We all know that nicknames are not necessarily accurate. My dad’s nickname for me, for instance, is Goose, and I am, at last check, not a migratory waterfowl.
Nicknames can be abbreviated versions of your real name, they can be pet names, they can be unfortunate incidents that happened once and stick with you until you graduate childhood. But we can all agree that most nicknames are not actually that apt.
That wisdom does not, however, hold true for Ivan IV, otherwise known as Ivan the Terrible. The first proclaimed tsar of Russia, Ivan the Terrible did plenty of things to earn him the moniker “terrible.” In this article, we examine six of the worst.
#6: He Died While Playing Chess
Okay, so this one’s not that terrible.
Ivan the Terrible passed away in 1584 while playing chess against Bogdan Belsky, in what I’m considering the ultimate checkmate. While that doesn’t seem so terrible (sometimes, when I’m playing chess against my much-more-experienced cousins I feel like dying, too), it did cause a lot trouble for Russia.
The period after Ivan’s death was known as the Time of Troubles, which does sound pretty terrible, if you ask me.
#5: He Taxed His People to the Point of Ruin
Ivan inherited a pretty terrible financial situation. Russia was in huge debt when Ivan came to power and years of mismanagement under Ivan made things even worse.
Instead of buckling down and trying to solve his country’s financial crisis, Ivan decided that the best way out of debt was to tax his cash-strapped citizens even more to get them to pay for the many, many wars he got Russia into.
These wars drained Russia of both manpower and resources, so at the time of his death, the country was “at the brink of ruin.”
#4: His Frequent Outbursts and Crazy Whims Created a Bad Image for the Tsars That Followed
Ivan the IV was the first crowned tsar in Russia. Later, the tsars would have a reputation for being autocratic rulers with few, if any, checks on their power. This reputation is mainly thanks to Ivan.
Ivan was notorious for his outbursts. He would scream at people without provocation, and often demand shocking and impossible things. The people who lived around Ivan were terrified of him, never knowing what he would want or do next.
Ivan’s fierce will helped him consolidate power, which made it very hard to criticize or challenge both him and later tsars. Without Ivan’s example, the tsars may never have earned their reputation for their out-of-control wills.
#3: He Beat His Pregnant Daughter-in-Law
In 1581, Ivan got mad at his pregnant daughter-in-law, Yelena Sheremeteva. According to Ivan, Yelena’s clothing was too immodest. Instead of simply asking her to change, Ivan beat Yelena, causing her to have a miscarriage.
There’s not much more to say about this one. It’s really, truly awful.
#2: He Murdered His Only Heir
It’s only with someone named Ivan the Terrible that beating your pregnant daughter-in-law and murdering your only heir are ranked numbers three and two on your terrible scale, respectively. Ivan certainly lived up to his name.
Ivan’s second son, also named Ivan, often butted heads with his dad. Which, fair enough, his dad’s nickname was “The Terrible.” It can’t have been a very calm and relaxing home.
In 1581, Ivan and Ivan got into a terrible argument. Dad Ivan struck his son in the head with his pointed staff, killing the boy and leaving himself heir-less.
And yup. That’s not even the most terrible thing he did.
#1: Hunting Humans
Now, the sources are conflicted on this one, but multiple places have indicated that Ivan the Terrible really liked to hunt. And not just animals – no, Ivan the Terrible would hunt the world’s most dangerous animal: his fellow men and women.
According to reports, Ivan delighted in robbing and beating up farmers, as well as chasing women through the streets, raping them, and hanging them. He took part in numerous tortures and massacres based on unfounded accusations of treason and would allow people to think they could escape before running them down. All in all, Ivan was responsible for many more deaths than that of his unborn grandchild and son. He was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of thousands.
What Is a Legacy?
For centuries, people looked down on Ivan the Terrible. It seems without question that Ivan did some very, very awful things. But as with any story in history, there are differing opinions from different people. Today, some people honor Ivan for supposed military reform and the advancement of Russian culture. And, to be sure, his legacy was affected by the communists who later gained power in Russia and wanted to ensure the legacy of the tsars was destroyed.
Regardless of what’s true and what’s not, I think we can all agree that if even a fraction of the terrible deeds attributed to him are real, Ivan more than deserved his sobriquet.