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The Account of the Illness of Ivan the Terrible


The special interest which the compiler of The Tsar’s Book showed in the account of Basil Ill’s death would appear to be linked with the following circumstance. The lengthy amendment to The Tsar’s Book contained an account of the tsar’s illness, Ivan IV’s illness in 1553, in the course of which the tsar, like his father before him, wished to hand over the throne to his infant son and demanded that the boyars swear allegiance to the child and his mother. In spite of its unusual form (it is scribbled in the margins of the manuscript), this account is very striking and in many respects similar to the account of Basil IIFs death. The replies of the boyars who refuse to swear allegiance to a “babe-in-arms” are most expressive. Fyodor Adashev, the father of one of Ivan IV’s closest boyars, Alexei Adashev, who fell into disfavour in the early 1560s, said, according to The Tsar’s Book, that they would be willing to swear allegiance to the infant prince, but feared the rule of his mother’s relatives: “Your son is still in swaddling clothes, Sire, but it is the Zakharins who will govern over us … and we have already seen great misfortune from the boyars before you came of age.” “If you do not swear allegiance to my son Dmitry, you wish to have another sovereign!” cried the ailing tsar. “And I cannot talk much with you, but you have forgotten about your souls, and you do not wish to serve me and my children…” “But you, Zakharins, why are you afraid?” he cried to his wife’s relatives. “Or do you think the boyars will spare you? You will be the first to die from the boyars! You would do better to die for my son and for his mother, and not to give my wife to be profaned by the boyars.” 17

The account of the events of 1553 in The Tsar’s Book was not a simple record of authentic conversations. It was created many years later and has a definite political purpose (to slander those who have fallen into disfavour). What we have here is deliberate invention, but invention that is of literary, as well as political significance.