Irina Godunova

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Irina (also known as Irina the Cat)Feodorovna Godunova
Tsaritsa of All Russia
Tenure 18 March 1584 – 16/17 January (NS), 1598
Spouse Feodor I of Russia
Issue Tsarevna Feodosia Feodorovna
Dynasty Rurik
Father Feodor Ivanovich Godunov
Mother Stepanida Ivanovna
Born 1557
Died 27 October 1603 (aged 45–46)
Novodevichy Monastery
Burial Ascension Convent, Kolomenskoye
Archangel Cathedral, Kremlin (1929)
Religion Eastern Orthodox

Irina Feodorovna Godunova later Alexandra (1557–1603) was the wife of Tsar Feodor I Ivanovich (r. 1584–1598) and the sister of Tsar Boris Godunov (r. 1598–1605).

The precise dates of some of the events in Irina's life are uncertain; most sources indicate that she was picked by Ivan the Terrible to be the wife of the tsarevich Fedor in 1580 or 1581, although some sources say this occurred as early as 1574. At 23 or 24 (assuming the latter dates), she would have been considered old for a bride in Muscovy, where the common age for marriage was in the mid-teens, and it is not certain why she married so relatively late in life. She became Tsaritsa upon the coronation of her husband in 1584.

Throughout her husband's reign (and, indeed, ever since her marriage), she was expected to produce a male heir. Fedor was physically and mentally frail and, were he to die without male issue, it was questionable whether his half-brother, Dmitri, would be considered legitimate, as he was the result of Ivan the Terrible's seventh marriage and the Orthodox Church recognized only up to four marriages as legitimate. Indeed, even with Dmitri as a possible successor, Irina was under pressure to produce an heir and in 1585, she traveled to the Trinity-St. Sergei Monastery north of Moscow in hopes of a miraculous cure for her alleged infertility, but still she did not bear a child—a daughter, Feodosia Fedorovna—until 1592, but the girl did not live long and died in January 1594. The couple's continued infertility led to court intrigue. Thus, in 1585, Metropolitan Dionysius proposed that Fedor divorce Irina, blaming her for being infertile and arguing that, for the good of the state and the dynasty, the Tsar ought to remarry and produce a male heir. The suggestion was seen as an effort on the part of the Shuiskies and other boyar clans to undercut the Godunovs. In response, Boris Godunov had the metropolitan deposed and confined to the Khutyn Monastery just outside Novgorod the Great.

With the death of Dmitry under strange circumstances in Uglich, north of Moscow, on 15 May 1591, Irina was placed under increasing pressure to produce an heir as the Rurikid dynasty that had ruled Rus and Muscovy since the ninth century would be extinct if Fedor died without a son, and a bloody succession struggle might ensue. The couple remained barren for more than a decade, although whether this was due to Fedor's poor health or to infertility on Irina's part was uncertain.

Upon her husband's death on 7 January 1598, it is possible that Irina herself could have taken the throne as the reigning tsaritsa (rather than a mere consort), since the Rurikids in the male line were extinct; that being said, no woman had ever before reigned in her own right in Rus' or Russia. Thus she retired (some historians call it an abdication) to the Novodevichy Monastery (Convent) on the south side of Moscow, where she took monastic vows under the name Aleksandra. In fact, it was at the monastery that Boris Godunov was asked by Patriarch Job of Moscow and the Zemsky Sobor to become tsar.

Irina died on 27 October 1603 (others sources give the date 26 September, still others the year 1604) in the Novodevichy Monastery.

Several embroideries created by Irina are in the collection of the State Russian Museum on Red Square (along with similar work by Sophia Paleologus, the wife of Ivan III, and Anastasia, the first wife of Ivan the Terrible.)


  1. See Giles Fletcher, Of the Rus Commonwealth (Ithaca, 1966) 120-121; Isolde Thyret, "'Blessed is the Tsaritsa's Womb': The Myth of Miraculous Birth and Royal Motherhood in Muscovite Russia," Russian Review 53, No. 4 (Oct. 1994): 494.
  2. Thyret, "'Blessed is the Tsaritsa's Womb'," 495.
  3. A. M. Nikolaieff, "Boris Godunov and the Ouglich Tragedy" Russian Review 9, No. 4 (1950), pp. 275-85.
  4. Thyret, "'Blessed is the Tsaritsa's Womb'," 479-96; Idem, Between God and Tsar. Religious Symbolism and the Royal Women of Muscovite Russia. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001.
Russian royalty
Title last held by
Maria Nagaya
Tsaritsa of Russia
Title next held by
Maria Grigorievna
Name Godunova, Irina
Alternative names
Short description
Date of birth 1557
Place of birth
Date of death 27 October 1603
Place of death Novodevichy Monastery

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