This article was written by Carol.
Adelaide was one of the most powerful women of the 10th century in Europe. Adelaide was born in 931 to King Rudolph II of Burgundy. When Adelaide was two, her father betrothed her to Lothair, the son of Hugh of Provence. This was part of a peace settlement between Rudolph and Hugh over who would rule Italy. By the time Adelaide was old enough to be married, her father was dead, her mother had married Hugh, and although Lothair was ostensibly King of Lombardy (Italy), in truth he was under the control of a rival claimant Berengar II, Margrave of Ivrea. Adelaide’s brother Conrad, however, determined that the marriage should go forth and Lothair and Adelaide were married in 947. They had one daughter Emma, born in 948.
Soon thereafter Ivrea arranged for the murder of Lothair. He then tried to marry Adelaide to his own son. Adelaide refused, and Ivrea locked her up in a castle in the middle of Lake Garda, where she was mistreated by his wife Willa, who a contemporary called “ a second Jezebel.” Legend has it that she escaped with the help of a priest through underground tunnels where she eventually hid in the marshland, subsisting on fish. Eventually, she made her way to Canossa Castle, where she wrote to the King of Germany offering herself in marriage in exchange for his assistance. Otto the Great, the King, duly came with his army, put Ivrea under his control and he and Adelaide married in 951. Ten years later they had to fight Ivrea again, and the Pope revived Charlemagne’s title and crowned them Holy Roman Emperor and Empress in return for their assistance.
Otto died in 973, and Adelaide’s son Otto II inherited the crown. Adelaide had a famously poor relationship with her daughter-in-law Theophano, and eventually, Otto sent his mother away from Court. She went to live with her brother Conrad, but a reconciliation was effected by St. Majolus of Cluny. Otto came and on his knees begged her forgiveness. She, in turn, sent his cloak to St. Martin of Tours (a reference to the Saint cloaking Jesus in the form of a beggar) and begged for prayers for her son.
In 983 her son Otto died. Adelaide and Theophano worked together to protect his son’s inheritance. Theophano became regent, and Adelaide turned her attention to religion. She built monasteries and convents and tried to convert the slavs on her northern border. She promoted Majolus for Pope, but he turned it down. When Theophano died, Adelaide became regent for her grandson Otto III. In a repeat of history when Otto III reached his majority, he too sent his grandmother away from Court.
In 999 she was travelling to Burgundy to assist her nephew when she died at her monastery at Seltz on December 16. Odilo of Cluny wrote a biography, calling her “a marvel of beauty and grace.” She was canonised by Pope Urban II in 1097. She is the patron saint for in-law troubles, among other things.1