The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

Since school, everyone knows that Tsar John IV the Terrible killed his son John. He did this with the pointed end of the staff and immediately remorse came to him. We learned this information from school history lessons and, of course, looking at Ilya Repin's wonderful painting "Ivan the Terrible kills his son", which is actually called "Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan on November 16, 1581". But was there a murder? Scientists have tried to answer this question, relying on the chronicles and the study of the remains of the unfortunate tsarevich after exhumation.

The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

The death of Tsarevich Ivan dealt a decisive blow to the centuries-old rule of the Ruriks and became the countdown of a new era in which the Romanovs ascended the throne after the Troubles. Was there a motive for John IV to kill his son? The legend of the fatal blow with a staff, inflicted in a fit of anger, was born by the Russian historian of the early 19th century, Nikolai Karamzin.

The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin

The court historiographer of Emperor Alexander I in his historical work described the murder as the result of political differences between father and son. It was at the height of the Livonian War, when the Poles invaded the Muscovite Kingdom and besieged Pskov.

The tsar, showing cowardice, decided to start negotiations with the enemies and was even ready to sacrifice Pskov so that the Polish king would refuse further offensive. But the prince was young, hot and fearless – in the presence of the boyars, he began to demand that he be sent with an army to the rescue of the besieged city and insisted on continuing the war.

The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

The siege of Pskov by the army of Stefan Batory (1581-1582)

The angry king, in a fit of rage, struck his son several times with his staff, while one blow fell on the temple and turned out to be fatal. Immediately John IV came to his senses and rushed to his son who had fallen on the floor, but he could not fix anything. John Ioannovich did not die immediately – his death, according to Karamzin, was painful and the agony lasted for several days.

It must be said that Karamzin did not invent this detective story, but took it from the 1st Pskov Chronicle, which mentioned that John the Terrible "beat his son" during a dispute about a campaign to rescue the besieged Pskov: "They say that they did not beat their son Tsarevich Ivan for the sake of the rest, that he was taught to talk about the rescue of the city of Pskov." In general, this is all – the conflict is mentioned in passing and it is not entirely clear what the author meant and whether everything ended in death.

The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

Ivan the Terrible at the body of his son who was killed by him. Hood. V. G. Shvartz

Interestingly, the legate of the Pope Anthony Possevin, a contemporary of those tragic events, also received information about the murder of his son by his father from his spies at the Moscow court. This story was even more colorful and already with the participation of a woman.

The Jesuits wrote to Rome that the pregnant wife of the tsarevich came out of her chambers casually dressed and met the tsar in one of the chambers. The latter, outraged by the inappropriate appearance of his daughter-in-law, made a remark to her and slapped her in the face, from which the woman fell. The blow caused her to have a miscarriage and the prince blamed his father for the tragedy. There was a conversation between them in raised tones,at the end of which the sovereign flared up and killed his offspring.

The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

The Chronograph chronicle of the early 17th century also speaks of the death of the tsarevich by the hand of his father, but without details

Information about the moment of the murder differs from one author to another. Karamzin presented everything as if John IV was striking blows in a state of passion. Papal agents claimed that during the quarrel, the tsar had time to come to his senses – when he first raised his staff over his son's head, Boris Godunov allegedly stopped him. The next blow turned out to be fatal, which no one was able or wanted to prevent.

From all versions, it follows that the father did not want to kill his son and everything happened spontaneously. This is also confirmed by the fact that the tsar loved Tsarevich John very much and considered him his only heir. The youngest son, Fyodor, was not even considered as a candidate, since Grozny himself believed that he was not of this world and spoke about him like this:" ... a fasterer and a silent man, born more for the cell than for the power of the sovereign." He had to inherit the Moscow throne for a short time.

But what do the numerous chronicles of those years, which were conducted in many monasteries of Muscovy, say? Only Pskov, which we have already mentioned, gives a hint, and the others do not mention the violent death of the tsarevich at all. All of them inform neutrally: "Repose John Ioannovich"

The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

Konstantin Pavlovich Pobedonostsev

In 1885, the writer and historian Konstantin Pobedonostsev was sincerely outraged by the new canvas of Ilya Repin and wrote a letter to Emperor Alexander III. In it, he complained that the plot of the picture was taken from the ceiling and because of its fantasticism, it should not be presented to the general public.

Metropolitan John was also an opponent of the violent version of the tsarevich's death and in his book "The Autocracy of the Spirit" wrote about the death of the heir to the throne from a serious illness. Separately, the author noted that there is not a single direct mention of the murder of a son by a father in the chronicles.

The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

Sarcophagi of John the Terrible and his sons Fyodor and John in the Archangel Cathedral

But what does modern science say, which has every opportunity to put an end to this legend and tell how things really were? In 1963, the burials of the Ruriks were opened in the Kremlin and the remains of Tsarevich John were carefully examined. Unfortunately, the skull of the tsar's son was almost completely destroyed and it was not possible to establish whether there was a craniocerebral injury. But it turned out that the bones and hair of the heir contained mercury, and in an amount exceeding the norm by several times.

Now everything is clear, you will say – the poor prince was poisoned by bad boyars, as it was with members of the royal family more than once. But it is also impossible to say this unequivocally – the remains of all members of the royal family contained mercury in increased quantities. What can I say – for the graves of the Middle Ages, this was quite common in European countries.

Mercury was considered a universal medical remedy and it was added to ointments,pills and lapping. Cosmetics were made on the basis of this dangerous metal, as well as paints were mixed. So mercury could get into John's body not only as a poison.

The exhumation told how the son of Ivan the Terrible could actually have died

Ivan the Terrible at the window. (Am I right..?). Hood. Andrey Shishkin

Perhaps the son of John the Terrible was poisoned and gradually died of intoxication, but this did not prevent the tsar from hastening his death with a blow of the staff. In general, despite the efforts of scientists, the mystery of the death of John Ioannovich has remained unsolved and we have to choose for ourselves whether to believe Karamzin, the papal legate or the version with poisoning.

Keywords: Death | Moscow | History | Murder | Celebrities | Painting | Tsar | Heir | Ivan the terrible | Russia

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