The Might of Matilda – The lady who made popes.
A disagreement between Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV (Heinrich) culminated in the aftermath of the Synod of Worms in February 1076. Gregory declared Henry excommunicated, releasing all his subjects from allegiance to him and providing the perfect reason for rebellion against his rule. Insubordinate southern German princes gathered in Trebur, awaiting the Pope. Matilda’s first military endeavour, as well as the first major task altogether as ruler, turned out to be protecting the Pope during his perilous journey north. Gregory could rely on nobody else; as the sole heir to the Attonid patrimony, Matilda controlled all the Apennine passes and nearly all the rest that connected central Italy to the north. The Lombard bishops, who were also excommunicated for taking part in the synod and whose sees bordered Matilda’s domain, were keen to capture Gregory. Gregory was aware of the danger, and recorded that all his advisors except Matilda counselled him against travelling to Trebur.
Henry had other plans, however. He decided to descend into Italy and intercept Gregory, who was thus delayed. The German dukes held a council by themselves and informed the King that he had to submit to the Pope or be replaced. Henry’s predecessors dealt easily with troublesome pontiffs – they simply deposed them, and the excommunicated Lombard bishops rejoiced at this prospect. When Matilda heard about Henry’s approach, she urged Gregory to take refuge in the Castle of Canossa, her family’s eponymous stronghold. Gregory took her advice. It soon became clear that the intention behind Henry’s walk to Canossa was to show penance. By 25 January 1077, the King stood barefoot in the snow before the gates of Matilda’s castle, accompanied by his mother-in-law, Margravine Adelaide of Susa. He remained there, humbled, until 28 January. By then Matilda had convinced the Pope to deal with Henry but it was Matilda herself who first ventured out of her stronghold and approached the freezing King/Emperor, risking seizure, or worse, she and Adelaide brokered a deal between the men. Henry was taken back into the Church, with the margravines acting as sponsors and formally swearing to the agreement.
Matilda had long enjoyed the reputation of Pope Maker, but this time she excelled in another talent, matchmaker. During their brief sojourn in the villa at Bracciano il Lago, just north of Rome, she offered Robert the chance to meet Sibyl of Conversano, an offer which he accepted without much enthusiasm. Unsurprising given the enormity of the task before him – but fate plays its hand regardless of man’s desires.
Setting aside fate, an evening with a friend on the shores of such a location brings its own rewards.