GERDRVDIS DE BROVNSWIC DUCISSA AUSTRIE,
Grave slab in the chapter house of Heiligenkreuz Abbey
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Poor Gertrud! Actually, she was destined for a brilliant future when she was born in Saxony on 18 April 1115. Her proud father, Lothar of Supplinburg, was the powerful Duke of Saxony and later Emperor Lothar III. But she was always unlucky. As a child she lived entirely in the overpowering shadow of her mother Richenza of Northeim, and as a young girl she was paired off with Henry the Proud of the Guelph dynasty, a man 15 years her senior. By the time she was 14, she was already a mother - she didn't have much of her childhood and youth. Let's assume she had a few happy years at her husband's side - when he was around. But he was away a lot, fighting wars and accompanying her father on Italian campaigns. Suddenly, as a young, 24-year-old, life-hungry woman, she became a widow when her husband was in a dispute with the Staufers. She had to cope very quickly with the death of her outlawed husband. After the death of her father, Emperor Conrad III had succeeded to the German kingship and had withdrawn the fiefs of the duchies from her husband, Henry the Proud. Gertrud, together with her mother, continued the resistance begun by Henry the Proud, a multi-front war. At stake was her inheritance, the Duchy of Saxony, and that of her husband, the Duchy of Bavaria. And things did not look so bad. In Bavaria, supported by her husband's brother Welf VI, her arch-enemy, the Babenberg Leopold IV, came under severe pressure. He had great difficulty holding his own and lost one battle after another. King Conrad had to step in again and again. And in Saxony Albrecht the Bear had practically been driven out. Then his mother Richenza died. Gertrud stood alone in Saxony.
But Leopold IV also died and King Konrad III sought reconciliation. He travelled to Gertrud in Brunswick and she received him in her residence, Dankwarderode Castle (a reconstruction of this castle can be seen today in the centre of Brunswick). Her son, Henry the Lion, was to be allowed to take up his inheritance and become Duke of Saxony, but renounce Bavaria. Bavaria was again to be enfeoffed to a Babenberg, Heinrich Jasomirgott. This Henry was a stepbrother of Conrad III. What was to become of Gertrud? Either she or the king had the brilliant idea: Gertrud marries Heinrich Jasomirgott. A political solution that would secure peace: Bavaria stays in the family, so to speak, since Gertrud becomes Duchess of Bavaria through the marriage, and Henry the Lion will hardly wage war against his mother.
So peace in Germany, reconciliation between WELFs and STAUFERN: In Frankfurt, the wedding was celebrated with great pomp, and the king was so happy about this union that he hosted the festivities himself. He spent three hundred marks on it, the same three hundred marks that Gertrude had had to pay him as penance for the resistance in her duchy, and if one considers that one mark is worth half a pound of silver, it is not surprising that this "wedding of the year", together with all the tournaments and banquets, lasted a full fourteen days and that it was to be the greatest celebration that had been experienced up to that time. At the table, however, people raised their golden tankards and drank to Gertrud and Jasomirgott, the happy couple.
A bright young wife returned to Saxony. Hard work awaited her at first. She took over the affairs of government for her son, who was still a minor. She made orders that seemed to be downright contrary to those of her late husband, Henry the Proud. However, she by no means lost sight of the general interests of the country. She made a point of promoting prosperity in the duchy; in conjunction with Archbishop Adalbero of Bremen and Margrave Albrecht the Bear, she eagerly ensured the colonisation of previously deserted stretches on the left bank of the Weser. These efforts bore rich fruit and were soon widely imitated.
She returned the favour for the happy days of Frankfurt when the king travelled through Saxony the next year. The Duchess received him in Brunswick at Dankwarderode Castle with all her splendour, and CONRAD III was a grateful guest: what a change from those years when he was scornfully rejected in Saxony. CONRAD left Saxony again. Peace reigned there, deeper than in all the years of his reign. He had now reached a high point in his royal career and could be satisfied. Poor CONRAD - just as swiftly as he had built his house of cards, it fell down again.
In Brunswick (Braunschweig), Gertrud was preparing to move to Klosterneuburg, the residence of the Babenbergs - but possibly also to Regensburg, the capital of the Duchy of Bavaria at the time. Actually, everything spoke against such a gruelling journey across the empire, because Gertrud was pregnant. Travel carriages in the Middle Ages did not have suspension. The Romans did use sprung travel carriages from the 2nd century AD onwards. But the technology was lost with the decline of antiquity and it was not until much later in the 15th century that suspension was invented again in Kocs, Hungary. Gertrud did not let it hold her back. The child she carried under her heart belonged in her new homeland, where she hoped for a new, happy life at last. On her 28th birthday, 18 April 1143, this life ended. She died as a result of a difficult birth. We can only guess, but the accompanying circumstances must have been highly dramatic. We only know that the daughter who was born too early survived. Heinrich Jasomirgott had Gertrud buried in Klosterneuburg. It was not until thirty years after Gertrud's end that her son stood at her grave for the first time.
The daughter Richardis grew up with her father and stepmother Theodora of Byzantium. She was married to a Styrian count in the course of the Babenbergs' efforts to gain power in the direction of Styria.
In the 13th century, at the instigation of Frederick the Quarrelsome, the last Babenberg, Gertrud was buried in the monastery of Heiligenkreuz in the Vienna Woods together with her daughter. There she now lies next to her former arch-enemy, Leopold IV. The Babenbergs took her posthumously into their clan as Gertrud of Brunswick, so that she also appears in their family tree: a pale, expressionless face, as if crushed by the ducal insignia that determined little Gertrud's life. Poor Gertrud!
History takes little notice of her. But let us assume that she had not died from the birth of her daughter. Heinrich Jasomirgott would have remained Duke of Bavaria in Regensburg. There would never have been the Privilegium Minus - compensation for the return of the Duchy of Bavaria to Henry the Lion (son of Gertrud) forced by Frederick Barbarossa. Vienna would have remained a small insignificant nest and Austria would never have become a state of its own, but as part of Bavaria its history would have taken a completely different turn.