The Catholic University of America Press

Queenship and Sanctity

The Lives of Mathilda and the Epitaph of Adelheid

Sean Gilsdorf

Medieval Texts in Translation

Paper 978-0-8132-1374-3 $29.95
July 2004 In Print Add to Cart
E-Book 978-0-8132-1608-9 $29.95
August 2012 In Print Add to Cart

At the dawn of the second millennium, authors from monasteries in Burgundy and northern Germany recorded the lives and deaths of two powerful and pious women, Mathilda (d. 968) and Adelheid (d. 999). Both were extolled as saints, exemplary figures guided by God and witnessing to His grace. Unlike most other holy women, however, Mathilda and Adelheid were not ascetic nuns, but queens. They were deemed worthy of praise not only for their devotion to God and their lives of faith, but for integrating these traditional virtues with more "worldly" attributes: noble birth, royal marriage, political power, and illustrious offspring. In turn, the saintly reputations of both women were used by their biographers to advance the interests not only of their own ecclesiastical communities, but of a new generation of secular rulers.

Queenship and Sanctity brings together for the first time in English the anonymous Lives of Mathilda and Odilo of Cluny's Epitaph of Adelheid. Richly annotated, with an extensive introduction placing the texts and their subjects in historical and hagiographical context, it provides teachers and students with a crucial set of sources for the history of Europe (particularly Germany) in the tenth and eleventh centuries, for the development of sacred biography and medieval notions of sanctity, and for the life of aristocratic and royal women in the early Middle Ages. In addition, two appendices present contemporary accounts of Mathilda by the monk and historian Widukind of Corvey, and a survey of the evidence for Mathilda's ancestral ties to the legendary Saxon hero Widukind, whose defeat by Charlemagne in the late eighth century ultimately led to Saxony's assimilation into the Frankish church and kingdom.

A useful resource for scholars of the period, yet accessible to non-specialists, Queenship and Sanctity is an engaging introduction to two fascinating women and the world they helped to create.

Sean Gilsdorf Sean Gilsdorf received his Ph.D. in medieval history from the University of Chicago and currently is a research associate in the Department of History at Smith College. He is the editor of The Bishop: Power and Piety at the First Millennium.


"Gilsdorf has made a valuable contribution to the English-language body of works on medieval German history. Gilsdorf's translations . . . are lucid and enjoyable. . . . Gilsdorf has provided non-specialists expanded access to Ottonian sources, which should help to increase the attention this fascinating period receives in American classrooms. Because of the prominence of powerful Ottonian women and the relatively few biographical depictions of women in secular life from the early and central Middle Ages, scholars and students of women and biography will especially benefit from this useful volume. . . . The translations of the Lives of Mathilda and the Epitaph of Adelheid alone make Queenship and Sanctity worth reading, and specialists will find it a valuable reference. The introduction, appendices, and notes make it highly suitable for a course on medieval or religious history; one could also teach these texts usefully in a course on women or gender. Indeed, the lucidity and liveliness of the translations recommend them for both classroom and independent undergraduate research."--Valerie L. Garver, Biography

"The detailed discussion of the three documents and the translations themselves are highly welcome contributions to the history of queenship in the tenth century."--Albrecht Classen, Mediaevistik

"Gilsdorf's translations are . . . wonderfully readable and a welcome addition to materials available on medieval queens and the Ottonians. . . . The volume provides a readable text of the two lives of Mathilda and the 'praise' of Adelheid which will be a welcome addition for teaching the medieval history and for considering not only the complex issues of women as transmitters and inheritors of property, and rulers in the absence of husbands or minority of sons, but of the construction of the State itself."- Constance H.Berman, University of Iowa

"This is an exemplary volume, which should certainly make these relatively overlooked queens much better known. It should immediately find a place in upper-level courses both on medieval women and on medieval Germany. Helpful maps and family trees assure the reader can keep all the people and places straight. Although the principal audience is students who do not read Latin, academic historians should also find the volume very useful. The introduction puts Mathilda and Adelheid into their political and social context as well as discussing issues of textual authorship and dating. The analysis of the role of queens in a patriarchal society and the shifting politics of their time are scholarly contributions in their own right. The endnotes and bibliography are thorough and up-to-date. The appendix includes a detailed discussion of the evidence for Mathilda's ancestry, a discussion that, while brief, raises important issues about family consciousness. In his translation, Gilsdorf had managed to retain some of the flavor of the original medieval Latin, including the alliteration, while still producing a text that is easy and enjoyable to read."--Constance B. Bouchard, Catholic Historical Review

"Sean Gilsdorf seeks to make these biographies, as a group, a microcosm of the dynastic and religious context of the later tenth century. He has succeeded." -- Steven Rowan, The Historian

Product Details

Pages:xv,221 pages

Dimensions:5.5x8.5 inches


CIP Information: 2003018126/ DD137.9.M38Q84 2004/ 943.'022'0922--dc22


1. Matilda, Queen, consort of Henry I, King of Germany, ca. 895-968

2. Adelheid, Empress, consort of Otto 1, Holy Roman Emperor, ca. 931-999

3. Queens--Germany--Biography

4. Christian saints--Germany--Biography

5. Germany--History--Henry I, 919-936--Sources

6. Germany--History--Otto I, 936-973, Sources