Heinrich von Staden (author)

This article is about the author of The Land and Government of Muscovy. For the historian and classical scholar, see Heinrich von Staden (historian).

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

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, 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, Staden also moved, to Karkus, and became a merchant. After trouble erupted in the Livonian government, 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 Ivan IV if he were paid. He was invited to Moscow, where he met the Grand Prince. Ivan was impressed with Staden and invited him to dinner; soon after, he became a member of the Tsar's political police, or Oprichnina.

Living in Russia

Staden's account of Russia, The Land and Government of Muscovy, 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. Staden hoped to influence the emperor to invade Muscovite Russia, restore the region to the Teutonic Order, and be rewarded. The Elector of the Palatinate, Georg Hans Count von Veldenz-Lutzelstein, had similar hopes and took Staden into his employment. Between 1578 and 1582 Staden worked as a sort of spy for the Teutonic Order. He sent his proposal to the Order's Grand Master, and 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 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 ones written by a member, and the history of the Oprichnina was rewritten after 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


  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.
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