Anna Komnene – We’re back with another great discussion about a topic I chose. Zach sent us a little history of Fukui, the city he’s currently living in. It had something to do with castles, a son of Tokugawa and a phoenix, but honestly, I didn’t read it all. Why talk about that when we can talk about something actually interesting?
Matilda of Tuscany – Actually, I thought Zach’s information was quite fascinating.
Anna – And that’s why you’re not the host, because you’re boring.
Olga of Kiev – I miss Zach-ski.
Gaspar Correia – Really? You do?
Olga – Of course! He was nice man that wore toga and shouted about hot pockets. I like hot pockets.
Gaspar – No, that was Julius Caesar. Zach had the bald head and goatee and drew the pictures.
Olga – I no remember him.
Anna – You don’t need to. Now, today we’re talking about something near to my heart.
Gaspar – You have one?
Anna – Why must it be “illegal” to have someone’s nose cut off? This so-called “modern age” is very inconvenient. But yes, we are talking about Princess Theophanu of Byzantium. (Sometimes Theophano.) When a powerful Byzantine lady makes a mark on history, I shall pay attention! But our story begins to the west of the Eastern Roman Empire, we look to Germany and the leader, Otto I. Now, if we remember, the Frankish upstart, Charlemagne united a bunch of barbaric Frankish lands into one large kingdom that covered most of France and Germany and Italy. He was crowned “Emperor of the Romans” in Rome on Christmas day in the year 800 AD. Well, after his death, his “empire” fractured between rival factions. Well, his descendents never forgot the Western Roman Empire or Charlemagne’s claim to the supremacy of the Roman throne. So, along comes this Otto fellow who manages to unite Germans into one single empire again and calls it the “Holy Roman Empire.” It would last from 296 to 1806 when Napoleon ended it.
Matilda – Well, there are three things wrong with that title. Holy? Not hardly. Though Otto did finally defeat the invading Magyars and ended their invasion of Western Europe. (They settled in Hungary and became the Hungarians.) And for defeating the pagan Magyars, Otto was called the Savior of Christendom. But still, a political aristocracy that murders to maintain power, I hardly call Holy. Besides, they invaded my beloved Italy and attacked my homeland. So, no. Not holy.
Gaspar – I also must say that they weren’t Roman either. But why claim that name? Simple, they claimed to be the spiritual successor to the might, power and prestige of Rome. But, the fact was, they were the super power in the west so they could claim that title without dispute. Now, this didn’t go down well with our Eastern Roman friends, the Byzantines. They saw it as barbarians playing dress up.
Olga – Oh, is my turn, dah? Okay, okay. (clears throat) They no Empire either. They just a big kingdom with many dukes that fight each other for power. Sometimes they listen to emperor, sometimes no. Not Empire.
Anna – Very good, Olga. You’ll make a great historian one day. So, Otto I has his big kingdom he calls an empire ready to go, but he lacks one thing. He lacks prestige. Sure, he has power and the armies to demand respect, but he needs a link to a real Empire and a real legacy. Well, the only choice he had was to turn to the Eastern Roman Empire, the continuation of the Roman Empire that he so haughtily claimed the title to. So, when he had a son, Otto II, he decided to ask Constantinople for a princess to marry and gain that imperial prestige.
Matilda – There was one problem, the Byzantine Emperor wasn’t too keen on sending his imperial daughter to live with a bunch of upstart barbarians. Otto demanded no less than his daughter, Anna. (Not to be confused with Anna Komnene here.) The Byzantine emperor flatly rejected such a preposterous notion and instead offered Otto the daughter of his brother in law from his first marriage. Not exactly the daughter to an emperor, but Otto figured “Hey, its a Byzantine princess. Good enough,” and accepted.
Olga – He sent little niece to nasty Germans? She was only twelve, dah?
Anna – I’m impressed, Olga. You did your homework this time. Yes, she was only twelve but Otto just wanted the connection to the Roman Empire. The rest he didn’t care about. So, little princess Theophanu was sent to Rome to meet and marry Otto II. The was more than a simple wedding. This was the uniting of the two great superpowers of their day and the pomp and ceremony was unrivaled in Western Europe. She had a huge entourage that included skilled artists and craftsmen from Constantinople. It was a most impressive display.
Matilda – They were crowned Emperor and Empress of Rome by the Pope in 972. Not bad. Now, being crowned “empress” was as high as it got. She wasn’t just “wife of the emperor.” No, sir. She was full Empress with legal and political power. also, Otto II’s mother was also crowned empress so, they were on equal footing and the two of them didn’t exactly see eye to eye on a lot of things. Her mother in law, Adelaide, called her “that Greek woman.” But the next year, Otto I died and suddenly Theophano was wife of the sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Now, she was Empress, yes, but she wasn’t very popular. A Benedictine monk called her an unpleasant and talkative woman. But then again, to a Benedictine monk, maybe most women were talkative and unpleasant.
Anna – Well, those German barbarians just didn’t know how to take culture and sophistication. They claimed she was “decadent” because she took baths every day, wore perfume and jewelry that was finer than anything they had. And one of her worst offenses, and I scarce say this in mixed company for the scandal of it, but when she ate, she didn’t use her hands but a…a fork!
Gaspar – Oh, the humanity!
Anna – I’m afraid so, my fellow historians. Theophanu bathed and didn’t eat with her hands. Horrible, I know.
Matilda – I am shocked!
Anna – Well, apparently their marriage was a somewhat happy one because they had five children. One of them would become Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor. Well, life as Holy Roman Empress was a mobile one. The Germans hadn’t gotten the hang of having a stationary capital, so their court moved around from place to place. She had been trained since birth to play the game of politics and she was smart and very intelligent. She was no passive trophy wife. She even traveled with her husband on military campaigns and signed her name on legal documents.
Matilda – But then in 983, 11 years after becoming emperor, Otto II died suddenly leaving his wife and three year old Otto III in a somewhat precarious position. Theophanu knew that if she did nothing, the German nobles would walk all over her and her son and seize the throne for themselves. So, quickly had Otto crowned emperor and named herself as Empress regent. That’s a fancy term for “My son is the emperor, but really control everything.”
Anna – No, she didn’t need giant cyborg dragons, Gaspar, she had something better. She had a brain and the courage to use it. For two years she actually had to share the throne with her mother-in-law. The only thing those two agreed on was the safety and future of Otto III. In that they were united. But then Theophanu took the throne as sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. So, think about that for a moment. This 12 year old princess from Constantinople comes Germany as a trophy wife and ends up ruling the whole place. Not a small feat by anyone’s standards.
Matilda – Yeah, the German dukes and barons didn’t like her, but that was because she was more sophisticated and maybe more intelligent than them and they didn’t like being told what to do by a woman.
Gaspar – Hold on, I think I have a picture of one of these barons….
Olga – So, did Theofa..fa..Theo kill peoples?
Anna – No, she didn’t have to. She ruled by her strong will and quick thinking.
Olga – No burning cities?
Anna – No.
Olga – (sighs) Okay then.
Olga – Don’t forget to like us and the Bookface, dah? Do it or I burn you house down.
Matilda – Also check out Zach’s history book based off our adventures here at Minimum Wage Historian. Fearless: Powerful Women of History!”