There were in Russia several sorts of titles, and something like a nobiliary hierarchy, but this was an importation from the West, a recently borrowed thing. To the Moscovites as to the other Slavs, all these designations of dukes, counts, barons, were unknown, for the reason that they never had anything like feudalism, no duchies and counties, vassals of one another and of the central power. Old Russia knew nothing of all these gradations ; indeed she did not know much even of hereditary qualifications ; herein again the Russian dvorianstvo differed entirely from the nobility of Western Europe.
There was but one exception, and that confirmed the rule : it was in favor of the collateral branches of the reigning dynasty. The descendants of the kniazes, the appanage-princes, continued to bear the title after the incorporation of their principalities into that of Moscow. All other dignities or distinctions, especially that of boyar, were conferred directly by the sovereign and only for a lifetime. It was only when brought into contact with Kurope and on annexing provinces that had long been subject to Teutonic influences, that Russia appropriated some of the nobiliary denominations produced by feudalism. So she made counts and later on barons, but had to borrow foreign names for these imitative creations. Graf for "count," and Baron, The old title kniaz was the only Slavic and rational one.
According to the purport of the law of January 12th, 1682, all the Russian noblemen enjoy equal rights, without regard to their titles and origin. But, under a point of view merely honorific, the official blazon of the Russian nobility (deposited in the heraldic office of the senate at St. Petersburg), is divided into five classes, viz.:
- . The Princes of the empire.
- . The Counts of the empire.
- . The Barons of the empire.
- . Gentlemen without titles, whose nobilitation had taken place previous to Peter I ; and
- . Gentlemen without titles, who were ennobled after that reign.
Peter the Great and his successors began to vie with Western monarchs in conferring hereditary titles. They were not as lavish, though, with these distinctions as other sovereigns, and the number of families bearing foreign titles was comparatively small. A hundred or so of counts, some fifteen princes, and a few more barons, the latter mostly financial men, such was the approximate number of titles created by imperial diploma. They all were naturally of more or less recent date, few going back a century, and these families did not enjoy any high degree of popularity and consideration. There were said to have been, from Boriss Sheremetief in 1706 to General Totleben in 1879, 157 creations of counts ; but many left no posterity. The Emperor Alexander II. alone created over twenty.
There were, side by side with them, others, more ancient, whose names were sufficiently illustrious not to need the glamour of title. The Naryshkins, for instance, had none, and appeared to deem it an honor to dispense with one.
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