Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mary Hastings, Empress of Muscovia

Mary Hastings (1552-84) was the youngest daughter of Francis Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon (1514-61) and his wife Katherine Pole (1511-76). Through her mother Katherine, Mary was of Plantagenet descent; her ancestor being George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV.
In 1581 Mary Hastings was suggested as a bride for Ivan, Tsar of Russia by Dr Robert Jacobi, an English physician living in Russia. Ivan was interested in finding an English bride, and due to Mary's royal blood she was an ideal candidate. 

At this time, Ivan was now married to his seventh wife; his first three wives had died and the next three he had divorced. It appears that if an English royal bride could be found for him, Ivan would then divorce his seventh wife.

In September 1582 Theodor Andrevich Pissemsky was sent as an ambassador to England to negotiate a marriage which he hoped would create an alliance with England against the King of Poland. He was ordered to find out the height, complexion and measurements of Mary Hastings and commission a portrait of her, as Ivan was hoping for a bride with a stately or regal appearance. Also, if Mary did agree to marry Ivan, she and her ladies in waiting would all have to convert to the Orthodox religion.
In typical Queen Elizabeth fashion, she delayed making a commitment with the ambassador; she told the ambassador that Mary had recently suffered from smallpox and therefore a meeting and a portrait would not be possible. It was not until eight months later in May 1583 that the ambassador finally met Mary Hastings.

The meeting was recorded by the ambassador himself as well as a later remembrance by Sir Jerome Horsey in his memoirs. Pissemsky and Mary met in the Lord Chancellor's garden, however he did not speak to Mary directly but through an interpreter, Dr Roberts. Mary was part of a group of ladies walking in the garden including Katherine Hastings (nee Dudley) and Elizabeth Fortescue, and she was pointed out as the lady at the head of the group to the ambassador. Mary and the other ladies continued their walk circling the garden, and they passed the ambassador several times so that he was able to get a good look at her. Horsey wrote that the ambassador threw himself at Mary's feet and declared she had the face of an angel, which sounds unlikely to have actually happened. 

Pissemsky reported back to Tsar Ivan that Mary "is tall, slight, and white-skinned; she has blue eyes, fair hair, a straight nose, and her fingers are long and taper." A portrait of Mary was commissioned shortly after and was taken by Pissemsky back to Russia in June 1583. A new English ambassador to Russia also travelled to Russia on this journey, Sir Jerome Bowes, who had been instructed to dissuade the Tsar from marriage with Mary Hastings due to her poor health, reluctance to leave her family and friends in England and her scarred complexion due to her suffering with smallpox.
Ivan was not to be dissuaded, and so until his death in March 1584 Mary was known as the "Empress of Muscovia".

It would seem that there was no real likelihood of Mary marrying Ivan; it is unlikely that Queen Elizabeth would have agreed to the marriage and also it seems Mary herself was unwilling to marry him.
Mary Hastings never married and died around the year 1589.

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