Margaret Maultasch (1318–1369)

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Margaret Maultasch (1318–1369)

German ruler of Tyrol and Carinthia who was known and respected for her intelligence and political skills . Name variations: Margarete, countess of Tirol or Tyrol and duchess of Carinthia; Margaret of Carinthia; Margaretha Maultasch or Maultasche; Margarete von Karnten or Kärnten. Born in 1318 somewhere in Germany; died in Vienna in 1369; daughter of Henry of Carinthia, king of Bohemia (r. 1306–1310) and duke of Tyrol, and Anna of Bohemia; granddaughter of Meinhard II; married Johann also known as John of Bohemia or John Henry of Luxemburg, margrave of Moravia (brother of Charles IV, Holy Roman emperor), in 1330 (marriage annulled 1342); married Ludwig also known Louis V (1316–1361), duke of Bavaria and margrave of Brandenburg (r. 1347–1361), in 1342; children (second marriage) Meinhard, margrave of Brandenburg and duke of Bavaria (r. 1361–1363).

Became countess of Tyrol and duchess of Carinthia after her father's death and governed those territories (1335–1369); received annulment of first marriage on grounds of sorcery and married Louis of Bavaria (1342); ceded Tyrol to Rudolf of Habsburg after death of her son (1363); retired to Vienna (1363) and died there (1369).

Although the incidence of witch trials was fewer in the late medieval period than during the 16th and 17th centuries, accusations of sorcery were often used to get rid of an enemy or to relieve oneself of an intolerable situation. In 1342, Margaret Maultasch, countess of Tyrol and duchess of Carinthia, used the charge of witchcraft as the means of extricating herself from her first marriage. Since her marriage to John Henry of Luxemburg had never been consummated, it was easy for the judges to believe that he had been made impotent due to some sort of bewitchment; consequently, they granted her an annulment. Shortly thereafter, she married Louis V, duke of Bavaria and margrave of Brandenburg. Margaret Maultasch was a strong woman who knew what she wanted and often made sure that her desires were fulfilled. As a woman ruling in 14th century Europe, however, she was a convenient target for contemporaries who admired and yet feared her skills as a politician. Margaret's appearance, which was not within the preferred standards of beauty, resulted, ironically, in accusations of sorcery being leveled against her. Nevertheless, she ruled her territories effectively despite the complicated politics of medieval Germany.

Germany, as a united, independent country with a single ruler, did not exist in the Middle Ages. Instead, it was a conglomerate of several territories each governed by an independent ruler. Since the reign of Charlemagne, however, the German territories had been congregated into a loose confederation ostensibly ruled by the Holy Roman emperor. Thus, the Holy Roman Empire consisted of a number of large kingdoms and duchies including at various times Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, Austria, and Bavaria as well as over 1,600 autonomous principalities, free towns and sovereign bishoprics. Each emperor was elected by a selected number of German magnates and was then crowned by the pope. Because the monarchy was elective, the emperors had little control over the greatest lords. In addition, the necessity of obtaining and, more important, sustaining the magnates' political support, particularly for military campaigns in Italy, led the emperors to grant the lords greater rights and autonomous powers within their own territories. Similarly, since it was the goal of every great aristocratic family to extend its own territory, family politics became the primary means by which the leading aristocratic families competed for political dominance in the empire.

In the 14th century, there were three aristocratic families who rose to prominence. The Luxemburg family succeeded in expanding their territorial base so that by mid-century it included Luxemburg, Brabant, Lusatia, Silesia, Moravia, Meisen, and Brandenburg. Their enemies, the Wittelsbachs, had acquired Holland, Hainault and Frisia through various marriage alliances. Finally, the Habsburgs, who were allies of the Luxemburgs, had acquired Austria and Carniola, and by the end of the 14th century Tyrol and Carinthia. Margaret Maultasch's fortunes were intricately tied to the political maneuverings of each of these families.

Born in 1318, the daughter of Anna of Bohemia and Henry of Carinthia, duke of Tyrol and Carinthia, Margaret grew up in Tyrol. Like most aristocratic girls, she received a good education which included the usual array of "feminine" accomplishments such as dancing, drawing and singing. Unlike her counterparts, however, Margaret also studied theology and took a keen interest in politics and diplomacy. She spoke and wrote fluently in Latin and German and was, by all accounts, an intelligent and sharp pupil. Her father Henry, on the other hand, was a friendly, if ineffective, ruler. In 1307, several years before Margaret's birth, he was elected king of Bohemia through a claim on the female side. However, he was not a successful ruler, and plans soon formed to oust him from the monarchy. In 1310, the Holy Roman emperor Henry VII of Luxemburg drove Margaret's father out by force. Henry of Carinthia was quickly replaced with the emperor's son and heir, John I of Luxemburg, who sealed the position by marrying Elizabeth of Bohemia (1292–1339), one of the last remaining members of the ancient Bohemian royal dynasty. For the next 36 years, John of Luxemburg ruled Bohemia primarily in absentia. Although he was king, John regarded his kingdom as little more than a source of revenue for what he felt were more important concerns. From 1314, when his Wittelsbach rival Louis (IV) of Bavaria became Holy Roman emperor, John of Luxemburg spent much of his time acquiring additional territory and doing whatever mischief he could to thwart any ambitions that Louis IV may have had of consolidating or expanding the empire.

One of John's policies was to isolate the emperor from potential allies and, as a result, he sought a marriage alliance with the man he had deposed 15 years before. In 1330, John of Luxemburg's youngest son, John Henry, was betrothed to Margaret Maultasch, daughter of Duke Henry of Carinthia. The significance of this alliance was not lost on Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria. Through this marriage, John of Luxemburg now had control of Carinthia, Carniola,

and Tyrol in addition to Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland. Louis IV, therefore, made a secret treaty with the Habsburg family whereby he promised to give them Carinthia upon Henry of Carinthia's death if they would help to secure Tyrol for the Wittelsbachs. In essence, Margaret's inheritance of her father's lands was being bargained away without her knowledge.

Despite these secret dealings, which were kept even from her father, the marriage of 12-year-old Margaret and 10-year-old John Henry took place with great pomp and ceremony in September 1330 and concluded with several days of feasting and tournaments. Unfortunately, the newlyweds did not much like one another. Margaret was serious, intelligent and interested in books and politics. Her young husband, on the other hand, was more interested in hunting and physical combat than in the intricacies of court intrigue. Consequently, their marriage began on a sour note which did not improve as the years progressed.

Lion Feuchtwanger">

[Margaret Maultasch] was clever, was not importunate, and neither gave nor asked for sentimentality.

Lion Feuchtwanger

In 1335, Margaret's father died and, at age 17, she became duchess of Carinthia and countess of Tyrol. According to the secret treaty between Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria and Albert II of Habsburg, duke of Austria, however, her lands were to be taken away from her and divided between the two men. Shortly after her father's death, Carinthia and Carniola were occupied by Habsburg troops without much resistance. Having lost these lands, Margaret was determined not to give up Tyrol so easily. Over the course of the year, Louis' attempts to get possession of Tyrol by force failed as the Tyrolese magnates rallied around their rightful ruler and defended Margaret's right to her inherited lands. Once she had secured possession of her lands, Margaret threw herself into administrative work, and she quickly gained a reputation in Western European courts for her intelligence and diplomacy.

Although Louis IV of Bavaria's schemes to take Tyrol away from Margaret angered her, the state of her marriage proved to be a more serious problem. John Henry was neither a willing nor an able partner, particularly in areas of governance. More seriously, Margaret had not conceived an heir, and some historians have argued that this was because the marriage had never been consummated. In addition, her father-in-law, John of Luxemburg, stationed his eldest son, Charles (IV) Luxemburg, in Tyrol to assist Margaret. Unfortunately, Charles' heavy-handed policies only served to alienate the majority of the Tyrolese magnates. In 1342, therefore, a plot was hatched to oust John Henry and bring in Louis V of Brandenburg, the emperor's son, who would then marry Margaret. The plan succeeded. Margaret's marriage to John Henry was quickly annulled based on grounds of impotence from bewitchment, and, although Margaret and Louis V were within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity, they did not wait for the pope's dispensation to marry.

It is from this point on that Margaret received the nickname Maultasch which roughly translates as "sack-mouth" or "pocket-mouth." It is not known why she received this moniker at this particular time, although she had never been considered a great beauty.

Despite the circumstances surrounding their marriage, Margaret's second husband was more compatible and able than her first. They had common interests, and Louis V was willing to assist her in governing Tyrol. More important, a year after their marriage Margaret gave birth to a boy, Meinhard, who became the heir to her lands and titles. Although her marriage was a success, the policies of her new father-in-law, Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria, were slowly eradicating the support he had previously enjoyed. By 1346, the majority of the magnates who were responsible for electing the Holy Roman emperors were dissatisfied with Louis' lust for territory. In addition, in April 1346 he was excommunicated by the pope, who called on the electors to choose a new emperor. The new candidate was none other than Charles, the eldest son of Louis' old enemy, John of Luxemburg. His election as Emperor Charles IV was quickly proclaimed in 1346.

As the new Holy Roman emperor, Charles IV sought to reclaim some of the Luxemburg territories that had been previously lost as well as to retaliate against any members of the Wittelsbach family. As a result, one of his first campaigns was an attempt to conquer Tyrol. Thus, Margaret was forced to defend her lands once more from the encroachments of a land-hungry emperor. Although her husband was away from Tyrol during the emperor's military campaign, Margaret's small but loyal army defended her territory well, and Charles IV was forced to retreat. When Louis IV of Bavaria died in October 1347, Charles gave up all claim to Tyrol, leaving Margaret in secure possession.

For the next 20 years, Margaret ruled alongside her husband. She initiated several reform policies which strengthened the central government and encouraged commercial trade in towns. When the plague broke out in 1348, Margaret was able to retain control over the populace to a greater extent than many of her contemporaries. In addition, she tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to protect the Jews living in Tyrol from persecution. Margaret was one of the most efficient and well-respected rulers of her day.

In 1361, her husband Louis V died. Two years later, she received another devastating blow when her son and heir, Meinhard, also died. Although there is no historical evidence, some of her contemporaries believed that she had poisoned both her husband and son. In that respect, Margaret was like many medieval women who, when placed in positions of power and authority, were often accused of unlawful and suspect behavior such as murder or adultery. Long-held beliefs about women's subordination were obstacles that every woman had to face, and Margaret Maultasch was no exception.

After the death of her son, Margaret became depressed and lost interest in governing. She pledged her lands to the Habsburg family and at age 45 left her homeland for Vienna, where she lived out her remaining years. Although her surroundings were not as grand as they had been in Tyrol, Margaret received a pension from Duke Rudolf IV of Austria which enabled her to live comfortably. In 1369, she died peacefully in Vienna.


Maurice, Charles Edmund. Bohemia: From the Earliest Times to the Fall of National Independence in 1620. London: Unwin, 1896.

Stubbs, William. Germany in the Later Middle Ages, 1200–1500. NY: Howard Fertig, 1969.

Tanner, J.R., et al. The Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. VII. Chapters IV–VI. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958.

related sources:

Feuchtwanger, Lion. The Ugly Duchess. Viking Press, 1928.

Margaret McIntyre , Instructor of Women's History at Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

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Margaret Maultasch (1318–1369)

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Margaret Maultasch (1318–1369)