By Tatyana PANOVA, Cand. Sc. (History), head of the Archeology Department, Moscow Kremlin Museum; and Sergei NIKITIN, forensic medicine expert, Forensic Medicine Board, Moscow
Women of the Russian Middle Ages - what do we know about them? That they were without rights at all, confined to their chambers. Housekeeping, kids, church... The pat image instilled since our school days. But competent scholars must know better.
The heart of the matter is that we know but little about the fair sex of the Russian Middle Ages (10th-17th centuries). And we will get no wiser turning to historiographic evidence. We might as well recall works of the late 19th century. For instance, the writings of Ivan Zabelin, Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, on the household life of the Russian nobility; or Daniil Mordovtsev's book Russian Women: Biography Essays', or M. Dubinsky's Women in the Life of Great Men: That's Whom I Loved..., a book published in St. Petersburg in 1900. Our contemporary, Natalia Pushkaryova, has come up with a most fundamental study on the subject of interest to us. True, some of these and other authors are involved overmuch with particular individuals-outstanding women, heroines we might say, who made Russian history at this or that time. Other works are obviously out of date. Today we know much more about the life of their protagonists. We can see this on the example of Grand Princess Yevdokia, married to the hero of the epic Kulikovo Battle (September 8, 1380), Moscow Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoi ("of the Don", where his host smashed the Tartar hordes led by Mamai). Telling the life story of Yevdokia, we can now see her face for the first time ever.
Somehow our heroine has been bypassed by the authors of books and other publications on Russian grand princesses. The point is that chronicles offer but scant data about her. We cannot tell even the birth date of Yevdokia, daughter of Prince Dmitry Konstantinovich of Suzdal and Nizhegorod (Nizhni Novgorod). Annalists of those times showed little regard for the birth of girls even among the high nobility, for it was the male line of descent that counted in inheriting power and property rights.
We do not know anything about Yevdokia's childhood either. It was short anyway because young girls were married off at an early age of 14 or 15 years.
A significant event is recorded in the chronicles of 1366: the marriage of the sixteen- year old Dmitry Ivanovich, Grand Prince of Moscow and Vladimir, to the maid Yevdokia Dmitriyevna of Nizhegorod. Relationships between Moscow and Nizhegorod rulers were sour then and afterwards-they were vying for the grand principality throne (Moscow cum Vladimir), and for the expansion of their possessions. They would balk at nothing, be it sudden marauding raids, treachery, alliances with the Golden Horde khans. That is why this marriage was meant as a remedy against intestine strife among Russian princes. Yet, the two royal families could not even agree on the particulars of the wedding ceremony. Finally, the wedding was celebrated on a "neutral field", in the town of Kolomna at the confluence of the river Moskva and the Oka.
Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich and Yevdokia gave birth to eleven children, three daughters and eight sons. Three died in their infancy. Their first-born
Layout of the Ascension Church with tombs of grand princesses and tsarinas. "B", the crypt of Yevdokia Donskaya.
was Vassily (born in 1371, that is five years after the wedding) who inherited his father's throne in 1389 and ruled up until his own death in 1425. Then came Yuri (1374), Andrei (1382), Pyotr (1385), Anna (1387) and Konstantin - born in 1389, the year when his father, Dmitry Donskoi, died. The birth dates of two other daughters, Sophia and Maria, are not known to us.
What we know about Grand Princess Yevdokia's life comes from circumstantial evidence. We know that the threat of military attacks and other misfortunes forced her to leave Moscow every now and then. For instance, she bore her son Yuri while being in Pereslavl. Yuri's and Pyotr's godfather was Sergei (Sergius) of Radonezh (ca. 1321 - 1391) himself, an eminent church hierarch of the day* and a saint greatly revered by the Russian people. He must have helped the grand princess in regaining her peace of mind.
Her life was no bed of roses. In August 1382, as Yevdokia had just given birth to another son of hers, Andrei, Khan Tokhtomysh of the Golden Horde was advancing on Moscow with a huge host; he was dead set to punish Muscovy. Yevdokia's two dear brothers, Vassily and Semyon, made common cause with the Tartar khan and helped him seize Moscow on August 26. Still weak after childbirth, the grand princess could escape by the skin of her teeth. Her husband was away from Moscow at the time.
Her absence stirred Muscovites to "confusion and disarray", as we read in the chronicles; the rabble even held up the metropolitan and the grand princess. The enemy sacked and burned Moscow and killed or captured many townspeople. The same lot could have befallen Yevdokia and her children (her older son was but eleven) had they not fled in time.
On May 19, 1389, Grand Prince Dmitry of the Don died while still being under forty years of age. His widow was even younger than that. Their last child, Konstantin, was born three days before the father's death.
In Prince Dmitry's will we find interesting data on the large landed possessions of his wife. These lands were under her full jurisdiction, with justice dispensed by special officers, the volostels (country magistrates). Yevdokia could come and go as she pleased-she could sell and purchase land with villages on it, bequeath her property to her children or donate it to monasteries to have them pray "for the souls" of the dead among her near and dear ones. In a nutshell, Yevdokia had a significant wealth to her name, she was independent economically. So high-born ladies like her pulled a good deal of weight in the thirteenth-century Rus.
In his testament Dmitry Donskoi also makes mention of large herds of cattle (his spouse was to share them with her children), and of gold and silver ("all that belongs to my princess"). The grand prince urged his children to show due respect and obedience to the grand princess: "Ye, my children, obey your dear mother in everything and do not do anything against her will. Should a son of mine... act contrariwise... he shall have no blessing of mine."
The Moscow chronicles of anno 1389 provide a detailed account of the life path and death of Grand Prince Dmitry Donskoi whose funeral was attended by the Reverend Sergei of Radonezh. The records also give a
* See: V. Kloss, "The Hegumen of Rus", Science in Russia, No. 1. 1993.- Ed.
vivid and emotional description of his widow's laments: "Gone is the light of my eyes. Thou, the treasure of my dear life, is no more... A lovely blossom of mine that has withered so early."
The widow lived for yet another eighteen years taking care of her children and grandchildren and supervising the construction of churches. She did a lot for the building of the convent within the Moscow Kremlin.
Her older son, Vassily (who annexed Nizhni Novgorod to Muscovy) in 1391 married Sophia, daughter of Grand Prince Vitovt of Lithuania. One of Yevdokia's daughters, Maria, was married off to the Lithuanian prince Lugven Olgerdovich. After the wedding feast "on Moscow" (June 14, 1394), the newly-weds left for Lithuania where Maria died five years later. Most likely, it was her mother who insisted that she be laid to rest in the Moscow Kremlin, within the walls of the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos put up in 1393 at Yevdokia's initiative.
In the spring of 1407 "Grand Princess Yevdokia of Dmitry's" had yet another church founded in the grounds of the Moscow Kremlin- "that of the Holy Ascension within the city". And on the seventh of June the
same year she left this world. Shortly before her death the widow of the Russian national hero took the veil (with the name of Euphrosinia) and "was laid to rest in the Ascension Church of the convent she had founded". The Ascension Convent, which had graced the Kremlin for over 600 years, was demolished under Soviet government in 1929. Its church became the last abode of Russian grand princesses and tsarinas. The vault of Grand Princess Yevdokia, who had the first stone church erected on the convent's grounds, used to be the most revered place among the tombs there. At the beginning of the 17th century her crypt was decorated with a silver shrine and a picturesque portrait under a canopy. The white-stone sarcophagus with the remains of the Venerable Euphrosinia has survived to this day. The coffin (now being restored) has been ravaged by time, with some of the bones of her skeleton gone. Denis Pezhemsky, an anthropologist investigating the burial vault, has managed to recreate the physical appearance of Yevdokia Donskaya. The princess, assailed by so many buffets of misfortune, did not cut a dashing figure, she was just a bit over five inches tall (155 cm). There is no trace of grave diseases or injuries. Nervous strains and stresses, however, leave no trace on the bones.
Reconstructing the image of a man or woman of the distant past with nothing but bones to go by is a wonderful and mysterious job of work.* Here we shall not cite a detailed account of the study made of Yevdokia's skull and how her life image was recreated by means of plastic reconstruction-the text is crammed with specialist terminology, so we would rather leave it out.
But here's what we can tell: the grand princess, who lived over 600 years ago, did not see her fiftieth birthday. By our yardstick, she lived a short life. Peering into her face, we sense its serene, contemplative mildness. No hint of hubris and arrogance we see in the 18th century portraiture of so many royal personalities.
The coffin lid is decorated with a brief epitaph, just one word inscribed in Cyrillic characters: Yevdokea. This name speaks volumes. It tells us the saga of the heroic and tragic events of the latter half of the 14th century. The saga of treachery and misfortunes. Outliving her husband and some of her children, the grand princess left a trace in Russian history and the material evidence of her presence in the Moscow Kremlin, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.
* See: M. Gerassimova, H. Medvedev, "Reincarnating Images of the Past", Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998.- Ed.
Illustrations supplied by the authors.
Опубликовано 10 сентября 2018 года
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