Catherine of Bulgaria

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Catherine of Bulgaria (bulgar: Ekaterina) was Empress-consort to Byzantine emperor Isaac I Komnenos. She was daughter of Ivan Vladislav of Bulgaria and his wife Maria, sister of Presian II of Bulgaria and Alusian of Bulgaria. Catherine was also a paternal aunt of Maria of Bulgaria.


Catherine was a daughter of Ivan Vladislav (reigned 1015–18), the last Tsar of Bulgaria.[1] After he became emperor, Isaac raised her to Augusta.[2]

Isaac became Byzantine Emperor in 1057. She served as his consort for two years before Isaac was seized with an illness. He came to believe it was mortal and the matter of his succession was set at the court.

The Chronographia by Michael Psellos describes her role in the abdication of her husband as follows:

"The empress—a most remarkable woman, descended from a very noble family, foremost in works of piety—and her daughter by Isaac, herself a beautiful girl, not only at the time when her hair was cut early in her life but even after tonsuration, her simple robes showing off to advantage the warmth of her complexion and the gold-red of her hair, these two women, and the emperor's brother, and his nephew, formed a circle round his bed, giving him their last messages and shedding tears of farewell. They exhorted him to go at once to the Great Palace, so that there he might make any decisions that were necessary. They were anxious, too, lest the family should fall on evil times at his death: they might lose the fortunate status they then held as the emperor's kinsfolk. So Isaac made ready to leave. During these preparations there came to him, none too soon, the High Priest of Saint Sophia, offering spiritual advice and all kinds of consolation."[3]

"As I said, the emperor agreed with his family that it was desirable for him to move, and here he showed he had lost none of his pristine courage. He left the bedroom leaning on no one's arm. It was typical of the man's independent spirit. Like some towering cypress being violently shaken by gusts of wind, he certainly tottered as he walked forward, but he did walk, although his hands trembled; and he did it unaided. In this condition he mounted his horse, but how he fared on the ride I do not know, for I hurried on by the other road to get there before him. I was successful, but when he arrived I saw that he was extremely agitated and in a state of utter collapse. All the family sat round him lamenting. They would willingly have died with him, had they been able. Leader of the chorus of dirges was the empress; answering her mother's lamentations and weeping in a manner even more lugubrious, was the daughter".[4]

"While they were engaged thus, the emperor, remembering that he was about to pass on to a higher life, expressed a desire to enter the Church. It was his own wish. We had not influenced him at all, but the empress, who did not know that, blamed all of us for the decision rather than him. Then, seeing me there as well as the others, she exclaimed, 'Pray Heaven we benefit from your advice as much as you hope, philosopher! But what a fine way to show your gratitude—planning to convert your emperor to the life of a monk!'"[5]

"I gave her my word of honour, before she could say another word, that I had never entertained such a thought. More than that, I asked the sick man who had advised him to take this course. 'Not you,' he replied, 'but this lady (the very words he used), this lady, true to her womanly instincts, first tries to prevent us from following wiser counsel, and then blames everyone else for a suggestion that I make myself' -- 'Indeed, I do,' said she, 'and take on my own shoulders all the sins you ever committed, and if you do get well again—at least I have what I seek and long for; if not, then I myself will defend you before your Judge and God. I will answer for the sins you have committed. Please God you may be found guiltless, but in any case I would gladly be devoured—yes, even by worms for your sake. The deepest darkness can cover me, the outer fire can burn every bit of me—I would welcome it. And you—have you no pity now for us in our desolation? What sort of feeling have you, to take away yourself from the palace, and leave me behind, condemned to a widowhood full of sorrow, and your daughter, a wretched orphan? Nor will that be the end of our sufferings. More dreadful things will follow. Hands, maybe not even friendly hands, will carry us off to faraway places of exile. They may decide on some worse fate. It may be some pitiless fellow will shed the blood of your dear ones. No doubt you will live on after you enter the Church, or perhaps you will die nobly, but what will be left for us? -- a life worse than death!' [6]

"Yet she failed to convince him with these arguments, and when she had given up all hope of winning him over to her own point of view, she went on, 'At least, then, nominate as emperor the roan who serves you with greatest loyalty and devotion. As long as you live, he will treat you with due honour, and he will be just like a son to me.' At these words the emperor gained fresh strength. The duke Constantine was immediately sent for and joined us.[7]

"He appeared blushing and showing signs of his accustomed modesty, his hands hidden beneath his robe (a habit of his). The emperor, speaking with great deliberations addressed him. 'Of those who stand around me here,' he said, pointing to his family, 'one is my brother, another my nephew, and dearest of all, here is my wife, the empress, and here my daughter, my only child in fact, but my choice falls on you rather than on them. Your qualities have a greater claim on me than the ties of kinship. It is to you that I bequeath the Empire, and, more than that, my beloved family. Nor are they unwilling that this should be so: indeed, they have strongly advised me to take this course. This is no new idea, conceived on the spur of the moment, nor is it my unfortunate illness that has driven me to adopt it. Even at the time when I was elected emperor, I knew you were the better man, more fitted for the offices and since then I have come to the conclusion, after a detailed examination of your claims in comparison with other candidates, that you are without any doubt whatsoever the man most fitted to succeed me as emperor. As for myself, you see that I am finished: my life is nearing its close. From now on, you will assume power, and the government will be in safe hands, for in the past God has judged you worthy. Now the Empire is your inheritance. My wife and my dear daughter I place in your hands as a sacred trust. As for my brother and nephew, I beg you earnestly to care for and cherish them.' [8]

Isaac abdicated the throne on November 22, 1059. He retired to the Stoudios Monastery and spent the remainder of his life, until his death in late 1060 or 1061, as a monk.[1][9] Following her husband's abdication, she appears to have co-reigned for a while with Constantine X, but eventually she too retired to the Myrelaion monastery under the monastic name of Xene.[10]


Catherine had at least two children with Isaac:[11]

  • Manuel Komnenos (ca. 1030 – 1042/57), probably the "son of Komnenos" recorded as having been engaged to the daughter of the protospatharios Helios. He died sometime between 1042 and 1057.[12]
  • Maria Komnene (born ca. 1034), her beauty is remarked upon by Psellos, but she remained unmarried, and retired with her mother to the Myrelaion.[13]


  1. ^ a b ODB, "Isaac I Komnenos" (C. M. Brand, A. Cutler), pp. 1011–1012.
  2. ^ Varzos 1984, p. 44.
  3. ^ Michael Psellos, "Chronographia", Book 7, chapter 79
  4. ^ Michael Psellos, "Chronographia", Book 7, chapter 80
  5. ^ Michael Psellos, "Chronographia", Book 7, chapter 81
  6. ^ Michael Psellos, "Chronographia", Book 7, chapter 82
  7. ^ Michael Psellos, "Chronographia", Book 7, chapter 83
  8. ^ Michael Psellos, "Chronographia", Book 7, chapter 89
  9. ^ Varzos 1984, pp. 42–43.
  10. ^ Varzos 1984, pp. 46–47.
  11. ^ Varzos 1984, p. 47.
  12. ^ Varzos 1984, p. 58.
  13. ^ Varzos 1984, pp. 58–59.


External links[edit]

Catherine of Bulgaria
Born: 11th century Died: after 1059
Royal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Empress consort
Succeeded by
Eudokia Makrembolitissa