In the Middle Ages, Matilda of Canossa was acclaimed as a formidable warrior who protected Roman Popes. Fighting against the Pope for power was the Holy Roman Emperor – mostly elected from a long line of Germans. They wanted the Pope to condone their activities as the people of the era saw the Pope as “Christ on Earth” and a descendent of the disciple Peter. Matilda squarely placed herself behind the Pope who wanted to control the Emperor and use his military armies to do the will of the Church. Matilda even took an oath to defend the Church to death, and she constantly rode at the head of an army to defeat anyone who took up arms against the Pope.
Matilda was the daughter of a powerful Lord who owned considerable land in Northern Italy. He died when Matilda was six having been shot through the neck with a poisoned arrow. Matilda inherited her father’s wealth and lands. Her mother married Godfrey the Bearded who served as regent until Matilda was of age to be in charge. Godfrey forcefully arranged a marriage for Matilda with his son known as Godfrey the Hunchback. She was only sixteen. She stayed married for a couple of years but ordered her husband to Germany where he was murdered. It seems that this was not intentionally planned by Matilda She was certainly an intelligent woman fluent in Italian, French, German a
On the Battle Ground
For over sixty years there had been conflicts between the Pope and the Emperor which often led to the burning of cities and a great loss of life.
Matilda dealt victoriously with Emperors/Kings who decided to appoint their own Pope (known in History as the Anti-Pope). As the Pope’s loyal supporter, Matilda had great power to yield against quarreling bishops. It is written that she rode out on the battlefield personally, wearing a custom suit of armor and fighting hand-to-hand with axes, pikes, and swords. Matilda also provided safe refuge for persecuted clergymen. Out of her considerable wealth, Matilda donated money to the Church and weapons when needed.
Pope Excommunicates a King
What is excommunication? We have to go to Scriptures where Jesus said to Peter (the first Pope) that what he said on earth would be carried out in heaven or agreed upon. The greatest weapon of a Pope (or bishop) would be to excommunicate a person – stating that this person would be damned in hell for eternity.
In 1077 (during Matilda’s reign) Pope Gregory VII excommunicated German King Henry IV who had completed a bloody campaign against barbarians. This had to be a political situation as bloody campaigns were carried out all the time. King Henry was concerned that raising an army was now difficult because peasants were unenthusiastic about serving under someone disowned by God.
King Henry sought forgiveness and hurried to find the Pope, who for reasons unknown to me, had left Rome and was secure in Matilda’s castle. Henry (either on the Pope or Matilda’s orders) was left waiting for three days outside the castle. The weather consisted of freezing winds and lots of snow. In 1088, it seems that King Henry was again excommunicated and Matilda and the King battled until he died.
Matilda has a child by her first marriage but he died in infancy.
Now, in 1089 at the age of 43, Matilda married the 17 year old Welf V, Duke of Bavaria and a member of the powerful Este family. They separated six years later with no children. Henry IV was still alive and he took the side of the Este family. In 1110 at the age of 54, Matilda made peace with Henry IV’s son, Henry V and willed her private territorial possessions to him.
Interned in Rome
Matilda was buried in Mantua, but her remains were removed to Rome in 1634 by Pope Urban VIII. She rests in St. Peter’s Church in the Vatican.