Bertha of Sulzbach

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Bertha of Sulzbach (1110s – August 29, 1159) was the first wife and Empress of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus.

Family[edit]

She was born in Sulzbach, a daughter of Berengar II, Count of Sulzbach (c. 1080 – 3 December 1125) and his second wife Adelheid of Wolfratshausen. In 1111, Berengar was among the nobles attending the coronation of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. He is mentioned among the sureties of documents related to the coronation. In 1120, Berengar is recorded granting a donation to the Prince-Bishopric of Bamberg. He is mentioned as the founder of Berchtesgaden Provostry and Baumburg Abbey. He was also a co-founder of Kastl Abbey. He was one of the rulers who signed the Concordat of Worms (23 September 1122). In August, 1125, Berengar is mentioned in documents of Lothair III, King of the Romans. The death of Berengar is mentioned four months later.[1]

The identity of her mother is mentioned in the "Kastler Reimchronik", Vers 525. Adelheid is mentioned in various other documents of the 12th century as "Countess of Sulzbach", without mentioning her husband. "De Fundatoribus Monasterii Diessenses" contains a rather confused genealogy concerning her two most prominent daughters. Otto II, Count of Wolfratshausen, father of Adelheid, is given as father to Richenza, "Empress" and "Maria, Empress of the Greeks". Richenza was the empress of Lothair III. The author of the text had apparently confused her with Gertrude von Sulzbach, wife of Conrad III of Germany. Maria is probably a confusion for "Irene", the baptismal name of Bertha of Sulzbach, wife of Manuel I Komnenos. Both were actually granddaughters of Otto, children of Berengar and Adelheid. Gertrude was a sister of Bertha.[1]

The known siblings of Gertrude include (1) Gebhard III, Count of Sulzbach, (2) Adelheid, Abbess of Niedernburg at Passau (3) Gertrude von Sulzbach, German Queen (4) Luitgarde, wife first of Godfrey II of Leuven and secondly of Hugo XII, Count of Dagsburg and Metz., (5) Matilda of Sulzbach, wife of Engelbert III of Istria.[1]

Berengar II was a son of Gebhard II, Count of Sulzbach and Irmgard of Rott.[2] Irmgard was a daughter of Kuno I of Rott, founder of Rott Abbey, and his wife Uta. There is a theory identifying her mother as a daughter of Frederick III, Count of Diessen. However this is not confirmed by primary sources. Irmgard is mentioned as the founder of Berchtesgaden monastery. There is mention of her marrying twice but the identity of her second husband is disputed. The most likely candidate is Kuno, Count of Horburg.[3]

Gebhard II is considered a namesake son of Gebhard I, Count of Sulzbach. Gebhard I is the first person known to have used this title. On 28 November 1043, Gebhard was granted property by charter of Henry III, King of Germany. There his mother is mentioned as "Adalheit". The "Genealogischen Tafeln zur mitteleuropäischen Geschichte" (1965–1967) by W. Wegener identifies her as Adelaide of Susa. The father therefore being Herman IV, Duke of Swabia. This theory has gained some acceptance. However Charles Cawley notes that this would place his birth c. 1037–1038. In order for Gebhard to have grandchildren by the 1080s, "this would require a succession of teenage bridegrooms which seems improbable." Wegener theorises the wife of Gebhard I to have been a daughter of Berengar, Count of Nordgau. He suggests that Sulzbach was part of her dowry. Cawley considers the theory to stand only on "the transmission of the name Berengar into her husband's family." Otherwise no connection between the families is known to exist.[4]

Marriage and children[edit]

Emissaries of the Byzantine emperor John II Comnenus arrived in Germany, seeking an alliance against Roger II of Sicily. To seal the alliance, the emissaries requested that Conrad send a princess of his family to be married to the emperor's son, Manuel. Instead, Conrad selected his sister-in-law, Bertha, and sent her to Greece escorted by Emicho von Leiningen, the Bishop of Würzburg.

By the time Bertha arrived at the Imperial court in Constantinople, the emperor John was dead, and his son Manuel was now the reigning emperor. Manuel delayed marrying her for three years, until shortly after Epiphany 1146, at which point she became empress and was renamed "Irene" (Εἰρήνη), a common name for foreign-born princesses. As an introduction for her to the Hellenic culture she was marrying into, John Tzetzes wrote his Allegories on the Iliad.

Bertha-Irene was noted for shunning the frivolity of the luxurious Byzantine court; Basil of Ochrid, the archbishop of Thessalonica, praised her for her modesty and piety, and Nicetas Choniates (53sq.) noted that she did not wear face-paint. The patriarch of Constantinople, Cosmas II Atticus, who had been accused of heresy, allegedly cursed Bertha-Irene's womb in 1147 to prevent her bearing a son. She and Manuel had two daughters:

  1. Maria Comnena (1152–1182), who married Renier of Montferrat.
  2. Anna Comnena (1154–1158).

Bertha-Irene died in Constantinople in 1159. Her husband Manuel was described as "roaring like a lion" in grief at her death, despite his infidelities during her lifetime. He remarried, in 1161, to Maria of Antioch.

Ancestry[edit]

Sources[edit]

Bertha of Sulzbach
Born: 1110s Died: 1159
Royal titles
Preceded by
Piroska of Hungary
Byzantine Empress consort
1146–1159
Succeeded by
Maria of Antioch