1902 Encyclopedia > Matilda of Canossa

Matilda of Canossa
(known as: the Great Countess; Matilda of Tuscany)
Italian countess, supporter of Pope Gregory VII and military figure

MATILDA, countess of Tuscany (1046-1114), popularly known as the Great Countess, was born in 1046, of a race of nobles of Lombard descent. By the death of her father Boniface the Rich, duke and marquis of Tuscany, she was left, at eight years old, under the guardianship of her mother, Beatrice of Lorraine, heiress to a powerful state, including Tuscany, Liguria, part of Lombardy, Modena, and Ferrara. Her life was a protracted struggle against the schism which rent the church, under a series of antipopes, supported by a large section of the clergy and people of Italy and Germany, as well as by the whole strength of the empire. Against this formidable combination she maintained the cause of the holy see, often single-handed, for years, with varying fortune but undaunted resolution. The champion of several successive pontiffs, she is best known as the ally of Gregory VII., and her hereditary fief of Canossa was, in 1077, the scene of the celebrated penance of Henry IV. in presence of this pope. On the same occasion she made the donation, subsequently renewed in 1102, of her possessions to the holy see, in right of which the church owned the greater part of its temporal dominions. Matilda was twice married, first to Godfrey of Lorraine, surnamed the Humpbacked, son of her mother's second husband, and secondly to Guelph of Bavaria, - both marriages of policy, which counted for little in her life. She died of gout in 1114, in her sixty-ninth year, and was buried first at San Benedetto, and finally in the Vatican. Her steadfastness of purpose, strength of character, and loftiness of aim, made her one of the most striking figures even of the age which produced Robert Guiscard, William the Conqueror, Pope Hildebrand, and Godfrey of Bouillon, her nephew by marriage. The contemporary record of her life in rude Latin verse, by her chaplain Donnizone, is preserved in the Vatican Library.

An Italian biography was published in Lucca by Francesco Fiorentini in 1642 (new edition by Mansi, 1756), and one in French by Ainedee Renee, La Grande Italienne, in 1859.

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