In December 1564 Muscovites were horrified to learn that their ruler – 34-year old Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, who had already begun to earn the sobriquet “the Terrible” – had gone missing. The tsar had quit the city, taking with him not only a rather large cohort of loyal followers, but also the state treasury, the royal seal, and many of Russia’s most revered icons. It is hard to say what was more horrifying for Ivan’s abandoned subjects: the disappearance of the icons was a terrible blow, but life without the tsar was simply unimaginable.
Soon royal messengers came to spread the word that the sovereign, angered by the traitorous boyars, had retreated to his palace in Alexandrov (aka Alexandrova Sloboda), a summer residence that Ivan’s father had used as a sort of hunting lodge. The idea that the tsar could leave Moscow and take up permanent residence there seemed absurd.
Crowds began streaming toward Alexandrov: members of the clergy, ordinary folk, and the boyars, who had a feeling that Ivan’s maneuver could not possibly end well for them. They all beseeched the tsar to forgive them and return to Moscow.
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