This Day In History: Ivan The Terrible Gets Even More Terrible

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Ivan the Terrible and his son, illustration on old postcard by J.E. Repin. (Culture Club/Getty Images)

As his name implied, Ivan the Terrible was a pretty sketchy guy. Power hungry and blood thirsty, he reigned as the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547 and the first Tsar of all of Russia from 1547 to 1584. He had a foul temper and a cruel disposition, which earned him his nickname, but it was the murder of his own son that truly cemented his title.

Ivan Ivanovich

Ivan Ivanovich was the second son born to Ivan the Terrible and his first wife, Anastasia Romanovna (no, obviously, not that Anastasia). Their elder son died in infancy, leaving Ivanovich as the heir, a charge he took seriously, joining his father in battle and even saving him from an assassin. He was a scholar at heart, however, and even wrote a complete biography of Antony of Siya in his spare time. Daddy Ivan was thirsty for grandchildren, as tsars tended to be in those days, so Ivanovich was married to a series of women who were sent to convents when they failed to get pregnant immediately until finally hitting pay dirt with his final wife, Yelena Sheremeteva.

Ivan the Terrible meditating at the deathbed of his son by Vyacheslav Schwarz (1861). (Tretyakov Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)

Death Of An Heir

His Terribleness seemed to have an ambivalent attitude toward his future descendants, however, because on November 15, 1581, he decided he didn't like the dress his pregnant daughter-in-law was wearing and beat her so badly that she suffered a miscarriage. An enraged Ivanovich confronted his father, who accused him of insubordination and plotting to incite rebellion against him, and the argument escalated until Ivan the Terrible picked up his scepter and hit his son over the head with it.

As Ivanovich fell to the ground, bleeding and barely conscious, his father reportedly dropped the murder weapon, fell to his knees beside his son, kissed his son's blood-soaked face, and cried out, "May I be damned! I've killed my son! I've killed my son!" Doctors were summoned to attend to Ivanovich's wounds, but he succumbed to his injuries the next day.

Feodor I of Russia. (Kremlin Armory/Wikimedia Commons)

The Time Of Troubles

Ivan the Terrible's actions that day were not only devastating to his family but to centuries of Russian history. With Ivanovich's death, the heirship passed to his younger brother, Feodor, who proved to be an unprepared and inept ruler. Worse yet, Feodor's marriage to Irina Alexandra Godunova failed to produce any children, so his death plunged Russia into a period of political turmoil known as the Time of Troubles. Poetic justice, perhaps, for a man who was downright terrible.