Ivan the Terrible - OLD BEFORE HIS TIME

In this painting, by Alexander Litovchenko, we see Ivan the Terrible "lingering amidst all the riches he was soon to quit forever."  He is showing his treasures to Jerome Horsey, an envoy for Queen Elizabeth of Britain.  Image online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.  PD


Causing a litany of terror and tears throughout the second part of his reign, Ivan Grozny had fallen from grace into madness. As he aged, he was in constant pain. Doctors from England, summoned to Moscow, could not cure him.

Confined to the Kremlin, he became addicted to mercury. (Historians record that he kept a cauldron of mercury bubbling in his private rooms.) At the time, syphilis was treated with mercury (which, in high doses, can bring on fits of rage), and it has been speculated that perhaps Ivan had the disease.

Sir Jerome Horsey (an agent of Britain’s Russia Company who carried letters between Elizabeth I and Ivan IV ) met with Ivan Grozny in 1581. He could see the Tsar had grown old:

His body was shrunken and bent, and although his face seemed more ferocious than ever it was shrivelled prematurely and deathly pale; his ears and lips were tinged with blue and his breathing had become laboured; his eyes moved restlessly, casting furtive glances hither and thither as if he entertained fear of sudden attack; he had grown almost completely bald, and a few rugged grey patches were all that remained of his once luxuriant beard.

"I sleep badly," he complained querulously in answer to Sir Jerome's courteous enquiry regarding his health. "Evil dreams torment me; they are produced by my magic-working enemies. Yet I pray daily for the welfare of the souls of such as have been found guilty of treasonable plottings and transferred to the judgment place of the Eternal, there to answer for their sins. Withal, I concern myself greatly regarding the affairs of state, constant wars against hostile nations, and the welfare of my poor people. My health has consequently suffered greatly. I have grown old before my time."  (Stories of Russian Folk-Life, Donald A. Mackenize, 1916, page 126.)

The man who had grown old before his time, and who had caused such terror throughout the realm, would soon face his own end.


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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5189stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2004

Updated Last Revision: Jul 15, 2019

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