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Section: Fontes Honorum

The Royal Sovereign Houses of Georgia

Author: Michael Yu. Medvedev / Publication date: 2008-08-10

The Royal Sovereign Houses of GeorgiaPreface

This year (2009) on Sunday, 8 of February, a Royal wedding was celebrated in the Most Holy Trinity’s Cathedral in Tbilisi. Prince David, the head of the “rebellious” Moukhrani branch of the Bagratides, and Princess Anna, the heir to the headship of the Royal Georgian line, were wed to restore the unity of the House. This dynastical union, rather old-fashioned in a sense, may produce a posterity which will solve the dramatic problem discussed in this paper.

I. The Origin of The Bagratids

The House of Bagrat (the Bagratids, Bagrationi) is traditionally believed to descend from the biblical King David through Gouram the [converted] Jew, who in the 6th century married a daughter of the King Vakhtang I of Georgia, and was created a Prince of Tao; the Bagrat who gave the name to the dynasty was the son and heir of this Gouram. Gradually the Bagratides became the senior Georgian rulers, gained the Royal title and power, since 888 established themselves as Kings of [All South-East] Georgia, and in the 11th century created an unified Georgian state, a Caucasian superpower.

Gouram (together with his brothers, also prominent in Georgian and Armenian history) probably came from a respectable family of Jewish exilarchs; it was not uncommon for the Jewish diaspora to select its leaders, in messianic expectations or out of mere nostalgia, from the posterity of King David, or ascribe to them such a descent. It worth mentioning that there were, and are, other theories regarding the provenance of the Bagratids; thus, Prince Toumanoff considered them as a branch of the Orontides, an ancient Persian lineage; and the modern ‘mainstream opinion’ among the historians is that Bagrat descended from a local aristocratic family in place modernly known as Ispir. – In any case, for the representation of the Kings of Georgia and their reputation among their subject, the Davidical theory always was fundamental.

II. The Georgian Realms and Their Dynasties

The external factors (Persian, Mongol, Timuride and Ottoman invasions and pressure) and the natural development of the lesser nations resulted, since the 15th centuries, in the gradual fragmentation of the unified Georgian state into several states, including the three Georgian Realms, all ruled by branches of Bagratids: of Kartalinia (or Georgia in the narrow sense), Imeretia (the maritime Georgia, the successor of the ancient Colchis) and Kakhetia (the Northeast Georgia); there were also several sovereign principalities headed by non-Bagratide monarchs. This situation persisted until the Russian annexation in the course of the 19th century.

The three royal branches maintained the family unity, each of them being considered as a cadet branch of the two others, which sometimes resulted not in brotherly relations but in claims and counter-claims. Kartalinia was the premier Georgian kingdom (which premiership still belongs to the correspondent branch of the House), but its Kings had no family jurisdiction over the two other branches, and there was no sole headship within the House of Bagrat.

There were also several separately established cadet branches of the House; some of them maintained the dynastical standing; others were ranked among the non-dynastic nobility. The most prominent cadet branch is that of Moukhrani, which was founded in the late 15th century by a third son of the last King of the unified Georgia. The branch enjoyed considerable autonomy within its apanage but was not sovereign in its own right.

The “first class members” of the royal houses – the kings’ children and other close direct descendants – were titled Batonishvili. This means ‘the Lord’s Child’; the traditional Russian translation is Tsarevich. The Spanish title of Infante may be mentioned as a well-known and pretty adequate analogy.

It worth mentioning that the dynastical history of the Bagratids is full of difficult and misleading circumstances, such as interruptions in reigns, irregular appointments by the Persian Shahs, bastardic succession, occasional polygamy (many Georgian rulers were obliged by Persian and Turkish Emperors to embrace Moslem faith before getting the crown – and sometimes this was more than a formality), and equivocal genealogical versions. What is more, with the death of George III in 1184 the main male line went extinct and the throne was inherited by Saint T[h]amar who married George, son of Saint Andrew ‘of Bogolyubovo’, the Grand Duke of Vladimir (the union was unsuccessful and Tamar divorced), and then Prince David Soslan of the Alans, who secured the continuation of the House, being however only allegedly a Bagratid. Even the seniority by primogeniture among the lines and branches of the house of Bagrat is disputed by scholars, but in any case this principle was not decisive for the Georgian laws and customs of succession.

III. The Kingdom of Kartalinia

The senior line of the original branch of Kartalinia became extinct with the elderly and childless King Rostom I in 1658. His distant cousin and heir Luarsab was killed in accident; Luarsab’s son was too young to succeed. Anticipating the dynastical crisis, Rostom preferred to arrange the dynastical adoption of the head of the Moukhrani branch, Vakhtang. On his accession as Vakhtang VI, this Prince ceded the Moukhrani apanage to his brother Constantine, who was not covered by the adoption and from whom the modern Moukhrani princes descend.

Other lines of the original Kartalinian branch (Luarsab’s posterity and the Princes Gochishvili) were extinct in (if not before) the early 18th century.

The Realm of Kartalinia was four times annexed to that of Kakhetia but for the first three times, the Kartalinian branch was restored to its throne. However with the emigration to Russia of Vakhtang VI (1724) and the death of his successor Jesse I (1727), Kartalinia was lost for this line and, after a dramatic interregnum, passed to the Kakhetian branch of the House. In 1744, the two realms were finally united.

The members of the deposed branch settled in Russia; the last of them died in the end of the 19th century. There was also a cadet line, famous in the Russian history (the General Bagration, a hero of the 1812 anti-Napoleonic war, was of this line), and extinct since 1927.

The Moukhrani branch stayed in Kartalinia and maintained allegiance to the new Kings.

The Kings of the united Kartalinia and Kakhetia accepted the Russian patronage and superior suzerainty in 1783 (as an alternative for the Persian and Turkish control) and reigned until the death of George XII in 1800. Several days before his death this monarch, willful to secure his heir’s fate, made several controversial decisions regarding the kingdom’s relations with Russia. These decisions, made in secrecy from the King’s subjects, were hastily reported to Paul I of Russia. The Emperor interpreted George’s will – maybe not so injustly – as an invitation to assume the royal prerogatives, leaving the Bagratids in the honourable mediatised position. In 1801, shortly before his own death, Paul I approved the annexation of Georgia (i.e., Kartalinia and Kakhetia) and summoned some of the princes to St. Petersburg to accept their homage. This was a shock for the Bagratids but they were unable to oppose the union. However Paul I declined from assumption of the title of the King of Georgia. Maybe he expected, and waited for, a ceremony of the presentation of this dignity by the Bagratids themselves; but more likely this was done out of respect to the House of Kartalinia.

It was Alexander I who turned this annexation brutal and forced the Kartalinian dynasts to leave Georgia forever. Two princes started a rising but it was unsuccessful. However the title of a King of Georgia was not used by the Russian monarchs until 1857, when Alexander II decided to honour the Georgian nation by restoring the royal title of its ruler.

Since 1833, the Kartalinian-Kakhetian dynasts were accorded in Russia the title of Princes of Georgia and the style of Serene Highness (it worth mentioning that the same title was accorded by the Russian diplomacy even to the ruling Bagratide Kings). The Serene Princes of Georgia maintained the Royal tradition of the family in a private way, and made several unsuccessful efforts to have their dynastical status recognised by the Russian authorities. This branch managed to survive in the Soviet Georgia and is headed today by HSH [recte HRH] Prince Nugzar [I] of Georgia, de jure the King of Georgia (Kartalinia) and Kakhetia (born in 1950 and residing in Tbilisi). The Prince is the chief director of a dramatic theatre. It is his daughter and heir, HSH [recte HRH] Princess Anna, whose wedding is mentioned in the preface.

The Moukhrani branch was recognised in Russia as a princely lineage with the name “Bagration-Moukhranski” (i.e. Bagratid of Moukhran) and the style “Illustrous” which is common for the Russian princes. Its cadet status did not change with the extinction of the first Kartalinian branch, although it is possible that since then genealogically (rather than dynastically) the Moukhranis became the senior branch of the Bagratids.

After the revolution, some of the Moukhranis emigrated. The senior member of the family, George, raised a claim to the headship of the House of Georgia. This claim to the headship of the Royal House of Georgia was based on the [erroneous] presumption that the Royal line of Kartalinia-Kakhetia, which failed to emigrate, could not survive under the Soviet tyranny. George’s son, Hercules (Irakli), maintained and developed the claim. Actually he claimed the crown during his father’s lifetime, in the days of the WWII, expecting a possible chance to succeed in that claim; and in 1942 he was recognised as the sovereign by an assembly of Georgian monarchists held in Rome. The two claims merged on George’s death in 1957. It seems that the style of HRH was first claimed also by Prince Hercules.

It worth mentioning that in 1939, already acting as the chief and even a ruling monarch, Prince Hercules founded a family order of the Georgian Eagle alias Seamless Tunic – allegedly that was a restoration of an ancient pre-chivalric institution (even according to the Moukhranis’s official website, the time and circumstances of its original creation are unknown). Prince Hercules also claimed the restoration of the ephemeral military Order of Queen T[h]amar as a House Order, although this award was instituted by the Georgian legion of the German army in 1915, became Republican in 1918, and never was Royal. Both institutions are still maintained by the branch.

Curiously, Prince Hercules used the title in which preference was unusually given to Kakhetia rather than to Kartalinia, which reminds of the original reason for the Moukhranist claim (the alleged extinction of the Kakhetian-Kartalian royal line). The Prince also assumed a fantasy title of Duke of the Lazs (de los Lasos), which implied complicated and obscure historical and political allusions.

Hercules’ son, George, died in 2008 and was succeeded in his claim by his second son, David. His elder brother preferred to stay in Spain and to give up the burden of primogeniture; the correspondent “redestination” of the succession was expressed in Prince George’s will and accepted by the branch.

IV. The Kingdom of Imeretia

The Imeretian branch of the House of Bagrat is notable for the messy succession. Several times the crown was inherited by bastards or passed through female lines to members of other lineages – the Kartalinian and even the non-Bagratid Gurian princes; on one occasion the throne was occupied even by a stranger in blood, queen’s consort, although he may be regarded as an anti-King.

In 1810 King Solomon II (who previously signed a treaty with Russia) was deposed on the orders of Alexander I and the Kingdom was annexed. The King managed to escape to Turkey but despite of all his efforts did not succeed in restoring his realm’s sovereignty. Other dynasts were obliged to leave Imeretia and settle in Russia, where three principal lines were recognised as Princes with the style of Serene Highness.

The headship of the Royal House of Imeretia could pass after the death of HSH [recte HRH] Prince Michael of Imeretia, a Squadron Leader of the British Royal Air Forces and de jure the King of Imeretia (1975) either to his daughter HSH Princess Tamara and her non-Bagratid English posterity, or to the next male Imeretian Bagratids who all belong now to an untitled, bastardic branch. It is not clear if HSH Michael or his daughters approved any successoral provisions. The headship may be dormant but it is certainly not extinct.

V. The Sovereign Status

After the annexation of the two realms, none of the Bagratides was considered by the Russian authorities as ‘sovereign’ or ‘equal’ to the ruling houses. Nicholas I formally defined them as the members of what formerly was a Royal House. The reasons for such a mistreatment were mostly political.

The majority of the Bagratids continued to consider themselves as dynasts but were unable to have it formally recognised or at least demonstrated. The family hereditary names and styles were controlled by the Imperial authorities, the traditional continuation of the title “Batonishvili” being abolished in 1812 for the Imeretian House and in 1833 (after yet another unsuccessful princely uprising) for the Kartalinian one. There was no dynastical order to be awarded.

In 1911 a Princess of Blood Imperial of Russia, Tatiana, contracted marriage with a member of the Moukhrani branch, Prince Constantine; Emperor Nicholas II allowed the union; but the problem was that the unequal marriages were prohibited for the Russian dynasts by Alexander III. To make the Prince eligible for such a union Nicholas II preferred, instead of a recognition of the Bagratids’ equality, to issue a special act permitting unequal marriages for the Princes and Princesses of Blood.

This was, in fact, an inner matter of the Russian Imperial law. From the international point of view, the Bagratids were and are to be regarded as sovereign as the House of Russia.

The matter had to be clarified in 1946, when Prince Hercules Bagration of Moukhrani married an Infanta of Spain, Mary Mercedes of Bavaria. His equal status was confirmed by HSH Prince of Blood Imperial Vladimir, more known as HIH Grand Duke and widely believed to be a head of the House of Russia. In his alleged capacity of the dynastic head, the Prince issued an act of recognition “of the regal dignity of the senior branch of the Family of Bagrationi, as well as the right of its members to be called Princes of Georgia and Royal Highnesses”, “to satisfy the just national sentiments of the Georgian nation”. This was basically a clever and plausible move, but the recognition, quite unnaturally, covered the Moukhrani branch only, attributing to it the higher position vis-à-vis the two really royal branches.

In any case, the statement appeared to be effective and the Moukhrani branch gained a wide international recognition as belonging to the dynastical level and as being a separate fons honorum of royal rank, the former being fully correct and the latter being obviously wrong – at least so far.

It is psychologically obvious that in the opinion of many Georgians, the Moukhrani claimant from Spain was preferable to Prince Nugzar: the latter lives all his life in Georgia and is ‘too local’ and ‘too usual’ to be idealised; and he has no male posterity. In 1991 the Moukhrani branch was recognised as royal by the Georgian government; insignia of its order are allowed to be officially worn in Georgia; the recent monarchist declaration of His Holiness and Beatitude Elias II, the Patriarch of Georgia, was implicitly pointing at the Moukhranis; and it may happen that this branch will finally gain a royal crown of its own.

However the House schism, and especially historical and legal realities behind it, were certainly an obstacle for the dynastic unity and thus for the monarchist aspirations. It was obvious that a union of the two branches could solve the problem; but to turn this theoretical consideration into reality was a bold step. Whatever will be the political consequences of the House reconciliation, may the young couple be happy and may God send them bright children of both sexes!

It worth mentioning that the title “Batonishvili” is currently applied to the both reconciliated branches and in future may be restored as the main dynastical title, maybe being translated merely as "Infante of Georgia". In the wedding invitations distributed by the House of Moukhrani the bride was mentioned as Her Royal Highness which is an obvious improvement.

All this, naturally, has its heraldic consequences which I hope to discuss in another text.

* * *

EDITORIAL COMMENT to the original publication [2008-08-10]:

We are publishing this paper about Georgia and its complicated links with Russia in the bitter days of the fratricidal war. Within this context, we stress that this publication is purely academic and has no political goals. Author’s aim was to answer several typical questions, frequently asked by colleagues and by general public, regarding the Bagratids, all the matters discussed having their specifically Russian dimension. This publication is also planned to prepare future discussion of the Bagratids’ heraldry, which cannot be understood without historical and legal explanations.
In any case, we hope that this paper will be able to remind once again of the profound and complicated links between the two countries. Their relations were uneven, they were full of love, vice, trust and injustice – and no simplification is appropriate here; but they were always close, marked by the feeling of the nations’ kinship, and by hope. May it be so today.

© 2006 The.Heraldry.Ru / M. Medvedev