(931 – 999)
Western Empress and Regent
Daughter of Rudolf II of Burgundy.
As a child, Adelheid was betrothed for political reasons to Lothair of Provence, heir of King Hugh of Italy. Hugh married Adelheid’s widowed mother. At the age of sixteen she married Lothair, now King of Italy, and a daughter, Emma, was born of the marriage. It was a short and unhappy marriage – in 950 Lothair died.
Lothair’s successor, Berengar II, seized the throne and imprisoned Adelheid when she refused to marry his son. After four months’ confinement she escaped in August 951. Otto I “the Great” of Saxony rescued Adelheid and defeated Berengar, declared himself king of Italy, and then married Adelheid – Otto’s first wife was Edith, daughter of Edward the Elder.
Mother of four children by Otto I, including: Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor; three daughters, two of whom became Nuns.
A revolt led by Ludolf, Otto’s son by his first marriage, was crushed. It would appear to have been Adelheid’s influence which encouraged, if it did not inspire, Otto’s policy of close collaboration with the church.
When Otto was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor on February 2, 962 by Pope John XII, Adelheid was crowned as Empress. She turned to religious activity, promoting monasticism. Together they had five children.
When Otto I died and Adelheid’s son, Otto II, succeeded to the throne, she continued to influence him until 978. He married Theophano, a Byzantine princess, in 971, and her influence gradually superseded that of Adelheid, who was forced to leave court. Finally a reconciliation was effected, and in 983 Otto appointed her his viceroy in Italy.
When Otto II died in 984, his son, Otto III, succeeded him, though he was only three years old. Theophano, the child’s mother, was regent until her death 991 with Adelheid’s support, and then Adelheid, assisted by St.Willigis Bishop of Mainz, ruled for him 991-996.
In 984 the Duke of Bavaria (Henry “the Quarrelsome”) kidnapped Otto III, but was forced to turn him over to Theophano and Adelheid. In 995 Otto came of age, and in 996 was finally crowned at Rome.
Adelheid was free to devote herself exclusively to pious works, notably the foundation or restoration of religious houses. She had long entertained close relations with Cluny, then the center of the movement for ecclesiastical reform and in particular with its abbots St. Majolus and St. Odilo. On her way to Burgundy to support her nephew Rudolph III against rebellion, she died at a monastery she had founded at Seltz. She had constantly devoted herself to the service of the church and peace, and to the empire as guardian of both; she also interested herself in the conversion of the Slavs. She was thus a principal agent-almost an embodiment-of the work of the Catholic church during the dark ages in the construction of the religion-culture of western Europe. Her feast is kept in many German dioceses.
John Coulson, ed “The Saints: A concise Biographical Dictionary” (1960).