Adelaide of Italy

Adelaide of Italy (931  16 December 999 AD) (German: Adelheid von Burgund; Italian: Adelaide di Borgogna), also called Adelaide of Burgundy, was a Holy Roman Empress by marriage to Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great[2]; she was crowned as the Holy Roman Empress with him by Pope John XII in Rome on 2 February 962. She was regent of the Holy Roman Empire as the guardian of her grandson in 991-995.[2]

Saint Adelaide of Italy
Holy Roman Empress
Orbe, Upper Burgundy
Died16 December 999 (aged 68)
Seltz, Alsace
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized1097 by Pope Urban II[1] (Catholicism)
Feast16 December
AttributesEmpress dispensing alms and food to the poor, often beside a ship
PatronageAbuse victims; brides; empresses; exiles; in-law problems; parenthood; parents of large families; princesses; prisoners; second marriages; step-parents; widows


Early life

Born in Orbe Castle, Orbe, Kingdom of Upper Burgundy (now in modern-day Switzerland), she was the daughter of Rudolf II of Burgundy, a member of the Elder House of Welf, and Bertha of Swabia.[3] Her first marriage, at the age of fifteen, was to the son of her father's rival in Italy, Lothair II, the nominal King of Italy;[4] the union was part of a political settlement designed to conclude a peace between her father and Hugh of Provence, the father of Lothair. Their daughter, Emma of Italy, was born about 948.


The Calendar of Saints states that her first husband was poisoned by the holder of real power, his successor, Berengar II of Italy, who attempted to cement his political power by forcing her to marry his son, Adalbert; when she refused and fled, she was tracked down and imprisoned for four months at Garda.

According to Adelaide's contemporary biographer, Odilo of Cluny, she managed to escape from captivity. After a time spent in the marshes nearby, she was rescued by a priest and taken to a "certain impregnable fortress," likely the fortified town of Canossa Castle near Reggio.[5] She managed to send an emissary to Otto I, and asked the East Frankish king for his protection. The widow met Otto at the old Lombard capital of Pavia and they married in 951.[6] Pope John XII crowned Otto Holy Roman Emperor in Rome on 2 February 962, and, breaking tradition, also crowned Adelaide as Holy Roman Empress.[7]

In Germany, the crushing of a revolt in 953 by Liudolf, Otto's son by his first marriage, cemented Adelaide's position, for she retained all her dower lands. She and their eleven-year-old son, Otto II, accompanied Otto in 966 on his third expedition to Italy, where Otto restored the newly elected Pope John XIII to his throne (and executed some of the Roman rioters who had deposed him). Adelaide remained in Rome for six years while Otto ruled his kingdom from Italy. Their son Otto II was crowned co-emperor in 967, then married the Byzantine princess Theophanu in April 972, resolving the conflict between the two empires in southern Italy, as well as ensuring the imperial succession. Adelaide and her husband then returned to Germany, where Otto died in May 973, at the same Memleben palace where his father had died 37 years earlier.


In 983, her son Otto II died and was succeeded by her grandson Otto III under the regency of his mother Adelaide's daughter-in-law Dowager Empress Theophanu. When Theophanu died in 990, Adelaide assumed regency on behalf of her grandson the Emperor until he reached legal majority four years later. Adelaide resigned as regent when Otto III was declared of legal majority in 995.

Adelaide had long entertained close relations with Cluny, then the center of the movement for ecclesiastical reform, and in particular with its abbots Majolus and Odilo. She retired to a nunnery she had founded in c. 991 at Selz in Alsace.[8]

On her way to Burgundy to support her nephew Rudolf III against a rebellion, she died at Selz Abbey on 16 December 999, days short of the millennium she thought would bring the Second Coming of Christ. She had constantly devoted herself to the service of the church and peace, and to the empire as guardian of both; she also interested herself in the conversion of the Slavs. She was thus a principal agentalmost an embodimentof the work of the pre-schism Orthodox Catholic Church at the end of the Early Middle Ages in the construction of the religious culture of Central Europe.[9] Some of her relics are preserved in a shrine in Hanover. Her feast day, 16 December, is still kept in many German dioceses.


In 947, Adelaide was married to King Lothair II of Italy.[10] The union produced one child:

In 951, Adelaide was married to King Otto I, the future Holy Roman Emperor.[11] The union produced four children:


See also


  1. The Saint, Andre Vauchez, Medieval Callings, ed. Jacques Goff Le, (University of Chicago Press, 1990), 322.
  2. Campbell, Thomas. "St. Adelaide." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 20 Sept. 2012
  3. Appendix, The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 3, C.900-c.1024, ed. Timothy Reuter, Rosamond McKitterick, (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 699.
  4. Gallick, Sarah (2009). The big book of women saints. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins e-books. ISBN 0061956562.
  5. Odilo of Cluny, Epitaph of Adelheid ch. 3, in Gilsdorf, Queenship and Sanctity, 131
  6. Burgundy and Provence, 879–1032, Constance Brittain Bouchard,The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 3, C.900-c.1024, 342.
  7. The Ottonians as kings and emperors, Eckhard Müller-Mertens, The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 3, C.900-c.1024, 251.
  8. "Saint Adelaide of Burgundy". 15 June 2012. Web. {2012-9-20}.
  9. Coulson, John (1960). "The Saints: A concise Biographical Dictionary". Hawthorn Books, Inc.
  10. Ferdinand Holböck, Married Saints and Blesseds: Through the Centuries, transl. Michael J. Miller, (Ignatius Press, 2002), 126.
  11. Ferdinand Holböck, Married Saints and Blesseds: Through the Centuries, 127.
  12. "Adelaide". Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Adelaide. Brooklyn Museum. 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  13. Chicago, 104-105.


  • Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. New York: Penguin Books (1993). ISBN 0-14-051312-4.
  • Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation. London: Merrell (2007). ISBN 1-85894-370-1
  • Gilsdorf, Sean, trans. Queenship and Sanctity: The Lives of Mathilda and the Epitaph of Adelheid. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press (2004). ISBN 0-81321-374-6


Media related to Adelheid von Burgund at Wikimedia Commons

Royal titles
Title last held by
Edith of Wessex
Queen consort of Germany
Succeeded by
Title last held by
Bertila of Spoleto
Holy Roman Empress

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