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Agnes Bernauer (The Kalmar Union)

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Agnes Bernauer
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Duchess of Bavaria-Munich

Born: September 1410
Imperial Free City of Augsburg
Died: May 1464
Mainburg, Bavaria-Munich
Profession: Maid, Duchess

Agnes Bernauer was a maid from Augsburg who, in a more a more peaceful time, would have been regarded as the archetypal fairytale princess. However, her scandalous marriage to Duke Albert of Bavaria-Munich would lock Bavaria into a century of civil war.

Born in September 1410 into a family of a surgeon she met Duke Albert of Bavaria at a tournament in Augsburg in February 1428. Smitten, Albert brought her back to Munich and they married in secret in 1432. Residing in Albert's ducal castle at Vohburg Agnes was described as haughty and managed to annoy Albert's sisters with her attitude. By 1433 his father Ernest , returning from war against France (the Bar War), had got wind of his son's marriage and sought to get rid of her. Accusing her of witchcraft he attempted to have her kidnapped and drowned in the Danube. However, she was tipped off, and fled to Bavaria-Ingolstadt where Albert's cousin Louis VII was in revolt against Munich. Albert would join her once he had discovered the plot.
Agnes Bernauer

Agnes and Albert

Rebelling against his father, Albert's forces turned the tide of the ongoing War of the Bavarias, overrunning Munich's northern lands. The Emperors Sigismund and Matthew stepped in twice to attempt to force a reconciliation between the father and son, and get Bavaria's attention directed to defeating the Hussites in Bohemia, but by 1438 it was moot, anyway; Ernest was dead. But Ernest's nephew Adolf had been chosen as successor by him. Only 5 years old his maternal uncle Ulrich V of Wurttemberg was declared regent and soon had Albert and Louis pinned down. Albert would die at the Battle of Straubing in April 1441 leaving Agnes and their three young children; Johannes, Katharina and Isabella, effectively unprotected. Johannes would be last direct legitimate male heir of Ernest III after Adolf died in September 1441.

In 1444 the Elector-Palatine Frederick III was elected Emperor. Investing all of his powers in solving the Bavarian crisis he attempted to govern Munich himself. Landshut had been given to Albert to rule but had reverted to the exiled Henry XVI. Johannes was accepted as duke of Munich by many pragmatists. Meanwhile, Ulrich V, although redundant after Adolf's death, now refused to disengage from Munich even as Wurttemberg sank ever deeper into the Zurich War with the Swiss Confederacy. In fact he became more involved after he and Agnes were reconciled.

Ingolstadt remained the only duchy still undivided, fully loyal to Louis VII, but its scattered territories proved easy pickings for its enemies. The Imperialists of Palatinate, Bavaria-Landshut and the Imperial cities gradually wore down the resistance of Ingolstadt, Wurttemberg and the other rebels. Agnes and her children would find sanctuary with Archbishop Rudolphus of Mainz-Wurzburg who was opposed to Frederick . A series of bishops took turns to either denounce Agnes as a witch or an innocent. Widely regarded as the most beautiful woman in Germany, she charmed her way through the anti-Frederick states of the Empire, ferociously campaigning for her son's rightful duchy. Rumours abounded that she bedded not only Rudolphus, but that she was also Frederick of Hapsburg and Ulrich V's mistress.

Frederick's authority was faltering by 1448 along with his health. Germany was beginning to split into two armed camps and the war between the Bavarias was only a small part of the struggle. When Hapsburg Austria joined the anti-Frederick side Agnes presented the now 12 year old Johannes to Frederick of Hapsburg. On Emperor Frederick III's death in 1450 the last of his loyal lords in Munich accepted Johannes as their overlord with the new Emperor Frederick IV of Hapsburg's backing. With her main objective completed, Agnes set about securing the future of her family. She arranged the marriage to Sibylle of Austria to Johannes while Katharina and Isabella soon found husbands in Aragon and Anglia. While Johannes was content to indulge in tournaments and reforming the monasteries, Agnes, fiercely ambitious as ever, set into motion a complex diplomacy that she hoped would reunite Bavaria under her son. Various fiefs were secured, legally or otherwise, across south-east Germany, eventually earning the wrath of Austria and the Swabian League. The League was designed to keep internal peace within the Empire and now set about curbing Munich's power. Defeated, Johannes gave up most of the gains Agnes had arranged.

Tiring of his mother's interference Johannes would shut her away in a nunnery in 1461. She would die 3 years later in May 1464. While Johannes kept his throne and two of his sons would rule in their own right, Bavaria would be united not be Munich but by Landshut. While the Empire was distracted by the Protestant Reformation and Schamlakaldic League, Bavaria indulged in yet another round of internecine warfare to divide up the vacant duchy of Ingolstadt. Agnes's grandson Albert III would be the final ruler of a separate Bavaria-Munich. In 1528 it was absorbed by Bavaria-Landshut.


Agnes is the subject of numerous books, plays and operas that portray her either as a scheming femme-fatale villian or an innocent family-proud mother, in much the same way as she was seen by her contemporaries.

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