An Englishman's Impressions of Ivan the Terrible


Source:  Readings in Modern European History, edited by James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1906), vol. 2, pp. 301-02, citing Hakluyt, Principale Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries (London, 1893), p. 143.

There have been published a number of travel accounts of Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible; some travelers were far more perceptive than others.

 

The emperor's name in their tongue is Evan Vasilivich; that is as much as to say, John, the son of Vasilie. And by his princely state he is called Otesara (O Tsar !), as his predecessors have been before; which, to interpret, is, “a king that giveth not tribute to any man." And this word Otesara his Majesty's interpreters have of late days interpreted to be an emperor; so that now he is called emperor and great duke of all Russia, etc . . . . And as this emperor, which is now Ivan Vasilivich, doth exceed his predecessors in name--that is, from a duke to an emperor--even so much by report he doth exceed them in stoutness of courage and valiantness and a great deal more; for he is no more afraid of his …enemies, which are not a few, than the hobby [is] of the larks.

This emperor useth great familiarity, as well unto all his nobles and subjects as also unto strangers which serve him either in his wars or in occupations; for his pleasure is that they shall dine oftentimes in the year in his presence, and, besides that, he is oftentimes abroad, either at one church or another, and walking with his noblemen abroad. And by this means he is not only beloved of his nobles and commons, but also had in great fear and dread through all his dominions, so that I think that no prince in Christendom is more feared of his own than he is, nor yet better beloved. For if he bid any of his dukes go, they will run; if he give any evil or angry word to any of them, the party will not come again into his Majesty's presence for a long time if he be not sent for, but he will feign him to be very sick, and will let the hair of his head grow very long, without either cutting or shaving, which is an evident token that he is in the emperor's displeasure; for when they be in their prosperity they account it a shame to wear long hair, in consideration whereof they use to have their heads shaven.

His Majesty heareth all complaints himself, and with his own mouth giveth sentence and judgment of all matters, and that with expedition; but with religious matters he meddleth not withal, but referreth them wholly unto the metropolitan.

His Majesty retaineth and well rewardeth all strangers that come to serve him, and especially men of war.

He delighteth not greatly in hawking, hunting, or any other pastime, nor in hearing instruments or music, but setteth his whole delight upon two things: first, to serve God, as undoubtedly he is very devout in his religion; and the second, how to subdue and conquer his enemies.

 

 

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