Bernhard von Spanheim

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Bernhard of Spanheim
Duke of Carinthia
Bernhard von Spanheim Brunnen Klgft.jpg
Bernhard von Spanheim statue, Klagenfurt
Reign 1202–1256
Predecessor Ulrich II, Duke of Carinthia
Successor Ulrich III, Duke of Carinthia
Spouse(s) Judith of Bohemia
Noble family House of Sponheim
Father Herman of Carinthia
Mother Agnes of Babenberg
Born c. 1176/81
Died 4 January 1256(1256-01-04)
Buried St. Paul's Abbey

Bernhard von Spanheim (or Sponheim) (1176 or 1181 – 4 January 1256) was Duke of Carinthia for 54 years from 1202 until his death. He was a member of the noble House of Sponheim.


In 1122 Bernhard's ancestor Count Henry of Sponheim, descending from Rhenish Franconia, had inherited the Imperial estate of Carinthia.

His father was Duke Herman II of Carinthia, who had reigned from 1161 until 1181. He was at first succeeded by Bernhard's elder brother Duke Ulrich II, who reigned for two decades but died childless on 10 August 1202, whereafter Bernhard succeeded him.[1] His mother was Agnes of Austria (1154–1182).[2]

Bernhard's paternal grandparents were Margrave Engelbert III of Istria and Matilda of Sulzbach.[3] Matilda was a daughter of the Bavarian Nordgau Count Berengar II of Sulzbach (d. 3 December 1125) and Adelheid of Wolfratshausen. Her sisters included Gertrude and Bertha of Sulzbach, respectively the wives of King Conrad III of Germany and Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos.[4]


Seal of Bernhard, Duke of Carinthia

Bernhard had actually been regent over the Carinthian duchy since his elder brother Duke Ulrich II had fallen seriously ill, possibly with leprosy, after he had joined the Crusade of 1197. In the conflict between the rivaling House of Hohenstaufen and the Welfs around the German throne upon the death of Emperor Henry VI, he originally continued his brother's support for their Hohenstaufen relative Philip of Swabia who had been elected King of the Romans in 1198. He nevertheless turned to the Welf Otto IV after Philipp's assassination in 1208 and attended his coronation in Rome. In 1213, Bernhard again switched sides to Philip's nephew King Frederick II, who had been elected King of the Romans and finally prevailed.

Bernhard remained a loyal supporter of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and in 1230 backed the efforts by Grand Master Hermann von Salza to reacha reconciliation between Emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX and later also intermediated in the conflict between the emperor and his son King Henry (VII) of Germany. However, in his later years, having established marital relationships with the Bohemian Přemyslid dynasty and the Counts of Andechs, he turned away from straitened Frederick II towards the ultramontane party.

A territorial prince (princeps terre) at his own judgement, Bernhard concentrated on regional politics and aimed at extending his estates against rivalling territorial princes like the Bishops of Bamberg or the Patriarchs of Aquileia. He entrenched a ducal centre of force comprising the towns of Sankt Veit, Völkermarkt and Klagenfurt, the later Carinthian capital that he had transferred to its present location in 1246. Bernhard's court in Sankt Veit was the site of festive chivalrous tournaments and a venue of minnesingers like Walther von der Vogelweide. In his Frauendienst poem, Ulrich von Liechtenstein renders his arrival in Carinthia in the guise of a Venus in 1227, when Duke Bernhard received him with the Slovene salutation Buge vas primi, gralva Venus ("God be with you, royal Venus").

Bernhard also gained control over the strategically important Loibl Pass leading to the adjacent March of Carniola in the south, where his son Ulrich III in 1248 became margrave (dominus Carniolae) upon his marriage with Agnes of Andechs, daughter of Duke Otto I of Merania. He is also credited as founding the Kostanjevica (Landstraß) Cistercian Abbey in Lower Carniola about 1234. Bernhard is buried at St. Paul's Abbey in the Lavanttal.

Marriage and children[edit]

Duke Bernhard's exalted rank corresponds to his wedding with Judith, daughter of the Přemyslid King Ottokar I of Bohemia and the Árpád princess Constance of Hungary, in 1213. Four known children result from the marriage:[5]

The relationship with the Přemyslid dynasty became crucial, when Bernhard's son Duke Ulrich III died without heirs in 1269. His younger brother Philip was claimant to the estates of Carinthia and Carniola, he nevertheless could not prevail against his first cousin King Ottokar II of Bohemia, who in 1268 had signed an inheritance treaty with late Duke Ulrich. Though Philip even reached his enfeoffment by King Rudolph I of Germany in 1275, he could not assume the rule after King Ottokar II was killed at the 1278 Battle on the Marchfeld.

Bernhard von Spanheim
Born: c. 1176/81 Died: 4 January 1256
Preceded by
Ulrich II
Duke of Carinthia
Succeeded by
Ulrich III