This paper explores the roles of foreign-born wives in the early acts of assimilating Central Europe into Latin Christendom, c. 1000-1120. Rather than serving as mere political pawns, brides from Western Europe sent to Central European courts often became the focal points for conflicts between the rival identities of the local populace and growing influences from Western Europe. The paper analyses contemporary narrative histories such as Cosmas of Prague’s Chronicon Boemorum and the anonymous Gesta Principum Polonorum and explores themes of cultural reform, ethnic tension, and gender dynamics in order to illustrate one aspect of the process of promoting and spreading a particular Latin Christian communal identity.
The contribution centres on the portraits of two important late Byzantine empresses, Anna of Savoy and Eirene Asenina Kantakouzene, described by contemporary historian and scholar, Nikephoros Gregoras. While their rules overlap, the images of the two ladies differ significantly. Gregoras depicts Eirene, who was born and grew up in the empire, as the true empress acting in agreement with the Byzantine custom, while Eirene’s counterpart and rival, the empress Anna (who was of Italian origin), is presented as the ultimate ‘other’, deliberately breaking Byzantine traditions. Using the examples of the two women, the aim of the paper is to highlight some of the integration issues faced by late medieval foreign women in the areas of politics, family, and culture.