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Theophano

Dates: 943?-after 969

Occupation: Byzantine empress, consort of Romanus II and Nicephorus II, regent for Basil II and Constantine VIII

Also known as: Theophanu, Theophana

Theophano's first marriage was to the Byzantine Emperor Romanus II, whom she was able to dominate. Theophano, along with a eunuch, Joseph Bringus, essentially ruled in her husband's place.

She was alleged to have poisoned Romanus II in 963, after which she served as regent for her sons Basil II and Constantine VIII. She married Nicephorus II on September 20, 963, barely a month after he became emperor, displacing her sons.  He ruled until 969 when he was assassinated by a conspiracy that included John I Tzimisces, whose mistress she had become.  Polyeuctus, the patriarch of Constantinople, forced him to banish Theophano to a convent and punish the other murderers.

Her daughter Theophano married Otto II, the Western emperor, and her daughter Anna married Vladimir I of Kiev. (Not all sources agree that these were their daughters.)

An example of a highly-charged opinion of Theophano -- a few paragraphs from the lengthy The World of the Middle Ages: A Reorientation of Medieval History by John L. Lamonte, 1949 (pp. 138-140):

The death of Constantine VII was caused in all probability by poison administered to him by his son, Romanus II, at the instigation of his wife Theophano. This Theophano was a notorious courtesan, the daughter of a tavern keeper, who had won the affection of the young Romanus, a dissipated and generally worthless youth, so that he married her and associated her on the throne. With her father-in-law removed and her debauched husband on the throne, Theophano took into her own hands the reins of power, ruling with the advice of the eunuch Joseph Bringas, an old functionary of Constantine's....

Just as Nicephorus reached his great triumph after the capture of Crete, Romanus II died. Whether it was the result of the excesses of dissipation in which he had always indulged, or whether, as was claimed by many, due to poison administered by his wife, Romanus departed this world in 963 leaving Theophano a widow at the age of twenty with two small sons, Basil and Constantine. What could be more natural than that the widowed empress should seek a supporter and helpmate in the gallant soldier? Bringas attempted to assume the custody for the two young princes at the death of their father, but Theophano and the patriarch engaged in an unholy alliance to confer the government on the hero Nicephorus. As a result, Nicephorus was declared protector and regent for the young princes; soon thereafter he was proclaimed emperor by his troops; then six months after the death of Romanus, Nicephorus married Theophano. The marriage, however, antagonized the patriarch; Nicephorus' monastic friends despaired of him; the Church showed her displeasure at this offensive union. Nicephorus, "the fool of love," retaliated by an imperial law which drove all monks from the cities of the empire and confiscated their goods....

In the campaigns of Nicephorus a leading role had been played by a younger cousin of the emperor, John Tzmisces. The two cousins were alike in military ability but unlike in personality and appearance. While Nicephorus was hairy, unkempt, heavy and mystical, John was handsome, urbane and sophisticated. The new general was thrown into intimate contact with the empress; Nicephorus spent much of his time away at the wars. Further, his conscience troubled him and he took to wearing a hair shirt. It must be admitted that Nicephorus showed greater prowess in battle than in the boudoir, and he undoubtedly insulted the empress by his habit of sleeping on a panther-skin on the floor. Before long Theophano began to find solace for her loneliness during her husband's absences in the company of Tzmisces. Nicephorus deprived Tzmisces of his military rank and banished him to the provinces, but Theophano had other plans and, thinking to replace Nicephorus with John in every capacity, plotted the murder of her husband. The empress arranged for John and his men to be admitted into the palace; they found Nicephorus asleep on his panther-skin and fell upon him, stabbing and hacking his face and body ( December 11, 969). Tzmisces had himself immediately proclaimed emperor.

Theophano saw herself now the wife of a new and handsome emperor. But she had been duped; when the patriarch refused to recognize Tzmisces as emperor until he had "driven from the Sacred Palace the adulteress . . . who had been the chief mover in the crime" he cheerfully repudiated Theophano, who was banished to a nunnery (she was then 27 years old). John married Theodora, the daughter of Constantine VII. To further propitiate the clergy, Tzmisces rescinded all the anticlerical legislation of Nicephorus and made great gifts to churches and monasteries.

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