Chapter 75

The Fate of the Family – Ivan Alexander

Part one – the Children from the First Marriage

What follows is a reminder of the fates of the children of Bulgaria’s last successful king, Ivan Alexander. The details repeated from Part 1 of the story will form a secure foundation for understanding what happened to grandchildren and their descendants.

The reader will remember that from his first wife Theodora of Walachia (daughter of Ivan Bessarab and Margarita Dobocai of Transilvania11) Ivan Alexander had 3 sons and one daughter: Michael Assen, Ivan Strazimir, Ivan Assen and Kera (Lady) Tamara Maria.  Some of their stories have been told in the previous chapters, but I will sum it all up here.

Michael Assen, possibly the first-born (1323-24) child of the couple, was born in Lovetch, married the Byzantine princess Maria Irene Paleologus. (It is possible that she acquired the name Irene as a symbol of the peace she brought.) 7 They married when both were young – he was 15 years old and she was 9.  Their wedding was well described by Byzantine chroniclers and took place possibly in 1338/9.  The time of his death is not very clear, but we assume that he had died by 1355, when his widow returned to Byzantium. 7

 Michael Asen was proclaimed as co-Tzar by Ivan Alexander and is depicted, wearing a similar crown to his father in the British Library Gospel of Ivan Alexander. 1, 9   Claiming the purporogenyc principle of  selection of the next tsar, Ivan Alexander disqualified Michael Asen and his brother Ivan Strazimir, who were both born, when their father was a mere Despot of Lovetch. 1

Michael Asen is often mentioned in Bulgarian folk songs, in which his fight with the Ottoman invaders is lovingly described.  The place of his death is narrowed to the fields of Sofia 2, 11 (more on this in Part Seven) .

Michael Assen and Irina did not have any children during his life-time.   If some internet sources are to be believed, they may have had a son – Alexios Assanes, who in turn had a daughter Irene (given the name of her Grandmother in Bulgarian tradition), who married Paolo di Bernardo – a Patrician of Venice. 13   This could only be possible if this son was born after the death of his father, on his mother’s return home to Constantinople – one of the reasons why Michael Asen was by-passed as an heir apparent was precisely the lack of heirs.

Michael Asen is mentioned in several church lists, aimed to remind priests to offer thanks to God for a number of monarchs of Bulgaria.  He is mentioned in the Boyana Memorial List (Boyan church), the Poganovski one and in the list from Zograph. 25


Ivan Strazimir was the second son of the couple, also born in Lovetch in 1324/5.  He was crowned as a “young Tsar” in 1337. 1    The title “Young Tsar” appears for the first time in the Bulgarian history in connection with the sons of Ivan Alexander and may appear to indicate the heir apparent. 7  

At some point Ivan Strazimir was proclaimed as an heir, due to the fact that he was married and had children, while his older brother Michael did not.  Unfortunately for Ivan Strazimir, as we saw in Part One, divorced his first wife and after a torrid love affair married a Jewish lady, who after converting to Christianity and her marriage, took the name of

After Ivan Alexander’s divorce with Theodora (I), his subsequent marriage to Theodora (II) and the birth of Ivan Shishman – the first son of the second marriage, Ivan Strazimir felt unwanted.  When later his older brother Michael died in 1355, it was Ivan Shishman, who was given the position of heir apparent.   Ivan Strazimir (probably after conflict with his father) proclaimed himself as an independent ruler in his estates in Vidin in 1356.  This is probably the reason why he is absent from the family portraits in the miniatures of the London Gospels of Ivan Alexander. 7, 8

In 1356/7 Ivan Strazimir married Anna Slava Bassaraba 11, the daughter of Nikolae Alexandru Bassarab and his second wife Clara of Doboca 24, 31 and grand-daughter if Ivan Bassarab, who was crowned as a Tsaritza under the name Anna.

In the summer of 1365, the Hungarian king Ludovic (Anju) I attacked Vidin on 30 of May.  The capital fell into his hands on the 2 of June and Ivan Stazimir and his family were taken as captives to the fortress of Humnic (near the village of Bosilevo in Croatia), where the whole family, except his wife Anna, were forced to convert to Catholicism – Anna was already a Catholic. 1, 7   About 1/3 of the population of the town – about 200,000 were forcefully converted to Catholicism too. 7

It took Ivan Alexander four years to organize a coalition, capable of taking Vidin back from the Hungarians.   This included Vladislav Vlayku – grandson of Ivan Bessarab and brother-in-law of Stazimir 12 and Despot Dobrotiza as well as the Byzantine emperor.  The coalition managed by the autumn of 1369 to return Strazimir to power in Vidin.  After the death of Ivan Alexander in 1371, Ivan Shishman inherited the crown of Tirnovo and Strazimir restored some civility in his relations to his younger brother.

But in 1381 – the gloves were off and Ivan Strazimir moved the jurisdiction of the Vidin Orthodox Church from Tirnovo to the Constantinople Patriarchy.  Now his independence from the Tirnovo Kingdom was complete.  Bulgaria was now divided into four parts – the Vidin and Tirnovo “Kingdoms”, Dobrudja, mentioned by Schiltenberger 14 and the lands to the south-east, with a capital Velbuzhd, ruled by Constantine Dragash, who by then had become an Ottoman vassal.

With the advance of the Ottomans in the 1370 – 1380 both Ivan Shishman and by 1388, Ivan Strazimir became Ottoman vassals.  Ivan Strazimir did not take part in any way the fall of the Tirnovo kingdom in 1393 – he did not help his brother.  1, 7

However, in 1395, a diplomatic mission was sent to the Turkish Governor of Tirnovo to discuss something – possibly relating to the death of Ivan Shishman and the recognition of the Vidin Royals as the Tsars of Bulgaria.  According to Joasaph of Vidin, Stratzimir’s son and heir – Constantine was received “in a majestic way, with glory, wealth, as a tsar” by the Ottoman authorities in Tirnovo.  It is possilbe that they may have considered him a more suitable vassal than his father. 29  (More on this issue in the next chapter.)

In 1396 the 60,000 strong crusader armies of Sigismund of Hungary reached Vidin, the 72 year old Ivan Strazimir came out to welcome them and gave them the city and the Ottoman garrison in it.   One version of Ivan Strazimir’s death suggests that he fought in the Battle of Nikopol and was captured along with Jean De Neveres (the Fearless), the son of the Duke of Burgundy.  They were, alongside with other captives, taken to Galipoli and then to Bursa. 7   Ivan Stratzimir‘s army did not participate in the battle of Nikopolis – most likely as this attitude towards Sigizmund and Hungary, following his captivity there, was quite negative. 29

Another version suggests that after Beyazid’s defeat of the crusaders, he went to take Vidin, and was met by Ivan Strazimir at the gates of the city “without fear”, according to the words of the Bulgarian writer Gregorius Tzamblack.  The Sultan found in Vidin the Serbian Despot Stefan Lazarevitch, his mother and brother, as well as Uglesha’s widow. Gregorius Tzamblak points out that they asked the sultan to allow them to take away the remains of St Petka of Tinovo. The state of the Vidin Kingdom was still unclear. 29

The Sultan ordered that Ivan Stratzimir be put in chains and in 1397 he was sent to Bursa. His fate after this remains unknown – by then he was 73 years old. 1 Nothing was heard at the time of his decendant – Constantine – Mr Pavlov supposes that he had left Vidin possibly before Byazid’s arrival there. 29

Ivan Stratzimir may have been married twice, to another lady before Anna Slava, but only his children from his second marriage are known – a son Constantine and two daughters – Dorothea and another girl, whose name is not recorded – the reader may remember the two hostages in the Hungarian court.

It is probably worth remembering that Ivan Strazimir was the only one of the sultan’s vassals, who revolted against the Ottomans and supported the Crusader armies. 

Ivan Strazimir is mentioned in several church lists, aimed to remind priests to offer thanks to God for a number of monarchs of Bulgaria.  He is mentioned in the Boyana Memorial List (Boyan church), the Poganovski one and in the list from Zograph. 25


Tamara was the only daughter from the first marriage of Ivan Alexander.  Known in Bulgaria fondly as Lady (Kera) Tamara, she is remembered by the population of Bulgaria to this day.

Born about 1340-41, she married Despot Constantine, both depicted in the Gospels of Ivan Alexander from the British Library. 29   For some time historians speculated the identity of Duke Constantine, but it is now generally accepted that he is not identical with Constantine Dragash, 15 but was the son of a Bulgarian nobleman, who after his marriage to Tamara received the title of a Despot. Constatine appears to have died before 1370, most likely, fighting the Ottomans. 7

Famous for her beauty, Tamara was given to Murad after the Chernomen battle, sometime between 17 of February and 26 of September, 1371, by her half-brother Ivan Shishman.  It is assumed that by this time she was a widow. 7

  We do not know when exactly Tamara died, some historians claim the date 1377, but there is no actual evidence to support this.  Some Turkish sources 17, as well as Bulgarian folklore 10 attest that Tamara had four children, possibly one or two girls (or two boys and two girls – in folk songs).  In fact in folk songs – if we choose to believe those, it is said that by the time Tamara and Murad were married for nine years, they had four children. 9, 10   There may have been other children, by the time Murad died in 1389.  By the time of Murad’s death, Tamara would have been 49 years old, having been his consort for 18/19 years.  We don’t know how many of their children lived (if any?), considering child mortality rates on the Balkans at the time. There will be more on the topic of Tamara in Bulgarian folklore in Part Seven.

An eye-witness (P. S. Daskalov), who had visited Tamara’s grave in Bursa in 1909, describes how he was shown a church-like building, with covered flooring.  There he was shown two identical graves and was told that one of those belongs to the “Bulgarian Sultana”.  According to her wishes, the sarcophagus of Tamara’s grave was left open and it was regularly seeded with barley. 3

This sounds to me very similar to the description of how Murad wanted to have his grave – eye-witnesses tell us that he was buried in a sarcophagus in his tomb and his grave was open and grass was planted on it.  He also wanted to have rain fall on his grave, so a window had to be left open to accommodate his wishes.4   In a side chapel are the small coffins of four of Murad’s young sons – it is possible, that some of those were children, born by Tamara.

However, after the earthquake in 1854, most of the tombs or mausoleums of the first Sultans were partially or totally destroyed and it was left to Sultan Abdulazis to restore them.  It is probably then that they were shaped in the format they are today.  Tamara and Murad’s other Christian wives, would not have been buried with him, but outside, near his tomb. 16

Unfortunately, Bursa is in the area of the North Anatolian geological fault line, which runs throughout the country and is responsible for many of the earthquakes in the area.  Murad I’s tomb, which had undergone” considerable repairs”  possibly in 1471  and then after the earthquake in 1854, had supposedly kept its original look. 16

On my visit to Bursa in search of Tamara’s grave I was told that the area, where her grave was placed, was destroyed by the earthquake in 1939 and a building, which I photographed, was erected directly behind Murad’s tomb on what was Tamara’s and probably other Christian wives’ graves and burial grounds.

As I have written before, Tamara is mentioned in the Boril Synodic: requesting eternal memory for the woman, who was:  “ a wife of the great Emir, given to him for the Bulgarian peopleAnd when she went there (to him) she kept her Orthodox faith, liberated her clan, lived well in praise of God and died in peace – eternal memory” . 25, 28


Ivan Asen was the youngest son of Ivan Alexander and Theodora of Walachia.  He was born before Ivan Alexander became a King – in Lovetch, possibly between 1328 and 1331. 7

  At the age of 5 or 6 years old Ivan Asen was crowned as a “Young Tsar”, as Ivan Asen IVth.  As we saw in the previous parts, a similar practice of giving young princes provinces to run existed in the Ottoman Empire and was practiced in Byzantium as well. 

Ivan Asen married a Walachian princess – the wedding took place at 1344 or 1345.  The 14 – 15 years old bride was called Helena – she is mentioned under that name in folklore .1, 9, 10

In 1349 tragedy struck again – Ivan Asen IVth, who was fighting the Turks, led by Orhan’s son Suleiman near Sredetz (Sofia) was killed in a dramatic battle.   There is a memorial plaque, dedicated to him in the St 40 Martyrs Church in Turnovo, which gives details of the time of death and how it happened. 1

In a miniature from the Bulgarian translation of the Chronicles of Constantine Manases – one of the most important documents of Bulgarian medieval culture, translated under the order of King Ivan Alexander, we see a depiction the religious service at the burial of the young Ivan Assen IVth in the church of St 40 Martirs. 5, 22  

Ivan Asen is not depicted in the Miniature family portraits in the Gospels of Ivan Alexander – there we find a depiction of one of the subsequent sons with the name Ivan Asen (V) – son of the new Queen Theodora (II).  Ivan Asen IVth was dead by the time the Gospels were created in 1355.

Ivan Asen may have had two daughters, about which there is no historical data currently. 1

It is probably worth mentioning again, that Ivan Asen’s death makes him the first Bulgarian Prince to give his life to protect Bulgaria from the Ottoman invaders.  Legends and folk songs from the time still exist to testify to the impression he left on his contemporaries.  In those he is named as Tsar “Yassen”. 1 More will be revealed in Part Seven.

Ivan Asen is mentioned in The Synodic of Tsar Boril, amongst the other members of the Shishman family, encouraging the Bulgarian nation to give them eternal gratitude and in several church lists, aimed to remind priests to offer thanks to God for a number of monarchs of Bulgaria.  He is mentioned in the Boyana Memorial List (from Boyana church) – as Yasen, and in the List from Zograph as Asen.25

In those lists of Bulgarian kings there is a mention of a certain Vladislav, brother of Ivan Stratzimir – in particular the Boyana Memorial List (Boyan church) and the Poganovski Memorial.  This implies that if Vladislav existed, he would have been a son of Ivan Alexander from his first marriage.  We have no other information of this son, he may have died young.