Matilde_di_Canossa_-_signatureFor scholars as well as for readers it is a little bit confusing how to spell Matilda’s name. Here in Canossa – and elsewhere in Italy – her name is usually written as Matilde. Germans tend to insert an h in her name, turning it into Mathilde. And then you can also sometimes find Mathilda. So when writing my book Queen of the Vatican I had to take a decision about my way of spelling. 

I deliberately chose for the way she herself wrote her name, in the signature that she started to use after the famous meeting in Canossa: MATILDA DEI GRASI QUID EST: Matilda who is by the Grace of God. She wrote it around a Christian cross.

This autograph can be interpreted as a sign of her religious devotion. But there’s more to it: it’s also a political statement. By using this wording Matilda stated that her authority as Countess of Emilia Romagna and Tuscany was directly derived from God – the common way of legitimizing royal authority in those times. The most important is that it was a statement of independence. For officially her territory was a feud of the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire – her cousin Henry IV, who denied her position as heir of her father’s title and position. Now she denied him to be her superior…

Her signature marked her claim that her territory was to be seen independent of the German emperor. And mind you: she didn’t do this just out of self-interest, but also from a motivation of care for her people, who she wanted to protect from the cruelties of the imperial armies, and to assist in building a decent life. How remarkable for a woman of her times!

Enough reasons for me to choose for spelling her name as Matilda: apart from the fact that she used it herself that way, it’s also a way of honoring Matilda’s own choice to follow a path of independence.