Tsar Ivan The Terrible Established The State Policy Oprichnina
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Tsar Ivan the Terrible established the state policy oprichnina in 1565-72 Russia as a response to the drawn-out, expensive and failing Livonian War, the suspected treason of the boyars (Russian nobility), and the consequential defection of Prince Kurbsky. Initially implemented as a reform, the oprichnina turned into a madness of secret police, public executions, mass oppression, and the seizures of Russian aristocratic estates. Claiming tens of thousands of lives, the oprichnina, born of the paranoia of Ivan, was a terrifying foreshadow of the state-instituted terror destined to plague Russia in centuries to come.
Oprichnina, a term coined by Ivan for this policy, derives from the Russian word oprich, meaning “put aside” or “except”. Originally, however, the oprichnina referred to the payments made to noblemen’s widows. This spouse-supporting connotation was quickly lost when Ivan implemented his policies, making oprichnina allude to the mass torture and murder we recognise today.
In December 1964, Ivan left Moscow for Aleksandrova Sloboa, early the next year he sent off two letters. The first, an assault on the boyars and the clergy and also announcing his abdication. The second, a reassurance to the people of Muscovy that their God-anointed ruler still loved them. Ivan was not popular amongst the ruling classes, rebellious plots were common, however, his absence left a power vacuum which would lead, inevitably, to a struggle for power and most probably to a civil war.