Ivan’s rule was centered around the pursuit of power for self preservation. After seeing so many of those close to him dying, whether it was the suspicious death of his mother, or the tragic death of his beloved wife, death had surrounded Ivan from a young age. Many of the actions he took were strengthening the central government in Moscow by directly enhancing his own power and giving billets in local government to his supporters, but he also gave power out to loyal servants, “oprichniki” to do his bidding. These oprichniki acted in unrestricted violence to do whatever Ivan told them. Their violence towards boyars, churchmen, and normal citizens were truly terrible.
In the account of a foreigner, Heinrich von Staden, working as an oprichniki he described some truly sadistic punishments that were directly ordered by Ivan. His bloody and merciless path to find who was against him cost many innocent people their lives. (Kaiser 153) However, this is the account of a foreigner who used these stories to try and convince the German Emperor to invade Muscovy. The actual twisted nature of Ivan can not be accurately found in these accounts.
However, the boyars were not simply useless to Ivan, he did strengthen the boyars who supported him, again showing how he was seeking power to protect himself. It was quite natural for leaders during this time to consolidate power and kill people who opposed them. The Western idea of Ivan and “the Terrible” can quite possibly have been distorted by the report of von Staden. While the tragic events in Ivan’s youth and young adult life could certainly have done some mental damage, most of his actions seem rational to strengthen the state, but more importantly, his own safety.
Did the actions Ivan take accidentally strengthen the state, or was it a conscious action to protect Muscovy?