Grozny goes to Petersburg

Consider this alt-history passage:

Ivan the Terrible once said: “I’m guilty of my son’s death because I didn’t hand him over to the doctors in time” when they were on the road and he [the son] fell ill. They were going from Moscow to Petersburg.

We should remember [our] history and shouldn’t allow anybody to rewrite it.

So speaks the current governor of the Oryol region, Vadim Potomsky. Now he admits the mention of Petersburg was a slip but insists that Ivan IV did not kill his son Ivan, who was poisoned with mercury.

No eyewitness testimony is extant on Ivan Ivanovich’s death. Exhumed in the 1960s, the tsarevich’s skull was found disintegrated; in his bones, mercury, arsenic and lead were found in abnormally high concentrations. Poisoning is not an impossible hypothesis by itself, but the picture of Ivan IV and his son traveling to St. Petersburg 120 years before its founding propels it to a different class.

What does it have to do with Oryol? In 1566, Ivan IV ordered to build a fortress against raids by Crimean Tatars at the site of the present-day city. It was razed during the civil and Polish wars of the early 17th century (the residents fled to Mtsensk – yes, that one) and Oryol was only rebuilt in 1636, under czar Mikhail.

These little details aside, it’s been the governor’s conceit that Oryol should have a statue of Ivan the Terrible as its founder. Now it turns out that Potomsky’s idea of Ivan IV is by any measure unorthodox – but then so should be the statue.

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