Grand prince

Grand prince (velykyi kniaz). Title of the prince who headed the Riurykide dynasty senior princes of Kyivan Rus’. From the 10th to the 13th century the title was assumed, as a rule, by the rulers of Kyiv. The powers of the grand prince over other princes were limited. In practical terms they consisted of the ability to convene princely congresses, hold supreme command during military campaigns, and exert influence in the appointment of bishops. These powers were gradually constricted, mirroring the collapse of the political order in Kyivan Rus’ and its fragmentation into appanage principalities. By the end of the 12th century the title itself was used by many other princes and by the second half of the 13th century the Kyivan princes had completely lost the right to the name. The title passed to the princes of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia and the Principality of Suzdal-Vladimir.

The title was also frequently claimed by senior princes of other eastern Slavic lands. From the 12th to the 16th century it was adopted by the supreme rulers of Lithuania. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Polish king was also the grand prince of Lithuania. In Muscovy, after the liquidation of the other principalities, the title was used by the Muscovite princes to signify the supreme ruler of all the Muscovite lands. The title was used there until 1547, when Grand Prince Ivan IV the Terrible assumed the appellation of tsar. From 1797 until 1886 ‘grand prince’ was used by the tsar's sons, brothers, grandsons, great-grandsons, and great-great-grandsons through the male line. From 1886 to 1917 the use of the title was limited to the tsar's sons, brothers, and nephews.

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1988).]

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