Your RDA of Irony

Caviar Preemptor

Russians don’t need an excuse to drink: their government, their climate and Dostoyevsky more than justify self-pity. However, they don’t have much of a chance to celebrate: just chess tournaments and sacking Berlin. But today the Russians can drink both for commiseration and celebration: it is the birthday of Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584).

For a murderous tyrant, Ivan the Terrible (the IV on his business cards) is far luckier than Richard III. First, Ivan was actually guilty, so he couldn’t be slandered. And his crimes apparently had an upside. He evidently was killing the right people. Even his critics acknowledged that he made a very effective tsar, expanding the Moscovite principality into the Russian state.

The Soviets made him into a hero, dismissing his victims as reactionaries and traitors. When Stalin commissioned Sergei Eisenstein to make a biographic series on the Tsar, it was intended to be a paean (as well as a thinly veiled tribute to the reigning Soviet tsar). ¬†Eisenstein completed two of the three projected films. In the first film the young heroic Tsar must defend himself against the treacherous nobility. In the sequel, the now middle-aged Tsar is showing maniacal streaks in his wars and purges. If Stalin could see himself in the first film’s Ivan, everyone could see Stalin in the second film’s Ivan. There never was a third film. Eisenstein was denounced and apparently died of a heart attack soon after.

A third film would have shown Ivan killing his oldest son and heir. Like Ben Cartwright, Ivan had three sons. (Considering that the sire had eight wives, he was not an impressive sire.) In a fit of rage (Ivan’s normal temper), the Tsar smashed the skull of his oldest son Ivan(played by Pernell Roberts). After Prince Ivan’s death, the succession passed to Prince Feodor, who was retarded. (Dan Blocker obviously)

Now, however, our story has the Russian equivalent to Richard III: Boris Godunov. (Yes, he is the inspiration for Boris Badenov.) He was the son-in-law of Ivan the Terrible and chosen to be regent after Ivan’s death. Upon his father’s death, Feodor became Tsar but the country was governed by his brother-in-law Boris, who proved very competent and certainly enjoyed ruling. The third and youngest son of Ivan IV was Dmitri. (Michael Landon) He would have been the successor of his brother, but the youngster apparently died of an accident while playing with a knife. With Dmitri conveniently out of the way, Boris then became the heir apparent to Feodor. Upon Feodor’s death (a natural one), Boris ascended the throne.

However, Boris’ reign (1598-1605) was turbulent. His rule was undermined by plots and rebellions. An imposter claimed to be Prince Dmitri, and Boris’ enemies rallied around the fraud. The false Dmitri–as he is known in history–received substantial financial and military support from Poland and the Jesuits. Boris died while the rebellion was gathering strength. His son and successor Feodor II was murdered soon after, and the false Dmitri took the throne–although he couldn’t hold it for long.

After eight years of chaos and civil war, some more in-laws of Ivan the Terrible (his serial marriages creates a lot of in-laws) seized and actually held the throne. Their name was Romanov. (And they would give the Russians even more reason to drink.)

Yevgeny

  1. Mary Ann Jung says:

    I’ve been wooed by Ivan the Terrible! Not me actually, but in my role as Queen Elizabeth I of England. Da, since 8 wives were Not enough, even the murky Moscovite hoped to wed the Virgin Queen. Elizabeth, ever generous but not wanting a murderous husband (a murderous father had been enough) offered her lady-in-waiting instead. The poor woman was so terrified she might be sacrificed to lunatic Ivan on the altar of political marriage, she was immensely relieved when she contracted small pox instead!

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      How many of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting contracted small pox? I know that Mary Dudley Sidney did; who else? I am beginning to think that it was safer working as a food taster for Catherine de Medici and being the housemaid for Elizabeth Bathory.

      Eugene

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