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Gertrude of Merania

Gertrude of Merania
Andreas Getrude Ungarn.jpg
Gertrude and Andrew, Landgrafenpsalter, Thuringia, c. 1213
Queen consort of Hungary
Bornc. 1185
Died28 September 1213 (aged 27–28)
Pilis Abbey, Budapest, Hungary
SpouseAndrew II of Hungary
IssueAnna Maria, Empress of Bulgaria
Béla IV of Hungary
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary
Coloman of Lodomeria
Andrew II of Halych
FatherBerthold IV, Duke of Merania
MotherAgnes of Rochlitz
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Gertrude of Merania (c. 1185 – 28 September 1213) was Queen of Hungary as the first wife of Andrew II from 1205 until her assassination. She was regent during her husband's absence.


Berthold IV of Andechs and his wife Agnes among their children

She was the daughter of the Bavarian Count Berthold IV of Andechs, Margrave of Carniola and Istria, who had been elevated to the mostly honorific title Duke of Merania by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and his wife Agnes from the Saxon House of Wettin. Gertrude's elder sister was Agnes of Merania, a famous beauty, who married King Philip II of France. Her younger sister was St. Hedwig of Silesia, wife of the Piast duke Henry I the Bearded, the later High Duke of Poland. Their brothers were Otto, who inherited the title of Duke of Merania and succeeded their father in his Bavarian domains, Henry who took over the rule in Carniola and Istria, and Berthold who became a close advisor to Gertrude, and was named Archbishop of Kalocsa.


Her parents wanted their daughters to all make important political marriages, which would create alliances for Duke Berthold IV. Gertrude married the Árpád prince Andrew II, younger son of late King Béla III of Hungary, before 1203. Andrew thereby took sides in the conflict over the German throne, joining his father-in-law in his support of Duke Philip of Swabia, while his elder brother King Emeric of Hungary backed King Otto IV of Germany.

The couple had five children:


Ambitious Gertrude exerted much political influence over her husband. It was probably she who persuaded Andrew to conspire against his brother again, but when King Emeric, who had realised that Andrew's troops outnumbered his armies, went unarmed, wearing only the crown and the sceptre, to Andrew's camp near Varasd, Andrew surrendered voluntarily on the spur of the scene. The king had his brother arrested, but Andrew managed to escape shortly afterwards. During this time, Gertrude was sent back to her father. Things improved for her, when Prince Andrew took over the government of the Hungarian kingdom upon the death of King Emeric in 1204, officially as regent for his minor nephew Ladislaus III, who nevertheless died driven in exile one year later.


While the king was in battle, Gertrude gave out Hungarian land as "gifts" to her favorites. According to medieval chroniclers, one third of the country was given away but the magnates got it back after the queen's death. Thus, Hungary did not prosper. During the frequent absence of her husband, the queen was regent and, as Dietrich of Apolda states, conducted the affairs of the kingdom "like a man". In 1206 her younger brother Berthold was installed as Archbishop of Kalocsa, in 1212 he was also appointed Voivode of Transylvania.


While King Andrew was campaigning in Galicia, the Hungarian nobles, led by Peter, son of Töre decided to get rid of the queen and in 1213, on a hunt with Berthold and their guest Duke Leopold VI of Austria in the Pilis Mountains, she was killed. Gertrude's body was torn to pieces, her brother and Duke Leopold narrowly escaped with their lives. Due to the current political situation most of her murderers remained unpunished during the rule of Andrew II. Only Gertrude's son King Béla IV took revenge after his accession to the throne.

Gertrude's tomb was of a Gothic style. Her tomb was excavated between 1967 and 1980.[better source needed]

On Gertrude's death, Andrew married Yolanda de Courtenay.

In culture

Gertrude is the main antagonist in both József Katona's play, Bánk bán (1819), and the opera (1861) of the same name based on the play, composed by Ferenc Erkel. They are fictionalized tellings of the assassination, in which the noble men of Hungary conspire against Queen Gertrude (called Gertrudis in the play and the opera) who exploited the people of Hungary as a regent, and let them live in fear and poverty, while she herself was throwing feasts in the royal palace and giving titles and estates to her Meranian friends and relatives. The noble men only wait for the approval of Bánk bán, the most powerful among them, who is resistant to join. However, upon learning that Otto, Gertrude's brother drugged and raped his wife, Melinda with the tacit approval of the queen, he breaks into the bed chamber of Gertrude at night and confronts her, which leads to a heated argument, ending in the murder of the queen.

This story is strongly fictionalized and likely very inaccurate, as there are no reliable sources on the details of the assassination. There is no proof that Gertrude was an exploitative or negligent regent, and although Bánk bán was a real historical person, there's no evidence that he was the one who murdered the queen and no records of him having a wife. Among Gertrude's brothers, it wasn't Otto, the Duke of Merania, but Berchtold, the Archbishop of Kalocs, who lived with her in Hungary and counseled her. Some sources written well after the events accuse him of seducing or raping Melinda, but such accusations could not be written about a priest in 1820, when the play was first published.

The play and the opera quickly became favorites in Hungary, which was under the rule of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, and national sentiments were strongly discouraged, while any straightforward criticism against the sovereign or the royal family was impossible because of the strict censorship rules.

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