Ivan the Terrible – the name evokes the legend of a cruel and dangerously insane tyrant. Fearful Majesty explores that legend and exposes the man, his nature, and his time.
This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Ivan IV oversaw huge conquests of neighboring lands, the creation of a national church, and Russia’s emergence as a world power.
Arrogant, handsome, a gifted orator and theologian, Ivan was well educated but cruel, profoundly egotistical yet cowardly, scarred by childhood terrors. He was also the Russian ruler whose policies first cast Russia in the role of “Evil Empire” to the West.
Throughout his reign, Ivan’s unbalanced genius erupted in a tyranny so violent that it threatened to destroy his bloodline, his court, his church, his country.
“A portrait of Ivan the Terrible as a figure of high tragedy rather than a madman or a villain. [A] lively... biography of one of the most paradoxical and terrifying figures in Russian history.” – The New York Times
"The most objective and comprehensive analysis of Ivan which has ever appeared in English... A fresh interpretation..."
– History Book Club News
"It is seldom that the tsar's life and times have been delineated with as much style, felicity, skill, and sheer readability. Bobrick's biography is far superior to anything in this genre that had appeared for a long time." – Canadian-American Slavic Studies
Updated Second Edition, with maps and illustrations.
The 16th century of Ivan is explored here at wearing length. Writing prose of a gloominess that matches the era, Bobrick (Labyrinths of Iron) presents Russian history going back to Christianization in A.D. 988 before birthing Ivan in 1530, then to his crowning in 1547 and marriage that same year to Anastasia, his "little heifer'' who bore him six children before she was poisoned mysteriously in 1560 (second wife Maria met a like fate). Ivan's reformist reign turned despotic following Anastasia's death, as, at home, he established the Oprichniki, storm-troopers who implemented his decrees, and, to expand his territory, warred with the Tartars, Poland, Sweden and Lithuania while establishing diplomatic relationships with England. In 1582, Ivan was to see his 25-year drive to the Baltic end in defeat when, by treaty, he relinquished territory to Poland. Bobrick's focus is on militarism, scanting internal affairs other than factionalism of church and state. And he cursorily suggests relief throughout the realm when at Ivan's death in 1584, the simpleton Fydor, his only surviving child, was left to carry on the House of Rurik.