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Tsarina Marfa Apraxina, Peter the Great's sister-in-law
One of the young wives of Ivan the Terrible. Painting by Nikolai Nevrev, 19th century

Tsaritsa, tsarina or czarina (Russian: царица,(Bulgarian: царица, Serbian: царица, Tsaritsa, formerly czaritsa) is the title of a female autocratic ruler (monarch) of Bulgaria, Serbia or Russia, or the title of a tsar's wife. The English spelling is derived from the German czarin or zarin, in the same way as the French tsarine/czarine, and the Spanish and Italian czarina/zarina.[1] For tsar's daughters see tsarevna.

"Tsaritsa" was the title of the female supreme ruler in the following states:

  • Bulgaria: in 913–1018, in 1185–1422 and in 1908–1946
  • Serbia: in 1346–1371
  • Russia: officially from about 1547 until 1721, unofficially in 1721–1917 (officially "Empresses").


Since 1721, the official titles of the Russian male and female monarchs were Emperor (Russian: император, imperator) and Empress (Russian: императрица, imperatritsa), respectively, or Empress Consort. Officially the last Russian tsarina was Eudoxia Lopukhina, Peter the Great's first wife. Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse), the wife of Nicholas II of Russia, was the last Russian Empress.

Eudoxia Lopukhina was sent to monastery in 1698 ("divorce"), and died in 1731. In 1712 Peter married in church Catherine I of Russia. The Russian Empire was officially proclaimed in 1721, and Catherine become Empress by marriage. After Peter's death she became ruling Empress by her own right. In following centuries the title "tsarina" was in unofficial informal use – a kind of "pet name" for Empresses – ruling queens[2] and queen-consorts. ("Mother dear-tsaritsa" (матушка-царица) was only Catherine the Great, most popular). For a list of Russian empresses in the 18th and 19th centuries see Empress of Russia.

Tsar Alexis of Russia choosing his bride in 1648. Painting by Grigory Sedov, 19th century

De jure tsaritsas in Russia existed from 1547 until 1721. Among the most famous tsaritsas of this period were six or seven wives of Ivan the Terrible, who were poisoned by his enemies, killed or imprisoned by him in monasteries. However, only the first four of them were "crowned" tsaritsas, as the later marriages were not blessed with the Orthodox Church and considered as cohabitation. Polish noblewoman Marina Mnishek also became tsaritsa of Russia by her marriage to an impostor False Dmitry I and later with the False Dmitri II.

Many wives were chosen by Bride-show (the custom of beauty pageant, borrowed from the Byzantine Empire), when hundreds of poor but handsome noblewomen gathered in Moscow from all the regions of Russia, and the tsar chose the most beautiful. This deprived Russia of the benefits of royal intermarriage with European monarchs, but protected from inbreeding and degeneration, and also from the political influence of foreign princesses (Catholic or Protestant). The only foreign wife of a Russian tsar (except Mnishek) was Maria Temryukovna, a Circassian princess, who converted in Orthodoxy.

Ivan Zabelin's book The Domestic Life of Russian Tsaritsas (1872) in detail describes the subject.


The last Bulgarian tsarina was Giovanna of Italy, the wife of Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria.


The first Serbian tsarina was Helena of Bulgaria, sister of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander and wife of Tsar Stephen Uroš IV Dušan of Serbia. She was the empress consort of Serbia from 1346 until Dušan's sudden death in 1355. The second, and the last, Serbian tsarina was Ana Basarab, from the Wallachian noble house of Basarab. She married Dušan's son, Tsar Stephen Uroš V of Serbia somewhere between 1356 and 1360, and ruled until the Serbian empire's demise in 1371.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "tsarina", Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.), 1989 
  2. ^ Several "tsaritsas" in the 18th century were the rulers of Russia, including empresses Catherine I (reigned 1725–27), Anna (1730–40), Elizabeth (1741–62), and Catherine the Great (1762–96).