Russia History Rurikid Kiev English Émigrés in Kievan Rus

English Émigrés in Kievan Rus

Before the 1917 revolution, the members of the Russian imperial family were frequent visitors to England and Scotland. Many took refuge there after the revolution. The tsar’s sister, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, lived in Great Britain for the rest of her life. The tsar’s mother, Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, often stayed with her sister, Queen Alexandra, at Sandringham.

But a thousand years ago, the roles were reversed. Back in the eleventh century, it was the British Isles that were wracked by invasions and insurrections, forcing the Anglo-Saxons into exile. Many fled to Kievan Rus, which historian Boris Grekov describes as the “biggest and strongest state in Europe” in the mid-eleventh century.

In 1015, England was invaded by a Danish army led by King Canute. Edmund Ironside of England raised an army in the north and recaptured London, before being defeated at the Battle of Ashington in Essex in October 1016. King Edmund died a month later and his son Edward fled to Russia.

When Edward the Exile arrived in Kiev, he found a rich and prosperous state. Kiev was ruled by Yaroslav the Wise, who built the St Sophia Cathedral, schools and developed a law code called the Russian Justice or Pravda. Yaroslav also maintained close relations with the other states of Europe. Three of his daughters became European queens. Elizabeth married King Harald III of Norway, Anna married King Henri I of France and Anastasia married King Andrew I of Hungary.

In Kiev, Edward the Exile married a woman called Agatha, who is believed to be another daughter of Yaroslav the Wise. This would have been consistent with Yaroslav’s policy of concluding marriages with European royalty. Edward the Exile and Agatha of Kiev lived in Hungary, where they had three children – Edgar, Margaret and Christine.

After the death of King Canute, Edward returned with his family to England, but died soon afterwards. The Norman conquest in 1066 forced Agatha and her children to flee back to Russia, but a storm at sea drove their ship to Scotland, where they decided to settle. The eldest daughter, Margaret, married King Malcolm III of Scotland around the year 1070. King Malcolm was the son of King Duncan, famously murdered by Macbeth.

Edward and Agatha’s daughter not only became queen of Scotland; she was even made a saint in 1250. The official chronicle of her life – commissioned, admittedly, by her own daughter – describes Margaret as the “Mother Theresa” of the eleventh century, feeding and clothing the poor and washing the feet of beggars. Whatever the case, a woman who appears to have been half-Russian is now the patron saint of Scotland.

While St Margaret was doing good deeds in Scotland, south of the border the English royal family was forced into exile for the second time, when the country faced two foreign invasions in the space of one month.

In September 1066, King Harald III of Norway invaded northern England with a Norwegian army. King Harold II of England marched to York and defeated the invaders at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September.

King Harold was faced with a second invasion when William of Normandy also landed an army in the south of England. The King raced south and fought another battle against the Normans at Hastings on 14 October. Harold’s exhausted army was defeated and he himself was killed on the field of battle. William the Conqueror was crowned King William I of England on Christmas Day 1066.

Harold’s mother Gytha organised resistance against the Norman invaders in Exeter, but the city was captured after an eighteen-day siege in the winter of 1067. While the royal family took refuge on an island in the Bristol Channel, many of their subjects decided that their only option was emigration. As the Norman invasion had the blessing of Rome, the natural choice fell on Byzantium as the capital of the Orthodox world.

The largest group of émigrés left England in 1075, when up to 350 vessels set sail for Constantinople. In total, about ten thousand men and women left England. When they arrived in Byzantium, they found the city besieged by the Turks. The Anglo-Saxons helped to defeat the Turks and, in gratitude, Emperor Alexios offered the English people homes in the city and the men positions in the army.

The English soldiers in the Byzantine army distinguished themselves so highly that they were invited to join the Varangian Guard, an elite force of warriors who served the Byzantine Empire. By the twelfth century, the Varangian Guard was often referred to as the “English Guard.”

A total of more than four thousand Anglo-Saxons settled in Constantinople. St Colman of England founded a basilica known as the Church of St Nicholas of the English in the Blachernae district of the city, where many English émigrés came to pray before an icon of St Augustine of Canterbury.

Those who did not wish to live in Constantinople were given permission to recolonise land once belonging to the Byzantine Empire on the other side of the Black Sea. A fleet set sail from Constantinople and travelled to the north and east for six days.

The English exiles settled in a place called Domapia that is described as being on the “border of the country of the Scyths.” They renamed the land “New England” and settled in the former Byzantine towns, which they gave English names after the cities they had left behind in England. In this way, towns called York and London appeared on the north-east shore of the Black Sea.

Although no one knows exactly where “New England” was, there is evidence that it was in the region of the Sea of Azov. The Sea of Azov is called the Varangian Sea in a Syrian map of the twelfth century and, as we have seen, the word “Varangian” was synonymous with the word “English” in the twelfth century. Later maps of the region show a city variously called Londina, Londin or Londia. There was also a town called Sasako, which possibly comes from the word “Saxon.”

Nothing is known of the colony of New England after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The English settlers appear to have merged with the local Russian population.

While the majority of English émigrés went to Russia via Constantinople, one woman came via the northern route. When the resistance of King Harold’s mother Gytha collapsed, the King’s daughter, who was also called Gytha, fled first to Denmark and then to Russia, where she married Vladimir Monomachus.

Vladimir Monomachus was already linked to England. He was the grandson of St Anne of Novgorod, who had been christened by a monk from Glastonbury. Vladimir and Gytha were married in the Cathedral of the Saviour in Chernihiv in April 1074. The marriage proved fruitful and happy. Gytha bore Vladimir as many as eight sons and three daughters, and the chronicles claim that “no woman in all the world was ever happier than her.”

Gytha appears to have died on 7 May 1107, before Vladimir achieved the pinnacle of his power as grand prince of Kiev. In his Pouchenie or Instructions – which bears the clear influence of Anglo-Saxon literature – Vladimir writes that “during the winter, I travelled to Smolensk, but left there on Easter Day; Georgy’s mother passed away.”

Documents in the St Pantaleon Monastery in Cologne, however, mention the death of “Gida regina” on 10 March of an unknown year. One explanation is that Gytha was not the mother of Georgy, Vladimir’s sixth son. This is important as “Georgy” is, in fact, Yury Dolgoruky, who is considered to be the founder of Moscow. If he were Gytha’s son, then this would make the founder of Moscow half-English.

There seems no doubt that Gytha was the mother of the first five sons of Vladimir Monomachus, three of whom became grand princes of Kiev. The eldest son, Mstislav, was even given a second Anglo-Saxon name, Harold, in honour of his English grandfather.

Mstislav’s grandson was King Valdemar I of Denmark, from whom both Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip are descended. In this way, the current British royal family is related to the last Anglo-Saxon king of England through the grand princes of Kiev.

Random articles