Cleofa Malatesta

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Reconstruction of the dress and shoes of the "Mystras mummy", possibly Cleofe Malatesta's

Cleofa Malatesta da Pesaro (also Cleofe, Cleopa or Cleopha) (floruit 1420 – died 1433) was an Italian noblewoman and the wife of Theodore II Palaiologos, Despot of the Morea, brother of Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor. She was a daughter of Malatesta dei Sonetti, Count of Pesaro, and Isabella Gonzaga.[1] She married Theodore Palaiologos in Mystras on January 21, 1421,[2][3] or sometime in 1422[4] in an arranged marriage that was part of an initiative of her uncle, Pope Martin V, to join Western (Roman Catholic) with Orthodox nobility, who in this way hoped to gain political alliances against the Ottoman Turks.


On the 20th of August 1420, Cleofa left Italy[5] embarking from Fano near Pesaro for Constantinople.[6] She was accompanied by another young bride, Sophia of Montferrat, who was to marry John VIII Palaiologos, Theodore's brother. For the occasion of Cleofa's marriage, a celebratory motet has been preserved written by the famous Renaissance composer Guillaume Dufay, Vasilissa ergo gaude ("So rejoice, Queen", using the Greek title for "queen", βασίλισσα). The text of the motet describes her as young, beautiful and a competent speaker of both Italian and Greek. Yet another piece of music praising Cleofa, the ballata Tra quante regione was composed in the 1420s by Hugo de Lantins to celebrate her marriage to the Byzantine prince.[7]

Cleofa and Theodoros lived in Mystras in the Peloponnese, one of the last strongholds of Byzantine culture. After some difficult years of marriage, she finally gave in to local pressures and allowed it to be believed that she had converted to the Eastern rite.[8] She had one daughter, Helena Palaiologina, who later married King John II of Cyprus.

Cleofa died in 1433. Her death was commemorated with speeches by Bessarion, later to become a cardinal in Italy, and in a eulogy written by the eminent Greek neoplatonic philosopher Gemistus Pletho.

Possible grave[edit]

In the 20th century, remains of the body of a woman clothed in western dress were found in a 15th-century grave in the church of Ag. Sophia of Mystras. It has been speculated that this grave may have been Cleofa's.


  1. ^ Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit, vol. IX, n 21395.
  2. ^ Leofranc Holford-Strevens, "Du Fay the Poet? Problems in the Texts of His Motets", Early Music History, Vol. 16, (1997), p. 102.
  3. ^ Heinrich Besseler, "Neue Dokumente zum Leben und Schaffen Dufays", Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, 9. Jahrg., H. 3./4. (1952), p. 161.
  4. ^ Silvia Ronchey, "Orthodoxy on Sale: The last Byzantine and the lost Crusade", in Proceedings of the 21st International Congress of Byzantine Studies, London, 21–26 August 2006, p. 323.
  5. ^ Review by Jaap van Benthem, Reviewed work: Dufay by David Fallows, in Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, D. 33ste, Afl. 1ste/2de (1983), p. 111.
  6. ^ Alejandro Enrique Planchart, "The Early Career of Guillaume Du Fay", Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), p. 341.
  7. ^ J. Michael Allsen, "Intertextuality and Compositional Process in Two Cantilena Motets by Hugo de Lantins", The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Spring, 1993), p. 176, footnote 6.
  8. ^ A. Falcioni, 2005. Donne di Casa Malatesti. Rimini. Vol. 2: 607-609.


Further reading[edit]

  • Silvia Ronchey. L'enigma di Piero, Rizzoli, 2006.
  • George Leonardos. Cleopa.La Princessa di Mystra, Oceanos Books,reprinted from the edition of 2003, Athens 20017, Greece