IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > B. Early Modern Europe, 1479–1815 > 1. Europe, 1479–1675 > i. Russia
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1492)
i. Russia
In Russia, the early 16th to the mid-17th century was a time of conflict between the crown and the powerful landed nobility, which was eventually destroyed. This was accompanied by a decline in the influence of the townsmen and a gradual relapsing of the peasantry into serfdom. The latter problem was closely connected with defense and territorial expansion. Since 1454 the grand dukes of Moscow had granted nonhereditary military fiefs (pomestye) to secure a supply of fighting men for use in the struggle against the Tatars. The corollary was a steady debasement in the position of the peasants, who consequently tended to run off to newly conquered territories in the southeast. Depopulation in the center resulted in ever more drastic measures to hold the cultivator on the land. At the same time there grew up on the borders the Cossack colonies, independent communities of peasant soldiers that were to play a great role in this period.  1
BASIL III, the son of Ivan the Great and Sophia. The reign was a fairly quiet one, during which the work of consolidation was continued by the reduction of Pskov (1510), Smolensk (1514), and Riazan (1517).  2
IVAN IV (the Terrible), the son of Basil. He ascended the throne at the age of three. The regency was in the hands of his mother, Helen Glinski (of Lithuanian family), until 1538, and then fell into the hands of powerful noble (boyar) families, notably the Shuiskys and Belskys.  3
Ivan assumed power and had himself crowned tsar, the first Russian ruler to assume the title formally. At the same time he established a “chosen council,” composed of personally selected advisers, which he hoped to make a counterweight to the power of the council of boyars (duma). This was followed in 1549 with the convocation of the first national assembly, or zemski sobor, including merchants and lesser nobles and meant to broaden the support of the crown. In these early years Ivan made considerable progress in breaking down the power of the provincial governors and establishing a measure of local government.  4
The conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan from the Tatars gave Russia control of the entire course of the Volga and opened the way for expansion to the east and southeast. Already in the last years of Ivan's reign (1581–83), Russian traders (the Stroganov family) established themselves east of the Urals, and Cossack pioneers, under Yermak, began the conquest of Siberia.  5
The British, under Richard Chancellor, reached Moscow by way of the White Sea and Archangel. They were given trade rights in 1555 and formed an important link in Russian communications with the west.  6
The LIVONIAN WAR, arising from the disputed succession to the Baltic territories ruled by the Teutonic Knights. Ivan appreciated to the full the importance of an outlet to the Baltic, and seized Narva and Dorpat. In 1563 he conquered part of Livonia, which had been taken over by the Poles.  7
Conflict of Ivan with the powerful boyars, led by Prince Andrei Kurbski. Ivan eventually withdrew from Moscow and issued an appeal to the people, who, through the metropolitan, urged him to return. He took a terrible revenge on his opponents and began a reign of terror marked by the execution or exile of many boyars, as well as violent rages, in one of which he killed his son and heir, alternating with deep repentance. At the same time Ivan set aside about half of the realm as his personal domain (oprichnina), in which he established a new administration and a separate royal army. Printing introduced into Russia during Ivan's reign.  8
Ivan ravaged Novgorod and massacred many of the inhabitants, whom he suspected of sympathy for the Poles.  9
The Crimean Tatars attacked and sacked Moscow.  10
Defeat of the Russians by the Swedes at Wenden, in the course of the struggle for the Baltic lands. Polotsk was lost in the following year.  11
Stephen Bathory, king of Poland, invaded Russia and advanced victoriously to Pskov.  12
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.