The story of a Russian princess who became European Empress
By Christian Raffensperger
In the summer of 1089, the German chronicler Ekkehard reports that “the emperor celebrated his marriage in Cologne, taking as wife the widow of the margrave Udo [Henry III] the daughter of the King of the Russians. The ceremony was led by the Archbishop of Magdeburg, who married German Emperor Henry IV with Princess Evpraksia, daughter of Russian King Vsevolod Iziaslavich. After the wedding, Evpraksia was crowned Empress of the German Empire, which was also celebrated in a later degree of Henry IV, under the name of Adelheid. Although many Russian women married royalty from across Europe in the 11th century, Evpraksia was the first to become empress. Its history is fascinating and illuminates not only Russia and the German Empire, but also relations across Europe.
Evpraksia’s marriage to Emperor Henry IV was not her first. Her first husband was also named Henry – Henry III of Stade, who was margrave of the Saxon Nordmark. The couple were around the same age when they married, in their mid-teens, which was normal for elite marriages at this time in European history. The rationale for the marriage of a Russian princess and a German margrave runs through the politics of medieval Europe as a whole, as well as the ever-fraught question of church-state relations.
Emperor Henry IV ran into opposition from Pope Gregory VII in what has since been called the Investiture Controversy. The crux of the matter was whether or not the emperor, or any secular ruler, had the ability to make priests, bishops, or archbishops, or whether that was the sole competence of the church, especially of the papacy. For centuries, rulers had done just that, granting benefices to faithful individuals, appointing them archbishops, and building churches and cathedrals. Pope Gregory VII led a reform movement, eventually bearing his name of Gregorian reform. He decided that the creation of clergymen, of churchmen, was only possible for the papacy and individuals appointed by the papacy. While citing ecclesiastical precedents such as the laying on of hands, it also served to centralize ecclesiastical power in the hands of the pope; a significant factor when the church controlled more than a third of the total territory of Europe.
As part of his dispute with Pope Gregory VII, Henry IV raised his own pope, Clement III. Clement III has been given the title “anti-pope” by modern historians, indicating his status as a loser in the battle for the papacy. At the time, however, the situation was not so clear and it seemed very possible that Clement III would be recognized by most of Europe as pope, and in fact he sat in Rome for a time.
To add credibility to his candidate’s campaign for the papacy, Henry IV strove to increase relations with neighboring powers, in this case also the Rus. The idea being that if the largely independent but titular Russian Church under the control of Constantinople could be brought into Clement III’s orbit, it would be a major blow to him. So, Henry IV contacted King Vsevolod to arrange a marital bond to seal their relationship with each other. King Vsevolod had his own worries, mainly the Polish connections of his main rivals in Rus, the Iziaslavichi family, and Henry IV (often an enemy of the Poles anyway) most likely agreed to help Vsevolod in case of trouble. Since Henry IV was already married, and much older, the marriage was arranged with a young margrave, Henry III.
The arrival of Evpraksia to marry Henry III occurred in the early 1080s and was recorded in a chronicle as having arrived “in this country with great pomp, with camels laden with precious clothes and stones, and also with innumerable riches”. The quote itself is an allusion to the arrival of the Queen of Sheba in Jerusalem from the Bible, the sentiment was clearly intended to apply to Evpraksia. A foreign princess from afar, who arrived with great wealth and a train of animals and servants; in fact his baggage train may also have included camels as they were found in the steppe south of Rus. This image also reinforces the idea that the princesses did not travel alone – although she is the only one mentioned by name, it would clearly take a large number of people to operate such a baggage train, and would therefore eventually include a small pocket of Rus regardless of the country where they ended up residing.
Henry III, perhaps unfortunately for Evpraksia, died shortly after their marriage, and Evpraksia was left a teenage widow, childless. She was driven out of Henry III’s territory when her brother became margrave, and she took up residence in a convent whose abbess was the sister of Emperor Henry IV. It was only about a year later that Henry IV’s own wife, Bertha, died (of natural causes) and the two arranged to be married, making Evpraksia Empress of the Empire. German.
Evpraksia’s second marriage was much longer, but no happier than the first. Clement III’s message to the Russian Church arrived at the office of Greek Metropolitan Ioann II who resided in Kyiv. Unlike the Russian elite who were happy to marry people from all over Europe, regardless of their Christian faith, Ioann II was part of the Greek ecclesiastical hierarchy who participated in disagreements between the Constantinopolitan and Latin Churches. Thus, there was no hope of having an agreement between him and Clement III. There also appears to have been a greater realignment of policy with regard to the Normans in the Italian peninsula, the new Pope Urban II and the Byzantine Emperor, and Evpraksia became the agent of some of these changes .
After only a few years of marriage, Evpraksia left her husband and passed over to the side of the papacy, now ruled by one of Gregory VII’s successors, Pope Urban II. On behalf of Pope Urban II, Evpraksia spoke at gatherings of bishops across Europe, recounting her story of a young marriage to Henry IV and Henry’s atrocious and abominable behavior that classifies him as a ” Nicoletian”; a reference to a group from the Book of Revelation known for sexual deviance. The presence of a young woman, probably in her twenties, talking about sex and sexual relations to a group of bishops was effective and more bishops left Henry IV’s side and came to support Urban II. The highlight of his campaign was a speaking role at the papal synod of Pope Urban II at Piacenza, which marked a high point in his conflict with Henry IV (and perhaps not coincidentally was the start of what was to come). become the crusades).
Having effectively won for her side, against that of her husband, Evpraksia left Rome and returned to Rus, via Hungary where she had relatives. In Rus, we find her in the annals in 1106 when she took monastic vows and became a nun. The year is particularly interesting because it is also the year of the death of Henri IV. Given the idea that a nun was a bride of Christ, it seems that Evpraksia did not remarry or engage in ecclesiastical life until her husband’s death. Also, we provide information about communication between the German Empire and Rus.
The last entry in Evpraksia’s history comes in 1109 when she died. The Russian Chronicle, still short of information about the women, provides a relatively comprehensive entry noting that “Evpraksia, the daughter of Vsevolod, died on July 10 and was laid in the monastery in the crypt near the southern portal. A chapel was built over it in which his body lies. The Kyivan Cave Monastery, or Crypt Monastery, was the holy monastery of all Rus, and his burial there, with its own chapel, is a mark of the esteem in which she was held by the monks and by the elites of Rus who helped decide such matters. For us modern people, it is also a good reminder that although Evpraksia married two Germans, y understood as Empress of the German Empire, and worked with the papacy, she was not reviled or exiled from Rus, but honored and supported.
The idea of a schism between Churches is an idea that has been re-read in the past, but which is obviously not topical at this time of the 11th and 12th centuries. Evpraksia and her life are proof of that.
Christian Raffensperger holds the Kenneth E. Wray Professor of Humanities at the University of Wittenberg and is currently an Archie K. Davis Fellow at the National Humanities Center. His work presents Rus not as a principality or a set of principalities but as one of the kingdoms of medieval Europe. Click here to see his university’s webpage.
Click here to learn more about Christian Raffensperger
Simon Franklin and Jonathan Shepard, The emergence of Rus, 750-1200 (New York: Longman, 1996).
Christian Raffensperger,Missing Russian Women: The Case of Evpraksia Vsevolodovna.” In Putting the Fragments Together: Writing the Lives of Medieval Women. Ed. Amy Livingstone and Charlotte Newman Goldy (New York: Palgrave, 2012), 69–84.
Christian Raffensperger, “Evpraksia Vsevolodovna between East and West.” Russian history / Russian history 30:1–2 (2003), 23–34.
Christian Raffensperger,Evpraksia Vsevolodovna” to Russian genealogy
Talia Zajac, “The Socio-Political Roles of the Princess in Kyivan Rus”, ca. 945-1240″, in A Companion to the World Queen, ed. Elena Woodacre (Leeds: ARC Humanities Press/Amsterdam University Press): 125–146.
Top image: Image of a saint in the Church of Saint Sophia in Kyiv, dating from the 11th century – Wikimedia Commons