Grand Duke - Western European Grand Dukes

Western European Grand Dukes

See also: grand duchy

The proper term of grand duke was a later invention, probably originating in Western Europe, to denote a particularly mighty duke, as the title duke had through the course of the Middle Ages been deflated to belong to rulers of relatively small fiefs (such as a city state or a district), instead of the big provinces it once was attached to.

One of the first examples, occurred when Count Gonçalo I Mendes of Portucale (in northwest Portugal and considered as the country’s original nucleus) took, in 987, the personal title of Magnus Dux Portucalensium (Grand-Duke of Portucale) and rebelled against King Bermudo II of León. He was defeated by the royal armies but he obtained a remarkable autonomy as a Magnus Dux.

Another example was the semi-official use of grand duke meaning the later Dukes of Burgundy, i.e., in the 15th century, when they ruled a portion of eastern France as well as most of the Netherlands. Philip III, Duke of Burgundy (ruler 1419–67) assumed the subsidiary, legally void style and title Grand Duke of the West in 1435, having recently consolidated the duchies of Brabant and Limburg as well as the counties of Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, Hainaut and Namur under his possession. His son and successor Charles the Bold (ruler 1467–77) continued to use the same style.

The title magnus dux or grand duke (Didysis Kunigas, Didysis Kunigaikštis in Lithuanian) is said to have been used by the rulers of Lithuania, and after Jagiello also became kings of Poland. From 1573, both the Latin and the Polish equivalent wielki ksiaze, in chief of Lithuania as well as Russia, Prussia, Mazovia, Samogithia, Kiev, Volhynia, Podolia, Podlachia, Livonia, Smolensk, Severia and Chernigov (including hollow claims), were used as part of the respective versions of the full style officially used by the kings (title Krol) of Poland during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The first monarchs ever officially titled grand duke were the Medici sovereigns of Tuscany beginning from the late 16th century. This official title was granted by Pope Pius V in 1569, but the lands in question were under the vassalage of the Holy Roman Empire.

Napoleon used to award that title extensively: during his era, several of his allies were allowed to assume the title of grand duke, usually at the same time as their inherited fiefs were enlarged by additional lands obtained thanks to being his allies. His conquerors, for example the Congress of Vienna, consented to yet more uses of the title. Thus, the 19th century saw a new group of monarchs titled grand duke all around Central Europe. A list of such is available at grand duchy.

At the same century, the courtesy use of the title, translated grand duke, in Russia expanded because of the births of several male dynasts, instead of the earlier precarious situations when Russia barely had only one or two to succeed.

The term can be said to originate in Germany, in a sense that a ruler in the then Germany's western borders was the first to be called so, and that it was a German overlord, the Holy Roman Emperor, whose vassal (although an Italian) was first granted the official title by the Pope.

The German and Dutch languages, which have separate words for royal prince (Prinz, Prins) and for sovereign prince (Fürst, Vorst), mark the Grand Princes of Lithuania, Ruthenian states and other Eastern European nations as higher princes, as well as the Russian rulers and later princes of the blood, by the terms Grossfürst, Grootvorst, not Grossherzog, Groothertog.

In 1582, king John III of Sweden added Grand Duke of Finland to the subsidiary titles of the Swedish kings, however without any factual consequences, Finland already being a part of the Swedish realm.

After the Russian conquests, it continued to be used by the Russian emperor in his role as ruler of Lithuania (1793–1918) and of autonomous Finland (1809–1917) as well. The Holy Roman Empire ruling house of Habsburg instituted a similar Grand Principality in Transylvania in 1765.

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