Eudokia Makrembolitissa is one of those individuals in history with a multitude of connections to many other more famous people, but who is often overlooked. Her mother was a sister of Michael Keroularios, one of the more renowned of Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs. She was married to two Byzantine emperors and mother to another. Despite all this, historians say little about her.
Let’s start with her birth year which I’ve seen it listed as 1021. However, she gave birth to two sons by her second husband, the emperor Romanos IV Diogenes, who she married in 1071. As a woman, I can tell you that in the 21st century it is close to impossible for a 50-year old woman to give birth even once, let alone twice. It would have been a miracle of biblical proportions if a 50+ year old woman of the 11th century had accomplished that. I suspect Eudokia was born no earlier than 1031, and possibly later.
According to John Skylitzes’ history, in about the year 1040 Eudokia’s father, John; her uncle Michael Keroularios; and others (possibly including Constantine Monomachos) were party to a conspiracy against the Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian. John was stripped of his wealth and forced into a monastery – a common solution for rebels at the time. Eudokia and her mother would have been close to destitute after this. Fortunately, their years of poverty were relatively brief since by the summer of 1042 Constantine Monomachos was married to Empress Zoe, soon elevating his friend Michael Keroularios to be patriarch.
Eudokia married Constantine Ducas by about 1049, giving birth to her first child, Michael, in 1050. Ducas was a widower and senator, and if my estimate of her birth year is correct, about 25 years older than Eudokia was. Still, they had seven children, six of whom survived to adulthood. Ducas was a supporter of Isaac Comnenus when he seized the throne from Michael VI Stratiotikos in 1057 and he was designated Isaac’s successor in 1059 when ill-health forced Isaac’s abdication.
Emperor Constantine X Ducas ruled for about 8 years and died in the spring of 1067. On his deathbed he forced Eudokia to swear that she would never remarry, which she did swear to. She became regent for her 17-year old son, Michael VII. Young Michael is a bit of a mystery. The age of 17 would not have been too young for a man of that period to take on the adult responsibilities of an emperor. Yet, at no time during his 8 years as ostensible ruler of the empire was it ever suggested that Michael was capable of doing so on his own. Consequently, the responsibility for ruling fell entirely on Eudokia’s shoulders and within a few months she felt the burden had become too heavy. She approached the patriarch to be relieved of her oath to her husband forbidding remarriage and it was granted.
Her choice for a second husband was Romanos Diogenes, who she married on January 1st 1068 (the carved ivory plaque at the top is of Christ blessing Romanos and Eudokia). The histories of the period that I’ve read say she met him for the first time on the day they wed. I am dubious of that. Romanos Diogenes’ first wife was the niece of Isaac Comnenus’ wife, Catherine, and Romanos was a rising young general during the reigns of both Isaac and Constantine Ducas. It seems unlikely to me that two people with such close connections to Isaac I Comnenus would never have met.
Unfortunately, the marriage of Eudokia and Romanos IV Diogenes was too successful. Eudokia gave birth to two sons during the next couple of years, Nikephoros and Leo. I suspect that those boys, more than girls would have been, were a problem for her first husband’s intensely loyal brother, John Ducas. He would have seen Romanos likely favoring his own sons as successors over John’s nephew, the pathetic co-emperor, Michael VII. John took steps to remedy that situation – steps that were disastrous for Eudokia, Romanos, and the empire.
In the summer of 1071 Romanos IV took an army on campaign against the Turks who were encroaching on the empire’s eastern borders. Included in his army was a son of John Ducas, Andronikos, as well as mercenaries such as Roussel de Baliol (see The Missing Story tab). The battle at Manzikert against the Turks near Lake Van on August 26th would have been won by the Byzantines if Andronikos Ducas had heeded Romanos’ instructions to join the battle at a crucial point. Instead, Andronikos told his soldiers that the emperor had been killed and he retreated. The Byzantines were defeated, with Romanos injured and taken captive. This was a defeat from which the empire never fully recovered.
Although the Turks released Romanos after about a week, he soon realized that he was no longer welcome in Constantinople where the Ducas clan had made sure to rouse the populace by blaming the emperor for the defeat. He gathered what supporters he could and tried to overcome the Ducas forces, but was defeated and captured by Andronikos Ducas. John Ducas’ younger son, Constantine., despite a promise not to, had Romanos blinded in June 1072. In the process of blinding, Romanos contracted a terrible infection that killed him in a lingering and painful way in September 1072.
Eudokia was permitted to give her husband a magnificent funeral but afterward was soon tucked away in a monastery herself, with John Ducas now assisting the incompetent Michael VII. The monastery was located at the Hellespont (now the Dardanelles, near Gallipoli), far from the capital of Constantinople where she had lived her life. Although she may have lived many more years, there is no record of her past the year of Romanos’ death.