Matilda and Manfred


Matilda, painted by George Dunlop Leslie

Matilda is Dante’s guide through the final leg of Purgatory, the woman who ultimately brings him back to his dear love Beatrice. They meet in Canto XXVIII of Purgatorio, as Dante sees her gathering flowers by a brook at the summit of Mount Purgatory (the Garden of Eden). Some sources believe she’s supposed to represent Matilda of Tuscany (1046–24 July 1115), a powerful ruler and one of only a few Medieval women renowned for her military accomplishments.

Matilda comes from the Germanic name Mathildis, which means “strength in battle,” from the elements maht (might; strength) and hild (battle). It came to England through the Normans, as the name of William the Conqueror’s wife. Until the 15th century, it was quite popular in the vernacular form Maud, and then fell into general disuse. By the 19th century, both forms had been revived.

King Manfred I of Sicily and Naples (1232–26 February 1266)

King Manfred (true name Manfredi) was the bastard son of Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, though legend states his mother, noblewoman Bianca Lancia, married the emperor on her deathbed. Happily, Frederick regarded Manfred as his real son, and named him Prince of Taranto in his will. Manfred was also named Italian representative of his halfbrother Conrad IV of Germany.

Manfred, who was only about 18 when his father passed away, ruled honorably and competently. He successfully put down riots spurred by Pope Innocent IV, except for the one in Naples. When Conrad IV came to Italy in 1252, everyone quickly recognized and acknowledged his authority, and Naples finally submitted in 1253. In the meantime, Conrad had grown distrustful of Manfred.

After Conrad’s death of malaria in May 1254, Manfred refused to surrender Sicily to Innocent IV. A conflict arose when Manfred accepted the regency on behalf of Conrad’s infant son Conradin, since Innocent IV had been named the baby’s guardian. The pope proceeded to excommunicate Manfred in July 1254. Negotiations began, and Manfred ultimately became suspicious of the pope and his retinue.

Together with Saracen allies, Manfred defeated the papal army on 2 December 1254, and quickly asserted his authority in Sicily and its mainland possessions. On 10 August 1255, after hearing a rumor about Conradin’s death, Manfred had himself crowned king. When the rumor proved false, Manfred refused to abdicate, and the people supported him. He was killed during the Battle of Benevento in 1266.

Manfred delivers a monologue in Canto III of Purgatorio, and is among the excommunicated outside the gates. He claims he must spend 30 years in Purgatory for each year he was excommunicated, after which he’ll be admitted to Purgatory proper.

Manfred is a German, Dutch, and Polish name made up of the Germanic elements magan (strength) and frid (peace). I have a small stuffed red tabby named Manfred, who meows when his neck is squeezed. He’s named for the lost oldest Marx Brother, who sadly died of enterocolitis at only seven months. I was honored to add Baby Manfred to Find A Grave many years back.


2 thoughts on “Matilda and Manfred

  1. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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