Tuscan Countess

Written by Michèle K. Spike
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Matilda of Canossa lived from 1046 to 1115 and was one of the most remarkable women not merely of her own times but of any time in history. She was, after all, the first woman to be buried in St. Peter’s in Rome. As the Countess of Tuscany, Matilda became involved, not merely politically, but many believe, romantically, with Hildebrandt, who later became Pope Gregory VII.

Matilda gained fame as a warrior queen. She walked out of a marriage and became the new Pope’s confidante. When Gregory’s papacy was threatened by King Henry IV of Germany, Matilda raised an army to defend him. Today, many of Gregory’s reforms are considered to be the linchpins of Renaissance thought.

Spike takes palpable joy not merely in explaining Matilda’s impact on Tuscan culture and history—which, indeed, reverberated throughout Europe— but revels in seeing the places that Matilda saw through her own eyes. Spike breathes life into Matilda, gone for almost a millennium, and makes her into a force of nature.

A fascinating biography by a terrific biographer.