Mniszek, Marina (c. 1588–1614)

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Mniszek, Marina (c. 1588–1614)

Daughter of a Polish noble who became empress of Russia as the wife of Tsar Dmitri the Pretender during the Time of Troubles in the 17th century. Name variations: Marina Mnizek; Marina Mniszech, Mniszeck, Mnishek, Mniszchówna, or Muizeck. Pronunciation: Ma-rina Men-is-chek. Born Marina Mniszek in Sambor, Poland, around 1588; died in Kaluga, Russia, in 1614; daughter of Jerzy (George) Mniszek (palatine of Sandomierz) and Jadwiga Tarlówna; married Demetrius the False also known as Dmitry or Dmitri the First Pretender, tsar of Russia (r. 1605–1606), in 1606; married Dmitri the Second Pretender, in 1608; married Ivan M. Zarutski; children: (second marriage) Ivan (b. 1611).

On May 8, 1606, Marina Mniszek was married to Tsar Dmitri (the First Pretender) in the Church of the Virgin in Moscow. As she entered the church, her hair was covered with gold, pearls, and precious stones that cost fabulous sums, while the small gem-covered diadem worn upon her brow was valued at 70,000 rubles. She was escorted by the wives of Prince Fyodor Mstislavsky and Prince Fyodor Nagoi, and the marriage ceremony was conducted by the patriarch of Moscow in the Muscovite rites of the Orthodox church. Eleven days later, the tsar was murdered, and Marina entered an exciting but turbulent life of intrigue and adventure.

Marina Mniszek was born around 1588 in Sambor, Poland. Her father George Mniszek, a descendant of a Moravian family that came to Poland in 1533, was a prominent noble who held titles as palatine of Sandomierz, castellan of Radom and starosta of Lvov, Sambor, Sokal, and Rohatyn. Her mother Jadwiga Tarlówna was also from a prominent family. In 1588, shortly before Marina's birth, George was appointed to govern the royal estate and manage the royal saltworks at Sambor. Marina, one of ten children, grew up in Sambor as a peer of nobles and princes, but in 1603, having lived beyond his means, her father had to sell personal property to avoid bankruptcy and ruin. It was at this time that he and Marina became entangled in the intrigue of international politics involving the throne of Russia.

In the summer of 1603, while bathing, Prince Adam Wisniowiecki, son-in-law of George Mniszek, had slapped and cursed a youthful servant for his inefficiency. Dropping to his knees, the frightened boy made a startling revelation: he declared himself to be Dmitri, the son of Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible of Russia (r. 1533–1584). He made this claim despite the fact that Dmitri had died as a child in 1591, most likely as the result of an accident which enemies of Boris Godunov (r. 1598–1605), then the tsar's advisor, claimed was murder carried out at Godunov's instigation. Prince Adam, probably motivated by Russian thefts of two of his estates, immediately accepted the servant as Dmitri, prince of Muscovy. After furnishing him with magnificent clothing and jewelry, Prince Adam solicited support from his Polish superiors. While Dmitri received no instant official recognition from the Polish government, his support by several powerful Polish and Lithuanian nobles secured him an invitation to visit the royal court at Krakow.

Prince Adam, who escorted Dmitri to Krakow, made a detour to the castle of Sambor and the court of George Mniszek, father of Adam's wife Ursula . It was there that Dmitri met Ursula's younger sister, Marina, and fell instantly in love. Petite and beautiful, though a little thin by Russian standards, Marina had a small mouth, long nose, sparkling eyes, and prominent forehead which reflected a young lady of immense pride and vivacious charm. An excellent portrait of her, painted at that time, can be seen in Wawel Castle in Krakow. Whether Marina's wily approach to her young suitor was flirtatiously innocent or deliberately employed to promote her ambitious but insolvent father is uncertain. There was an obvious effort to detain Dmitri so that the romantic relationship could continue to grow. With priests and prelates in tow, George and Marina worked to convince the Orthodox Dmitri that he must convert to Roman Catholicism if he were to wed the devout Marina. In late February, Dmitri impetuously announced to George his willingness to convert and marry.

George Mniszek supported the marriage of his daughter to Dmitri as a means of regaining his lost fortunes. Marina's feelings are not known, but she certainly had her own ambition to become empress of Russia and probably felt pressure from the Catholic clergy who saw her as a vehicle to convert Russia to the Roman Catholic religion. Although the love may have been one-sided, she agreed to marry Dmitri if the marriage terms were acceptable; as the future would show, Marina was ambitious and unscrupulous in making bold and dramatic decisions. The contract, favorable to both the bride and her father, was signed on May 24, 1604. The agreement provided George with both lands and money and Marina with total sovereignty over the realms of Novgorod and Pskov, with the privilege of maintaining her own religious institutions and practices in those principalities. It also provided Sigismund III, king of Poland, with lands and Dmitri's partnership in a Catholic alliance against Turkey and Sweden. The marriage would take place only when Dmitri became tsar.

Politics in both Poland and Russia played a major role in Marina's immediate future. Dmitri's patronage from King Sigismund and several Polish princes suggested their intention to utilize him as an instrument of their national policy against Russia. His promise to reunify the Western and Eastern churches and his willingness to convert to Latin Christianity won him the ardent support of the Roman Catholic Church. It is also likely that his support was secretly engineered by the Russian enemies of Tsar Boris Godunov, particularly the boyar (noble) aristocracy led by the Romanov family who considered Godunov a usurper. The "Time of Troubles" in Russia, with unrest, dissatisfaction, and widespread famine, proved to be more valuable to Dmitri's cause than aid from Poland and Lithuania. It would be wrong to assume that Dmitri's ties to Poland, the Latin Church and dissident Russians made him their political creation. Each group used him to their purpose or advantage, but he was a Russian phenomenon. Dmitri and multitudes of suffering Russians believed in his mission, although his Polish supporters and Russian conspirators did not believe he was the true son of Tsar Ivan IV.

In eastern Poland, Dmitri gathered an army of Polish adventurers, Russian defectors, and the usual Cossack rebels. While Polish authorities looked the other way, Dmitri the First Pretender led a small army of some 4,000 men into Russia in October 1604. He proclaimed that Godunov was a usurper and easily won his first battle. Towns rang bells and opened their gates to him, and new Russian volunteers soon outnumbered the Poles in his army. He suffered occasional reversals but continued to push toward Moscow, the prestige of his name and the abhorrent social conditions in Russia, not the size of his army, proving to be his greatest strengths. In January 1605, however, Dmitri's army was soundly defeated by Godunov's forces, and he and some of his malcontents barely escaped capture. As they reorganized and prepared to advance once more, Boris Godunov died suddenly in April 1605. The weakness of the Russian, now leaderless and divided, enabled Dmitri to triumph. He entered Moscow on June 20, 1605, brutally executed most of the surviving members of the Godunov family, and raped Xenia Godunova , Boris' daughter, and forced her to become his mistress. The mother of the Dmitri who had died in 1591, Maria Nagaia , met with and accepted him as her son, as did an important noble and Godunov enemy, Basil Shuiski.

At seventeen, she was empress of a vast land and millions of subjects.

—Philip L. Barbour

After gaining the Russian throne, Dmitri endeavored to pursue an independent domestic and foreign policy. As his own power increased, the importance he placed on the lavish promises he made in the marriage contract diminished. Marina's departure for Moscow was delayed by Sigismund and George Mniszek as a means of keeping some influence over Dmitri. Between the time of his invasion of Russia and his entry into Moscow, he had not corresponded with Marina and very little with her father. Following his coronation, Dmitri requested permission for Marina to leave Poland for Moscow and proposed that they be married by proxy to allow her to enter Russia with the ceremony appropriate for an empress. On November 22, 1605, in the Firlej mansion on the Great Market Place in Krakow, Marina was wed by proxy to Afanasy Ivanovitch Vlasyev, who represented Tsar Dmitri. Following the ceremony, Vlasyev's attendants brought her lavish gifts from her husband. There were bracelets of rubies and emeralds, crosses of sapphires, colorful satins brocaded with silver and gold, a topaz pelican, a ship made of pearls, a golden ox with a belly full of diamonds, and a gilded silver elephant containing an elaborate musical clock. King Sigismund, who attended the ceremonies, danced with Marina and counseled her before she withdrew from the reception.

Escorted by her father, relatives and servants numbering at least 2,000, Marina left Sambor on March 2. Her large, boisterous and arrogant Polish cortege entered Moscow on May 2, 1606. Already insulted by the tsar's marriage to an unconverted Roman Catholic foreigner, the Muscovites resented the behavior and manners of her Polish retinue. The 18-year-old Marina, spoiled by all the attention and by her self-important belief that she would restore her father's fortune, help her native Poland, and further the cause of Catholicism, began to exhibit the unimperial behavior of an overindulged teenager, which she was. Though showered with finery, she was deprived of her Polish ladies-inwaiting and virtually imprisoned under the strict rules of an Orthodox convent. Dmitri wanted her to stay at the convent as a show of piety on their part because the wedding had to be carried out according to Orthodox ritual. But Marina was dissatisfied with his attempts to alleviate her feelings, and Dmitri finally relented, bringing her to the palace two days before the ceremony. This upset the Orthodox clergy and fanned the flames of rebellion growing within the clergy, nobles, and army.

The wedding and coronation took place in the Orthodox Cathedral of the Virgin on May 8, 1606. A great number of Poles were invited to the palace ceremonies, while few Russians were even admitted to the Kremlin courtyard. The Russians accepted this humiliation but were angered by the marriage and coronation. Marina wore a red velvet robe, garishly covered in diamonds, pearls, rubies and sapphires, and a diamond crown. Dmitri's coronation robes were so laden with jewels that a weaker man could not have worn them. Their failure to take communion in the Orthodox cathedral and the dancing of Polish mazurkas later at the banquet finally broke the clumsy truce between Russian and Pole and resulted in small, sporadic confrontations.

There had been indications of serious political plots against Dmitri prior to the wedding and coronation, but he had dismissed their importance. His brief reign had been troubled from the outset. He had alienated Orthodox Russians by his thinly veiled hostility toward Orthodoxy, his heavy financial exactions on the church, and his disregard for all Russian customs and etiquette. His proclivity for surrounding himself with Poles, and for favoring certain Russian families, like the Romanovs, as well as his arrogance and corruption, had eroded his relationship with the common people. The major factor, however, was his failure to win support among the anti-Godunov princes who rallied around Basil Shuiski, the man who both had originally confirmed the death of the real Dmitri and endorsed Dmitri the First Pretender's own legitimacy. Shuiski revoked his support of Tsar Dmitri, announcing that he was in fact not the son of Ivan the Terrible; Maria Ngaia, Dmitri's erstwhile mother, did the same.

On May 17, 1606, a mob that included Shuiski's own men stormed the tsar's apartments, murdered Dmitri, and desecrated his body. Though some 3,000 Poles and Russians were murdered by the frenzied mob, Marina hid during the attack on the apartments under the ample skirts of Pani Kazanowska , an imposing and fearless Polish lady-in-waiting. Marina later surrendered and was briefly imprisoned with her father and others. They were later moved to Yaroslavl, and by a treaty between new Tsar Basil (IV) Shuiski and the Polish government were to be repatriated to their native land on June 28, 1608.

Returning to Moscow, Marina was forced to renounce all claims to the title of empress in exchange for this repatriation; she had no alternative but to agree. On their way home to Poland, Marina and George were seized by forces loyal to a second false Dmitri (Dmitri the Second Pretender) who had raised an army and established a rebel government in Tushino, just a few miles from Moscow. This incident seems to have been planned in advance, and no element of surprise was evident. What occurred at the meeting between Marina, George, and the Tushino Brigand, as he was known by the Russians, is shrouded in mystery. George Mniszek apparently knew the new Dmitri was not the tsar of Russia but joined the conspiracy on the promise of financial rewards and the province of Severia. Marina, probably disappointed that the Brigand was not truly her husband, and persuaded by her father, recognized the new pretender as her husband Tsar Dmitri. Around September 12, 1608, she married the Tushino Brigand with whom she would eventually have a son. Taking advantage of Tsar Basil's unpopularity, the Brigand briefly conquered large areas to the east, north, and northwest of Moscow in the latter part of 1608, but his ineptitude and failure to bring about reform cost him popular support from the masses. Marina's letters during this time indicate her dissatisfaction with the loathsome and coarse pretender and her pretension that her claim to the Russian throne was based on the legitimacy of her coronation. The Brigand was forced to abandon Tushino in December 1609. Marina, disguised in a hussar uniform, escaped to Dimitrov and later rejoined her husband in his new capital, Kaluga, remaining with him until he was murdered by Peter Urusov, a Tatar guard, on December 10, 1610. Though she was then in the last stages of her pregnancy, she was still independent enough to refuse an invitation from King Sigismund to return to Poland.

Following the Brigand's death, Marina was protected by the Don Cossack leader Ivan Mikhailovitch Zarutski, with whom she had already fallen in love. Her son Ivan was born in January 1611 and was baptized according to Orthodox rites. Zarutski and other Cossacks tried to advance the candidacy of Ivan to the Russian throne, but both Marina's and Ivan's claims were rejected throughout Russia. Forced to flee, Marina and Zarutski, whom she had married, established a headquarters in Astrakhan in the spring of 1613. Isolated by the emergence of a strong government in Moscow under Tsar Michael Romanov (r. 1613–1645), Marina and Zarutski unsuccessfully sought support from the shah of Persia for a military campaign along the Volga River to Moscow. Their support, even among the rebellious Cossacks, had deteriorated to the point that they were expelled from Astrakhan by the angry citizens. In desperation, they turned to the Iaik (Ural) Cossacks, but the Iaik betrayed them by turning them over to the Russian army on June 25, 1614. Marina was brought to Moscow in chains with 500 guards to prevent her and her son from either escaping or being rescued by another adventurer. By order of the tsar, Zarutski was impaled and four-year-old Ivan was publicly hanged at the Serpukhov Gate. Marina died shortly thereafter, probably from grief, in a prison in Kolomna.

Marina Mniszek's tenacious spirit and her tragic death produced a lasting impression on the Russian people. She was admired by the Cossacks who had supported her from the beginning and feared by the Russian princes who had suffered from her presence during the "Time of Troubles." Most Muscovites saw her as a heretical witch; in one of the many ballads composed about her and the First Pretender, Marina escaped the palace assault by turning herself into a magpie and flying through the window. Regardless of their admiration or hatred, most Russians believed she possessed supernatural powers.


Barbour, Philip L. Dimitry Called the Pretender. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1966.

Graham, Stephan. Boris Godunov. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1933.

Merimee, Prosper. Demetrius the Imposter. Translated by A.R. Scoble. London: n.p., 1853.

Purchas, Samuel. Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrims. Vol. 14. Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1906.

Rowland, Daniel B. "Marina Mniszek 1588?–1614," in Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History. Vol. 22, 1981, pp. 241–243.

Vernadsky, George. The Tsardom of Moscow 1547–1682. 2 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969.

suggested reading:

Hirschberg, Aleksander. Maryna Mniszchówna. Lvov: n.p., 1906.

Howe, Sonia E., ed. The False Dimitri. London: Williams and Norgate, 1916.

Lindeman, I.K. Marinkina bashnia v Kolomne i vopros o smerti m. Mnishek. Moscow: n.p., 1910.

Margeret, Jacques. The Russian Empire and Grand Duchy of Moscow: A 17th Century French Account. Edited and translated by Chester S.L. Dunning. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983.

Platonov, S.F. Moscow and the West. Edited and translated by Joseph L. Wieczynski. Hattiesburg, MS: Academic International Press, 1972.

Titov, A. Dnevnik M. Mnishek. Moscow: A.A. Tntoba, 1908.

related media:

Moussorgsky, Modest. Boris Godunov (opera in four acts). Translated by John Gutman. NY: Fred Rullman, 1953 (there are many other translations of this opera based on Pushkin's dramatic play).

Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeevich. Boris Godunov. Translated by Philip L. Barbour. NY: Columbia University Press, 1953 (there are many other translations of this historical drama).

Phillip E. Koerper , Professor of History, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama