"The land and government of Muscovy" (1565-70)
by Heinrich von Staden
 

Ivan Vasilievich [Ivan IV], Grand Prince of all Russia, ... chose from his own and foreign nations a hand-picked order, thus creating the oprichnina and the zemshchina

The oprichnina was [composed of] his people; the zemshchina, of the ordinary people. The Grand Prince thus began to inspect one city and region after another. And those who, according to the military muster rolls, had not served [the Grand Prince's] forefathers by fighting the enemy with their [estates] were deprived of their estates, which were given to those in the oprichnina.

The princes and boyars who were taken into the oprichnina were ranked not according to riches but according to birth. They then took an oath not to have anything to do with the zemskie people or form any friendships with them. Those in the oprichnina also had to wear black clothes and hats; and in their quivers, where they put their arrows, they carried some kind of brushes or brooms tied on the ends of sticks. The oprichniki were recognized in this way.

Because of insurrection [in Moscow in December 1564], the Grand Prince left Moscow for Aleksandrova Sloboda, a two-day trip. He placed guards in this sloboda, and had any nobles that he wanted called to him from Moscow and other cities.

The Grand Prince sent an order to the zemskie people saying that they must judge justly: ". . . Judge justly, ours [the oprichniki] shall not be in the wrong." Because of this order, the zemskie people became despondent. A person from the oprichnina could accuse someone from the zemshchina of owing him a sum of money. And even if the oprichnik had never known nor seen the accused from the zemshchina, the latter had to pay him immediately or he was publicly beaten in the marketplace with knouts or cudgels every day until he paid. No one was spared in this, neither clerics nor laymen. The oprichniki did a number of indescribable things to the zemskie people to get all their money and property....

The Grand Prince arrived in Moscow from Aleksandrova Sloboda and murdered one of the chief men of the zemshchina, Ivan Petrovich Cheliadnin. In the Grand Prince's absence from Moscow, this man was the chief boyar and judge. He willingly helped the poor people find justice quickly, and for a number of years he was governor and commander in Livonia—at Dorpat and at Polotsk....

Prince Andrei Kurbskii was governor and commander after him. When [Kurbskii] became aware of the oprichnina business, he rode off to King Sigismund August in Poland, leaving behind his wife and children. In his place came the boyar Mikhail Morozov....

Afterward [Cheliadnin] was summoned to Moscow. In Moscow he was killed and thrown into a filthy pit near the Neglinna river. The Grand Prince then went with his oprichniki and burned all the [estates] in the country be longing to this Ivan Petrovich. The villages were burned with their churches and every thing that was in them, icons and church ornaments. Women and girls were stripped naked and forced in that state to catch chickens in the fields. The oprichniki caused great misery in the country, and many people were secretly murdered.

This was too much for the zemskie people. They began to confer, and they decided to elect as grand prince Vladimir Andreevich [Staritskii]....

Prince Vladimir Andreevich [Staritskii] revealed the compact to the Grand Prince, and revealed everything that the zemskie people had planned and prepared. The Grand Prince . . . returned by post road to Aleksandrova Sloboda, and had someone write down [the names of] those zemskie leaders whom he wanted slaughtered, killed, and executed first....

The Grand Prince continued to have one [zemskii] leader after another seized and killed as it came into his head, one this way, another that way.

Metropolitan Philip could remain silent about this business no longer, and spoke affably to the Grand Prince saying that he ought to live and rule as his forefathers had. The good metropolitan fell into disgrace with these words, and he had to live in very large iron chains until he died. The Grand Prince then chose a metropolitan according to his wishes.

After that the Grand Prince set out from Aleksandrova Sloboda with all his oprichniki. Every city, road, monastery from the sloboda to Livonia was occupied by oprichnina guards, as though it were done because of plague, so that one city or monastery could learn of nothing from another.

The oprichniki came to the iam—or post station—at Chernaia and began to plunder. The places where the Grand Prince spent the night were set afire and were burned down the next morning.

All those who came from Moscow to the guard post and wanted to go to the camp of [Ivan's] own hand-picked people, whether they were princes or boyars or their servants, were seized by the guards, bound, and immediately killed. Some were stripped naked in front of the Grand Prince and rolled around in the snow until they died. The same thing happened to those who wanted to leave camp for Moscow and were caught by guards.

The Grand Prince then arrived at the city of Tver and had everything plundered, even churches and monasteries. And he had all the prisoners killed, likewise his own people who had befriended or married foreigners. All the bodies had their legs cut off, because of the ice, and were then stuck under the ice of the Volga River. The same occurred in the city of Torzhok. Neither church nor monastery was spared here.

The Grand Prince arrived again outside the city of Great Novgorod. He settled down three furlongs from the city and sent in an army commander with his retinue. He was to spy and reconnoiter. The rumor was that the Grand Prince wanted to march to Livonia. Then the Grand Prince moved into Great Novgorod, into the bishop's palace, and took everything belonging to the bishop. He took the largest bells and whatever he wanted from the churches. The Grand Prince thus left the city alone. He ordered the merchants to buy and sell and to ask a just price from his soldiers the oprichniki. Every day he arose and moved to another monastery. He indulged his wantonness and had monks tortured, and many of them were killed. There are three hundred monasteries inside and outside the city and not one of these was spared. Then the pillage of the city began....

This distress and misery continued in the city for six weeks without interruption [in January and February 1570]. Every shop and room where money or property were thought to be was sealed. Every day the Grand Prince could also be found in the torture chamber in person. Nothing might remain in the monasteries and the city. Everything that the soldiers could not carry off was thrown into the water or burned. If one of the zemskie people retrieved anything from the water, he was hanged....

The oprichniki ransacked the entire countryside and all the cities and villages of the zemshchina, although the Grand Prince had not given them permission to do that. They drew up instructions themselves, as though the Grand Prince had ordered them to kill this or that merchant or noble—if he was thought to have money—along with his wife and children, and to take his money and property to the Grand Prince's Treasury. In the zemshchina, they thus committed many murders and assassinations, which are beyond description....

When the oprichniki had tortured Russia— the entire zemshchina—according to their will and pleasure so that even the Grand Prince realized it was enough, the oprichniki still had not sated themselves with the money and property of the zemskie people. If one of the zemskie people brought a suit for a thousand rubles, he would accept a hundred rubles or less, but give a receipt [to the oprichniki] for the full amount. All the petitions were set aside together with the records and receipts. [The oprichniki] had sworn to maintain no friend ships with the zemskie people and to have nothing to do with them; but then the Grand Prince turned the tables and had all petitions accepted. And when the oprichniki were in debted for a thousand and had a receipt, but had not fully paid, these oprichniki had to pay the zemskie people again. The oprichniki did not at all like this situation....

Then the Grand Prince began to wipe out all the chief people of the oprichnina. Prince Afanasii Viazemskii died in chains in the town of Gorodets. Aleksei [Basmanov] and his son [Fedor], with whom the Grand Prince indulged in lewdness, were killed. Maliuta Skuratov was shot near Weissenstein [Paide] in Livonia. He was the pick of the bunch, and according to the Grand Prince's order, he was remembered in church. Prince Mikhail, the son of the Grand Prince's brother-in-law from the Circassian land, was chopped to death by the harquebusiers [musketeers] with axes or halberds [weapons combining the virtues of the spear and the battle axe]. Prince Vasilii Temkin was drowned. Ivan Saburov was murdered. Peter Seisse was hanged from his own court gate opposite the bedroom. Prince Andrei Ovtsyn was hanged in the Arbatskaia street of the oprichnina. A living sheep was hung next to him [an ovtsa is a sheep, thus the murderers played a prank on his name]. The marshal Bulat wanted to marry his sister to the Grand Prince. He was killed and his sister was raped by five hundred harquebusiers. The captain of the harquebusiers, Kuraka Unkovskii, was killed and stuck under the ice. In the previous year [name unclear] was eaten by dogs at the Karinskii guard post of Aleksandrova Sloboda. Grigorii Griaznoi was killed and his son Nikita was burned alive. His brother Vasilii was captured by the Crimean Tatars. The scribe and clerk Posnik Suvorov was killed at the Land Chancellery. Osip Il'in was shamefully executed in the Court Chancellery.

All the chief men of the oprichnina and zemshchina and all those who were to be killed were first publicly whipped in the marketplace until they signed over all their money and property, if they had any, to the Treasury of the Grand Prince. Those who had no money and property were killed in front of churches, in the street, or in their homes, whether asleep or awake, and were thrown into the street. The cause of the death, and whether it was legal or not, was written on a note, which was then pinned to the clothes of the corpse. The body had to lie in the street day and night as a warning to the people.