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Matilda of Tuscany, countess of Tuscany, duchess of Lorraine

Title social-status: 
countess of Tuscany, duchess of Lorraine
Biography: 

Matilda, countess of Tuscany as the heir of her father Boniface, margrave of Tuscany, was the major imperial feudatory in Italy and the major secular supporter of the reform papacy through a long life, 1046-1115.(1) After Boniface's death, Matilda's mother Beatrice married her cousin, Godfrey, duke of Upper Lorraine, and Matilda married his son, Godfrey. When the elder Godfrey died in 1069, Matilda and her mother assumed the rule of Tuscany together; after the deaths of both her mother and her husband in 1076, Matilda ruled both Tuscany and Lorraine alone. Matilda held the counties of Reggio, Modena, Mantua, Brescia, Verona, and Ferrara, as well as Tuscany and Upper and Lower Lorraine. Some documents recording her judgments begin with the formula: "Dum . . . in civitate x . . . residesset domina Mactilda, ducatrix et marchionissa, ad causas audiendas hac deliberandas," "While lady Matilda, duchess and marchioness, was residing in the city of x to hear and deliberate cases," Die Urkunden und Briefe der Markgräfin Mathilde von Tuszien, ed. Elke Goez and Werner Goez, MGH Laienfürsten und Dynasten Urkunden der Kaiserzeit (Hanover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1998), 12, 1074.
Through her mother and maternal grandmother, Matilda of Swabia, sister of empress Gisela, Matilda was first cousin once-removed of emperor Henry III and second cousin of Henry IV. In her first marriage to Godfrey, Matilda gave birth to one child who did not live; she contracted a purely political marriage in 1089 with Welf/Guelph of Bavaria, then 17, at the insistence of pope Urban II in a move to counter imperial power, but the marriage was, by the groom's report, never consummated. She made a donation to the apostolic see of her entire allodial inheritance in full proprietorship, though reserving the rights of disposal during her lifetime and that of the young emperor Henry V, her chosen heir. That donation was to play a part in imperial-papal conflicts for several centuries. Dante's contemporaries, his earliest commentators, and the chronicler Giovanni Villani still speak of the Matildine lands, and Dante invokes her memory in the Matelda of the Earthly Paradise, according to his early commentators.(2)
Matilda's support of the reform papacy was unwavering. From the time of Alexander II, through Gregory VII, Urban II and Paschal II, she gave financial and military assistance. She was there with her troops and she had a number of striking military successes as well as setbacks, but she consistently opposed the anti-popes of the empire, even when her own position was threatened. She offered refuge and protection to reform clergy like Anselm of Canterbury, Bonizo of Sutri, Gregory VII, as well as to the fleeing wife and rebellious son of the emperor.
Gregory VII relied particularly on the support of Matilda, saying again and again in his letters to them that she and her mother are the only princes he can trust.(3) Their support of his reforms set them against not only the empire, but also the German bishops whose loyalty was to the empire, so it is not surprising that Gregory's relations with them were viewed with hostility by ecclesiastical figures. A letter to him from the German bishops declares their antagonism quite openly; they speak of the very grave scandal to the church of his unnecessarily intimate relations with a foreign woman ("de convictu et cohabitatione aliene mulieris familiariori quam necesse est"), and the "general complaint that is heard everywhere that all judgments, all decrees in the apostolic see are enacted by women, that the whole world of the church is administered by this new senate of women" ("per hunc feminarum novum senatum," MGH BZHIV, 1.20, Jan.1076).
Matilda was indeed involved in papal politics, particularly as concerned the empire. She was a key witness to the agreements reached at Canossa, as Gregory's letter to "all the archbishops, bishops, dukes, counts, and other princes of the Germans" describes it: he says he received assurances from Henry and "the confirmation of them at the hands of the abbot of Cluny [Hugh], our daughters Matilda and the countess Adela [of Turin], and other princes, bishops, and laymen who seemed useful to us for this" (ep.4.12, Jan. 1077). And she kept the pope informed of matters of political interest, like the emperor's agreement with Robert Guiscard to marry their children and have Robert withdraw his support from the pope, ep.9.11. None of Matilda's letters to Gregory are extant though contemporary references are made to them, see below on lost documents.
Because of her vast holdings and her courageous support of the papacy, Matilda was a subject of attention to contemporary chroniclers and poets. Those who were sympathetic to her positions were lavish in their praise: Ekkehard called her the wealthiest, most famous woman of our times and most distinguished in virtues; Hugh of Flavigny said "at this time only countess Matilda was found among women who scorned the power of the king, who opposed his cunning and power even with military conflict, so was deservedly called 'virago,' who surpassed even men by the virtue of her spirit."(4) Bardone in his life of Anselm of Lucca speaks of "the single and only one who remains in the faith, with zeal for God and obedient to pope Gregory, the duke and countess Matilda" (Vita Anselmi Episcopi Lucensis, MGH SS 12, p.16).(5) Orderic Vitalis mentions her briefly but approvingly as an old opponent of the emperor and supporter of legitimate popes, Gregory, Urban, and Pascal (Ecclesiastical History 10.1). Donizo composed a verse life of Matilda in which he speaks not only of her virtues and her military and diplomatic achievements, her winning over some with gifts, others with arms — he was an eye-witness of her second war against the emperor (1090-97) — but also of her intellectual powers, her letters attacking the errors of the king, her knowledge of the German language, and her ability to speak French as well as to dictate in Latin (II, 42-43, 293-97). Matilda was also a patron of letters, who commissioned lives of Anselm of Lucca from Bardone and Rangerio, for whom Anselm of Lucca composed prayers and Donizo her own life, and to whom Anselm of Canterbury sent a newly expanded collection of his prayers.
Die Urkunden und Briefe der Markgräfin Mathilde von Tuszien prints 139 legal documents and letters by or in the name of the countess, as well as 14 spurious letters, and references to 115 lost documents. Since most of the documents are legal acts, grants, confirmations, taking under protection, assuring possessions, transfers and sales, or judgments delivered at public hearings over which she presided, involving laymen and religious including bishops and abbots, most are not included here except for a few examples, though technically they might all be considered public letters. More than half (59%) are in the first person. Most of the spurious documents are gifts, grants, confirmations, special privileges: only one (Die Urkunden 140), a proposal of marriage to her second husband which is cited in a roughly contemporary chronicle, is included; another interesting but much later call to share in the liberating of Italy (Die Urkunden, 142) is not.
The 115 missing documents are all known from contemporary works that relate Matilda's messages, acts, or judgments. Some may have been delivered by word of mouth, directly or through a messenger; others were clearly letters and those are summarized briefly here:
Dep.3 cites the Annales of Ptolemy of Lucca: "In the year of the lord 1065, the countess Matilda wrote him [pope Alexander II] a very personal letter, offering her help against all princes and any people, and asking him for a cleric of honorable life, gracious conversation, and healthy counsel, who could direct her."
Dep.16 from Chronicon S. Huberti Andaginensis describes letters Matilda sent Gregory VII through abbot Dietrich to intercede for the abbot who had been deceived by Godfrey the Hunchback about his father's alms.
Dep.18, letters from Beatrice and Matilda to Gregory VII, mentioned in his letter to emperor Henry IV (ep.2.30), telling him about Henry's friendship and love for him; Gregory tells Henry it was their counsel and the persuasion of his beloved mother (empress Agnes) that led him to write.
Dep.35 cites Gregory's letter to abbot Desiderius of Monte Cassino, asking him to be alert to a threatening situation Matilda had revealed in a letter about Henry's agreement with Robert Guiscard to marry their children and have Robert withdraw his support from the pope, ep.9.11, dated 1081.
In letters to Matilda, or to Beatrice and Matilda, Gregory also mentions their letters to him, see below ep.1.11, 1.40, 1.47, 1.77, 3.5, 6.22; and in 1.85 to empress Agnes, Gregory refers to a letter to her from Matilda.
Dep.44 from the Prologue to John of Mantua's Tractatus in Cantica Canticorum recording that she had asked him to write the commentary.
Dep.45 from John of Mantua's Liber de sancta Maria records her request for an exposition of the writings about Mary in the Gospels.
Dep.48 cites a letter to Matilda from archbishop Hugh of Lyon in the Chronicon of Hugh of Flavigny, saying that he has been compelled to come to Rome and stay there longer than the demands of his office allow by letters from the Roman church and blessed Anselm of revered memory, and legations and letters from her.
Dep.78 among the documents of Paschal II mentions a request from Matilda to confirm the possessions of a monastery.
Dep.92 among the documents of Calixtus II mentions other requests by Matilda for canons and monks.

Biographical notes: 

(1) See Demetrius B. Zema, "The Houses of Tuscany and of Pierleone in the Crisis of Rome in the Eleventh Century," Traditio 2 (1944), 155-75. For a recent collection of studies on different aspects of the politics of Matilda and her family, see Paolo Golinelli, ed., I poteri dei Canossa da Reggio Emilia all'Europa, Atti del convegno internazionale di studi, ottobre 1992 (Bologna: Pàtron, 1994). See also Paolo Golinelli, Matilda e i Canossa nel cuore del medioevo (Milano: Camunia, 1991), 297. For a listing and history of her holdings, see Alfred Overmann, Gräfin Mathilde von Tuscien, Ihre Besitzungen (Frankfurt: Minerva, 1965, pub. 1895).

(2)It is striking that Dante makes a woman the only inhabitant of the earthly paradise, which he posits as the secular goal of mankind on earth in De monarchia, and even more striking that he chooses a woman who was a powerful secular ruler and supporter of the reform papacy, if the early commentators are correct in their identification, as I believe they are.

(3)Gregory speaks warmly of their support even in letters to others. He wrote to Herlembald, knight of Milan and leader of the commune, that he need not fear the bishops who supported his enemy, since Beatrice and Matilda, "altogether favoring the church, labor with certain great nobles to unite our spirit firmly with the king's" (1.26, Oct. 1073).

(4)Ekkehardi Chronicon, MGH SS 6, 249, and Hugh of Flavigny, Chronicon, MGH SS 8, 462, both noted by Zema. L. Simeoni, editor of the Vita Mathildis a Donizone presbitero (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1930-34), cites both Hugh and Bardone's life of St. Anselm, mentioned below.

(5)There are other instances of Matilda being called "duke," as her mother sometimes was, e.g., a document of sale, Dep.34 in Die Urkunden "domine Mathilde ducis et comitisse."