Error, thank you! There you are as Duke of Bavaria: if you have just had your wife beheaded out of jealousy, your anger turns out to be based on a misunderstanding. It happened to Duke Louis of Bavaria in 1256. He had Mary of Brabant’s neck put on the chopping block because he thought she was cheating on one of his knights. Unfortunately that turned out to be a mistake. He had lost his wife, but he had gained a nickname: the Strict.
How did this tragedy come about? Lodewijk came from the prominent southern German gentry of Wittelsbach. As a teenager he already participated in the wars of his father Otto III. When he died in 1253, Lodewijk and his brother divided the Duchy of Bavaria in two: Lodewijk got Oberbayern and also became Count of the Keur-Palatinate, which gave him a vote in the election of the Roman-German king.
The Palatinate consisted of a patchwork of areas, where there was always a conflict to be fought out. Louis was on a campaign here in 1256 when a messenger reached his camp. The horseman was carrying two letters from Mary of Brabant: one for the duke and one for Hendrik I Raugraf, a brother-in-arms of Louis.
In the letter to her husband, Maria wrote that she hoped for his speedy return. The letter to Hendrik was somewhat more extensive. The Duchess asked him to look after the Duke and to bring him back in one piece. If Hendrik did, Maria said, she would grant him the favor he had asked her for so long.
Both letters were sealed with the same color lacquer, and the messenger was mistaken: he gave the duke the letter that was actually intended for Henry. Louis read Mary’s words and became angry. What favor was in store here?!
Suspecting that his wife and subordinate were having an affair, he galloped furiously to Mangoldstein Castle, where Maria was staying. His jealousy was unjustified. The favor in question was Henry’s privilege to have Mary with Mary du instead of sie to address.
Once he arrived at Maria, Lodewijk could not be convinced of his wife’s innocence. He had her beheaded almost immediately, along with two of her ladies-in-waiting and the lord of the manor who had begged for clemency for Mary.
When it became clear that Louis had acted too rashly, he repented by founding the monastery of Fürstenfeld. The Strict – which should actually have been better called the Hasty or the Lighthearted – was an important player in Germany for almost forty years after this.
He married twice more and had five children, of whom Louis IV became emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Because all other lines of the once widespread family have died out, the Sternge is the ancestor of all surviving Wittelsbachs.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of August 26, 2022