|Intro||Byzantine empress as Maria|
|Birth||January 1, 1278|
|Death||January 1, 1333|
Rita of Armenia (10/11 January 1278 – July 1333) was a Byzantine Empress consort. She was a daughter of King Levon II of Armenia and Queen Keran. She was the wife of Byzantine co-emperor Michael IX Palaiologos, making her a junior empress-consort of the Byzantine Empire. In 1317, she became the only empress upon the death of the senior empress, Irene of Montferrat. She was known as Maria in Constantinople.
Marriage and children
A chronicle attributed to Hetoum II of Armenia is included in the collection known as Recueil des Historiens des Croisades. According to a passage recording her birth, Rita was the twin sister of Princess Theophane of Armenia.
The history of George Pachymeres records that Andronikos II Palaiologos began negotiations with Levon while seeking a potential wife for his son and junior co-ruler Michael IX Palaiologos. Levon offered him Rita, and the marriage took place on 16 January 1294. The bride was sixteen years old and the groom seventeen.
Rita assumed the name Maria while at the Byzantine court. They had four children:
- Andronikos III Palaiologos (25 March 1297 – 15 June 1341).
- Manuel Palaiologos, despotes (died 1319).
- Anna Palaiologina (died 1320), who married Thomas I Komnenos Doukas and then Nicholas Orsini.
- Theodora Palaiologina (died after 1330), who married Theodore Svetoslav of Bulgaria and then Michael Asen III of Bulgaria.
Rita was the junior Empress consort from 1294 to 1317. The senior was Irene of Montferrat, second wife of Andronikos II and stepmother to Michael IX. Since 1303, Andronikos II and Irene held separate courts. The senior emperor resided in Constantinople and the senior Augusta in Thessaloniki. Rita became the only Empress when Irene died in 1317.
She remained so for three years. In 1319, however the death of her second son resulted in tragedy. Prince Andronikos maintained a mistress but suspected her of infidelity. He assigned retainers of his to wait by her house and attack whoever tries to enter. The one who approached was Manuel during night time and the retainers failed to recognize him. The second prince died by order of his older brother.
The affair seriously affected the health of Michael IX who died on 12 October 1320. Both deaths strained the relationship between Andronikos II and Andronikos III. Grandfather and grandson started a civil war that would last until the victory of the younger man in 1328. Meanwhile, the widowed Rita retired to a monastery, where she assumed the name "Xene". She would die there five years following the end of the war.