Skip to main content

History Professor Published Book, Conducted Research in Russia

Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dr. Russell Martin, Westminster College professor of history, is the author of A Bride for the Tsar: Bride-Shows and Marriage Politics in Early Modern Russia that was published recently by Northern Illinois University Press.

The book is a study of the 16th- and 17th-century custom of picking a bride for the tsar by means of a parade of eligible young women gathered from across Russia.  Prior historians had thought of the custom as the quintessential expression of Russian autocratic, unlimited monarchy: the tsar was so powerful he could marry whomever he wanted, regardless of whether the bride was the daughter of a prince or a peasant.

"My study is based on a mountain of unpublished archival resources that were produced in the royal chancelleries and better reflect what the bride-show was really all about," Martin said.  "I argue that, far from being a showcase of the tsar's boundless power, the bride-show actually shows the opposite: the tsar lived and ruled collaboratively with his leading nobles (boyars), who were the very people who controlled the bride-show and maneuvered the tsar to marry precisely their favored candidate, not his.  This study is really about monarchical power and how it was actually quite limited in Russia, not unlimited, as the usual story goes."

Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies hosted a book launch May 11 for Martin, who gave a presentation on the book and answered questions from faculty at Harvard and other institutions.

Voice of Russia, a Russian news service in New York and Washington, D.C., interviewed Martin about the book.  Click here to listen.

Martin visited St. Petersburg, Russia, April 20-27.  He met with a small group of scholars at the Russian National Library to discuss the book and worked on manuscripts at the library for his next book project.

During the trip, Martin accompanied Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, and her son and heir, Grand Duke George of Russia, to several locations in and around St. Petersburg and served as a translator for non-Russian-speaking guests making public speeches at a number of lunches and banquets.  He had an audience with the grand duchess to discuss Martin's work on the webpage of the Russian Imperial House.

Martin, who has been with Westminster since 1996, earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Martin appeared on A&E Biography in a broadcast on Ivan the Terrible as an expert on the controversial ruler.  He is the co-founder of the Muscovite Biographical Database, a Russian-American computerized register based in Moscow of early modern Russian notables.  The Neville Island, Pa., native is not only fluent in Russian, but also reads Old Church Slavonic/Russian, French, German, Latin, and Polish.

Martin continues to translate from Russian to English the official Webpage of Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, the heiress to the vacant Russian throne.  Translations are available here.  Martin was awarded the Russian Imperial Order of St. Anna, second class, by the grand duchess for his work on behalf of the House of Romanov.

Contact Martin at (724) 946-6254 or email for additional information.

Dr. Russell Martin and Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna