Encyclopedia Britannica – Adelaide

[Saint Adelaide of Bugundy]Article

(German Adelheid) (931-999), queen of Italy and empress, was the daughter of Rudolph II of Burgundy and of Bertha, daughter of Duke Burchard of Swabia. On the death of Rudolph in 937, his widow married Hugh, king of Italy, to whose son Lothair Adelaide was at the same time betrothed. She was married to him in 947; but after an unhappy union of three years Lothair died (22 November 950). The young widow, re- markable for her character and beauty, was seized by Lothair’s successor, Berengar II, margrave of Ivrea, who, angered probably at her refusal to marry his son Adalbert and thus secure his title to the Italian kingdom, kept her in close confinement at Como. After four months (August 951), she escaped, and took refuge at Canossa with Atto, count of Modena-Reggio (died 981). Meanwhile Otto I, the German king, whose English wife Edgitha had died in 946, had formed the design of marrying her and claiming the Italian kingdom in her right, as a step towards the revival of the empire of Charlemagne. In September 951, accordingly, he appeared in Italy, Adelaide willingly accepted his invitation to meet him at Pavia and at the close of the year the fateful union was celebrated. From the first her part in German affairs was important. To her are ascribed the influences which led in 953 to the revolt of Ludolf, Otto’s son by his first marriage, the crushing of which in the following year established Adelaide’s power. On the 2nd of February 962 she was crowned empress at Rome by Pope John XII immediately after her husband, and she accompanied Otto in 966 on his third expedition to Italy, where she remained with him for six years. After Otto I’s death (7 May 973), Adelaide exercised for some years a controlling influence over her son, the new emperor, Otto II. The causes of their subsequent estrangement are obscure, but it was possibly due to the empress’s lavish expenditure in charity and church building, which endeared her to ecclesiastics but was a serious drain on the imperial finances. In 978 she left the court and lived partly in Italy, partly with her brother Conrad, king of Burgundy, by whose mediation she was ulti- mately reconciled to her son. In 983, shortly before his death, she was appointed his viceroy in Italy; and was successful, in concert with the empress Theophano, widow of Otto II, and Archbishop Willigis of Mainz, in defending the right of her infant grandson, Otto III, to the German crown against the pretensions of Henry the Quarrelsome, duke of Bavaria. In June 984 the infant king was handed over by Henry to the care of the two empresses; but the masterful will of Theophano soon obtained the upper hand, and until the death of the Greek empress, on the 15th of June 991, Adelaide had no voice in German affairs. She now assumed the regency, in concert with Bishop Willigis and a council of princes of the Empire, and held it until in 995 Otto was declared of age. In 996 the young king went to Italy to receive the imperial crown; and from this date Adelaide ceased to concern herself with worldly affairs, but devoted herself to pious exercises, to intimate correspondence with the abbots Majolus and Odilo of Cluny, and the foundation of churches and religious houses. She died on the 17th of December 999, and was buried in the convent of SS. Peter and Paul, her favourite foundation, at Salz in Alsace. She was proclaimed a saint by the grateful German clergy; but her name has never found a place in the Roman calendar. Like her daughter-in-law Theo- phano and other exalted ladies of this period, Adelaide possessed considerable literary attainments {literatissima erat), and her knowledge of Latin was of use to Otto I, who only learned the language late in life and remained to the end a poor scholar.

By the emperor Otto I she had four children: Otto II (died 983), Mathilda, abbess of Quedlinburg (died 999), Adelheid (Adelaide), abbess of Essen (died 974), and Liutgard, who married Conrad II, duke of Franconia, and died in 955.

Adelaide’s life (Vita or Epitaphium A dalheidae imperatricis) was written by Saint Odilo of Cluny. It is valuable only for the latter years of the empress, after she had retired from any active share in the world’s affairs. The rest of her life is merely outlined, though her adventures in escaping from Berengar are treated in more detail.

MLA Citation

  • author. “Adelaide”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911. Saints.SQPN.com. 29 December 2013. Web. 19 September 2014. <>