Coat of Arms of Russia first adopted during the reign of Ivan III
ZOE PALEOLOGOS, THE WOMAN WHO CHANGED RUSSIA:
Zoe (Sophia) Paleologos (though there are countless variations of the surname) was Ivan III’s wife, and she is one of the main characters of my book, Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel. Her birthday has always been contentious: some say she was born in 1440, others a decade later, and even some as late as 1455. Whatever her age (I put her for argument’s sake in her mid-twenties in 1470 in my novel), she goes down in history as one of the most dynamic and charismatic female leaders ever. Although in no way more powerful and influential as say, Elizabeth I of England or Catherine the Great of Russia, she had a massive impact on Russia in the middle ages and greatly influenced her husband on governmental and diplomatic issues. Princess Sophia’s marriage to the Grand Duke of Muscovy took place in 1472, one year after the alternate historical events in my book. By all accounts, the marriage was a happy one, which produced eleven siblings (poor woman!).
Above: The Despot Thomas of Morea, Zoe Paleologos’ father. Photo source: Wikicommons
Princess Zoe in my story, however, is very different from the person of history. Far from Rome in this cold and inhospitable land, where she had been under the watchful eye of Cardinal Bessarion, she comes to Muscovy against her own will with a few servants and Brother Sergei of Pskov, who is there to instruct her in the Russian language and her new-old religion (she had been an Orthodox Christian during her time in Morea, Byzantium, before converting to Catholicism in Rome).
The image above shows Ivan Vasilyevich III looking at a portrait of his future wife, Zoe Paleologos. It was common in the medieval times for kings, princes and other personages of blue-blooded provenance to look at portraits of their future spouses-to-be as an insurance policy of sorts. Zoe, by all accounts, was an overweight and somewhat unattractive woman — I wonder if the Grand Duke really believed the woman he was looking at in the portrait was the same in real life? Talk about being cheated!
Book cover to Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel. Cover design by Helen Wakeman
TURMOIL IN MARRIAGE
If I go on any more, I know I’ll spoil it for all those who are going to read the book — but let one thing be known: Princess Zoe’s time is in no way pleasurable. We see her drift in and out of doubt about why she is there and what part she is to play as a partner and confidant to the Grand Duke. We also see into her mind about her thoughts of love and affection in marriage. Her ideals on this subject are pure. The Grand Duke’s, meanwhile, are purely dynastic in consideration, which wholly disappoints her. What will come of the relationship? Will they make it up the aisle or not?
To find out, you can read my novel, Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel.