Thursday 7 May 2020

An English princess in Kiev

On this day on 1107 the Russian Primary Chronicle records the death of the first wife of Vladimir Monomakh (‘He who fights alone’).

The chronicle does not name her, but this was Gytha, the eldest daughter of King Harold II (Godwineson) of England. She may have died whilst on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

In 1068 or 1069  many of King Harold II's family had fled to the court of their kinsman Count Baldwin in Flanders. Two of Harold’s sons, Edmund and Godwine, accompanied by their sister Gytha, travelled on to King Swein II Estrithson, the King of Denmark, Harold II's cousin. Sweyn II was born in England shortly after his uncle King Canute conquered England and she became a Danish colony.

Godwine and Edmund may have asked Sweyn for help in reinstating them in England, but after his failed expedition of 1069 Sweyn was once bitten twice shy.

The Kievan Rus was originally a Viking settlement and links between Kiev and Sweden were close. They were part of the same cultural space, one that Normandy and since 1066 England had left. Gytha’s marriage was arranged by Sweyn to one of the many nephews of the Grand Prince of Kiev. Presumably the couple conversed in Danish. 

She did not live to see her husband Vladimir become Grand Prince of Kiev (1113-1125). 

Vladimir arranged for Gytha’s eldest son Mstislav to succeed him. Mstislav in Western Europe was known as ‘Araldus [Harold] king of the Russians’.

Vladimir and Mstislavare regarded as two of the great rulers of Russia. From the time of Ivan the Terrible, the Tsars were crowned with the supposed ‘crown’ of Vladimir Monomakh. Was Vladimir half English? Yes, but it would be better to describe him as wholly Danish.


  1. Interesting. I knew that the Rus are of Viking descent, but I thought them slavised by 1100 (and the names that you mention seem to confirm this).

    As far as I know, the first time a Byzantine emperor married off a member of his family to a foreign ruler was to another Vladimir of Kiev (the Great), an event that marks the christening of the Rus and their inclusion in the Eastern Orthodox cultural realm. This happened in 987, before the schism of 1054.

    However, the story you mention happened after the schism. So, I'm wondering, how did a Catholic princess marry an Orthodox prince. Either she converted or he was not aware that for the last 100 years his house belonged to another "religion", maybe there was not much awareness of the mutual excommunication of 1054, an event that gained in importance only later, perhaps by the time of the sack of Constantinople during the fourth crusade. I'm wondering which bishop celebrated the marriage, a Kievan, of Byzantine "import", or Danish, appointed by the pope.