When Tvrtko I Kotromanić came into power (1353), his most often title was “Bosnian ban” which emphasizes Bosnia and its statehood. At the same time, Tvrko was “lord” of Soli, Usora and Zachlumia land, just like his uncle Stjepan II, though the idea to proclaim himself for king of Serbs or Serbian lands did not reach full maturity in his time. Idea such as this one could have come about only after death of king Vukašin and tsar Uroš, especially after taking southern regions of Nikola Altomanović state, which formed the political core of old Serbia for centuries. Deeply rooted within these lands was the idea on the necessity for existence of Serbian state and Serbian statehood, sustained by still vital memory of kings and tsars from Nemanjić dynasty. It would appear that Tvrtko I decided to take the kingly crown right after taking Trebinje, Konavle and Dračevica, early in 1377. Ban Tvrtko I, in the aftermath, became ruler of a significant part of old Nemanjići lands which stretched between river Neretva and Lim and whose total area exceeded territory of Bosnia, in its narrower geographical meaning. Ruling larger part of old Nemanjići lands obliged Tvrtko I Kotromanić to take the title of the king, which belonged to dynasty of Nemanjići for decades.
Unlike the Serbian regional lords, whose lordship was still fresh and unstable, ban Tvrtko came from an old and recognized ruling family of Kotromanići which, for centuries, gave bans of Bosnia. In addition, on the female side, he was a distant descendant of Nemanjići given that his great grandfather was king Dragutin. Kinship with Nemanjići, rule over large part of their former lands and antiquity of his own family of Kotromanići gave Tvrtko I Kotromanić the right to crown himself as a king. He was crowned on Mitrovdan (St. Demetrius Day) 26th of October 1377 in monastery Mileševo, which was at that time within Tvrtko’s state. The very act of coronation was done in accordance with Orthodox tradition. In all likelihood, ceremony was performed by metropolitan of Mileševo with knowledge of Serbian patriarch at the time, Jefrem. It was then that the king Tvrtko took the royal name of Stefan, common in Nemanjići dynasty. His title was tailored to that of Dušan’s son and co-ruler, king Uroš and likewise to the title of king Vukašin. Exactly because of that, Tvrtko’s title in charter granting privileges to Dubrovnik (10. IV 1378) is: “Stefan, the king of Serbs and Bosnia and Pomorje and Zapadnim Stranama (Western Sides).” King Tvrtko I appropriated from the title of tsar Dušan, his son Uroš and king Vukašin everything he could and left out everything he had to. Due to understandable reasons, he couldn’t have been king of “Greeks”, but was king of “Serbs”, of Bosnia by automatism, Pomorje and Western Sides. Last two territorial determinants were taken from Dušan’s imperial title so they had to be either abandoned or given new meaning. Corrections were made in the already mentioned charter king Tvrtko issued to Dubrovnik, where he signed himself as “Stefan Tvrtko, in Christ the God king of the Serbs, Bosnia and Primorje”. Western Sides are left out of the signature, while “Pomorje” is replaced by term “Primorje” indicating just part of the coast under direct rule of king Tvrtko. In the cited signature, in the title as well, "Serbs" are mentioned in the first place while Bosnia and other territorial determinants follow after. This undoubtedly confirms that Serbs are the most important part in the royal titulature. In other words, ruler of Serbs or “Serbian land” had the ancient and legitimate right to carry royal authority and kingly crown. It is worth noticing that term “Serb”, as most important determinant within the sovereign’s titulature, was introduced by Stefan Dušan, when he proclaimed himself for “tsar of Serbs and Greeks” while Nemanjić rulers before him were kings of “Serbian lands” and “pomorskih” (maritime lands). Like tsar Dušan, his son and co-ruler Uroš was "king of all the Serbs", while Vukašin, a co-ruler as well, had a title of the king "to the Serbian land and to all Greeks and Pomorje and the Western Sides and all Dis" but also as the blessed king of "the Serbs and Greeks." Titulature of the Serbian tsars and co-ruler kings where well known to Tvrtko I Kotromanić as he was their contemporary. Besides, in the creation of the royal titulature of Tvrtko I, his learned logothete Vladoje participated.
Logothete Vladoje composed an explanation justifying Tvrtko’s royal coronation. Vladoje came from old Serbian lands, and having high education, necessary for role of logothete, he was able, in accordance with teaching of the Christian church and in appropriate manner, to elaborate Tvrtko’s coronation. According to the said explanation, God made Tvrtko blossom into a blessed sprout of his kin and graced him with double wreath (“sugubi vjenac”) so he could rule with two reigns. First and long established reign in the God given land, Bosnia, and the other one, where graced by God he inherited the throne of his ancestors, Serbian lords, for those ancestors ruled the earthly kingdom but passed on into the kingdom of heaven. Tvrtko then saw the land of his ancestors ungoverned, without its shepherd, so he went to the “Serbian land”, wishing to strengthen the throne of his ancestors and in doing so, he was crowned with a God given wreath of his ancestors kingdom, so he could be “Jesus Christ blessed and God appointed Stefan the king of Serbs and Bosnia and Pomorje and Zapadne Strane”. Right after the coronation Tvrtko began “to rule with God’s grace and to strengthen the throne of the Serbian land, wishing to raise what had fallen and fortify what was ruined”.
In last couple of sentences, as in titulature, reasoning was given regarding the rights Tvrtko had on the royal crown of Nemanjići and why he crowned himself, while at the same time, his political program was explained. New king primarily emphasized that rule over Bosnia belongs to his kin, and him personally, given the fact Kotromanići have ruled it for centuries. As he was scion of Nemanjići, extinct dynasty, Lord God ordained him the heir to their throne, that is, the highest authority and with it the royal crown or “wreath” of the ancestors. These were not merely pretensions, but reality with potential for expansion. In the moment of Tvrtko’s coronation, there was none amongst Serbian regional lords with more right to the royal crown or more might than the new king of the Serbs to oppose the claim. Besides, the coronation was done in a legitimate fashion as Tvrtko received the crown from one of the highest ranking members of the Serbian Orthodox church, probably metropolitan of Mileševo with consent from the Serbian patriarch Jefrem. Crown acquired in this manner none of the Serbian regional lords could dispute, and none ever did. In fact, not one of them ever tried to gain it for themselves. “Holy crown” of Serbian kings remained in lasting possession of Kotromanić family practically until the fall of Bosnian state to the Turks. Only the last king, Stefan Tomašević, requested and received different crown from the Pope, two years before the final fall of Bosnia in 1463. Up until that moment, Bosnian kings were crowned with the same crown Tvrtko I received in Mileševo. This crown was kept in city of Bobovac. It was a “sacred crown” (sacra corona) and as such, it is transpersonal due to a fact it is not linked with any particular individual but with the royal dignity and authority itself. Due to the presence of royal crown and royal throne, central authority in Bosnia was raised to a higher level. Until the moment of Tvrtko’s coronation, Bosnian state had a patrimonial character so, besides ban, members of the family, parents and brothers participated in the governance of the state. After the coronation, this practice was abandoned, as the king’s authority was indivisible.
Even with royal authority on the rise, it was not always strong enough to contain centrifugal tendencies within the state. Near the end of the XIV century, regional lords within Bosnian state started gaining more autonomy but the state, as a whole, still existed. It was usually called “rusag kraljevstva bosanskog” (rusag of the Bosnian kingdom) or just rusag bosanski, but this term (rusag) was used for the state council as well. Nobility gathered at the state council or “stanak” did in reality represent the Bosnian state with its class character. Even with great power of the state council and Bosnian lords, cities, lands and tributes belong to the transpersonal “sacred royal crown” and all representatives of the state and people, are in principle, subjected to it. With Tvrtko’s coronation for the king of Serbs, certain professions, which existed in imperial administration of tsar Dušan, are introduced into the state administration. First and foremost, professions of logothete and protovestiarios are introduced together with court service of stavilac (role similar to cup-bearer, position with duty to acquire, prepare and serve food at the royal table). Central authority during the reign of king Tvrtko tried to implement all of its decisions through special executants called “ručnici”. This practice was, however, quickly abandoned due to sudden increase in local lords’ autonomy.
King Tvrtko I did not limit himself on just appropriation of the royal crown and associated titulature, nor the professions which existed in the Nemanjići state, but took on himself the most important rights and obligations of Serbian kings. He tried to respect provisions of the contract between Dubrovnik and kings from Nemanjići line and because of that, he abolished the “salt square” in city of Saint Stefan, future Herceg Novi. When he besieged city of Kotor and became its lord later on, he did it claiming it was the city of his ancestors. At the same time, he received the “Serbian tax” of 2.000 coins from Dubrovnik which the city, in earlier times, paid to rulers from Nemanjići dynasty. With everything mentioned, Tvrtko I took upon himself the hardest obligation of all, to defend Serbs and Serbian lands from foreign conquerors so he sent detachment of his army to Kosovo in 1389 deeming it’s not just a battle between knyaz Lazar and emir Murat but a war between his kingdom and the Turks.
After everything said, there is no doubt that the Serbian statehood, with Tvrtko’s royal coronation, was strengthened within the bounders of the Bosnian state from that period. Since that time, it will continue to exist, in some areas with more, in some with less pronounced intensity, until the moment when Bosnian state falls to the Turkish rule. It must be noted that Serbian statehood did not flourish in Kotromanići state like it did in the Nemanjići state for the simple reason that the kings of the Kotromanić dynasty did not establish the necessary cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Church, and they did not enjoy its support.
Source: Part of the text taken from the book by Miloš Blagojević, "Serbian statehood in the Middle Ages", Belgrade 2011, title of the chapter in the book "Restoration of Serbian Statehood in the Bosnian State", p. 287-296.
Prepared by: Boris Radaković
Translate: Ljubisa Malenica