Stained glass window of Adelaide at Toury Church. Image Credit: WikiCommons

By Catherine Capel

Adelheid was born around 931 to King Rudolph II of Burgundy and Italy and Queen Bertha of Swabia. Rudolph died in 937 and her mother remarried King Hugh of Italy.

A match was arranged between Adelheid and her stepbrother Lothar when she was only sixteen and after Hugh died in 948, the two became King and Queen of Italy. Their daughter, Emma, would go on to marry King Lothair of France.

Lothar died in 950 and Berengar of Ivrea abducted Adelheid to use her to strengthen his own claim as King of Italy and imprisoned her at Garda in Northern Italy. Adelheid escaped and married Otto I, Duke of Saxony and King of Germany, in 951.

The couple extended their power to Italy and were also anointed as Holy Roman Emperor and Empress by Pope John XII in 962.

They ruled for twenty-two years until Otto I died in 973. Adelheid would serve as regent twice in the kingdom.

She was first for her son Otto II and his wife Theophanu until 974 and again for her grandson Otto III in 983 alongside his mother Empress Theophanu and his aunt Abbess Mathilda of Quedlinburg.  

After her grandson had reached his majority in 994, Adelheid devoted herself to acts of charity and religious patronage. She died in 999 and was canonized by Pope Urban II in the late eleventh century.       

Recommended Reading

Eckgard Müller-Mertens, “The Ottonians as kings and emperors,” in The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 3, c.900-c.1024, ed. Timothy Reuter, 233-266 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)  

Giussepi Sergi, “The kingdom of Italy,” in The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 3, c.900-c.1024, ed. Timothy Reuter, 346-371 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1999)

Penelope Nash, Empress Adelheid and Countess Matilda: Medieval Female Rulership and the Foundations of European Society (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)

Phyliss G. Jestice, Imperial Ladies of the Ottonian Dynasty: Women and Rule in Tenth-Century Germany (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).

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