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[1560 A.D.] from God, that he found no great difficulty ultimately in confounding to the imagination of an enslaved and uninstructed people the distinction between God and the sovereign; and in every crisis of disaster that occurred, the people fell back upon their fanaticism, and looked to the czar for that succour which could alone come from heaven. Deserted at this moment by Ivan, they began to believe that they were deserted by Omnipotence.
A month elapsed, and no tidings were received of the destination or proceedings of the czar. At length, at the end of that period, two letters were received from him; the one addressed to the metropolitan, the other to the people. The former epistle contained a recapitulation of the disorders that had prevailed during his minority, all of which he attributed to the clergy and the boyars; and he asserted that similar crimes against the majesty of the state were about to break out anew. He also complained that his attempts to secure the public tranquillity were constantly thwarted by the evil interference of Athanasius and the clergy; that, therefore, he had abandoned the helm of affairs, and had left Moscow to wander about the earth. In his letter to the people, he assured them of his good will, repeated that he had no cause of complaint against them, and concluded by bidding them farewell for ever. It appeared by his epistles that he had intrenched himself in Alexandrovski, a distant fortress that lay in the depths of a gloomy forest.
These communications spread dismay amongst the Muscovites. Ivan's severity towards the nobility and clergy had, even against the grain of reason, procured him no inconsiderable popularity with the bulk of the people; and on this occasion it broke forth in lamentations, which derived much of their force from the association of the ideas of the throne of the czar and the throne of heaven. Groups of disconsolate citizens assembled in the street to confer upon what was to be done; the shops were shut, the tribunals of justice and public offices were closed, and every kind of business was suspended. "The czar," they exclaimed, "has forsaken us, and we are lost. Who will now defend us against the enemy? what are sheep without the shepherd?" In this state of despair a deputation of the principal inhabitants waited upon the metropolitan, and besought of him to solicit Ivan to return to his faithful subjects. Frantic with desperate zeal, they cried, "Let him punish all those who deserve it; has he not the power of life and death? The state cannot remain without a head, and we will not acknowledge any other than the one God has given us." It was at last resolved that a numerous body of prelates and nobles should hasten to Alexandrovski, prostrate themselves in the dust before Ivan, and entreat of him to return to Moscow. This proceeding had the desired effect. They discovered Ivan in his retreat, struck the ground before him with their heads, and supplicated him for the sake of the souls of millions, which were now perishing in his absence as the head of the orthodox church, to resume his holy functions. This was what Ivan wanted: he affected to be much moved by their prayers, and with a show of reluctance consented to return, provided the clergy pledged themselves not to interfere whenever he found it necessary to punish those who engaged in conspiracies against the state, or against him or his family. This artful condition was immediately granted; and the magnanimity of a tyrant who thus entrapped the people into an admission of the necessity of his despotic proceedings, was extolled to the skies.
The restoration of the despot was received with acclamations; but the Muscovites were astonished by the great alteration which had taken place in his personal appearance during his absence. Only a month, say their
[1560 A.D.] historians, had elapsed, yet they hardly knew him again. His powerful and muscular body, his expanded chest, and robust limbs, had shrunk to a skeleton; his head, once covered with luxuriant locks, was now bald; his rich and flowing beard was reduced to a few ragged stumps; his eyes were dull; and his features, stamped with a ravenous ferocity, were now deformed by apparent thought and anguish. Yet these sad changes, the fearful effects of the incessant tortures of a mind bewildered by its own furyexcited the sympathies of the infatuated citizens who beheld them.
After his entry into Moscow he addressed the people, again expatiating on the crimes of the boyars and the necessity for exercising the dominant sovereign sway in its extreme development. To this succeeded a pious exhortation on the vanities of the world - one of the arguments by which he endeavoured to reconcile his victims to their miserable fate which he concluded by a proposal to institute a new body-guard, to be composed of one thousand men of noble birth, chosen from the general body of the army, and to be called the Opritshnina, or select legion. The people, blind to the danger of conceding so great a power to the sovereign, willingly acceded to this proposal, the execution of which was but a new instrument for destroying their liberties. The select legion, better known in subsequent years by the name of the Strelitz, was the foundation of a regular standing army in Russia; for until the formation of that corps the military force of the empire was raised upon occasions, each nobleman contributing according to his ability to meet the exigencies of the demand.1
THE REIGN OF TERROR
This was the first step to the new reign of terror; and while the select legion was in course of formation, Ivan employed himself in the erection of a new palace outside the walls of the Kremlin; for it appears that his ambition or his fears produced in him a dislike for the ancient residence of the royal family. In order to build this unnecessary palace, he drove out all the inhabitants of the adjacent streets, and posted his satellites around the neighbourhood to keep it free from intrusion. Twelve thousand of the richest inhabitants were dispossessed of their estates to make room for his designs, and upon the creatures of his disgraceful bounty he bestowed the spoils of his plunder. The new palace was to all intents an impregnable fortress; yet such were the secret horrors engendered by his course of villanies, that Ivan, thinking that it was not sufficiently secure, retired again to Alexandrovski, which expanded from an humble village into a considerable town. It contained a celebrated church of our Lady, which was painted on the outside with the most gaudy colors, every brick containing the representation of a cross. Here the czar possessed a large palace surrounded by a ditch and ramparts: his civil and military functionaries had separate houses; and the legionaries and trades-people had distinct streets. One of the rules imposed by the tyrant was that no person should enter or leave the town without his express permission, and a patrol constantly occupied the neighbourhood to observe that this order was fulfilled. A new notion now possessed him. Buried in the forlorn solitudes of the deep forests, he converted his palace into a monastery, assumed the style and title of abbot, turned his favourites into monks, and called his body of select and depraved legionaries by the name of the Brothers. He provided them all with black vestments, under
['The Opritshnina, composed at first, or supposed to be composed, of men of noble birth, was really filled by persons of the lowest class, who acted as spies, informers and assassins.
which they wore splendid habits, embroidered with gold and fur; and he instituted a code of practice as austere as it was inconsistent. Át three o'clock in the morning, the matin service began, which lasted until seven; at eight mass commenced again, and at ten the whole body, except Ivan, who stood reading aloud from some religious book, sat down to a sumptuous repast. The remnants of the table were afterwards distributed amongst the poor for throughout the whole of Ivan's actions there was always an evident desire to win the favour of the multitude; the czar dined after the rest, and then descended to the dungeons to witness the infliction of tortures upon some of his victims, which gave him extraordinary delight. At eight o'clock vespers were read; and at ten Ivan retired to his chamber, where he was lulled to sleep by three blind men. To diversify this monotonous life, he sometimes visited the monasteries, or hunted wild beasts in the woods; but he was constantly employed in issuing his instructions upon public business, and even during prayers often gave his most cruel and sanguinary orders. Such was the life of the tyrant in his gloomy seclusion at Alexandrovski.
During this period, the select legion increased in number to six thuousand men, embracing in their body all the abandoned and infamous wretches who could be procured for hire. As types of their office, they were ordered to suspend from the saddle-bow a dog's head and a broom- the former to signify that they worried the enemies of the czar, and the latter to indicate that they swept them off the face of the earth. They went from street to street armed with long daggers and hatchets in search of victims, who amounted daily to a score. They soon became the objects of fear and execration. The first victims were the prince Shuiski and his son. At the place of execution, the younger offered himself first to the axe; but the feelings of nature were so strong in the heart of the parent, that he could not endure to witness the death of his son, and he insisted on receiving his death first. When his head rolled off, his son embraced it in a passion of tears; and while the lips of the living yet clung to the quivering and agonised features of the dead, the executioner's axe descended upon the son's neck. On the same day four other princes were beheaded, and a fifth impaled. Several boyars were exiled, others forced to embrace the monastic vows, and a still greater number were beggared by confiscation. These horrors increased every day. The streets and squares were filled with dead bodies; and such was the universal terror, that the survivors did not dare to appear to give the rites of burial to the dead. It would appear that the murder of individuals ceased at length to satisfy the insatiate appetite of the monster: he longed for massacre on a more extended scale; his eyes grew tired of the slow process of execution in detail. Accordingly he sought for excuses to lay whole towns in blood. A few of the inhabitants of Tortchesk happening one day to quarrel with some of the legionaries, Ivan declared them all to be rebels, and instantly caused them en masse to be either tortured to death or drowned. The inhabitants of Kolomna were similarly disposed of, merely because they were the dependents of a nobleman who had outgrown his favour. He spared neither sex nor age. Many ladies were exposed in the streets, and then shot in the public sight.
THE MARCH AGAINST NOVGOROD
These atrocities, unparalleled in the annals of the world, form but the prelude to the enormous crimes of this infamous prince. His march of devasta
[1569 A.D.] tion to Novgorod may be considered as the grand act of his career of blood. The provocation which led to the sanguinary punishment of that city was a falsehood invented by a profligate fellow who wanted to escape justice, and to take revenge upon the authorities, who had found him guilty of the commission of some offences. This criminal, knowing that Ivan rewarded all those who came before him with charges of disaffection, wrote a letter in the name of the archbishop and inhabitants of Novgorod to the king of Poland, offering to put the city under that monarch's protection. This letter he carefully concealed behind an image of the Virgin in the church of St. Sophia, and then laid before the czar at Moscow a private revelation of the conspiracy which he had himself invented. Ivan despatched a trusty messenger to Novgorod, who discovered the letter in the spot to which the informer had referred, and, upon this evidence, the city was denounced to the vengeance of the select legion. But as it was likely that the sight of this dreadful deed would be more exciting than any he had hitherto witnessed, Ivan put himself at the head of his guards, and in December 1569, accompanied by his son, departed from Alexandrovski on his mission of destruction.
On his way he passed through the town of Klin, and exterminated the whole of the population. When he arrived at the city of Tver, he took up his quarters at a monastery outside the gates, and sent his soldiers into the city to massacre and plunder the inhabitants at will. The horrors of the scene reminded the unfortunate people of the terrible cruelties inflicted upon their ancestors by the khan Usbak in 1327. At some of the feats of death, Ivan himself assisted: and his confidential minister Skuratov secretly entered the cell of a monastery where the virtuous and deposed metropolitan was confined, and strangled him.
Proceeding onwards from Tver, Ivan depopulated all the towns on his route to the banks of the Ilmen: and on the 2d of January his advanced guard entered the devoted and miserable city of Novgorod. The preparations made upon this occasion to ensure the complete carnage meditated by the tyrant, are memorable proofs of the coolness with which the demons of the Opritshnina executed the will of their savage leader. They ordered the churches and convents to be closed, and demanded a temporary levy from the monks of twenty roubles per head; and such unfortunate ecclesiastics as were unable to comply with this exorbitant exaction were deliberately flogged from morning till night. The houses of the inhabitants were placed under seizure, and guarded at the entrances, and the owners thrown into chains. This was merely preliminary to the arrival of the monarch.
In four days afterwards Ivan and the remainder arrived, and rested within two versts of the city. On the following morning all the monks who had failed to pay the redemption tax were taken out, beaten to death with clubs, and their bodies sent to their respective monasteries for interment. On the next day, accompanied as before by his son, Ivan made his solemn entrance at the head of his troops into the city. The archbishop, with the clergy, carrying the miraculous images, met him on the bridge, and attempted to utter the accustomed benediction: but Ivan, interrupting the ceremony, addressed them in a long harrangue, which consisted of an elaborate curse against their order. Having satisfied his rage by the delivery of this anathema, he ordered the crucifix and images to be borne into the church of St. Sophia, where he heard mass, praying with great fervour, and then retired to the episcopal palace, where he sat down to dinner surrounded by his boyars. Suddenly, in the midst of the feast, he started up and raised a terrible cry. The signal was scarcely given when his satellites, as if by magic, appeared in a body before
[1569 A.D.] him, and seized the archbishop, and the officers and servants. The palace and the cloisters were then given up to plunder. The czar's confessor, assisted in the sacrilege by the master of the ceremonies, burst into the cathedral and carried off its sacred treasures, the rich vestments, the images, and the bells. The churches and monasteries were all pillaged, and not a fragment of the precious accumulations of the temples and religious houses escaped the impious hands of the spoliators.
Next came the massacre of the inhabitants, which was conducted with the utmost patience and regularity. Every day from five hundred to one thousand Novgorodians were brought before Ivan and his son, and immediately put to death either by torture or fire. Some were tied to sledges and dragged into the Volkhov; others flung over the bridge into the river-wives with their husbands, mothers with their tender infants; while soldiers armed with long sharp spears sailed on the water to pierce and hew those who attempted to escape by swimming. When the massacre had continued in this way for five weeks, Ivan drew off and visited the neighbouring monasteries, which he pillaged indiscriminately, levelling houses, destroying cattle, and burning the corn. He then returned to Novgorod, and inspected in person the remaining work of destruction. He passed through the streets while his myrmidons plundered the shops and houses, which were entered by the doors or windows indifferently: rich silks and furs were divided by the brutal soldiery, and all unavailable goods, such as hemp and wax and tallow, were either burnt or cast into the river. Detachments were then sent into the adjacent domains to plunder and murder without any respect of persons.
Having exhausted all his arts of ruin, Ivan now relaxed, and issued a general pardon to the few wretched persons who survived, and to whom death would have been an act of mercy. He summoned them to appear before him; and a ghastly assemblage of skeletons, motionless and in despair, stood in the presence of the murderer like ghosts invoked from the grave. Untouched by the appalling sight, he addressed them in the mildest language, desired to have their prayers that he might have a long and happy reign, and took his leave of them in the most gracious words. The miserable inhabitants were smote with delirium; they looked around them in vain for the friends that had been sacrificed, for the houses and the wealth that had been laid waste. Sixty thousand victims were stretched dead in the streets of the once proud and opulent republic: and to complete its melancholy doom, pestilence and a famine succeeded, sweeping off nearly all those who had survived the extermination of the less merciful czar. The city was now entirely depopulated, and presented the sepulchral aspect of a vast cemetery.
The monster passed on to the city of Pskov, where, however, he consented to forego his terrible schemes of destruction, satisfying himself with plundering the principal inhabitants. He then returned home to Moscow, loaded with plunder, and carrying in his train the archbishop of Novgorod, and other distinguished victims, whom he reserved for a public execution.
CARNAGE IN MOSCOW
He had no sooner arrived in Moscow than he caused several of his favourites to be arrested on the ground of suspicion, but really in order to increase the number of the wretches he designed to put to death; and thus, naming a day for a general execution of the whole, extensive preparations were made in the market place to carry his inhuman project into execution. Eighteen gibbets were erected, numberless instruments of torture were exhibited, and a great