Mara, also known as Jelena, was the daughter of despot Lazar and granddaughter of despot Đurađ Branković. Her mother was Helene Palaiologos, daughter of Morea’s despot Thomas Palaiologos. She was born around 1447 as the first child from their marriage. She had two younger sisters, Milica and Jerina. Her father, the despot Lazar, died in January 1458 after only one year of ruling the country. As Lazar did not have a male child, the question of who would inherit the ruling position in the Serbian despotate arose. The combinations included Lazar’s brother, the blind Stefan Branković, the Ottomans, the Hungarians, and the mediation of Hungarian interests, and the Bosnian king Stjepan Tomaš. In the agreement with Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, King Stjepan Tomaš agreed to take over Serbian despotate, with which Lazar’s widow Jelena also agreed. The Bosnian prince Stjepan Tomašević should have gained the legitimacy of his position by marrying Lazar’s daughter Mara. Bosnians and Hungarians agreed on all matters during the assembly in Szeged at the end of 1458, and all that remained was to conduct the wedding in Smederevo. According to the chroniclers, Stjepan was declared a despot even before the wedding itself, on March 21, 1459, while the wedding between Stjepan and Mara took place on April 1, 1459. Mara was only 12 years old at the time of the marriage. Certainly, it was a political marriage in which the Bosnian state was supposed to assume control of the Serbian despotate and therefore provide stronger resistance to the Ottomans, which favored Bosnian and Hungarian interests. There was no significant defense because despot Stjepan, his wife Mara and his entire court headed by his uncle Radivoj Ostojić had to surrender Smederevo to the Ottomans already on June 20, 1459 due to lack of army and weapons. After staying in Smederevo, Stjepan and Mara moved to Bosnia, where they stayed in Jajce.
After the death of King Stjepan Tomaš in July 1461, he was succeeded by his son Stjepan. He was the first and only Bosnian king crowned with a crown sent from Rome. In November 1461, the papal legate performed the coronation in Jajce, and with this act, Mara became the queen of Bosnia. There are no details available about Mara’s life during the next two years, during which she and her husband spent most of their time at the royal residence in Jajce. It was about the time when the Ottoman pressure on Bosnia was getting stronger. In the great Ottoman attack on Bosnia in May and June 1463, King Stjepan and Queen Mara were forced to flee. In the face of a strong Ottoman army, Stjepan headed to the farthest northwestern place in his country, the town of Ključ, where he surrendered to the Ottoman commanders after they promised to spare his life. However, just a few days later, after ordering all Bosnian castellans to peacefully hand over their forts, King Stjepan Tomašević was killed. This ended the existence of the Bosnian kingdom.
The death of her husband and the collapse of the Bosnian state marked the beginning of the wandering period of the last Bosnian queen, Mara, who managed to escape from the Ottoman invaders. Later chronicles provide information about it immediately following the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia. Mauro Orbin states in his chronicle that Mara fled to Dalmatia with a large treasure, where she was captured and robbed by Croatian ban Pavle Sperančić. According to his story, Mara managed to free herself and go to Primorje and from there to Hungary, where her mother lived. In comparison with other sources, this scenario lacks foundation. According to the chronicle of another Ragusan resident, Juni Resti, Mara, together with Katarina, moved to Dalmatia and was captured there by Ban Pavle. After his defeat in the conflict with the Ottomans, Mara moved to Ragusa. And this line of movement of the Bosnian queens can be corrected by diplomatic sources that talk about Katarina’s stay in Vrlica near Šibenik. However, Ragusan sources truly indicate that Katarina and Mara appeared in Ragusa at the same time.
The first information about Mara’s stay in Ragusa comes from the beginning of July 1463, when she was granted permission to reside on one of the Ragusan islands. In October, Mara stayed in the town itself, where she also met her mother-in-law Katarina. In contrast to Katarina, at this point Mara does not demand any income from the Ragusans that was paid to her husband, nor does she inquire about the property that the Bosnian kings possessed in Ragusa. During August, the Ragusans gave Maria small amounts of money to support her, as they used to do with distinguished guests. After leaving Ragusa, Mara settled in the monastery of St. Stjepan near the walls of Split, which was under the sovereignty of the Venetian Republic. However, due to the frequent visits of unknown Bosnian and Hungarian lords, the Venetians decided to propose the queen’s relocation to Šibenik or one of the islands, with the ultimate goal of permanently removing her from their territory. Mara’s departure from Dalmatia certainly happened soon. Although the exact location of her original departure is unknown, Hungary stands out in historiography as one of the possible locations.
After this information, no further information has been available about Queen Mara’s life path for almost a decade. In completely unknown and unclear circumstances, she appeared in 1476 on the territory of the Ottoman Empire when she was in conflict with her aunt Mara, the daughter of the despot Đurađ Branković and the widow of Sultan Murat II, who lived in the Ser region of Ježevo. While it is not known where Mara was staying at this time, according to travelogue writers and chroniclers, she had a conflict with her aunt Mara after which she was imprisoned. Mara appears again in archive documents under the name Jelena in October 1485, when Sultan Bayazit II wrote to the Ragusan authorities about how the Bosnian queen complained to him that the despot Đurađ Branković left certain valuable objects in their town and ordered that they be divided between his sons after his death. In this way, the queen was looking for the part that belonged to her father Lazar. The Sultan ordered the Ragusans to hand over Lazar’s portion of the gold to his emissary, who would bring it to the Porte. In March 1486, the Sultan sent a delegation to Ragusa to discuss the same matter. It was considered that Lazar’s share was 353 liters of gold. The Ragusan authorities sent deputies to the sultan with confirmation from the despot Lazar that he had taken over his part of the property, to which Mara claimed that it was a forged letter. The sultan made a decision according to which the Ragusan authorities were obliged to pay the Bosnian queen 2000 ducats. Yet, based on Ragusan documents from the 1450s, it is possible to determine that Mara’s father actually obtained this money. From the period 1487-1492, data on Mara mention the filing of lawsuits against certain individuals related to the acquisition of material profit. Upon leaving Constantinople in 1498, Queen Mara moved to her uncle Manuel Paleologus’s estate near Corlu in the Thracian region of Sirgencion. Shortly after this information, Mara passed away, probably at the end of the 15th century.
Dubrovniku State Archives, Consilium Rogatorum XVII, 250
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