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Veliki Kniaz / Great Prince / Grand Duke

The title of the Russian princes was kniaz (' prince') and veliki kniaz (' great prince'). The term velikii kniaz is somewhat illogically, but in conformity with modern usage, translated as "grand duke," and not "great prince". The grand prince of Russia was in reality a true lord, for, according to former customs, he disposes of everything at pleasure: his will is an irrevocable law to all his subjects, and he possesses over them, as a master over his slaves, the right of life and limb; chastised by his own hand, or flogged by his order, his subjects look upon it as an act of favor.

The propriety of employing the term velikii kniaz while dealing with the Kievan period has been questioned. According to Prof. Hrushevski it was unknown in the earlier chronicles. Prof. Presniakov maintains that velikii kniaz was never used to denote "seniority" among the princes in Kievan Russia. Most writers nevertheless retained the term partly because it seems desirable to adhere to the accepted practice, and partly because of the extreme difficulty of finding an English equivalent to convey the meaning of the Russian term stareishenstvo with its peculiar connotation of "seniority." The expressions "grand duke of Kiev" and "grand duchy of Kiev," if not strictly accurate, are not really misleading, since until the latter part of the twelfth century "seniority" among the princes was invariably associated with the possession of Kiev.

When the title "grand prince" (veliki-kniaz) was adopted, the simple kniaz was reserved for the brothers, sons, and other members of the blood-royal. It descended to the numerous offspring of Rurik in all its branches ; and as in every family all children were entitled to it, this title was very common in Russia, and was not always accompanied by fortune.

The Prince is often mentioned in sayings, and always in terms of respect, not unmingled with fear, whether he be the Grand Prince, (Veliki Kniaz) presiding at Kief or Vladimir over the Russian semi-federal body, or an 'appanaged' or locally-independent Prince, (Udyelny Kniaz) controlling the destinies of Tver, or Rostof, or Novgorod. The evidence of these adages is sometimes conflicting. On the one hand we hear that ' A generous Kniaz is a father to all;' on the other, an ominous warning is conveyed by, 'Don't build a house near the Kniaz's Court.' To the sometimes rudely-manifested independence of Novgorod and Pskof may be attributed the uncourtly cry, 'If a Kniaz be bad, into the mud with him.' The constant risings against the Grand Prince, the head of the ruling family, essayed by those of his kinsmen to whom had been assigned an udyel or appanage, gave rise to, 'A Boyar answers for a fault with his head, a Kniaz with his udyel.' The congresses in which princes met and swore to be life-long friends, and immediately afterwards behaved as deadly foes, may, possibly, have suggested the remark that, 'Where there is an oath, there also is a crime ;' and if not relating to, at least suggestive of, the jealousy of interference from without prevailing in each separate Court, are such old saws as, 'One's own judgment is quickest;' or, 'When dogs of the same house differ, let not an outside dog interfere!'

For five centuries, more or less, did the 'Separate' or' Appanaged' principalities hold their own. For more than seven, if we date the appanage system from the dimly-seen period of Rurik ; but it is popularly supposed to commence witli the death of Yaroslaf, in 1054, to expire under Ivan IV. (1533-1584). But, as time went by, with ever-failing power. At length the last traces of Russia's nearest approximation to a feudal system were effaced by the sweeping measures of Ivan the Terrible. The title of Grand Prince paled its glory before the fierce light which shone about that of 'All Russian Tsar,' and to the latter became referred in the popular memory almost all the adages which were once connected with the former.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:24:37 ZULU