Heinrich von Staden

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Heinrich von Staden (1542–?) was a self-proclaimed "adventurer in Muscovy"[1] and wrote of his accounts at the court of Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) from 1578-1582.

Early life[edit]

Von Staden was born the son of a burgher (bourgeoisie) in Ahlen, near Munster, Germany. His mother, Kattarina Ossenbach, died in the plague, and he had a brother, Bernhardus von Staden, a Roman Catholic priest in Ahlen, and a sister. When attending a Catholic seminary in Ahlen, von Staden was accused of stabbing a fellow seminarian with an awl. His cousin, Steffan Hovener, invited him to live in Livonia with him, where "he would not be disturbed." In Livonia, he worked on building the city walls, but didn't like the labor and ran away to the Wolgarten estate in Wolmar, Valmiera. There, the wife of Wolgarten entrusted him with her estates when she learned he could read and write in Latin and German, and was learning Latvian.

After Wolgarten remarried and moved away, Von Staden also moved, to Karkus, and became a merchant. After trouble erupted in the Livonian government, von Staden sent a letter to his friend, Joachim Schroter at the border town of Dorpat, which was held by the Russians. He wrote that he would serve the Grand Prince if he would be paid. He was invited to Moscow, where he met the Grand Prince Ivan IV. Ivan was impressed with von Staden, and invited him to dinner; soon after, he became a member of the Tsar's political police, or Oprichnina.

Living in Russia[edit]

His account of Russia, The Land and Government of Muscovy: A Sixteenth Century Account, was addressed to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II. It consisted of four parts: a petition, a description of Russia, a plan for the invasion of Russia from the north, and the author's autobiography. Von Staden hoped to influence the emperor to invade Muscovite Russia, restore the region to the Teutonic Order, and be rewarded. The Elector of Pfalz, Georg Hans Count von Veldenz-Lutzelstein, had similar hopes and drafted von Staden into his employ. Between 1578 and 1582 von Staden worked as a sort of spy for the Teutonic Order. He sent his proposal to the Order's Grand Master, later to the Kings of Poland and Sweden.

Historians discovered this document in 1839 in the Prussian state archives, knowing of the count's plans, but no link to von Staden was discovered until a few years later. His accounts are the most insightful and descriptive of the day, and displayed the disorder of the Russian government under Ivan the Terrible. Heinrich von Staden calls Tsar Ivan a "horrid tryant",[2] but wrote more neutrally than his contemporaries. His narratives of the Oprichnina are the only accounts written by a member, and the history of the Oprichnina was rewritten after von Staden's accounts were found. He describes the targets of Ivan's terror as individual families which the Tsar believed to be dangerous to his authority, rather than against the entire boyar class as previously thought.

Appearances in modern media[edit]


  1. ^ Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History. Academic International Press. 1984. 
  2. ^ The Land and Government of Muscovy: A Sixteenth-Century Account. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 1967.