We know nothing of Theophanu’s life prior to her marriage. Her marriage certificate identifies her as the neptis (which can mean either niece or granddaughter) of Emperor John I Tzimiskes.* Theophanu’s marriage to Otto II in 972 represents the culmination of more than a hundred years of effort on the part of the Carolingians and Ottonians to secure a Byzantine marriage. She was crowned and anointed Empress the day after the wedding.**
[The Crowning of Otto II and Theophanu, book cover, 10th century]
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Like any other queen, she had her detractors and her admirers, though her situation was exacerbated by her status as a foreigner.*** Many thought her arrogant and extravagant. She never got along with Adelaide and the two fought frequently. Others, however, considered her cultured and wise. After her death at Nijmegen in 991, the chronicler Thietmar called said that “she possessed moderation, trustworthiness and good manners” and that she “protected with male vigilance the royal power for her son, friendly with all those who were honest, but with terrifying superiority against rebels.”
*He was a former general who had usurped the throne in 969, but at this point the Ottonians would take what they could get. It’s also entirely possible that Theophanu was related to the previous Imperial line on her mother’s side. Like many things in history, it’s hotly contested by scholars.
**Her husband had been crowned co-emperor five years earlier.
***Which also meant that her family was farther away and probably less willing to help her should she end up in trouble.
Stafford, Pauline. Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers: the King's Wife in the Early Middle Ages. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
Theophanu - Epistolae (This link includes the text of nine letters written to her.)
The Princess Theophano - Byzantine Blog
Theophanu - Wikipedia
Otto II - Wikipedia