The Tudor Society

28 October – Ivan the Terrible writes a rude letter to Elizabeth I

On this day in Tudor history, 28th October 1570, Ivan IV of Russia, known commonly as Ivan the Terrible, wrote a rather rude letter to Queen Elizabeth I.

Ivan was upset with Elizabeth's reaction to his idea of a political alliance, an agreement to help each other if their lives were in danger, and wrote the letter while he was still angry. They were words that must have made Elizabeth see red for a while, but she managed to write a calm reply to him.

Find out exactly what Ivan the Terrible and Elizabeth I wrote to each other, and how they came to be corresponding in the first place, in today's talk.

May 10 - A search for the Northeast Passage finds Ivan the Terrible instead:

Also this day in Tudor history, 28th October 1532, the Feast of St Simon and St Jude, was the last full day of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s time with King Francis I of France in Calais, and it was time to celebrate the kings' friendship. New Knights of the Garter were elected, bear-baiting was watched and then there was a wrestling match between French and English men, but who would win? Find out what happened in last year’s video:

Also on this day:


On this day in Tudor history, 28th October 1570, Ivan IV of Russia, known commonly as Ivan the Terrible, wrote a rather rude letter to Queen Elizabeth I.

I’ve shared a short excerpt of this letter before, in a Teasel’s Tudor Trivia video, but thought I’d share it with you again, and a bit more of the letter.

But first let me explain the context of this letter.

If you listened to my talk from 10th May this year, you may remember me mentioning the search for a Northeast Passage to Asia, a new trade route, at the end of Edward VI’s reign. An expedition led by Richard Chancellor and Sir Hugh Willoughby set out in May 1553 but the voyage failed – and I’ll give you a link to my talk on it so you can find out more. However, Richard Chancellor, whose ship had taken refuge in the harbour of the Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery, on the Northern Dvina river, was invited to Czar Ivan IV’s court in Moscow. There, he was able to negotiate a trade agreement between England and Russia through the White Sea.

Fast-forward to Elizabeth I’s reign, and by then there were English ambassadors at Ivan’s court and Russian ambassadors at Elizabeth’s court, and the two rulers corresponded between 1561 and 1583. In 1570, Ivan wanted more than just a trade alliance, he wanted a political alliance, both offensive and defensive. He was paranoid about plots against him and assumed that Elizabeth was in the same position, so he expected a joint treaty where he would be received in England and he'd offer protection to Elizabeth in Russia. However, Elizabeth couldn’t imagine ever needing to flee England to Russia, writing to Ivan that “the mere mention by her of such a possibility would be an offense to the English people; it could not be the desire of "her dear and loving brother" to bring her into danger in her own country.” She had no need for his treaty, although she went on to say that she would receive Ivan and his family in England if he had to flee Russia, but that they would have to provide for themselves.

Ivan was insulted by her words and on 28th October 1570 he wrote a rude and exasperate letter to the English queen, saying:
“we had thought that you had been ruler over your land, and had sought honor to your self and profit to your Country, and therefore we did pretend those weighty affairs between you and us. But now we perceive that there be other men that do rule, and not men, but boors and merchants, the which seek not the wealth and honour of our majesties, but they seek their owne profit of merchandise. And you flower in your maidenly estate like a maid; and whosoever was trusted in our affairs and did deceive us, it were not meet that you should credit them. And now seeing it is so, we do set aside those affairs; and those boorish Merchants that have been the occasion that the pretended wealths and honours of our Majesties hath not come to pass, but do seek their own wealths, they shall see what traffic they shall have here; for our city of Moscow, before their traffic to it, hath not greatly wanted English commodities. And the privilege that we gave to your Merchants, and sent to you, that you would send it us again, and whither it be sent or no, we will give commandment that nothing shall be done by it. And all those privileges which we have given aforetime be from this day of none effect...”

Oh dear! I can imagine steam coming out of Elizabeth’s ears at those words. Here was Ivan belittling her as a woman and suggesting that she wasn’t really a ruler over her kingdom.

While Ivan had written in anger, Elizabeth calmed down before she replied and was able to write calmly “Our ambassador [Jenkinson] will tell you in all truth, that no merchants are governing the estate and our affairs, but we rule ourselves with the honour befitting a virgin queen appointed by God; and no sovereign, thanks to God, has more obedient subjects.”
I bet she wanted to add “so there!”

So there you have it, a rude letter from Ivan the Terrible to Elizabeth I on this day in 1570!

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