Matilda of Canossa, Countess of Tuscany, daughter and heiress of the Marquess Boniface of Tuscany, and Beatrice, daughter of Frederick of Lorraine, b. 1046; d. July 24, 1114. In 1053 her father was murdered. Duke Gottfried of Lorraine, an opponent of the Emperor Henry III, went to Italy and married the widowed Beatrice. But, in 1055, when Henry III entered Italy he took Beatrice and her daughter Matilda prisoners and had them brought to Germany. Thus the young countess was early dragged into the bustle of these troublous times. That, however, did not prevent her receiving an excellent training; she was finely educated, knew Latin, and was very fond of serious books. She was also deeply religious, and even in her youth followed with interest the great ecclesiastical questions which were then prominent. Before his death in 1056 Henry III gave back to Gottfried of Lorraine his wife and stepdaughter. When Matilda grew to womanhood she was married to her stepbrother Gottfried of Lower Lorraine, from whom, however, she separated in 1071. He was murdered in 1076; the marriage was childless, but it cannot be proved that it was never consummated, as many historians asserted. From 1071 Matilda entered upon the government and administration of her extensive possessions in Middle and Upper Italy. These domains were of the greatest importance in the political and ecclesiastical disputes of that time, as the road from Germany by way of Upper Italy to Rome passed through them. On April 22, 1073, Gregory VII (q.v.) became pope, and before long the great battle for the independence of the Church and the reform of ecclesiastical life began. In this contest Matilda was the fearless, courageous, and unswerving ally of Gregory and his successors.
Immediately on his elevation to the papacy Gregory entered into close relations with Matilda and her mother. The letters to Matilda (Beatrice d. 1076) give distinct expression to the pope’s high esteem and sympathy for the princess. He called her and her mother “his sisters and daughters of St. Peter” (Regent., II, ix), and wished to undertake a Crusade with them to free the Christians in the Holy Land (Reg., I, xi). Matilda and her mother were present at the Roman Lenten synods of 1074 and 1075, at which the pope published the important decrees on the reform of ecclesiastical life. Both mother and daughter reported to the pope favorably on the disposition of the German king, Henry IV, and on December 7, 1074, Gregory wrote to him, thanking him for the friendly reception of the papal legate, and for his intention to cooperate in the uprooting of simony and concubinage from among the clergy. However, the quarrel between Gregory and Henry IV soon began. In a letter to Beatrice and Matilda (September 11, 1075) the pope complained of the inconstancy and changeableness of the king, who apparently had no desire to be at peace with him. In the next year (1076) Matilda’s first husband, Gottfried of Lorraine, was murdered at Antwerp. Gregory wrote to Bishop Hermann of Metz, August 25, 1076, that he did not yet know in which state Matilda “the faithful hand-maid of St. Peter” would, under God‘s guidance, remain.
On account of the action of the Synod of Worms against Gregory (1076), the latter was compelled to lay Henry IV under excommunication. As the majority of the princes of the empire now took sides against the king, Henry wished to be reconciled with the pope, and consequently travelled to Italy in the middle of a severe winter, in order to meet the pope there before the latter should leave Italian soil on his journey to Germany. Gregory, who had already arrived in Lombardy when he heard of the king’s journey, betook himself at Matilda’s advice to her mountain stronghold of Canossa for security. The excommunicated king had asked the Countess Matilda, his mother-in-law Adelaide, and Abbot Hugh of Cluny, to intercede with the pope for him. These fulfilled the king’s request, and after long opposition Gregory permitted Henry to appear before him personally at Canossa and atone for his guilt by public penance. After the king’s departure the pope set out for Mantua. For safety Matilda accompanied him with armed men, but hearing a rumor that Archbishop Wilbert of Ravenna, who was unfriendly to Gregory, was preparing an ambush for him, she brought the pope back to Canossa. Here she drew up a first deed of gift, in which she bequeathed her domains and estates from Ceperano to Radicofani to the Roman Church. But as long as she lived she continued to govern and administer them freely and independently. When, soon after, Henry again renewed the contest with Gregory, Matilda constantly supported the pope with soldiers and money. On her security the monastery of Canossa had its treasure melted down, and sent Gregory seven hundred pounds of silver and nine pounds of gold as a contribution to the war against Henry. The latter withdrew from the Romagna to Lombardy in 1082, and laid waste Matilda’s lands in his march through Tuscany. Nevertheless the countess did not desist from her adherence to Gregory. She was confirmed in this by her confessor, Anselm, Bishop of Lucca.
In similar ways she supported the successors of the great pope in the contest for the freedom of the Church. When in 1087, shortly after his coronation, Pope Victor III was driven from Rome by the Antipope Wibert, Matilda advanced to Rome with an army, occupied the Castle of Sant’ Angelo and part of the city, and called Victor back. However, at the threats of the emperor the Romans again deserted Victor, so that he was obliged to flee once more. At the wish of Pope Urban II Matilda married in 1089 the young Duke Welf of Bavaria, in order that the most faithful defender of the papal chair might thus obtain a powerful ally. In 1090 Henry IV returned to Italy to attack Matilda, whom he had already deprived of her estates in Lorraine. He laid waste many of her possessions, conquered Mantua, her principal stronghold, by treachery in 1091, as well as several castles. Although the vassals of the countess hastened to make their peace with the emperor, Matilda again promised fidelity to the cause of the pope, and continued the war, which now took a turn in her favor. Henry’s army was defeated before Canossa. Welf, Duke of Bavaria, and his son of the same name, Matilda’s husband, went over to Henry in 1095, but the countess remained steadfast. When the new German king, Henry V, entered Italy in the autumn of 1110, Matilda did homage to him for the imperial fiefs. On his return he stopped three days with Matilda in Tuscany, showed her every mark of respect, and made her imperial vice-regent of Liguria. In 1112 she reconfirmed the donation of her property to the Roman Church that she had made in 1077 (Mon. Germ. Hist.: Legum, IV, i, 653 sqq.). After her death Henry went to Italy in 1116, and took her lands—not merely the imperial fiefs, but also the freeholds. The Roman Church, though, put forward its legitimate claim to the inheritance. A lengthy dispute now ensued over the possession of the dominions of Matilda, which was settled by a compromise between Innocent II and Lothair III in 1133. The emperor and Duke Henry of Saxony took Matilda’s freeholds as fiefs from the pope at a yearly rent of 100 pounds of silver. The duke took the feudal oath to the pope; after his death Matilda’s possessions were to be restored wholly to the Roman Church. Afterwards there were again disputes about these lands, and in agreements between the popes and emperors of the twelfth century this matter is often mentioned. In 1213 the Emperor Frederick II recognized the right of the Roman Church to the possessions of Matilda.
J. P. KIRSCH