Tsar - Russia


See also: List of Russian rulers

The first Russian ruler to openly break with the khan of the Golden Horde, Mikhail of Tver, assumed the title of "Basileus of Rus" and "czar".

Following his assertion of independence from the khan and perhaps also his marriage to an heiress of the Byzantine Empire, "Veliki Kniaz" Ivan III of Muscovy started to use the title of tsar regularly in diplomatic relations with the West. From about 1480, he is designated as "imperator" in his Latin correspondence, as "keyser" in his correspondence with the Swedish regent, as "kejser" in his correspondence with the Danish king, Teutonic Knights, and the Hanseatic League. Ivan's son Vasily III continued using these titles, as his Latin letters to Clement VII testify: "Magnus Dux Basilius, Dei gratia Imperator et Dominator totius Russiae, nec non Magnus Dux Woldomeriae", etc. (In the Russian version of the letter, "imperator" corresponds to "tsar"). Herberstein correctly observed that the titles of "kaiser" and "imperator" were attempts to render the Russian term "tsar" into German and Latin, respectively.

This was related to Russia's growing ambitions to become an Orthodox "Third Rome", after Constantinople had fallen. The Muscovite ruler was recognized as an emperor by Maximilian I, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1514. However, the first Russian ruler to be formally crowned as "tsar of all Russia" was Ivan IV, until then known as Grand Prince of all Russia (1547). Some foreign ambassadors — namely, Herberstein (in 1516 and 1525), Daniel Printz a Buchau (in 1576 and 1578) and Just Juel (in 1709) — indicated that the word "tsar" should not be translated as "emperor", because it is applied by Russians to David, Solomon and other Biblical kings, which are simple "reges". On the other hand, Jacques Margeret, a bodyguard of False Demetrius I, argues that the title of "tsar" is more honorable for Muscovites than "kaiser" or "king" exactly because it was God and not some earthly potentate who ordained to apply it to David, Solomon, and other kings of Israel. Samuel Collins, a court physician to Tsar Alexis in 1659-66, styled the latter "Great Emperour", commenting that "as for the word Czar, it has so near relation to Cesar... that it may well be granted to signifie Emperour. The Russians would have it to be an higher Title than King, and yet they call David Czar, and our kings, Kirrols, probably from Carolus Quintus, whose history they have among them".

In short, the Westerners were at a loss as to how the term "tsar" should be translated properly. In 1670, Pope Clement X expressed doubts that it would be appropriate for him to address Alexis as "tsar", because the word is "barbarian" and because it stands for an "emperor", whereas there is only one emperor in the Christian world and he does not reside in Moscow. Reviewing the matter, abbot Scarlati opined that the term is not translatable and therefore may be used by the Pope without any harm. Paul Menesius, the Russian envoy in Vatican, seconded Scarlati's opinion by saying that there is no adequate Latin translation for "tsar", as there is no translation for "shah" or "sultan". In order to avoid such difficulties of translation and to assert his imperial ambitions more clearly, an edict of Peter I the Great decreed that the Latin-based title imperator should be used instead of "tsar" (1721).

The title tsar remained in common usage, and also officially as the designator of various titles signifying rule over various states absorbed by the Muscovite monarchy (such as the former Tatar khanates and the Georgian Orthodox kingdom). In the 18th century, it was increasingly viewed as inferior to "emperor" or highlighting the oriental side of the term. Upon annexing Crimea in 1783, Catherine the Great adopted the hellenicized title of "Tsaritsa of Tauric Chersonesos", rather than "Tsaritsa of the Crimea", as should have been expected. By 1815, when a large part of Poland was annexed, the title had clearly come to be interpreted in Russia as the equivalent of Polish Król "king", and the Russian emperor assumed the title "tsar of Poland", (and the puppet Kingdom of Poland was officially called Królewstwo Polskie in Polish and Царство Польское - Tsardom of Poland - in Russian) (see also Full style of Russian Sovereigns below).

Since the word "tsar" remained the popular designation of the Russian ruler despite the official change of style, its transliteration of this title in foreign languages such as English is commonly used also, in fact chiefly, for the Russian Emperors up to 1917.

The Tsar was also commonly called батюшка, which means "Father", a term of affectionate respect, especially by the lower classes. Some people translate батюшка as "Little Father"; the adjective "Little" was meant to contrast with the Heavenly "Big" Father, i.e. God.

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