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What were the divorces in pre-revolutionary Russia
What were the divorces in pre-revolutionary Russia

It was easier for an ordinary person to escape from marriage than to dissolve it. And the Russian tsars used a whole set of tricks for divorce.

Tsar Ivan the Terrible was extremely unhappy in his marriage. The first three of his wives died, and the third - 15 days after the wedding. But the fourth marriage from the point of view of the Orthodox Church was unacceptable - therefore the tsar had to convene an entire church council in order to receive the blessing for the fourth marriage - with Anna Koltovskaya. At the same time, the council emphasized that the blessing for the fourth marriage is given only to the tsar: "may (no one) dare to do this, to be combined with the fourth marriage", otherwise "it will be cursed according to sacred rules."

This marriage of the king also turned out to be unsuccessful - for what reason, it is unclear, but clearly not because of the infertility of the bride, since the king lost interest in her after only 4, 5 months. But how to part with the married wife? This was a problem even for the king.

There is a marriage - but there is no demarriage

"Down the aisle", Konstantin Makovsky, 1890

The Russian Orthodox Church was reluctant to consent to the divorce of married marriages, for this there had to be a good reason. What exactly was determined by the church law - for example, the Church charter of Yaroslav the Wise (XI-XII centuries). It clearly states that neither a man nor a woman can enter into a new marriage without the dissolution of the first. At the same time, a serious or incurable illness of one of the spouses could not be grounds for divorce.

From the Charter it is clear that the church ordered to preserve any marriages, even unmarried officially. And yet, the grounds for divorce "through the fault of the wife" were also indicated in this Charter. The main ones are attempted murder or robbery of the husband, as well as visiting "games" and other people's houses without a husband, and, of course, adultery.

In the 17th century, writes the historian Natalya Pushkareva, “a husband was considered a traitor if he had a concubine and children from her on his side,” while a wife - even if she just spent the night outside the house. The spouse who learned about his wife's “alienation” was, from the point of view of the church, simply obliged to divorce her.


Society already treated the "let go" (divorced) women as inferior, and they could not count on a second wedding - only on cohabitation with someone. In the 17th century, the saying “There is a marriage, but there is no divorce” came into use, hinting at the true state of affairs in the sphere of marriage.

In general, the church texts admitted the possibility of divorce through the fault of her husband. The reason could be impotence ("if the husband does not climb on his wife, [for this reason] separate them" - XII century) or the husband's inability to support his family and children (for example, due to drunkenness). But documents on divorce on the initiative of a woman due to treason or some other fault of her husband have not survived in pre-Petrine Russia.

Among ordinary people - peasants, poor city dwellers - the issue could be resolved by flight from a spouse. The law formally ordered the runaway "wives" to look for and return to their husbands - however, nothing was said about the runaway husbands. In general, there was a way out. But for noble people, and even more for princes and kings, whose life was supposed to be pious by definition, it was much more difficult to arrange a divorce. Since the XIII-XIV centuries, the practice of tonsuring unwanted wives into nuns became widespread - often by force.

Reluctant nuns

"Solomonia Saburova

Ivan the Terrible himself, in a sense, owed his birth to the divorce of his father, the Grand Duke of Moscow Vasily III Ivanovich (1479-1533). His first wife, Solomoniya Saburova (1490-1542), for 20 years of family life could not give birth to an heir. The absence of children in the family threatened the existence of the Rurik family. Basil even turned to the Patriarch of Constantinople for permission to divorce because of his wife's infertility, but the patriarch did not consider this a compelling motive for "separation."

Basil decided to divorce Solomon, forcing her to take monastic vows, since no offenses that could serve as a reason for divorce were noticed for her. Basil's act caused extreme condemnation from the Russian church hierarchs, but in 1525 Solomonia was nevertheless tonsured as a nun of the Moscow Nativity of the Mother of God Monastery. At the beginning of 1526, Vasily III married a young Lithuanian princess Elena Glinskaya - three years later she gave birth to an heir, Ivan Vasilyevich.

Perhaps the Russians adopted the scheme with divorce through tonsure from the emperors of Byzantium. Thus, the first wife of Constantine VI (771–797 / 805), Mary of Amnias (770–821), after the Patriarch Constantine refused to divorce, was forcibly tonsured into a nun and exiled - after that Constantine married a second time.

Ivan the Terrible also took advantage of this "technique" for a divorce from Anna Koltovskaya - Anna was forcibly tonsured into a nun with the name "Daria" and later lived in the Intercession Monastery in Suzdal. Ivan's next wife, Anna Vasilchikova (d. 1577), was tonsured into the same monastery.

At first, the love was hefty

Portrait of Evdokia Lopukhina

The last king to use tonsure as a tool for divorce was Peter the Great. His first wife, Evdokia Lopukhina, was chosen by his mother, Natalia Naryshkina, to wife Peter without the participation of Peter himself - according to the mother, the son urgently needed to marry, since it became known that the wife of his brother and co-ruler Ivan Alekseevich (1666-1696), Praskovya Fedorovna (1664-1723) is expecting a child. Natalya Kirillovna feared that the primacy in the succession to the throne would pass to Ivan's branch and promptly organized Peter's marriage to Evdokia Lopukhina, the heiress of a numerous military family. In addition, according to Russian tradition, only a married sovereign could be considered an adult and fully reign. Peter and Evdokia were married on January 27, 1689; two months later, Ivan and Praskovya had a child - but not an heir, but a daughter, Princess Maria (1689-1692).

Prince Boris Kurakin, Peter's brother-in-law (he was married to Evdokia's sister, Ksenia Lopukhina) described this marriage as follows: “At first, the love between them, Tsar Peter and his wife, was fair, but it lasted only a year. But then it stopped; besides, Tsarina Natalya Kirillovna hated her daughter-in-law and wished to see her with her husband more in disagreement than in love. " Although in 1690 the couple had a son, Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich (1690-1718), since 1692 Peter left his wife and began to live with the "metress" Anna Mons. After the death of Natalia Kirillovna in 1694, Peter stopped communicating with Evdokia altogether.

Ensemble of the Intercession Monastery (Vladimir region, Suzdal, Pokrovskaya street)

While in London in 1697 during the period of his Grand Embassy, ​​Peter instructed his uncle Lev Naryshkin and boyar Tikhon Streshnev to persuade Evdokia to take a haircut as a nun, but she refused. Arriving in Moscow in 1698, Peter only a week later deigned to see his wife, who again refused to take her hair - three weeks later she was taken to the Intercession Monastery under escort. And yet the tsar, apparently, was ashamed of his act and married for the second time already to Martha Skavronskaya (Catherine I) only in 1712.

Divorces in Imperial Russia

"Before the crown", Firs Zhuravlev, 1874

In Peter's era, the church was subordinated to secular authority - it began to be governed by the Holy Synod, and the patriarchate was abolished. Since the times of Peter the Great, Russian legislation has more clearly defined "worthy" reasons for divorce: proven adultery of one of the spouses, the presence of a premarital illness that makes marital relations impossible (severe sexually transmitted diseases or impotence), deprivation of the rights of the state and exile of one of the spouses and an unknown absence one of the spouses for more than five years.

To “formalize” such a divorce, the applicant had to apply to the consistory (administration) of the diocese in which he lived. The final decision on the dissolution of a marriage - even between peasants - was now made by the Holy Synod.

Statistics, however, clearly show that there were isolated cases of divorce in imperial Russia. In 1880, there were 920 divorces in a country of over 100 million. According to the 1897 census, there were one divorced for every 1000 men, and two divorced for every 1000 women. In 1913, 3,791 divorces were filed for 98.5 million Orthodox Christians throughout the Russian Empire (0.0038%).

It is interesting that illegitimate children were regularly registered - for example, in St. Petersburg in 1867, 22, 3% of children were illegitimate, in 1889 - 27, 6%. But children who had been settled “on the side” could be direct evidence of adultery and grounds for divorce - however, the number of divorces did not grow over time. In the then society, divorce was still very difficult, even for noble people.

In 1859, Princess Sofya Naryshkina decided to divorce her husband for a serious reason - her husband told her that during a trip abroad he contracted a venereal disease and became impotent. The proceedings on this case in the Holy Synod dragged on for 20 years, and in the end, Naryshkina's divorce was never given.

Doctors testified to Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich and found that he had syphilis, which, judging by the finding of ulcers, was obtained "through copulation with a woman," however, according to doctors, it could be cured and sexual function restored. Further, the Synod strikingly considered that adultery could not be proven only from the words of the prince himself, and children had already been born in the marriage, so they decided not to give divorce. Illness, even such, was still considered an "unworthy" excuse for divorce. The husband "was ordered to restrain his wife, even if she was possessed by a demoniac and wore fetters."

So the question of parting with their spouses, the Russian nobles had to somehow decide on their own - most often the spouses just left. However, without divorce, husbands continued to be financially responsible for their wives, supported them and shared property with them.

With the coming to power of the Bolsheviks, the issue of divorce was resolved, like many others, radically. According to the Decree on the dissolution of marriage, a divorce could now be formalized not by church, but by secular bodies - and at the request of even one of the spouses. The conclusion and dissolution of marriages now actually took a few minutes.

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