Kottanner, Helene (fl. 1440)

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Kottanner, Helene (fl. 1440)

Austrian courtier and writer. Name variations: Helen Kottannerin. Born in Odenburg, Germany, and flourished around 1440 in Hungary; died in Hungary after 1440; married Peter Szekeles, a German merchant (died 1438); married Kotanner or Kottanner, a valet of Vienna.

Helene Kottanner came from Odenburg in Germany, where she married a wealthy merchant and local politician, Peter Szekeles. On his death in 1438, she married the valet of a Viennese provost. About this time, she gained a position as lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth of Luxemburg (1409–1442), wife of the Habsburg ruler of Germany and Hungary, Albert II.

Helene became the queen's primary aide and confidante, and was thus involved in the intrigues which followed Albert's death in 1439. The Germanic nobility did not support the succession of Elizabeth's 3-month-old son Ladislav (V), but Elizabeth did not want to lose the position and influence she would have as the mother of the king, so she approached her trusted lady-in-waiting with a plan. She asked Helene to steal the royal insignia, to keep this symbol of the throne out of the hands of her enemies and thus hopefully weaken their political position.

Helene, as she recounts in her biography, bravely did as she was requested and secured the throne for Ladislav for a few months. However, when Elizabeth died soon after, Helene lost her privileged position, and Ladislav was deposed. The autobiography Helene composed in her retirement relates the details of her life and focuses on her intimate contact with the royal family, giving us clues about the day-to-day functions of a female servant of a queen. Helene's writing does not relate much about the broader scope of the political struggles she witnessed, concerning itself only with her immediate experiences. Still, as the autobiography of a woman, it holds an unusual place among medieval writings.


Uitz, Erika. The Legend of Good Women: The Liberation of Women in Medieval Cities. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1988.

Laura York , Riverside, California