Ivan the Terrible/Part 3/Chapter 2
I.—THE FICTIONS AND REALITIES OF THE DRAMA. II.—THE TERROR. III.—THE TSAR SIMEON. IV.—THE OPRITCHNINA AT THE BAR OF HISTORY.
I.—The Fictions and Realities of the Drama.
Most of my Russian readers and some of my French ones have read the adventures of Prince Serebrianyï, as related by Alexis Tolstoï. The hero of the tale, returning to Russia after an embassy to a foreign Power, meets a troop of armed men, whom he takes, by their appearance and behaviour, for lawless bandits. He sees them sack a village and murder or violate the inhabitants. He acts according to the dictates of his brave heart, and then only, when the law has laid its hand on his collar, does he discover he has been guilty of treason. The men he had taken for brigands are the Tsar's servants, and their performances a perfectly regular specimen of the new order of things imposed on the country. The culprit is conducted to the monarch's new residence, the Sloboda of Alexandrov, and passes from one surprise and horror to another—from the courtyard where roving bears bar the way of suspicious-looking visitors, to the banqueting-hall, the road to which is fringed with torture-chambers and dungeons, and where the Tsar, surrounded by guests disguised in monkish attire, distributes gloomy smiles and cups of poisoned liquor. Everywhere his foot slips in blood: an evil smell of carnage hangs in the air, the joyous yells of the drunken feasters mingle with the shrieks of pain wrung from prisoners who are being tortured close by. The whole palace is a Gehenna, a charnel-house. And wherefore? No man knows, or rather all men guess: the Tsar is amusing himself, and these are his pleasures.
The novelist has not relied wholly and solely on his imagination. He has sought to write history, and history, in the person of her most illustrious exponents in his own country, has furnished him with the elements of his picture, with his outline and his pigments. This is the Opritchnina, as the story is told by Karamzine, by Soloviov, by Kostomaroy, and in our own days by Klioutchevski and Mikhaïlovski—a hideous tale of massacre, ordered, without reason, without object, by a Sovereign who treated himself to this bloody play, perpetrated, shamelessly and remorselessly, by men who rode up and down the country with their insignia, a dog's head and a broom, hung at their saddle-bow, and whose watchword was murder and pillage. Soaked with blood, laden with plunder, they made their way home, donned a monk's frock, to add profanation to their other crimes, and with their master, himself disguised as a prior, plunged into the vilest orgies. These were the Opritchniki.
But other and later historians have applied themselves to the same task, and their inquiry into the same facts, and scrutiny of the same individuals, has led them to a different view of the same drama, and another interpretation of the strange riddle it presents. Behind that terrifying scene and its horrible surroundings they have discovered an idea; under the deceptive appearances of a sanguinary madness they have thought they perceived a carefully-digested plan, carried out with as much tenacity as vigour; they have discerned the existence of huge projects of reform, political, social, and economic, put into action by means that were reprehensible, indeed, but which may have been necessary to some extent. The riddle has not been entirely solved. It still holds out against its interpreters' efforts. But one fact is certain: in their manner of interpreting and representing the Opritchnina, the historians of the old school have fallen into a three-fold error. They have mistaken appearances for realities, accessories for essentials, and a part for the whole.
I shall explain myself better by taking one example. Imagine a history of the French Revolution—and this, perhaps, is not an entirely gratuitous supposition—cut down to the evocation of a few scenes and characters culled from the Jacobin Club, the Temple prison, and the Place de la Nation. This would be the equivalent of what was given us for a lengthened period as the foundation and essence of ten years of the political existence of the reign of Ivan the Terrible. And this cannot be wondered at, when we consider that the document most indispensable to an understanding of the episode, the decree which constitutes the Opritchnina, though preserved in the archives, has remained unpublished, and continues inaccessible, even in our own day. Other documents have either been lost or have also remained unknown. I now proceed to the facts we do possess.
Kourbski's flight, which was preceded and followed by similar attempts, some successful and others continually threatening to become so, had placed Ivan in a position calculated to render his future most perplexing and uncertain. To accomplish the tasks he had set himself, at home and abroad, one necessitated by the other—for his internal reforms supplied the necessary instruments for his external enterprises—many men and large sums of money were needful. Where was he to find them? Except when, more concerned about their own privileges than the common weal, they were losing battles through fighting over their respective places, or making compacts with the enemy, the men melted into space. As to money, the same men, either as heads of the administration or holders of the soil, chief wealth of the country, disposed of that, keeping its use or control in their own hands. Whether as voiévodes, lieutenants, judges, members of the Supreme Court, chiefs of the various offices, they were everywhere, held everything, except when, on the ancient vottchiny, where each had his own court and his own soldiery, exercised a jurisdiction which was almost without appeal, and refused to pay taxes, almost without exception, they were putting on kingly airs, or else claiming theoretically superior titles, and putting forward pretensions against those of the 'younger branch' at Moscow, which, empty and void as they were for all future purposes, were worrying enough, nevertheless.
As to breaking up the system of his administrative and military organization, Ivan could not dream of such a thing. The life of sixteenth-century Moscow resided in her traditions. Over individuals, the Tsar's power was unlimited; but it failed in face of an order of things of which he himself, his rank, his prestige, and his authority, were integral parts. While the Princes and boïars, accustomed to look on the government of the country as their own property, a sphere belonging to them by prescriptive right, regarded their functions as independent of any investiture on his part, and considered the Miéstnitchestvo a guarantee for this hereditary privilege, the Sovereign found it difficult to say them nay, seeing his own power had the same origin, and was founded on the same title. All these descendants of Rurik or Guedymin, boïars and Tsar alike, had ruled in Russia in the old days—each man apart, on his own appanage. The Government was collective now—one man on the throne, the others at the head of an office or a province. But none the less were they all members of the same company, of the same faimly, and no man of them had any right to say, 'This house is mine, you must go out of it!' And as far as the individuals were concerned, how would Ivan have filled their places? The dozen of men, such as Skouratov and Griaznoï, whom he succeeded in pushing into the foremost rank, after Sylvester and Adachev had disappeared, 'taking them out of the mud,' as he said himself, and generally out of that class of the Popovitchy (sons of popes) which still plays so prominent a part in what is called 'intelligence' in Russia, could not furnish him with the capital, material and moral, represented by the others. Outside the ranks of that aristocracy with which his policy had brought him into conflict he had no resources at all—everything was a blank. Between those two products of history, the boïarstvo and the samodiérjavié, no divorce was possible. A compromise was the thing needful, and it was on a compromise that Ivan decided at this tragic moment. But he took good care not to say what he meant to do. The Russia of the sixteenth century, as we have already seen, was a country of mysteries. There was a mask on every face, and everything was hidden under some disguise.
On December 3, 1564, a Sunday, Ivan had all his treasures, his money, his plate, his gems, his furniture, and his ikons, packed on to waggons, and, followed by a huge train, many boïars chosen out of various towns, and his whole Court and household, he left his capital with his second wife, Maria Temrioukovna, a half-savage Circassian, as violent and passionate as himself. For some time, nobody in Moscow heard anything of him, and no man knew whither he had betaken himself, or wherefore he had departed. He went first of all to the village of Kolomenskoié, where bad weather detained him for a fortnight. He then spent some days at Taïninskoié, another village in the neighbourhood of Moscow, and near the Troïtsa, and finally took up his quarters in a suburb of the little town of Alexandrov, north of Vladimir. There he revealed the motives and object of his unwonted exodus. On January 3, a courier reached Moscow with a letter from the Tsar to the Metropolitan. In it the monarch, after dwelling at length on the misdeeds of the voiévodes and officials of every degree, and the clergy, upper and lower, declared he had 'laid his anger' on them all, from the greatest to the least. This was what was called the Opala, a sort of ban, which placed all those affected by it in a state of disgrace and incapacity to perform any active function, whether about the Court or in the service of the State. At the same time Ivan announced his determination to leave the Empire and establish himself 'wherever God should counsel him to go.' There was something contradictory in the terms of the message. The Tsar was abdicating, then? And yet he used his authority to punish his subjects. But this message, again, was accompanied by another, addressed to the merchants and 'the whole Christian population of Moscow,' and its contents were to the effect that, as far as they were concerned, the Tsar had no cause of complaint, nor any feeling of displeasure.
What was the meaning of it all? Probably people knew that as partially then as they do now. But so accustomed were the Russians of that day to riddles, that they did not hesitate as to the course they should pursue. The Tsar, displeased with a certain section of his subjects, was meditating some dark design against them, the nature of which would not be revealed till its effects made themselves felt. What was apparent at the present moment was merely the usual setting of the scene. Obediently all men prepared to bear their part in the coming comedy. The boïars betrayed the correct amount of emotion, the populace rose up, shouted aloud, and was much affected. The merchants offered money, the most eloquent fashion of proving their share in the general feeling, and the Metropolitan was called upon to intercede with the Sovereign. Ivan was entreated not to forsake his people, but to rule as best pleased him, and mete out such treatment as he deemed fit to those of whom he thought he had reason to complain. A deputation took its way to Alexandrov, and the Tsar allowed himself to be mollified, but he made his own conditions; he intended to keep all traitors and rebels in disgrace, to put some to death, and confiscate their fortunes, and he would not go back to Moscow till he had organized his Opritchnina.
This, in the common parlance of that day, was the name applied to the dowry paid to the wives of the great Princes. At banquets, certain special dishes which the amphitryon kept in front of himself, and the contents of which he divided amongst his chief guests, were called Opritchnyié. And a particular class of peasants settled on the lands belonging to certain monasteries were known as Opritchniki (from opritch, a part). Let my readers now cast their minds back to the ukase of October 10, 1550 (see p. 148), which gave the district of Moscow a territorial and political constitution of its own, and settled a selection of sloojilyié lioodi, taken from every rank of the nobility and every province of the Empire, within its borders. Without any essential modification of the existing order of things, solely by virtue of this transplanting process and of a change in the nature of the tenure, Ivan had summoned the men just transplanted to form the nucleus of a court, an administration, and an army, all reorganized on a new basis. The Opritchnina of 1565, in its fundamental idea, was neither more nor less than the extension and wider application of this original plan.
Ivan now divided his Empire into two parts. One of these was to preserve its ancient organization and its ancient government—in other words, the voiévodes, lieutenants, bailiffs, and kormlenchtchiki of every kind were to carry on the administration as it had been carried on hitherto, a college presided over by two boïars taking the place of the Supreme Council as the centre of the various services. The other part, which comprised various portions of the country, a certain number of towns, and several quarters of the capital city, was converted into a sort of dowry or appanage, which the Tsar kept for himself, and on which, with a thousand boïars or boïars' sons, chosen by himself, he was about to follow up the experiment of 1550.
I must insist here on the scope of this experiment, which may be summed up in two principal features: the transformation of the freehold properties into fiefs, and the removal of owners from one holding to another. To take the proprietor of an hereditary freehold, subject to no charges of any kind, to tear him out of the corner of the soil on which, for centuries past, his fortune and importance had sprouted, grown, and struck their roots; to part him from his natural adherents, break off all his natural connections, and, having thus uprooted him, isolated him, and removed him from his own sphere, to set him down elsewhere, as far as possible from his native place, to give him another property, but on a life interest, and on terms exacting service, and the payment of the usual taxes from him, and thus to make a new man of him, a man without a past, without backing, defenceless—this was the constitution of the system. So, at least, we may suppose, for Ivan never revealed his secret. But, though the fact has hitherto passed unnoticed, the evident connection between the two decrees, that of 1550 and that of 1565, does indicate a system, and all we know of the two measures, of their character and their application, is in favour of the correctness of the conjecture I have adopted, after the example of Monsieur Platonov, who seems to me to have approached nearest to the truth ('Essays on the History of the Political Disturbances of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,' St. Petersburg, 1899, i. 137, etc.), and Monsieur Milioukoy, whom I am inclined to think a little further removed from it ('Essays on the History of Russian Culture,' 1896, i. 147, etc.), by his determination to see nothing, either in Ivan's reforms or in Peter the Great's, except financial expedients.
Ivan's horizon was certainly wider than this. During his lifetime, and even after his death, silence has been kept, by superior order, concerning all this undertaking. Questions on the subject must have been foreseen when an embassy from the Tsar went into Poland in 1565. Muscovite diplomacy was in the habit of providing against possible indiscretions by foreseeing such inquiries, and dictating the replies beforehand. Thus, if the envoys were asked what the Opritchnina was, they were to answer, 'We do not know what you mean. There is no Opritchnina. The Tsar is living in the place of residence he has been pleased to choose, and such of his servants as have given him cause for satisfaction are there with him, or are settled close by; the others are a little farther off—that is all. If peasants, who know nothing about anything, talk about an Opritchnina, people should not listen to them.' The same orders were given to other embassies, in 1567 and 1571 ('Collections of the Imperial Society of Russian History,' vol. lxxi., pp. 461, 777).
But facts began to speak in their turn. The part of the Empire originally given up to the Opritchnina was gradually increased till it comprised a good half of the Tsar's dominions, and till the Opritchniki numbered 5,000, instead of 1,000, men. In 1565, the provinces of Vologda, Oustioug, Kargopol, Mojaïsk, and Viazma were added; in 1566, all the Stroganov properties; in 1571, part of the province of Novgorod. Each fresh extension was accompanied by a distribution of freehold lands or fiefs, taken from their original possessors. These received territorial compensation in other provinces, where they replaced, by a process of exchange, the Opritchniki who had been substituted for themselves on their old holdings—unless, indeed, they had the good luck to be received into the Opritchnina without undergoing expropriation or exile. And the districts claimed by the Opritchnina in the central provinces were just those in which the remnants of the old appanage system were largest and strongest. It laid its hand, thus, on the hereditary patrimonies of the Dukes of Rostov, Starodoub, Souzdal, and Tchernigoy. It swallowed up, too, the territories 'beyond the Oka,' the ancient inheritance of yet another group of appanaged Princes—the Odoiévski, the Vorotynski, and the Troubetskoï. Some of these, Prince Feodor Mikhaïlovitch Troubetskoï, Prince Nikita Ivanovitch Odoiévski, allowed themselves to be enrolled under the banners of the new system, and proved its zealous servants. The rest were forced to migrate. Thus, in exchange for Odoiév, Prince Michael Ivanovitch Vorotynski received Starodoub-Riapolovski, some hundred miles further west. Other landowners in that country were given lands in the districts near Moscow, round Kolomna, Dmitrov, and Zvenigorod.
One instance will suffice to show the practical consequences of this moving to and fro. Out of 272 freehold domains in the district of Tver, the proprietors of 53 gave the State no service of any sort or kind; some of these were the lieges of Prince Vladimir Andreiévitch, the Tsar's cousin, the others owed service to descendants of the old appanaged Princes, one to an Obolenski, another to a Mikoulinski, or a Mstislavski, a Galitzine, a Kourliatev, or even to some plain boïar. The Opritchnina altered all this. It brought about a general devolution of everything that was owed on the one and only master who had set himself in the place of all the others. At the same time it suppressed the local military bodies, thanks to which the Tsar's unruly vassals frequently made themselves more dangerous to him than to his foes; it proclaimed the law of individual service, and over all the country its rule affected it established a system of direct and indirect taxation levied for the benefit of the Treasury.
Swayed, too, by economic and financial considerations which I do not dream of denying, it most particularly sought to obtain possession of the towns along the great trade routes of the Empire, and to this change of system—this is worth observing—the traders affected were by no means opposed. The representatives of the English company craved admission to it as a favour. The Stroganovs followed the same course. The only roads between the capital-and the frontier which escaped the Opritchnina's attention were those running southward, through Toula and Riazan, and these were probably omitted because no apparent advantage was to be derived from their inclusion.
It is only with the greatest difficulty that any full inventory of the territories annexed by the Opritchnina has been drawn up, for documents precise enough to serve as a foundation for the calculation do not exist. It seems to have ended by comprising a great slice of the central and northern provinces, bailiwicks, and towns, and of the coast as well (pomorié), all the districts of the Zamoskovié (Moscow region), all the regions 'beyond the Oka,' and two districts (piatiny) out of the five which constituted the province of Novgorod—those of Obonéjé and Biéjetsk. The Opritchnina, the northern boundaries of which thus rested on the 'great ocean-sea,' as it was called in those days, cut cornerwise into the territory handed over to the old system, the Ziémchtchina (ziémia, land), as it was called, while it ran southward as far as the Oka, eastward towards Viatka, and westward up to the Lithuanian-German frontier. The provinces of Perm, Viatka, and Riazan on the east, and the dependencies of Pskov and Novgorod, with the frontier towns, Vielikié-Louki, Smolensk, and Siéviérsk, on the west, were not included in the new organization. Southwards the two zones of the Ziémchtchina were connected by the Ukraine and by wild steppes (dikoié pole).
In the centre of the country, as I have just said, the Opritchnina only affected certain localities, and the bailiwicks, towns, and town quarters under its jurisdiction were mingled in unimaginable and indescribable confusion with those of the Ziémchtchina. But of the important towns, the old system only kept Tver, Vladimir, and Kalouga, and it may be said, generally speaking, to have been pushed back towards the far ends of the Empire. This was a reversal of the history of Rome, which assumed immediate authority over her most distant provinces, so as to draw the steel-clad circle of her legions round the heart of the Empire.
Towards the year 1572, the Opritchnina lost its original name. It was then called the Court (dvor). At that moment it already possessed all the characteristics of a regularly constituted State organization, and in its working, indeed, it preserved all the administrative forms of the old system, so much so that it is not easy to discover, from any document of that period, which of the two branches thus wedded together has issued it. In principle the Opritchnina did not even suppress the Miéstnitchestvo: it simply forbade the application of that system within its own borders. Its action and that of the Ziémchtchina ran on parallel and concerted lines, and both possessed a common centre in the Offices of War and Finance. Diaks attached to these two branches of the Government overlooked the distribution of the business connected with each. It seems probable, at least, that affairs followed this course, for the coexistence and concerted labours of the two sets of officials are an established fact, which suffices to destroy the legend of an Opritchnina confined to the duties of a mere political police force. In 1570, authentic documents show us the Opritchnina and the Ziémchtchina summoned to deliberate, through their respective representatives—all of them boïars—on questions connected with the Lithuanian frontier. The discussions were held separately, but an agreement was reached. There is no trace of any enmity or conflict. That very same year, and the next, detachments furnished by both organizations went campaigning together against the Tartars, and perfect harmony appears to have reigned between them.
The solution of the problem confronting Ivan furnished by the Opritchnina was certainly not wholly satisfactory. What was needed was something which would have annulled the twofold contradiction which afflicted his whole Empire: a contradiction in politics arising out of the fact that the historical march of events had endued the Sovereign with an absolute power founded on a democratic basis, which he was obliged to exercise through an aristocracy; a social contradiction resulting from the fact that this same Sovereign, in his quest of fresh food for the growing ambitions of his Empire, and to insure it, was forced into making over his productive class, bound hand and foot, to the arbitrary will of his non-producers, his 'men who serve,' his soldiers, and his tax collectors.
As far as the destruction of the aristocratic element is concerned, the Opritchnina proved a failure. But it shook it sorely, and Ivan's plan probably did not go beyond this result. Apart from the great and mighty lords it enrolled, and by enrolling disarmed them, only an elect few of the aristocratic class escaped, such as Prince Ivan Feodorovitch Mstislavski and Prince Ivan Dmitriévitch Biélski, both of them placed at the head of the Ziémchtchina—two inoffensive utility actors. It destroyed all the political importance of the class, and the effect of this was to be manifest, even after Ivan's death, in the preponderating part played by parvenus created by him, such as Zakharine and Godounoy. Others of his subjects, of yet humbler extraction, peasants, Cossacks, Tartars, recruited in increasing numbers to fill the gaps caused by his confiscations and wholesale executions, not to mention his transplantings, ended by forming a comparatively numerous body, and a powerful weapon for levelling and democratic purposes. 'My father's boïars and my own have learnt to be traitors,' wrote Ivan to Vassiouchka Griaznoi, 'so we have resolved to call on you, vile varlets, and from you we expect fidelity and truth!' And Vassiouchka replied: 'You are like unto God! You make a little man into a great man!'
This revolution—for a revolution it certainly was—could not be accomplished without some kind of struggle. Everywhere, in the lowest classes, where it broke bonds that were centuries old, in the towns and country places, into which it introduced strange elements, on the great landed properties which it divided up, calling a new agricultural and industrial proletariat into existence, it wounded innumerable feelings and interests. I have already shown how, by destroying the ancient administrative autonomy of the peasants, now made subject to their new proprietors in all those matters as to which they had hitherto dealt directly with the State, it contributed, indirectly, to the establishment of serfdom. It had a more immediate effect in quickening the current of emigration amongst the elements thus disaggregated, and hastening, through the increase of the calls made on them, the exhaustion of the resources dependent on those elements. From this point of view, Ivan's undertaking is open to much blame, and his conflict with Poland was soon to demonstrate the weak side of a work in other respects useful, and no doubt even necessary.
Its execution was attended by excesses of various sorts, which cannot fail to attract severe judgment. This is the common law of all great crises of this kind, and few which have escaped it are known to history. But the historian cannot regard the Opritchnina from one point of view only, and he must allow for some undoubted exaggeration in all the various reports of the violence which certainly soiled and jeopardized it at the time, and which in the eyes of posterity, has veiled and warped its real character and genuine aims. These reports, generally emanating from interested witnesses, like Kourbski, or deliberately hostile ones, such as most foreigners were, cannot be unquestioningly accepted. Means of verification are, unhappily, almost entirely non-existent. I will endeavour, however, to get as near the truth as possible, even if I fail to reach it altogether.
Ivan had reserved himself the right of chastising certain of his boïars; nobody could imagine he would relinquish it. Kourbski having escaped him, the Tsar fell on the fugitive's accomplices, real or supposed. Under this accusation, Prince Alexander Borissovitch Chouïski, with his young son Peter and several of his kinsmen, including two members of the Khovryne family—Prince Ivan Soukhoï Kachine, Prince Dmitri Chevirev, and others—were put to death. Other poor wretches—Prince Ivan Kourakine, and Prince Dmitri Niémogo—paid with their heads for misdeeds as to which we have no information. Sentences of banishment and confiscation followed, and it was not till the Terrible had thus satisfied his rage and begun his dreaded work that he consented to return to his captial. One chronicler tells us the inhabitants could hardly recognise their Sovereign; his face was distorted, and he had lost all his hair. This feature may be noted as a premonitory symptom of what a lively imagination has been able to add to the realities of the drama, already sufficiently gloomy. As the Tsar, like all the men of his period, was in the habit of shaving his head, his sudden baldness can hardly have struck his observers, and soon, indeed, he was.to give only too certain proofs of his health and strength.
My readers will recollect the episode of the Polish letters intercepted by Ivan. Some of the persons for whom these missives had been intended, and on whom suspicion now fell—old Ivan Petrovitch Tcheliadnine and his wife, Prince Ivan Kourakine-Boulgakov, three Princes Rostovski, and others—were whirled into the tempest, handed over to the executioner, tortured horribly, and put to death. Even the Church had her turn. Apart from the solidarity of interest which bound her to the victims of the new system, she here found a more pressing opportunity than ever for claiming that right of intercession which was her most precious privilege and her noblest claim to glory. In the person of one of Macarius's successors as Metropolitan of Moscow, she was to draw down the thunderbolt on her own head. Macarius himself had already come forward, very cautiously, but not unmeritoriously, in favour of several of the attainted adherents of the Church. He had pleaded for Vorontsov, and probably for Sylvester himself. His immediate successor, a monk from the monastery of Tchoudov, Athanasius by name, was more timid, and remained an impassive spectator of the first violent episodes of the Opritchnina. Falling ill, he resigned his see, in 1566, to the Archbishop of Kazan, Herman, who only held it for a very short time. Ivan's new favourites plotted his removal, and suggested a successor, the choice of whom would be quite inexplicable if, owing to the lack of any other information, we were to accept that reputation for savage brutality attributed to them.
Philip, abbot of the monastery of Solovki, a member of the illustrious Kolytchev family, who had been driven from Court by the disgrace into which his kinsfolk had fallen, and forced to become a monk, was noted for his great virtues and his remarkable powers of government: Ivan, it is said, had known and loved him in his youth. The metropolitan see was offered to him. He began by refusing to accept it unless the Opritchnina was done away with. Finally he yielded, and gave a written undertaking not to interfere in politics, nor in the Tsar's private life. This last, which was growing more and more irregular and dissolute, was beginning to cause general dissatisfaction. But at the same time, Ivan recognised the new pontiff's right of intercession: 'Your duty is not to go against the Sovereign's will, but to endeavour to turn his wrath aside.' In the result, the Tsar soon began to avoid seeing the Metropolitan. But they lived too near each other. Even when he was at the Sloboda at Alexandrov, Ivan was obliged to pay occasional visits to his capital, and put in an appearance in the churches there. On such occasions, meetings were inevitable.
One Sunday—it was on May 31, 1568—the Tsar entered the Cathedral of the Assumption, attended by his Opritchniki disguised as monks, and asked, as usual, for the Metropolitan's blessing. Philip held his peace. Three times Ivan returned to the charge, each time in vain. At last, when the boïars reproached him, the pontiff broke the silence, and before the astounded company a tragic dialogue between the two men ensued. In a long discourse Philip enumerated all the Sovereign's crimes and all his debauchery, the monarch vainly striving to interrupt him.
'If the living souls were to hold their peace,' said the priest, 'the very stones of this church would speak, and cry out against thee!'
'Hold thy peace!' said the Tsar over and over again—'that's all I say to thee! Hold thy peace, and give us thy blessing!'
'My silence lays a sin upon thy soul, and calls down thy death. …'
'Hold thy peace! … My subjects, my kinsmen, rose against me, and plotted my ruin. … Rebel no more, along with them, or quit thy see!'
'I never asked to be put into this see. I used neither money nor intrigue to obtain it. Why didst thou call me from my hermitage? …'
Ivan controlled himself, and even made as though he would return to a more humane state of mind. But the very next day he had Prince Vassili Pronski put to death with frightful torments, and in the following month of June, another dispute at the monastery of the Holy Virgin settled the Metroolitan's fate. The Bishops of Novgorod, Souzdal, and Riazan lent themselves, like cowards, to a sham trial, in which Philip's successor at the monastery of Solovki—Paisiï—appeared as a hostile witness. Without waiting for sentence, and the moment he was summoned before this court, the Metropolitan attempted to resign his insignia of office. But Ivan stopped him.
'Wait,' he said; 'thou hast no right to judge thyself!' And he ordered him to say Mass the next morning, just as usual. It was St. Michael's Day. Meanwhile the sentence condemning the accused man to perpetual imprisonment in a monastery was to be pronounced, and the Tsar, faithful to his love of theatrical effect, was preparing a coup de théâtre. When Mass began, the Opritchniki entered the cathedral, stripped the Metropolitan of his vestments, cast a tattered monk's frock about him, threw him on to a sledge, and drove him off, sweeping up the ground behind him and beating him with their brooms. He was shut up at Tver, and thither, the next year, Ivan, then on his way to Novgorod, sent him the fiercest of his myrmidons, Maliouta-Skouratov. The Tsar actually dared to claim the prisoner's blessing! Some narratives assure us that Skouratov brought a violent scene to a close by strangling the ex-Metropolitan. But, according to other witnesses, he was taken to the Sloboda at Alexandrov, and there burnt alive. The corpse of the holy man, which was brought back to the monastery of Solovki after Ivan's death, became an object of general veneration. In 1652, under the reign of Alexis, he was canonized, and his relics still attract crowds of faithful believers to that Cathedral of the Assumption in which his martyrdom began.
Ivan, more and more resolved to strike hard and spare nobody, could not permit anyone to interpose between himself and those he thought it necessary to remove out of his path. He was about to deliver blows just as terrible within his own family. When, in his altercation with Philip, he spoke of the kinsfolk who had rebelled against him, he was thinking, no doubt, of his first cousin, Vladimir Andréiévitch. As early as in 1563 he had suspected him of being concerned in a plot, publicly reprimanded him, and obliged him to break with all his associates, and even with his mother Euphrosyne, who had been forced to take the veil. In 1566, he deprived him of his appanage, and only gave him very poor compensation—two small towns, Dmitrov and Zvenigorod, to replace Staritsa! In 1569, the unhappy Prince, who, according to a foreign chronicler, had offered to pass over into the King of Poland's service, disappeared, either murdered or beheaded, or poisoned, with all his family, with a poison he himself was said to have prepared for the Tsar! All the witnesses on this subject disagree. Taube and Krause, who are responsible for the last version, declare Ivan was present at the death agony of the whole family, and diverted himself, when that was over, by the sight of all the womenservants of the household, who were stripped of their garments, driven naked through the streets, beaten with whips, and finally shot or cut down, and their corpses left to be devoured by birds of prey. This story must be received with caution. Vladimir's eldest son was still alive in 1572, for Ivan mentions him in his will, which bears that date. As for Euphrosyne, Kourbski reports, and Ivan has not contradicted him, that, whether at that moment or later, she was taken out of her convent and drowned.
All these terrors are governed by a law of progression. The passions they excited and the sensations they dulled, united in a cry for constantly stronger and more startling effects. Vladimir may have given Ivan cause to suspect him of a certain guilty connivance with Poland. In the following year a whole town was to answer for a similar suspicion. A certain Peter, called Volyniéts, who came from Volhynia—a vagabond who had a crow to pick with the Novgorod authorities—denounced the inhabitants of that town, declaring they were inclined to go over to Sigismund-Augustus, and that a written agreement to that effect would be found behind the picture of the Blessed Virgin in the monastery of St. Sophia. In Russia, till far into the eighteenth century, such hiding-places remained in constant use. Peter Volyniéts was an utter miscreant, but previous events gave some colour to his accusations. Novgorod, a free town, had already gravitated in the Lithuanian-Polish orbit, and, when her independence had been threatened, had placed herself, by a formal deed, under the protection of King Casimir, and that as his dependent. The document the informer had described was found in the place he had mentioned, and bore the signatures, apparently authentic, of the Archbishop, Pimenius, and many important persons in the city. An inquiry, the papers connected with which are mentioned by Karamzine ('History of Russia,' vol. ix., p. 299, note), brought out facts as to complicity, in which some of the Tsar's new favourites—Basmanov, Founikov, his Treasurer, and Viskovatyi, his Chancellor—seemed to be involved. No less a thing had been contemplated than the giving over of Novgorod and Pskov to Lithuania, and the substitution, on the throne of Moscow, of Vladimir for Ivan, to be achieved with the help of Poland. The illustrious historian cannot really have studied the papers referred to, for all that remained of them in his day was a memorandum in the lists of the archives, and their disappearance must be taken for granted. Thus we find ourselves face to face with a fresh riddle. This time Ivan was to make fearful reprisals, exceeding everything of the sort that had ever been seen even at Moscow, and undef his rule. That they were prompted by some motive, even if they were not fully justified, is more than likely. But to what extent?
The Tsar had paid frequent visits to Novgorod, and his relations with the Archbishop and his clergy had hitherto been most excellent. Pimenius had just spent fifteen weeks at Moscow, and departed bearing a large sum of money given by the Sovereign to restore a church. The storm that broke over the town in January, 1570, was therefore quite unexpected. At that inclement season of the year, Ivan started forth with his Opritchniki and a whole army corps, as if he were going forth to war. A military execution it was to be, indeed, and one before which the memories of the first Livonian campaign, hideous as they had been, were destined to pale. The punishment began on the frontier of the province of Tver, and involved the systematic destruction of the whole country. All along his road from Klin to Novgorod the Tsar left nothing but a desert behind him. On January 2, his outposts made their appearance under the walls of the town, and hemmed it in completely. The monasteries in the suburbs were sacked, and the monks, 500 of them, taken away. The next morning, when the Opritchniki entered the town, they carried off the priests and deacons from every church, and all these men, whether priests or monks, were sent to the praviéje. They were bastinadoed every morning and every night, and ordered to pay twenty roubles each. The records lead us to believe that some were so fortunate as to be able to pay the money, and thus obtain their freedom. A hideous fate awaited the rest. The Tsar's myrmidons had meanwhile been busily engaged in emptying all the houses, and collecting the inhabitants within a military cordon. On January 6, a Friday, Ivan arrived, accompanied by his son and 1,500 Striéltsy, and his first order was that every monk who remained in the praviéje was to be flogged to death. Then the corpses were to be taken back to the monasteries and buried there.
Now the secular clergy was to have its turn. On the Sunday, when the Tsar went to Mass, he was met on the bridge, according to custom, by the clergy, headed by the Archbishop, who, as usual, offered him his blessing. Ivan refused it, calling him a 'ravening wolf,' but nevertheless commanded Pimenius to officiate as usual in the Church of St. Sophia. He was preparing him a course of treatment which was to be a repetition of the story of his dispute with Philip. According to custom, again, he accepted an invitation to dine at the Archbishop's table. He seemed merry enough, and was eating with a hearty appetite, when a shrill cry was heard. At that signal the Opritchniki flew to perform the task assigned them beforehand. In a moment the Archbishop's house was given over to pillage, and he himself stripped of his insignia and cast into prison with all his servants. During the days that followed, the terror attained colossal proportions. On the great square of the town, where, in a parody of judicial procedure, the usual apparatus of implements of torture was displayed, the Tsar proceeded to mete out summary justice. The townsfolk, led before him by 100 at a time, were put to the question, roasted over a slow fire by some new and, as it would appear, particularly ingenious process (podjar), and then condemned, for the most part, to death, and sent out to be drowned. Covered with blood, and gasping, they were bound on sledges, driven rapidly down a steep incline to a place where, owing to the great rapidity of the current, the river never freezes, and there cast into the abyss. The children were tied to their mothers, so that they might drown with them; and Opritchniki armed with pikes, who moved about in boats on the surface of the river, took good care no victim should escape.
These massacres, according to the 'Third Chronicle of Novgorod,' lasted five weeks, and the days on which the number of persons of both sexes who suffered did not exceed 500 or 600 were few and far between. On some the tale of victims reached 1,500. The 'First Chronicle of Pskov' reckons the total at 60,000. These figures seem improbable. As to the general statistics of the executions ordered by Ivan, we possess a document left us by the monarch himself, and the information he supplies agrees, in many cases, with that supplied by Kourbski and the various chroniclers. My Russian readers will have guessed that I refer to the Sinodiki, a kind of obituary list the Sovereign was in the habit of sending to the monasteries, to request the monks' prayers for the persons he himself had sent out of life into death. His cruelty, like that of Louis IX., was always, even when it affected Churchmen, attended by pious scruples and devout practices. As regards Novgorod, the list preserved at the monastery of St. Cyril only contains 1,500 names; but another Sinodik, belonging to the monastery of the Blessed Saviour at Prilouki, proves that the names thus enshrined were those of the more prominent victims only. Guagnino and Oderborn speak, in the same category, of 2,770 persons as having been killed at Novgorod, without reckoning the humbler folk.
Be that as it may, the slaughter was immense and abominable, and when there were no more human beings for him to strike, Ivan turned his fury against inanimate things. As he had shown peculiar ferocity in his dealings with the monasteries, which he had taken to be the chief centre of the spirit of revolt, he strove, and for the same reason no doubt, to destroy the trade and industry of the great city. All the shops within the town, and the very dwelling-houses in the suburbs, the chief home of its commercial and industrial life, were first systemically stripped, and then razed to the ground, the Tsar personally superintending the process, while his Opritchniki scoured the whole of the neighbouring country within a radius of from 200 to 250 versts, if we may believe the chroniclers, and ravaged every place impartially.
At last, on January 13, 1570, when nothing was left him to destroy, Ivan commanded the chief of the townsmen who had been spared, so many for each street, to be brought into his presence. The poor wretches, already more dead than alive, were asking themselves what yet more hideous fate could be reserved for them. Contrary to all their expectations, the monarch, pacified, turned a gracious eye upon them, and made them a most friendly speech, advising them to cast off all fear, and live peaceful lives, praying God to preserve the Tsar and his Empire from all such traitors as Pimenius.
This was the Terrible's farewell. That very day he departed, taking with him the Archbishop, and his priests and deacons, who, though they had not ransomed themselves from the praviéje, had not shared the monks' cruel fate.
Novgorod drew a breath of relief; but the town had received a blow from which it was never to recover. Together with the flower of its inhabitants, the prosperity of the city had received its deathblow; and even if Ivan had a thousand reasons for his pitiless treatment, he had carried it too far. But while we make some allowance for the inevitable exaggeration of every witness who deals with this gloomy episode, we must not fail likewise to remember similar events belonging to a not distant epoch of the history of Western Europe. Taking it all in all, and if we only look, among ten similar scenes, at the story of the sacking of Liège by Charles the Bold in 1468—an operation performed with the friendly help of his cousin of France—we shall perceive Ivan to have been nothing but a plagiarist. Turn to your Michelet: 'The horror of this destruction of a whole people lies in the fact that it was not a bloody assault, the rage and fury of a victorious foe, but a long-drawn execution. The persons found in the houses were guarded, kept back, and then thrown into the Meuse in an orderly and methodical manner. Three months later the drownings were still going on. … The burning of the town was also conducted in the most orderly fashion' (Histoire de France, viii. 148). And Henri Martin, writing on lines supplied by Commines, Jean de Troyes, and Olivier de la Marche, says: 'Women, nuns, were violated, and then killed, priests' throats were cut on the altar-steps. … All the prisoners the soldiers had spared were hung or drowned in the Meuse' (Histoire de France, vii. 44, etc.).
The copy follows the original in every particular, the number of victims, in this case, being reckoned at 50,000 and more. The very setting of the scene is the same; the carnage in both cases took place in winter-time, in November and December.
From Novgorod, Ivan went on to Pskov. All through one night, while he was encamped in one of the suburbs of the town, the bells kept ringing. A dreary watch! But the punishment was here confined to a general pillage; and, in the popular mind, this unhoped-for clemency was attributed to the intervention of one of those visionaries who then swarmed all over the Muscovite Empire from one end to the other. This iourodivyï, Nicholas Salos, took it upon himself to offer the Sovereign a slice of meat. 'Lent!' cried Ivan. 'Lent!' came the reply; 'and thou art making thyself ready to devour human flesh?' It is more probable that the satiety which was the result of all his carnage, and the humble demeanour of the inhabitants, who had been well drilled by their voiévode, disarmed the monarch's wrath. But at Pskov, even as at Novgorod, many families were removed, and taken away into the interior; and in this matter, too, Ivan was only following an illustrious example. 'Louis XI. swore there should be no more town of Arras—that all the dwellers in it should be driven out, without even taking their furniture with them, and that he would take families and craftsmen out of other provinces, even out of Languedoc, and bring them to repopulate the fortress.' I quote Michelet once more (Histoire de France, viii. 322).
I should add that shortly afterwards, when Pskov was besieged by the Poles, the townsfolk offered a most heroic resistance. Would they have stood so firm without their terrifying lesson in fidelity? We may be permitted to doubt it. The two cities, whose forcible annexation to the Empire had disturbed their habits and damaged their interests, could hardly have been forced into the observance of their new duties by any incentive less strong than fear.
Going back to Moscow, Ivan treated himself to a triumphal entry, as if he had been returning from a successful campaign, and to an entertainment in the form of one of those masquerading processions in which, at a later period, Peter the Great was to take so much delight. Preceded by one of his jesters, mounted on an ox, he was seen parading along at the head of his Opritchniki, and displaying, like them, the insignia of that dreaded confraternity—a broom and a dog's head. This over, he applied himself to his preparations for trying the numerous accomplices of the crime he had just been punishing at Novgorod and Pskov. This occupation filled many months, and it was not till June 25, 1570, that the Tsar summoned his subjects to attend the execution of the culprits who had been declared guilty. There were three hundred of them, and all issued, mutilated and worn out, from the torture-chambers which had already robbed them of everything but the faintest breath of life. To Ivan's astonishment, the great square was empty. The instruments of torture that stood ready—the stoves, and red-hot pincers, and iron claws, and needles, the cords which were to rub human bodies into two halves, the great coppers full of boiling water—had failed to attract, this time. Whether at St. Petersburg or at Moscow, even down to the middle of the eighteenth century, no other sight could stir curiosity to such a point, and the audience was almost always very numerous. But there had been too much of this sort of thing lately, and the executioners were growing too long-armed. Every man sought to hide deeper than his neighbour. The Tsar had to send reassuring messages allover the town. 'Come along! Don't be afraid! Nobody will be hurt! …' At last, out of cellars and garrets, the necessary spectators were tempted forth, and forthwith Ivan, inexhaustible and quite unabashed, began a lengthy speech. 'Could he do less than punish the traitors? … But he had promised to be merciful, and he would keep his word! Out of the three hundred who had been sentenced, a hundred and eighty should have their lives!'
But to make up for it, those who were not spared were to pay for all the rest. Ivan the Terrible certainly was a perfect virtuoso in the art of inflicting suffering and causing death. Yet in this matter, too, he was only following an inclination common to the men of his time, whose imagination was probably inspired and excited in this direction by the very books of piety they read. In this respect some of these menologies, full of highly-coloured imagery—a curious specimen of which has been lately published under the name of St. Basil by the brothers Ouspiénski (1902)—were singularly and cruelly suggestive. Guagnino dwells complacently on the tortures inflicted, in the course of this hideous day, on Viskovatyi the Chancellor, who was hung up by his feet and cut into pieces like a butcher's carcass; and Founikov the Treasurer, who was sprinkled, turn about, with ice-cold and with boiling water, 'till his skin came off him like an eel's.'
Before he went home to the new palace in which he was now living—the Kremlin had been given up to the Ziémchtchina—Ivan is said to have gone to Founikov's house, and carried off the Treasurer's wife, a young and beautiful woman, sister of Prince Athanasius Viaziémski. As she either could not or would not tell where her husband had hidden his treasures, the Tsar had her stripped in the presence of her daughter, a girl of fifteen, set astride on a cord stretched between two walls, and dragged backwards and forwards from one end to the other. The unhappy woman was then thrown into a convent, where she soon died of the hideous treatment she had received. For some years her brother had been one of the Tsar's confidential men, and the Sovereign would never take medicine from any other hand. He, too, was handed over to the executioner. Basmanov, the prime favourite, met the same fate. He was killed by the Tsar's order, and, according to some witnesses, by the hand of the heir to the throne, Feodor. Pimenius was taken to the Sloboda at Alexandrov, was the butt of the Opritchniki there for some time, and was finally sent into exile at Venev, in the province of Riazan.
Guagnino, an Italian and a Catholic, who collected the materials for his gossiping chronicle in Poland, is an altogether unreliable witness; but Horsey, an Englishman, gives quite as hideous details of the executions he claims to have seen. He saw one man—Prince Boris Telepniév, whom he calls Teloupa—impaled, and lingering on the stake for fifteen hours, while his own mother was violated before his eyes by a hundred Striéltsy, until she died. But this same Horsey speaks of 700,000 men as having been massacred at Novgorod! I shall have something to say, later, about these foreign witnesses whose testimony we are forced to turn to account, seeing we possess no other. Believing these people too easily, most historians have ended by admitting that Nero and Caligula were both surpassed at Moscow, and by supposing Ivan to have lived, at this period, in a state of mental disorder which, if it did not actually reach madness, was very close to it. I have already explained my view as to this point. I will now add that the Tsar himself has left us the most conclusive information as to his state of mind at this time. I have referred to his will, dated 1571. This instrument must be recognised, without any contradiction, as the work of a man whose feelings had been deeply and painfully wounded, but who had preserved all his faculties intact. No doubt his habitual striving after poetic effect, his inherent exaggeration of view, and of the manner in which he puts things forward, forbid our accepting what he says literally. But the very pains he takes and the artifices he employs exclude any idea of madness, at that time, at least. He certainly bewails himself, makes his complaint, pleads his own cause, too cleverly for any madman. He feels himself unsteady on his throne, and the future of his family strikes him as being no better insured than his own present. He is an exile within his own Empire, waging a struggle, the end of which he cannot foresee, with most dangerous enemies. His strength is worn out, his mind sick. He bears wounds innumerable on his body and his heart, and not a soul has he found to heal them, nor sympathize with his sufferings! His good has been returned with evil—for love he has been given hate! He admits, indeed, that his trials are the well-merited result of the Divine wrath, which has thus punished the many infractions of its law of which he has been guilty, and condemns him to live a wandering life, far from his capital, out of which 'his selfish boïars have driven him.' His sons, more happy than himself, may succeed in weathering the storm. And he desires, in the will he is now drawing up, to give them certain counsels to that end. Is he, then, making himself ready to die? Not that exactly! Death would be sweet to him indeed, and very welcome; but even this benefit, he concludes, will be refused him for a time yet, by reason of his sins, which he must expiate by leading a miserable life. Is his mind wandering? Not at all! For the advice he gives is excellent, full of the strongest and most luminous good sense, though still, it may be, marked by an excess of suspicion. Ivan is inclined to see enemies in every corner; but when, while he warns his sons against the snares that will be set for them, he counsels them to inquire personally into every business, and never to depend on others with regard to anything, unless they wish those others to obtain the real power and leave them nothing but its shadow, it is a master in the art of government who speaks, and no madman! (This will was published in the 'Historical Documents,’' Supplement, i. 222.)
And here is another and a still more conclusive proof of the complete lucidity, and, further, of the extraordinary versatility of mind, preserved by this man at a moment when the strongest of mental temperaments might very well have betrayed some symptoms, however fleeting, of weakness and confusion. On the very morrow of the Moscow executions, which had followed on those at Novgorod—hideous scenes, all of them, however exaggerated we must suppose the accounts of them to have been—we behold him accepting, even provoking, and prosecuting, untiringly and without any visible difficulty, a theological discussion such as might well have disconcerted a layman like himself at any time.
It was at this moment that his famous public conversation with John Rokita, a member of the Confraternity of the Bohemian and Moravian Brothers, took place.
At that time Protestants enjoyed a comparatively privileged position in Russia. They were looked on as allies against the Latinism every Russian loathed. Lutherans and Calvinists alike had obtained permission to build churches in the capital, and Ivan bestowed the most gracious welcome on the English and German representatives of the Reform who came to his Court either as visitors, or to enter his service. He was even fond of listening to Magnus' chaplain, Christian Bockhorn, and went so far as to speak highly of his teachings. If, he said, Luther, when he attacked the Papacy, had not also attacked the ancient ecclesiastical hierarchy, and soiled his interpretation of Scripture by a shameful renunciation of the monastic rule and habit, his doctrine would have been exceedingly acceptable. And, indeed, Bockhorn and his co-religionists—all of them taken up with their careers and their trade—did not push the advantage they had thus acquired over far. Missenheim's apostulate seems to have been quite an isolated instance, and one of the Danish missionary's disciples, Gaspard Eberfeld, said to have made an attempt to convert the Tsar, would appear to be one and the same person with a certain Gaspard von Wittemberg who himself, if we are to believe Oderborn, became a convert to the Orthodox faith, and the determined detractor of his former religion. In the provinces bordering on Sweden and Livonia a certain current of Protestant missionary feeling was tolerated for political reasons. Elsewhere, this tolerance was the mere outcome of the scornful indifference of the general mind.
Quite as an exception, Rokita, who had gone to Moscow with an embassy from the King of Poland, attempted to follow in the footsteps of Missenheim. This reformer, a Tchek by birth, was considered one of the most active members of the community of Bohemian Brothers established in Sigismund's dominions, and his correspondence goes to prove him to have been charged with a mission on which he and his party had founded somewhat ambitious hopes. The embassy, which arrived in February, 1570, just at the tragic moment when Ivan was engaged in the manner we have been describing, was forced to wait the Tsar's return, until the 4th of the following May. On the 7th, the envoys were given their audience, and three days later, Rokita had been invited to speak in public, and Ivan had himself undertaken to reply.
The controversy took place at the Kremlin, in the presence of a numerous audience, ecclesiastical and lay, and it then became evident that the only result of the Sovereign's amicable conversations with Bockhorn and other representatives of the Reform party had been to supply him with weapons against them. Ivan spoke first, and his vigorous attack on the fundamental principles of the new doctrine and its application proved his knowledge of the subject to be deep, though his views, as usual in his case, were not unmixed with passion, and even with strong language. 'To judge by their actions, the disciples of the evangelical faith were nothing but pigs!' After such a preamble, the discussion might have been expected to take an unpleasant turn. Nothing of the kind occurred. Ivan, who had promised not to interrupt his adversary, kept his word. But in vain did Rokita, speaking in the Slav tongue, answer in the most moderate and supremely skilful fashion, deliberately confining his indictment to the weaknesses of the Roman Church. The Tsar heard him patiently, praised his eloquence, expressed a wish to see his speech written down, and announced his own intention of replying in the same way. A few weeks later, on taking leave of his foreign guest, he caused the said reply to be handed to him, richly bound, and there the matter ended.
A perusal of this reply—the original text has lately been discovered and published—was sufficient to convince Rokita he had been wasting his time. From the literary point of view, indeed, the rejoinder does the monarch no particular honour. In the taste of that period, Ivan plays, pointlessly enough, on the word Luther, which he calls lioutyi (cruel, in Russian), just as Müntzer, in Germany, had called the Reformer luegner (liar); and he does not shrink from applying other injurious titles to Rokita himself and his co-religionists. The document is not distinguished either by clearness of thought, solidity of reasoning, or logic. But to atone for this, the fulness of knowledge, sure memory, quickness of mind, and dialectic power therein displayed prove the Sovereign to have been in full possession of his well-known powers. His tricks of expression—we can hardly call them his style—are the same as in his altercation with Kourbski. 'You invoke the prophets? Well, we will bring you face to face with Moses." … It is the production of a self-taught man and a strong one, who has received no systematic education, and does not possess a glimmer of artistic feeling; but it is by no means devoid of intelligence and thinking power.
In the obscure history of the Opritchnina another episode occurs—one less easily reconciled, apparently, with that certainty as to Ivan’s mental health which may be deduced from the facts I have just been describing. This is the most enigmatic point in the drama, and we must pause to consider it. In 1574 or 1575—the date itself is not quite clear—while Ivan was still in life, Russia had a new Tsar.
III.—The Tsar Simeon.
The Sovereign had confided the headship of the Ziémchtchina to Mstislavski and Biélski. In 1571, the first-named nobleman acknowledged himself guilty of a criminal understanding with the Tartars. He was pardoned, thanks to the intercession of the Metropolitan, Cyril; three prominent boïars went surety for him, and these again found 285 guarantors for the then enormous sum of 20,000 roubles. But within a few years Mstislavski was obliged to confess to another misdeed of the same nature, in which two of his sons were also involved. Once more he escaped death, but a number of executions, which took place in 1574, and as to which a chronicler reports that the victims' heads were ordered to be 'thrown down in front of Mstislavski's windows,' seem to have been caused by this fresh act of treachery. Meanwhile, a Tsarevitch of Kazan, established as Tsar of Kassimov, under the name of Simeon Bekboulatovitch, was proclaimed 'Tsar of all the Russias,' while the real Tsar, putting off all his titles, and renouncing all the honours due to his rank, had himself called plain 'Ivan of Moscow,' and took his way, in the most modest style, 'on litters,' like the humblest boïar in his Empire, to pay his court to the new Sovereign.
What was the meaning of this comedy?
It was part of the practice of the Muscovite system of policy to assign the ancient Tartar Sovereigns new establishments and territories, within which they kept the title of Tsar, and over which they exercised a shadowy sovereignty. By this means Russia succeeded in attaching turbulent Princes to her own side, she avoided difficult dealings with the easily offended hierarchy of the 'men who serve,' and the consideration thus shown to the Moslem world was a useful argument in her intercourse with the Crimean Khans. Another Tsarevitch of Kazan—Kaïboul—was reigning on the same terms at Iouriév (Derpt), and the former Tsar of Astrakan, Derbych-Ali, was at Zvenigorod. Simeon Bekboulatovitch would probably have ended his days at Kassimov, if his conversion to Christianity and his marriage with this same Mstislavski's daughter had not made his continuance in that tsarate a matter of impossibility. The majority of the population was Mahometan, and claimed that its ruler should profess the same faith. But there was no room at Moscow for a Tartar Tsar, even a dethroned one. Ivan cut the difficulty short by giving up his throne and his title to Mstislavski's son-in-law. How? Why? It is a mystery! The one thing we are quite sure of is the fact. From 1575 onward we possess a great number of documents in which Simeon Bekboulatovitch officially assumes the title of 'Tsar of all the Russias,' and others show us Ivan lavishing marks of the deepest respect on this counterpart of himself, addressing petitions to him, like any of his subjects, and leaving his own carriage when he approaches the precincts of the palace he has given up to the new master. Simeon would even appear to have been crowned, although Ivan, after having admitted the fact in one of his conversations with the English agent, Daniel Sylvester, attempted, later, to withdraw his acknowledgment. 'There was nothing final about that,' he then remarked, and exhibited seven crowns and other insignia of sovereignty which he still preserved. None the less, one of his eight crowns had been set on Simeon's head.
This comedy was carried on till 1576, and we need hardly say that never for one instant, during that space of time, did the son of Vassili contemplate ceding anything more than the semblance of sovereignty to his substitute. This period, as my readers will remember, was that of the negotiations as to the succession to the Polish throne; in these negotiations Simeon Bekboulatovitch was never mentioned. In 1576, when the Emperor's envoys, Cobenzl and Printz von Buchau, arrived, Ivan behaved as if the new Tsar had not existed, and shortly afterwards he dismissed him, having enriched him with the Duchy of Tver, which, as my readers may know, had lately been laid waste, was now reduced to the two towns of Tver and Torjok, with their dependencies, and was only thankful to recover its autonomy to some extent. Here Simeon was very far from likening himself to an independent Sovereign, after the fashion of the old appanaged Dukes. His letters to Ivan are signed 'your slave' (kholop). He commanded an army corps during the Livonian campaigns and the Polish wars, cut rather a poor figure, and only outlived Ivan to experience cruel changes of fortune under his successors. Stripped of his duchy by Feodor, deprived of his sight by Boris Godounov, who looked on him as a possible rival, he ended his existence in 1611, at the monastery of Solovki, or, according to other witnesses, at Moscow, whither he had been recalled by Michael Feodorovitch in 1616,
But why was the farce played?
Horsey has ascribed it to financial reasons. Ivan, he thinks, devised this expedient to bring about a sort of bankruptcy, by casting certain engagements he himself was unable to meet on Simeon. Fletcher has referred, in a similar sense, to a general confiscation of ecclesiastical properties to which Simeon is said to have proceeded, and after which Ivan, taking up the reins of power once more, hastened to reinstate the churches and monasteries in possession of their wealth, retaining a portion, however, and exacting a heavy sum of money in return for the favour of his restoration of the rest. But, according to the same authority, the Tsar's object was to combat the existing evil opinion of his government by the substitution of something worse!
These are mere fanciful conjectures, partly contradicted by the facts. Simeon, indeed, never ruled Russia, either well or ill. He never ruled at all. He probably replaced Mstislavski and Biélski at the head of the Ziémchtchina, and Ivan, when he adorned him with the title of which he pretended to strip himself, may have endeavoured to make this selection more generally acceptable. But some other secret motives may also have existed, as, for instance, the idea of imparting a semblance of reality to the exile which, as he declared, his 'selfish boïars' had forced upon him, and of thus better justifying his own anger and the punishment he inflicted. And, further, let my readers think of Peter the Great, who withdrew to his little wooden house and left all the cares and show connected with his official position to Menschikov in his palace hard by, and who, the day after Poltava, handed in his 'colonel's' report to Romodanovski, set upon a throne and dressed up to represent Cæsar. The generally accepted opinion is that the great man desired thus to give his subjects a striking example of the obedience due to the universal law of service. Now, was not Ivan the first to impose this law? And this fashion of enduing the Sovereign with two personalities, in a way, by subjecting him to the general rule of discipline, was not unexampled, even in Western countries. Look at Louis XV. on the eve of Fontenoy. Of course, the similarity between the young King who placed himself under the orders of his own General, and the improbable masquerade in which it pleased Ivan to figure with his Tartar Prince, is not quite absolute, and in any other country such a game, carried to so extreme a point, would have been too risky, whatever the secret intention that inspired it. But the ancestor of Peter the Great seems to have been predestined to take the measure of the absolute power, as it were, and try it on a people to whom years of tyranny, foreign and domestic, had taught an endless patience and a boundless resignation.
And this farce, as some persons have supposed, may have been connected with the negotiations Ivan was then carrying on with England. As I shall soon have to show, the Terrible, in his great desire for an alliance with Elizabeth, was ready to cross the seas if so he might insure it. At certain moments he seems to have thought of asking the Queen to grant him temporary shelter as well. For the interim government which would then have become a necessity, Simeon's personality offered a valuable guarantee. Ivan would not have run any risk of finding his place permanently filled when he returned. The Tsar was a nobody: he had no connections, and nobody cared for him. In 1576, when Ivan's hopes as to Elizabeth faded and the arrival of Maximilian's envoys calmed his anxieties, he probably came to the conclusion that the farce had lasted long enough.
On the throne, Simeon had been nothing but a puppet. As the chief of an administration, he had no time to prove his capacity, and, indeed, the documents in which his name appears only refer to matters of quite secondary importance. Once he departed, things seem to have returned to their ordinary course, except that during the eight years of the reign subsequent to this episode there were only occasional repetitions, at more and more distant intervals, of the Tsar's bloody chastisements. Did the Opritchnina outlive the farce? We know not. The Terror had spoken its last word.
But the last word of history concerning the Opritchnina has not yet been spoken, and the duty of reviewing the testimonies and opinions connected with this confused and confusing chapter of a dim past still lies before me.
IV.—The Opritchnina at the Bar of History
Though Soloviov adopted Karamzine's general point of view, he made an attempt to discover some political meaning inthe series of events which his fellow-historian had taken to be nothing but a succession of horrors and acts of insanity. In the closing pages of the sixth volume of his 'History of Russia,' at all events, the leader of the Opritchnina appears under the guise of a reformer. Kaveline ('Works,' i., 'Sketch of the Judicial Conditions of Ancient Russia') made the same endeavour. But Pogodine ('Fragmentary Studies, Historical and Critical,' Moscow, 1846), George Samarine ('Works,' v. 203), and even C. Akssakov himself ('Works,' i.), though in more measured fashion, have followed Karamzine's lead, and represented the Opritchnina as the work of a capricious despot, the Neronian fancy of an artist in crime. When, at a more recent period, Bestoujev-Rioumine followed Soloviov's lead in the second volume of his 'History of Russia,' he fell under the bitter criticism of Kostomarov (Messager de l'Europe, 1871, No. 10) and Ilovaïski ('Russian Archives,' 1889, p. 363), both of them strong supporters of Karamzine's view. Even in Kourbski's business, the last-named critic only perceived a consequence, not a cause, of Ivan's sanguinary excesses, and far less an excuse for them.
These verdicts, pronounced at various times, and all of them too sweepingly severe, have evoked a reaction, which, being excessive, as most reactions are, has swept the authors affected by it into attempts at apology not less sweeping, and by no means easy to accept. Biélov, in a study published in the Review of the Ministry of Public Instruction, (1886), has drawn his inspiration from an argument lately much in vogue among German theorists on political law. He has asserted that the Novgorod butcheries were justified, objectively, by a certain general excitement of men's minds, and that Philip's martyrdom was rendered legitimate by that prelate's interference in political matters. This road, once entered on, may lead the traveller far, and one of Kourbski's biographers, Gorski (Kazan, 1858), has gone the length of supporting the pronouncing of sentence on Sylvester and Adachey without hearing the accused persons' plea—'They certainly would not have confessed their misdeeds!' With regard to that Prince Pronski whose execution I have already mentioned—he was drowned, according to Kourbski's report, and cut in pieces, according to Taube and Kruse—Gorski draws the following conclusion: that he died in his bed! Concerning Leonidas, Archbishop of Novgorod, he has to admit that he was thrown to the dogs after having been sewn up in a bearskin. But as he was guilty, Ivan only acted 'in conformity with fair justice.' These inversions of judgment and failures of moral consciousness are sad to witness. The Terrible's apologists and his detractors would have spared them us, no doubt, if they had made a really objective study of the great subject, submitted all its elements to a more exact process of analysis, and more thoroughly realized the historical conditions of the phenomenon under discussion.
They would have noted, in the first place, that even Ivan's foreign contemporaries were far from regarding him indiscriminately as a monster of cruelty, or even as a merely cruel Prince. I do not here refer to the friendly testimony brought by Forsten ('The Baltic Question,' i. 467) from Lubeck—accommodating witnesses, indeed, if such there ever were—which lauds Ivan's humanity and guarantees his good intentions as to the reunion of the two Churches! This was a mere matter of trade, and when Lippoman, who was Venetian envoy in 1775, converted Ivan into a righteous judge (Hist. Russiæ Monumenta,' i. 271), he was probably inspired by similar considerations. But the Polish electors of 1572 and 1575, who were so ready to welcome the Tsar's candidature, furnish us with a far more valuable guarantee!
As a rule, the chroniclers and foreign historians of that period have drawn a terrifying and repulsive picture of the Opritchnina and its founder. But ought we to grant full belief to the stories of Taube and Kruse, who, describing the Novgorod massacres, which they claim to have witnessed, place that town on the banks of the Volga? Henning, a Livonian chronicler, tells us of a baby taken out of its cradle by the Opritchniki and carried by them to Ivan, who began by kissing and caressing it, and then cut its throat with his dagger and threw the little corpse out of the window! It is a hideous tale, but Henning had it from Magnus, and from the Palatine of Vilna, Radizwill, both of them very poor authorities. Oderborn (Joannts Basilidis vita, Vitebsk, 1585, reproduced by Sartchevski, ii. 228) has accused the Terrible of yet more frightful acts of cruelty, with a tincture of the unnatural about them. He talks of women torn from their homes to gratify the passions of the Sovereign and his minions, then murdered, and their corpses brought back to their husbands' houses, where, for whole weeks, they were hung over the dining-room tables, at which the widowers were forced to eat their food; others, matrons and maids, met by chance in town or country, were first violated, and then stripped naked in the bitter cold and exposed on the snow to the eyes and insults of the passers by. Oderborn was a Protestant pastor whose work was composed and printed on Polish soil, at a moment when the reformed religion had lost the privileges it had once possessed in Russia, and when Poland, fitting every arrow to her bow, by no means scorned a well-informed and skilfully-handled Press as an instrument towards that conquest of Muscovy for which she was preparing. The work of Guagnino, no less strong in its leanings, had figured, a few years previously, amongst Batory's munitions of war.
But as to Oderborn's book we have a criterion which may be applied to all such writings. The Pomeranian historian has devoted one of his most truculent pages to a description of the sacking and carnage which—either in 1578 or in 1580—put an end to the prosperity of the German suburb of Moscow. Young girls, we are told, were violated and then put to death under the very eyes of the Tsar, who took his share in the massacre, thrusting the victims through with his hunting-spear and throwing them into the river. The Sovereign's two sons, summoned to witness the sight, were so sickened by it that the youngest braved his father's wrath and took to flight. Not a detail is lacking. Some rich merchants offered a ransom for their children. When Ivan refused it they upbraided him, and the Tsar, mad with rage, inflicted the most hideous tortures on the unhappy German women. They were flogged till the blood came, their nails were torn out, and when, even in the midst of their tortures, they continued to pray and call on the name of Jesus, their tongues were torn out too. At last they were killed with lance-heads, heated white-hot and thrust into their bodies, and their corpses were burnt. Other narratives of this same episode have come down to us. That of Horsey may possibly apply to some other scene of the same sort, for at the date given by Oderborn (1578) the English writer was not in Russia. But it seems unlikely that the suburb can have been destroyed twice over, and a French author, Margeret, like the Englishman, gives the date of the incident as 1580. Now, as to the horror and odiousness of the details given, these two last versions do not approach that of Oderborn. Margeret only mentions the destruction of two Protestant churches and the pillage of the German dwelling-houses, while all their inhabitants, 'without respect for age or sex,' and regardless of the winter season, were stripped 'as naked as children just out of their mothers' wombs.' Horsey speaks of women and young girls violated on the spot or carried off by the Opritchniki, some of whom sought refuge, after they had been stripped of their clothing, in the house of one of his fellow-countrymen. Margeret, indeed, does not dream of pitying the victims. 'They could not lay the blame of this on anyone but themselves, for, forgetting all their past sufferings, their behaviour had been so arrogant, their ways so haughty, and their dress so sumptuous, that they might all have been taken for princes and princesses.' The inhabitants of the suburb drew their wealth from the sale of strong drinks; they had levied excessive profits in their trade, and thus abused their monopoly.
But the most authoritative witness of all has yet to be summoned. In a Latin pamphlet, entitled Psalmorum Davidis Parodia Heroica, a native of Lubeck, bearing the name of Boch or Bochius, has inserted notes relative to a stay he made at Moscow in the year 1578. His presence there may have been connected with the negotiations then pending between Rome and Moscow. He was on the spot, in any case, when the events related by Oderborn took place; he bore his share in them, and, seeing he himself was a sufferer by them, he cannot be accused of favouring Ivan. He had been hospitably received by a countryman of his own who lived in a house near the suburb. One day, when everybody was at dinner, the quarter was invaded by a troop of warriors, all dressed in black. They were headed by the Tsar, with his son and several important men. In a moment every house was being sacked and the inhabitants turned out of doors, stripped of their clothing. Men, women, and children, all stark naked, fled to seek shelter from the bitter cold.
The order was that the houses were to be sacked, but that nobody was to be hurt, yet they were pursued and struck without mercy. Several men dealt Boch blows in the face with their fists, and he was whipped all over his body and quite disfigured. He had been stripped of his clothes like the rest, was dragged out of the hiding-place he had found, flogged several times over in the course of the night, and tormented in every kind of way, till, when the day broke, a Livonian nobleman interfered, took him out of his torturers' hands, and got a surgeon to attend to him.
The scene thus described is revolting enough, but my readers will perceive a difference. There are no violations of women, no massacres; all we have is a police operation rather roughly carried out, after the fashion of those times. Boch asserts it to have been caused by the Metropolitan, who had declared the foreigners were debauching the Tsar's soldiery in their drinking-shops. Oderborn and Horsey have evidently embroidered on a web which stood in no need of any such over-ornamentation, and taking them thus in the very act of inventing their slanders, we attain a certainty as to the truthfulness of other testimony of similar origin.
Summary and violent, excessive and extravagant, was the chastisement administered by Ivan the Terrible, and we cannot justify it. The Sinodik of the Monastery of St. Cyril alone enumerates 3,470 of the Tsar's victims, and many names are followed by the words, which make one shiver: 'With his wife'; 'with his wife and children'; 'with his daughters'; 'with his sons.' We find, too, such sentences as these: 'Kazarine Doubroyski and his two sons, with ten men who had come to his help'; 'twenty men belonging to the village of Kolomenskoié'; 'eighty belonging to Matviéiché. …' And under the head of Novgorod we read: 'Remember, Lord, the souls of Thy servants, inhabitants ofthis town, to the number of fifteen hundred and five persons'! Thus did Louis XI. pray for his brother, the Duc de Berry!
In other documents Ivan leaves the exact number of souls to the Divine knowledge, and simply recommends 'the dead, men, women, and children, whose names are known to God,' to His mercy. In the obituary lists at the monastery of Sviajsk we find the names of 'the Princess-nun Eudoxia, the nun Maria, and the nun Alexandra,' all three of them drowned in the Cheksna, which flowed into the White Lake (Biélooziéro). Princess Eudoxia was Ivan's 'Welsh aunt,' Alexandra had been betrothed to him, and Maria was one of Vladimir's sisters. The Terrible did not spare his own kinsfolk, and if any caprice or calculation moved him to spare a particular individual, he struck at those nearest to him. 'Why should I wreak my vengeance on a monk?' he wrote, of Chérémétiév, to the abbot of the Monsey of St. Cyril. 'Have I not all his relations under my hand?'
The Opritchnina was all this—or all this, at all events, was part of the Opritchnina. But according to one of the King of Poland's agents (Schlichting, Scriptores rer. pol., i. 145–147), Ivan could not have maintained himself upon the throne unless he had employed these terrorizing methods. When he struck Ivan Petrovitch Chouïski—with a dagger-thrust dealt, so Schlichting asserts, by his own hand—the Tsar had a document in his possession according to which this boïar, with many others, undertook to give his master's person up to the King of Poland as soon as that monarch had set his foot within the Muscovite borders. Some people have denied the existence of any struggle between the Tsar and the defenders of the old system. But if the preparation of such attempts does not constitute a struggle, there is no meaning in words! The struggle—a fierce and obstinate one—was carried to extremes by both parties: all feeling of duty and honour was forgotten on one side, all pity on the other.
Yet all the eagerness and violence of the fray did not eradicate that resignation to accomplished facts and submission to superior strength which are an unalterable feature in the national character. When Prince Sougorski, whom Ivan had despatched to the Emperor Maximilian, was stopped on his way by a serious illness, he bewailed himself: 'If only I was able to get up! My life is nothing so long as the Tsar is well. …' 'How can you show so much zeal for so great a tyrant?' inquired the Duke of Courland. And Sougorski answered: 'We Russians are devoted to our Sovereigns whether they are cruel or kind.' And he added, to prove the fact, that a boïar who had been impaled by the Tsar's orders some time previously, for some comparatively trifling fault, had endured his hideous torments for four and twenty hours, and never ceased talking to his wife and children, constantly repeating, 'Great God, protect the Tsar!' This fact is chronicled by Karamzine (ix., chap. iv.).
Ivan's foes aimed at his heart in front and struck at him from behind, and he did not always content himself with giving back blow for blow. Even in the popular poetry, which treats him with so much indulgence, the feeling that the Tsar, 'after he had punished for injustice and rewarded for justice,' grew more cruel, and ceased to assign favour and chastisement in proportion to the faults and virtues with which he had to deal, becomes evident (Kiriéiévski, 'Collection of Songs,' Moscow, 1860–1862, part vi., p. 2015). But Ivan, hovering like a spectre over a heap of corpses against a red background of aurora borealis, is no isolated phenomenon, either in his country or his century. In his own country, even as the renewer of the methods of Nineveh and Babylon, the brutal proscriber of whole populations dragged from Novgorod to Moscow, or from Pskov to Riazan, he was only carrying on a tradition. Vassili, before him, had done the same thing with hundreds of families—taken them out of the same provinces, sent them into the interior of the country, and filled their places with others brought from the basin of the Volga. Thirty years before the Opritchnina came into existence, Maximus the Greek speaks of imaginary crimes imputed to innocent persons, and visited on them. When the Tsar's agents wanted a culprit they introduced a corpse or a stolen object into the house indicated, and the justice of the Sovereign took its course.
Ivan, in the course of his own century, had examples and imitators in a score of European countries, and the opinion of his time was his accomplice. Look at Italy. Read Chaplain Burckhard's notes, written in cold blood as he sat between Alexander VI. and the Borgias; or the ironic, easy-going despatches of Giustiniani, the Venetian Ambassador; or the cynical memoirs of such a man as Cellini. Make your way to Ferrara, the most refined Court of the period: you may happen on Cardinal Hyppolite d'Este, his own brother Giulio's rival in a love affair, having that brother's eyes torn out in his own presence. Look through the records of the giustizie of that time, and you will find the horrors of the Red Square equalled, if not surpassed—men burnt and hanged at the same moment, bleeding limbs crushed betwixt two pulleys. … All these things were done in broad daylight, and nobody was surprised, nobody was horrified, nobody rose up in indignation against them.
Now go to the other end of the continent—to Sweden, Eric XIV.—a great King till madness overtook him—awaits you there, with a Maliouta-Skouratov of his own, Persson, his favourite, both of them just out of the famous bath of blood of the year 1520—ninety-four bishops, senators, and patricians, all executed at Stockholm in one day. Next, John III. appears, Persson has gone too far, wherefore, on the new King's command, he is first of all hung, but so as not to strangle him completely, then his arms and legs are broken, and, as he still continues to breathe, his chest is riddled with knife-thrusts. You must not overlook the Low Countries. The sacking of Liège, which I have already mentioned, took place a century earlier, I know; but was not Ivan taking lessons in civilization from Europe? Even at that distance he may well have drawn his inspiration from the lord of Hagenbach, that Governor of Alsace after the style of Charles the Bold, whose exploits are already known to you. He may, perhaps, have heard the story of the celebrated entertainment at which, by the Governor's order, each male guest was expected to recognise the person of his own wife, every lady having previously been stripped perfectly naked, except for the veil which hid her face. Those who made mistakes were thrown from the top of the staircase. But I might just as well have evoked the memory of the capitulation of Mons, violated in 1572 by Alva's lieutenant, Noircarmes, and followed by eleven months of bloody excess, in the course of which the 20,000 citizens of Haarlem were all put to the sword by the Duke in person, while Philip IL., in an official letter, offered a reward to anybody who would murder William of Orange! And, seeing we are on Spanish ground, you will not forget the Inquisition and the forty Protestants burnt alive at Valladolid on March 12, 1559. Then, if you leave the hot cinders of the auto-da-fé and pass over into France, your foot will slip in the blood of the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Cross the sea, and you come on Henry VIII., the dungeons of Charterhouse and Sion, the gibbets of Tyburn and Newgate; the head of Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, rots in the pillory on London Bridge, and behold the gay sight presented by the King, all dressed in white silk, leading Jane Seymour to the altar on the very morrow of the day which has seen Anne Boleyn's head fall at his command!
On the scene of history whereon it thus performs, the spectre becomes a living body, and, due allowance being made for distances and for difference of culture, its flesh and blood do not appear far removed from those of the Christian, civilized, European world of the period.
I have spoken of a moral complicity. If Europe's has been proved, that of Russia is no less certain. Kourbski, who gave the tone to the Tsar's detractors, was a party to this suit; and he represented a refractory minority. The Russian masses expressed their feelings in their popular poetry, and the sense of that is already known to my readers. The Russian people not only submitted to Ivan—it admired, applauded, loved him. Of all the crowd of comrades about him, it has retained two names and two faces only: one of these figures is that of a parvenu, the other that of an executioner—Nikita Romanovitch Zakharine and Maliouta-Skouratov. Of the first-named history knows but little. He was the Tsarina Anastasia's brother, and, like a certain witness of the French Terror in the eighteenth century, he was a man of breeding. The legend has turned him into a hero. It shows him refusing the Tsar's favours, and content to beg new laws, 'more tender to the people,' for the lands he already holds. But the popular preference is given to Maliouta-Skouratov, the legendary bully of Prince and boïar alike.
This democratic instinct, so strongly marked in every personification of the popular idea, explains the secret of the Opritchnina and its original conception, and also of the comparative facility with which Ivan was able to force it on certain persons, and induce a still larger number to accept it. The scenes evoked by the popular muse, which show us peasants and boïars set face to face, always assign the shabby part to the boïars. They are either rogues or fools. If the story concerns a riddle which the Sovereign has to guess, and on which his fate depends, it is a peasant who supplies the solution, after all the great lords called into council have failed to find it. One legend, indeed, asserts the Tsar to be descended from a humble stock, and attributes an equally modest origin to his power. A certain Tsar having died, his late subjects all betake themselves to the river bank, bearing lighted torches, which they plunge into the water. The first who can relight his torch is to have the crown. 'Let us go to the river,' says a barine to Ivan; 'if I become Tsar, I'll set thee free!' 'Come, then,' Ivan replies; 'if I am made Tsar, I'll have thy head cut off!' He wins the crown, and keeps his word.
Herein lies the whole philosophy of the populace. It seems to have forgotten all about Ivan's wars, and all it remembers of the administrative reforms simultaneously effected is their levelling action.
'All the masters and princes,
I will flay them alive. …'
'I will have you cooked, every one,
Boïars and princes, in a caldron!'
'As soon as he has heard Mass,
He'll cut their little heads
Off princes and boïars. …'
As to the origin of this universal treason, which in itself justifies all the Groznyï's violence, the legend gives an oddly suggestive hint, in connection with which the popular logic would seem to be at fault. This is an accident which not infrequently occurs. Ivan, who numbers all the Kings of the earth among his vassals, as the Tsar of a legend should, calls on them to send him the tribute they owe. They reply: 'We will send thee the tribute, and we will add twelve hogsheads of gold to it, if thou canst guess these three riddles.' In such matters, as we have already seen, all the wisdom of the Sovereign's ordinary counsellors, whether boïars or Princes, is of no avail. The man to help the Tsar out of his difficulty is a poor carpenter, who is promised one of the hogsheads of gold as his reward. But the Sovereign mixes the gold with sand, and the moujik, guessing the imposture as he has guessed the riddles, thus addresses him: 'Thou shalt be punished even as thou hast sinned; thou hast brought treachery into this land, and from treachery thou shalt suffer, more than any other man!' (Rybnikov, 'Collection of Popular Songs,' ii. 232–236).
The populace is an enfant terrible! One more witness must be quoted, and a weighty one. Chancellor, an English traveller who was a spectator of the sanguinary executions ordered by Ivan, is moved by them to the following reflection, which, from a purely practical point of view indeed, expresses the opinion of the enlightened and polished men of his period: 'Would to God our own stiff-necked rebels could be taught their duty to their Prince after the same fashion!' ('Hakluyt Collection,' i. 240).
So far, I have deliberately neglected Ivan's relations with England. They would not have been intelligible until the facts contained in this chapter had been clearly set forth. But the place they occupy in the Tsar's own life and in the history of his reign is an important one. I shall now turn to them.