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The most famous poisonings in history – what caused them?

Dangerous substances that can be both a poison and a cure

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Ivan the Terrible’s mother and wife fell victim to poisoners too

Russians also actively used poisons to achieve their goals. For example, the poison killed the mother and the second wife of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. According to the etiquette of that time, noblewomen showed up at official events with white faces. This whiteness was a result of whitewashing and other cosmetics that contained mercury, arsenic, and lead. Most medical ointments and medicines then also contained large doses of heavy metals.

arsenic mercury lead powder

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Grand Duchess Elena Glinskaya, the second wife of Basil III and mother of Ivan the Terrible, ruled Moscow on behalf of her husband until her death, which occurred under very suspicious circumstances in 1538. Scientists found much more mercury in the red hair taken from the Grand Duchess’s hat than it was in the hair of noblewomen of that time.

Anastasia Romanova, the grandmother of the first Russian tsar from the Romanov dynasty, married Ivan the Terrible in February 1547, two weeks after his coronation. The circumstances of her death at the age of 26 years suggest that it was hardly due to the natural causes.

Spectral analysis of the queen’s well-preserved light-chestnut hair showed a very high content of mercury salts. It’s more than a thousand times the norm. The analysis of the shroud pieces of the stone sarcophagus also confirmed the high content of mercury salts.

This high mercury content cannot be explained by the use of cosmetics alone. So much mercury in Anastasia Romanova’s hair could not accumulate, even if she smeared whitewash and other cosmetics every hour. Besides, the queen was young. The most probable explanation is that the queen was poisoned.

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