Formidable Medieval Queens Triumphing Kings And Popes

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Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry Plantagenet and their children in a mural found the chapel of Saint Radegund in Chinon, France. (Chinpat / CC BY-SA)

Formidable Medieval Queens Triumphing Kings And Popes

In January 1077 a king came to the mountain fortress of Canossa in northern Italy to beg forgiveness from a Pope. In September 1141 two rival armies surrounded Winchester in southern England as besiegers became besieged. In January 1194 a ransom was paid to free an English king held captive in Germany. What all these incidents have in common is that, most surprisingly for the Middle Ages, in each case women were major players in the game.

Miniature of Matilda from the frontispiece of Donizo's Vita Mathildis des Donizo, (1115) Vatikanstadt (Public Domain)

Miniature of Matilda from the frontispiece of Donizo's Vita Mathildis des Donizo, (1115) Vatikanstadt (Public Domain)

Matilda of Canossa

Matilda of Canossa also called Matilda of Tuscany, was barely 30 years old when she became involved in the incident that would define her life. Bold, strong-willed, educated and trained to command, she bears little resemblance to the weak and subservient stereotype of medieval women, save, perhaps, for her love of the church. Coming from the line of Counts of Canossa, the death of her father, Boniface, in 1052, quickly followed by that of her brother in 1055, had left her sole heiress to the Margravate of Tuscany and to the many other independent estates Boniface had acquired in northern Italy. The Margravate was held from the Holy Roman Empire, and in the struggle between Pope and Emperor that became known as the Investiture Controversy, the role of Tuscany, and Matilda in particular, would become decisive.


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