Constance of Sicily
Queen of Germany and Sicily, 1180-1197
"Torn between two kingdoms"
Constance de Hauteville was a royal personage many times over: a queen and the daughter, wife, cousin, aunt and mother of kings. Yet not until her fortieth year did she assert herself in a truly regal manner.
Her father was King Roger II of Sicily, in the direct line from the first Norman conquerors of Sicily and southern Italy. These were the Hautevilles, sons of Constance's great-grandfather, Tancred de Hauteville. They came down from their native Normandy in the eleventh century to seek their fortunes in the turbulent politics of southern Italy, and founded a dynasty that ruled in Sicily for 200 years.
Constance, a tall, fair-haired princess, was brought up in sunny Mediterranean climes. She reluctantly left her elegant palace in Palermo at thirty-two for a political marriage to twenty-one-year-old Henry VI of Germany, son of Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor. She tried to become a good German queen. Living in the shadow of her flamboyant husband, she dutifully accompanied him on his travels about Germany, but it was a loveless marriage. Scorned for being childless, nostalgic for her homeland, she set out with Henry in 1194 on his expedition to conquer the southern kingdom for Germany in her name; she was the legitimate heir to Sicily after the death of her cousin William II.
Now the miracle: long after everybody had given up hope of an heir, she became pregnant during the journey. She halted at the small Italian town of Jesi when her time was at hand. She knew there'd be doubts if she was really the mother of the child, in view of her age (forty) and her long years of being "The Barren Queen." So she had a tent erected in the market square and invited the matrons of the town to witness the birth and attest that the child was hers.
Her life was transformed by this late motherhood. Constance had no doubt now where her loyalties lay. She gave up her rights as Queen of Germany and after her husband Henry's death in 1197 she reigned as co-regent of Sicily with Frederick, her four-year-old son. Like a tigress defending her cub, during the last years of her life she fought to assure the succession to Sicily's throne for the infant. She succeeded. But she didn't live to see Frederick become a brilliant and learned ruler, eventually Holy Roman Emperor, known as "Stupor Mundi"—Wonder of the World.
Learn more about Queen Constance:
Travels with a Medieval Queen, by Mary Taylor Simeti. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001.
The Normans in Sicily: The magnificent story of "the other Norman Conquest" by John Julius Norwich. Penguin Books, 1992.