Secular marriage and royal activities did not hinder a religious lifestyle, but rather worked in tandem with it. Where Radegund dispensed money to monasteries on her own, Mathilda and Henry did the same, but together.
Radegund fled from the king and kingship; Mathilda became a holy queen. For Henry II, legitimization was crucial. Theophanu was a member of the Byzantine imperial family, a connection solicited by the Ottonians for the prestige it brought. She was also a newcomer, unfamiliar with the Saxon system. As the first queen, Mathilda had the ability to set the tone, so to speak, for Ottonian queenship.
But her virtue was not limited to the female gender: some of her behavior patterns befitted the male side of the family, as well. For you have in this volume just a few deeds of your fathers, from which you are able to learn what is expedient for you to do and how to live…let it be a model and form of justice for you for governing and for faithfully ruling the church, so that having been made a suitable observer, you will have great advice, diligence, and discipline.
This prescriptive form of writing, common throughout the medieval period and beyond, was intended to instruct both rulers and their subjects as to the qualities and activities deemed appropriate for those in power. Their hagiographic nature prevents scholars from accepting every word as fact, whereas the verifiable historical details keep historians from rejecting every word as false.
Their function as preservation pleas for convents invites reflection on the role of convents in Saxony during this period, specifically that of Quedlinburg and Nordhausen: Why did Mathilda found them? What purpose did they serve? Knowing this, we can determine the ideology of queenship: what the Ottonians felt to be the appropriate qualities for a queen in all phases of her life. We first see Mathilda in Herford convent, where she was raised and educated by her grandmother. Physical beauty served as a reflection of inner virtue, a topos common in hagiography.
Mathilda was not a nun, but was at Herford to learn to read and to perform good works. This reveals the educational function of female convents during the tenth century; they served to raise, shelter, and educate many Saxon noblewomen. Some of these women remained in the convent and took full vows as nuns or became canonesses, but others, like Mathilda herself, left the convent for marriage.
Listed first in her genealogical record was Widukind.
He repudiated his first wife Hatheburg, even after she had born him a son, Thangmar, to marry Mathilda, a move that was subject to criticism. He was the third son of a duke, and Winfrid Glocker posited that his two older brothers, Liudolf and Thankmar, were still alive when Henry married Hatheburg. 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. After they returned to Saxony from the west, Henry and Mathilda traveled around the kingdom, visiting various cities throughout the duchy.
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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.
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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.
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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. 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.
Shortly before his death, Henry called another council to determine which of his sons should succeed to the kingship.
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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.
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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.