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Matilda of Saxony (c. 892–968)

Matilda of Saxony (c. 892–968)

Holy Roman empress, queen of Germany, and saint . Name variations: Maud; Matilda of Germany; Matilda of Ringelheim; St. Matilda. Born around 892 (some sources cite 895) in Saxony; died on March (some sources cite May) 14, 968, in Quedlinburg, Germany; daughter of Dietrich, count of Ringelheim, and Reinhild of Denmark ; became second wife of Henry I the Fowler (c. 876–936), king of Germany, Holy Roman emperor (r. 919–936), in 909; children: Otto I the Great (912–973), king of Germany (r. 936–973), Holy Roman emperor (r. 962–973); Henry I the Quarrelsome (918–955), duke of Bavaria (r. 947–955, who married Judith of Bavaria ); Bruno (925–965), archbishop of Cologne; Gerberga of Saxony (c. 910–969); Hedwig (c. 915–965, who married Hugh the Great). Henry I the Fowler was first married to Hatheburg.

The life of Saxon princess and saint Matilda has survived in two biographies by monks writing shortly after her death. She was educated at the convent of Erfurt, and although this experience made her a deeply pious woman, she was not destined for a cloistered life. In 909, her parents arranged a marriage for her with Henry the Fowler, the heir of the duke of Saxony. Henry, who had repudiated his first wife Hatheburg , was 17 years older than his 17-year-old bride, who brought to the marriage extensive dowry lands in Saxony and Lotharingia.

In 912, Henry succeeded to the duchy of Saxony and Matilda gave birth to the first of five surviving children, a son who would become Holy Roman emperor Otto I the Great. Like many medieval noblewomen, Matilda of Saxony spent little time with her husband, who after being elected to the German throne in 919 spent most of his time at war. The court Matilda established as queen was the opposite of Henry's military life; pious, quiet and intellectual, it was more like a convent than a seat of royal power. In 929, Henry promised Matilda numerous fortresses and towns for her dower inheritance to provide her income after his death. Over the next several years, Matilda converted three of the five towns into religious communities, including Quedlinburg and Nordhausen, later renowned as centers of learning.

In 936, Henry the Fowler died, beginning a period of civil conflict led by his sons in a struggle over the succession. Among the German nobles, Otto was the preferred choice to become the next king, but Matilda favored her younger son Henry I the Quarrelsome. After Otto's election, Henry raised an army in an unsuccessful attempt to take the throne. With Matilda's intercession, Otto pardoned Henry, but her support for Henry had cost her Otto's trust. Although he allowed her to remain at his court for several years, Otto accused her of wasting royal income with her generous charity to the poor, and had spies watch her movements. Henry reconciled with Otto and joined him in the persecution of their mother, refusing to allow her to keep the income generated by her dower lands.

Matilda eventually turned over her dower inheritance to her sons and settled on her estates in Saxony. After a decade of retirement, she reconciled with her sons and returned to court, taking up her charitable works once more and even acting as regent for Otto during his absences from court. Henry's second rebellion against Otto caused Matilda great suffering before his death in 955, which she is said to have foretold. After 965, Matilda retired again from public life, dividing her time between her religious houses, where she lived as a nun. She died at the convent of Quedlinburg in March 968, about age 76. Her granddaughter Matilda of Quedlinburg , abbess of Quedlinburg, inherited most of her establishments. For her devotion and charity to the poor, Queen Matilda of Saxony was canonized shortly after her death.


Leyser, K.J. Rule and Conflict in Early Medieval Society: Ottonian Saxony. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1979.

Thurston, Herbert, and Donald Attwater, eds. Butler's Lives of the Saints. Vol. I. London: Burns & Oates, 1956.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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