At the time of his first marriage, Henry would have been seen as very unlikely to gain ducal power. Hatheburg was thus a good match, as she brought with her lands in and around Merseburg, providing Henry with sources of wealth and power. Whatever the circumstances of their marriage, it followed the accepted pattern of a high-status, political marriage in the tenth century.
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After they returned to Saxony from the west, Henry and Mathilda traveled around the kingdom, visiting various cities throughout the duchy. Without extensive institutions or bureaucracies to aid in governing, early medieval kings had to make their presence known to reaffirm their rule by constantly traveling to various points in the realm. Mathilda does not appear at all; even the births of two of her children, Otto and Gerberga, known to have occurred in this period, receives no mentioned until later in the texts.
Once Henry became king, he subjected other nations, including the Danes, Slavs, Bohemians, and Bavarians, to his rule.
War was an instrument by which kings proved their ability to lead. Public displays took other forms, as well. Victorious in his campaigns, Henry gave thanks to God by building churches and doing good deeds, as Widukind had done. Much of this image of Mathilda as queen wife was formulaic, culled from other sources to build an idealized picture especially hagiographic in style. If she went away without having been heard, provoked by public opinion, the king silently groaned to himself, because he was upset in not fulfilling her wish.
Intercession on the behalf of others was a common hagiographic theme. But these observations do not rule out the possibility that Mathilda really was active in this way. Mathilda herself was closely connected to the religious aspects of rule; she had no official political role in the realm. A queen was a visible symbol of her family in a society where wealth and power were measured by their visual expression. Displays of wealth could involve wearing fine clothing and jewelry, but also largesse to the less fortunate, the granting of goods and lands, and the building of palaces and church foundations.
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The authors emphasized that Mathilda was, however, not prideful: she went out in public adorned with gems and silk, but inwardly she bore the more precious decoration, a heart agreeable to God. While this council of men indicated the significance of this convent, it also served to deflect criticism. Transferring the highest-ranking noble women to Quedlinburg granted it instant status and promoted immediate allegiance of their parents and relatives to the king and queen.
Founding a royal monastery accomplished far more than just building a house of prayer to God. Aside from true religious sentiments, such activities expanded economic resources and political control.
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Shortly before his death, Henry called another council to determine which of his sons should succeed to the kingship. Having his body transferred to Quedlinburg from Memleben, where he had died, was reminiscent of translating holy relics to a monastery. Directly after his interment, Mathilda established a cult for his memory. When Henry refused the sacral blessing of his kingship in , he also denied it to his wife.
She was thus an unconsecrated queen, facing a daughter-in-law not only of royal birth, but also possibly anointed and crowned. Edith, however, had to live for seven years in the Saxon realm as princess, not queen. The conflict over the change in power roles escalated with the competition of sorts between Mathilda and the new ruling royal couple over their respective monastic foundations. Mathilda founded the convent Quedlinburg in commemoration of her husband Henry in Just a year later, Edith and Otto founded the convent of St. There is less information about the relationship between Mathilda and her second daughter-in-law, but Mathilda was surely aware of the disparity in their background and status, especially after Otto and Adelheid were crowned emperor and empress together in Rome in Mathilda was conscious of her own status as queen, and behaved in ways appropriate to that position.
In this regard, the Widukind anecdote discussed above takes on additional meaning. Widukind not only legitimized the Ottonians by making them equal to Charlemagne and the Carolingians, he legitimized Mathilda herself. Nor did she marry royalty. Thus she herself, as well as other members of the royal family, may have felt vulnerable about her status.
No longer actively ruling as queen, Mathilda had to find new ways to maintain her power within the family, a challenge sharpened by the apparent conflict between her and the new ruling couple. As dowager, Mathilda retained the title of queen. She devoted herself to her monastic foundations and to the commemoration of and prayer for her family members, dead and alive. In choosing these activities, Mathilda assumed a new role, carving out specific duties for herself as dowager queen.
As mentioned above, it gave her a continued role in the kingdom by pursuing individually what she and her husband had done together. As this was an accepted activity for high-ranking noble women, Mathilda could gain support for such endeavors. She chose not to retire to a monastery, as widows often did, but the monastic houses provided her with a place of refuge, if necessary. Endowing monasteries required wealth and land. Ownership of land, in turn, brought additional economic resources and power. That Mathilda owned so much land thus made her a key player in the kingdom.
Mathilda had inherited lands in the western parts of the realm from her father, including Enger. Direct ownership of land provided a means of economic support, as well as political power, and was thus crucial for Ottonian rule. Lands housing religious institutions in particular formed the basis of economic, governmental, and military support for the royal house. In exchange for grants of immunity which released them from local jurisdiction, lay and episcopal communities of institutions supported the king and his entourage physically by providing hospitality and material goods.
This support extended naturally to the spiritual realm as well, as members were obligated to pray on behalf of the royal family. Some scholars have posited that this quarrel concerned her dotal possessions, key cities in the Liudolfing holdings, whose economic, political, and ideological resources Otto wanted to utilize in building up his own kingship. Just as scholars are divided over the cause of the quarrel between Otto and his mother, so also do they differ regarding the date of this quarrel.
Mathilda may have truly felt her second son was unfairly shut out of the kingship, as a number of scholars have suggested, but she may also figuratively represent the older system having to make way for the new. Mathilda also had to create a role for herself in these new political dynamics.
Just as she was the first Ottonian queen and had to decide how to act as such, now she was the first dowager queen, learning how to negotiate with her ruling son and his new wife, with whom disagreement and dissatisfaction was evident. Queen Edith died soon after the reconciliation between Otto and his mother.
Persuaded by the advice of the highest nobles, Otto went to Italy to rescue Adelheid from the clutches of a certain Berengar, who had aimed to take control of the kingdom by marrying Adelheid and thus acquiring her properties. The daughter of one king and wife to another, Adelheid ranked higher than any previous Ottonian spouse. She circulated about the kingdom, much as she had with her husband Henry and her son Otto, distributing candles to various houses of prayer and supplying paupers with food and clothing.
Daily she applied herself to prayer or the psalms, or physical works, as she was always accustomed to do. When Otto returned from Italy in , three years after Mathilda began construction on Nordhausen, the royal family gathered in Cologne. After the death of the memorable king Henry she had constantly worn scarlet-colored clothing, not in public, but under a cloth of linen, and she wore a little gold for ornamentation. She took off all of this and afterwards she went around clothed in funeral garb. People needed physical representations of wealth and power to prove they held it.
Such representations included everything from the building of palaces, churches, or monastic houses and the raising of armies to the creation of art works, from manuscripts to goblets, and the wearing of precious objects such as jewelry, crowns, and rich clothing. Combined with the sacral aura of Germanic kingship, material ostentation provided tangible evidence of rule. This physical representation of royal status was not incompatible with a pious lifestyle, however. It is interesting to note that the elder Mathilda was, as queen, subject to a different set of conventions than those which were suitable or expected of the younger Mathilda, a full nun: while Queen Mathilda traveled around the kingdom, Abbess Mathilda was to stay within the confines of her convent.
In fact, although ill for over a year before she passed away, Mathilda continued to travel as much as she was able. Mathilda died on March 14, , leaving behind a model for her descendants and other Ottonian women in particular. She was laid to rest in the basilica of St. Servatius next to her husband, King Henry. The first and highly visible omission is that of war.
They formulated an image of success and unity, not failure and dissension. One must be careful not to overemphasize this aspect of the queen, as the source of the sentiment is two works hagiographic in intent, meant to glorify and, in some aspects, purify their subject.
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That does not mean some of those patterns were not real, but to reconstruct Mathilda requires looking past the patterns to see where Mathilda was truly visible. While it is beyond the scope of this thesis to examine every reference to Mathilda in the Ottonian period, she appeared in a variety of sources and places. Hrotsvitha, Widukind, Liudprand, and Thietmar all mention Mathilda. Such sources prove Mathilda involved herself heavily in the founding and maintenance of religious houses and the commemoration of her husband Henry, among other activities. Mathilda worked within a religious sphere, but was active in the world.
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In fact, considering the close ties between the Ottonian family and the religious establishments in their kingdom, it is not inaccurate to say that the religious was political and vice-versa. They focused on her noble birth, her virtues, her religious activities, her miracles. But they included a substantial amount of material which illuminated her relationship to the world.
She did not leave the world to pursue holy activities, as Radegund and Gertrude did, but rather used religious activities to stay involved in secular society. She stayed active even after the death of her husband, when it was common for many noble women to enter and remain in a specific convent. Mathilda consciously carved out a niche for herself in the new realm, a feat more easily accomplished in widowhood than in marriage.
She was not a revolutionary queen, in that she adapted roles already associated with and considered appropriate for noble women. But Mathilda was aware of her status, her new status, as queen, and worked to keep herself at the appropriate high rank, whether through expensive clothing or royal largesse. Noble and H. Vita b. Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Athens, Ga. Noble and Thomas Head, eds. Halborg, and E. Gordon Whatley, eds. Noble, Soldiers of Christ , xxiii.
Quis etiam dubitet, ut rege nesciente electa Christi famula talia posset agere? Ipse etenim bene intelligebat, sed quasi se nescire simulabat, quia veraciter noverat cuncta eius opera bona existere et utrisque prodesse.