Gertrude of Austria

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Duchess Gertrud, Markgravine of Moravia and Baden (from the Babenberger Stammbaum kept in Klosterneuburg Abbey)

Gertrude of Austria (also named Gertrude of Babenberg) (1226 – 24 April 1288) was a member of the House of Babenberg, Duchess of Mödling and later Titular Duchess of Austria and Styria, she was the niece of Duke Frederick II of Austria, the last male member of the Babenberg dynasty. She was, according to the Privilegium Minus the first in line to inherit the Duchies of Austria and Styria after the death of childless Frederick, but these claims were disputed by her aunt Margaret.

Early years[edit]

Gertrude was the only child of Henry of Austria, Duke of Mödling, by his wife Agnes, daughter of Hermann I, Landgrave of Thuringia. Henry, in turn, was the second son of Duke Leopold VI of Austria. In 1216, after the death of his older brother Leopold, Henry became his father's heir.

Henry died on 26 September 1228, only twenty years old and without male issue. Two years later, on 28 July 1230, Henry's father Duke Leopold VI also died and was succeeded by Frederick II, Leopold's third son. Because Babenberg Austria was inheritable by females according to the provisions of Privilegium Minus, Gertrude disputed Frederick's ascension, claiming Austria as her inheritance as the only child of Leopold VI's eldest son. Even so, Gertrude's claim was eventually bypassed in her uncle's favor.

Despite this negative turn of events, Gertrude inherited her father's Duchy of Mödling[citation needed] and was placed under the guardianship of her uncle, Frederick II, who, after two unhappy marriages, remained childless. This made Gertrude the primogenitural heiress of the entire Babenberg line of Dukes of Austria and Styria.

Marriage[edit]

Complicating Frederick II's hold over Austria was his long-standing quarrel with Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, during which he was placed under an imperial ban. In 1245, in a spectacular change of imperial politics, Frederick II of Austria became one of the emperor's most important allies when negotiations regarding the elevation of Vienna to a bishopric and of Austria (including Styria) to a Kingdom were initiated. One condition effecting a positive outcome was that the 19-year-old Duke's niece, Gertrude, would marry the 51-year-old Emperor who was a widower three times over. Though desirous of the union, Wenceslaus I of Bohemia nevertheless voiced his concerns given a preexisting agreement that Gertrude marry his eldest son and heir Vladislaus. Gertrude herself refused the marriage with the aged Emperor, citing his recent excommunication by the Pope. Other sources claim that she was in love with Vladislav. After sending an army to Austria in order to pressure Duke Frederick II into agreeing to the union of Gertrude and Vladislaus, the two parties came to terms early in June 1245 in Verona. The rapid rise of Duke Frederick's political ambitions proved short-lived.

On 15 June 1246 Frederick II was killed in battle. King Wenceslaus quickly arranged the formal marriage ceremony of Gertrude and his heir, Vladislaus. Per hoc Wladislaus habebat Austriae ducatum cheered Bohemia and, supported by the rights of his wife and the prospect of inheriting the Bohemian throne, Vladislaus was quickly recognized as Duke by the Austrian aristocracy. However, shortly after their marriage, Vladislaus died on 3 January 1247.

In 1248, in order to bolster her claims, the 22-year-old Duchess married Herman VI, Margrave of Baden. The following year Gertrude gave birth to a son Frederick. In celebration of the happy event, Gertrude gave 30 people in Alland, the place of her son's birth, extended farm lands which became the foundation of the agrarian community of the Allander Urhausbesitzer. In 1250 Gertrude had a second child, a daughter, whom she named Agnes after her maternal grandmother.

Frustrated ambitions[edit]

Herman was able to maintain only minimal control in the duchies, failing ultimately to defeat the opposition of the Austrian aristocracy. As a result, Gertrude and her children fled to Meissen in Saxony and her relationship with Herman deteriorated significantly. Gertrude was suspected of poisoning Herman when he died on 4 October 1250.

Gertrude lost the favour of the curia and with it the chance to recover the Babenberg dominions of Austria and Styria when she refused to marry the brother of Count William II of Holland, Floris, who was also the favored candidate of Pope Innocent IV.

In the meantime, her aunt and competitor for the duchies of Austria and Styria, Margaret, married Prince Ottokar of Bohemia, the second son and next heir of Wenceslaus I. The aristocracy accepted Margaret and Ottokar as the rulers of Austria. On 12 July 1252, having lost most of her support, Gertrude formed an alliance with Bela IV of Hungary and married his relative, Roman Danylovich, Prince of Halicz, a member of the Rurikid dynasty. In 1253, Gertrude gave birth to her only child from this union, Maria. However, after failing to establish himself as Duke of Austria, Roman left Gertrude and their daughter to return to Hungary. Shortly thereafter, the marriage was formally dissolved.

Eventually, in 1254, Gertrude received a portion of Styria, 400 silver marks annually, and the towns of Voitsberg and Judenburg as her residences. In 1267, as neither Gertrude nor her son Frederick forswore their claim to the duchies of Styria and Austria, King Ottokar II dispossessed them of their lands. Ottokar was largely motivated since he sought to remarry into the Hungarian royal house; he could not expect an heir with the significantly older and barren Margaret. That same year, the death of Margaret made Gertrude the only legitimate heir to the Babenberg dynasty.

Decline[edit]

On 8 September 1268, Gertrude's son Frederick, who had accompanied Conradin on his Italian expedition, was captured in Astura to the south of Anzio. Handed over to Charles of Anjou, he remained in degrading imprisonment in the Castel dell'Ovo in Naples until his public beheading in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples on 29 October. The following year, Gertrude was exiled and lost her claim to Windisch-Feistritz. Again, she found refuge with her family in Meissen.

Gertrude's other claims were ultimately lost when Rudolf I of Germany granted her duchies to his own sons in 1282. Six years later, Gertrude died as an Abbess of the Poor Clare convent of Saint Afra near Seusslitz in Meissen.

Her daughter Agnes of Baden became mother and brother's heir, but in 1279, renounced her rights to Baden and the Duchies of Austria and Styria. From her second marriage with Count Ulrich III of Heunburg, Agnes had five children, two sons (Frederick and Herman) and three daughters (Margaret, Elisabeth and Katharina).

Gertrude's youngest daughter, Maria Romanovna of Halicz, born from her third marriage, married Joachim of Guthkeled, son of Ban Stephan IV of Zagreb, the former Hungarian National Captain (German: Landeshauptmanns) in Styria. The date of her death or if she left any descendants is unknown.

See also[edit]