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A Bride for the Tsar
Bride-Shows and Marriage Politics in Early Modern Russia
Russell E. Martin
Russell Martin Awarded Commemorative Medal by Grand Duchess of Russia:
“The author displays a thorough mastery of the historiography, deep familiarity with the evidence, and a unique perspective through which to view early modern Russian politics. A Bride for the Tsar is splendidly written, and uses the fairytale images of modern opera to focus attention upon interesting and important historical processes.”—Daniel H. Kaiser, Joseph F. Rosenfield Professor of Social Studies at Grinnell College
"In this meticulously researched and nicely written study, Martin (Westminster College) examines a little-known ritual in early modern culture. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above."-CHOICE REVIEW
From the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth century, Russia’s tsars chose their wives through an elaborate ritual: the bride-show. The tsardom’s most beautiful young maidens were gathered in Moscow, where the tsar’s trusted boyars and their wives reviewed their medical histories, evaluated their spiritual qualities, noted their physical appearances, and confirmed their virtue. Those who passed muster were presented to the tsar, who inspected the candidates one by one usually without speaking to any of them—and selected a winner who was whisked away to the Kremlin to prepare for her wedding and new life as the tsar’s consort. Alongside accounts of sordid boyar plots against brides, the multiple marriages of Ivan the Terrible, and the fascinating spectacle of the bride-show ritual, A Bride for the Tsar offers an analysis of the complex politics of royal marriage in early modern Russia. Russell E. Martin argues that the rituals surrounding the selection of a bride for the tsar tell us much about the nature and extent of monarchical power in Russia, revealing it to be limited and collaborative, not autocratic.
Extracting the bride-show from relative obscurity, Martin analyzes many documents that have never before been studied and persuasively establishes this ritual as an essential element of the tsarist political system. Martin’s valuable study will appeal to specialists of Russian studies and early modernity, as well as non-specialist readers.
Russell E. Martin is professor of history at Westminster College.
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