This essay focuses upon the limitations to Ivan iv’s biography set by the extant sources. Due to these limitations, some important episodes of the tsar’s life, including his participation in the administrative reforms carried out during his reign, remain unknown. Moreover, these lacunae cannot be filled in with mere logical conjectures. However, the situation is not totally hopeless. For instance, Ivan’s major concerns during the oprichnina can be revealed with the help of the marginal notes in the Royal Archive’s inventory which fixed the tsar’s uses of the documents. Apart from careful reexamination of the available sources, hopes for further insights into Ivan’s biography and reign are pinned on the applying of the emic approach, history of concepts and historical comparison.
The paper’s basic premise is that the fate of a medieval city commune was determined to a large extent by its status in a bigger political system. Moreover, most of European towns and cities had only, to use Charles Tilly’s term, “fragmented sovereignty” when the control over the city was divided between several authorities including the city magistrates and a prince or an emperor. It means that city republics should be studied in their political settings, i.e., through the lens of their relations with the other powers in the region.
In the paper, such an “environmental” approach is applied to fifteenth-century Pskov, a typical “fragmented sovereignty”, which was dependent on the Novgorod archbishop and on Russian metropolitan in ecclesiastic affairs and belonged to the Grand Principality of Vladimir and Moscow in secular politics. Medieval Pskov had its own judicial system and legislation resembling that of some German cities and until the 1460s even enjoyed the right to invite and expel princes who had been turned into the city magistrates. But as the emerging Muscovite state tightened its control over North Western Russian lands in the second half of the fifteenth century, Pskov’s liberties were gradually reduced. The fate of Pskov finally absorbed by the Muscovite monarchy in 1510 was not unique: the Russian city followed the path of many other communes in different parts of Europe where emerging early modern sovereign states put an end to local autonomies and various “fragmented sovereignties”.