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Ivan IV 'the Terrible' (1530-84) assumed the title of Tsar in 1547 when he took personal power. He had been Moscow's grand duke since the age of three, but Russia had been governed by regents drawn from the boyars, or nobles, as well as his mother; it had been a period of misrule.

Ivan expanded his territory into the former Tatar lands of Kazan and Astrakhan, and made administrative reforms. He reformed the army and the legal system, and expanded foreign trade.

He was a very complex man who could be unspeakably cruel. He married seven times, and suggested that Elizabeth of England should marry him. She did not pursue this course. His first wife's death in 1560 seemed to derange his mind. He split the country into two parts; one was governed by the Council of Boyars, the other, tyrannically, by himself assisted by a much-feared force of armed followers, the Oprichniki. In 1565 he started to rule by terror, introducing brutal methods to attack the boyars, for whom he conceived a paranoid mistrust. After killing his son in a fit of rage in 1580, he is said to have repented for more than 3000 murders. The reign of terror devastated the country. Much territory was lost to Poland and Sweden, although the conquest of western Siberia shortly before Ivan's death in 1584 partly balanced these losses.

Ivan IV's Russian nickname Groznyj, loosely translated as 'the Terrible', more correctly means 'awe-inspiring'.

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