In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we are taking a look at some of the most famous princesses from Kievan-Rus’ and their achievements. Even though they came from Kievan-Rus’, they married into other royal families across Medieval Europe and left their mark on the nations and kingdoms they ruled over. Their stories illustrate the presence of Kyiv’s royal heritage across Europe, as well as some of the contributions Kyivan princesses made throughout history.
Anna Yaroslavna (1032-1075)
Anna Yaraslavna was a Rus’ princess who became queen of France in 1051 after marrying King Henry I. She was the daughter of Kyiv’s Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise and Ingegerd, daughter of King Olof Skötkunung of Sweden. Both her parents insisted on giving her a good education; by age 18, under her mother’s supervision, she had mastered Latin, Ancient Greek, and had acquired a basic knowledge of medicine. Anna was known across Europe for her beauty, literacy, and wisdom, and this caught the attention of King Henry I of France. After their marriage, Anna broke French tradition at her coronation ceremony; instead of conforming to tradition and taking her royal vows with her hand placed on a Latin bible, she stayed true to her Kievan Rus’ roots by using a Slavic Gospel, a sacred item which she brought from Kyiv. After her husband King Henry passed away in 1060, she became the ruling regent of France while their son Philip, the heir to the throne, was still a child. As the ruling regent of France, she founded a monastery dedicated to Saint Vincent in Senlis, near Paris. She had a reputation for being a pious queen, participating actively in grants to the church. Two sculptures were built in her honor which still stand in Senlis, and a medieval fresco depicting Anna, along with her mother and two sisters is preserved in Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral. Anna’s Cyrillic signature is the oldest surviving example of Old Ukrainian handwriting; it is seen on a French royal charter from the 1060s and is the only known example of a Capetian queen’s signature on parchment and the only known signature of a member of the Rurikid Dynasty prior to the 13th century.
Malmfred was born around 1095 to Grand Prince Mstislav I of Kyiv and Princess Christina Ingesdotter of Sweden. She was also given the title Malmfred Haraldsdotter of Holmgard, which was the Norwegian version of her name. Malmfred was first a queen of Norway, then later Denmark. Malmfred’s story shows a strong connection with Kievan-Rus’ and different royal houses of Northern Europe. Even though her father Mstislav was from Kievan Rus’, her mother was Swedish, and her paternal grandmother was English. She ruled as the queen of Denmark by marrying Erik Emune, King of Denmark after her first husband, King Sigurd of Norway died. She remained queen of Denmark until her death in 1137.
Vysheslava Svyatoslavna was born around 1095; a Kievan Rus’ princess and member of the Rurikid Dynasty, she later became the Duchess and subsequently Queen of Poland after marrying King Bolesław II the Bold. Vysheslava was crowned Queen of Poland alongside her husband on Christmas Day in 1076 in the Gniezno Cathedral. However, their reign did not last long; in 1079, Vysheslava, her husband, and their son Mieszko were exiled in Hungary. Two years later, her husband Bolesław died under mysterious circumstances, presumably by poison. Vysheslava eventually returned to Poland in 1086 with her son Mieszko.
Eupraxia was the daughter of Vsevolod I, Prince of Kievan Rus’, and his Belarusian wife, Anna of Polock. She was first married to Henry I the Long, Count of Stade and margrave of the Saxon Northern March. Unfortunately, Henry died in 1087 before they were able to have any children. After her first husband’s death, Eupraxia moved to the convent of Quedlinburg, where she met the Saxon king, Henry IV. Henry was amazed by Eupraxia’s beauty, and he became engaged to her in 1088 after his first wife died. The couple married in August 1089 in Cologne, and after the wedding, Eupraxia became the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and assumed the name Adelaide. However, their marriage took a turn for the worse when Henry held Eupaxia prisoner at the monastery of San Zero during his campaigns in Italy. She escaped in 1093 and fled to Canossa, where she sought the aid of Matilda of Tuscany, one of Henry’s enemies. She made a public statement accusing Henry of holding her against her will and subjecting her to cruel treatment. Eupraxia eventually decided to leave Henry, and she left Italy for Hungary, where she lived until 1099. She returned to Kyiv that year, and eventually became a nun until her death in 1109.
Elisabeth, or Elisaveta Yaroslavna of Kyiv, was the daughter of Prince Yaroslav I and Princess Ingegerd Olofsdotter of Sweden. She was also the sister of Anna of Kyiv, Queen of France, and Anastasia of Kyiv, Queen of Hungary. Elisabeth married Prince Harald Sigurdsson of Norway; their marriage is best documented by the court poet Stuv den blinde. She became queen of Norway in 1045 after moving to the country with her husband. In Norwegian, she is referred to as Queen Elisiv. Her husband Harald invaded England in 1066, where he was killed in battle. It is said that Elisabeth and their two daughters, Ingegerd and Maria followed Harald to England, where Maria died shortly after her father’s death. Elisabeth and her second daughter Ingegerd returned to Norway with the Norwegian fleet, where she lived the rest of her life with her stepson, King Olav Kyrre on Ostlandet.
Anastasia of Kyiv was born to Yaroslav the Wise of Kyiv and Ingegerd of Sweden in 1020, Anatasia Yaroslavna was the older sister of Anna Yaroslavna, Queen of France. Anastasia became queen of Hungary when her husband Duke Andrew became King of Hungary. Anastasia is said to have persuaded her husband to set up a lavra in Tihany for hermits who had come to Hungary from Kievan Rus’. They had three children together, Adelaide, who married king Vratislaus II of Bohemia, King Solomon of Hungary, and David of Hungary. Their son Solomon became king around September 27, 1063. It was said that on the occasion of her son’s coronation, Anastasia presented the sword of Attila the Hun to Duke Otto II of Bavaria, who was leader of the German troops. After suffering defeat from his cousins in a struggle for control of the throne, King Solomon fled to the Western borders of Hungary and ruled over the countries of Moson and Pozsony. Anastasia followed her son; however, their relationship fell apart and she moved to Admont Abbey where she lived as a nun until her death in 1074.
Eupraxia Iryna of Kiev (1108-1172)
Born in 1108, Eupraxia was the daughter of Grand Prince of Kyiv Mstislav the Great and Princess Christina Ingesdotter of Sweden. She married the Byzantine co-emperor Alexios Komneros and took the name Iryna, becoming the Empress of the Byzantine Empire. Together they had one daughter, Maria. Eupraxia Iryna became a part of a circle of women intellectuals and studied extensively, notably studying the ancient physician Galen and translating some of his works into Russian. She is largely regarded as the first woman who wrote a treatise on medicine, in which she described the efficiency of medical salves that she formulated. She died in 1172.
Euphrosinia (1130 - 1193)
Born in 1130, Euphrosinia was the daughter of Grand Prince of Kyiv Mstislav I and Ljubava Saviditsch. She married King Géza II of Hungry and together they had eight children: King Stephen III of Hungary, King Béla III of Hungary, Elisabeth, Géza, Árpád (who died in infancy), Odola, Helena, and Margaret. When her son, Stephen III ascended the throne, she shared royal authority with him and was actively involved in church governance. When he died, rumored to have been poisoned by his brother Béla, Euphrosinia supported her third son, Géza’s, attempt to claim the throne. However, when Béla succeeded and was crowned King, Euprhosinia was captured and exiled. She lived as a nun in Jerusalem until her death in 1193.
Saint Olha of Kyiv (890 - 696)
Born in 890, Saint Olha was the first recorded female ruler of the Kievan Rus and the first member of the ruling family to adopt Christianity. She married the Grand Prince of Kyiv Ihor and together they had a son, Svyatopolk. After Prince Ihor was assassinated by the Drevlians, a neighboring tribe, and their son Svyatopolk was too young to rule, Olha became regent of Kievan Rus. Best known for avenging her husband’s death, Saint Olha successfully defended the throne until her son was of age, even during the Siege of Kyiv in 968. As queen, she helped centralize state rule by establishing trade centers, and created hunting grounds, boundary posts, towns, as well as trade posts across Kievan Rus. Saint Olha’s network of trade centers became a focal point in unifying the Rus’ people, and her border posts began establishment for the official boundaries of the kingdom. While she failed to convert her son to Christianity and, thus, Kievan Rus, her grandson, Saint Volodymyr, brought her ambition to fruition. Nearly 600 years after her death, she was named a saint because of her proselytizing influence and is the patron of widows and converts.