Agnes of Poitou (1024–1077)

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Agnes of Poitou (1024–1077)

Holy Roman Empress and regent whose court attracted Europe's most creative minds to Germany. Name variations: Agnes of Aquitaine; Agnes of Bavaria; Agnes of Germany; Agnes of Guienne. Born in 1024 in Poitou, France; died on December 14, 1077, in an Italian convent; daughter of William V the Pious, duke of Aquitaine, and Agnes of Aquitaine (c. 995–1068); became second wife of Henry of Germany (1017–1056) also known as Henry III, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1039–1056), on November 1, 1043; children: Henry IV (b. 1050), Holy Roman emperor (r. 1056–1106).

Daughter of the ruling family of Aquitaine, Poitou, and later Anjou, Agnes of Poitou grew up expecting to marry a foreign noble. Her betrothal to Prince Henry of Germany was a triumph for her parents, since he would eventually be crowned Holy Roman emperor. Three years after Agnes' marriage and move to Germany, Henry succeeded to the throne and had Agnes crowned empress with him by Pope Clement II. Agnes did not play a large role in the administration of the empire, but she presided over a brilliant court and became known as a generous patron of writers, painters, and poets, attracting Europe's most creative minds to Germany.

She had been empress for ten years when Henry died suddenly; their son Henry succeeded his father as Henry IV, but, as he was only six years old, Agnes became regent of the empire in his name. Her previous lack of experience in ruling became apparent as she attempted to manage the extensive German kingdom. Her husband, although a powerful monarch, had extended his power too far, in the view of his many vassals; they believed he had infringed on their property rights in his attempts to consolidate his own power. Thus, Agnes suffered from both the lasting enmity towards Henry III and her own ignorance of the mood of the German people. She was not a skilled negotiator nor was she well-advised by her councillors, and soon the empire was threatened by both foreign armies and internal religious strife. Her alliances against the religious reform movements spreading through Germany proved unwise, and ambitious invaders wrested control of several imperial territories away from the empress. Finally, her son the emperor was kidnapped by supporters of Anno, archbishop of Cologne, in May 1062. Agnes then abandoned the regency to the archbishop and left politics altogether. She retired to an Italian convent where she died at about age 53.

Laura York , Anza, California

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Agnes of Poitou (1024–1077)

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