1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Matilda, Countess of Tuscany

MATILDA (1046–1115), countess or margravine of Tuscany, popularly known as the Great Countess, was descended from a noble Lombard family. Her great-grandfather, Athone of Canossa, had been made count of Modena and Reggio by the emperor Otto I., and her grandfather had, in addition, acquired Mantua, Ferrara and Brescia. Her own father, Boniface II., the Pious, secured Tuscany, the duchy of Spoleto, the county of Parma, and probably that of Cremona; and was loyal to the emperor until Henry plotted against him. Through the murder of Count Boniface in 1052 and the death of her older brother and sister three years later, Matilda was left, at the age of nine, sole heiress to the richest estate in Italy. She received an excellent education under the care of her mother, Beatrice of Bar, the daughter of Frederick of Lorraine and aunt of Henry III., who, after a brief detention in Germany by the emperor, married Godfrey IV. of Lorraine, brother of Pope Stephen IX. (1057–1058). Thenceforth Matilda’s lot was cast against the emperor in the great struggle over investiture, and for over thirty years she maintained the cause of the successive pontiffs, Gregory VII., Victor III., Urban II., Paschal II., with varying fortune, but with undaunted resolution. She aided the pope against the Normans in 1074, and in 1075 attended the synod at which Guibert was condemned and deprived of the archbishopric of Ravenna. Her hereditary fief of Canossa was the scene (Jan. 28, 1077) of the celebrated penance of Henry IV. before Gregory VII. She provided an asylum for Henry’s second wife, Praxides, and urged his son Conrad to revolt against his father. In the course of the protracted struggle her villages were plundered, her fortresses demolished, and Pisa and Lucca temporarily lost, but she remained steadfast in her allegiance, and, before her death, had, by means of a league of Lombard cities which she formed, recovered all her possessions. The donation of her estates to the Holy See, originally made in 1077 and renewed on the 17th of November 1102, though never fully consummated on account of imperial opposition, constituted the greater part of the temporal dominion of the papacy. Matilda was twice married, first to Godfrey V. of Lorraine, surnamed the Humpbacked, who was the son of her step-father and was murdered on the 26th of February 1076; and secondly to the 17-year-old Welf V. of Bavaria, from whom she finally separated in 1095—both marriages of policy, which counted for little in her life. Matilda was an eager student: she spoke Italian, French and German fluently, and wrote many Latin letters; she collected a considerable library; she supervised an edition of the Pandects of Justinian; and Anselm of Canterbury sent her his Meditations. She combined her devotion to the papacy and her learning with very deep personal piety. She died after a long illness at Bodeno, near Modena, on the 24th of July 1115, and was buried in the Benedictine church at Polirone, whence her remains were taken to Rome by order of Urban VIII. in 1635 and interred in St Peter’s.

The contemporary record of Matilda’s life in rude Latin verse, by her chaplain Domnizone (Donizo or Domenico), is preserved in the Vatican Library. The best edition is that of Bethmann in the Monumenta germ. hist. scriptores, xii. 348–409. The text, with an Italian translation, was published by F. Davoli under the title Vita della granda contessa Matilda di Canossa (Reggio nell’ Emilia 1888 seq.).

See A. Overmann, Gräfin Mathilde von Tuscien; ihre Besitzungen . . . u. ihre Regesten (Innsbruck, 1895); A. Colombo, Una Nuova vita delta contessa Matilda in R. accad. d. sci. Atti, vol. 39 (Turin, 1904); L. Tosti, La Contessa Matilda ed i romani pontefici (Florence, 1859); A. Pannenborg, Studien zur Geschichte der Herzogin Matilde von Canossa (Göttingen, 1872); F. M. Fiorentini, Memorie della Matilda (Lucca, 1756); and Nora Duff, Matilda of Tuscany (1910).  (C. H. Ha.)