Probably one of the most famous figures in Russian history is Ivan IV, called the Terrible because of his cruelty.
He ruled in the period when boyars, Russian hereditary landlords, were fast losing their political power, their lands, and sometimes, due to Ivan IV, their lives. On the other hand, more and more power was given to dvoryane, service landlords.
The three-year-old Ivan IV became grand prince in 1533, after the death of his father, Vasily III. At first his mother, Yelena Glinsky, ruled instead of his son. After her death in 1538 the Shuiskys and Belskys struggled for the throne. In 1547 Ivan IV was crowned tsar of all Russia. In 1549 the first zemsky sobor was held.
Ivan IV decided that all landowners should begin military service when they were 15, and serve till the end of their lives. He created also a standing army, streltsy. This was necessary because Russia had many enemies. Tatars of Kazan, Astrakhan and the Crimea continued to raid the territory of Russia. The Livonian Knights blocked Russia's access to the Baltic Sea.
Ivan first began a campaign against Kazan and defeated it in 1552. In 1554-1556 his armies took Astrakhan, thus getting for Russia the Volga Valley and the way to the Caspian Sea.
The tsar's chief interest lay in trade with the West through the Baltic. He began a war against Livonia which lasted 24 years and ended in nothing: in the end Russia lost everything it had conquered earlier during the war.
In 1553, Ivan fell seriously ill. Thinking he was close to death, he wanted boyars to give an oath in their loyalty to his son Dmitry. Boyars didn't want to; moreover, one of them, a close companion of Ivan IV, suddenly escaped to Lithuania. Ivan IV left Moscow for the town of Alexandrov, and set up a state within a state, called "Oprichnina". The rest of the land was called "Zemshchina", where the boyar duma continued to govern. He also organised a new guard, Opritchniki, who were famous for their cruelty. They numbered several thousands and killed many boyars and other people Ivan thought of as enemies. They also confiscated their property. The Oprichniki were ordered to wipe out "treason" in both Oprichnina and Zemschina. Ivan's cruelty lead to a number of risings. The Oprichnina was abolished in 1572.
Ivan IV died in 1584. Though known for his cruelty, he is also famous for Russia access to the Baltic and for beginning the struggle with boyars, who were hereditary landlords, for the power of dvoryane, service landlords. He is undoubtedly one of the most famous figures in Russian history.