Irene Angelina’s exact date of birth is unknown. She was either born in 1177 or 1180/1181 in Constantinople as the second daughter of the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos and his first wife. Her mother was from the Palaiologina family, yet her first name remains unknown. She later became a nun named Irene.
In 1193 Irene Angelina married for the first time. Her husband, Roger III, was the eldest son of King Tancred of Sicily and the heir to the throne. Roger III ruled together with his father, but died before his father in December 1193, shortly before his father followed him. As Irene and Roger had no children, King Tancred’s aunt Constance and her husband, Emperor Henry VI, claimed the throne. Irene was captured by Henry in December 1994 and married to his younger brother, Duke Philip of Swabia.
Her second marriage was more successful than her first. After the death of the Emperor, Philip became King of the Romans in 1198 by election in Mühlhausen, Germany. Queen Irene apparently had a good relationship with her second husband and managed to influence him in his political decisions. They had seven children together, two sons and four daughters. Only her daughters survived.
Irene Angelina’s husband was murdered by Otto VIII of Wittelsbach on 21 June 1208. Pregnant, she retired to Hohenstaufen Castle (Göppingen, Southern Germany), where she gave birth to another daughter on 27 August. Mother and child died shortly afterwards and were buried in the family’s mausoleum in the monastery of Lorch Abbey. The grave was later destroyed. However, a replica of her gravestone can be admired in the abbey today. It includes a quote from the famous minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide who praised Irene in a poem on Philip’s Christmas celebrations: “Eine rose ane dorn, ein tube sunder gallen” – “A rose without a thorn, a dove without gall.”
The Ring of Irene
In 1830 a golden ring was found under the remains of a large stone coffin. It showed the Virgin Mary and the symbols of the life of Jesus Christ: A cross, a ladder, a rod, three cubes (with which Roman soldiers gambled for the shift of Christ), a hammer, a pair of pliers and a drop of blood. Above the symbols were the initials IHS, Jesus Hominium Salvato = Jesus, saviour of humankind.
However, the ring was lost in the 20th century. To this day its design is very popular for engagement rings in Southern Germany. A replica can also be seen at Lorch Abbey. Unfortunately, Hohenstaufen Castle, where she spent the last weeks of her life, does not exist anymore.