Friday, May 25, 2007


Empress Irene

Athenian wife of Emperor Leo IV (r.775-780) (Kazan). Irene dominated her husband, whom she married when she was aged 17 and poor. Following the death of Leo (780), her 10yo son succeeded as Constantine VI (dc.797) - Irene acted as regent and totally dominated the young Constantine.

She restored image worship, she chose her son's wife and forced him to marry. Irene generally undermined Constantine's authority when he tried to push her aside. Fed up with her son's behaviour towards her, Irene deposed her son (797) - he was seized, flogged and blinded. Irene began her reign as the first Byzantine Empress. Irene did not recognise Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor (800). After the death of his wife Liutgard (800), Charlemagne sought her hand in marriage - but nothing came out of this proposal.

However, the life of an Empress was not all a bed of roses. Revolts against her rule broke out and Irene was deposed by the leading Patricians (802). Irene was then exiled to island of Lesbos, where she supported herself by spinning. Irene died the following year died (803) and her former finance minister succeeded as Emperor Nicephorus I (d.811).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)

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