Thursday, 25 July 2019

Duke Ernst and his unwanted daughter-in-law

Duke Ernst of Bavaria-Munich was very worried about his son and heir, Albert. He wanted to make sure that Albert would make a good marriage, which meant, back in 1435, that his wife had to belong to another ducal or royal family with whom Bavaria-Munich sought an alliance. That was just the way that things were done.

However, Duke Ernst was hearing alarming tales about Albert’s close friendship with Agnes Bernauer, who most certainly did not belong to foreign royalty or aristocracy. She was the daughter of a baker, and she worked at a bathhouse in Munich. Her job was to carry jugs of hot water to the male clients of the establishment who spent time soaking in large wooden tubs. Did she provide any “extra services”? Maybe!

Duke Ernst was told that Albert was one of the bathhouse clients, and that he had struck up a friendship with Agnes. The reports became even more alarming when they suggested that the friendship had become particularly close. Could he actually have married the girl in a secret ceremony?

As it happened, Albert had indeed married Agnes, but Duke Ernst did not know this. Even so, he reckoned that something had to be done whether this was true or not. He therefore contrived a plot to get rid of Agnes.

This took the form of a tournament at which Albert would be able to show off his manly skills as a fighter and horseman, which were considerable. With his mind and body fully engaged on jousting and wrestling, he was in no position to look after Agnes, who mysteriously “disappeared” during the festivities.

Agnes was put on trial for witchcraft, found guilty, and drowned in the River Danube.

Duke Ernst did at least feel a pang of remorse for his action and paid for a fine church to be built over Agnes’s tomb. Albert fled Bavaria and thought about raising an army to challenge his father, but eventually made peace with his family.

In the end, Albert did make the sort of marriage that met with his father’s approval, marrying a rich and respectable princess from a powerful north German state.

© John Welford

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