Henry and Cunigunde: An Emperor and Empress Devoted To Each Other

The Tomb of Henry and Cunigunde (with apologies for my blurry photo)

The Tomb of Henry and Cunigunde (with apologies for my blurry photo)

I hope those of you who celebrate are returning after the happiest of Christmases! I started this holiday season by watching one of my favorite movies…Love Actually and I have been thinking about the final phrase of the movie, ‘love actually is all around.” It’s true. For instance, when visiting the Cathedral of St. Peter & St. George in Bamburg, Germany I did not expect to be inspired by romance. But, after gazing at a striking double sarcophagus with the images of Cunigunde of Luxembourg (sometimes spelled Kunigunde) and her husband Henry II (also spelled Heinrich) carved earth-colored marble, I knew I had to know more.

Henry and Cunigunde ruled the Holy Roman Empire just after the turn of the first millennium and are one of the only historical couples to be sainted. Cunigunde was her husband’s closest political adviser, was crowned Empress in her own right and was the first woman to take an active role in imperial councils. Together Henry and Cunigunde founded monasteries and abbeys as well as the Diocese of Bamburg and the Cathedral itself. On her husband’s death, she ruled as regent until a new Emperor was appointed. Although the dry facts of their story are extraordinary, the real intrigue is in the many legends about the couple.

According to one Legend, they took a daily evening stroll in the courtyard adjacent to the Cathedral (awww). The cathedral contained a bell dedicated Cunigunde and one dedicated to Henry. When Henry discovered his bell had a better tone than hers, he took off his golden ring and threw it onto the bell to deaden the sound. (Gallant, no?) A darker legend says when enemies within the court accused her of infidelity, she voluntarily walked barefoot over hot plowshares and was unharmed…the ‘miracle’ proved her innocence. (Courage! Fortitude! Fidelity!) Although some have speculated that their marriage remained unconsummated (rather unromantic, if you ask me), several historians cast doubt on the claim.


The Courtyard where they took their daily walk (also used to shoot a scene in the Three Musketeers)

In a 1757 English translation of Travels through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy and Lorrain, Johann George Keyssler reports that the emperor referred to Cunigunde in his letters as “Empress, my beloved wife” and “we who are two in one flesh.” (sigh) Keyssler also says their devotion to one another was so renown, that even in the 17th century, visitors to Bamburg believed “if a man puts on the emperor’s robes he may promise himself success among the ladies and if a woman puts on that of the empress, she may expect the love of the other sex.” How romantic is a love so deep that after 800 years, people still wished don the couple’s robes in the hope that such a love will touch them in their own lives?

And so, at the foot of a tomb, I was inspired by love. I hope, dear readers, you find the story of Henry and Cunigunde interesting as well and, if you’ve been touched by a story of love in an unexpected place, please, do tell!


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18 Comments on “Henry and Cunigunde: An Emperor and Empress Devoted To Each Other
  1. Wendy, what a beautiful, ageless love story! I swear, I must remember this the next time I am tempted to clock my husband over the head for leaving his shoes all over the floor… a nightly walk is what we need.

    That and…er…a kingdom.

  2. Fascinating post. I have never heard of this couple, but then I can blame my concentration on English and French history for that. I’d like to say I came across unexpected love stories in those courses, but all I remember about my French history text is it liked to tell which kings were fond of dressing as women and heading off to the pub. (Put on women’s clothing and hang around in bars… and you thought that was just for lumberjacks!)

    • I agree…it seems there should have been an easier way. Although that story seemed to be the one that endeared her the most to her people. (Maybe I should reconsider earlier Kingdom comment…)

  3. Wow, what a sweet story! Well, mostly. That bit about the hot plowshares is decidedly un-sweet. What a woman does for love…Or to keep from being hung or drawn and quartered, etc, by on’es subjects.

  4. *wistful sigh* I do love a good real life romance!!!! Lovely story – thank you so much for sharing it, Duchess Wendy! And how jealous am I that you were in Germany – I love it there!

  5. I loved this story! They sound like the perfect couple. No wonder they were sainted. The walk every evening is what got me. *sigh*

    On a less romantic note, which version of the Three Musketeers? I think I recognize if from the wonderful 1975 version with Michael York. But that could be wishful thinking.

    Anyway, fabulous post!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jenna! Glad you enjoyed the story. Sadly, it was the 2011 version. (Which I have not seen)

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