Marina Mniszech, known as Marinka the Witch, was the wife of an impostor and ended up becoming the cause of his downfall and her own brutal end. I guess you should always refrain from marrying pretenders to the throne of Russia.
Marina was born around/in the year 1588 and was the daughter of Jadwiga Tarło and Jerzy Mniszech. They were both from prominent noble families. Marina was given a fairly good education, just as great as she could get. She could read, write, sing, and dance. Marina’s parents and her nine siblings lived a nice life until a Russian impostor popped up. And why is a Russian impostor so important to the life of a Polish princess? Because it just is, as we’ll see.
This random guy whose name we don’t even know, but we’ll call him False Dmitry Ivanovich because that’s who he was pretending to be, fled to Poland from Russia. In Russia at the time, following the reign of Tsar Feodor I (son of Ivan the Terrible and Anastasia Romanovna), there was really no clear heir, since Feodor’s only child was a daughter. Feodor’s older brother, Ivan Ivanovich, had just casually been murdered by their father, and his younger half-brother, Dmitry Ivanovich, the son of Ivan the Terrible and Maria Nagaya, was supposed to have died at the age of nine-ish.
Basically, since the whole Polish-Muscovite War thing was going on, Poland would really have wanted to have a Russian Tsar who would be loyal to them, and many nobles and powerful people in Poland-Lithuania supported this man who began claiming to be Dmitry. Following the death of Feodor I, his brother-in-law Boris Godunov became Tsar of Russia. He may or may not have had Dmitry assassinated just to make sure nobody took the throne from him. But since Dmitry was more closely related to Tsar Feodor than Boris Godunov was, he should’ve become Tsar. But the other thing was that Dmitry’s parents’ marriage was never recognized by the church, so Dmitry technically had no claim to the throne. Whatever one might think of this situation of Dmitry both being the rightful tsar but dead, or not being the rightful tsar and also dead, this False Dmitry was going to screw things up.
False Dmitry was supported by Marina’s brother-in-law, and that’s how Marina met him. Dmitry really liked/maybe fell in love with Marina. She was very beautiful, and Dmitry really wanted to marry her. So, Marina and her family did all they could to make sure that he would marry her, but that he’d also do what they wanted him to in order to marry her. They told Dmitry to promise to convert to Catholicism to marry Marina, and because he really wanted to, he agreed. We don’t know how Marina felt about marrying Dmitry, but she definitely wanted to be Tsaritsa of Russia, and she was the one who agreed to marry him, so we can make an educated guess.
Marina and False Dmitry married in 1605 in Krakow, a wedding that Sigismund III of Poland himself attended, after the mother of the actual Dmitry had recognized him as her son (she was probably just forced to, but okay). Marina was given the cities of Novgorod and Pskov. Marina, Dmitry, and her father then set off for Moscow with a retinue of around 4,000 people. She entered the city and was sorta welcomed. Unlike with Ivan the Terrible’s last four marriages, the church actually recognized Marina and Dmitry’s marriage, so thank goodness for the new royal couple. She was crowned in May of 1606. Marina wore a Polish wedding dress, while Dmitry wore a Polish hussar’s armor.
Dmitry and Marina enjoyed a very short period of happiness and I mean like not even two weeks. Marina’s desire to convert the country to Catholicism may have contributed to the assassination of Dmitry on May 17th, but it was probably also because False Dmitry was forging very close alliances with Poland. That explains why his body was cremated soon after, and Dmitry’s ashes were shot into the general direction of Poland. Marina and her father were imprisoned, and many other members of their Polish retinue were also murdered. Vasili Shuisky took his place as Tsar.
Marina had to reject her title of Tsaritsa to be released, which she did, but now that she was still alive, she remarried with the hope of becoming Tsaritsa again. Her father helped her marry another man pretending to be the actual Dmitry, False Dmitry II, after maybe thinking that he was her first husband, or at least that’s what she claimed. False Dmitry II was murdered in December of 1610, and Marina gave birth to a son named Ivan Dmitryevich the next month.
Now that Marina had two murdered husbands who’d claimed to be Dmitry, and she’d luckily survived them both, she needed a new husband for some protection. She married a man named Ivan Zarutsky because I guess she didn’t want to marry False Dmitry III and deal with that extra stress (that was a good choice for Marina since False Dmitry III would be murdered in 1612). Ivan tried to help promote Marina’s son, Ivan Dmitryevich, as Tsar, but Michael Romanov was chosen because of his connection to Ivan the Terrible’s first wife.
Because there was an actual Tsar now, nobody needed anymore False Dmitries going around and trying to claim the throne, so Marina, Ivan, and her son with False Dmitry II fled to the city Astrakhan in 1613, but the people living there didn’t want to have anyone associated with False Dmitries in their city, much less the wife of two False Dmitries.
Marina and her family fled to the steppes, where they were captured by Cossacks, who handed them over to Tsar Michael. Marina’s son and husband were murdered in 1614. We know that Marina died in prison, but it’s possible that she was strangled. She died the same year as her son and husband at the age of twenty-six.
Marina is known in Russian lore as Marinka the Witch. The legend goes that she said to the Romanov tsar: “In the Ipatiev’s you started, in the Ipatiev’s you will end! You began with the death of a tsarevich, you will end with the death of a tsarevich!” That means that the execution of the last Romanovs, including Tsarevich Alexei, in Ipatiev House, was Marina getting back at the Romanovs for having her own son executed.