I have a few questions about the accuracy of the story of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. The story this year is that in 1583 Ivan IV comes from Muscovy to England looking for a bride and he ends up choosing Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting, Mary Hastings.
Did Ivan really come to England? And if so, did he propose to Mary Hastings, to Elizabeth, or to anyone else?
I have found conflicting information on the internet and wondered if anyone could help clarify it.
The details of the story have been either confused or embellished by the Faire promoters ... one reason why Renaissance Faires are so frowned upon by historians. Like Hollywood, they love to change the facts as it suits their need for a more compelling and entertaining story ... and to sell tickets.
It is true that Mary Hastings, daughter of Francis Hastings, 2nd earl of Huntingdon, was sought briefly by the Russian ambassador as a potential bride for Ivan IV ("The Terrible") of Russia. But the suggestion was made by Ivan's ambassador, not by Ivan himself. Ambassadors often suggested matches that had no chance whatsoever of going forward.
Mary Hastings was born in about 1552. She would thus have been 31 years old in the year in question. By sixteenth-century standards, she was much too old to stand as an imperial bride. I am not able to find the precise year in which the ambassador suggested Mary as a bride for Ivan, but it was almost certainly somewhat before 1583.
Ivan himself never visited England, especially not in 1583 (he died in early 1584).
Mary Hastings never married.
It is possible that the Russian ambassador was foolish enough to suggest to Elizabeth's councillors that she consider a match with Ivan. Many ambassadors from many countries made such suggestions regarding Elizabeth. But again, Elizabeth was 50 years old by the year in question, making her a very unlikely bride. If a match was ever considered between Ivan and Elizabeth, it must surely have been well before 1583.
I attend the PA Ren. Faire every year, and though I enjoy it, I was amused about two years ago to "learn" that Mary Boleyn was one of Queen Elizabeth's ladies in waiting ... especially considering Mary was A. long dead by then, and B. actually her aunt!
The details of the Muscovy Company's journey to Russia is fascinating. The efforts started under Edward, continued under Mary and then on through Elizabeth's reign. The drive to establish secure trading markets as protection against a Franco-Spanish alliance that might close some of the Netherlands ports was a very real motivator to explore. Cabot and John Dee were both involved in the early explorations.
There is a very interesting fictional version of the first return from Russia, bringing the first Russian ambassador to England. Dorothy Dunnett's The Ringed Castle. It's actually the 5th book in her Lymond Chronicles series. Normally I would be the first to say that fiction is not to be counted on for historical accuracy HOWEVER these are amazingly accurate and detailed. I highly recommend them for the serious, or seriously committed, fiction reader with a fascination for the mid-Tudor era.
There's another good historical fiction book on the English in Muscovy in the 16th century, Alison MacLeod's "The Muscovite," about the real-life Jerome Horsey, who rose to become Elizabeth's official ambassador to Ivan IV. It's a very gripping and claustrophobic look at the horrors of Ivan's regime, as well as the political and religious snares experienced by English expatriates. The courtship of Lady Mary Hastings is mentioned -- and on the nearly last page, there's what I think is a rather ingenious solution to the mystery of Amy Robsart's death.
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