Take down what I say. Noone knows the truth of me.
Should I be virgin, or harlot? That's what they want, isn't it, those who manufacture truth? But I will elude them, and you shall help me.
My father was a hearty man. He carried the body of his brother up the steepness of Canossa. It happened before I was born.
Boniface distrusted piety, sprinkling coins on the heads of the novices at song. I was glad they ignored him. "Wait until they're older," he told me. "It's only a matter of time."
My father died when I was six. I was told it was an accident. I found out it he was murdered.
My sister died. Then fever took my brother.
My mother crouched to protect us. Her stillness devoured me.
Beatrice carefully remarried, betrothing me to his boy. I saw only the deep beard of my stepfather and the twisted back of his son.
My stepfather was honorable, but naive. His extravagance in gifting aroused suspicion.
The King took us as hostages, my mother and me, to deflate our presumption and mark his sovereignty.
I had no premonition on meeting the Emperor's son, whose profanity later defined me. His character then was no clearer to me than my own.
Henry, the boy, remained so when a man was needed. This was the fate that destined us to meet over and over again.
The skies over Germany were curdled, like the eyes of a blind man.
In exile I escaped into Latin, my mother's first gift to me.
The pen worked its way through my ignorance, delivering me to hunger.
Restored to Italy, I stood on the edge of momentous events, confused and enthralled.
I could tell entitlement was the value, and primacy the prize. It was harder to see God's will.
My family's importance grew on me.
As my stepfather lay dying, I was finally wed. My betrothed had not succumbed to his deformity as I had hoped, may God forgive me.
My daughter came and went, leaving barely a dent in the gray soil of Lorraine. Unlike the mark she made on me.
I left my husband. He followed me. I was intransigent.
I asked to enter a monastery, to escape a vow I could not honor and still breathe.
Retreat was denied me. My mother was opposed and the Pope would not have it. Cloistered, I would have been disarmed.
I followed my mother on her rounds, sheltering in her poise.
It dawned on me - I could be useful. The thought ignited me.
Between the cynicism of my father and the rigor of Pope Gregory, I chose rigor.
You say there were rumors? Malice and opportunity are easy bedfellows.
Pope Gregory's standards for himself were severe. We had that in common. When he found out, he leaned on me.
You think I'm being evasive? My meaning is clear. Do not challenge me. There is not enough time.
King Henry was happy to make use of the rumors. Pope Gregory was charged with seeking counsel of women, and of "unbecoming familiarity with a married woman."
The defamation bore my husband's signature.
True, my husband was murdered soon after. But my hate was unarmed and my reach insufficient.
Beware of tales that dwindle me. I won't leave behind a trail of denials.
There were many suitors. I was politic, but uninclined.
And yet I became a second time, wife. An alliance hatched in Rome. I felt obliged to make the sacrifice.
I was forty-three, my husband barely seventeen. He proved unsatisfactory, even in battle. I let him fade away.
My mother was on her last journey. I cried out for her to linger.
"Live without regret," she whispered, and slipped away from me.
Alone, I urged on the Pope a risk for peace. I saw myself do this and knew myself for the first time.
They finally met, the King who would be "Emperor" and the Pope who would hold him to account.
Conciliation proved ephemeral. The King lacked integrity, the Pope lucidity.
Everyone knows it happened at Canossa, and I will be honored for my presence there. But who will remember it was by my hand?
What reason once grasped fleetingly, arms would now decide.
To St. Peter's cause, I pledged my lands and treasure.
The King, now "Emperor", celebrated wantonly.
Flush with imperial hubris, King Henry passed my way, not fearing for not knowing me.
I stung the King when his arms were down, for St. Peter's sake.
I refused the rumor the Pope fled Rome. But I knelt for him and wept.
Should the Pope not be forgiven his broken heart? He was a giant, but a man after all.
From exile the Pope reached out to me. "Daughter, bear my seal. Spread my word to those who will listen."
A church in thrall is the dream of kings.
Stalwarts of reform took refuge with me.
People the King betrayed found their way to me. I welcomed his wife when she fled.
The King returned to Italy to pave dissent with stone.
His army swept through my lands, wooing the restless, crushing the steadfast.
Believing my cause dead, King Henry offered me terms, generous in form, but with a toxic codicil.
Sobered by the spectacle of blood, exhausted and despairing, those remaining upright counseled peace.
On the shore of submission, a hermit spoke, summoning our integrity. It was not my voice yet spoke for me.
In the end we counted heavier the cost of blessing tyranny.
The King wheeled in fury against me.
He had everything on his side, except justice.
At last, near the steepness of Canossa, I outflanked the King.
Henry ruled on without glory eventually losing his crown. His death went unremarked. Did I take pleasure in his decline? That was never the point.
What matters is that I held myself to account. What else is there for those of us who live?
I, Matilda, by the grace of God if anything.