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G. Gross,

King’s College London University,

United Kingdom (England), London,

J. S. Frolova,

Caspian Institute of Sea & River Transport,

Nizhny Novgorod


This article draws comparison between perceptions of monarchy in Great Britain and Tsarist Russia with special reference to coronations. It examines examples from Elizabethan England and Muscovy to the two cousins — George V and Nicholas II. Particular focus will be given to ideas of Divine Right and of the country as a New Jerusalem.

The introductory analysis here, is part of a wider project on British coronations and ceremonial, that in its second stage, will explore in depth, global coronation history.

Much work has been done on Romanov and British ceremonial. In this case, we take the next step, by exploring the surprising similarities and differences from Westminster Abbey to the Kremlin.

Historians are often drawn to see parallels closer to home. Why not compare the crowning of English monarchs to those at Reims in France? We do not seek to reject this important scholarship, but rather to extend such work further afield. Whilst there were obvious differences — the common law, constitutionalism and a radically contrasting structure to society — there was nevertheless, much in common and worth further enquiry. Crucially, contemporaries did not shy away from more distant links, they travelled far and wide, setting up trading posts and correspondence from the Muscovy Company; the trend setting firework displays of London coronation festivities that influenced the grand celebrations of Elizabeth I of Russia in 1742; to the shared holidays of the grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Had Elizabeth Tudor married Tsar Ivan, this work would need no justification at all.


Keywords: Coronation; Divine Right; New Jerusalem; Byzantine; Sacerdotal; Kingship; Muscovy; British.


For citation: Gross G., Frolova Ju. S. From London to Moscow coronations: perceptions of monarchy // Systems psychology and sociology. 2018. № 2 (26). P. 97–110.





Coronations provide a remarkable medium into which we can examine varying perceptions of monarchy in different countries. Precisely because they are infrequent, normally inaugurating reigns, coronations are momentous occasions when a monarchy and its subjects re-assess themselves, projecting their beliefs and aspirations. Connecting Crown, Church and peoples, they therefore become crucial constitutional, political, religious, social and cultural barometers. This was not lost on contemporaries. For instance, foreign representation at British coronations dramatically increased from the Restoration in 1661 to the arrival of the first Hanoverian — George I in 1714. We know that a minimum number of 13 foreign dignitaries were present at Charles II’s Westminster Abbey crowning; for James II in 1685, this figure was up to 19; and by 1714 — 21 [41: p. 175; 55: p. 135–159, p. 730–742]. The rising number of representatives (that came from a larger range of countries), is striking. Britain’s role on the European stage, and indeed worldwide, had changed radically by 1714. Much the same could be said of Russian coronations, particularly as the country was drawn ever further westward in the world of realpolitik. At Nicholas I’s coronation of 1826 (following the Decembrist revolt of 1825)1 and the spectacular coronations of George IV (of Great Britain) in 1821 and Charles X of France in 1825, there was much foreign representation and the Emperor went out of his way to publicise his event. He wished to spread the news of a unified regime and indeed, ‘the spectacle fulfilled the literary and mythical expectations of the foreign guests and the Russian official elite. The Duke of Raguse (Marshal of France) found the unity and devotion of the family ‘one of the most beautiful things the imagination can conceive’ [67: p. 139]. Consequently, the importance of diplomatic representation had grown correspondingly and continued to do so right up until the last Romanov coronation in 1896 and Elizabeth II’s coronation of 1953 — televised for the world to see. Coronations, in short, became ever more internationalist2 . Coronation spending was a public statement of the magnitude of a state’s resources, of its strength, of its religious zeal, of its diplomatic intentions and of its claims to dominion. These things also merited wider notice. Official accounts, diplomatic dispatches, newspapers, letters and prints, and diaries all contribute to the reportage of such events. This essay therefore follows precisely what our forebears sought to do, by taking the opportunity to look more widely and compare coronations in two different countries. In this instance, within that prism, we narrow the field to focus specifically on perceptions of monarchy in relation to Divine Right, that will include a discussion of Saints; and the concept of a New Jerusalem and a shared invention of traditions.


Monarchical Divinity



The association of monarchs with divinity has its origins in the ancient world: from the Pharaohs of Egypt to the Sang Dynasty of China, from the Obas of Benin (present day Nigeria) to the Shahnameh of Persia, from the Emperors of Japan to the Dalai Lama in Tibet [19]. In classical tradition, one need not look further than the Roman Empire with Caesar, and the investment of Julius Caesar with god-like status; such were the symbolic powers of the double-headed eagle The association of monarchs with divinity has its origins in the ancient world: from the Pharaohs of Egypt to the Sang Dynasty of China, from the Obas of Benin (present day Nigeria) to the Shahnameh of Persia, from the Emperors of Japan to the Dalai Lama in Tibet [19]. In classical tradition, one need not look further than the Roman Empire with Caesar, and the investment of Julius Caesar with god-like status; such were the symbolic powers of the double-headed eagle and laurel, that these images perpetuated themselves in Byzantine tradition, and later in Muscovy. The list goes on, and is diverse. These examples of rule by godly approval, rule as a god or goddess, and rule with divine sacerdotal power were age-old concepts long before the birth of Christianity [2: p. 9–31]. It is therefore not surprising that the Bible continued such themes, but wove the thread in a monotheistic direction, something that had already been ‘fostered’, to some degree, under Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, 1352–1336 BC), the Egyptian ‘heretic king’, with his ‘sun-disc’ god (the Aten). This deity ‘was simply the hypostasis of divine kingship, a... reflection of his (i. e. Akhenaten’s) own on earth, projected heavenwards’ [48: p. 20–21, p. 176–178]. Power thus rested in one God alone, and kings and queens derived their authority from one single Almighty and not multiple sources. The idea of reinforcing this power by ceremonial, such as a coronation, lay not only in western tradition, but in pre-biblical times too. Pharaohs of ancient Egypt underwent re-investing ceremonies of their divinity in the presence of their people. For example, Ramesses II (c.1304–1237 BC) was to celebrate fourteen such rituals, known as the heb sed, or ‘royal jubilee’ [54: p. 256; 48: p. 178]. Japan provides a far-eastern example of continuity, in which the theory remained intact, traversing the ancient and the modern. Right up until their defeat in the Second World War and the establishment of a new democratic constitution, Japan retained the principle that their Emperor was the ‘Sun God’ — an entirely divine figure and absolute ruler. Tsarist Russia provides an interesting point of comparison to the ideology that developed in Great Britain, particularly in relation to the patrimonial position of the monarch. To what extent was the realm and its people the estate of the potentate? [45: p. 54–55; 48: p. 20–21]. The rulers of France, so often crowned at Reims and invested with the conventional emblems of sovereignty, are of note for their powers of healing [28: p. 4–5]. Their divinity invested their monarchy with the supposed ability to cure scrofula3 . This efficacy was also found in the British monarchy. Even closer to home, the Stone of Scone would become an intrinsic element of the coronation, as part of St Edward’s Chair. The swords of the regalia, carried at a coronation, signified the presence of sovereignty, and the all-powerful nature of the ruler, coupled with justice and mercy. Along with the Curtana, or Sword of Mercy, they were associated with the almost magical nature of Arthurian legend and kingship, with Lancelot and Excalibur, and also the Celtic tale of Tristan and Isolde [16: p. 122–133, p. 126–127].

As outlined above, it is too easy to take an insular view of the ideology of Divine Right. The ‘Divine Right of Kings’ was thus not an exclusively English or European concept. If one wished to look abroad from a British perspective, the obvious temptation would be to focus on either France or Spain [28]. However, until relatively recently, Russia has been greatly overlooked in English scholarship. Yet in the Early Modern period itself, links between England and Russia, both commercial and diplomatic, developed significantly.

Much has been written about the development of ‘Divine Right’ ideology in the Tudor and early Stuart periods, particularly with the transformation of the ‘State’ in terms of government and of bureaucracy in relation to the Reformations [11: p. 837–861; 21; 58: p. 9–33; 69: p. 757–778]. Of special interest are the comparisons of nations and kings, and the nature of the king’s ‘two bodies’ — the ‘twin-born majesty’, as analysed by Kantorowicz and Axton [30: p. 5; 6]. It is well known that a theory of ‘Divine Right’ was a long-standing polemical motif of James I & VI, appearing in many of his pronouncements. One example is this: ‘The state of MONARCHIE is the supremest thing upon earth: for kings are not only GODS lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon GODS throne, but even by GOD himselfe they are called Gods’5 [29: p. 529]. Early modern English monarchs embraced both the concept of ‘Divine Right’ and their coronations with fervour. ‘Divine Right’ took on a greater potency not only as enshrined in coronations, but also as expressed through concepts of hegemony and as central to confessionalizing imperatives, which had the aim of edifying the nation — a link that can be readily drawn between our comparisons: it was not just ‘Protestant’ England and ‘Catholic’ Spain, but it was also ‘Orthodox’ Russia.

Ideas of ‘Divine Right’ flourished in Eurasia, and developed particularly strong roots in Russia. This was perhaps initially based on the submission of Muscovy to the Mongol Empire and the Golden Horde which carried the theory of a deified leader or Emperor, from the time of Genghis Khan. Later, Divine Right and a saintly Christian status were inaugurated into the ruling elite of Russia (The Princes and Grand Princes of Muscovy) following the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the Byzantine Empire. Russia was seen as the ‘only nation capable of assuming leadership in eastern Christendom’6 . As Ware argues, ‘People came to think of Moscow as the third Rome’; McGrath and Al-Azmeh concur proposing that the relation between Church and State was so close that some writers began to refer to Moscow as the ‘Third Rome’ and that ‘the leadership of the Christian world had passed to Moscow’. [2: p. 9–31; 15: p. 150; 37: p. 194–195]. The first Rome (so they argued) had fallen to the barbarians and then lapsed into heresy; the second Rome, Constantinople, had in turn fallen into heresy at the Council of Florence, and as a punishment had been taken by the Turks. Moscow therefore had succeeded Constantinople as the third and last Rome, the centre of Orthodox Christendom and at the head of this Orthodoxy, at the pinnacle of this hierarchy, carrying the mantle of such ambition, was the Grand Prince of Muscovy [33: 503–547; 59]. This is summarised by the monk Philotheus of Pskov in a famous letter written in 1510 to the Grand Prince of Moscow Vasily (Basil) III (r. 1505–1533) after cementing the gains made by his father Ivan III (r. 1462–1505) and having thrown off the shackles of their Eastern masters:

I wish to add a few words on the present Orthodox Empire of our ruler: he is on earth the sole Emperor [Tsar] of the Christians, the leader of the Apostolic Church which stands no longer in Rome or in Constantinople, but in the blessed city of Moscow. She alone shines in the whole world brighter than the sun...

The Grand Duke of Moscow began to assume the Byzantine titles of ‘autocrat’ and ‘Tsar’ (an adaptation of the Roman ‘Caesar’) and to use the double-headed eagle of Byzantium as his State emblem. By 1547 Ivan IV (The Terrible) (r. 1533– 1584) would formally adopt the title of Tsar, and a coronation service based on Byzantine tradition to suitably match this status, for it ‘was ‘‘legitimizing ritual’’ par excellence: the tsar wore the Monomakh8 regalia and the ceremony was described as an ‘ancient rite’, in fact, ... new to Russia’ [1: p. 295–313, 299–300]. This ‘invention of tradition’ of ritual that was in fact completely original, has much in common between our two examples. In Britain, for instance, the Coronation Chair possesses its own folklore. The figure of a king, either Edward the Confessor or Edward I, was painted on the back, leading to the belief — the ‘invention of tradition’ — that this was St Edward the Confessor’s chair [26: p. 101–164]. The coronation chronicler Sandford indicates why it gained that association, having been solemnly offered by… King Edward the first to St Edward the Confessor, the morrow after the festival of St Botolph, anno 1297 (from whence it hath the name of St. Edwards Chair) [50: p. 39].

Wortman likens Russia to Canndine’s model of the British monarchy and invented tradition: ‘The invention of tradition in Russia sustained a myth requiring dramatic reversals and sharp discontinuities in order to reinforce an image of supreme and irresistible power’ [68: p. 660]. Yet, this myth was swallowed by foreign ambassadors, even those of Republican France. Maurice Paléologue recounts the third Rome tradition and byzantine background to the Russian monarchy at length in his memoirs of 1915. He observes the ‘sacerdotal pomp’ of the endless ceremonies of court [42: p. 92; 47: 14–15]. His perceptions are significant in that he observed the sacred way in which the Tsar was held by his people. During a military ceremony shortly before the outbreak of World War I, he was present at a joint military parade for the FrancoRussian alliance, noting: ‘The Emperor appeared on the balcony. The entire crowd at once knelt and sang the Russian national anthem. To those thousands of men on their knees at that moment the Tsar was really the autocrat appointed of God, the military, political and religious leader of his people, the absolute master of their bodies and souls’ [42: p. 52]. As with British coronations, Wortman’s work has shown how ‘symbolic display served as an essential mechanism of tsarist rule. Carefully staged ceremonies and celebrations, the coronations foremost among them, demonstrated the monarch’s powers of control and direction, providing a simulacrum of a political order responding to his will’ [67: p. 1]. This was of course, only up to a point in the United Kingdom from a constitutional monarchical perspective and indeed could go spectacularly wrong, as it did at Nicholas II’s coronation in 1896, with the disastrous Khodynskoe Field massacre — in which over a thousand Russians gathering for a popular feast in honour of the new Tsar, died in a mass stampede. Far from showing order, the coronation celebrations highlighted a ‘regime bereft of control’ [67: p. 343]. As one member of the Russian Bulletin put it, ‘this is a bad omen. Nothing good will come of this tsar’s reign’ [20: p. 334]. The perceived success of a coronation and the accompanying celebrations made dramatic impressions on those who witnessed them. From the beginning, the perception of Nicholas II’s regime was tarnished by an ill-fated sense of disaster. For all of the disaster of 1896, most coronations put on displays of the utmost grandeur that left spectators in awe. For instance, we have a valuable report submitted by a Venetian representative on Charles II’s London coronation in 16619 . It is useful because it discloses what he thought most important to record for the benefit of his masters in Venice, namely that the coronation was: ‘so desired by his (Charles II’s) subjects, with all possible splendour and decorum, no one sparing his money to make it exceptional and memorable for ages to come, and it was certainly the most conspicuous solemnity that has ever been seen in this realm’.

He went on to say, that the metropolis was ‘decorated in the most delightful manner’, with several triumphal arches, which had taken months to create. There was much music and bonfire-making: ‘abundant evidence of rejoicing and consolation’. He observed the extent to which the realm was represented in the abbey, in the shape of peers, judges and magistrates. Most significantly, Charles was ‘consecrated and crowned’, a clear statement of a perception of quasi-sacerdotalism. Other foreign representatives were noted too, as well as the concluding distribution of coronation medals. In terms of measuring impact, one report is obviously not conclusive, but the Venetian representative went out of his way to record that all transpired to ‘great satisfaction of the people’. The king also held audiences with diplomats. Finally, he estimates the far from inconsiderable expenditure of these foreign dignitaries. For example, ‘the Spanish ambassador… must have spent over [£]3000’. However, he himself disbursed ‘(£)215… in accordance with the Senate’s instructions’11. A dispatch of 28 May shows that the Senate was satisfied with his report and provided generous reimbursement: ‘To relieve him of the expenses in connection with this ceremony they have decided to give him a present of 500 ducats’12. Although highlights will have varied from person to person, the evidence is clear that a coronation was a ‘must see’ spectacular, perceived by some to have a quasi-sacerdotal dimension.

As mentioned for 1661, music is often associated with coronations — all the more so after 1727, given the success of Handel’s Zadok the Priest for the coronation of George II at Westminster Abbey; Range calls it a ‘concert coronation’ [13: p. 469–473; 46: p. 129]. But apart from music, the most spectacular feature to jolt the public ‘senses’ was the enormous firework display that had become traditional. Fireworks were not unique to coronations: James I spent £2,880 alone for Thames fireworks for Elizabeth Stuart’s marriage in 1613 [5: p. 157–179]. Yet, how did these pyrotechnics have an impact, if, as we all know, fireworks are so evanescent, lasting for seconds or minutes, and in events not many hours from beginning to end? There are two main reasons. Firstly, coronation firework displays were on another level, surpassing anything normally seen by the public: in 1661, the coronation and the fireworks the day after were of a ‘sumptuousness... (that) exceeded the glory of what hath passed of the like kind in France’ [23: p. 69]. Secondly, they had an afterlife in print, with images reproduced in official accounts. Examples include Sandford’s detailed record of James II’s coronation and Romeyn de Hooghe’s Dutch print of the accession of William and Mary, published in London, Hamburg and the Netherlands in 1689. There is also a print showing firework celebrations held in The Hague for William III’s accession13 [9: p. 3–52]. These massive displays were not to be missed — they were certainly worth the journey to London, as viscount Mountjoy reported to the duke of Ormond in anticipation of the event on 15 April 1685: one should come ‘to see the coronation w[i]th all the fireworks’14. Such was the impact of these particular coronations that Catherine I in 1724 would follow suit with ‘splendid… fireworks’15 and Elizabeth I of Russia was to have a similar display at her coronation in 1742; it is reproduced in the same fashion as the British occasions16 [67: p. 38, 50]. In that regard, Britain was something of a trendsetter for these magnificent sky illuminations, and later for the production of ‘festival or fête books’ [9: p. 4].

This expression of pomp is summarised by Wortman, who draws comparison between English and Russian coronations.

In the eighteenth century, the Russian imperial coronation presented the most elaborate of these displays of joy. It combined solemn reverence for the past with the enforced gaiety of the Olympian scenario. The coronation consecrated the claims of each of the empresses… It was regarded as an urgent requirement of rule, and preparations began immediately after the seizure of power. In this respect, the ceremony played a role like that of the English coronations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which confirmed uncertain Tudor and Stuart claims to the throne [67: p. 44].

The quasi-sacerdotalism as outlined above for Charles II’s 1661 Westminster Abbey coronation was also felt by British royalty in the twentieth century and perceived by onlookers. Following George V’s 1911 coronation, Queen Mary of Teck wrote of the experience, that it ‘was a very real solemn thing & appealed to my feelings more than I can express’. Alexander Murray, Master of Elibank who was present at the ceremony, described in a letter this sense of transformation:

On her arrival at Westminster Abbey Queen Mary looked ‘pale and strained’. You felt she was a great lady but not a Queen. However, the contrast on her ‘return’ — crowned — was magnetic, as if she had undergone some marvellous transformation [60: p. 430].

This sacerdotal transformation is also seen by Wortman as a substantial element of a post-Muscovite coronation, but in a far more absolutist direction. He argues that Elizabeth Petrovna’s 1742 coronation represent(ed) the final stage of evolution of the ceremonies of the Russian imperial coronation. When Elizabeth removed the crown from the hands of the archbishop and crowned herself, she culminated the changes that had turned the Muscovite coronation into the consecration of an absolute monarch beholden to no earthly power, not excepting the church [67: p. 44]. Whilst no British monarch crowned themselves, the concept of consecration was embedded in coronation ritual. Not least because a coronation was seen in a marital context, involving a special ring: The appearance of the ring is a significant feature: we should recall that in all medieval royal coronation ordines (English and continental) the ring formed an essential emblem [62: p. 181].

The ‘royal signet’17 came to symbolise ‘the inseparability of the Crown from the king, but also the meaning of the king’s marriage to the kingdom’. Such a link emulated episcopal consecration: ‘the essential point is that the sacramental idea of the episcopal marriage was transferred to the king and here assumed constitutional and… practical importance’ [62: p. 182; 65: p. 1–9]. This coronation-marriage tradition continued under the Tudors and into the period 1661–1714. As Hunt indicates, Mary I referred to her coronation ‘as a marriage’, and in a speech reminded her audience of this contractual relationship between people and ruler, stating that ‘at my coronation when I was wedded to the realme and to the lawes of the same (the spowsall ring whereof I have on my finger, which never hetherto was, nor hereafter shall be left of) the promised your allegeaunce and obedience unto mee and that I am the right and true inheritor to the Crowne of this realme of Englande’18 [27: p. 133].

Just as the monarch marries the realm and promises to uphold the laws, so too the people must honour their part of the agreement via oaths of allegiance. Elizabeth I maintained a similar position, pronouncing, as Levine has it, that ‘I am sworn when I was married to the realm not to alter the laws of it’ [32: p. 177]. This symbolism was of such transparent importance that it registered with eyewitnesses: Celia Fiennes noted at Queen Anne’s coronation in 1702 that ‘the ring is put on her finger to witness she is married to the kingdom’ [40: p. 301].


Saintly status



It was an abiding Tudor trope to see the English monarchy in direct line to that of ancient Israel, and commonplace to compare sovereigns with biblical figures. Henry VIII had liked nothing better than to identify himself with ‘David the destroyer of Goliath or Solomon the builder of the temple’ [35: p. 364], later in his reign even seeing himself as ‘Typus Christi’ or ‘David as (a) Type of Christ’ [66: p. 183–205, 198]. These associations continued: Edward VI was often referred to as ‘Salomonem’ or the young Josiah19, and Elizabeth I as ‘gracious Debora(h), by whom God... caused his Church of England to prosper in health, wealth, peace, policie, learning, religion, and many good gifts and graces’ [34: p. 35; 36: p. 82]. Elizabeth’s portrayal as Deborah, by such figures as John Aylmer and John Hales, was two-fold. On the one hand, loyal subjects sought to praise their rulers by recognising their elevated status and answering opponents such as John Knox and his 1558 critique of queenship, and, on the other, wished to provide a model for princely rule [38: p. 224–252]. There was perhaps plenty of aspiration here: Deborah of the Book of Judges defeated Israel’s enemies and was at once wife, judge, prophetess and mother. She brought forty years of peace to her people, something almost unheard of for an early modern subject [25: p. 73–88]. Thus, emphasis on quasi-sacerdotal kingship, and a cult of royalty, embellished the Crown with a repertoire of biblical and classical personae; the Elizabethan cult of Gloriana entailed a profusion of images from the Virgin Mary, a second Eve, to Cynthia, Diana and Astraea [22: p. 38–71; 69; 31: p. 266]

Divine Right kingship in Britain rested therefore on biblical origins that were reinforced by a legacy of saintly power. These scriptural inferences, and this saintly endorsement, were given a concrete reality in the coronation: in both the symbols of majesty used in the service and in the acts of homage; these acts of homage, by the royal person, were paid to the high altar and in St Edward’s chapel — the latter is located directly behind the high altar of Westminster Abbey. The Tudors prostrated themselves at the shrine of the Confessor: ‘the kyng shall come to the highe alter and lie down [at] the mantel of Saint Edward [and]... offer br(ea)d and wine’21. This essential feature was to continue. For example, in 1685 James II was to use ‘St Edwards chaire (which was) richly furnished (and) plac(e)d in the midst... against the Altar’ and a ‘chaire and traverse (was placed) within St Edwards Chappell’22. William III and Mary II were to perpetuate this practice in 1689: suprisingly, given William’s Dutch Calvinist background, the Holy Spirit remained a prominent component in the ceremonial of their Coronation, in that we find reference to the ‘scepter with the dove (and the)... Ivory rod with the dove’23. Such allusions to the Holy Spirit and the sovereign’s connection to God were reinforced by this symbolism. George I was to make an offering of ‘his sword... to the Altar’ and to ‘proceed in state into King Edwards Chappel(,) the organs playing all the while’. Hence, representatives of the houses of Tudor, Stuart, Orange and Hanover were alike in inheriting and embracing this saintly mantle.

From Muscovy onwards, with the ‘created or invented’ inheritance of the Byzantine tsarist title and of coronation ritual, came the concept of the divinity of the Byzantine emperors that often involved not the mighty but the weak (for example the murdered tsarevich St. Dimitri Ivanovich, 1582–1591). Perhaps this was the battle of ideas, as Cherniavsky put it, between the image of the khan, and that of a pious byzantine ruler. If the image of the basileus stood for the orthodox and pious ruler, leading his Christian people toward salvation, then the image of the khan, perhaps, was preserved in the idea of the Russian ruler as the conqueror of Russian and of its people, responsible to no one. If the basileus signified the holy tsar, the ‘most gentle’ (tishaishii) tsar in spiritual union with his flock, then the khan, perhaps, stood for the absolutist secularized state, arbitrary through it separation from the subjects. The two images were not really synthesised; both existed separately, if in a state of tension which the first Russian Tsar, Ivan IV, exemplified so tragically: killing by day and praying by night [14: p. 476]. This divide is clearly expressed in Mussorgsky’s masterpiece, the opera Boris Godunov, between the power of Boris and the purportedly assassinated tsarevich Dmitri. This sacerdotal nature of these holy royals was enhanced by ritual, and thus developed sanctification. These figures are to be found in the Orthodox Church, transformed into icons, providing for the believer almost mystical contact and mediation with God. The same can be found in Britain with Edmund the Martyr and St. Edward the Confessor; the latter in a symbolic sense has played a pivotal role in British coronations to the present — from the St. Edward’s crown to St. Edward’s coronation chair. Whilst many a monarch sought to assume a Henry V style militaristic kingly role, it was the perceived spiritualism of Edward the Confessor that was granted saintly status. Such was the value of having monarchical saints in England, that Henry VII pursued an impressive campaign with the aim of creating a second patron saint in the figure of Henry VI. Sydney Anglo provides a detailed account of the rise of the unofficial ‘cult of Henry VI’ and how ‘Tudor apologists’ sought to ‘exploit’ the opportunity of having this ancestor as a ‘martyr (and) holy worker of miracles’ [4: p. 62–63].

As this thesis has argued in relation to Edward the Confessor, Anglo points out that there ‘could have been (very little) more desirable for Henry VII than to have a Lancastrian saint as an Uncle — especially one who had predicted the Tudor triumph’ [4: p. 66].

Hagiographical material having been gathered, ‘the laborious process for the canonization of the murdered monarch’ was undertaken. But, in spite of Henry VII’s best efforts, the papacy thwarted the enterprise [4: p. 66].

Moving to the latter part of the seventeenth century, the power of saints was used by Peter the Great in equal measure as part of ‘a new brand of “holiness”... (to) emphasise... the sacredness of the monarchy’ [1: p. 21].

The cult of St. Andrew25 was revived — a saint with great importance for St. Petersburg and with a standing commensorate with that of St. George for the Order of the Garter and England. At Windsor in 1698, according to Lindsey Hughes, Tsar Peter attended the Garter ceremony and was offered membership by William III, but turned it down on the basis that he was in the process of founding his own chivalric system [63: p. 87].

In 1698/99, this materialised in the order of St. Andrew26 — Russian ships began to fly the flag of a blue cross on a white background, just as the cross of St George was flown in the British Royal Navy. St Andrew’s Day (30 November) also played an important role in the Court calendar, in a similar way to that of 23 April in England [1: p. 304]. Moreover, Peter the Great, initiated the cult of Alexander Nevskii. St Alexander Iaroslavich ‘Nevskii’ of Novgorod (1220–1263) was a canonised medieval prince who had the impressive reputation for defeating Swedish armies in 1240. Peter, fighting Sweden at the time of the order’s inception, drew parallels with St Alexander Nevskii and his divine and military fame. The Tsar even moved Nevski’s feast day from 23 November to 30 August in order to celebrate (and invoke) the anniversary of the Treaty of Nystadt (1721), in which he had been victorious over Sweden. In 1724, Nevskii’s relics were translated to St. Petersburg, to the accompaniment of elaborate ceremonials and a new monastery was completed [56: p. 24–25].The ‘tsarist order of St. Andrew’ would survive right up until the Revolution. Just as the Order of the Garter remains the highest order of chivalry in Britain to this day, it seems not unreasonable to imagine that this chivalric system would have continued to the present in Russia too, but for 1917 [47: p. 126].

It is clear, therefore, that special saints were harnessed to affirm quasi-sacerdotal kingship, not only in Britain, but also in the Russia of Peter the Great. For the Tsar, it was a case of inventing tradition and of reviving ancient legend; for British rulers, it was a case of renewing long-standing customs that in turn may have been invented traditions. The comparison between the efforts of Henry VIII and that of Ivan IV is noteworthy as Bogatyrev points out, ‘the reinvented history of the dynasty highlighted the main priorities of Ivan IV’s dynastic politics: the prestige, continuity and succession of the power of his family’ [8: p. 293]. The same could so easily be said for Henry VIII, defender of the faith, founder of the Church of England, and master of the succession acts determining the future of his dynasty.

For both Britain and Russia, saintly power was brought to bear in order to ‘bless’ the Crown and strengthen monarchical ambitions. Most importantly, in terms of Divine Right, saints were thus used to highlight the divine attributes of sovereignty. The image and meaning of these saints were constantly being translated, they did not necessarily carry the same forms of spiritualism for those in the nineteenth century as they had done in the sixteenth, but they remained nevertheless of considerable significance.


New Jerusalem



The status of divine Monarch on earth and saintly figure in heaven lasted until the Revolution in Russia, for even on the ‘eve of the revolution... supreme control belonged to the Tsar’ [43: p. 227]. As Carter explains, ‘the tsar was God’s representative on earth and must be obeyed at all costs’ [13: p. 60] — this was rule by ‘divine right’ [13: p. 11] — ‘it was the divine authority of kings’ [44: p. 233]: all authority was from God, and the Russian tsar, in the exercise of his office, was like God. He was the peoples’ ‘holy’ or ‘little father’. His authority extended over the church; he was the church’s temporal ruler and the clergy had to obey him (or her). Such a theory was introduced to Russia by Joseph of Volokolamsk27 and was confirmed by later church synods, including one convened in 1666. It was as Strémooukhoff puts it, ‘the theocratic nature of the tsar’s power (that) enabled the sovereign to keep his hand upon ecclesiastical affairs’ [59: p. 99]. The desire to represent Orthodox Christianity, to build a New Jerusalem, to lay claim to the city of Tsars, ‘Tsargrad’ — Constantinople — (Catherine the Great and Potemkin’s great dream28 [59: p. 86]) and to protect Slavic Christians would last right up until the fall of the Romanovs. The idea was prevalent in the Balkan conflicts of the early twentieth century and features in Paléologue’s memoirs during negotiations between the allies in their approach to defeating the Ottoman Empire in World War I [42: p. 182–183].

As in the days of Aksakov, Kireievsky and Katkov Muscovite brains have been intoxicated the last few days with the thought of Russia’s divine mission on earth [42: p. 183]. Such was the Russian enthusiasm, that Paléologue was inspired to re-read and recite from the poet Fyodor Tyutchev: ‘Soon the days will be fulfilled, the hour will sound! And in Byzantium, born again, the ancient vault of Saint Sophia will once more shelter the altar of Christ. Kneel before that altar, O Tsar of Russia, and rise, Tsar of all the Slavs’ [42: p. 182–183]! The concept of building a ‘New Jerusalem’, was born of the success of Muscovy in securing itself from foreign rule, empire expansion and the mantle of orthodoxy. By the middle of the 1650s Patriarch Nikon of Moscow had founded and had constructed the New Jerusalem Monastery in Istra in the Moscow region. The third Rome would be the bastion of orthodoxy in the world. Bogatyrev argues that the ‘main source of Muscovite ideas associated with royal power was the Orthodox church. Church bookmen created literary and pseudo-historical texts which glorified the tsar by means of colourful religious rhetoric. Church art provided numerous analogies between Biblical personages and members of the dynasty’ [8: p. 272].

It could therefore be argued that ‘the Russian Orthodox church imposed the Byzantine model of imperial power on Ivan IV’s monarchy’ [8: p. 134]. Orthodoxy and Russian-ness went hand in hand, as Service has pointed out, this could not be ignored even for those set on Revolution in 1917, for ‘Russians were the empire’s demographic and spiritual backbone and their sensibilities had to be taken into account’ [53: p. 12–13]. Perhaps this orthodox mantle is best summarised by Alexander III’s perception of his coronation, when he wrote to the Tsarina, Maria Fedorovna, that it was ‘a great event for us. And it proved to a surprised and morally corrupt Europe that Russia is still the same holy, orthodox Russia as it was under the Muscovite Tsars and, if God permits, as it will remain forever’ [67: p. 282]. This symbiotic relationship between ruler and demi-god or saint and Russian-ness and orthodoxy may seem rather distant from Britain’s shores, but the comparison is striking. For the former, the examples of St Edmund29, St. Edward the Confessor and of Charles I, ‘the Martyr’, come immediately to mind. The latter fits very neatly into confessionalisation30 and state formation with England and Britain as a bastion of Protestantism, a New Jerusalem in a sea of European Roman Catholicism; an idea that was inscribed in stone with the very real danger of the Spanish Armada and the legend that God blew the winds that set the Spanish Galleons away to their destruction. As with the power of the Russian Orthodox church, the role of the Church of England should not be overlooked and the providential view of Britain as a chosen nation or another Israel. This can be seen in the key-note coronation sermon for George I in 1714, delivered by William Talbot, bishop of Oxford and dean of the Chapel Royal31. Unity and confessionalization, in a political as much as in a religious sense, was needed to avoid the ‘fatal tendency... (of) ruin (to) societies’, that of ‘factions and divisions’32. For Providence, ‘the umpire and director’, has made the British ‘a peculiar people’ and ‘members of the most happily constituted society in the world’. God is seen in State-like judicial terms: the acting night-watchman of society, ‘reach(ing) to every subject of these dominions’33.





The example of Russia is also important for contrast, for it highlights, as King argues, that whilst ‘Henry VIII and Edward VI came closer than any European Protestant rulers’ they never quite achieved the ‘theocratic power claimed by Constantine the Great and the Byzantine emperors’ as seen in Russia34. The Tudor and Stuart dynasties may well have veered in absolutist directions but neither came close to the kind of patrimonial power as held by the Tsars [39: p. 44–45]. In England, the coronation service includes an important contractual section. The monarch must ask for the consent of the people to rule, they require ‘the acclamation’: ‘the Archbyshopp... speaking to the people... the people signifying their willingness by answering all in one voyce yea yea God save King Charles’35. It can be argued that it is simply a fait accompli but it is nevertheless an essential part of the constitutional process, the very presence of such language is significant, by distinction, in Russian, one does not need to ask serfs for acknowledgment or consent. This fundamental difference remained true until the fall of the Romanovs. Whereas Britain veered off toward a constitutional monarchy, with a burgeoning middle class, Russia remained ‘a traditional peasant society… politically mired in the past. Russia was ruled not by laws or institutions but by one man, the emperor. According to the Fundamental Laws of 1832, “The Russian Empire is ruled on the firm  basis of positive laws and statues which emanate from the Autocratic Power.” The Russian emperor’s power was understood as unlimited; imperial decrees, as well as verbal instructions and commands, had the force of law. This is not to say there were no laws or no sense of legality, rather, that the emperor had the freedom and power to decide whether he cared to recognize them’ [57: p. 22]. Although Tsar Alexander II took dramatic steps to modernize Russia during the era of the Great Reforms, the rule of law was a very different bastion in London than it was in Moscow, with a proud common law tradition envied across the world.





Thus, the crowning, anointing and inaugurating of monarchs, by religious figures, in holy buildings, using sacred symbolic objects, and imbuing them with majesty, has existed for thousands of years across an array of differing cultures. Whilst profound differences existed, there was more in common between British and Russian monarchical perceptions through ceremonial than has been previously considered. In modern times, the final Romanovs achieved saintly status in the Orthodox church, and Britain continued, as other monarchies fell, to maintain a royal house and to hold great events of pomp and celebration, most importantly — coronations. Did British monarchs still hold to a semi-divine status? It may not be too far a stretch to suggest that to the many viewers (watching television for the very first time) Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 was a potently holy moment, a sacred rite; and concurrently for the Queen, it seems likely that she feels she has been placed by God in her role [24]. This of course is not the same as being seen as a divine or sacred being by one’s subjects, but it is striking nevertheless.




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