Healing Gemstones of Ivan the Terrible

Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I of England maintained close trade relations with Tsarist Russia. She regularly corresponded to Tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) and sent ambassadors to his court. One of these ambassadors, Sir Jerome Horsey, has given us an interesting account of his interactions with the Tsar just prior to his death in 1584.

Portrait Ivan the Terrible

Detail of Vikor M. Vasnetsov’s painting of Ivan the Terrible (1897)

When The Travels of Sir Jerome Horsey was published in 1856 by the Hakluyt Society, the Old English spellings were retained. In this excerpt, we learn that when Sir Horsey met with the Tsar, his health was failing.

“The sowthsaiers tell him [the Emperor’s favorite] that the best signes ‘constellacions’ and strongest planetts of heaven was against the Emperower, which would produce his end by such a daye; but he [the favorite] durst not to tell him [the Emperor] so; [instead] he [the favorite] fell in rage and told them [the soothsayers] they wear veri likly to be all burnt that daye. The Emperower began griviously to swell in his coddes, with which he had most horrablie offended above 50 years together, bostinge of thowsand virgens he had deflowered and thowsands of children of his begettinge distroied.”

Horsey and Ivan the terrible

_Ivan the Terrible Showing His Treasury to Jerome Horsey_ by Alexander Litovchenko (1875)

According to Sir Horsey, the Tsar sought solace for his condition in his treasury, and on one occasion expounded on the healing powers of gemstones:

lodestone with nails

Lodestone Attracting Nails

“[The Emperor was] Carried everie daye in his chair into his treasurie. One daye the prince beckoned to me to follow. I strode emonge the rest venturously, and heard him call for som precious stones and jewells. [The Emperor] Told the prince and nobles present before and aboute him the vertue [virtue] of such and such, which I observed, and do pray I maye a littell degress to declare for my own memorie sake.



“[Horsey quoted the Emperor as saying:] ‘The load-stone you all know hath great and hidden vertue, without which the seas that compas the world ar not navigable, nor the bounds nor circles of the earth cannot be knowen’…[And the Emperor] Caused the waiters to bringe a chaine of nedells towched by his load-stone, hanged all one by the other.



“[The Emperor continued:] ‘This faire currell [coral] and this faire turcas [turquoise] you see; take in your hand; of his natur arr orient coullers: put them on my hand and arm. I am poisoned with disease: you see they shewe their virtue by the chainge of their pure culler into pall: declares my death.’

yellow diamond

Diamond Crystal

“[The Emperor continued:] ‘Behold these precious stones. This diomond is the orients richest and most precious of all other. I never affected it; yt restreyns furie and luxurie and abstinacie and chasticie; the least parcell of it in powder will poysen a horse geaven to drinck, much more a man.’



“[The Emperor] Poynts at the ruby. ‘Oh! this is most comfortable to the hart, braine, vigar and memorie of man, clarifies congelled and corrupt bloud.’

emerald el dorado


“[The Emperor points] Then at the emerald. ‘The natur of the reyn-bowe; this precious stone is an enemye to uncleanness. Try it: though man and whiff [wife] cohabit in lust together, having this stone aboute them, yt will burst at the spending of nature.’

cut sapphire


“‘The saphier I greatlie delight in; yt preserves and increaseth courage, joies the hart, pleasinge to all the vitall sensis, precious and verie soveraigne for the eys, clears the sight, takes awaye bloud shott and streingthens the mussells and strings thereof.’



“[The Emperor] Then takes the onex in hand. ‘All these are Gods wonderfull guifts, secreats in natur, and yet revells [reveals] them to mans use and contemplacion, as frendes to grace and vertue and enymies to vice. I fainte, carie me awaye till an other tyme.'”

ivan the terrible attribution