22 JULY 1905, Page 18

THE Great Countess is a noble subject for an historical

biography, but also a difficult one. Standing high among the heroines of the Middle Ages, there are plenty of sources from which to study her public life, her campaigns, her whole- hearted championship of Church against Empire and its political consequences. But as to her private life, her personal characteristics, the detail of her daily existence, the thousand little matters that make a personality real, there seems to be no authority except—indeed, a large exception—the chronicle of her mother's chaplain and her own tutor and lifelong devoted servant, Donizo. His rhapsodies on the perfections of Matilda are all unshaded light ; he idealised his lady after the manner of his time. Matilda's present biographer has drawn much on Donizo, eking out his chronicles a little by her own imagination, as she states frankly enough in the quotation from Nicole prefixed to her book. It should be added that the book is strongly partisan. Not only Countess Matilda, but Gregory VII. and the other Popes, her contem- poraries, can do no wrong. Hardly any Monarch was ever so wicked as Henry IV., King of the Romans, the notorious Henry of Canossa. Mrs. Huddy is not exactly a philosophical historian. It does not enter into her plan to take a glance at both sides, to question at all the supreme rights of the Church over the Emperors. The long quarrel of the Investitures has only one aspect for her. And no doubt in that age Christianity itself was in a great measure bound up with Gregory VIL's stern fight against simony and immorality in high places. But the Empire had its side of the argument, which developed later on under better Emperors and worse Popes. Dante was a Ghibelline, and the great Hildebrand is not in the Paradise, though his aid and support, St. Peter Damian, has a place there.

Speaking of Dante, the old question arises—never yet, we believe, finally settled by commentators—was the Matilda of the Terrestrial Paradise—the Leah, as Beatrice is the Rachel— this same great Matilda of Tuscany, who spent her life in defending the Popes and left them her patrimony ? The older writers say so without hesitation, and her present biographer seems to accept their view. The moderns have many different theories, all of which appear far-fetched and fanciful, unless we are to share the depressing belief that Beatrice herself was a mere allegory. We may quote one, among modern commentators, who entered more deeply into the spirit of Dante than many who find new meanings for him :- " As any `Elizabeth' barely named in an English poem would be unhesitatingly identified with our great Queen Elizabeth, so is it scarcely possible not to identify this lovely poetic vision • Matilda, Countess of Tuscany. By Mrs. Mary E. Muddy. London : John Long. [nn.. 'Iota To Dean Plumptre, for instance, this objection seemed in- surmountable. Gregory VII. shut out, why should the

Countess be let in P But the very case of St. Peter Damian seems to dispose of that argument: And Matilda's devotion to the Church might well only add to her glory in the eyes of a Tuscan. She was, after all, one of the grandest figures of

Dante's own national history. She was the first great bene- factress of Florence. As Mr. Gardner reminds us, on the authority of Boccaccio, "her praises, la lauda di Matelda,

were long sung in the Florentine Churches."

Matilda was born in the year 1046, at the famous Castle of Canossa, which, set aloft on its high rock, looked out on a

view ranging from the Apennines to the plains of Lombardy. Travellers in Tuscany tell us that both country and castle now are the picture of desolation. The shapeless fragments remaining of the castle are hardly to be distinguished from the bare rock on which they stand. Still, in the ruins one may see the famous old gateway where " the great Emperor

sat shivering, fasting, and wailing for three days and nights." The only approach is by a narrow path climbing among the rocks, and can never have been wider. It is not easy to imagine a fortress more impregnable. Nor is it easy to imagine life there in the eleventh century, when the castle was only a hundred years old, and the centre of feudal splendour, of hospitality, learning, and religion, to Tuscany, and indeed to the greater part of Italy. Azzo, its founder, was a hero of legend and tradition. His son married the sister of Hugh Capet, King of the French. His grandson, Boniface of magnificent memory, married Beatrice of Lotharingia, who was descended from the Emperors of Con- stantinople. These were the father and mother of Matilda. Her brother Frederick died when a child, and she was thus left sole heiress of the great marquisate of Tuscany. After the death of Boniface in 1054, her mother married Godfrey, her cousin, the claimant to the duchy of Lotharingia, and thus began the long conflict, on private as well as publics grounds, between the Emperors and the house of Tuscany. From the first, Beatrice and her family took the Papal side. Canossa was visited by all the great Churchmen of the time, future Popes and Cardinals, and thus Matilda was brought up to love and honour• those, especially Hildebrand of Cluny, of whom she became so fearless a champion. She was educated in the midst of this society, by the excellent Donizo, and spent most of her early years between Canossa and Lucca. Beatrice had a beautiful palace here, a refuge from the summer heats and winter snows of bare Canossa.

Matilda was a soldier from her childhood. As a heroine of the Church militant she first distinguished herself, at the age of fifteen, by pouncing down from Canossa with a band of vassals on the Anti-Pope Cadalous, who was travelling through Tuscany on his way to Rome. Her men, crying "St. Peter and Matilda!" soon scattered Cadalous's strong German escort. He prudently ran away, and reached Rome by another road.

The state of religious and political anarchy at Rome was at this time extraordinary. Mrs. Ruddy, though writing in an old-fashioned style which may move some readers to im-

patience, gives a most complete account of the strife of parties, and this is a difficult achievement. We must say that the more she deals with historical scenes and facts, and the less with personalities, the pleasanter reading her bOok becomes.

Godfrey of Lotharingia, whose views were purely selfish, refused to lead an army against the Germans in aid of Pope Alexander II., who as Bishop Anselm of Lucca was an intimate friend of Beatrice, unless his step-daughter Matilda would promise to marry his son, Godfrey le Bossu.. The girl consented to make this sacrifice, the first and greatest of many, for the sake of the Church. She had the supreme joy of helping to drive away the Germans from the gates of Rome, and was received by the city with something like an old Roman triumph, " the first woman since the fall of the Roman Empire of whom account must be taken in history." . .

It was in 1073 that Hildebrand became Pope and the great struggle began, during the years of which Matilda, the " Great Countess," stood between him and her cousin, Henry IV. of Germany. She was the independent ruler of nearly all Northern Italy. Her stepfather died, then her husband, who had troubled her little, living entirely in his own duchy of Lorraine and a partisan of the Empire. But Matilda left her mother, sick to death with grief at the ex- communication of her nephew Henry, to visit Le Bossu on his death-bed, and only returned in time to receive the latest breath of Beatrice. Not long after this came the world-famed meeting of Gregory VII. and Henry at Canossa.

Henry did his best to take revenge on his cousin, who had not only been a witness of his humiliation before the Pope, but had already bequeathed all her great estates to the Holy See. The life of Matilda for many years was one of constant fighting and anxiety. Besieged in Canossa, she escaped with difficulty. Henry followed her to Rome, where the Pope was only saved from his vengeance by Robert Guiscard and his Normans; and these friends in need, though they carried off the Pope in safety to Salerno, repaid themselves by sacking the city, only just free of the equally barbarian Germans.

In middle age the Countess Matilda married a young man of twenty-five, Welf or Guelf of Bavaria; and this connects her, though not in a direct line, with the Royal Family of England. Robert of Normandy, son of the Conqueror, was one of her suitors. In the intervals of rescuing and sup- porting and fighting for the Popes and enduring the invasions and sieges of her cousin Henry, she spent her time in the good government of her domains, so that under her rule Tuscany grew greatly in all kinds of prosperity. Florence owed much to her wisdom as a ruler, and the same may be said of her other cities, Pisa and Lucca and even the ungrateful Mantua, which from fear of the Empire rebelled against her in her last illness. She died at Bondeno, near Reggio, in the summer of 1115, and was buried at Mantua. In 1635 her remains were removed by Pope Urban VIII. to Rome, and her monument is now to be seen under the dome of St. Peter's, where the greatest benefactress of the Roman Church ought certainly to lie.

The Countess Matilda has several titles to honour in European history, and it seems a strange thing that the present biography should be, as we are assured, the first written in English. Sir James Stephen spoke of her worthily :—" It was her noble ambition to be the refuge of the oppressed, the benefactor of the miserable, and the champion of what she deemed the cause of truth."