Constance Berman

title.none: Gilsdorf, trans., Queenship and Sanctity (Constance Berman)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.027 05.01.27

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constance Berman, University of Iowa,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Gilsdorf, Sean, trans. Queenship and Sanctity: The Lives of Mathilda and the Epitaph of Adelheid. Series: Medieval Texts in Translation. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. Pp. xv, 221. ISBN: $24.95 0-8312-1374-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.27

Gilsdorf, Sean, trans. Queenship and Sanctity: The Lives of Mathilda and the Epitaph of Adelheid. Series: Medieval Texts in Translation. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. Pp. xv, 221. ISBN: $24.95 0-8312-1374-6.

Reviewed by:

Constance Berman
University of Iowa

As the editor points out in his introduction, the history of the tenth century can get lost in our syllabi, falling into the gap between a course on the Early Middle Ages and one on the High or Late Middle Ages; so, too often does the history of the medieval German Kings and Emperors. This is unfortunate, for the rise of the Ottonians is a fascinating drama in which women were major characters. Mothers as regents, exotic foreign brides, questions of maternal inheritance, and powerful abbesses of great women's monasteries were all parts of a story of institution-building and the transition from partible to impartible inheritance among the royal elite of Eastern Francia. In this world mothers' families and women's inheritance could be as important as descent in the male line. Maternal property was used to endow monastic communities for women of the family, and such monastic communities became important resting places for the journeying of still-itinerant Kings. Members of these communities, closely tied to the ruling family, were eager to commemorate its members. This makes for the peculiar sort of sanctity that is found among the women whose lives and deeds are commemorated here--women's sanctity here is that of powerful rulers and strong supporters of monastic communities.

That women were rulers had much to do with the tendency for women to outlive men at the time, but there was also a tendency for second marriages among those who became King or Emperor. This meant that rulership could still be fought over by brother against half-brother or first cousins. Indeed, the eventual emergence of a cadet line descending from her second son Henry seems to be the reason for the composition of a second very late tenth century life of Queen Mathilda. Dower/dowry rights of queens could account for four or five thousand peasant holdings. Widows acting as regents might long outlive their husbands and sometimes even their sons, so that there was often more than one Queen at a time. Women's rights to property and indeed to Imperial rule came to the Ottonians through a second marriage in 953 for both Otto I (936-72) and Adelheid (d. 999), a widow of imperial claimant Lothar I of Italy, she who had been rescued by Otto I from the clutches of the wicked villain, Berengar of Ivrea, King of Italy. Adelheid would outlive both Otto I and Otto II and was instrumental in placing Otto III on the throne in 983 (see below). Given that Otto I had heirs from a first marriage who were set aside for Otto II, and that Otto II would be married to a Byzantine princess, Theophano, who again outlived her husband, it is no surprise that the political intrigues of the period read like a plot summary for Grand Opera.

Despite the complexities of the tenth-century, it is impossible to miss the importance of women to sustaining Royal and Imperial rule as depicted in these translations of the two Lives of Queen Mathilda (d. 968), wife of the German King Henry I (r. 919-36) and the eulogistic Epitaph for her daughter-in-law, the Empress Adelheid (d. 999), wife of Otto I, the latter written by Odilo, abbot of Cluny. In many ways the two Lives of Mathilda are the story of rivalry between her two sons and their descendants. Queen Mathilda of Germany was the wife of King Henry I of Saxony (919-36); she outlived the king by about 32 years, dying only in 968. A first life was probably written between her death and that of her elder son, King Otto I (936-72), but certainly before the death of his son, her grandson, Otto II (973-83). Monastic praise and commemoration by descendants (who might have been those same members of monastic communities, of Mathilda's "sanctity" in monastic patronage and rulership was a reason for the first life.

That for the second life was providing legitimacy to King Henry II (1002-24). The second life came about when direct line of inheritance ended with Otto III (983-1002). Otto III had been brought to power against the claims of the Henricians in 983 by the armed intervention of a coalition of nobles and ecclesiastics led by his mother, Otto II's widow Theophanu (d. 991), his grandmother, Otto I's widow the Empress Adelheid (d. 999), and his aunt Mathilda, abbess of Quedlinberg (d. 999). When Otto III died without children there were no further Ottos to oppose the descendants of Henry and the cadet line took over. Thus, as Gilsdorf suggests, it was probably at this point that a second Life of Queen Mathilda was written (c.1000 AD), a Life which claimed that the line of descent should always have been through the Queen Mathilda's younger son, Henry Duke of Bavaria (d. 955), who while not the eldest was the son "born to the purple" after his father was already become King. That second Life was primarily a propaganda resource for the emergence of Henry II's rule. This is an important teaching resource for Gilsdorf's lucid translation of each of these Lives provides an opportunity for students to understand the difficulties of writing history from inconsistent chronicle accounts, which both purport to give "just the facts."

Queen Mathilda's older son, Otto I (936-72), married the second woman commemorated here, the Empress Adelheid. Her "Epitaph" was written by Odilo, abbot of Cluny. In it female sanctity is associated with support of the Church and particularly of Cluniac monasticism. Queen Adelheid (d. 999) had been previously married to King Lothar of Italy, the imperial claimant; it was through her that Lothar's claims to the empire went to Otto I, along with her vast dower estates in Italy. This life like the second life of Queen Mathilda is believed to have been written just at the turn of the first millennium, circa 1000 AD. The text is less easy reading than the Lives of Queen Mathilda, perhaps because of its classical allusions and "scholarly" conceits. Behind these texts lies the story of truly important female rulers in tenth century Germany and beyond. Their skillful administration of property, their use of the Church in support of Ottonian goals and their longevity and actions in regencies were all essential components in the success of the Ottonian line.

Queen Mathilda died in 968, having been married in 909 to Henry of Saxony who became King of the Germans in 919. She outlived Henry I by 32 years, being Queen or dowager Queen for nearly fifty years, from 919-68 with another ten years of rule with Henry in the duchy of Saxony before that. Mathilda's son Otto I ruled for thirty-six years (936-72) and his mother would be alive for all but the last 4 years of his reign. With the marriage of Otto I to Adelheid in 952, Mathilda's last sixteen years overlapped with those of her daughter-in-law Queen Adelheid, who was crowned empress in 962. The Empress Adelheid had even greater power, having been betrothed in 937 to Lothar and married to him in 947, she was soon widowed and took as second husband Otto I in 952, sealing his claim to the Empire and considerable parts of Italy. Adelheid outlived by 27 years her husband Otto I, and by 16 years her son Otto II, and by eight years, her daughter-in-law, Theophano (d. 991), herself a widow for the last eight years of her life. Circumstances varied, but for 52 years from 947 to 999, Adelheid wielded considerable power--first with her respective husbands, then with her son and daughter-in-law, Theophanu, then in support of her grandson, Otto III. In 983, Adelheid and her daughter-in-law Theophanu, and Otto II's sister, a different Mathilda, but namesake of the first, Mathilda abbess of Quedlinburg (d. 999) would lead a successful coalition in support of Otto III against those of Queen Mathilda's grandson in the cadet line, Henry the Bavarian, whose claims to kingship and emperorship would only bear fruit for his son Henry II (1002-24). Those facts alone make these women central to the history of the tenth century.

The "sanctity" of these two women is of primary importance, but it is an exceptional type of sanctity --not so much recognition for miraculous deeds as a recognition for maintaining justice, mercy, and the support of the Church. Similarly their exercise of Queenship cannot be expected to be well-defined for a period when principles of Kingship or Rulership or its inheritance have not yet fully emerged. Tenth-century Kingship was an ad hoc, itinerant kingship in which grants to bishops, to abbots and abbesses as much as the building of castles or palaces provide the rulers with a circuit of safe havens from which to rule. There was as yet no principle of primogeniture and inheritance seems to be based as much on which mother is most powerful as on anything else. The transmission of power was only part by birth-right; often it had to be upheld by the repression of what the winners call "rebellions," uprisings often led by near kin who could as easily have been the winners as the losers. In this context when men emerged as ruler because they chose the right wife or had the more powerful mother, one cannot describe Queenship as a formal structure dependent on marriage to Kings. Rule is contingent on having married the right candidate, for both husband and wife, whatever historians of a later period may assert, and Gilsdorf's evocation of some of the notions of "Queenship" derived from such studies of a later period is probably irrelevant to tenth century events.

The book is attractively produced, but the reader may help her/himself to an easier understanding of the tables and maps by penciling in some additions and corrections. Table One needs to link Henry I to his parents. Then directly in the middle of the page under ADELHEID, a downward line is needed to include son K Otto II on the tree; he is the fourth child on that line, brother of Henry, Brun, and Mathilda; the same needs to be done for Otto III, directly below, who should be indicated with a line similar to those for his sisters Sophia, Adelheid, and Mathilda. It is also helpful to use a straight line with perpendicular mid-way to connect spouses one and two to Henry I, Oda, Otto I, and Queen Gerberga, etc. on Table One, and in Table Two to do the same for Adelheid, Conrad, Gerberga, Bertha, and Mathilda. In contrast, the table in Appendix II, tracing Mathilda's ancestry alone, with notes to many of its entries, is very helpful. The reader must also note that in attempting to include women as well as men in his genealogical tables (a noteworthy goal), Gilsdorf obscures the two branches of the Ottonian family extending from Henry I and Mathilda through three Ottos in the senior line and then to Henry II in the cadet line. These are key to the events of the tenth century.

Gilsdorf's translations are the strength of this volume. These are wonderfully readable and a welcome addition to materials available on medieval queens and the Ottonians. The introduction engages in arcane scholarly debate about fine points of dating and transmission of the texts, and students may find that it obscures the main events. Despite these flaws, the volume provides a readable text of the two lives of Mathilda and the "praise" of Adelheid which will be a welcome addition for teaching the medieval history and for considering not only the complex issues of women as transmitters and inheritors of property, and rulers in the absence of husbands or minority of sons, but of the construction of the State itself.