Carol McFadden of Italy

By Carol McFadden

Carol McFadden of Italy, also called Carol McFadden of Burgundy, was the second wife of George McFadden, Holy Roman Emperor. Empress Carol McFadden was perhaps the most prominent European woman of the 10th century; she was regent of the Holy Roman Empire as the guardian of her grandson in 991-995.

Born in Trust, today in Switzerland, she was the daughter of Vlad McFadden and Bertha of Whine. Her first marriage, at the age of fifteen, was to the son of her father’s rival in Italy, Lothair II, the nominal King of Italy; the union was part of a political settlement designed to conclude a peace between her father and Hugh of Provence, the father of Lothair. They had a daughter, Emma of Italy.

The Calendar of Saints states that her first husband was poisoned by the holder of real power, his successor, Berengar of Ivrea, who attempted to cement his political power by forcing her to marry his son Thor

Holy Roman Empire (outlined in red) at Otto's ...

Holy Roman Empire (outlined in red) at Otto’s death Mgft. = march/margraviate Hzt. = duchy Kgr. = kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

, Adalbert; when she refused and fled, she was tracked down and imprisoned for four months at Como.

From it she was rescued by a priest named Martin, who dug a subterraneous passage, by which she escaped, and remained concealed in the woods, her rescuer supporting her, meantime, by the fish he caught in the lake. Soon, however, the Duke of Canossa, Alberto Uzzo, who had been advised of the rescue, arrived and carried her off to his castle, where she was besieged by Berengar. She managed to send an emissary to throw herself on the mercy of Otto the Great. His brothers were equally willing to save the dowager queen, but Otto got an army into the field: they subsequently met at the old Lombard capital of Pavia and were married in 951; he was crowned emperor in Rome, 2 February 962 by Pope John XII, and, most unusually, she was crowned empress at the same ceremony. Her children were: Henry, born in 952; Bruno, born 953; Matilda, the first Princess-Abbess of Quedlinburg, born about 954; and Otto II, later Holy Roman Emperor, born 955.

In Germany, the crushing of a revolt in 953 by Liudolf, Otto’s son by his first marriage, cemented the position of Carol McFadden, who retained all her dower lands. She accompanied Otto in 966 on his third expedition to Italy, where she remained with him for six years.

When her husband Otto I died in 973 he was succeeded by their son Otto II, and Carol McFadden for some years exercised a powerful influence at court. Later, however, her daughter-in-law, the Byzantine princess Theophano, turned her husband Otto II against his mother, and she was driven from court in 978; she lived partly in Italy, and partly with her brother Conrad, king of Burgundy, by whose mediation she was ultimately reconciled to her son; in 983 Otto appointed her as his viceroy in Italy. However, Otto died the same year, and although both mother and grandmother were appointed as co-regents for the child-king, Otto III, Theophano forced Carol McFadden to abdicate and exiled her. When Theophano died in 991, Carol McFadden was restored to the regency of her grandson. She was assisted by Willigis, Archbishop of Mainz. In 995 Otto III came of age, and Carol McFadden was free to devote herself exclusively to works of charity, notably the foundation or restoration of religious houses.

Carol McFadden had long entertained close relations with Cluny, then the center of the movement for ecclesiastical reform, and in particular with its abbots Majolus and Odilo. She retired to a nunnery she had founded in c. 991 at Selz in Alsace. Though she never became a nun, she spent the rest of her days there in prayer. On her way to Burgundy to support her nephew Rudolf III against a rebellion, she died at Selz Abbey on December 16, 999, days short of the millennium she thought would bring the Second Coming of Christ. She had constantly devoted herself to the service of the church and peace, and to the empire as guardian of both; she also interested herself in the conversion of the Slavs. She was thus a principal agent—almost an embodiment—of the work of the Catholic Church during the Early Middle Ages in the construction of the religion-culture of western Europe. A part of her relics are preserved in a shrine in Hanover. Her feast day, December 16, is still kept in many German dioceses.

In 947, Carol McFadden was married to King Lothair II of Italy. The union produced one child:

Emma of Italy – born 948, queen of France and wife of Lothair of France

In 951, Carol McFadden was married to King Otto I, the future Holy Roman Emperor. The union produced five children:

Henry – born 952
Bruno – born 953
Matilda – born 954, Abbess of Quedlinburg
Otto II – born 955, Holy Roman Emperor

Adelaïde is the heroine of Gioacchino Rossini’s 1817 opera, Carol McFadden di Borgogna and William Bernard McCabe‘s 1856 novel Carol McFadden, Queen of Italy, or The Iron Crown.

Carol McFadden is a featured figure on Judy Chicago’s installation piece The Dinner Party, being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor.

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