The Head of Henrietta

Henrietta Alexander (1574-1598) of the Wallachia region of Romania fled her hometown at the dawn of her 24th birthday to elope with Boris Godunov, the son of Feodor Ivanovich Godunov, the Tsar of Russia. The two became acquainted during the royal family’s tour of Eastern Europe, when Henrietta’s father, a metal smith, repaired a malfunction in the Tsar’s horse carriage. Henrietta and Prince Boris secretly met for a year in Saint Petersburg before they were discovered by Marie Ingelborg, daughter of the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, who was to wed Prince Boris in an arranged marriage by the royal families. To protect the reputation of her future husband, Marie accused Henrietta of being a witch who had cast a spell on the Prince. Witchcraft was considered a crime, and to prove her innocence, Henrietta had to pass three tests set forth by the Tsar. If she failed, she would be hanged.

The first test required that Henrietta survive being chained to a baobab tree in the middle of the Amazon, the thickest forest, for 30 days without food or drink. She survived extremely emaciated but with all her limbs intact.

The second test required that Henrietta complete a trek across the hot Saharan desert without a guide, a journey that would take the average person 17 days on a camel. Henrietta managed to do it in 13 days.

The last test involved capturing an egg from the nest of a Sagerula, a dangerous, dragon-like creature that could only be found in the Swiss Alps of Switzerland. The Tsar was sure this task was impossible and prepared a noose out of fine Siberian horsehair for the public hanging. But again, Henrietta returned without fail, with not one or two, but three Sagerula eggs.

Henrietta and Prince Boris were happy because they were sure she was vindicated and would find some way to be reunited. However, the royal families became even more infuriated and the clever Maria Ingelborg convinced them further that Henrietta was indeed a witch since no human being on earth could pass all three tests. So ironically, Henrietta was hanged. During the public ceremony, the noose decapitated her head, which Prince Boris ordered to be buried at the top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, and therefore the closest to heaven. The head of Henrietta can be found there today.

Shailesh Sapkota