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The Tsar's Happy Occasion shows how the vast, ornate affairs that were royal weddings in early modern Russia were choreographed to broadcast powerful images of monarchy and dynasty. Processions and speeches emphasized dynastic continuity and legitimacy. Fertility rites blended Christian and pre-Christian symbols to assure the birth of heirs. Gift exchanges created and affirmed social solidarity among the elite. The bride performed rituals that integrated herself and her family into the inner circle of the court.
Using an array of archival sources, Russell E. Martin demonstrates how royal weddings reflected and shaped court politics during a time of dramatic cultural and dynastic change. As Martin shows, the rites of passage in these ceremonies were dazzling displays of monarchical power unlike any other ritual at the Muscovite court. And as dynasties came and went and the political culture evolved, so too did wedding rituals. Martin relates how Peter the Great first mocked, then remade wedding rituals to symbolize and empower his efforts to westernize Russia. After Peter, the two branches of the Romanov dynasty used weddings to solidify their claims to the throne.
The Tsar's Happy Occasion offers a sweeping, yet penetrating cultural history of the power of rituals and the rituals of power in early modern Russia.
Russell E. Martin is Professor of History at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. He is author of A Bride for the Tsar. Follow him on Twitter @Russ_E_Martin.
Eve Levin, Professor Emeritus University of Kansas, author of Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700:
Martin expertly decodes the complex ceremonies surrounding Russian royal wedding celebrations. He shows persuasively how the tsars, their kinsmen and kinswomen, and their officials combined traditional and innovative elements to project central messages about dynastic legitimacy, social integration, and monarchical power. Readers will come away with their understanding of Muscovite and early Imperial political culture much enhanced.
Nadieszda Kizenko, University at Albany, author of A Prodigal Saint:
In this major reconceptualization, Martin shows that royal weddings were even more suggestive and symbolic than we suspected. Embodying piety and power, they used ritual to incorporate new blood into the Russian court and to assure the succession—and the success—of the Romanov dynasty.
Nancy S. Kollmann, William H. Bonsall Professor of History, Stanford University, author of Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia, 1500–1725:
In this detailed history of weddings in Moscow's ruling family from ca. 1500 to 1745, Russell Martin argues that these rituals symbolically communicated to the court elite and broader community a vision of the stability, legitimacy and power of the dynasty.
The Tsar's Happy Occasion is superb, and its erudition, argument, and clarity are of a high caliber that transcends our historical moment.
The Tsar's Happy Occasion on "the tsar's happiest occasions" is an excellent contribution to comparative research on wedding practice as well as to the understanding of mechanisms of securing power during the Muscovite and early Petrine eras in Russian history.
Russell E. Martin has produced an impressive study of early modern weddings among Russia's ruling family. He has written a book that is fun to read.
Martin's work offers an intensive and impressive examination of political ritual and the ways in which it supported first the Daniilovichi and then the Romanovs at court in the 16th–early 18th centuries.
Through this in-depth but beautifully written study, we gain a new appreciation of the importance of ceremony and ritual in creating and promoting visions of how the world does and should work at specific points in time.
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