Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Empress Constance entrusts her son to the duchess of Spoleto
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This image is located in Pietro da Eboli’s Liber ad Honorem Augusti, which was written in honor of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI of Hohenstaufen, whose conquest of the Norman kingdom of Sicily is celebrated in the book. The subject of this image is Constance of Sicily, wife of Henry VI and mother of Emperor Frederick II. The birth of Frederick was a remarkable event because Constance was over forty years old during the course of her pregnancy. Due to the advanced age of the Queen, people doubted her ability to produce an heir and claimed that she acquired the child by other means. To counter such rumors, it is said that she gave birth in a tent in the middle of a public square and displayed her lactating breasts to prove her fertility.

    Here, the crowned empress mounted on horseback is located in the center of the composition, holding in her hands a crowned infant, Frederick. On the left, the duchess stands, reaching out her arms for the child. Her hands are covered, possibly with cloth in which to wrap the baby. On the right, also on foot, are two armed men, leading away the empress’s horse. The empress faces away from the knights and the horse’s head, towards her child and the duchess. Gwenyth Hood observes that the drawing manages to convey both joy and triumph because the birth of Frederick was miraculous, but also sorrow due to the parting of the mother and child.

    The duchess to whom Constance gives her son is likely the wife of Conrad, duke of Spoleto. Surviving sources do not provide detailed explanations as to why young Emperor Frederick was cared for in this fashion, apart from both his parents. However, it was not uncommon for foster parents to assume such nurturing roles for children of the nobility. Henry VI may have thought of Spoleto as one of the more stable and settled parts of his realm, and in view of recent conspiratorial activities, may have thought Sicily an unsafe place to raise his son. Furthermore in this atmosphere of tension, Constance was needed in Sicily to govern and reassure her people; therefore she had to leave her child in another woman’s care. This image clearly depicts Constance fulfilling her duty to her husband, and could be interpreted as the empress performing an action to bring the German and Sicilian allies closer together, which was the wish of the book’s author, Pietro da Eboli.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Child Care Children Constance, Queen of Sicily, Wife of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor Empresses Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor Infants Queens Travel
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 11
  • Date: 1000-1020
  • Related Work: See images from the Bern manuscript in Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Liber_ad_honorem_Augusti#
  • Current Location: Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland
  • Original Location: Germany
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 33 cm/20 cm/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Fröhlich , Walter. "The Marriage of Henry VI and Constance of Sicily: Prelude and Consequences." Anglo-Norman Studies 15, (1992). Pages 99-115;
    Mallette, Carla. Kingdom of Sicily, 1100-1250: A Literary History. The Middle Ages Series. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Pg. 5-6, 54-55, 68,69, 95-97.;
    Pietro da Eboli. Liber ad honorem augusti (Book in Honor of Augustus). Translated by Gwenyth Hood. Arizona Center of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2012). Pg. 306-307.