Sympathy For The Terrible

By Brian Proctor


up"Power may justly be compared to a great river; while kept within it’s bounds it is both beautiful and useful, but when it overflows it’s banks it is then too impetuous to be stemmed; it bears down all before it, and brings destruction and desolation wherever it comes."--Andrew Hamilton. Through research, an argument can be made that perhaps one of the cruelest rulers this world has ever known was a product of unfortunate circumstance, disadvantageous surroundings, and a total lack of a disciplined downupbringing. The Story of Ivan the terrible is a story of unchecked and absolute power, and unbridled unsurpassed brutality.


Many historians have noted that there was a marked change in the behavior and demeanor of Ivan IV after the year 1553. It is believed that Ivan’s deep seated paranoia and ruthless leadership, that would later earn him the dubious distinction "Ivan the terrible", were in part due to an illness that he suffered in 1553. One can conjecture that this was the crux of his detestable disposition, but there are certainly other worthwhile arguments to be made. In 1553, Ivan’s doctors diagnosed his illness as being terminal. This would definitely have a profound affect on anyone’s psyche. Ivan IV was born into a family of imperialistic and glorified leaders. His grandfather, Ivan the great, was the acclaimed unifier of Russia. Certainly this illness , if terminal, would dash his hopes of greatness and thus leave him with a sense of unfinished business and unfulfilled destiny and a guaranteed place in history. Perhaps his drive to over exceed his predecessors fueled his relentless brutality.


Upon hearing of his diagnosis, Ivan IV forced the Russian nobles (the boyars) to swear allegiance to the Czar to be, even if the heir to Russia was only a one year old child. He must have feared that his death would bring the end to his dynasty, because there was little chance that the position of Czar would be reserved for this one year old child. He knew that fact all to well. When he was three, his father died. He became an orphan at age seven and a half when his mother died. He would fight the Boyars for control over Russia until he was fourteen and had undeniably become a man.

Here is another explanation for the insanity of Ivan. Ivan was conceived when his father was well advanced in years. After the age of 50, conception brings about a much higher rate of birth defects in infancy . The evidence shows that Ivan’s father was well past the age of 50, and that the son born after Ivan suffered from numerous birth defects. He was born deaf and dumb. Perhaps Ivan’s thirst for blood stemmed from a mental birth defect.


"A violently active, dominating, intrepid, brutal youth--that is what I am after."-Adolf Hitler. It is my belief that his utter brutality that could give rise to such a brutal youth arose from many factors. "The tyrant is nothing but a slave turned inside out." -Herbert Spencer. Being orphaned at such a young age must have caused a tremendous sense of isolation and abandonment that would scar the child forever. Another sign of mental illness that arose in his childhood was a fixation on the torture of animals, an all to common link between many of the worlds most dangerous killers, including Jeffrey Dalmer.

 At the tender age of twelve, Ivan would stand atop the ramparts that surrounded the Kremlin, whirl a dog or a cat above his head, and then out of pure enjoyment he would cast the animal over the edge. Perhaps if he had a caring mother or father, this problem could have been remedied, but here was no father figure in Ivanís life. By the age of fourteen his taste for torture had blossomed into a full grown thirst for homicide. During this time, he associated himself with a an unruly mob consisting of the elitist sons of the Boyars ( the ruling class nobles). Together they would rob, and beat women and children. Ivan was also known at this time to have trampled many a person in Moscowís streets with his horse, leaving them either dead or crippled.



It is also noted that Ivan’s mind and body had advanced faster than that of a normal child’s. He was a child in a man’s body and he had the power, the intelligence and the strength to do what ever he wanted, no matter how devious. "No extraordinary power should be lodged in any one individual."--Thomas Paine  .

Ivan was a man of tremendous drive and ambition. He conquered the remaining Russian principalities and seized absolute control in Russia. To commemorate his capture of Kazan, a Mongol stronghold, he ordained the foremost architects of Europe to erect St. Basilís cathedral. It was typical for Ivan to align himself with European architectural style. The building of the cathedral gives us a great understanding of the lengths that Ivan would go to in order to set himself apart from other rulers.

 He wanted St. Basil’s to be the world’s most beautiful monument. Upon it’s completion, he called upon the chief architect. He asked him if he thought that he could ever design anything as beautiful as the Cathedral. Perhaps the architect thought that Ivan wanted him to correct an aspect of the cathedral or maybe he thought that he might be asked to design something else. Either way, his answer was yes, and it was totally wrong, for the Czar promptly had the man’s eyes gouged out to prevent him from building anything comparable to St. Basil’s.


This was not the most terrible act of Ivan. In 1582, Ivan had a fight with his daughter-in-law, who was seven months pregnant. The argument was over a dress that he simply felt was unacceptable. In a blind fit of rage, he beat her to such a degree that she had a miscarriage. When Ivan’s son, the heir to Russia, tried to intervene, he was slain by his own father. In one fatal act Ivan had killed both the Tsar and the Tsaravich to Russia. These murders might be attributable to a tremendous stress that was bearing down on Ivan over his loss in the Livonian war in that same year. During the Livonian war, Ivan would suffer an historic defeat. Swedish and Polish armies not only conquered the far northern territories that he had unified, they also prevented Russia from gaining access to the Baltic. "Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan." -Count Galeazzo Ciano. This must have been the breaking point for even a disturbed man. His actions, although reprehensible, could certainly be partly attributable to this event

Certainly Ivan’s life was full of unfortunate circumstance that would linger through-out his life. Perhaps some sympathy is due for the devil.



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