A World of Wonders Revealed

Empress Theodora Porphyrogenita (980-August 31, 1056) was the youngest daughter of Emperor Constantine VII (960-1028) and Empress Helena of Byzantium. She was “born in purple”, referring to babies born while their parents reigned. Her elder sisters were Eudokia, who became a nun, and Zoe (c. 978-1050), who would become regent or co-emperor to five emperors between 1028 and 1050, while Theodora co-reigned with two emperors and ruled alone for a year.

At sixteen, she was her father’s first choice as a bride for the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. But he died before they could be married. After that, Theodora lived in the gynaeceum, the women’s quarters in the inner section of an ancient Greek house.

After her uncle Emperor Basil II (976-1025) died without children, her father became Emperor Constantine VIII. But he did not have any sons and wanted Theodora to marry Romanos Argyros, who would succeed him. Theodora defied him, on the grounds that his wife had become a nun so that Romanos could marry into the imperial family and that they were third cousins. Constantine forced Zoe to marry Romanos in 1028.

After Constantine died, Romanos and Zoe ruled until Romanos died in 1034. Zoe remarried and her husband became Emperor Michael IV until he died in 1041 after which, Zoe ruled alone for a short time. In 1042, Zoe and Theodora became co-empresses for two months, with Zoe as the senior empress and Theodora as the junior. The pair curbed selling public offices and focused on administering justice. Zoe replaced incompetent rules with officials who gained their position through merit. Still jealous that her father had favored Theodora, Zoe tried to force Theodora back to the monastery, but the Senate overruled Zoe and demanded that the sisters rule jointly. This lasted for two months. Zoe married for a third time, to Constantine, who became Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos.

Zoe died in 1050 and Constantine IX in 1055, allowing seventy-year-old Theodora to assert her right to rule. She became sole empress. During her short reign, there were no conspiracies and the empire prospered, without plundering or warfare. But her reign was short. In 1056, she died of an intestinal disorder. As she was childless and the last member of her dynasty, she chose her former military finance minister as her successor and he became Emperor Michael VI Bringas. But after she died, conflicts arose between the noble families who wanted the throne, which lasted until Alexios I Komnenos took the throne in 1081, beginning the Komnenian dynasty.

Though many coins were issued for Zoe’s uncle, father, husbands and some for Theodora, there were only a few for her sole reign in 1041 and her co-reign with Theodora in 1042.

The Honorable Mrs. Mary King Ward (April 27, 1827-August 31, 1869), was an Irish astronomer, microscopist, artist, and entrepreneur. She was born in Ballylin in County Offaly, Ireland, the youngest of four children of Reverend Henry and Hariette Lloyd King. Her maternal aunt Alice was the mother of the famous astronomer William, third Earl of Rosse.

As a child, she became interested in insects and when she received a microscope as a teenager, she studied plants and insects. King was also a talented painted and draughter and her illustrations appeared in scientific publications. She also wrote educational children’s books on how to use a microscope and telescope.

She married the Honorable Henry Ward of Castle Ward in northern Ireland. His elder brother was Lord Bangor. The couple had eight children.

Despite her accomplishments, she is best known for how she died. At 42, she returned to Birr for a memorial service for the 3rd Earl of Rosse. While riding a steam carriage which her cousin Charles Parson had built, she fell from the car when it turned sharply. She died instantly. This is said to be Ireland’s first motorcar accident.

An inquest occurred the following day at Birr Castle, where the jury deemed it an accidental death. Mary Ward is the great-grandmother of English actress Lalla Ward, who played Romana on the BBC’s Dr. Who.

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