Margaret of Tyrol – “The ugly Duchess”

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Margaret of Tyrol was one of the 14th century’s wealthiest heiresses.  As the heiress to the Duchy of Carinthia and County of Tyrol in present-day Austria, she was a very desirable bride.  She inherited land caught between three powerful rivalling dynasties: the Habsburgs of Austria, the Luxembourgs of Bohemia, and the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria.  Margaret would marry into the latter two.  She would spend much of her life making and breaking alliances with these families.  However, she would face much slander in her life, which would lead to her going down in history as “the ugly Duchess.”

Early Life and Inheritance 

Margaret was born around 1318, as the daughter of Henry, Duke of Carinthia, and his second wife, Adelaide of Brunswick.  Henry had first been married to Anne of Bohemia, whom he twice, but briefly, claimed the crown of Bohemia through.  Margaret’s mother died in 1324, and Henry married for a third time to Beatrice of Savoy.  She died childless in 1331, so Margaret remained her father’s sole heir.  Margaret was one of the last members of the House of Gorizia-Tyrol.

To assure that Margaret would succeed him in Carinthia and Tyrol, Henry made arrangements for her marriage in 1327.  She was betrothed to John-Henry of Bohemia, the second son of John of Luxembourg, Henry’s successor on the Bohemian throne.  John-Henry’s mother was Elizabeth of Bohemia, the younger sister of Henry’s first wife, Anne.  Margaret’s marriage was also arranged to regain the lands in Bohemia that Henry had lost to John of Luxembourg.  In 1330, John-Henry was sent to Tyrol, and he and Margaret were married.  Margaret was 12, and John-Henry was 8.  Contemporary sources say that the child couple hated each other from the beginning.

Henry of Carinthia died in 1335.  Soon after his death, the Habsburgs seized the Duchy of Carinthia, which Margaret was supposed to inherit.  They did this with the help of Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, from the Wittelsbach dynasty.  The Habsburg brothers claimed Carinthia through their mother, Elizabeth of Carinthia, who also happened to be Margaret’s paternal aunt.  The Wittelsbachs tried to take Tyrol, but Margaret, being married into the rivalling Luxembourg dynasty, was able to keep it with the help of her brother-in-law, Charles.

A Forbidden Marriage  

Margaret and John-Henry never had a good relationship.  Margaret’s young husband was described as violent, arrogant, and incompetent.  He was hated by most of Margaret’s Tyrolean subjects.  On the evening of 1 November 1341, John-Henry came back from a hunting trip.  Margaret had the doors of Tyrol Castle barred and refused him entry.  John-Henry looked for shelter throughout Tyrol, but no one would offer it to him.  He eventually had to leave the country.

In a move against the Luxembourgs, Margaret married again in 1342, even though her and John-Henry’s marriage had not been officially annulled.  Her new husband was Duke Louis V of Bavaria, the eldest son of Emperor Louis IV.  Once again she had played off the rivalling dynasties.  This marriage was to cause a big scandal.  Around this time, she earned the nickname “Maultasch” which translates to “bag mouth” or “whore”.

Margaret and Louis were excommunicated by the church for their marriage, and Tyrol was placed under interdict.  They tried to declare the marriage to John-Henry invalid on the grounds that it was never consummated.  Margaret’s first marriage was not formally dissolved until 1349.  In the meantime, she had two sons, Hermann and Meinhard with her new husband.  In 1346, her former brother-in-law Charles of Luxembourg was elected as German anti-king in opposition to Emperor Louis IV.  Charles also succeeded his father as King of Bohemia that year.  In 1347, Emperor Louis IV died, and Louis V and his brothers succeeded as Dukes of Bavaria.  Charles tried to take advantage of this situation by conquering Tyrol.  Margaret, however, was able to defend her land’s until her husband’s return.

Later Years

In 1359, Margaret and Louis were finally released from excommunication by the new pope, and the interdict on Tyrol was lifted.  Their son, Hermann died in 1360, leaving Meinhard as Margaret’s only heir.  Margaret allied with the Habsburgs, and Meinhard was married to Margaret of Austria, daughter of Duke Albert II of Austria.  Louis died in 1361, and Meinhard was now a joint-Duke of Bavaria, along with his uncles.  With Margaret, he was also joint-Count of Tyrol.

Unfortunately, Meinhard died in 1363, soon before his 19th birthday.  Margaret was now left with no heirs.  One of Louis’s brothers, as well as Rudolf IV of Austria, tried to claim Tyrol.  Margaret ceded her lands to Rudolf IV, her son’s brother-in-law, and retired to Vienna.  From then on, Tyrol would remain in the Habsburg domains.  The widowed Margaret of Austria went on to marry her mother-in-law’s ex-husband, John-Henry.  Margaret of Tyrol died in exile in Vienna on 3 October 1369.  She was the last ruler of an independent Tyrol.

The Legend of the Ugly Duchess 

Margaret’s unflattering nickname “Maultasch”, which means “bag mouth”, has led to speculation that Margaret had a deformed jaw or an unusually wide mouth.  She was given this nickname around the time of her second marriage.  Because of this, the nickname could instead suggest that she was loose in sexual morals.  Margaret lived in a time when women in power, could face a lot of slander, and sexual slander was a very common weapon against them.

Chroniclers would also attack powerful women on their looks.  There were many women in history that were described as beautiful, but some could be described as ugly to make them more unlikable.  In the centuries after her death, Margaret’s nickname has led many to believe she had an unusually large mouth.  This may have lead to the “ugly duchess” nickname.  Actually, we have no idea what Margaret looked like.  The only image of her from her lifetime is her seal.  The image on her seal is in no way detailed but shows a fine feminine figure.  Also, some chroniclers from Margaret’s life described her as beautiful.

Whatever her appearance, Margaret has not gone down in history as a beautiful woman.  She lived much of her life being caught between powerful men.  By leaving her first husband and remarrying, she had been given an unfortunate nickname that is still associated with her today.  She spent most of her life trying to defend her lands, yet she is remembered more for her unflattering nickname.1

  1. Sources:; “Margarete von Tirol”

    Hunt, Keith; “The Ugliest Princess of all?”

    McMahon, Emily; “Propaganda, Patriarchy and Putrid Portraiture: The Story of Margaret of Tyrol

About CaraBeth 57 Articles
I love reading and writing about the royals of medieval Europe- especially the women. My interest was first started by the Plantagenet dynasty, but I decided to dive deeper, and discovered that there were many more fascinating royal dynasties in medieval Europe. Other dynasties I like reading and writing about are; the Capets, and their Angevin branch in Naples and Hungary, the Luxembourgs, the early Hapsburgs, the Arpads, the Piasts, the Premyslids and many more!

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