Whoosh! Issue 53 - February 2001


Page 3

A Mighty Princess

[55] Matilda had other parallels with Xena: "She possessed, we are told, a great profusion of dark hair...in massive coils on her shapely head. Her upper lip was full, short, and her eyes large, of a sparkling black, and wonderfully expressive. She was tall and well and strongly built, carrying herself with grace and dignity..." [Note 22]

[56] She also had her father's southern Italian complexion. Her contemporary Donizo relates that she was a great beauty well into old age. While biographers might exaggerate, certainly Matilda showed amazing stamina in her frequent campaigns, travels, and long lifespan. She showed great strength in undertaking combat. Likewise her person was impressive enough to inspire great loyalty in her soldiers and people. As for her size, it is recorded that, when her bones were re-interred, her marble coffin was found to be too short for her. Except for eye color, it seems Lucy Lawless could double for Matilda as well as for Xena.

[57] Xena is also shown to be as good a physician as she is a warrior, in contrast to her superstitious contemporaries. Matilda too studied chemistry and the making of salves and drugs. Like Xena, she used these skills to alleviate the suffering of war victims and the sick. She shared other skills with Xena, including embroidery despite Vedriani's comment. She spoke and wrote in French, German, Italian, and Latin. [Note 23]

[58] Despite all of these similarities, had Matilda and Xena actually met, they would most likely have disliked each other. Although much alike in their life stories, accomplishments, and talents, they each embody very different outlooks on life. Where Matilda championed the Church and the Papacy as a Christian hero, Xena is very much a modernist hero. In broad strokes:

  1. Modernism's first principle is that there is no one and nothing that cannot be questioned. Radical skepticism is everything [see John Stuart Mill's On Liberty]. Christianity's first principle is that God is all-powerful, all benevolent, and all creating. Everything each one believes is a rational implication of these first principles.
  2. Modernism believes there is no objective Truth, but only 'your' truth and 'my' truth. Christianity believes that the Truth, in Fr. Richard Neuhaus' words, "doesn't need your permission to be the Truth".
  3. Modernism teaches that the point of life is to maximize one's human potential, hence the focus on empowerment. Christianity teaches that the point of life is to put one's potential, maximized or not, in the service of God and one's neighbor, hence the focus on unselfishness.

[59] Thus, Xena champions a modernized version of Christianity, in which God is a disembodied 'light' with no connection to Israel, whose only command seems to be "make your own destiny". In keeping with modern distrust of institutions and those who claim to speak for God, Xena never takes anyone's word on what is right or wrong, says no prayers, and swears allegiance to no King or country (unless they are also friends). She draws her strength and courage from her own self-confidence. She seeks redemption and forgiveness, but from herself rather than from her victims. Self-determination comes before self-sacrifice.

[60] Matilda by contrast lived her whole life by Roman Catholic faith and practice. She built hospitals, churches, and monasteries. She prayed and fasted frequently. Once a week she confessed her sins to a priest and took the penance he gave her without question (her confessor was the future Saint Anselm). She fostered industry and developed farmland. She gave generously to the poor, keeping a cloth factory at Canossa to make clothes for them. After Henry IV's death, she prevailed on the Pope to rescind his excommunication and allow re-burial on holy ground. She pursued intellectual studies and translated Roman, German, and French works into Italian. She pursued humility and obedience. Her letters begin with an opening line: "Matilda, such as she is by the grace of God, if she is anything, to all the faithful, greeting." [Note 24] Above all, she drew her strength, courage, and endurance from her faith in God and Jesus Christ, winning out because of, not in spite of, her humility.

[61] To moderns such devotion is seen as, at best, misguided and at worst madness. Thus, when Xena met the devout Najara, she regarded her with suspicion, trusted her only reluctantly, and turned on her at the first sign of moral ambiguity. Ultimately, the writers for XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS wrote off Najara as "a nut", rather than try to fairly portray a really different point of view. Xena might admire Matilda's good works and bravery, but she might also find fault with Matilda on the same grounds.

[62] Matilda for her part would be saddened but not surprised by Xena's violent nature and self-assertion (few of her contemporaries were much different). She would likely count Xena more proud than wise to trust only her own judgement. Xena's spirituality would baffle her, as reincarnation would not seem much different than Hell (many Buddhists agree). She might even urge her to escape reincarnation by begging forgiveness of God and her victims, especially by confession to the Church and doing penance. Her own father had lived long enough to repent and had accepted flagellation for his crimes. One can only imagine what Xena would say to that idea.

Matilda, standing
Tomb of Countess Matilda, right aisle, Basilica of St Peter's, Vatican City.
Completed by Bernini in 1635


[63] The Guelf/Ghibelline conflict did not end with Matilda. As it was, Henry V imprisoned Pope Paschal to extort the privilege of investing German Bishops and Abbots. As late as 1903, heads of state were appointing Bishops and overruling papal conclaves. Even today in China, the state regulates the clergy of their Patriotic Catholic Church.

[64] Still, at a crucial moment in history Matilda stood against long odds and came out better than many knights and kings had, before and after her. Boudicca and Zenobia were active for a few years but did not fight in battles themselves, and both were defeated by smaller armies than theirs were. Matilda was active for more than fifty years, fought with her troops, and bested armies larger than her own. She defeated and humiliated an Emperor whose own father had deposed four Popes. She preserved Italy's independence, kept the imperials out for twenty years, and kept the reform movement in charge of the Church. She enthroned a Pope who, as stated, was exactly the right man at the right time. Unlike her fellow nobles, who made and broke alliances as it suited them, Matilda risked everything-land, fortune, and life-to stand by the reformers. Without her tenacious loyalty, courage, tactical brilliance, and faith, the history of the Papacy, Italy and Europe would have been very different, and possibly would not have been at all. It can truly be said of her: "Her courage would change the world".

[65] Five hundred years later, Matilda could still influence events. In the seventeenth century her remains were exhumed and re-buried in St. Peter's in Rome, the first woman to be interred there. Her epitaph reads in part "To the Countess Matilda, a woman of bold spirit, Protectress of the Apostolic See. Most celebrated for her great liberality and kindness. A woman worthy of eternal praise." [Note 25] In the turmoil of those times, the popes wanted their friend and defender nearby.


Note 01
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Note 02
Ibid. p. 40
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Note 03
Newark, Tim. WOMEN WARLORDS. Cassell Artillery House, 1989, p 99
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Note 04
Mary E. Huddy, MATILDA, COUNTESS OF TUSCANY. 1906, p. 109
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Note 05
Ibid. p. 103
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Note 06
Newark p 100
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Note 07
Martin, p. 42
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Note 08
Ibid. p. 54-56
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Note 09
Ibid. p. 47
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Note 10
Ibid. page 60
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Note 11
This date in Medieval History, January 28, 1077 (from About.com)
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Note 12
Newark p. 101-102
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Note 13
Ibid. p. 102
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Note 14
CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, [Clement III, aka Guibert of Ravenna], 1999
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Note 15
Martin, p. 80
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Note 16
Ibid. p. 81
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Note 17
Ibid. p/ 82-83
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Note 18
Newark p. 104
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Note 19
Ibid. p 104
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Note 20
Huddy p. 312-315
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Note 21
ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA. Mathilda, Countess of Tuscany, 1993
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Note 22
Huddy p. 81
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Note 23
Ibid p. 107
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Note 24
, page unknown Return to article

Note 25
Ibid. p. 342
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Note 26
CHRISTIAN HISTORY, articles by Humbert of Romans, Jonathan Riley-Smith; Christianity Today, Inc. 1993
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CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, [entries, Clement III, Countess Mathilda of Tuscany], 1999.

ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA. Mathilda, Countess of Tuscany [entry], 1993.



Newark, Tim. WOMEN WARLORDS. Cassell Artillery House, 1989.

CHRISTIAN HISTORY MAGAZINE, Issue 40, Christianity Today, Inc., 1993.


olson Paul Olson

Paul Olson is a renegade Medieval-English major and vocalist from Columbia University. For money he is a Computer Analyst, teacher, and researcher for a nondescript government agency. He has read history and heroic literature since early childhood. He lives with two cats, two dogs, two Princesses (ages 3 and 1) and a Warrior Queen. He is a 4th-degree Knight of Columbus at St Louis Church in Clarksville, MD.
Favorite episode: CRUSADER (76/408) – Najara was deliciously ambiguous, a complex, counter-cultural figure.
Favorite line: Xena as a sword is levelled against her chest: ""I don't give my heart to just anyone."" ONE AGAINST AN ARMY.
First episode seen: THE QUEST (37/213). They fortunately re-ran the whole Callisto cycle so I could catch up. Good thing, as I had no clue what Joxer was about.
Least favorite episode: THE CONVERT (86/418) – Najara reverted to prejudicial stereotyping.

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