Ivan the Terrible/Part 4/Chapter 4

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Ivan the Terrible
by Kazimierz Waliszewski, translated by Lady Mary Loyd
Part IV, Chapter IV: The Court of Ivan the Terrible—His Private Life
186845Ivan the TerriblePart IV, Chapter IV: The Court of Ivan the Terrible—His Private LifeLady Mary LoydKazimierz Waliszewski




I.—The Court.

Chancellor's first impression, when he arrived at Moscow, was a mixture of admiring astonishment and disappointment. The town struck him as being larger than London—city and suburbs together—but he looked in vain for the splendour of which he had heard at Kholmogory. The only way in which the Kremlin surprised him was by its lack of everything he had expected to find there. He was conducted into an edifice which he had heard described as a 'palace of gold,' and it was not much more than a hut.

The celebrated enclosure already presented that appearance of an agglomeration of small things forming one huge whole which endues it, in our day, with such a peculiar type of its own. The great hall of the Palace, with its low vault resting on a single pillar, was ill-suited to the splendour of which it was destined to be the scene. And Ambassadors and distinguished travellers were generally received in another building, of still more modest proportions. Here and there, the furniture stood sparse and rustic—benches and stools of unpainted wood; no trace of comfort of any sort, except a certain quantity of fine carpets and, if we may believe Maskiévitch, whose Memoirs were written in 1594, a calorifère which heated the great hall, and possibly some of the rooms nearest it.

In the sixteenth century, as now, the Kremlin was above all things a little town of churches—the Church of the Annunciation, nearest the Palace, where the Tsar went to Mass every day; the Church of the Assumption, the Metropolitan's cathedral, where the Sovereigns were crowned, and whither they went to hear Mass on great feast-days; the Church of the Archangel Michael, which contained the tombs of the reigning family, and where in those days, as now, wax tapers dropped oily stains on the black palls that covered the wooden coffins; the Church of St. John, with its tall tower full of a multitude of very heavy bells, never rung, for the building would have fallen down, but sounded by moving the clappers to and fro—some score of churches altogether, crammed into a comparatively narrow space, nestling one against the other, and rubbing shoulders with monasteries; dwelling-houses reserved for the use of persons belonging to the Court, shops and workshops.

But Chancellor's first impression was to be altered when he as brought into the presence of the Tsar and his Court. He had seen the royal pomp of the Tudors and the Valois, but none the less was he astonished and delighted. The Sovereign, first of all. … Was that a mere Sovereign he beheld, seated on the famed throne, borne by four creatures modelled on the fantastic monsters of the Apocalypse? Some twenty years later, when Possevino thus saw the Tsar, robed in a long tunic-shaped garment, a tiara on his head and a crozier in his hand, he fancied himself face to face with another Pope, a Pontiff-King, a rex sacrorum. picture of the Virgin above the throne, one of the Saviour on its right, and Biblical scenes painted on all the surrounding walls, framed the monarch in a religious setting, like a god in a temple. Young warriors, with axes on their shoulders, stood on either side of him, indeed, but the Roman Pontiff had his halberdiers. And the most striking point of all, in these sacerdotal surroundings, was the attitude, preserved by every person present—motionless, as though stricken with a kind of stupor. At a slightly later date, Margeret and Fletcher were to be equally struck by this detail. When the Tsar made his entry, the silence over that crowd of officials of every rank, and the serried lines of guards, in long white velvet or satin gowns, and tall white fur caps, half soldiers and half Levites, their gold chains crossed over their breasts, their gleaming axes lifted as though to strike, was so intense that an onlooker, closing his eyes, might have fancied the Palace utterly deserted.

Certainly, if the Sovereign's dwelling struck the traveller as being unworthy of its owner, his courtiers, both as to numbers and splendour, exceeded any to be seen in other countries. A perfect swarm of gentlemen, all glittering with gold and gems, crowded each other to suffocation within the narrow limits of the presence-chamber, overflowed on to the outer landing and the staircase, and filled all the approaches to the building.

Let us consider the elements which composed this gorgeous Court. In the Russian of the sixteenth century the word Court (dvor) had two meanings. It was used to designate the Sovereign's residence, and also to describe the various services centralized in it, and connected alike with the monarch's person and with the necessities of the State. The Sovereign lived in the upper story (vierkh) of the Palace; the rest of the edifice and the buildings connected with it were occupied by various officials who worked in different offices or departments (prikazes), and were employed either in the business of keeping up the Court or in administering the affairs of the country. A century later, Kotochikhine counted forty of these prikazes, divided into chambers (palaty), and forming as many independent ministries—the town prikaze, the Customs prikaze, the Chief Court prikaze, which last fulfilled the functions of the present Court Minister. Yet the service of the Court was in the hands of a number of special departments—the prikaze for supplies, or jiteïnyï dvor, for the Court table; the kormovoï dvor for bread; the khlebnyï dvor for the cellars, the wardrobe, the stables. The wardrobe department, which had to clothe, not the Sovereign only, but, on certain occasions, the whole of the Court, both great dignitaries and ordinary officials, had its own workshop, the masterskaïa palata, and huge warehouses, and its work was no sinecure.

The posts connected with the Court were very numerous. Some were very ancient, others of quite modern growth. Nestor mentions the stolniki (dapiferi), whose duty it was to offer the dishes, afterwards cut up and distributed by the kraïtchyï and the okolnitchyï (carving equerry and Great Officer of the Crown), to the Sovereign and his guests at the State banquets. In very ancient times, too, the stolniki were employed in other ways, as envoys to foreign Courts and as provincial governors. The number of these dignitaries reached 500. In the second rank came the spalniki (from spat, to sleep) and the postiélniki (from postiél, bedtime), whose duties were to dress or undress the Sovereign and look after his bedchamber. Besides this, the spalnik was a member of the Privy Council, and the postiélnik was Keeper of the Seals for all secret business. Both these officials slept in the Tsar's room.

The okolnitchyié (from okolo, around—qui circa principem versabantur, as Du Cange says) make their first appearance in 1356, and their duties, likewise exceedingly varied, were generally of a judicial nature. For current affairs the Sovereign also had his striaptchyié (from striapat, to fulfil a duty), who, on great ceremonial occasions, bore the sceptre before him, held up his train, and looked after his arms. These were officers of an inferior rank, but not the lowest in the official hierarchy. After them came the diaki and the podiatchyié, clerks, learned men, who knew how to read and write. Their original function had been to sing in church, and hence their name—diak stands for deacon. They were employed at a later period as clerks in the offices, and by the sixteenth century these diaki were doing very much the work of the modern French référendaire. Some of them had seats on the Council, and were called doumnyié diaki. The podiatchyié were their assistants. At the very bottom of the ladder, and occupying a post which in other countries, and especially in Poland, carried much more prestige with it, came the dvoretskii, or dvornik, originally a sort of Court Marshal, but from the sixteenth century onwards a financial official, more especially—Keeper of the Privy Purse—a reproduction of the Eastern curialis, who underwent the same transformations.

The Tsarina's Court, with the exception of a few pages, none of them over ten years of age, who passed, as they grew up, into the Tsar's household, consisted of ladies only. The chief post was held by a boïarinia, who was responsible for the Privy Purse and the Bedchamber. Next to her a kraïtchinia, whose duty it was to look after all the personnel of the household, ruled a little world of maïsterytsé, dressmakers and embroideresses, gave orders to the postiélnitsé, and shared with them the honour of sleeping, turn about, in the Sovereign's room, and attending her on the rare occasions when she went abroad. When this occurred, the postiélnitsé turned themselves into amazons, mounted horses, and surrounded the Tsarina's coach.

The largest and best-lighted apartment in the portion of the Palace reserved for the Consort's use was a workroom, out of which opened a suite of other chambers—sviétlitsy (from sviétlyi, light)—occupied by some fifty women, all employed either in 'white sewing,' otherwise the making of linen garments, or 'gold sewing,' embroidery in gold or silver thread or silks. These last rooms formed a sort of school of art, just as the Ikonopisnaïa palata, on the other side of the Palace, was at once a studio for producing ikons and an academy of painting. In the sviéilitsy, ikons were also embroidered with a delicacy which still stirs the wonder of modern archeologists.

Ivan, as we have already perceived, was the very wealthy Sovereign of an exceedingly poor country. When Fletcher paid a visit to the Tsar's treasury, he thought he must be dreaming. Great heaps of pearls, emeralds, and rubies lay amongst piles of gold plate and hundreds of gold cups enriched with gems and precious stones of every kind. These riches, which had been constantly amassed from reign to reign, were generally kept hidden away. They were only shown on rare occasions, and then chiefly for the benefit of foreigners. Chancellor, on the occasion of the departure of an embassy to Poland, saw 500 horsemen dressed with a magnificence exceeding anything he had ever imagined. Their garments were of gold and silver tissue, their saddle-housings of pearl-embroidered velvet. All these splendours had come from the Grand Duke's treasury. The boïars composing the guard of honour in attendance on Maximilian's embassy undressed before the envoys to show off the splendour of their undergarments; but all their clothes, upper or under, were the Sovereign's property, and, the display over, everything had to be returned to the place whence it came, 'untorn and unstained,' on pain of fine.

And all this splendour was combined with strange omissions. Jenkinson, when invited to the Tsar's table, was served on gold plate, and reckoned the value of the goblets handed about among the guests at an average of £400 sterling. Fletcher, on a similar occasion, counted 300 officials in gold and silver brocade, who waited at the repast. The Sovereign himself sat at a massive gold table. One hundred dishes, gold, silver-gilt, or silver, were brought in at the same time. But the guests were given neither plates nor knives and forks, much less napkins. The Muscovites habitually carried a knife and spoon in their belts, and the lack of any other convenience was supplied by little cakes, round and flat. In 1576, the Emperor’s envoys noticed that the guests, numbering some 200, at the banquet given in their honour, were themselves supplied before the repast with gold brocade gowns from the Sovereign's wardrobe, and these were replaced, as soon as everyone was seated at table, by white mantles trimmed with ermine.

All these features have an importance of their own with regard to the history of the country and the formation of the national ideas and habits; for they inculcated the conviction that the Russian people, in itself, was nothing, and had nothing. Everything was summed up in the Sovereign's person, and to him everything belonged. The ceremonial observed at these banquets contributed to this belief. The Tsar, having first crossed himself devoutly, helped himself to a slice of meat carved by the equerry carver, offered morsels of it to some of the great personages present, and overlooked the distribution of the dishes amongst the other guests, the bearers of the portions saying to each person, 'The Tsar sends you this,' whereupon the recipient rose in his place and thanked the donor. The same ceremony attended the pouring out of the various beverages. The quality of these last was generally praised by foreigners, but the saffron used in seasoning the dishes, the sauces made of sour milk, and the condiments, cucumber and vinegar, introduced into many of them, were unpleasant to their palates; while the necessity of remaining at table for five or six hours, and drinking every cup of wine sent them, was a trial to the toughest. Further, there was a custom whereby the Sovereign, after the banquet, sent his chief guests, at their own houses, a further supply of victuals and drink, which they were expected to share, then and there, with the Tsar's officers who had brought it. On one occasion one of the Emperor's Ambassadors thus received seven goblets of Burgundy, as many each of Rhine wine, Muscat, French white wine, Canary, Alicant, and Malmsey, twelve measures of the best hydromel, seven hundred jars of an inferior quality, eight dishes of roast swan, as many of spiced crane, several dishes of cocks dressed with ginger, boned fowls, black-cock cooked in saffron, hazel-grouse cooked in cream, ducks with cucumber, geese with rice, hares with dumplings and turnips, elks' brains, inmumerable cakes and pies made with meat, cheese, or sugar, besides pancakes, fritters, jellies, creams, and preserved walnuts. And the poor man had just risen from table!

In that country, truly, Gargantua dwelt in flesh and blood.

At Court, as in all private houses, feasts, immoderate and excessive eating and drinking, were the indispensable accompaniment of every merry-making, and the greatest entertainment that could be offered. And, in spite of the Church's anathemas, other pleasures were by no means banished. One special chamber, the potiéchnaïa palata, had charge of these, in fact. Games were much played in the Tsar's immediate circle—chess, draughts, and cards. There was much hunting with hounds and greyhounds, hawks and falcons. There was bear-hunting, too, and in his earlier years Ivan appears to have been passionately addicted to this sport. Later, when the cares of government absorbed him, the hunting department suffered from his neglect, and when, after the truce of Iam-Zapolski, Batory expressed a desire to have red falcons, such as he had heard the Tsar possessed, Ivan sent the King back a message to the effect that the breed was extinct; the Tsar, owing to his sorrows, had long since given up hawking. Batory, on his ‘side, inquired what present from himself would be most agreeable to the Sovereign. The reply was 'Good horses, iron helmets, and light, straight-carrying muskets.'

All the vanquished foeman of Polotsk and Viélikié-Louki asked of the victor was arms!

Yet even at that moment he kept a certain number of jesters about him, those douraki or chouty who, even as late as towards the middle of the eighteenth century, were to form an integral part of the Court circle. The jokes perpetrated by these official entertainers may have been more or less witty, but they were almost always obscene. Poverty of intellectual culture ‘favoured an excessive coarseness of imagination, and the extreme moral pressure imposed by the ascetic doctrines which prevailed drove men, by a sort of natural reaction, into ‘the most cynical license. Further, the jester, with the freedom of speech permitted him within certain limits, supplied that need of critical and satirical expression which exists in every society, and which, having no literary vent, here found some measure of satisfaction. The choute, with his jeers at the precepts of the Domostroï and the rules of an Oriental etiquette, stirred the heavy atmosphere of prison and cloister combined, which hung stagnant in every Russian household; he opened doors and broke window-panes, and let a little fresh air into these smothering stoves. In those days every house of any importance sheltered one or two such persons. Ivan had dozens of them, and some paid with their lives for the honour of rubbing elbows familiarly with their Sovereign. There was one called Gvozdev—a Prince, like the man who afterwards became the Empress Anne's dourak—who held an important Court appointment; such pluralism was quite a usual and recognised thing. On a certain day, Ivan, for a joke, turned a bowl of boiling soup (chtchi) over Gvozdev's head. When the poor fellow cried out, the Sovereign, who was drunk, replied by a dagger-thrust, and the jester fell, covered with blood. A physician was summoned. 'Cure my faithful servant,' said the Tsar, quite sobered now; 'I have played with him imprudently.' 'So imprudently,' replied the leech, 'that neither God nor your Majesty will ever make him play again in this world!'

Gvozdev was dead!

Like Peter the Great in later days, Ivan gave his jesters a place and a part even in the most solemn ceremonies, and hence the religious emotion felt by those present on these serious occasions, and shared by foreign witnesses, was now and then replaced by very different impressions. Ivan the Terrible, being what we know him to have been, was not capable of keeping up that hieratic attitude in which he would first reveal himself on his throne to his admiring spectators. One day he snatched the cap off a Polish Ambassador's head, put it on that of a choute, and ordered him to bow in the Polish manner. When the man demurred, on the score of ignorance, the Tsar himself mimicked the gesture, went into fits of merriment, and raised a laugh all through the assembled gathering at the foreigner's expense. Or, again, like Napoleon I., he would startle another envoy by an outbreak of rage, a flood of abuse and threats. And it was terror, then, that bowed the backs of the courtiers gathered under the low-vaulted roof of the Kremlin.

But at the Sloboda of Alexandrov, most especially, the various aspects of the Court life, thus adapted to the character and habits of the Sovereign of that particular period, made up one of the strangest pictures ever bequeathed by history to a wondering posterity.

II.—The Sloboda of Alexandrov.

After the conflagration of 1547, by which the Kremlin was almost entirely destroyed, Ivan lived for some time in the village of Vorobiévo, while a wooden residence was being hastily constructed for his use at Moscow, and the brick-built Palace, which had been ravaged by the flames, was being restored. In 1565, when he founded the 'Opritchnina, the Sovereign thought for a moment of building himself another palace within the Kremlin. On consideration, however, he concluded it would be better to remove his new dwelling-place to some distance from that he was giving up to the Tsar Simeon, and he chose a site outside, on the Vozdvijenka, and close to the present Gate of the Holy Trinity. Here he took up his quarters in 1567, but his stay was not a long one. Moscow was always as hateful a residence to him as it was to be to Peter the Great. He preferred Kolomenskoié, his father’s favourite home, where he himself went every year to keep his fête-day. In spite of its wild and forbidding landscape, Vologda, on the river of the same name, also had its charms for him. Here, by his orders, a huge wooden palace was raised on an eminence on which the present Government offices now stand. Here, too, he built a cathedral on the model of that of the Assumption. But before long the Sloboda of Alexandrov took the gloomy despot's fancy, and held it.

This famous suburb was Ivan the Terrible's Plessis-les-Tours, just as Maliouta-Skouratov was his Tristan-l'Ermite. A. Tolstoï has given us a picturesque but purely imaginary description of the dwelling. The buildings of the present Monastery of the Assumption at Alexandrov are said to contain part of the ancient Palace, which has disappeared and left no visible trace behind. This monastery, like the Palace at Vologda, stands on an eminence over the river. The cathedral within its walls does appear to be of Ivan's date. We can still recognise a door brought from Novgorod after the sacking of that town, and the whole edifice looks like a reconstruction, into the composition of which elements originally intended for a quite different purpose have entered; the doors and windows are dotted about with no apparent meaning, and there are recesses in the walls which are quite unsuitable to modern requirements. The same peculiarities are noticeable in the Monastery of the Child Jesus at Tver, where St. Philip's cell has been turned into a chapel. At Alexandrov, apart from the cathedral, a block of masonry which certainly belonged to some other building still exists. Some persons have thought they recognised in this the site of the rooms once tenanted by Ivan and his associates. This conjecture would seem to be confirmed by the huge basements, with their mysterious recesses and subterranean passages plunging into unknown depths, out of which the visitor expects to see bloody phantoms rise.

But these walls, which may have seen and heard so many things, are dumb now, and local tradition is as dumb. To reconstitute the history of all that happened there—all that stood for so much in the life of a most remarkable man, and the story of a great country, we are fain to fall back on legends and on a few unreliable chroniclers. This suburb, the seat of a government, the centre of an administration, has slipped, as to both these memories, through the fingers of posterity, even that nearest to it; and those contemporaries who mention it at all consider it little better than a resort of brigands. Yet a verification of their narratives by comparison with some few more reliable documents and certain established facts may enable us to form some idea of what the dwelling, and the lives of those who dwelt in it, may have been.

I have already given my opinion as to the accusations brought against the Opritchnina. It was a revolutionary undertaking, and its natural consequence was a reign of terror, attended by inevitable excesses. The fellow-workers to whom Ivan found himself obliged to appeal, some of them drawn from the lowest strata of society, and all incapable of understanding the nature and real object of his enterprise, were even more inclined than he himself to confuse violence with energy. And, docile instruments and complaisant courtiers as they were, they flattered and increased the taste for coarse debauchery which the Sovereign owed to his education, and to certain cruel instincts, inherent, no doubt, in his temperament. The chroniclers have preserved the names of these fellow-workers to us. First of all, and in the front rank, came the boïar Alexis Basmanov and his son Feodor; Prince Athanasius Viazemski; Vassili Griaznoï, Archimandrite of the Monastery of Tchoudov; Levkiï; and, fiercest and most illustrious of them all, Gregory Loukianovitch Maliouta-Skouratoy. At a later period, Bogdan Biélski, who, with Basmanov and several others, was reported to be the Tsar's mignon, and Boris Goudounov, Skouratov's son-in-law, and himself to be Tsar one day, were paramount in the Sovereign's favour and confidence.

In this inner circle, legend assigns the highest place to Anastasia's brother, Nikita Romanovitch Zakharine, a personage with whom we have already made acquaintance. Relying on I know not what or which appearances or realities, it has endued him with virtues—a generous and loyal heart, and a pure and upright mind—which strike one as being somewhat incompatible with such surroundings. Taking it all together, I am inclined to think Ivan, in that particular phase of his life, at all events, could not have put up with a comrade of this sort, and that Zakharine has reaped the benefit of a deliberate process of idealization applied to the historical origin of the whole of his family, once it had become the ancestor of an Imperial house.

In principle, indeed, the Sloboda of Alexandrov was anything but a home of debauchery. Ivan, as we know, always affected a great inclination towards the monastic life, and certain monastic tendencies were frequently allied, in his case, with a looseness of morals really by no means foreign to the cloistered rule of those days. We have seen, too, that he was anxious to work a reform which would have brought back the monastic world to a stricter observance of the rules, all too often broken, of the religious life. The idea of setting a personal example in this respect certainly swayed the conception of the system he adopted, and applied, for many years, to the internal arrangements of his Court at Alexandrov. The chief features of the constitution of the Opritchnina already endued it with certain of the characteristics of brotherhood. Each of the Opritchniki took a special oath which bore some resemblance to vows. He renounced the world, after a fashion, and gave up all his former relations. The Sloboda bore all the outward appearance of a hermitage. Within its walls 300 comrades, more specially attached to the Sovereign's person, lived according to a most severe rule. Over their gold-embroidered kaftans they had to wear black gowns, and take their part in most complicated religious observances. The Tsar was the prior, Viaziémski cellarer, Skouratov sacristan. The Sovereign himself, with his sons, rang the bells for service. At midnight everybody was on foot for the first prayers. At four o'clock in the morning all were in church again for matins, which lasted till seven. At eight everyone heard Mass, and Ivan took pains to edify his comrades by prostrating himself over and over again, till his forehead was covered with bumps. At twelve o'clock dinner was served in the refectory, the Tsar reading aloud from some pious book, and, as in the best-managed monasteries, all the food that remained over was given to the poor. The Sovereign, as prior of the community, ate his meals alone, but everybody sat down together afterwards to drink. Some of the Opritchniki made these entertainments as lively as if they had been qualified jesters, and ladies were admitted to them. …

To Ivan, as to most of his contemporaries, this constituted the ideal of the religious life—excess of devotion redeeming excess of debauch, external practices and material austerity atoning for lack of internal piety, and excusing the worst moral failings. And in that sense, the Sloboda of Alexandrov was a place of stern discipline. There is no doubt Ivan took his parody in the most serious way. I see a proof of this in the celebrated epistle he addressed, in 1575, to the Archimandrite and monks of the Monastery of St. Cyril at Biélooziéro. The man who indited this missive was certainly imbued with the conviction that he himself was a monk called to hold converse with other monks on a subject peculiarly interesting to men of the same vocation. The correspondence took its rise out of the following circumstances. The powerful family of the Chérémétiév was one of those which had been most sorely tried by the persecution under which the upper aristocracy had suffered subsequent to Ivan's accession to the throne. One of the three brothers who were its chief members, Nikita Vassilivitch, had been put to death; another, Ivan, a renowned warrior, had made acquaintance with prison and the torture-chamber. To escape worse treatment, he had retired to the Monastery of Biélooziéro, and there become a monk, under the name of Iona. According to the custom of those days, such an entrance into the religious life, imposed by sheer necessity, admitted of a very liberal amount of compromise. Brother Iona gave up part of his fortune to the community, but he still retained a very large amount, and led an independent life in a house close to the monastery, where he was attended by numerous servants, and kept a liberal kitchen, and everything else to match. He was exceedingly hospitable, and the monks, who took advantage of this, returned the compliment by showing him every kind of civility, sending him presents and dainties of various kinds. The monastery itself was not addicted to privation. The establishment was an enormous one. Round the chief building stood eleven others, which sheltered the kitchens, the bakeries, the storehouses, and in one part of the edifice, still intact, there are 700 rooms, supposed to have been occupied by servants. Chérémétiév was not the only monk of noble birth in the establishment. The community could likewise boast the presence of Vassili Stepanovitch Sobakine, known in religion as Varlaam; Ivan Ivanovitch Khabarov, son of the famous Khabar Simskii; and other viélmoji, sent there in disgrace by Ivan. There were frequent disputes between these guests, some of whom, less rich, and consequently less well treated than Chérémétiév, looked on the favours of which he was the recipient with a jealous eye. In this way a complaint reached Ivan, who could not fail to be displeased at hearing that men whom he had disgraced were still enjoying so many privileges in their exile. And the Sovereign at once set about calling the monks to order. Chérémétiév must take his meals at the common table. When the monks excused themselves by saying that their brother's health had rendered the concession necessary, the Tsar thought it well to press the matter further, and wrote the epistle, which, from the literary point of view, is probably his masterpiece.

He begins by a confession which would seem to justify the worst of the accusations brought against his private and his public life. With his usual bluntness, he calls himself a 'stinking dog,' living in 'drunkenness, adultery, murder, brigandage,' and other mortal sins. Are we to take him literally? One might fancy there was no reason why he should slander himself. But still less do we see any reason why he should declare, immediately afterwards, that the few truths he proposes to tell his brothers 'come out of his foolishness.' The real meaning of this preamble is very soon apparent. The Prior of Alexandrov is talking the language habitually used by the monks of his period. He accuses himself and humbles himself, he bows his head and strikes at himself by a sort of irony, which is to make the blows he is about to deal others mightier still. His conscience is a heavy one indeed. But the repentance of which he makes such a show is as sincere as his claim to be a member of the Biélooziéro community, and thus to a right to interfere in its inner workings, is serious. Some years ago, when paying a visit to the monastery, he remembers having expressed a desire to enter the Order at some future date, and now, turning that intention into accomplished fact, for his own convenience, he arrives, taking this ingenious by-way, at the object of his endeavour, in other words, to lash his contradictors with the spiritual rods which, for the moment, are the chosen weapons of his fancy. And after this fashion he addresses them, sprinkling his discourse, as usual, with quotations and examples culled from the Fathers of the Church and from Scripture history, from Roman annals and Byzantine chronicles.

'Under your roof you have Haman and Caiaphas—Chérémétiév and Khabarov. You have Pilate—Varlaam Sobakine—and you have the Christ, nailed once more upon His Cross. … It is no longer Chérémétiév, it is no longer Khabarov, who have taken the monkish habit in your house—it is you who are their guests. They are a law to you. Go on! To-day some boïar will introduce one piece of license into your midst. To-morrow another will make you accept some fresh concession to your common weaknesses, and thus. little by little, the whole rule of the monastery will be broken down, and your way of life will become exactly the same as that of the rest of the world. … You began by giving Jehosaphat (Kolytchev) a pewter service, and allowing him to be served in his own cell. … Now Chérémétiév has his own table and his own kitchen. And the consequences are beginning to be manifest: all the monks live just as they please. … Tumult, disorder, noise, rebellion, frivolity! … Wherefore? For whom? For that rogue, that dog whose name is Sobakine' (a play on the word sobaka, dog), 'or for that son of the devil whose name is Chérémétiév, or for that idiot whose name is Khabarov! …'

This epistle has been published in the 'Historical Documents' (i., No. 204). Karamzine ('History of Russia,' ix., p. 37; note) believes it was written about 1578. But A. Barssoukov seems to me nearer the truth when he gives the date as having been somewhere between the spring of 1574 and that of 1575 ('The Chérémétiév Family,' i. 324). I must add that all Ivan did was to take and rearrange, to suit his own purpose, texts borrowed from old works on religious controversial subjects, current diatribes against the dissolute habits of the religious communities, with which the monks of Biélooziéro were already well acquainted, as the copies found in their own library prove. As for the spirit which inspired his intervention, it is made evident by the following detail: With the epistle he sent a gold bratina adorned with figures of naked women, in relief, as a present from the Tsar to the community he desired to recall to a sense of its duties!

Here we have the true spirit of the Sloboda of Alexandrov!

Ivan lived there, as Louis XI. had lived at Plessis-les-Tours a century previously, between the monks whose pious exercises he shared, the locksmiths who laboured on the famous fillettes du roi—heavy chains fastened on the legs of the prisoners shut up in the iron cages,—and those other servants of his, whose accounts appear in His Majesty’s books under the head of 'Voluptés'—so much one day for having brought a lady who pleased the King's fancy from Dijon to Tours, and so much another for purchasing two dozen of canary-birds! (Henri Martin, Histoire de France, vii. 145). Though Louis did not turn Plessis-les-Tours into a monastery, we know he built one, close by, for the Calabrian monk Francesco di Paulo. He, too, surrounded himself with 'evil folk of low condition,' while at the same time, to drive away the ennui which devoured him, or still the terrors that haunted him, he collected 'players of the bass viol and of sweet instruments' from all parts of the world. But, so the chronicle of St. Denis tells us, 'nothing could amuse him.'

After evening prayers at the Sloboda of Alexandrov, Ivan betook himself to his bedchamber, where three blind old men awaited his coming. Their duty was to send him to sleep by telling him stories, and no doubt to save him, by their company, from the horrors of loneliness and darkness. In the daytime the Sovereign had other amusements. Is it true, as we have been told, that, when dinner was over, he went round the torture-chambers to enjoy the sight of the anguish inflicted at his command? Did he even act as executioner himself from time to time? Can it be that, morose and gloomy as he was everywhere else, his face changed and he grew merry in the midst of all these horrors, mingling his shouts of laughter with the shrieks of his victims? It may be so. But the Tsar also found pleasure in the less sanguinary—sport afforded him by skomorokhy—tumblers, jugglers, and bear-leaders. Search was made for these all over the country, and those who chose them out were not over-particular. The Novgorod chronicle tells us the story of a certain Soubota Osiétr, who, after abusing and striking a diak named Danilo Barténiev, turned a bear loose on the unlucky official's heels, and let it hunt him into his office, where it spread terror among a knot of employés, some of whom were knocked down by the infuriated creature’s paws. After this exhibition of prowess, the beast and its owner were deemed fair game for the Tsar's entertainment, and were at once sent off to Alexandrov with a troop of skomorokhy.

Bears, whether wild or tame, played a leading part in the life of the suburb. They were made to perform grotesque pantomimes. They were used to startle and mystify visitors. Often, too, they were set to fight pitched battles, not with dogs only, but with human beings. Horsey's story of the terrible experience of six fat monks who were accused of rebellion and forced to fight for their lives with six huge bears, which ate up five of them, though the sixth beast's adversary was strong enough to overcome him, may not be worthy of credence. Guagnino declares that in winter, as soon as the ice-bound river became, as usual, the common haunt of the whole population, which crowded to amuse itself by staring at the shops, the Tsar habitually let some of his domestic plantigrades loose on the peaceable inhabitants. One isolated fact of this nature may have taken place, but its habitual recurrence would no doubt have prevented people from coming back to the river. On this point, as on so many others, the chronicle has probably exaggerated features belonging to some extent, as we have seen, to the history of the general habits of a country and a period in which bear-baiting constituted one of the favourite and most ordinary entertainments of every class of society.

All legends apart, the Sloboda of Alexandrov has left memories most offensive both to morality and decency. The banquets that followed on the pious exercises already referred to were absolute orgies. Women played an important part in the life of Ivan the Terrible, and the Opritchniki, it may be, did what they could to ensure the satisfaction of tastes and needs which neither age nor sickness seem ever to have diminished, in this passionate and most immoderate nature. It is quite probable that this daily debauch may have been marked by odious and occasionally cruel refinements of detail, even if we conclude the chroniclers to have been drawing on their imaginations when they describe Skouratov and Basmanov and their peers as indulging in a delirium of monstrous wickedness with the young peasant women they had stripped and forced to run naked after flying poultry, while they shot at them with arrows. … At a time when genuine monasteries only too often took on the appearance of houses of ill fame, we may easily guess what went on in this one, which was a mere imitation. Adultery throned it there, with the Tsar-Prior, the husband of three or four cast-off wives; and after Anastasia died there was certainly nothing edifying about the life Ivan led. Yet the very fact of his otherwise inexplicable obstinacy in seeking to enter into fresh bonds of matrimony would seem—so far as the Sovereign himself is concerned, at all events—to weaken the authority of the legend concerning the troops of women conveyed into the suburb, and the harem said to have accompanied the Tsar wherever he went. Ivan was a man addicted to women, but his religious scruples made him a man addicted to wives, and who cared so much about marrying them that he would play at being honestly wedded just as he played at living in a monastery.

III.—Ivan's Domestic Life.

The Tsar's second wife, the wild Circassian called Temrioukovna, baptized under the name of Maria, whom he married in 1561, and who died in 1569, bears the reputation of having possessed morals as loose as her instincts were fierce. Two years after her death, Ivan's choice fell on the daughter of a plain Novgorod merchant, called Marfa Vasiliévna Sobakine. She only lived a fortnight after her wedding-day, and the Tsar declared she had been poisoned before she had really become his wife, and died a maid. Thus, at least, he strove to justify the fourth union, to which he at once turned his mind, and which the rules of his Church forbade. He pleaded necessity, pointed out that three of his wives had been poisoned, one after the other; that when the second died he had felt a strong inclination to enter a monastery; that the cares of his children's education and of his Empire—his exact words were 'of the defence of the Christian faith'—had kept him in the world, and still retained him there, and that therefore, 'to avoid falling into sin,' he must take him a wife. The Church gave in, though she imposed a penance on this obstinate espouser of wives, and in 1572 he led the daughter of one of his dvorniks, Anne Koltovski, to the altar. Three years afterwards he sent her to a monastery, accused, so it seems, of being mixed up in a plot, and in the massacres consequent on this accusation the whole of the wretched woman's family appears to have perished. Under the name of Daria, this ex-Tsarina lived on at Tihkvine till the year 1626.

The Tsar then took two mistresses, one after the other, named Anne Vassiltchikov and Vassilissa Meletiév. They passed as his wives, though the Sovereign never went beyond asking his confessor's leave to live with them, and no doubt this dignitary felt the confessional must not deal too strictly with a man of Ivan's kidney. About both these favourites a crop of legends has sprung up, and the work of many a poet and novelist has been inspired by them. Ostrovski, in a famous play which puts both heroines on the scene, and sets one against the other, gives us a striking picture of a rivalry which may be imaginary, but which is wonderfully representative of the historical surroundings amidst which the two women lived and suffered. He makes Anne Vassiltchikov, who realizes that she is on the brink of being supplanted by Vassilissa, whom the author turns into her serving-woman, speak as follows:

'I am terrified here, I cannot breathe; my heart
Is not at rest: the Tsar has ceased to be kind to me:
The servants look at me askance. From far away
I hear the echoes of the master’s pleasures,
The noise of his gaiety. … This dreary palace, for an instant,
Is full of singing and laughter,
Then the silence of the grave falls on it again, as though
Death were everywhere. Only in the recesses
Of the terem I hear low whispers—of executions!
Nothing to warm my heart! I am the Tsar’s wife in the flesh,
But in my heart I am a stranger to him! He frightens me. …
He terrifies me when he is angry, and quite as much when he is merry.
I do not know his love. …
… Like a beast
He seeks my caresses. … Never a tender word!
And as to what I feel in my heart he never asks!'

Ostrovski has probably written true history, again, when he shows us Ivan alone with Vassilissa, now his acknowledged favourite. The Tsar wants to leave his new companion, of whom he is beginning to tire, and she keeps him because she is afraid. She speaks of the dead folk that lie between them, and makes him tremble too. She bids him amuse her, and in vain he answers roughly that he is not where he is for her amusement! She feels cold, and at a sign from her, and after drawing his dagger to strike her, he takes off his kaftan and throws it over her feet. She asks him to call her Tsarina. He answers indignantly, 'What kind of a Tsarina are you? Did I lead you to the altar? Did I have you crowned?' But she replies, 'How can you argue with a silly woman? Spit on her, and then do as she chooses!' And the Tsar obeys once more. She falls asleep, and then, when he is sure she cannot hear him, he speaks to her of love. He, who dares everything, had not dared to do it before!

As to the causes which brought about the disgrace of these two favourites we have no information. Ostrovski may have guessed them rightly when he puts these words, addressed to Anne Vassiltchikov, into Ivan's mouth: 'You are growing thin. … I do not like thin women! …'

According to one of the current legends, a third mistress succeeded these two in 1573, Maria Dolgorouki by name, who was sent away after the very first night—either because the Tsar suspected her affections were engaged elsewhere, or because he had discovered she was not a maid—and drowned in a carriage dragged by runaway horses into the river Siéra. But this story has been told of several of the Tsar's temporary companions, and Anne Vassiltchikov, according to several chroniclers, whose testimony is confirmed by that of Printz von Buchau, was still in favour three years later than this, and finally died a violent death, as it would seem. Vassilissa, after a much shorter career, was shut up, while still young and beautiful, if we may believe the chroniclers, in a cloister at Novgorod, Ivan having perceived that she cast a too friendly eye on Prince Ivan Devtelev, whom he caused to be executed at the same time.

In September, 1580, just when Batory was preparing for his second victorious campaign, the Tsar contracted a seventh or eighth union, more or less legitimate, with Maria Nagoï, daughter of Feodor Feodorovitch, one of his boïars, and this lady soon became the mother of the Tsarevitch Dmitri. At the same time he married his son Feodor to Irene, sister of Boris Godounov, and thus provided himself with a fresh family circle, on which he seems to have concentrated all the affections of his later years. This, however, did not prevent him, as we have already seen, from pursuing his plan for a marriage with Mary Hastings.

My readers will imagine what were the conditions, under such circumstances, of the family life still further disturbed and darkened, in 1581, by a catastrophe to which I have already referred.

IV.—The Tsar's Family.

By his first wife Ivan had two sons. Of these, the second, Feodor, sickly in body and weak in mind, was a person of small importance. The eldest, Ivan, seems to have borne a considerable resemblance, both physically and morally, to his father, and he shared all his occupations and amusements. Like his progenitor, he had literary tastes, and composed a Life of St. Anthony, the manuscript of which is preserved amongst the papers of Count A. Tolstoï. And by the time he was thirty he had married his third wife. Oderborn declares the father and son were in the habit of exchanging their mistresses. When one of these, living at that moment with the Tsarevitch, complained of the language used about her by other ladies, the Tsar is said to have had the culprits seized and laid naked on the snow, so that all the passers-by might see them and jeer at them. I merely mention this story to give some idea of the general opinion as to the relations existing between the Sovereign and his heir.

The Tsarevitch’s first wife was called Eudoxia Sabourov; the name of the second was Praxevna Solov. Both were cast off, and forced to take the veil. The third wife, Helena Chérémétiév, was pregnant when the Tsar killed her husband in a fit of rage. There are various versions of what happened in connection with this murder. Some chroniclers have invented a scene in the course of which the Tsarevitch reproached his father for his cowardice in face of Batory's successes, and demanded the command of an army to make an effort to drive out the invader. Others have supposed he interfered in favour of some Livonian prisoners who were being ill-treated by the Opritchniki. Considering the agreement of feeling and thought which, according to most witnesses, admittedly existed between father and son, these stories strike one as highly improbable. Possevino, who was at Moscow three months after the catastrophe, suggests another, and a much more plausible cause. Ivan seems to have met his daughter-in-law within the precincts of the Palace, and noticed a lack of modesty in her attire. She may, owing to her condition, have omitted putting on a girdle over her sorotchka. In his displeasure, the Tsar-Prior struck the poor woman, and so roughly that she miscarried in the course of the following night. As an inevitable consequence, the Tsarevitch reproached his father, who at once flew into a rage, raised his cruel spear again, and this time his son was struck on the temple.

The crime, unintentional though it was; was beyond what even Ivan had accustomed his contemporaries to expect, and the Sovereign, Possevino tells us, was in despair. He spent his nights weeping, yelling aloud in his grief, and every morning he called his boïars together and told them he felt unworthy to continue to be their ruler. But at the same time, basing his request on Feodor's incapacity, he requested them to choose some other successor, and the courtiers, suspecting a trap, besought him to remain in power.

Of all the events which crammed the reign of Ivan the Terrible, this one has taken the strongest hold on the popular imagination. From Arkhangel to Vladimir, from Olonetz to Nijni-Novgorod, over all the wide expanse of the Russian Empire, songs inspired by the hideous drama have been gathered. Rybnikov has published five of them, Bezsonov twelve, and Hilferding eleven. In one of these bylines the victim is not Ivan, but Feodor, whom Maliouta-Skouratov has denounced as a traitor to the Tsar. 'Treason is in thine Imperial Palace; it sits beside thee: it eats out of the same dish with thee; it wears the same garments as thou.' The poet evidently had a passage out of St. Matthew in his mind (chap. xxvi. 23): 'He that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish, the same shall betray Me.' And then, careless of chronology, he brings in the Tsarina Anastasia and her brother Nikita Romanovitch, who save the innocent Tsarevitch just when he is about to suffer final execution. In others of the poetic versions of the story the Tsar commands that his son's head shall be cut off and set up in front of his Palace; his heart and liver torn out and brought to him; the dagger dripping with his blood shown him, at the very least—and Nikita Romanovitch; the darling hero of the popular poet, deceives the Sovereign by killing a slave, and thus renews the story of Cyrus saved by the envoys of Astyages, or that of Geneviève de Brabant, or of the Sleeping Beauty.

In spite of his resemblance to his father, or because of it, rather, the elder Tsarevitch himself enjoyed considerable popularity. His death was regarded as a national calamity, and all the more so because the future of the country seemed to be threatened by it. Feodor was half an idiot, Dmitri was a little child. The Tsar had had several sons by his numerous concubines—Feodor Basmanov, a brave but cruel man, was believed to be one of these—but none of them had been acknowledged by him. More than ever did Ivan cling to his adopted family, for this man, who did not know what pity meant, had a great need of tenderness. Speaking of Boris Godounov and his sister, he was heard to say they 'were like the two fingers of his hand.' But more than ever, too, he sought to drown his sorrows, and, it may be, his remorse, in an excess of debauchery which was completing the ruin of his already sorely-tried health. Did those gloomy suburb walls hide a mixture of Sodom and Cythera, as most chroniclers have admitted, and as Sylvester's former warnings to his unruly pupil might well lead us to suppose? The authenticity of Sylvester's epistle is doubtful, and a passage from Possevino's narrative has certainly been quite wrongly interpreted in this sense. The Latin words, Qui gratissimus tredecim annos apud Principem fuerat, atque in ejus cubiculo dormiebat, simply imply that Bogdan Biélski, to whom they refer, performed the duties of a spalnik about the Sovereign's person (see ante, p. 360). Many items of the accusation brought against the mysterious Sovereign by chroniclers and historians are no better founded, doubtless, than this one. But the disorders of his life cannot be denied, and they certainly hastened the close of a career which, with Ivan's robust temperament, should have been a very long one.

After Anastasia's death, the Tsar sent 1,000 roubles to the Monastery of the Troïtsa, just twice the amount of the offering he had given for 'the repose of his father’s soul.' In the Tsarina Marfa's case, he reduced his gift to 700 roubles. In that of his son, and moved by feelings which are easy to divine, he sent five times as much, and added an equal sum for himself. He was taking his precautions, and he was not mistaken. His days were numbered.