Women and Sovereignty

By Louise Olga Fradenburg | Go to book overview

ELIZABETH KRISTOFOVICH ZELENSKY


"Sophia the Wisdom of God': The Function of Religious Imagery during the Regency of Sofiia Alekseevna of Muscovy

The image of female sovereignty in early modern European political culture was intrinsically liminal 1---this was its one irreducible given. The female sovereign's inability to achieve a "perfect fit" within the patriarchal paradigm which lay at the heart of absolutist theory resulted in her identification with the intertextual spaces between political categories and definitions. As the individual exception to the rule of male primogeniture, the regnant queen or female regent had to define herself, in terms of political imagery, through multivocal symbols which were capable of bridging the gap between her uniquely personal, and therefore liminal, position and the traditional hierarchic discourse of monarchical legitimacy. One such symbol was Sophia the Wisdom of God. 2

I wish to examine this complex image and the role which it played in the political culture of Muscovy between 1682 and 1689. These were the years when Sofiia Alekseevna, a princess of the Romanov line, ruled as regent for her two younger brothers Peter I and Ivan V. An unmarried woman wielding the highest power in the land was an unprecedented phenomenon in patriarchal Muscovy--as such she could neither be represented nor acknowledged in political discourse. Thus, her first priority, semiotically speaking, was to establish a representational paradigm in which her right to wield political power could be accepted in conjunction with her obvious liminality. This she did through recourse to the image of "Sophia the Wisdom of God"--the root metaphor of her reign.

I perceive a vigorous attempt by Sofiia Alekseevna's government to change the focus of the integrating myth of Muscovy, to superimpose the image of Divine Wisdom over the traditional Christocentric iconography of the monarchy, and through this creative act to tap into a source of emotional sympathy and support for the regent's cause. The tangible evidence for this

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