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Marriage traditions in Russia: how to pass casting and marry tsar...

Russian tsars of XVI-XVII centuries, in order to find a wife, organized parades of brides, where only the most beautiful and healthy virgins were allowed.

Boyar families competed with each other to marry their brides off. The fate of eminent families and even the course of the Muscovy’s history depended on the results of this medieval casting.

In XV-XVI centuries, the Russian tsars had a lot of issues with choosing brides. The European royal family did not want to send their daughters to wild and isolated country. They also did not want their pious princesses to accept the Orthodox faith.

It was not easier to intermarry with noble Russian families either. Russian tsars were regarded as all-powerful, but, in fact, they were dependent upon the boyars’ families. Intrigues and struggle for power constantly thwarted marital issues.


In 1505, Tsar Vasily III decided to organize first parade of brides in Russia in order to choose a perfect companion. This custom, borrowed from the Byzantine Empire, became popular in Russia for the next two hundred years.

At the first stage of this selection, tsar’s representatives travelled to all corners of the country with a special tsar’s decree. It ordered to send all young girls to “regional parades”. Royal ambassadors selected candidates in many ways. The Tsar's Bride was supposed to be tall, beautiful and healthy. Much attention was paid to the parental status of her parents. Naturally, they also checked a political reliability of the girl’s family.

From 500 to 1500 selected women were sent to Moscow to participate in the next round of selection. They appeared before a jury of courtiers and doctors and were screened out. And there court intrigues used to begin. Noble families beat the drums for their relatives and tried to get them into the final. At the same time, some women conspired against the most promising candidates for the Queen title.

Dozens of women, who passed the previous stages of selection, got through to the finals. It was very similar to the "The Bachelor” TV show.

They lived in a big beautiful house, all dressed in beautiful dresses. When the tsar used to come to his room, future brides came in after him and bowed down to the tsar. The king gave each girls a handkerchief, embroidered with gold or silver thread and pearls.

The tsar watched the candidates, when they all had lunch together at the same table as well as in private conversation, to make the right choice. When the tsar made his choice, he gave his future wife a gold ring. In 1505, Solomonia Saburova became the firt queen, who had passed a similar ‘casting’ of the Tsar Vasily III.

The remaining finalists were taken to wives by boyars or were sent back home, giving them money or expensive gifts, but also, depending on the tsar’s mood, they could be exiled to Siberia.

Such parades went out of date in the late XVII century. The Romanovs began to marry with European princesses, and Russia became a part of the political life of Western Europe.


  • November 17, 2016 10:52 AM MSK