chronicle known as the 'Chronicle of Khrouchtchov,' a manuscript of doubtful origin preserved in the archives of the Moscow Foreign Office, has been interpreted in this sense. This work, like the 'Collection' by Macarius, to which I have already referred, is a 'book of degrees' (Stépiénnaia Kniga), a form of compilation very usual at that period. But at the very place in question, Monsieur Platonov ('Studies of Russian History,' 1903, p. 223) has detected an interpolation, probably dating from the second half of the seventeenth century, and which was most likely made under the influence of ideas which had only then come into vogue. It should be taken, therefore, to reflect the constitution of assemblies convened at a much later date, and under quite different conditions, by Ivan's successors. As to the assembly of 1550, Ivan himself has given us a piece of information which tends in quite a contrary direction. Speaking at a conciliable called in the following year, and referring to his speech on the Red Square, he gives us a glimpse of the reality hidden by a deceptive mise-en-scène and under the flowers of a fallacious rhetoric. At Moscow, people were rely easily satisfied with words, or rather some people there had a marvellous faculty for using coin of this sort in payment of certain intricate scores. No other race ever had so pronounced a taste for face values, fiction, circumlocution; and this time, again, Ivan took good care not to speak quite clearly. 'I have urged,' he said, 'all my boïars, officials, and provincial governors to reconcile themselves with all the Christians in the Empire.' If we compare and condense the texts we arrive at a plausible conjecture: the assembly of 1550 was no more than a gathering of officials, an incident in the administrative life of that system the features of which I have already sketched, and the nature of which Ivan never dreamt of altering.
He had so little thought, at this juncture, of appealing to his people against his boïars—that is, against his officials—that, though he abused them roundly, his reproaches were addressed to themselves, and to themselves only. His discourse on the Red Square was an apostrophe ad homines, combined with a use of the third person. What could he have made out of the people? And how would he have got hold of it, to begin with—I mean men of that class who would have been capable of understanding anything about problems of this nature? And still less could he have found men fit to make any better hand of the work the others had done so ill.
But what was he driving at, then? At this: Without laying his hand on the system of 'service' nor on the sloojilyié lioodi, who had been abusing it so long and so hideously, Ivan hoped to improve the working of the machine by taking the command of the machinery into his own hands, and confiding it, in part, to creatures chosen by himself. Hence his announcement that he would do justice in his own person, and hence his appeal to Adachev's services. So much for the future. For the past, as 'everything could not be repaired,' it was necessary to pass a wet sponge over the face of an over-crowded slate. Thousands of complaints were waiting their turn, piles of papers were accumulating, in the hope of a settlement which, by the ordinary methods of the slowest and most complicated procedure ever known, was utterly impossible. Wherefore 'the triumph of virtue and of love,' like the 'reconciliation of all the Christians in the Empire,' simply meant, in the phraseology of that period, the substitution of a friendly arrangement for that interminable procedure. A tolerably short interval had been assigned for this purpose, no doubt, for in 1551 Ivan, found himself in a position to announce that the settlement of all the matters in suspense had been carried through.
The convoking of popular assemblies, in the strict meaning of that term, did not enter into the plan of the political edifice which Ivan had inherited, and the destruction of which he by no means contemplated, except in so far as to alter its internal arrangements at a future date, and thus adapt it to more modern needs. There was no place here for any Parliamentary institution, and so little idea was there of its introduction that the representatives of the aristocratic oligarchy, with Kourbski at their head, made not the slightest objection to the principle of periodical meetings, modelled on that of 1550, which they appear to have taken as a purely administrative and judicial expedient, and nothing more. Some of them, such as the author of a political pamphlet much talked of at that time, and to which I shall make further reference—'The Conversation of the Wonder-workers of Valaam'—even suggested the permanent institution of this particular form of council.
Yet there was no fresh attempt at convocation until 1566, and then, as before, it was for one special object—to look into the disputes with Poland. The official list of the members of this second assembly has come down to us. It comprises thirty-two members of the upper clergy, two hundred and fifty-eight boïars or sons of boïars, officials of various ranks, nine landed proprietors, fifty-three Moscow merchants, and twenty-three belonging to Smolensk, or who had business interests there, called by the generic title of smolianié. There is no trace as yet of any popular element. It is a council of 'men who serve,' with whom some men of special competence are associated, because the national relations with Poland affect trade, and more particularly those engaged in the frontier trade. There is no sign, either, of any return to the traditions of the ancient viétchié nor of any appeal to those of the representative assemblies of the West. It was probably the osviastchennyï sobor, the conciliable or council of the high ecclesiastical dignitaries, summoned regularly, since the most remote times, to discuss affairs affecting the Church and even the State, which suggested the idea, and provided the type of these other meetings, which ultimately received an analogous title, ziémskiié sobory—land conciliables or councils—in the administrative sense now conferred on that appellation. The correct meaning of the word sobor is conciliable.
The ancient viéchié were very unlike these. Neither the political nor the social organization of the Empire could supply any material for a process similar to that which, amongst other Slav races, and among the Germanic peoples, evolved representative institutions out of the primitive national assemblies. All the intermediate forms—the 'diets of nobles,' magna consilia, Herrentage—were lacking here. The ziémskiié sobor, like the boïarskaïa dowma, was the simple outcome of the habit, common to all Russian Princes, of calling their comrades, whom they afterwards turned into their 'servants,' into council. With the extension of the administrative service, a necessity for representation arose. It was not possible to summon all the sloojilyié loodi to Moscow. And, on the other hand, when the Government thought proper to appeal to the elective system for the bestowal of certain functions, the persons thus elected found themselves in possession of a sort of representative authority. It became the established custom, for certain deliberative purposes and the settlement of certain reckonings, to summon to the capital, at arbitrary intervals of time, a selection of officials, some of whom held an electoral mandate, not as members of an assembly, but as performers of their administrative functions. The admission to this assembly depended on a different system. In what did this consist? Was the choice made by election, and, if so, what form did that election take? We know nothing of all this. However it may have been, the officials summoned to the assembly only appeared as, and because they were, officials. They did not represent social, they represented administrative, interests. They raised their voices, not as the advocates of certain corporate groups, but as Government organs, called to furnish information to the central administration, and take their orders from it. Here was all that underlay the fictitious appearance of this deliberative assembly, from which the Government occasionally made believe to take advice, but to which, in sober truth, it simply gave its orders.
Of any such thing as political rights pertaining to these phantom representatives, or to those who elected them—in spite of the wily endeavours of the Muscovite policy to cultivate an illusion, favoured by the uncertain form to which the institution was always restricted—there never was a question. As a matter of fact, once more, there is no trace of any legislative work accomplished by any of these assemblies nor even of any spontaneous decision come to by them. The nomad character of the first Russian settlements had prevented any development of corporative elements, or the formation of any strongly-constituted classes. The task of grouping the scattered forces of society had thus fallen to the central power, which, in performing it, had naturally applied itself more to imposing duties on the associations it called into being than to acknowledging that they possessed rights of their own. As a consequence, the political edifice, both in its general structure and as to its inner details, was entirely founded on the principle of 'dues,' the tiaglo; and even the introduction of the elective system into this architecture did not modify its fundamental features. In the absence of any sufficiently developed social interests, or any adequate consciousness of them, electors and elected saw nothing in this concession beyond another burden to be added to its predecessors. Even if it possessed an elective basis, which is by no means clearly proved, the institution of the ziémskiié sobory—the result of a State need, and not a victory won by the emancipated forces of freedom; the outcome of a Government extemporization, and not of the long travail of a nation's life, a superstructure mechanically adjusted on the exterior of a huge archaic building, and not the fruit of any internal development at all—was no more than an incident and an ephemeral phenomenon in the country's history. Between 1550 and 1653, sixteen of these assemblies were called, and the memories and regrets left by the last are neither very sharp nor over deep. As an arbitrary act on the part of the only real power had called them into life, so did another arbitrary act send them back into the darkness, and neither their existence nor their exit made much mark upon the destinies of the Russian race. If the constitutional inaptitude of this particular branch of the Slav family for the free forms of political existence, acknowledged by some historians, be an antiphrasis, and its vocation for perpetual absolutism a blasphemy, it is quite certain that no serious attempt at a Parliamentary system was appropriate to the shadow of the Kremlin in the sixteenth century.
The whole historical importance of the assembly of 1550 lies in the troubles which paved the way to the expedient, and in the other and more efficacious measures of which it was the starting-point. The Tsar had proved that he realized the painful sores from which the body of society was suffering. He had stripped them boldly. He was about to show his anxiety to do more than dress them with the panacea thus supplied. The following year was to inaugurate the era of reform.