Theodora Doukaina Vatatzaina (c. 1240 – 4 March 1303) was the Empress consort of Michael VIII Palaiologos.
Theodora was a daughter of Ioannes Doukas Vatatzes (born 1215) and wife Eudokia Angelina. The names of her parents were recorded by George Acropolites.
Her paternal grandparents were sebastokrator Isaakios Doukas Vatatzes (died 1261) and his unnamed wife. Isaakios was an older brother of John III Doukas Vatatzes who reigned in the Empire of Nicaea from 1221 to 1254.
Her maternal grandparents were protostrator John Komnenos Angelos and his unnamed wife. His name indicates him being a member of the Angelos family. However his exact relations to the reigning members of the family are not known.
John III and Isaac were probably sons of domestikos Basil Vatatzes, killed in battle against forces of Ivan Asen I of Bulgaria in 1193. Their mother was an unnamed cousin of the Emperors Isaac II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos.
Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten (1978) by Detlev Schwennicke suggests the wife of Basil to be a daughter of Isaac Angelos, strategos of Cilicia in 1170.
The elder Isaac is given by the same book as a son of Konstantinos Angelos, Admiral of Sicily (c. 1085 – aft. July 1166) and his wife Theodora Komnene. Theodora was the youngest daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and Irene Doukaina.
Acropolites mentions that the father of Theodora died in young manhood. Her mother died in the early 1250s. Leaving Theodora to be raised by her great-uncle John III who was said to have "loved her like a daughter".
In 1253, John III arranged the marriage of Theodora to Michael Palaiologos. Her husband was a great-grandson of Alexios III Angelos and Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamaterina. He was steadily rising in distinction due to a combination of familial connections and personal abilities.
John III died on 3 November 1254. He was succeeded by his only son Theodore II Laskaris. Theodore was a first cousin to John Doukas Vatatzes, father of Theodora. Thus Theodora and Michael remained closely related to the new emperor. However Theodore's administration relied on bureaucrats from the middle classes instead of members of the great aristocratic families.
This caused considerable opposition by the nobility to the emperor and his chief minister, megas domestikos George Mouzalon. Michael became one of the leaders of the aristocratic faction. In 1256, Michael was accused of consprining with representatives of Kaykaus II, Sultan of Rûm. He went into exile or self-exile to the court of Kaykaus in Iconium. Whether Theodora followed her husband to Iconium or remained with her cousin in Nicaea is uncertain.
In 1258, Theodore recalled Michael from exile, giving assurances for his safety and position. Michael was restored to his former position of megas kontostaulos, chief of the Frankish mercenaries. Theodore suffered from epilepsy and died during a seizure on 18 August 1258.
Theodore was succeeded by his only son John IV Laskaris, second cousin of Theodora. His regent and guardian was originally George Mouzalon. Arsenius Autoreianus, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in exile was associate guardian. The regency of Mouzalon proved short-lived and ended with his assassination. Michael replaced him as regent and guardian. Arsenius remained associate guardian in name but took refuge in the monastery of Paschasius and had no contact with his charge. Theodora was married to the de facto ruler of the Empire.
As regent, Michael was self-appointed Megas Doux in late Summer, 1258 and Despotes in November. On 1 January 1259, Michael was proclaimed co-emperor at Nymphaion. He was still supported by members of his old aristocratic faction and also by a new ally, the Republic of Genoa. Theodora was the only empress at the time.
On 25 July 1261, Alexios Strategopoulos captured Constantinople, capital of the Latin Empire. Most troops of the rival Empire were in campaign and would never return to their capital. Latin Emperor Baldwin II of Courtenay escaped in a Venetian galley to Negropont and would remain in exile for the rest of his life.
Michael took advantage of the success of his general. He entered Constantinople on 15 August, 1261 and was soon followed by Theodora and their children. In September, Michael was crowned Emperor, Theodora an Augusta and their eldest surviving son Andronikos a co-emperor.
John IV was left behind in Nicaea. He was deposed and blinded on 25 December 1261, his eleventh birthday. He spent the rest of his life as a monk and died c. 1305.
Theodora remained Empress consort until the death of her husband on 11 December 1282. She survived him by almost twenty-one years. His mistress Diplovatatzina was probably related to Theodora but Pachymeres does not state the exact relation of the two women. "Diplo" is Greek for "double".
Theodora and Michael VIII had seven children:
Manuel Palaiologos (c. 1254–1259)
Andronikos II Palaiologos (1259–1332)
Constantine Palaiologos (1261–1306)
Irene Palaiologina, who married emperor Ivan Asen III of Bulgaria
Anna Palaiologina, who married Demetrios Angelos. Demetrios was a son of Michael II Komnenos Doukas and Theodora Petraliphaina.
Eudokia Palaiologina, who married Emperor John II of Trebizond
Theodora Palaiologina, who married King David VI Narin of Georgia and Imereti