I spend many of my days researching, and I often come across strange and fascinating tales that don’t quite fit in my books. Thus, Friday story time is born. Because really, does a great story need a reason? This week’s tidbit is one I considered for True Stories from the Edge: Rescues!, back in the day. It eventually lost out to a different Italian tale. Personally, though, I like the romance of this one better.
Adelaide lay awake in her bed, listening to the rhythmic chip, chip against the stone. He was getting close. Would it be tonight that he finally broke through? She prayed that none of the guards outside the walls could hear the sounds of digging.
For months, Adelaide and her maid had lived as prisoners in a remote castle on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy. She wasn’t used to this sort of lonely life. As the daughter of Rudolph II, King of Burgundy, she had spent her days in plush audience chambers or grand dining halls. When she was two years old, she had been betrothed to a prince named Lothar. She married him at 16, and together they ruled Italy.
That life was over now. A jealous duke, Margrave Berengar of Ivrea, had poisoned her husband and seized the throne. Now Berengar was spending her treasury money, even selling her jewels.
Of course, Berengar had made it clear that there was one way for Adelaide to escape. She merely had to agree to marry his son, Adalbert. That would put all of Adelaide’s lands into Berengar’s control and cement his claim to the Italian throne.
With no intention of ever marrying Adelbert, Adelaide was putting her hope in another option. Her priest, one of the few people allowed to visit her in exile, had been building an underground tunnel for the last four months. Every night, she could feel him getting closer. Until finally, with Adelaide and her maid both scrabbling at the inside wall and the priest digging from the outside, the tunnel broke through. There was just enough room for the two women to squeeze out, race down the tight passageway, and escape into a waiting rowboat.
Adelaide found refuge with nobleman Adalbert Azzo of Canossa… until Berengar heard the news.
Furious, Berenger brought his troops bearing down on Canossa’s land, surrounding the castle and demanding Adelaide’s release. He was absolutely determined to hold onto the throne of Italy, and for his claim to be legitimate, he needed Adelaide under his control.
Inside, Adelaide was just as determined as ever to escape Berengar’s grasp. She would never ally herself with the man who had killed her husband. But she was also in a desperate situation, putting Canossa and his people at risk.
Marriage seemed the only way out.
But not marriage to the killer’s son. Instead, Adelaide sent a man to steal away from the castle and slip through Berengar’s troops. The man bore a message to Otto the Great, King of Germany. Adelaide knew that Otto wanted to control all of Germany, Burgundy, and Italy. And she offered him the only valuable thing she had — her hand in marriage. If Otto would bring his army to Italy, conquer the forces of Berengar, and rescue her from imprisonment, she would marry him. And with a single signature on the marriage papers, he would control all the lands of northern Italy.
Otto the Great said “I do” by bearing down on Italy with his powerful army – the largest in Europe at the time. In September 951, he scattered Berengar’s forces and sent the usurper scurrying into the Alps. For the second time in a single year, Adelaide was rescued from a castle and whisked away to safety.
Within a few weeks, Otto and Adelaide were officially married. She continued to rule her traditional lands on their behalf, and together the couple added to their holdings. By 962, eleven years after their marriage, they had five children and controlled all of Germany, Burgundy, and Italy. They traveled to Rome, where the pope crowned them emperor and empress of the reborn Holy Roman Empire.