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The Tsaritsa, the Needlewomen and the Witches: Magic in Moscow in the 1630s

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This article focuses on the 1639 case of Dar’ia Lamanova, a needlewoman in the Kremlin sewing-room, who was accused of trying to harm Tsaritsa Evdokiia Luk’ianova by sprinkling the ashes of her burnt shirt-collar in a corridor where the tsaritsa regularly walked. It was suspected that Dar’ia’s actions had brought about the deaths of five-year-old Tsarevich Ivan in January 1639, and of his new-born brother Vasilii in March, but she was found guilty only of attempting to gain the favor of the tsar and tsaritsa. This case is discussed in the context of fears at court in the 16th and 17th centuries that members of the royal household might harm the tsar and his family by magical means. The article also examines evidence, brought to light by the investigation into Dar’ia’s case, of love magic and healing magic practised by a number of witches in Moscow with whom the Kremlin needlewomen were associated. The accused were found guilty of involvement in these types of “everyday” or “prosaic” magic, but the authorities accepted that there was no plot against the royal family. Thus even a case that had seemed to affect the succession to the throne and the stability of the dynasty was resolved without resort to a witch-hunt on the Western European model.

Affiliations: 1: University of Birmingham,


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