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You probably know the story about the king who issues a call for the most beautiful girls in the land to be presented to him as potential brides in a kind of "bride-show." And you might think this is just a myth. But actually it's not. As Russell Martin shows in his wonderful A Bride for the Tsar: Bride-Shows and Marriage in Early Modern Russia (Northern Illinois University Press, 2012), early modern Russians actually held bride-shows when selecting a mate for the tsar. They brought potential brides to Moscow, had their health checked (fertility was an obvious concern), and investigated their backgrounds. Yet, as Russ points out, the Muscovite bride-shows were as much propaganda as they were mechanisms to select tsarinas. Muscovy was an autocracy comprised of closed castes. Only the tsar could raise subjects out of one caste and into another. The bride-shows were the most visible and valuable example of the tsar's power to arbitrarily change a subject's fortune. In reality the bride-shows were rigged. The tsar and his advisors only considered certain young women from certain castes and belonging to certain families as potential brides. Russ explains exactly why and how the brides were chosen and what the bride-shows tell us about the nature of the early modern Russian political system.
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