Agnes of Poitou

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Henry III. hands over the "Golden Book" ( Codex Aureus ), a magnificently decorated Gospel book , to St. Mary, the church patroness of Speyer . Maria lays her hand on the Empress Agnes in a blessing. In the background the Speyer Cathedral. (Echternach illumination around 1045)

Agnes von Poitou or Empress Agnes (* around 1025; † December 14, 1077 in Rome ) was Emperor Heinrich III after the death of her husband . during the minority of her son Heinrich IV. from 1056 to 1061 regent of the Roman-German Empire . In 1061 she withdrew from government responsibility after a papal schism , which she was partly to blame , but continued to secure her son's claims to the throne.


Agnes' marriage to Henry III.

Agnes von Poitou, daughter of Duke Wilhelm of Aquitaine and Poitou and his wife Agnes of Burgundy , was crowned German queen in Mainz in 1043 and on November 21 of the same year in Ingelheim with Heinrich III. married. The imperial coronation of both took place on December 25, 1046 in Rome . Heinrich had chosen for his wife after his first wife Agnes Gunhild of malaria had fallen victim. For him, the marriage to Agnes had mainly power-political advantages. The connection with one of the most powerful French royal houses increased the pressure on the French royal family and was suitable for improving Heinrich's position in Burgundy , since Agnes' family was wealthy there. Agnes was an educated and pious young woman. The Cluny Abbey was founded by her family and their abbot Hugo later became Henry IV's godfather and close confidante of the imperial family.

Courtly joie de vivre and abundance were opposed to the young royal couple due to their religious sense of duty. As usual , minstrels and jugglers were not allowed to show their skills at the royal couple's wedding celebration. Heinrich, who was enthusiastic about the peace idea of the treuga dei (God's truce), which arose in France , tried to prevent the law of the fist and private vengeance . Agnes strengthened him in the sacred conception of rulership of his royal office and supported and inspired him with regard to his church reformation ideas. Nevertheless, Agnes did not have the opportunity to become politically active during Heinrich's lifetime. Her duties were more representative, she was primarily wife and mother. Among her six children, in addition to the future Emperor Henry IV, was Queen Judith of Hungary .

Agnes' son, Heinrich IV., (Detail from a gospel book from St. Emmeram, after 1106)

Assumption of regency after the death of Henry III.

After the death of Henry III. On October 5, 1056, Agnes took over the reign of the underage, but already crowned King Henry IV. At the beginning of her reign, Agnes led the politics of her husband with the help of Hugo von Cluny , the godfather of her son, and above all Pope Viktor II. away. The latter, as the bishop of Eichstätt, also an imperial administrator, did everything in his power to support the Salian empire. The empress stood like Heinrich III. on the side of the Cluniac church reformers and pursued a policy of compromise and peacekeeping. Viktor II., From Heinrich III. destined to be Pope, mediated between the crown, secular nobility and episcopate . The reign of the Empress, a politically inexperienced woman, was accepted.

Agnes soon began to bind nobles to her by enfeoffing them with duchies. However, this led to the renunciation of direct rights of rule. As early as Christmas 1056 she gave the Duchy of Carinthia , which had remained a year without a duke, to the Ezzone Konrad III. of Carinthia. In 1057 Rudolf von Rheinfelden was enfeoffed with Swabians and should also administer Burgundy. Frutolf von Michelsberg , a contemporary chronicler, reports in his Weltchronik that Rudolf von Rheinfelden blackmailed the enfeoffment with Swabians possibly through the kidnapping of the 9-year-old imperial daughter Mathilde , whom he married two years later. Berthold von Zähringen , who had laid claim to the duchy that had become vacant, felt himself to be neglected and was enfeoffed with Carinthia after the early death of Duke Konrad in 1061. Mathilde as pledge weighed more than that of Heinrich III. Awarded entitlement to Swabia, which Berthold von Zähringen was able to underpin with a ring from the emperor. Foreign political difficulties, such as the dispute with the Hungarians , forced the Empress in 1061 to surrender the last important duchy of Bavaria , which was directly subordinate to the royal family . She appointed the war-experienced Saxon Count Otto von Northeim as Duke. He was now responsible for the defense of the southeastern part of the empire. The eastern neighbors, especially the Hungarians, represented a danger to the empire that should not be underestimated. Agnes was regent, but as a woman could not lead any campaigns herself. Therefore she needed strong dukes by her side, such as Otto von Northeim and Rudolf von Rheinfelden.

Agnes is repeatedly reproached by older researchers (Meier-Knonau, Giesebrecht and Buhlst-Thiele) for having accelerated the decline of the Salian central authority and reduced the power base of the kingship by awarding the named duchies. However, she cannot be blamed for the fact that it was precisely these dukes who were enfeoffed by Agnes that would later become the worst opponents of her son Henry IV. Agnes could certainly have prevented the Zähringen , Rheinfeldern and Northeimers from creating a strong power base, but the uprising of three men from young dynasties at this time was a minor, calculable evil. At this time Otto von Northeim was acting in the spirit of the Salian house. He protected the empire effectively against threats from outside, as Agnes aimed for, and achieved a compromise with the Hungarians by enforcing the Arpaden Solomon as their king, which even Henry III. had not succeeded during his lifetime. This relationship was strengthened in 1063 when Solomon married Judith , the daughter of the emperor .

For the time being, the empire was secured internally and externally. Agnes was respected. The concessions that were made to her were quite large. In the event of a vacancy in the throne, i.e. the premature death of Henry IV (his younger brother Konrad had already died in 1055) , she was assured by oath that she would be able to make a designation . Accordingly, she would have had the opportunity to make a binding election proposal.

This oath shows that Agnes was seen by all parties in the empire as the legitimate ruler. Without their consent, no new king would have been raised on the part of the princes. The seriousness of such an oath is once again made clear by the scruples of the princes when electing the counter-king to Henry IV in 1076.

The papal election conflict

The death of Pope Victor II , her adviser and friend, in 1057 represented a turning point for the regent . The era of the loyal popes came to an end, the German imperial family increasingly got between the fronts of parties interested in the papal election . In church circles, opponents and supporters of reform faced each other, the Roman city nobility saw a renewed opportunity to exert influence, and the Normans strengthened their position by pledging to pay tribute to the Pope, to defend the Roman bishopric and to guarantee free papal elections.

Finally, at a Lateran synod on Easter 1059, Pope Nicholas II placed future papal elections in the hands of the cardinals by decree . This decree was directed against both the empire and the Roman aristocracy. Relations with the German court had been severely clouded by these events.

After Nicholas II's death on July 19, 1061, the cardinals, out of their new self-image, elected Bishop Anselm of Lucca, who belongs to the Reform Party, as Alexander II to pope on September 30, 1061 . Agnes refused him recognition and presented him with her own candidate, Bishop Cadalus of Parma, who was also appointed Pope as Honorius II and was enthroned in Basel on October 28, 1061. So the situation escalated and resulted in a schism , which was only to be removed on May 31, 1064 at the Synod of Mantua with the dethronement of Honorius there.

After the events in Basel, a break in the reign of the empress can be seen. The German court had developed into an opponent of the reform papacy , and the empress was partly to blame for the fact that the church had split. The fact that Honorius II was unable to assert himself in Rome and eventually had to return to his diocese of Parma dealt Agnes a political blow. For the first time, a pope appointed by the German court was unable to prevail. The reform papacy had emancipated itself from the empire and acted against its interests.

The taking of the veil

The unwanted support of the reform opponents provided the empress with feelings of guilt and personal discomfort throughout her life. Agnes seems to have seen no other option than to withdraw from politics in order to give others the opportunity to undertake a reorganization of the papal question, unencumbered by their decisions. In direct connection to the papal election conflict, therefore, is to loud Mechthild Black-Veldtrup the veil acquisition Agnes' in Speyer by Bishop Einhard II. Took place, probably on 21 November 1061. The chronicler Berthold of Reichenau describes as follows this: "About this time consecrated the Empress Agnes in the holy veil Christ gave her life after she had taken off her royal robes. "

This entailed a withdrawal from active politics. As a consequence, Agnes appointed her confidante, Bishop Heinrich von Augsburg, as a “subregent”. Agnes' withdrawal must therefore not be seen as government fatigue or weakness, but must be understood in the context of her misjudgments with regard to her Rome policy and as an expression of the assumption of personal responsibility for the papal election crisis.

The coup in Kaiserswerth

Ruins of the Kaiserpfalz in Kaiserswerth

The "subregent" Heinrich von Augsburg appointed by Agnes was not accepted by a majority of the princes. He was accused of having an "awkward and presumptuous way of running government". In addition, the Empress herself could soon “not escape the suspicion of indecent love [with Heinrich von Augsburg], because it was generally rumored that such a confidential relationship did not develop without immoral intercourse”, said Lampert von Hersfeld in his annals .

Furthermore, she trusted more and more the unfree royal servants, the ministerials . So she entrusted the ministerial Kuno with the education of her son. The fact that the young Henry IV was brought up by unfree people, by “people of no origin”, appeared to the nobility and clergy to be extremely questionable.

Some princes then began to pursue their own interests. At the beginning of April 1062 a group of ecclesiastical and secular princes came together under the leadership of Archbishop Anno of Cologne and kidnapped the young King Heinrich IV in Kaiserswerth : This event went down in history as the coup d'état of Kaiserswerth .

The motives for the act are still not sufficiently understood, especially since the sources for this event are extremely contradicting. The opinion of contemporary reporters is divided. Lampert's reporting still seems relatively objective when he writes that the kidnappers, and especially Anno, sought “to remove the son from his mother's influence and to get hold of the administration of the empire.” Lampert dares not speculate about them Motives of the conspirators. Although he cites the possibility that Anno “acted out of political ambition”, he admits that he could also have acted for the good of the Reich.

The judgment of Vita Heinrici is clearly subjective and becomes more understandable if one assumes that the unknown author must have been very close to the royal family. The main motive for the deed is the fear of Agnes' "maturity, wisdom and strict morals". The official reason was that it was not proper for the empire to be ruled by a woman. The author strongly contradicts this. It is even claimed here that the young king was only kidnapped in order to be able to expand one's own power undisturbed.

Bruno more or less blames Heinrich himself for his own kidnapping: the young Heinrich hardly listened to the mother's admonitions, "inflated by royal arrogance". The “venerable” Anno had him brought up “with all due care” after the kidnapping. Bruno not only denies Agnes any ability to assert himself (whether only to take care of the right upbringing of the young king, or also for the reign, is an open question), but above all praises Anno for his politics. The criticism of Heinrich IV himself can be explained by the fact that Bruno did not conform to Heinrich's later, own policy and already literally added negative traits of Heinrich in his early youth. It is obvious that he was not on Agnes' side politically.

Although the sources apparently do not report anything reliable about the motives of the kidnappers, research today assumes that both the striving to gain power, especially in the Anno of Cologne, as well as the concern about the neglect and the upbringing of Henry IV were decisive for the Were indeed.

Archbishop Anno of Cologne, Archbishop Siegfried I of Mainz and, a little later, Archbishop Adalbert of Bremen now shared government responsibility. Even if the young king sat on the throne, from this point on the archbishops directed the fate of the empire.

However, Agnes stayed in the vicinity of the court. Tilman Struve proved that she did not begin her trip to Rome until three years after Kaiserswerth and thus her retreat from worldly life. This delay was made for political reasons in order to uphold the claims to the throne of her underage son. In this way Struve was able to refute the portrayal of the anxiously withdrawing empress.

Agnes' approach to Kaiserswerth

The fact that research has long assumed that Empress Agnes withdrew into a religious life immediately after Kaiserswerth is not surprising, as many contemporary reporters have not passed on otherwise. Frutolf von Michelsberg reports in his chronicle as early as 1056, in an overview summarizing the events, that the empress went to the Fruttuaria monastery immediately after the robbery and later died in Rome.

This opinion now seems to have been revised. Tillmann Struve has shown that Agnes did not start her trip to Rome, which is synonymous with her withdrawal from worldly life, in 1062/63, but only in 1065, i.e. three years after the coup d'état of Kaiserswerth. For his dating, Struve mainly uses the reports of Petrus Damiani , a late confidante of Agnes, who writes about her arrival in Rome.

Since Damiani does not give an exact date, Struve compares all known sources and can thus determine at what time both Petrus Damiani and Empress Agnes were in Rome. Furthermore, Struve compares lunar eclipses , which in Damiani's report in connection with Emperor Henry III. and Pope Victor II's death, and a total eclipse, which Damiani claims to be related to the Cadalus schism, with scientific lunar eclipses for the time. Struve comes to his conclusion that the Empress' trip to Rome could not have taken place until May or November of the year 1065. Immediately after Kaiserswerth Agnes wrote a letter to the abbot of the Fruttuaria monastery, in which she asks for admission to the monastery community, but Lampert von Hersfeld reports congruently that Agnes was convinced by her advisors to stay in the empire for the time being: “And not long afterwards she decided to renounce the world, [...] and she would have immediately proceeded headlong to carry out her project if her friends had not dampened the impetuous urge of her heart with more deliberate plans ”.

From a political point of view, Agnes' stay in the empire was still necessary, despite the loss of the reign, as she was the head of the Salian house until Henry IV came of age. Only by remaining in the kingdom was she able to maintain the claim to rule over the kingdom for her son. Against this background, Lampert's report that Agnes had given up her decision to go to the monastery at the urging of her advisors, receives a concrete legal background and thus gains credibility. It was only when Henry IV came of age on March 29, 1065 through the ceremonial guiding with the sword that Agnes was able to give in to her long-cherished wish for a spiritual retirement. After she had fulfilled her political duties until her son came of age and had finally secured his succession, she put into practice her decision to serve the reform papacy, which she had harmed by Honorius' election as papal and against her own religious convictions - a conscious choice for the church reformers.

The last few years in Italy

“The Empress Agnes [...] renounced the rule of the empire out of repentance and for Christ's sake; she went to Rome, where, with admirable humility, she was responsible for works appropriate to penance, ”this is how the chronicler Frutolf von Michelsberg describes Agnes' departure from the empire as a conscious, self-chosen decision.

After 1065 Agnes stayed mainly in Italy, where she supported the church reform movement so consistently that, as an advisor to Pope Alexander II and above all Pope Gregory VII , she again at least partially counteracted the interests of her son Henry IV. The promotion of the reform movement in the monasteries was also important to her. A longer stay in Fruttuaria Monastery is guaranteed , although it cannot be precisely dated. She also supported the monasteries of Monte Cassino and Subiaco . In this way she worked with all her means for the reform movement in order to make amends for the damage caused by the schism of 1061 and to get forgiveness for herself.

Agnes died on December 14, 1077 in Rome. On January 6, 1078, she was in the Petronella Rotunda of St. Peter's buried, "so close to the place which is revered as Peter grave, as possible for a layman." According to her funerary inscription "in her life alone [...] good works and the love for Peter and his successors should have been in the foreground".

Research history

The person of Agnes of Poitou is seen as controversial in historical research. Not only the fact that as a woman she ruled one of the greatest empires of the time for several years, especially the time of her reign, a time of church reforms and the emancipation of the papacy from German kingship, play a role here.

For a long time, older research drew the picture of the failing regent, whose weaknesses were not least her religious convictions, which made it impossible for her to run the business of government and to put the reformed papacy in its place. According to Karl Ludwig Hampe , “Agnes, as regent, was faced with a task that far exceeded her strength. Fearful and insecure, without political judgment, following personal impulses, full of ecclesiastical devotion, a weak woman [..] ”Marie Luise Bulst-Thiele concluded that“ the empress's roots in religion ultimately presented itself as a weakness ”. Wilhelm von Giesebrecht even describes Agnes as an indecisive nature and her character as fearful. In his history of the German Empire he sees her only as the weak regent and wife of the strong Emperor Heinrich III.

Research opinion regarding Agnes de Poitou has changed dramatically since the 1980s. Tilman Struve and Mechthild Black-Veldtrup succeeded in using new dating methods and source-critical work to question long-standing research opinions and to correct them to a not insignificant extent. Struve made it clear that the empress's taking on the veil is not to be seen as a direct reaction to the coup d'état at Kaiserswerth, and only dated Agnes' retreat to Rome at the end of 1065, i.e. after the sword fell and her son, Henry IV finally took over government the assumption that the empress did not steal from responsibility resignedly and intimidated, but stood up for her son's claim to the throne for as long as it was necessary. Mechthild Black-Veldtrup (1995) wrote a source-critical study on Agnes von Poitou, in which many new findings are also summarized into a changed image of the Empress.

Even if the end of Agnes' reign was seen as a failure for centuries and is still seen in part, this can by no means be regarded as certain. Rather, it can be assumed that Agnes' withdrawal from imperial politics was deliberately chosen according to the circumstances. Even her contemporaries recognize that she has always tried to find a balance politically. She succeeded both in creating stable conditions in the empire and, above all, in maintaining the power base for Henry IV.

At first, Agnes was able to rule almost unchallenged , initially with the help of Pope Victor II . Henry III. Agnes did not continue the course of confrontation against the Saxons . Rather, she knew how to come to terms with the Saxons, which is underpinned by the fact that no further unrest in Saxony is known from the year 1057 until the end of Agnes' reign. Domestically, Agnes achieved stability by awarding royal-owned duchies, which, as a side effect, strengthened the empire externally. In this way a dispute with the Hungarians during the reign of the Empress could be brought to an end.

Concrete examples of dissatisfaction with Agnes' government are only known from the 1860s. Criticisms cited here are a long-standing personal dispute with Bishop Gunther von Bamberg , her preference for Bishop Heinrich of Augsburg, a lack of progress in the education of Henry IV, the trust in the ministry and Agnes' reluctance to govern. The latter is to be seen as a result of the admission of her guilt for the schism brought about by the papal election of Cadalus as a conscious decision. Responsible for her misjudgment of the political situation and the dispute between church reformers and the empire, Agnes has taken the veil. The Kaiserswerth coup d'état followed shortly thereafter.

The attack itself had little effect on Agnes' position after Heinrich von Augsburg was raised to the rank of “subregent”. In the end, Anno von Cologne only took the place of the Augsburg resident as the real regent and tutor of the young king. The fact that Agnes left Germany in May or November 1065 is not due to Kaiserswerth, but ultimately only to the papal election conflict of 1061, which was followed by all other events.


  • A biography "Libellus Agnetis" by Anonymous von Herrieden , written around 1075/78, has been lost.
  • Bruno, Saxon Wars , trans. v. Franz-Josef Schmale ( Selected Sources on German Medieval History , FSGA 12) Darmstadt 1963.
  • The life of Emperor Henry IV , trans. v. Irene Schmale-Ott ( Selected Sources on German Medieval History , FSGA 12) Darmstadt 1963.
  • Lampert von Hersfeld , Annalen , trans. v. Adolf Schmidt, graduated from Wolfgang Dietrich Fritz ( Selected Sources on German Medieval History , FSGA 13) Darmstadt 1973.
  • Berthold von Reichenau : Chronicle , trans. v. Ian S. Robinson ( Selected Sources on German Medieval History , FSGA 14) Darmstadt 2002.
  • Frutolf von Michelsberg : Chronicle , trans. v. Franz-Josef Schmale ( Selected Sources on German Medieval History , FSGA 15) Darmstadt 1972.


Web links

Commons : Agnes von Poitou  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Frutolf von Michelsberg, Chronik , pp. 75f
  2. Berthold von Reichenau, Chronik , p. 53
  3. ^ Introduction of the term by Mechthild Black-Veldtrup: Empress Agnes (1043-1077). Source-critical studies. Cologne 1995, p. 357
  4. ^ Mechthild Black-Veldtrup: Empress Agnes (1043-1077). Source-critical studies. Cologne 1995, p. 360
  5. ^ Lampert von Hersfeld, Annalen , p. 73
  6. ^ Lampert von Hersfeld, Annalen , p. 75.
  7. ^ Vita Heinrici cap. 2.
  8. Bruno, De bello Saxonico, cap. 1.
  9. ^ Tilman Struve: The Rome trip of the Empress Agnes. In: Historisches Jahrbuch 105 (1985) pp. 1-29, again under the title: The planned retreat of the emperors Agnes from the imperial government. In: Tilman Struve: Salierzeit im Wandel. On the history of Henry IV and the investiture controversy. Cologne 2006, pp. 67–83 with pp. 282–296.
  10. ^ Frutolf von Michelsberg, Chronik , p. 73
  11. ^ Lampert von Hersfeld, Annalen, p. 75.
  12. Frutolf von Michelsberg, Chronik , p. 79
  13. Quoted from Mechthild Black-Veldtrup: Empress Agnes (1043-1077). Source-critical studies. Cologne 1995 p. 342.
  14. Quoted from Mechthild Black-Veldtrup: Empress Agnes (1043-1077). Source-critical studies. Cologne 1995 p. 345.
  15. ^ Karl Hampe: German imperial history in the time of the Salier and Staufer. 10th edition, Heidelberg 1949, p. 35.
  16. Quoted from Mechthild Black-Veldtrup: Empress Agnes (1043-1077). Source-critical studies. Cologne 1995, p. 4.
  17. ^ Tilman Struve: The Rome trip of the Empress Agnes. In: Historisches Jahrbuch , Vol. 105 (1985), pp. 1–29.
predecessor government office successor
Gunhild of Denmark Roman-German Queen
February 15, 1043 to 1056
Bertha of Savoy
Gunhild of Denmark Roman-German Empress
1046 to 1056
Bertha of Savoy
Konrad II. Duchess of Bavaria
Otto von Northeim