Mara Branković

Mara Branković (Serbian Cyrillic: Мара Бранковић) or Mara Despina Hatun (c. 1416 – 14 September 1487), also known as Sultana Marija or Amerissa, was the daughter of Serbian monarch George Branković and Eirene Kantakouzene. As the daughter of Despot George, wife of Sultan Murad II and stepmother of Mehmed II, she came to play a significant role in diplomatic negotiations of the Ottoman Empire.

Mara Branković
Mara Branković, Esphigmenou charter (1429).jpg
Illustration from 1429
Bornc. 1416
(modern-day Vushtrri, Kosovo)
Died14 September 1487(1487-09-14) (aged 70–71)
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
(modern-day Istanbul, Turkey)
(m. 1435; died 1451)
FatherĐurađ Branković
MotherEirene Kantakouzene
ReligionOrthodox Christian


Mara and her relations are named in "Dell'Imperadori Constantinopolitani", a manuscript held in the Vatican Library. The document is also known as the "Massarelli manuscript" because it was found in the papers of Angelo Massarelli (1510–1566).[1] Masarelli is better known as the general secretary of the Council of Trent, who recorded the daily occurrences of the council.[2]

The Massarelli manuscript names her as one of two daughters of Đurađ Branković and Eirene Kantakouzene. The other sister is Catherine (Kantakuzina Katarina Branković or Katarina of Celje), who was married to Ulrich II, Count of Celje (1406-1456). "The Byzantine Lady: Ten Portraits 1250–1500" (1994) by D. M. Nicol questioned her maternity, suggesting Đurađ had a prior marriage to a daughter of John IV of Trebizond. However, his theory presented no sources and failed to take into account that John IV was born between 1395 and 1417. He would be unlikely to be a grandparent by the 1410s.[3]

On 11 September 1429, Đurađ made a donation to Esphigmenou Monastery at Mount Athos. The charter for the document names his wife Irene and five children. The Masarelli manuscript also names the same five children of Đurađ and Eirene. Other genealogies mention a sixth child, Todor Branković. He could be a child who died young and is thus not listed with his siblings.[3]

The oldest sibling listed in the Massarelli document is Grgur Branković. The 1429 document mentions him with the title of Despot. According to The Late Medieval Balkans, A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest (1994) by J. V. A. Fine, Grgur was appointed governor of territories of southern Serbia associated with the House of Branković. He was reportedly appointed by Murad II of the Ottoman Empire in 1439. In April 1441, Grgur was accused of plotting against Murad and his governorship terminated. He was imprisoned in Amasya and blinded on 8 May 1441.[4] According to Monumenta Serbica Spectantia Historiam Serbiae, Bosniae, Ragusii (1858) by Franz Miklosich, Grgur and his brothers co-signed a charter by which Đurađ confirmed the privileges of the Republic of Ragusa. The charter was dated 17 September 1445.[5] According to the "Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten" (1978) by Detlev Schwennicke, Grgur retired to a monastery under the monastic name "German".[6] According to Fine, Grgur resurfaced in 1458, claiming the succession of the vacant throne of Serbia for himself or his son.[7] The Massarelli manuscript describes Grgur as unwed. Later genealogies name his wife as "Jelisaveta". Vuk Grgurević, a son of Grgur, was later a titular Serbian despot (1471–1485). He was possibly illegitimate.[3]

Mara is mentioned as the second child in the manuscript. Next are listed Stefan Branković and "Cantacuzina", a sister with the Latinized form of their mother's last name. Later genealogies give her name as Katarina. She married Ulrich II of Celje. The last sibling mentioned is Lazar Branković, the youngest of the five.[3]


According to Fine, Mara was betrothed to Murad II in June 1431. The betrothal was an attempt to prevent an invasion of Serbia from the Ottoman Empire, though periodic Ottoman raids continued. On 4 September 1435, the marriage took place at Edirne. Her dowry included the districts of Dubočica and Toplica.[8] Mara apparently "did not sleep with" her husband.[9]

A letter from Mehmed the Conqueror to his stepmother Mara Despina Hatun (1459)

According to the chronicle of George Sphrantzes, Mara was going back to her parents when Murad II died, dating her return to 1451. Sphrantzes records that the widow rejected a marriage proposal by Constantine XI, Byzantine Emperor.[10] Sphrantzes records that when her parents died (in 1456–1457), Mara joined the court of her stepson Mehmed II. According to Nicol, Mara maintained a presence at court but was also offered her own estate at "Ježevo". Nicol identifies Ježevo with the modern settlement of Dafni [el] near Serres.[11] When Mehmed became sultan, she often provided him with advice.[12] Her court at Ježevo included exiled Serbian nobles.[13]

According to Nicol, Mara was joined at "Ježevo" by her sister "Cantacuzina" in 1469. The two ladies acted as intermediaries between Mehmed and the Republic of Venice during the second Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–1479). In 1471, Branković personally accompanied a Venetian ambassador to the Porte for negotiations with the Sultan.[12]

She retained her influence over the appointment of leaders of the Orthodox Church, and remained influential during the reign of Mehmed's successor[dubious ], Bayezid II. The monks of Rila monastery begged her to have the remains of John of Rila transferred to Rila monastery from Veliko Tarnovo, and thanks to her their wish was fulfilled in 1469. Because of her influence, special privileges were offered to the Greek Orthodox Christians of Jerusalem, later extended to the community of Athos Monastery.[14] After the unsuccessful Battle of Vaslui (Moldavia, 1475), Mara remarked that the battle was the worst defeat for the Ottoman Empire.[15]


Popular cultureEdit

  • In 2005, Turkish artist Can Atilla realized the musical composition Mara Despina.[18]
  • The character of Mara Hatun is fictionalized and portrayed by Tuba Büyüküstün in the Netflix original historical docudrama Rise of Empires: Ottoman (2020).[19][20] She is shown as someone who was brought from Serbia, who married Murad II for political reasons, and who supported Mehmed the Conqueror and influenced him.[19]
  • The coast between Salonica and Kassandra peninsula has been named "Kalamarija" after her – "Mary the Good".[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Tony Hoskins, "Anglocentric medieval genealogy"". Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 4 July 2008.
  2. ^ "The Archives: the past & the present", section "The Council of Trent" Archived 3 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c d Cawley, Charles, Profile of Đurađ and his children, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,[self-published source][better source needed]
  4. ^ J. V. A. Fine, "The Late Medieval Balkans, A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest" (1994), page 531
  5. ^ Franz Miklosich, "Monumenta Serbica Spectantia Historiam Serbiae, Bosniae, Ragusii" (1858), CCCL, page 433
  6. ^ Detlev Schwennicke, "Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten" (1878), vol. 3, page 180
  7. ^ J. V. A. Fine, "The Late Medieval Balkans, A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest" (1994), page 574
  8. ^ Fine, John V. A.; Fine, John Van Antwerp (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. University of Michigan Press. p. 530. ISBN 978-0-472-08260-5.
  9. ^ Burbank, Jane (2010). Empires in world history : power and the politics of difference. Frederick Cooper. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-691-12708-8. OCLC 436358445.
  10. ^ George Sphrantzes, "Chronicle" , Book 3, page 213
  11. ^ Nicol, Donald M. (13 July 1996). The Byzantine Lady: Ten Portraits, 1250-1500. Cambridge University Press. pp. 115, 119. ISBN 978-0-521-57623-9.
  12. ^ a b Nicol, Donald M. (13 July 1996). The Byzantine Lady: Ten Portraits, 1250-1500. Cambridge University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-521-57623-9.
  13. ^ Nicol, Donald M. (13 July 1996). The Byzantine Lady: Ten Portraits, 1250-1500. Cambridge University Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-521-57623-9.
  14. ^ Nicol, Donald M. (13 July 1996). The Byzantine Lady: Ten Portraits, 1250-1500. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-57623-9.
  15. ^ Istoria lui Ştefan cel Mare, p. 133
  16. ^ Brook, Lindsay L. (1989). "The Problematic Ascent of Eirene Kantakouzene Brankovič". Studies in Genealogy and Family History in Tribute to Charles Evans on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday. Salt Lake City, Utah : Association for the Promotion of Scholarship in Genealogy. p. 5.
  17. ^ Williams, Kelsey Jackson (2006). "A Genealogy of the Grand Komnenoi of Trebizond" (PDF). Foundations. 2 (3): 171–189. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 June 2019.
  18. ^ Mara Despina by Can Atilla
  19. ^ a b "Netflix docudrama reveals great defense of Byzantium, the small conquest of Ottoman Empire". Daily Sabah. 8 April 2020.
  20. ^ "Rise of Empires: Ottoman ne zaman başlayacak? Rise of Empires: Ottoman oyuncuları". Hürriyet. 12 December 2019.

Further readingEdit