Irene Ducas (c. 1066–1133)

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Irene Ducas (c. 1066–1133)

Byzantine empress. Name variations: Irene Doukas; Irene Doukaina or Ducaena. Born around 1066; died on February 19, 1133; daughter of Marie of Bulgaria (b. 1046) and Andronicus Ducas (a general, known as the traitor of Manzikert); granddaughter of Caesar John Ducas; second wife of Alexius I Comnenus (1048–1118), emperor of Byzantium (r. 1081–1118); children: seven, including Anna Comnena (1083–1153/55); John II Comnenus or Kalojoannes (1088–1143), emperor of Byzantium (r. 1118–1143); Andronicus (killed in battle against the Turks, 1129); Theodora Comnena (fl. 1080s, who married Constantine Angelus); Maria Comnena ; Eudocia Comnena .

Irene Ducas was born around 1066, the daughter of Marie of Bulgaria (b. 1046) and Andronicus Ducas, a general who was known as the traitor of Manzikert. Irene was the second wife of Alexius I Comnenus, who ruled Byzantium from 1081 until his death in 1118. At first, the marriage was unhappy, for Alexius was infatuated with another: Maria of Alania . Eventually, however, the couple became truly devoted to one another and had seven children. Empress Irene often accompanied her husband on campaign and was alert to plots against him. On several occasions, she saved him from danger. When Alexius began to suffer from severe respiratory complaint, Irene would sit up all night with her husband propped in her arms, attempting to ease his breathing.

The best-known period of Irene's life involves an unsuccessful intrigue in which she endeavored to divert the succession from her son John II Comnenus to Nicephorus Bryennius, husband of her first-born daughter Anna Comnena . She failed, however, to persuade Alexius to carry out a coup d'etat with the help of the palace guards. Following Alexius' death in 1118, Irene retired to the convent of Kecharitomene, which she had founded, and ended her life in obscurity, dying there in 1133. Her daughter Anna Comnena would retire there as well, in the company of Anna's daughter Irene.