The 1560s were marked by Ivan IV’s descent into paranoia. The catalysts were the death of his wife in 1560, suspected to be by poisoning, and the desertion in 1564 of one of his closest confidantes, Prince Andrei Kurbsky, to his Lithuanian enemies. That same year, he holed up in a country retreat, insisting he would abdicate unless he was granted absolutist powers. Fearing the chaos that would ensue with an interregnum, the boyars acceded, whereupon Ivan announced the creation of the Oprichnina. Literally, this came to mean a ‘land apart’ within Russia (mostly within the region of Novgorod) under his absolute control. To execute his will, he created the Oprichniki, a paramilitary police, with the power to expropriate the lands of nobility. Their depredations led to migrations of the dispossessed, the partition of aristocratic estates, and development of a new land-owning class, loyal only to the tsar.
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