The Very Model
of a Medieval General:
A Website Dedicated to the Career of Matilda of Tuscany
Matilda of Tuscany is one of the few women whose place in history rests on military accomplishments. The details of her career have to be gleaned from sources such as monastic chronicles, saints’ lives and polemics that were not intended to record military actions in a logical or systematic manner. Despite their deficiencies by modern standards, these sources allow a reconstruction of the measures taken by Matilda of Tuscany on the pope’s behalf when used in conjunction with other tools, especially maps, and a working knowledge of the now-accepted paradigms of medieval warfare.
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In 1080, a dispute between Henry IV of Germany and Pope Gregory VII escalated into open war. The war between the pope and the emperor was part of a larger series of events that came to be called the Investiture Controversy, one of the most-studied topics in medieval European history. The literature of the Investiture Controversy is vast. A general textbook of medieval European history will give a broad overview, but will not give any feeling for the complexity of the issues and how questions of religious reform could lead to war.
Blumenthal, Uta-Renate. The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.
Tellenbach, Gerd. The Church in Western Europe from the Tenth to the Early Twelfth Century. Translated by T. Reuter. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
_______ Church, State and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest. Trans. R.F. Bennett. New York: Harper & Row, 1959.
Tierney, Brian. The Crisis of Church and State, 1050-1300. Englewood
Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964.
A number of introductory books on medieval warfare are listed in the Medieval Warfare syllabus.
MGH: Monumenta Germaniae Historica.
The numerous subseries of the Monumenta are the standard editions of many medieval sources. Latin texts with Latin or German commentary.
RIS2: Rerum Italicarum Scriptores nuova edizione riveduta, ampliata e corretta, con la direzione di Giosuè Carducci, Vittorio Fiorini, Pietro Fedele.
This new series of Rerum Italicarum Scriptores (Writers of Italian Affairs) began in 1918. The first series was published in the 18th century. Latin texts with Italian commentary.
Benzo of Alba. Ad Heinricum IV imperatorem libri VII. Ed. K. Pertz. MGH Scriptores 11. Hanover, 1854. Pp. 591-681.
[Translation of relevant sections will be posted.]
Bishop Benzo was one of Henry IV’s most enthusiastic supporters. His writing style in these Seven Books to Emperor Henry IV is notable for scatological punning at the expense of Henry’s enemies. He gives invaluable information about the actions taken against Matilda of Tuscany. Benzo describes Matilda trapped in Canossa wringing her hands and weeping for the losses she has suffered. In his effort to paint Gregory’s supporters in as poor a light as possible, Benzo tells how Matilda and Anselm of Lucca stripped the monasteries to send gold and silver to Pope Gregory in Rome. There is corroboration for much of Benzo’s information. A possible interpretation of the events he narrates is that Matilda raided the possessions of Henry’s supporters in order to draw him from Rome while needed supplies of hard cash were sent to the pope.
In 1081, Henry had removed Matilda from all her imperial offices--besides the marquisate of Tuscany, she held the counties of Reggio, Modena, Mantua, Brescia and Ferrara--and confiscated her property. It was in his interest to enforce his judgement, but because he was dependent on his Italian allies, and they expected to be rewarded from the same territory, he had to refrain from the kind of destructive warfare that he could have waged under other circumstances. Despite Benzo’s efforts to make Henry look militarily effective, it is quite clear that the situation is the reverse.
________. Sieben Bücher an Kaiser Heinrich IV. Ed. Hans Seyffert. MGH Scriptores . . . in usum scholarum . . . . 65. Hanover, 1996.
This is a more recent edition of Benzo. Latin text with German commentary.
Bernold of St. Blasien. Chronicon. Ed. G.H. Pertz. MGH Scriptores 5. Hanover, 1844. Pp. 400-467. (Click here for translation)
Berthold of Reichenau. Annales. Ed. G.H. Pertz. MGH Scriptores 5. Hanover, 1844. Pp. 264-326.
Bonizo of Sutri. Liber ad amicum. Ed. Ernst Dummler. MGH Libelli 1. Hanover, 1891. Pp. 598-620.
[Translation of relevant sections will be posted.]
Gregory’s supporter, Bishop Bonizo is a fire breather like Benzo of Alba and, like Benzo, he must be used carefully by historians. Although he gives information for his own purposes, Bonizo is the only source for several points in Matilda’s life. On a few points, such as the date of the battle at Volta in October 1080, he is more correct that the usually reliable Bernold.
Donizone. Vita Mathildis Comitissae. Ed. L. Bethmann. MGH Scriptores 12. Hanover, 1856. Pp. 348-409.
_______. Vita Mathildis celeberrimae principis Italiae: Carmine scripta a Donizone presbytero. Ed. Luigi Simeoni. RIS2 5.2. Bologna: N. Zanichelli, 1930-40; repr. Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1973.
These are two editions of the Life of Matilda written by Donizone who became a monk at Canossa around 1086. Donizone was an eyewitness to a number of the events in Matilda’s later life, including the rout of Henry IV’s army in the battle before Canossa in 1092. Despite the obviously laudatory purpose of the work and a number of glaring inaccuracies, such as a failure to note the existence of either of Matilda’s husbands, he is the only source for many of these events. Obviously he must be used carefully and checked against maps and other sources. Donizone has been translated into Italian. (Click here for translation)
Gregory VII. Das Register Gregors VII., 2 vols. Ed. E. Caspar. MGH Epistolae Selectae 2. Berlin: Weidmann, 1920-23.
________. The Register of Pope Gregory VII 1073-1085: An English Translation. Trans. H.E.J. Cowdrey. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002.
________. The Epistolae Vagantes of Pope Gregory VII. Edited and translated by H.E.J. Cowdrey. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1972.
The letters of Pope Gregory VII are an invaluable source for the life of Matilda of Tuscany. There is also a partial translation by Ephraim Emerton (1932).
John of Mantua. Iohannis Mantuani in Cantica Canticorum et de Sancta Maria tractatus ad comitissam Mathildam. Ed. Bernard Bischoff and Burkhard Taeger. Spicilegium Friburgense 19. Freiburg: Universitätsverlag, 1973.
[About 40 pp. of translation from these works will be posted.]
John of Mantua’s Treatise on the Song of Songs was long known to exist, but about 10% of the text was first published in 1947, and the complete text was made available in 1973. It has been largely ignored since publication. John gives no information on specific actions of Matilda’s long career, but he makes clear that she was seen as a military power by contemporaries. The treatise, an exhortation on perseverance in war addressed to a woman, is a unique source.
Lambert of Hersfeld. Annales. Ed. V. Cl. Hesse. MGH Scriptores 5. Hanover, 1844. Pp. 134-263.
[Translation of relevant sections will be posted.]
Hans Delbrück wrote his doctoral dissertation on Lambert. Like most scholars of his time, Delbrück concentrated on the mistakes made by medieval writers. Archaeology has since proven that some of Lambert’s seemingly fanciful statements are accurate.
Rangerius of Lucca. Vita Anselmi Lucensis episcopi auctore Rangerio Lucensi. Ed. Ernest Sackur, Gerhard Schwartz and Bernhard Schmeidler. MGH Scriptores 30.2. Hanover, 1934. Pp. 1152-1307.
The life of Anselm II, bishop of Lucca, was written by his successor, Bishop Rangerius. Anselm was a strong supporter of Pope Gregory VII, and was driven from Lucca, also the seat of the marquises of Tuscany, late in 1080, after the defeat of Matilda of Tuscany at the battle of Volta. He fled first to the shelter of Moriana, a castle only a few miles upriver from Lucca, and then took refuge with Matilda. His uncorrupt body can still be seen today in Mantua where he died in 1086. Rangerius regarded Matilda’s military successes as proof of the power of Anselm’s prayers, and he is thus a good source for events that happened before the bishop’s death. He is the only source for such events as the failed sieges of Moriana, and gives further corroboration for the hit-and-run warfare waged by Matilda against King Henry’s supporters. He appears in several of her charters, and may have gotten some of the information directly from her. (Click here for translation)
_______. Sancti Anselmi episcopi Lucensis vita, a Rangerio successore suo, sæculo XII ineunte, latino carmine scripta. Ed. Vincentio de la Fuente. Madrid: Typis Viduæ et Filii E. Aguado, 1870.
This older edition of Rangerius is of interest only because it was used by scholars until the Monumenta edition was finally published in 1934. There is only one copy in the U.S.
Die Urkunden und Briefe der Markgräfin Mathilde von Tuszien. Ed. Elke Goez and Werner Goez. MGH Diplomata Laienfürsten 2. Hanover, 1998.
An invaluable tool. Prior to this edition of Matilda’s surviving charters and letters, these documents had to be looked up in collections dating as early as the sixteenth century. While visiting rare book collections and using such early editions is fun, this edition not only makes the documents conveniently available, but also brings to bear all the tools of modern scholarship.
Die Urkunden Heinrichs IV. Edited by Dietrich von Gladiss and Alfred Gawlik. MGH Diplomata 6:1-3. Weimar and Hanover, 1941, 1959, 1978.
The letters and charters of Henry IV. In addition to giving information as to his movements in Italy, the documents allow identification of Henry’s supporters.
Vita S. Anselmi Lucensis episcopi a Bardone scripsit. Ed. Roger Wilmans. MGH Scriptores 12. Hanover, 1856. Pp. 13-35.
Written by a priest who accompanied bishop Anselm into exile from Lucca. This vita is also a source for Rangerius and Donizone. The writer conveyed Anselm’s blessing to Matilda’s troops before the battle at Sorbara in 1084, and may have been an eyewitness to the battle. He doubtless knew her, and clearly admired her. She was, he writes, very devout and religious in private, but in the world she openly led the life of a soldier. (Click here for translation)
Bertolini, M[argherita] G[iuliana]. "Enrico IV e Matilde di Canossa di fronte alla città di Lucca." In Sant'Anselmo vescovo di Lucca (1073-1086) nel quadro delle transformazioni sociali e della riforma ecclesiastica. Ed. Cinzio Violante. Rome: Sede dell'Instituto Palazzo Borromini, 1992. Pp. 331-389.
Discussion of the charters and judicial actions taken by Matilda at Lucca. Especially interesting for the transfer of several castles to Anselm of Lucca in the years 1077-79. They were positioned to support the episcopal castle at Moriana that later became Anselm’s refuge and the center of resistance to Henry IV.
Cowdrey, H.E.J. Pope Gregory VII: 1073-1085. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998.
This is probably the next best thing to a biography of Matilda. It has the added advantage that Cowdrey is one of the few scholars who has an appreciation for the military implications of events. A real gift for students who read only English.
Duff, Nora. Matilda of Tuscany: la gran donna d'Italia. London: Methuen, 1909.
Although the book shows its age, it was a solid biography when written, and is still worth reading. It is the best available in English. Although Duff is careful to specify the sources of her information, it should probably be pointed out to students that much of the biographical detail in this book comes from historians who wrote centuries later. The fact is that large chunks of Matilda’s life are undocumented.
Eads, Valerie. "Using the Vita Mathildis of Donizone of Canossa as a Source for Military History." (forthcoming)
The first study in over a century of the military aspects of the last Italian campaign of Henry IV which was directed against Matilda of Tuscany. Donizone is the only source for much of this campaign, and his reliability has been questioned. The study finds that much of the earlier criticism was based on literary considerations and that Donizone is largely reliable. This opens up to study a large portion of Matilda's long military career.
________. "The Geography of Power: Matilda of Tuscany and the Strategy of Active Defense." In Crusaders, Condottieri and Cannon: Medieval Warfare in Societies around the Mediterranean, edited by L. J. Andrew Villalon and Donald Kagay. Leiden: Brill, 2002.
It has long been recognized that the key to Matilda of Tuscany’s military power was her the large landed possessions. This article puts her control of the Apennine routes into the context of earlier campaigns in the region from the Romans through Emperor Henry III. During the campaign of 1081-84, Henry IV did not have use of the trans-Apennine routes. Also discusses the means by which Matilda of Tuscany kept her large holdings.
________. Mighty in War: The Campaigns of Matilda of Tuscany. Ph.D. Dissertation: City University of New York, 2000.
The only detailed study in any language of Matilda of Tuscany as a military leader. Concentrates on the campaign of 1080-84 with only passing references to the rest of Matilda’s life. Like all doctoral dissertations, it is dense! Those who want a more substantial bibliography will find it here. Outline of dissertation.
Ghirardini, Lino Lionello. Bibliografia della éta matildico-gregoriana. Modena: Aedes Muratoriana, 1970.
The bibliography is useful, contains some errors, and is now outdated.
________. "Madonna della Battaglia': lo scontro decisivo della lotta per le investiture (ottobre 1092)." Bolletino storico reggiano, 11 (April 1971) pp. 36-56.
________. "San Polo nel sistema strategico-difensivo dell' appenino canossiana." In Milleni Sampolesi: Atti del convegno di studi storici (San Polo d'Enza 4-5-6 Maggio 1984), edited by Gino Badini, pp. 99-115. Reggio Emilia: Technostampa, 1985.
________. "La battaglia de Volta Mantovana (ottobre 1080)." In Sant'Anselmo, Mantova e la lotta per le Investiture. Atti del convegno internationale di studi (Mantova, 23-24-25 Maggio, 1986). Ed. Paolo Golinelli. Bologna: Pàtron, 1987.
Despite the titles of these three papers, they are not useful to the military historian.
Goez, Elke. Beatrix von Canossa und Tuszien: Eine Untersuching zur Geschichte des 11. Jahrhunderts. Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke, 1995.
A thoughtful scholarly biography of Matilda’s mother, Beatrice of Lorraine, written by a first-rate scholar. Very useful for the background.
Hay, David. The Campaigns of Countess Matilda of Canossa (1046‑1115): An Analysis of the History and Social Significance of a Woman’s Military Leadership. Ph.D. Dissertation: University of Toronto, 2000.
After a hiatus of thirty years, there were two dissertations on Matilda of Tuscany defended in 2000. Gives a broad overview of the known actions undertaken throughout Matilda’s long life, rather than a detailed military analysis of specific actions. Discusses the evidence of Matilda’s charters for her involvement in war; citations are to the 16th century editions rather than the Monumenta edition of 1998; includes discussion of the "canonical approaches to women’s military authority" and representations of Matilda in the polemical literature of the Investiture Controversy.
Huddy, Mary. Matilda, Countess of Tuscany. London, 1906.
Like Duff, this book shows its age, but is more burdened with fanciful descriptions of personal matters that obviously cannot be substantiated from the sources.
Morretta, Rocco. "L'Apparato difensivo dei signori di Canossa nell'Appennino Reggiano." Atti e memorie della Deputazione di storia patria per le antiche provincie modenesi, ser. 9, vol. 4 (1965) pp. 489-500.
Discusses the network of castles held by Matilda of Tuscany on the north face of the Apennines. They were positioned to cover access to all major trans-Apennine routes and to communicate with and mutually support one another. One of the few papers on Matilda that is of any use to military historians.
Overmann, Alfred. Grafin Mathilde von Tuscien: Ihre Besitzungen, Geschichte ihres Gutes von 1115-1230 und ihre Regesten. Innsbruck, 1895; rpt. Frankfurt am Main, 1965.
For students who have just a bit of German, this is a great place to start work on Matilda's career. The last part of the book is a chronological outline of her life, including the military actions, with sources! There have been changes in the last century and more, but relatively few. Also, source citations are to the editions that were then current which could confuse even grad students who have not yet been introduced to the dustier sections of the stacks.
Robinson, Ian S. Henry IV of Germany, 1056-1106. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.
A detailed study of Henry IV and, especially for those who do not read German or Latin, a valuable source of information on the role of Matilda of Tuscany in the failure of Henry’s Italian policy.
Settia, Aldo A. "Castelli e villaggi nelle terre canossiane tra X e XIII secoli." Studi Matildici: Atti e memorie del III convegno di studi matildici, Modena - Reggio Emilia, 7-8-9 ottobre 1977. Modena: Aedes Muratoriana, 1978. Pp. 281-307.
Locates and gives the earliest sources for castles held by Matilda of Tuscany. Corrects and updates older writers such as Overmann. Shows that her father, Marquis Boniface undertook a program of land acquisition to unify his holdings on both sides of the Apennines.
Spike, Michèle K. Tuscan Countess: The Life and Extraordinary times of Matilda of Canossa. New York: Vendome Press, 2004
Given the age of the English-language biographies of Matilda, students will inevitably find this book. This is unfortunate. At best, it will make an opportunity to explain that multi-lingual footnotes do not always indicate a scholarly book.
Zema, Demetrius. "The Houses of Tuscany and of Pierleone in the Crisis of Rome in the Eleventh Century." Traditio 2 (1944) pp. 155-175.
Fr. Zema was not a military historian, but he had a grasp of the subject. A decade before Verbruggen, he realized that there was much of interest to military historians in the Investiture Controversy and recognized the key role of Matilda of Tuscany. And it’s in English!