Subject: опричник oprichnik light cavalry guard
Culture: Muscovite Russian
Setting: Oprichnina, Russia 1565-1572
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Shpakovsky/Nicolle 2006 p9-10
"The most trusted of Ivan IV's bodyguard units were the oprichniki of his oprichnina (in the earliest days sometimes called cromeshnina), so named from the fact that they were 'selected'. An oprichnina was a territory or estate that the Tsar chose to take under his personal management; this contrasted with lands left under the administrative control of the aristocratic Boyar Duma (roughly comparable to a House of Lords), which were called zemshina. Russian historians use the word oprichnina in two ways: in its narrow meaning it designates the sovereign's thousand-strong court in 1565-72, among whom he lived and through which he ruled, to the exclusion of any contact with the wider class of boyars; but it is used more broadly to refer to the entire state machinery during this same period, and by extension, to the troops directly answerable to the Tsar. The richest lands in Russia became oprichnina, thus providing the Tsar with plentiful revenues. In Moscow certain streets became part of the Tsar's oprichnina, and outside the Moscow Kremlin the Oprichniy Palace was built -- now occupied by the old buildings of Moscow University. In order to enter the oprichniki guards a boyar or other nobleman had to undergo a special review, to weed out any who aroused the Tsar's suspicions. Once enlisted, the man then swore a special oath to the Tsar.
"[...] At Alexandrovskaya Sloboda, where the Tsar had transferred his residence (now the town of Alexandrov in the district of Vladimir), the oprichniy court was given the appearance of a monastic order, with the Tsar playing the role of a father-superior. In fact the oprichniki were called a fraternity; but this ostensible humility did not mask their enthusiasm for unchecked robbery, lethal violence and unbridled orgies. Meanwhile the sadistic Tsar personally smothered or poisoned his enemies, or cooked them alive during visits to the torture chambers -- which were interspersed with furious bouts of prayer during which he passionately repented of his sins. His increasing derangement was well attested by many witnesses, and extended to the beating to death in November 1580 of his much-loved son Ivan when in the grip of one of his ungovernable rages. Another reason for Ivan's choosing to lose himself in his hideous pleasures was probably frustration at the failure of his campaigns. After the victories over Kazan in 1552, Astrakhan in 1556, and some initial successes in the Livonian war against the Teutonic Knights on the Baltic coast, the Tsar's military fortunes had faded. In 1571 the Tatar Khan even set fire to Moscow, after which the chief leaders of the oprichniki were killed."
* Milner-Gulland/Dejevsky 1989 p63 caption
"One of the strangest and socially most disruptive episodes of Ivan IV's reign was the creation of a separate 'realm-within-the-realm,' the oprichnina ('place apart; 1564-72). A parallel administration was set up and the oprichnina handed over to a mounted force, the oprichniki, empowered to destroy the tsar's enemies. In parody of monks, they dressed uniformly in black ...." [CONTRA Shpakovsky/Nicolle 2006 p44]
* Shpakovsky/Nicolle 2006 p10
"An oprichnik was easily recognizable: he wore a coarse monastic-style kaftan, lined with sheepskin and with a waist sash -- but under this his tunic was made of embroidered cloth-of-gold or satin, lined with sable or marten fur. The oprichnik also hung a severed wolf's head from their horses' necks or the side of their saddles; and on the handles of their whips was a bundle of wool, sometimes replaced by a broom -- these symbolized that the oprichniki fell upon the Tsar's enemies like wolves, and then swept into oblivion everything unnecessary."
* Shpakovsky/Nicolle 2006 p44 (reconstructing an Oprichnik light cavalryman, Muscovy, 1533-1584)
"Ivan the Terrible's oprichniki were mostly light cavalry. His hat is quilted for warmth rather than protection, and the startling contrast between the rich tunic and the rough black fur-lined coat was characteristic of these fearsome horsemen. His soft leather boots would be worn with long-shafted iron rowel spurs, but he also carries a large leather-covered wooden whip, its plaited lashes ending in coloured tassels. He carries a sabre, a leather quiver hung from an archer's belt, plus a bowcase on the left thigh. His saddle blanket is bearskin; note the wolf's head slung on a rope round the horse's neck -- the grisly symbol of these ruthless enforcers of the Tsar's will." ... [CONTRA Milnder-Gulland/Dejevsky 1989 p63]