The story of the Tsars begins with the first rulers of Rus’, a 9th century Viking kingdom which began in Novgorod, 300 miles northwest of Moscow. Already the fortunes of Rus’ and England were tied up together, and it was not long before those ties were renewed.
IN 862, just four years before Ivar the Boneless came west to capture York, another Viking named Rurik went east and settled at Novgorod on the Volkhov River, together with his people, the Rus’. Askold, one of his captains, settled in Kiev, five hundred miles to the south, and twenty years later, Oleg of Novgorod made Kiev his capital.
Kievan Rus’ became a Christian state under Vladimir I in 987, and in about 1075 Gytha, daughter of the English king Harold Godwinson, married the heir-presumptive Vladimir II. Later, Kiev’s dominance passed to the city he founded, Vladimir, in 1169, and then to Moscow in the fourteenth century.
In 1547, Grand Prince Ivan IV of Moscow proclaimed himself Tsar of all the Russias.* For Britain, the timing was impeccable: in 1553, wool-merchant Richard Chancellor found a passage from England to Arkhangelsk, and a delighted Tsar Ivan sent him home with letters for King Edward VI, offering his new English friends favoured status as a trading partner.
* ‘All the Russias’ meant ‘all the states of the Rus’ people’. History has named him Ivan ‘the Terrible’, in the sense of awe-inspiringly magnificent. Compare Psalm 47:2.