Saturday, March 19, 2011

Queen Theodelinda: The Cisalpine St. Patrick, and "most glorious queen"

We have covered Queen Theodelinda many times on this blog, and will continue to do so. A simple search will bring up past writings on her, so there is no need to repeat everything. Theodelinda was a Frankish princess from Bavaria, of partly royal Langobard ancestry, who married the Langobard King Authari. The Langobards and Franks had much intermarriage within their ruling classes.

It should be noted that Theodelinda was the granddaughter of the Langobard King Waccho; and that she was the ninth Winilli/Langobard queen (the first being Queen Gambara).

The ruling classes of Germanic society, prior to a millennium ago, are not to be confused with the royals of more recent centuries. For example, the Langobard king used to lead the army in battle, sometimes leading the charge.

Some of the Catholic institutions artistically portrayed her as much less than beautiful despite clear evidence to the contrary. It's a well-known fact that she was very beautiful. King Authari, before agreeing to marry her, sent emissaries to Bavaria to see her. According to Paul the Deacon, simply to see that she was physically adequate. Upon seeing that she was a tall beautiful blonde, they quickly returned to Langbard to inform King Authari. She seems to have worn her hair long prior to becoming queen.

Not to confuse "looks" with deeds, but some of the drab portrayals of her is a type of historical slander. I would like to see some new revisionist artwork on her. Some revisionists believe that she was a vastly underrated historical figure. Like St. Patrick did in Ireland, she brought Catholicism to the Langobards and Cisalpines. She seemingly could very well have been declared a Catholic saint.

The queen had the Cathedral of Monza constructed, which has since housed the famous Iron Crown of Lombardy. The crown is said to have been fashioned with one of the nails used in the crucifixion of Christ. King Authari died after two years of the marriage, and she was loved so much by the people that they wanted her to remain their ruler. I know sometimes we're fed lines like that regarding historical figures, but in this case it seems to be very true from everything that I've read. A year later she chose a new husband, Agilulf. The Wikipedia page on her, not to mention mainstream history itself, has left a lot to be desired!


From the Medieval History Journal:

Theodelinda, 'Most Glorious Queen': Gender and Power in Lombard Italy

Ross Balzaretti

School of History and Art History, Nottingham University, Nottingham NG72RD, UK


Theodelinda, Queen of the Lombards (590-628), has been known for long to historians through the portrait depicted by Paul the Deacon in his Historia Langobardorum. However, as this was written some 150 years after the queen's death, its evidence needs to be treated with great caution. In this essay, the earliest contemporary evidence of Theodelinda's life is examined and compared to Paul's account. The latter turns out to be a highly-gendered representation, made up largely by Paul. Nevertheless, the early evidence (Gregory the Great's letters and various short historical texts) does show that she was a 'most glorious queen'.

[Right: A depiction of Queen Theodelinda from one of the frescoes in the Theodelinda Chapel in Monza, Lombardy, painted by people who actually saw the queen and knew what she looked like.]


Theodelinda (Wikipedia page):

Theodelinda, queen of the Lombards, (c. 570-628) was the daughter of duke Garibald I of Bavaria.

She was married first in 588 to Authari, king of the Lombards, son of king Cleph. Authari died in 590. Theodelinda was allowed to pick Agilulf as her next husband and Authari's successor in 591. She thereafter exerted much influence in restoring Nicene Christianity (the mainstream, in 1054 split by the East-West Schism in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) to a position of primacy in Italy against its rival, Arian Christianity.

After the conversion of Agilulf to the Catholic faith, she started building churches in Lombardy and Tuscany, among them the cathedral of Monza and the first Baptistery of Florence. They were all dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

The famous treasure of Monza contains the Iron Crown of Lombardy and the theca persica, enclosing a text from the Gospel of John, sent by Pope Gregory I (590-604) to her for her son Adaloald. Another of the gifts of this pope to the Lombard queen was a cruciform encolpion (reliquary) containing a portion of the True Cross.


The history of the queen and her connection with the famous Iron Crown of Lombardy are narrated in the frescoes painted in the Theodelinda Chapel in the Cathedral of Monza, work by Ambrogio and Gregorio Zavattari (1444).



Ty'reese Tranh said...

One Internet entry lists Asti, not Bavaria, as Theodelinda's birthplace.

Oswin said...

I'm excited to read this, I actually found out today (I am researching my families ancestry) that Theodelinda is my 41st great grandmother. Honestly thought the side of the family she was on, wasn't much interesting since it was mostly french (until I hit the German and other parts after doing more research)

Camunlynx said...

Oswin, that's really a great discovery. If you compile her political and religious dealings, it becomes clear that she would have been a great leader at anytime in history, or today. A great leader. We don't really have true leaders today.

Oswin said...

She would have been someone anyone would want to know in person. :).