Posted on: March 10, 2017

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Read any list of the most despotic rulers the world has ever seen, and there’s a very good chance that Ivan The Terrible will crop up.   And his sobriquet seems to be well deserved.  Russia has thrown up more than her fair share of formidable rulers over the centuries, and Ivan’s  life seems to have been particularly gothic throughout.  His psychotic rages, his fanatical religious devotions, his insane blood-lust, certainly all speak of a man who wasn’t exactly the most well-balanced person on Earth.  Recently I came across a mention of him in Albert Rosales’s book Humanoid Encounters 1-AD to 1899, which posted an intriguing theory for Ivan’s extreme behaviour.  How true is it though?  Well make of it what you will.

Ivan was born on 25 August 1530, and became Grand Prince of Moscow at the tender age of 3, after his father died from blood poisoning.  His mother Elena ruled as Regent in his place.  Ivan’s childhood was pretty dreadful to say the least.  He spent a lot of it imprisoned in the dungeons of the castle, where he passed his time reading voraciously … and torturing small animals.  His mother died when Ivan was 8, thought to have been poisoned by another member of Ivan’s crazy family.  Ivan seemed to have no kind influences on him at all.  Even his nurse got packed off to a nunnery.   Ivan was later to complain that he had received “no human care from any quarter”.  In fact, he was neglected by the boyars – the elite aristocracy – to the extent that he had to roam the palace, begging for food.

Ivan would have his revenge.

He ordered his first assassination at the age of 13, a Shuisky prince.  Afterwards he threw the prince’s body to his dogs.  By the time he had finished with them, Ivan would manage to wipe out the entire Shuisky family.

At the age of 16 Ivan was crowned Tsar Of All The Russias in January 1547.  He now had absolute power, and as the old saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  And yet Ivan’s reputation wasn’t completely negative.  He was credited with putting Russia on the map, of making her a force to be reckoned with in the world.  He opened up trade links with England in 1558, which was now under a new ruler, Queen Elizabeth I.   He reformed the Church and the army.  He was also respected by the ordinary people, who were thankful to him  for curtailing the power of the boyars.  But there is also no denying that Ivan was a frightening old wotsit.

Ivan was a hard-drinking religious fanatic, who took to banging his head against the floor when afflicted with rages.  He was known to throw animals from the walls of the Kremlin. In one rage-filled state he even manged to kill his own son, also called Ivan.  The Tsar had complained about Ivan’s pregnant wife dressing immodestly, and beat her, causing her to miscarry.  When his son confronted him about it, the Tsar was so enraged that he clouted Ivan Jnr round the head with an iron bar, killing him in the process.

His first wife, Anastasia, was married to him for 13 years, and was probably the only stabilising influence Ivan ever knew.   Ivan had picked the 15-year-old girl out of a parade of great Russian beauties, selected for his delectation.  When she died in 1560, Ivan predictably went berserk, smashing up the furniture.  He became paranoid, and was convinced that Anastasia had been poisoned, which, considering what had happened to his mother, is perhaps not surprising.   He took himself off for monastic seclusion, and only returned when the populace panicked, fearing a power vacuum.  Ivan graciously agreed, on condition that he was to be allowed absolute power, with no interference.

Ivan was to be married a further 6 times, although it is reputed that possibly two of these wives were fictional.  Apart from his last wife, Maria Nagaya, who managed to out-live him, most of his wives either died prematurely or were packed off to convents.

Ivan had his own gang of thugs, the Oprichnik, sometimes nicknamed “the Tsar’s dogs”, who roamed the streets of Moscow terrorising the populace, constantly on the alert for any criticism of the emperor.  They dressed in black, rode black horses, and carried a severed dog’s head as their emblem.   They didn’t just terrify the ordinary people, they were also there to exact revenge on any aristocrats whom Ivan still had a grudge against.  It is said that more than 4000 of the nobility were killed at their hands.

After a time it was reputed that they held blasphemous Black Masses, with Ivan as their depraved Abbot.   Ivan was never short of imagination when it came to torturing and killing living things.  He used red-hot pincers on victims.  He also used naked women for target practice, and would set packs of starving dogs on his enemies.  He once had hundreds of beggars drowned in a lake.

In 1570 he attacked the city of Novgorod, because he thought the noblemen were planning to defect to Lithuania, resulting in the massacre of about 3000 of its people (historians argue about the true total, some say it might be as high as 60,000).  Ivan’s rage knew no bounds.  The fatalities became so bad that dead bodies clogged the river (shades of Idi Amin’s murderous regime in Uganda in the 1970s).   Families were forced to watch their own loved ones being tortured.  Women were roasted over open fires.   By now Ivan’s reputation was so terrible indeed that it is said that when he invaded the neighbouring state of Livonia, a garrison blew themselves up rather than fall into his hands.

His anger did seem to exhaust itself in the end.  He eventually disbanded the Oprichniki, and from then on banned any mention of them.   Perhaps his anger and paranoia had finally worked its way out of his system.   By his final years he was very ill.  One British trader, Sir Jerome Horsey, spoke that “the emperor began grievously to swell in his cods”.  Sir Jerome also remarked that the Tsar liked to brag about the “thousand virgins he had deflowered”, and the thousands of his own children he had destroyed.  Ivan’s end when it came was surprisingly peaceful, considering the life he had lived anyway.  He suffered a stroke, and keeled over backwards one evening in March 1584, when he was preparing to play chess.  He was removed to his bed-chamber, where he dressed like a monk, and took to his bed.

His death led to the much-dreaded power vacuum in Russia.  His son Feodor wasn’t fit to govern, and when he died, childless, in 1598, Russia was plunged into what became known as The Time Of Troubles, when the country was racked by revolt and war, and a famine which wiped out 2 million people.   In 1613 the Romanov dynasty came to power, and would reside over Russia for the next 300 years, until they met their own ignominious end, at the hands of Bolshevik assassins, in a cellar at Yekateringburg in 1918.


There are many theories as to why Ivan was quite so terrible as he was.  Some blame his awful childhood, which certainly left him with a vengeful spirit.  Others blame ill-health.  When Ivan’s body was exhumed by Soviet scientists in 1963, it was found to contain excessive levels of mercury.  It is thought this may have been from a healing ointment, which was applied to the pains in Ivan’s joints.   But there is an even more fantastical  theory.

In the early 1990s Dr Rudolph Vanzhaev was trying to reconstruct Ivan’s facial features when he discovered a small metallic plate in the Tsar’s skull, 1 cm in diameter, said to resemble “a complicated electronic mechanism”, similar to an electronic chip used in computers.   It is thought, because of the layer of bone tissue which had grown around it, that this may have been implanted in him as a small child.   Dr  Vanzhaev said that this strange object may have increased the Tsar’s intellectual capabilities, but at the same time may also have caused his uncontrollable rages.  On closer examination it was deduced that the object may have transmitted electric impulses to Ivan’s brain and heart.

It is said that Ivan had a habit of often putting his hand on his head, although he never complained of any pain there.   Another researcher, Vladimir Alexeevich Smemshuk, went even further, and said that he believed the Tsar had been under “alien control”, and that Ivan had been visited by strange humanoid figures when alone in his room.

Well, as I said, make of that what you will, but IF Ivan had been under alien control … then their motives weren’t exactly beneficial to the human race!




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