In “Old Russia” a close and fraternal tie bound the Prince and his Drujina together. It was one family, of which he was the adored head. What characterized the “New Russia” was a growing antagonism between the Grand Prince and his lords or boyars. This developed into a life-and-death struggle, similar to that between Louis XI. and his nobility. His elevation meant their humiliation. It was a terrible clash of forces—a duel in which one was the instrument of fate, and the other predestined to destruction.
It was of less importance during the period between Andrew Bogoliubski and Ivan IV. that Mongols were exercising degrading tyranny and making desperate reprisals for defeat—that Lithuania and Poland, and conspirators everywhere, were by arms and by diplomacy and by treachery trying to ruin the state; all this was of less import than the fact that every vestige of authority was surely passing out of the hands of the nobility into those of the Tsar. The fight was a desperate one. It became open and avowed under Ivan III., still more bitter under his son Vasili II., and culminated at last under Ivan the Terrible, when, like an infuriated animal, he let loose upon them all the pent-up instincts in his blood.
IVAN THE TERRIBLE—ACQUISITION OF SIBERIA
In 1533 Vasili II. died, leaving the scepter to Ivan IV., an infant son three years old. Now the humiliated Princes and boyars were to have their turn. The mother of Ivan IV., Helena Glinski, was the only obstacle in their way. She speedily died, the victim of poison, and then there was no one to stem the tide of princely and oligarchic reaction against autocracy; and the many years of Ivan’s minority would give plenty of time to re-establish their lost authority. The boyars took possession of the government. Ivan wrote later: “My brother and I were treated like the children of beggars. We were half clothed, cold, and hungry.” The boyars in the presence of these children appropriated the luxuries and treasures in the palace and then plundered the people as well, exacting unmerciful fines and treating them like slaves. The only person who loved the neglected Ivan was his nurse, and she was torn from him; and for a courtier to pity the forlorn child was sufficient for his downfall. Ivan had a superior intelligence. He read much and was keenly observant of all that was happening. He saw himself treated with insolent contempt in private, but with abject servility in public. He also observed that his signature was required to give force to everything that was done, and so discovered that he was the rightful master, that the real power was vested only in him. Suddenly, in 1543, he sternly summoned his court to come into his presence, and, ordering the guards to seize the chief offender among his boyars, he then and there had him torn to