The 8 Wives of Ivan The Terrible
Who was Ivan The Terrible?
Tsar Ivan IV of Russia had many wives or `tsaritsas' during his reign, but it may be imprudent to blame him for the execution or divorce of those he replaced. Indeed, the fate of Ivan Vasilyevich's eight wives had little to do with his fearsome nickname.
When Ivan ruled Russia (1547-1584), terrible was a direct translation of the Russian word `grozny', which means to inspire fear or terror through strength and heroism. Unfortunately for Ivan, the word evolved to become synonymous with evil.
However, the description may be fairly accurate by today's standards. Ivan was prone to fits of rage and paranoia. In one such tantrum, he caused his daughter-in-law to miscarry after beating her for wearing improper clothing. In a resultant argument, Ivan killed his own son by hitting him over the head with a staff. During his reign, Ivan also executed thousands of Russian nobles for supposedly conspiring against him, and he created the `oprichniki', a secret police with the power to execute enemies of the Tsar.
1. Anastasia Romanovna (1547-1560)
- Poisoned or succumbed to illness.
Anastasia Romanovna was brought to the Kremlin for Ivan's inspection along with as many as 1500 other potential brides. Nobles from across Russia brought their eligible daughters, and Ivan selected Anastasia as his preferred companion. The two were married in 1547, and Anastasia gave birth to six children before she died in 1560. She had been ill for some time, and Ivan suspected the Russian nobles (Boyars) of poisoning her. He had a number of them tortured and executed without trial.
It is said that Anastasia had a calming influence on Ivan's mercurial nature, and her death may have escalated his paranoia. Nevertheless, it is clear that Ivan loved his wife very much, and played no part in her death. Recent forensic evidence suggests Anastasia may have been poisoned with mercury, though this element was also used to treat some ailments.
2. Maria Temryukovna (1561-1569)
After the death of his first wife, Ivan was presented with the daughter of a Muslim prince, Maria Temryukovna. According to folklore, Ivan was warned by his first wife not to marry a pagan, but he was so taken by Maria's beauty that he married her in 1561. He came to regret the decision on account of Maria's illiteracy and spiteful character. She was a poor stepmother to Ivan's sons, and didn't integrate into Muscovite culture, with many regarding her as a witch. She died in 1569 by poisoning, possibly at Ivan's hands. However, he had many nobles executed for the crime.
3. Marfa Sobakina (1571)
Ivan initiated another exhaustive selection process to find his third wife. Marfa Sobakina was chosen from 12 finalists to become Tsaritsa of Russia. Tragedy befell the couple immediately, as Marfa began to succumb to a strange illness. It is possible that her mother unknowingly poisoned her with a fertility elixir. Nevertheless, Ivan's paranoia reached breaking point. He executed many of his subjects on suspicion of poisoning the Tsaritsa, and had the brother of his previous wife executed by `impalement'.
4. Anna Koltovskaya (1572-1574)
It was illegal and impious for Ivan to marry a fourth time, but he claimed to have not consummated his previous marriage. He married Anna Koltovskaya without the Church's blessing in 1572. Ivan grew impatient with his wife's infertility and, two years later, decided to send her to live out her remaining days in a convent. Anna outlived the Tsar in captivity.
The history of Ivan the Terrible
5. Anna Vasilchikova (1575-1577)
- Imprisoned and murdered.
Almost nothing is known of Ivan's 5th wife. Anna Vasilchikova became Tsaritsa of Russia in 1575 without the blessing of the Church. As with Ivan's previous wife, she was sent to live as a nun two years later. She is believed to have met a violent death in captivity, possibly under Ivan's orders.
6. Vasilisa Melentyeva (1579)
Vasilisa Melentyeva was the widow of a prince who had died in war. Ivan found her to be both kind and beautiful, and married her in 1579. However, Ivan's dreadful luck with wives continued. Within months, he found her to be having an affair with another prince called Devletev. As punishment, Ivan forced his Tsaritsa to watch her lover being executed by impalement. Ivan then sent her to live as a nun, though she died in the same year from unknown causes. It is possible that Ivan had her killed in the same manner as his previous wife.
7. Maria Dolgorukaya (1580)
- Executed (drowned)
Ivan married his seventh wife, Maria Dolgorukaya, in 1580. She was a distant descendant of Prince Yuri of Kiev, one of the founders of Moscow. It is likely that her royal bloodline was the reason she was chosen. However, Ivan quickly found his Tsaritsa to have a lover, and had her executed in the same year by drowning.
8. Maria Nagaya (1581-1584)
Three years before Ivan IV died, he married for the last time. Maria Nagaya provided the 51 year old with a child, Dmitry. Upon Ivan's death, Maria and her son were sent into exile until Dmitry died 7 years later under peculiar circumstances. Maria was accused of negligence and forced to live as a nun. She was released under condition that she recognize an impostor as her dead son in order for him to become Tsar. In less than a year, the false Dmitry was killed by an angry mob after he engaged in an interfaith marriage. Maria then renounced him as her son and died in 1608, 24 years after the death of Ivan.
Ivan was married eight times during his 37 year reign as Tsar. Of the seven wives he replaced, two cheated on him, three died from illness or poison, one was infertile but was allowed to live a long life, and one was imprisoned and murdered for unknown reasons.
Ivan clearly loved his first wife, and became increasingly paranoid as his wives met unusual and suspicious ends. Ivan was prone to fits of anger, though he appeared to respect the bonds of marriage and the status of his Tsaritsas. Despite killing his son in a bout of rage, Ivan was expressively remorseful and despondent.
Ivan the Terrible is seen by many as a monster and a tyrant, and it does nothing for his reputation to have had eight wives. However, the real Ivan Vasilyevich was capable of love, a victim of tragedy, and a slave to dispositional anger.