Blessed Catherine of Bosnia (1425 – 25 October 1478) was the Queen consort of Bosnia as the wife of King Stephen Thomas. She was a daughter of Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, Duke of Saint Sava. Born into the House of Kosača and married into the House of Kotromanić, her Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian name is often rendered Katarina Kosača or Kosača-Kotromanić; Bosnian and Serbian in Cyrillic: Катарина Косача Котроманић.
After her husband's death in 1461 she became the queen dowager of Bosnia, but had to flee the Ottoman invasion in 1463. Although she is often called "the last Queen of Bosnia", scholars agree that the last Queen of Bosnia was actually Catherine's stepdaughter-in-law, Mary of Serbia.
She was born c. 1425 in Blagaj, the seat of her mighty father Stjepan Vukčić, most powerful amongst Bosnian nobility, and died on 25 November 1478 exiled in Rome. Her mother was Jelena Balšić, granddaughter of Prince Lazar of Serbia.
Growing up in Blagaj, Katarina was said to have spent her childhood reading poetry, playing the organ, and entertained by buffo performances of actor Mrvac and travelling actors from Florence and Dubrovnik on her father's court. Legend has it that Mrvac was Katarina's first love.
On 26 May 1446, she was given in marriage to the illegitimate son of King Stephen Ostoja of Bosnia, Stephen Thomas, to strengthen the ties between the Bosnian royal house and Bosnia's nobility at the time when Count Herman II of Celje and Zagorje, son of Herman I of Celje and Catherine of Bosnia, Countess of Cilli (who, in turn, was a daughter of Vladislav Kotromanić), was poised to claim the Bosnian throne, and the Ottoman threat to Bosnia was looming.
Stephen Thomas was in a difficult position. His own brother, Radivoj Ostojić, supported by the Ottomans, was also claiming rights to the throne, referring to himself as king of Bosnia, while Bosnian nobility considered his origins and marriage to a commoner, Vojača, unfit for a king. Stephen Thomas sought support from the Pope, and in exchange for recognition of himself as a legitimate ruler of Bosnia and denunciation of the heretic Bosnian Church, he was crowned in 1445. In another political masterstroke, he married Catherine in a Catholic ceremony in May of 1446 ensuring, at least for a short while, the support of the most powerful nobleman in the kingdom and a staunch supporter of the Bosnian Church, Stjepan Kosača.
Having moved to Kraljeva Sutjeska, the seat of Bosnian kings, Catherine gave birth to two children: son Sigismund, in 1449, and daughter Catherine in 1459. During this time, her husband, under pressure from the Catholic Church, embarked on widespread persecution of the followers of the Bosnian Church once again colliding with the Bosnian nobility and people. Some 40,000 followers of the Bosnian Church found refuge in the lands controlled by Catherine's father, who, having received the title of Herzeg from the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in 1448 and with the blessing of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, once again found himself on the collision course with his son-in-law.
Tomaš died on 10 July 1461 and was succeeded by his son, Stephen Tomašević, who recognised Catherine as queen mother. Tomašević's wife, Mary of Serbia, replaced Catherine as Queen of Bosnia. Tomašević's reign was short, as he was beheaded on 5 June 1463.
Life in exile
In 1463, Queen Catherine escaped to Kozograd, and then to Konjic, Ston and Dubrovnik, while her children were taken to Constantinople, and were converted to Islam. It appears that she never heard from them again. Other sources claim it was her half-brother, Ahmed-pasha Hercegović, son from Stjepan Vukčić's marriage to Cecilia and later son-in-law of Bayezid II, who organised for the children to be taken to Istanbul and under whose patronage Catherine's son, now called Ishak-beg Kraloglu (Kraljević), became quite influential. Her daughter Catherine died in Skopje, where Isa-beg Ishaković erected her a tombstone, the Kral Kızı Monument.
The unfortunate Queen Catherine carried with her the symbols of the Bosnian royal house, hoping her kingdom was eventually going to be restored. Having spent some time in Dubrovnik, she travelled back to her parental home in Blagaj, but found her ailing father feuding with her brothers Vlatko and Vladislav. With Herzeg Stjepan, she, once again, left for Dubrovnik. Herzeg Stjepan, however, died in 1466 in Novi (today Herceg Novi), and Katarina accepted the invitation of the Catholic Church to move to Rome. She was a respected among the Slavs in Rome at the time, but without much funds because her father had cut her out of his will.
In Dubrovnik, she is said to have left the sword of her late husband to be delivered to her son if he comes back from captivity. Her younger sister, again by Stjepan Vukčić's marriage to Cecilia, married the ruler of Zeta and Montenegrin epic hero Ivan Crnojević.
The Roman Catholic Church seems to have been the only institution that still recognized Catherine as the 'legitimate queen'. However, her influence through noble connections seems to have been wider, since she is noted to have attended the wedding of Sophia Palaiologina and Russian Duke Ivan III, also known as Ivan the Great, in 1472.
In Rome, she lived in a house near the Church of St Mark, with her 'court' consisting of Radić Klešić, Juraj Ćubranić, Abraham Radić, Pavla Mirković, Jelena Semković and Marija Mišljenović. They served her until her death, on 25 October 1478. An edict was issued in Rome marking her death.
In her will she left all of the (non-existing) kingdom to the Holy See but only should her children 'not return to the Christian faith'.
Catholics from the region (mostly Bosnian Croats) often visit her tomb in the Roman church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Her tombstone features a life-size portrait with the emblems of the houses of Kotromanić and Kosača to each side. The inscription, originally written in Bosnian Cyrillic., but in 1590 replaced with a Latin one, reads:
Catharinae Reginae Bosnensi
Stephani ducis santi sabbae sorori
et genere Helene et domo principis
Stephani natae Thomae regis Bosane
vsori Qvanrum vixit annorum LIIII
et obdormivit Romae anno Domini
MCCCCLXXVIII dei XXV oteobris
monumentum ipsus scriptis positiv.
The memory of Queen Catherine, who was beatified after her death, is still alive in Central Bosnia, where Catholics traditionally mark 25 October with a mass in Bobovac 'at the altar of the homeland'. Some of the artifacts belonging to the Queen and the Kotromanić family were taken in 1871 by Josip Juraj Strossmayer from the Franciscan monastery in Kraljeva Sutjeska to Croatia for safekeeping until 'Bosnia is liberated'. They have never been returned.
Various sources are giving similar reasons for referring to Catherine as the last queen of Bosnia. After the death of her stepson, King Stephen Tomašević, in 1463, Catherine tried to obtain help to restore the Kingdom of Bosnia, where she would be queen. Apparently, Mary of Serbia did not object. Nevertheless, Mary of Serbia was the last Queen of Bosnia.