The Missing Rusian Women: The Case of Evpraksia Vsevolodovna

  • Christian Raffensperger
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The women of the largest medieval eastern European kingdom, Rus′, are largely missing. Or perhaps more accurately, they have been misplaced. Though they exist in the few primary sources, and admittedly there are not many of them named, they are nearly completely left out of the secondary sources written about Rus′, and about medieval eastern Europe more broadly. Evpraksia Vsevolodovna, the daughter of the ruler of Rus’ who married two Germans, one ofwhom was Emperor Henry IV, ranks as one of only approximately five women mentioned by name in the earliest Rusian source, The Russian Primary Chronicle, and as such is an important figure, but has been only briefly noted in histories dealing with Rus’.1 German historians have found her in a plethora of Latin sources relating to her second husband, Henry IV; however they nearly universally dismiss her as being of any consequence. The lack of real scholarship on such a woman, a Rusian princess and German empress, is indicative of the problem still facing the writing of eastern European women’s lives. In this study, I will discuss my investigation into the life of Evpraksia and the problems involved in finding medieval eastern European women, suggesting some ideas, and hopefully solutions, for future research into these fascinating and much overlooked historical actors.


Twelfth Century Eleventh Century German Historian Papal Council Medieval History 
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  1. 1.
    I have used “Rus′” and “Rusian” throughout for the sake of consistency. Rus′ is the medieval kingdom that is the origin of the modern states of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Rusian describes people from the kingdom of Rus′. This has been done not only in an attempt to be historically accurate, but to avoid modern political baggage encountered when calling the state either Ukraine or Russia. Christian Raffensperger, “Evpraksia Vsevolodovna between East and West,” Russian History/Histoire Russe 30.1–2 (2003): 23–34. Much of the information on Evpraksia’s life presented here is drawn from this article, and the research prepared for it.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
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  4. 13.
    The inclusion of an article on Rusian women in this volume of medieval women’s lives is a happy exception to the general trend. For the more traditional view, which has largely been accepted by medievalists, see the classic work by Dimitri Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth, Eastern Europe 500–1453 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971).Google Scholar
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    Roughly, this takes place in 1088. The notice of her as the betrothed of Henry IV is included as she is taking refuge with Henry’s sister Adelheid at Quedlinburg. Bishop of Naumburg Walram, Liber De Unitate Ecclesiae Conservanda, Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum (Hannover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1883), lib. II.35, 114.Google Scholar
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    Walram, Liber De Unitate Ecclesiae Conservanda, lib. II.26, 100. Her enthronement is also recorded in one of Henry’s diplomata from 1089. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Diplomatum Regum Et Imperatorum Germaniae. Tomus VI. Heinrici IV. Diplomata (Weimar: Hermann Bohlaus Nachfolger, 1953), p. 407. The use of the name Adelheid is interesting, though largely unstudied. The traditional assumption made by scholars of both east and west in this case is that it is a religious-based choice, predicated on moving from an “Orthodox” realm to a “Latin” realm. However, this is unsupportable in the eleventh century. See Raffensperger, Reexamining Rus’, chapter 5. It was not uncommon for medieval noble women to change their names midlife, as Amy Livingstone has shown, and this attempt to identify more with a certain place, or identity of rulership, is a more likely explanation for the name change.Google Scholar
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  14. 26.
    See also A. B. Golovko, Drevniaia Rus′ i Pol’sha vpoliticheskikh vzaimo-otnosheniiakh X-pervoi treti XIII vv (Kiev: Naukova Dumka, 1988), p. 58.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    Evidence of such an attempt is supplied by an extant letter of Metropolitan Ioann II of Kiev replying to a lost letter of Clement III in which he rebukes Clement and the Latin Church more broadly and directs all further correspondence to the patriarch of Constantinople, his ecclesiastical superior. N. V. Ponyrko and D. S. Likhachev, eds., Epistoliarnoe nasledie Drevnei Rusi XI–XIII: Issledovaniia, teksty, perevody (Saint Petersburg: Nauka, 1992), pp. 30–35.Google Scholar
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    Andrzej Poppe and Danuta Poppe, “The Autograph of Anna of Rus’, Queen of France,” Journal of Ukrainian Studies 33/34 (2008/9): 400–406.Google Scholar
  21. 39.
    There is a great deal of recent work on this subject. To cite just two examples, see Livingstone, Out of Love for My Kin; and David J. Hay, The Military Leadership of Matilda of Canossa, 1046–1115 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  22. 42.
    This is, of course, not a new statement on the position of medieval women, and I have drawn extensively on the work of others, including John Carmi Parsons, “Mothers, Daughters, Marriage, Power: Some Plantagenet Evidence, 1150–1500,” in Medieval Queenship, ed. John Carmi Parsons (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1994), p. 69Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    Jane Tibbetts Schulenberg who writes that “daughters were definitely valued by their families, particularly as players of major roles in the formation of marriage alliances and extended connections, as childbearers, and as abbesses of family monasteries, interceders for their families’ souls, etc.” Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society ca. 500–1100 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 240.Google Scholar
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  25. 48.
    See, e.g., the enormous role two women play in Scandinavian history, recorded in Scandinavian sources, even when they are completely absent from Rusian sources. Christian Raffensperger, “Dynastic Marriage in Action: How Two Rusian Princesses Changed Scandinavia,” in Imenoslov: Istoricheskaia semantika imeni (Moscow, 2009), pp. 187–199.Google Scholar

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© Charlotte Newman Goldy and Amy Livingstone 2012

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  • Christian Raffensperger

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