Zoe Paleologos, The Woman Who Changed Russia

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Above: The Despot Thomas of Morea, Zoe Paleologos’ father

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 new 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!).

Below an image of Emperor Constantine IX, Princess Zoe’s uncle, the last Byzantine Emperor, killed by the Turks at the Siege of Constantinople in 1453

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Princess Zoe in my story, however, is very different to 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).

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, a purely dynastic in consideration, which wholly disappoint her. What will come of the relationship? Will they make it up the aisle or not?

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel for 99c/77p, just refer to my previous two posts for links to Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, the Apple IBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo plus a few more platforms.

The image below 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 picture was the same in real life? Talk about being cheated! 

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