The Unfortunate Tsar, Ivan VI

Ivan VI, born in 1740, was the grandnephew of the Russian Tsarina Anne.  Shortly before her death, she declared him her heir.  He became tsar at the age of two months.  His mother, Anne, became regent.  As time passed, the relationship between her and Peter the Great’s last surviving child, Elizabeth, worsened.  Fearing she would be forced into a convent, Elizabeth, with the support of the soldiery, especially the Preobrazhensky Guards, went into Anne’s bedroom one night, woke her up, and, without any bloodshed, became tsarina with Anne’s surrender of power, she realizing that she situation was hopeless.  Elizabeth took power in 1741, and Ivan VI became a secret state prisoner after a reign of a little over a year.

In 1762, after becoming tsar, Peter III visited Ivan VI in his prison.  Peter, too, felt he had been mistreated by Elizabeth, and so felt a great deal of sympathy for Ivan, whom he had never met.  He wished to bestow upon Ivan a sinecure, perhaps even a military position.  Peter visited Schlüsselburg Fortress, where he had been confined for the past eighteen years, and realized the impossibility of this.  Ivan was thin and lanky, his unshaven hair reaching to his waist.  His clothes were ragged and dirty.  He was illiterate, unsure about his own identity, stammered out disconnected sentences, and showed other signs of mental instability.  Peter asked how he could help, and Ivan asked whether he could have more fresh air.  Peter ordered a house to be built in the courtyard so that Ivan might have more room and air, but could not take him out of the prison.

Elizabeth had issued secret standing orders that, if any attempt to free Ivan seemed successful, he was to be killed immediately by his jailers.  Vasily Mirovich was not only unaware of these orders, but, seeing the great wealth and power that accrued to those officers who had placed Catherine on the throne, decided to do the same for Ivan VI.  With a group of soldiers, he attacked and captured the fortress, and entered the tsar’s cell.  Ivan lay dead in a pool of his own blood.  When the first shots had been fired, his guards had pulled him out of his bed and stabbed him eight times with their swords.  His coup aborted, Mirovich surrendered, and thusly did Ivan finally die.


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