cover image Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

Benson Bobrick / Author Putnam Publishing Group $22.95 (398p)

The 16th century of Ivan is explored here at wearing length. Writing prose of a gloominess that matches the era, Bobrick (Labyrinths of Iron) presents Russian history going back to Christianization in A.D. 988 before birthing Ivan in 1530, then to his crowning in 1547 and marriage that same year to Anastasia, his ""little heifer'' who bore him six children before she was poisoned mysteriously in 1560 (second wife Maria met a like fate). Ivan's reformist reign turned despotic following Anastasia's death, as, at home, he established the Oprichniki, storm-troopers who implemented his decrees, and, to expand his territory, warred with the Tartars, Poland, Sweden and Lithuania while establishing diplomatic relationships with England. In 1582, Ivan was to see his 25-year drive to the Baltic end in defeat when, by treaty, he relinquished territory to Poland. Bobrick's focus is on militarism, scanting internal affairs other than factionalism of church and state. And he cursorily suggests relief throughout the realm when at Ivan's death in 1584, the simpleton Fydor, his only surviving child, was left to carry on the House of Rurik. (September)