AN IMPORTANT EARLY RUSSIAN NOBILITY CHARTER [GRAMOTA] in favour of General, Master of Ordnance, Knight of the Order of St Andrew, and President of the College of Mining and Manufacture Iakov Vilimovich Brius [James Daniel Bruce], creating him Count of the Russian Empire with his own arms, in Russian, signed in Cyrillic 'Petr' [PETER THE GREAT (Peter I Alekseevich, Tsar of Russia 1682-1725)], St Petersburg, 18 February 1721.
Illuminated manuscript on vellum, 18 pages, 2o<\sup> (360 x 268mm.), mostly 22 lines per page, the first page with 7 opening lines in gold within an illuminated border of scrolling flowers, leaves and fruit in colours heightened with gold and silver, incorporating two putti flanking a shield with the Imperial double-headed eagle on gold ground on the first page, detailing the titles of the tsar on the first two pages, the remaining pages with text in black within a similar floral and foliate border, with biographical details of the recipient and describing the arms of the recipient with an illuminated illustration of the coat of arms on page 15 protected by silk leaf, the final page with 9 lines and the tsar's signature, countersigned below by Count [Gavril Ivanovich] Golovkin, first and last page with red watered silk guards. Bound in contemporary woven gilt and red silk (worn) over card boards with manufacturer's stamp with shield incorporating a horn and with inscription Super Fyn / I.V. (inside lower cover), with endpapers, the remains of the original twisted thread cord preserved (without the suspended seal).
This Russian illuminated manuscript dates from 1721 and is composed of 10 folios, nine of which are illustrated. The first and second folios enumerate the titles of Tsar Peter I of Russia. The third folio describes the aristocratic origin of the Bruce family, their kinship to Kings of Scotland, their life in Russia and the deeds of Iakov Vilimovich Bruce [James Daniel Bruce] (1670-1735).
Manuscripts from this period are extremely rare, largely due to Russia's turbulent history. Such artefacts are fiercely guarded by the small number of distinguished collectors fortunate enough to possess them. This example is endowed with the autograph of Peter I of Russia (1679-1725), in itself a significant prize for collectors in this field.
The charter is written on parchment embellished with coloured designs and the coats of arms of the Tsar (the first folio) and I. V. Bruce (the eighth folio).
The text of the nine folios, exquisitely written by hand, is framed with a wide, painted, decorative border. The decoration consists of multi-coloured flowers with silver and gold leaves, the colours of which are beautifully preserved. Of pure Russian style, this distinctive craftsmanship is also found in old manuscripts and first-edition Moscow vignettes.
The first folio, richly illustrated, depicts the Tsar's bicephalic eagle on a golden background within a coat of arms.The eighth folio depicts the arms of Count Bruce. The signature of Peter the Great appears on the last folio, beneath which is the signature of the statesman Count Gavriil Golovkin (1660-1734), who at this time held a high position in the department of foreign affairs.
Note that the calligraphy is of a type introduced by Peter the Great himself and is an intermediary between Old Church Slavonic and contemporary Russian script. The inscription, partly visible on the cover, is a recommendation of the bookbinder.
Iakov Vilimovich Bruce (1670-1735)
The manuscript, a curriculum vitae in essence, relates the history of I. V. Bruce with the precise dates of his numerous deeds, achievements and subsequent rewards.
An astronomer, mathematician, engineer, botanist, mineralogist geographer and translator of numerous scientific works, I. V. Bruce was undoubtedly one of the most talented and accomplished men of Peter I's circle. First General, then Count, Bruce is also remembered as the creator of the Russian astrological calendar (a 1710 etching of which is held in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg). The manuscript provides a detailed account of Bruce's heritage: of the Scottish line of Bruce descending from Robert Bruce in 1330 (p. 4), I.V. Bruce was christened James Daniel and received his exemplary education at home in the German Quarter of Moscow, where foreigners were designated to reside. He joined the entourage of Peter I in 1683 and took part in the expeditions to the Crimea and Azov under Golitsyn, in 1687 and 1689 (p. 5), for which he was awarded lands and money. During his military career, which Bruce started in the Preobrazhenski regiment as a captain in 1687, he is noted for his cartography skills by drawing the first detailed map from Voronezh to Azov in 1695 and 1696 (p. 5), later printed in Amsterdam. In 1697 he was part of the tsar's entourage on his visit to Western Europe (p. 5). He was promoted major-general in 1700 (p. 6) taking part in the Great Northern War against Charles XII of Sweden, with mention of further military events in 1701, 1702 and 1703 (p. 5), including the sieges of Nöteburg, Shlisselburg and Narva being further brevetted in 1704 to General Master of Ordnance (confirmed in 1711), and in 1709 was present at the Battle of Poltava, when Peter finally defeated Charles (pp. 6-8). The same year he printed and published his famous 'Calendar' when he was given responsibility for the Moscow Printing House. Bruce was also awarded the Order of St Andrew (1710); note that award affixed to his coat of arms on the ninth folio and the Russian inscription on the chain. Mention is made of his artillery prowess in 1712 (p. 9). His later military career included some diplomacy in Prussia and Poland. In 1717 he became a senator and President of the College of Manufacture, and in 1718 President of the College of Mines (p. 9). After the Peace of Nystadt in 1721 Bruce was awarded large tracts of land and an estate near Moscow; in addition to the title of Count as recorded by this manuscript. After Peter's death Bruce served his widow, Catherine I, and was promoted General-Field-Marshal in 1726. In the absence of a direct heir, the title was subsequently conferred to one of Bruce's nephews.
Peter the Great was the first ruler of Russia to introduce new ranks to the aristocracy adding such Western titles as Baron and Count, whereas before there were only the descendants of the Rurikids, known as kniazy [princes], or the untitled nobility. This rare manuscript is a particularly fine example of the new charters of nobility, combining documentary fact with highly-skilled artistry.
Military Historical Preview, St Petersburg, 1911, no. 2, pp. 4-6.
D. A. Rovinskii, Dictionary of Russian engraved portraits, St Petersburg, 1886, vol. I, p. 446.
Military encyclopedia, Moscow, 1911, vol. V, pp. 126-127.
Brockhaus. Efront, Encyclopaedic dictionary, St Petersburg, 1891, vol. IV, pp. 794-797.