Tsar Ivan V Born, 1666

by on March 7th, 2015
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Yesterday I wrote about the beard tax levied by Peter the Great, and, in passing, I mentioned the circumstances that led to his becoming Tsar. Today is the anniversary of Peter’s half-brother, his co-ruler Tsar Ivan V.

The previous Tsar, Alexis I, had had two wives. The first, Maria Ilvinichna Miloslavskava, had been his wife for 21 years, and had provided him with 13 children, five boys and eight girls. Two years after he became a widower, Alexis married again, this time to Nataliva Kyrillovna Naryshkina. With Nataliva he produced three more children, two girls and a boy. Both of Alexis’s wives were from houses of minor nobility, and both families profited from their connection to the Tsar.

When Alexis died in 1676, only three of his sons were still alive. The eldest, Feodor, succeeded him as Tsar. Feodor had a fine mind and a liberal temperament, but he was sickly and disfigured. His court was blessed with many reforms, but Feodor himself often ruled from his sickbed. His first wife died in childbirth, with her newborn son dying only days afterwards. His second wife was without issue.

The second oldest of Alexis’s sons was Ivan. Ivan, too, was crippled, but he was mentally infirm as well. It was said that he used to sit perfectly still for hours, just staring at the floor. He was also unable to walk without assistance, and in his later years he became paralytic. He had a growth of skin that grew over his eyes, making him partially blind.

The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church called an assembly, and it was decided that, due to his handicaps, Ivan should be eliminated from the succession, and the crown should be given to the third son, the nine-year-old Peter, son of Alexis’s second wife. Peter’s mother would serve as regent until he came of age.

This arrangement was just fine with Ivan, who was fond of his stepmother and close to his half-brother, and didn’t want to be Tsar, anyway. It didn’t sit quite so well with Ivan’s sister, Sophia Alekseyevna.

Sophia and her family (the Miloslavskys) began spreading the rumor that Peter’s family (the Naryshkins) had strangled Ivan in order to put Peter on the throne. The people of Moscow were outraged, and began rioting. Soon they were joined by the Streltsy, the infantry guard stationed in the city. When the mob broke into the Kremlin, Natalya appeared with both boys, Peter holding one of her hands, and Ivan the other.

The mob was placated, but the Streltsy was not. They stormed the palace searching for traitors, and killed several Naryshkins in front of the young boys’ eyes. When one Prince attempted to intervene, he was seized by the Streltsy, thrown onto pikes, and then hacked to pieces. Peter’s uncle, Ivan Naryshkin, had successfully hidden in a cupboard, but on the second day the Streltsy returned and demanded his surrender. He gave himself up in order to prevent further bloodshed. The Streltsy tortured him for hours before dismembering him and hacking him to pieces.

As a result of the coup, Ivan and Peter were declared co-tsars, with Sophia their regent. They had twin thrones and crowns. Peter, however, lived with his mother outside of Moscow, and was only allowed inside for special state or ceremonial occasions. Meanwhile, Sophia and her advisors ruled Russia.

Sophia arranged a marriage for Ivan to Praskovya Saltykova, said to be a temperamental woman with flashing blue eyes. She was devoted to Ivan, however, and bore him five children — all daughters.

Peter, meanwhile, was coming of age. He and Sophia were both terrified of each other, expected to be murdered at each others’ hands. Peter fled to a fortified monastery, where his supporters came to join him. Sophia tried rumor-mongering again, alleging that the Naryshkins had destroyed Ivan’s crown and were preparing to burn him alive in his chambers. The public wasn’t buying it this time, though. It was clear that Sophia was the real power, and she had appeared in public much too often and involved herself in politics much too obviously. It wasn’t the conduct of a proper, virtuous, Russian woman.

Under Sophia’s rule, Ivan had few duties other than ceremonial ones. His sister required him to wait upon her court, serving her council wine with his own hands. He had no taste for the trappings of Tsardom, and he proclaimed for Peter, saying, “Even for his sister’s sake, he would quarrel no longer with his dear brother.” Without Ivan’s support, Sophia’s cause folded.

Ivan spent the last years of his life in quiet seclusion with his wife, praying and fasting. He died at the age of 27. One of his daughters, Anna Ivanovna, would later become Empress of Russia, known for her extravagant lifestyle and cruel jests. Another daughter, Catherine Ivanovna, became the mother of Grand Duchess Anna Leopoldovna, who ruled as Regent for a time during the infancy of her son, Ivan VI, until deposed by a coup favoring Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great.

Sources: Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2011 Edition: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Special Days, Weeks, and Months, Editors of Chase’s Calendar of Events; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September 6; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_V_of_Russia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexis_I_of_Russia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feodor_III_of_Russia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Uprising_of_1682 ; http://monarchs.home.xs4all.nl/madmonarchs/ivan5/ivan5_bio.htm; http://www.nndb.com/people/782/000097491/.

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