10: Anna Dalassene, Augusta of Byzantium

 

Last Chance

Anna knew that victory depended on her; she needed to buy her sons time. If not, then her sons, her family, the throne she had spent years working towards – all was lost. She had made her way to the sanctuary of Hagia Sophia, but she did not want sanctuary alone. This was her last, best chance.

Anna drew a ragged breath, as if terribly weary, and fell on her knees before the open doorway. She was a mother protecting her sons, surely the Mother of God would come to her aid. Most blessed Queen. Anna rose. She took another step, and then sank to her knees again. We fly to your protection, O Virgin. Once again she rose, and saw that she stood at the very doors of the sanctuary. She sank to her knees again, but this time she had no plan to rise. She grabbed the door frame with both hands, and took a deep breath.

“Unless you cut off my hands, I will not leave this sanctuary! Defile the holy church and drag me out if you will, but I will not rise from this place until the emperor sends me his cross as promise of my safety, and of my family’s safety!”

The emperor’s messengers stared at her, then each other, baffled. They had not expected any difficulty, not from an old woman, and obviously had no idea what to do now. To drag her out of the holy Hagia Sofia after she had claimed sanctuary was unthinkable, a gross sacrilege. But nor did they want to go back to the emperor with news of their failure.

Straboromanos reached into his robe, and pulled out his own cross.

“Here, kouropalatissa. Please, come with us to the palace. No harm will come to you.”

“I asked for the emperor’s guarantee, not yours. None but the emperor can promise my safety. Go, take him the message. And if he decides to see sense, tell him not to send such a miserable little cross!”

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And the emperor could do no other but send her the cross she required, as he was a kind man who would never dare bring offence so noble and devoted a lady, or defile the great church. And then for her safety and that of her family they were escorted from Byzantium to the monastery of Petrii, where they were kept informed of everything that went on in the capital; the noble lady Anna Dalassene had long since brought the emperor’s own wife over to her faction, with her guarantees for the empress’s son. And through Anna’s wisdom and devotion did her son succeed, and in April of that year the great Alexios Komnenos was proclaimed and crowned Emperor of the Romans.

There were slanderous rumours that Alexios would set aside his young wife Irene, and marry the former empress Maria; evil men whispered that my grandmother, the noblest Anna, even connived to have my mother Irene set aside. But such whispers were soon shown to be only vile speculation, as within a week of my father Alexios being crowned, the patriarch crowned also my mother. However, as his wife was still so young, Alexios could not burden her with the weight of government, and instead had his mother Anna declared Augusta, that she might aid him in the heavy business of government.

This she did, and most excellently, owing to the great devotion she felt for her son, and through the constant prayers to the Mother of God to have mercy on another mother. And so it was that my father and grandmother ruled the empire together for twenty years, he directing the war and she directing the palace, until at last her advanced age caused her to retire.

Anna Comnena, Alexiad

What really happened…

This! Anna Dalessene spent decades working toward the single goal of putting her family on the throne of Byzantium, and she succeeded.

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