The Royal Women of Ivan Iv's Family and the Meaning of Forced Tonsure

Isolde Thyrêt

in Servants of the Dynasty

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780520254435
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520941519 | DOI:
The Royal Women of Ivan Iv's Family and the Meaning of Forced Tonsure

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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The turbulent private life of Ivan IV (1530–1584) in the later part of his reign as Tsar of Russia and the effects it had on his eldest son and heir, Ivan Ivanovich, decisively shaped the role of Russian royal wives (tsaritsy) during this period. According to Antonio Possevino, a papal legate who visited Russia in 1581–1582, Ivan Ivanovich had complained to his father about his use of forced tonsure to eliminate unwanted royal wives before receiving a mortal blow from Ivan IV's hands. When Russian royal women were forced to take the veil, they continued to enjoy the title tsaritsa and the respect that went with it. This chapter argues that the role of the Muscovite ruler's wife was not affected by outward changes in her socioreligious status brought about by such phenomena as divorce and tonsure. Social isolation, whether associated with the dissolution of the marital bond or with the otherworldliness of monastic life, did not eliminate the responsibilities and privileges inherent in a tsaritsa's royal rank.

Keywords: Ivan IV; royal women; royal wives; forced tonsure; Ivan Ivanovich; Russia; divorce; social isolation; monastic life

Chapter.  5877 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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