The regime of Ivan IV was not terrible as his epithet might scream. Ivan’s reign was filled with rather level-headed ideas of the time such as more control over your kingdom and personal safety from enemy assassins. His creation of the district elders in cities and later other parts of the country made complete sense. Criminals needed to be punished without every petty crime involving the Prince. Ivan increased the amount of justice served in Rus’ and the communities in which these elders resided were happy to be rid of crime.
To protect his person from bodily harm, Ivan instituted a body of government to weed out those who were against him, publicly or not. It was here that Ivan received his title of “the terrible” because of how this institution, the oprichnina, operated and more so because of Ivan’s mental disability that impaired his judgement on who was actually out to get him. He was so paranoid that everyone was inherently against him that there were seven “[y]ears of absurd denunciation, sudden arrests, and horrifying executions”1 carried out by the oprichnina.
Ivan IV was not a ruthless leader who would stop at nothing to harm innocent citizens in a sadistic type of way. Ivan simply wanted a guarantee that no one would hurt him. He was an important Grand Prince and world leader of orthodoxy; there’s a price to pay for that kind of power and Ivan thought it was in his safety. But, he was not “the terrible”. He was more like a wayward puppy, confused as to who was friend or foe, and not being able to see the difference between the two.
1Crummey, Robert O. Ivan IV: Reformer or Tyrant? in Daniel H. Kaiser, and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860’s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. p 162.