Godunova, Xenia (1582–1622)

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Godunova, Xenia (1582–1622)

Russian daughter of Boris Godunov, tsar from 1598 to 1605. Name variations: Xenia Godunov; Ksenia or Ksenya Godunov; Olga Borisovna. Pronunciation: Good-un-OV-a. Born Ksenia Borisovna Godunova probably in 1582 in Moscow; died in 1622; daughter of Boris Godunov, tsar of Russia (r. 1598–1605), and Maria Skuratova (d. 1605); sister of Theodore II (Feodor), tsar of Russia; had no formal education; never married.

Xenia Godunova appears more often in Russian folklore and fiction than she does in accounts of Russian history. We know only that she was the much-loved daughter of Maria Skuratova and Boris Godunov, who reigned as tsar of Russia at the beginning of the Time of Troubles. Her father took an interest in her education with the result that she could read and write, skills which few Russian women of the time possessed. She also had some musical training and was fond of singing. Xenia reputedly was very beautiful, modest and decorous in speech. When she approached the age of 20, Boris went to great lengths to find her a suitable husband from among the reigning families of Europe. After failing to convince Prince Gustavus of Sweden to convert to Orthodoxy, Boris was able to attract Duke Johann (Hans) of Denmark to come to Moscow. The couple were duly engaged in 1601 but before the marriage could be celebrated Johann died of disease or perhaps of poisoning by one of Boris' many enemies.

The next decade was a time of misery for Xenia and for Russia. In April 1605, in the midst of a civil war, the tsar himself died. Shortly thereafter, on the orders of the First False Dmitri (Gregory Otrepiev), Xenia's teenage brother Theodore II, successor to Boris, was strangled along with her mother Maria by members of the Russian nobility in Xenia's presence. Dmitri then usurped both Boris' throne and his daughter. According to legend, Xenia was raped by the new tsar and forced to become his mistress. Bowing to pressure from his father-in-law, Dmitri compelled Xenia to become a nun. Taking the name of Olga Borisovna, she was exiled to a remote convent in Beloozero. Xenia Godunova reappears on the pages of Russian history for the last time in 1607 when the next tsar, Vasilii Shuisky (Basil IV), decided to rebury the body of her father and forced her to march behind Boris' coffin. She joined her father in his new burial place upon her own death in 1622.


Grey, Ian. Boris Godunov: The Tragic Tsar. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973.

Skrynnikov, Ruslan G. Time of Troubles: Russia in Crisis, 1604–1618. Edited and translated by Hugh F. Graham. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1988.

R. C. Elwood , Professor of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada