Monday Mysteries with Marian L Thorpe – Was this the source of Cinderella?

Mysteries, thrillers, crime novels, who-dun-its,
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The Byzantine Bride Show

Marian L Thorpe

Maria, granddaughter of St. Philaretus, ‘was selected to compete for the hand of the emperor Constantine VI (780–97) by a panel of imperial envoys, who visited her village of Amnia on their travels to identify suitable candidates. At a brideshow subsequently held in Constantinople, Maria was chosen to marry Constantine by his mother, the empress Irene (797–802).’[1]

The bride show held for an Emperor, or a man who would become Emperor, is the core story of my sixth book, Empire’s Heir.  Without giving too much away, the plot revolves around Gwenna, the young heir to the leadership of a province of the Eastern Empire, chosen – as Maria was – to compete for the hand of the son of the Empress. There is history between my protagonist’s father and this Empress, and for that reason (among others), Gwenna is her choice of bride for her son Alekos. But there are complications, of course, or there wouldn’t be a story. 

My world is an alternative one, based on Europe after the decline of Rome, but in writing second-world historical fiction, I get to pick and choose what events and practices I want to include. I stumbled across the idea of the bride show when I was researching the Byzantine empresses who served as the models for my Empress Eudekia. At that point in my series, Gwenna had just been conceived – and the series was supposed to be a trilogy. 

But characters and readers had different ideas, and so when it became obvious there were more books to be written, I had a concept around which I could build Empire’s Heir. The chance to be chosen as the Emperor’s bride was a chance to gain power and influence, both for yourself and for your province or city-state – even possibly to become Empress in your own right after the death of your husband. Historically, the Empresses chose brides for their sons to meet political purposes: my Empress is no different. 

The emperor Theophilus chooses his empress A.D. 829.
By Val Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904) New York Public Library
Digital Gallery, Public Domain 

Can you imagine being one of those young women? Assumedly, the powerful people at home – whether fathers or uncles or mothers – wanted this marriage. There would have been competition among the bridal candidates,  or at least their families. 

The merciful man’s granddaughter {Maria of Amnia} suggested to the others, “My sisters, let us make an agreement among ourselves of the kind called sisterhood by adoption that the one of us who becomes empress should take care of the others.” But Gerontianos’ daughter, who was very rich and good-looking, answered, full of conceit, “I know for certain that I am the richest and noblest and best-looking and that the emperor will choose me.” Maria blushed and said no more.

From Nicetas of Amnia, Life of St. Philaretos the Merciful (dated 821/22), from Greek trans . Rydén (1985) [2]

In at least one documented case, the sister of the chosen bride married very well; it is unclear what happened to the others. Did they go home in disgrace? I used this discord among the candidates in Empire’s Heir, but also the allegiances that might develop among the women. Some must have known they had no real chance, but becoming friends with the more likely candidates could have its own benefits later.

The practice appeared to have lasted only a century or two in Byzantium, but it may have left us with an enduring story. Officials who travelled in search of potential brides did so with a measuring stick for height, a portrait against which to judge beauty – and a sandal to ensure the young woman’s feet were not too large. [3] 

Is this the source of the Cinderella tale I wonder? 

[1] Treadgold, Warren, 2004. The Historicity of Imperial Brideshows.  Jahrbuch Der Österreichischen Byzantinistik,(54) pp 39-52.

[2] Rydén, Lennart. 1985. “The bride-shows at the Byzantine court: history or fiction?” Eranos: Acta Philologica Suecana. 83(1-2): 175-191.

[3] Bourboulis, Photeine, “The Bride-Show Custom and the Fairy-Story of Cinderella.” In Cinderella: A Casebook, edited by Alan Dundes, U of Wisconsin P, 1982

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*** ***
Helen’s latest release is a cosy mystery set in 1970s 
north London 

The first in a new series of quick-read,
cosy mysteries set in the 1970s.
A Mirror Murde

Eighteen-year-old library assistant Jan Christopher’s life is to change on a rainy Friday evening in July 1971, when her legal guardian and uncle, DCI Toby Christopher, gives her a lift home after work. Driving the car, is her uncle’s new Detective Constable, Laurie Walker – and it is love at first sight for the young couple.

But romance is soon to take a back seat when a baby boy is taken from his pram,  a naked man is scaring young ladies in nearby Epping Forest, and an elderly lady is found, brutally murdered…

Are the events related? How will they affect the staff and public of the local library where Jan works – and will a blossoming romance survive a police investigation into  murder?


“A delightful read about an unexpected murder in North East London.” Richard Ashen (South Chingford Community Library)

“Lots of nostalgic, well-researched, detail about life in the 1970s, which readers of a certain age will lap up; plus some wonderful, and occasionally hilarious, ‘behind the counter’ scenes of working in a public library, which any previous or present-day library assistant will recognise!” Reader Review


A new edition with new additional scenes – launching 21st June – e-book available for pre-order (paperback to follow soon!)