“The Angel of Augsburg”
There comes a time in any discussion of mistresses when a woman’s life is so horribly undocumented that it creates more folklore than actual fact. This week’s feature, Agnes Bernauer, is the epitome of this creative phenomenon. What is known to be fact about our fabulous mistress will be presented as such, but her re-imagined story and life are also pieced together from plays, poems, and folksongs. Each of these include likely, though unproven details, making Agnes the perfect #MondayMistress.
“Picture it: Bavaria 1410” A common baker (maybe) and his wife welcome a daughter and raise her in Augsburg. Bavaria is a country rife with political divides and struggles over territory. Class divides are deep, and mobility is not the norm. As any working class family does, the baker (maybe) and his wife worked hard to provide for their daughter who, luckily, became known as one of the “fairest” common women in Augsburg.
In 1428, with the announcement of the young Prince Albert’s engagement to Princess Elizabeth of Wurttemberg, the people threw tournaments and celebrations, welcoming the prince himself into various territories. In a twist worthy of any modern-day romcom, just weeks before the wedding, his betrothed princess eloped– leaving the prince jilted!
Still, the tournaments continued and, at one particular event in Augsburg, 18-year-old Agnes Bernauer caught the eye of Prince Albert. The two seemingly had a “love-at-first-sight” moment. **Some accounts suggest that Agnes was also employed as a palace maid when she first attracted the prince, but the tournament meet-cute is the most perpetuated story and really feels like a reverse- Knight’s Tale so let’s go with that.
The many years that follow are strangely undocumented. Most illustrious, long-term royal affairs are accompanied by financial records, artwork, or even letters or diaries of court gossips. Agnes and Albert seem to have avoided that invasion of privacy entirely…but how? Some suggest they found a way to live together quietly in the country-chic Blutenburg Castle in Munich. Many accounts also suspect that the couple lived in Vohnburg, Bavaria, though more recent academics have found no evidence of their affair in this location.
Regardless, their time in a happy, romantic bubble was quickly coming to an end. By 1435, the prince’s father, Duke Ernst was facing diplomatic and international stress that threatened not only his power, but the future power of his only son, Albert. Once again, Ernst urged his son to marry for political gain. Much to the his distress, it is supposed that Albert then revealed he had actually married Agnes and she was his legal wife. (This marriage has no remaining evidence and cannot be proven beyond doubt). The duke’s refusal to acknowledge Agnes or legitimize his son’s marriage to a commoner led to a quick rise in familial tensions that would later turn deadly.
One crisp October day in 1435, Albert left his wife at home to enjoy a day of hunting with friends. This provided a glimmer of opportunity for Duke Ernst to secure his family’s claim to the Bavarian throne and remove his arch nemesis! The Duke sent his royal henchmen to seize Agnes and imprison her under the evergreen charges of “witchcraft–” of course. The brief and biased trial took place that same day and Agnes was found guilty of bewitching her beloved Albert and tricking him into marriage (maybe). The most obvious punishment for such a crime was death by drowning. One account romanticizes the last words of Agnes and records her response to her sentencing as, “you may become my murderers—but never my judges!” An Oscar-worthy line if I ever heard one- also probably made up.
One account from an 1896 periodical details the following events:
“The hangman carried the young woman to the *Danube river…and thrust her in, in the presence of a multitude of spectators, into the river. But the current drifted her ashore and she held up her white arms appealing to the people for help. The people were moved and she might have been saved, had not one of the hangman seized a pole and, catching her long golden hair, held her under water until she expired.”
For months after this egregious political execution, the public anticipated a civil war between Duke Ernst and his son, Albert. That war never did break out and the following year (1436), Albert married Anna, Princess of Brunswick, his father’s choice. As an apology for murdering his son’s mistress (or possibly his wife), Duke Ernst had a chapel built to honor Agnes, which is still a major tourist attraction in Straubing. In addition, Albert decreed that a yearly mass be held to memorialize his first true love. (I wonder how his wife felt about that?)
Today, Agnes is known as the “Angel of Augsburg,” and her incredible love story and tragic demise have inspired great works of drama, music, and art. There is even a type of cake (Agnes Bernauer Tort) named in her honor! It doesn’t really make up for the MURDER, but it does look delicious!
Christine Morgan for History Lair
Know of a mistress who needs to be featured! Let me know by leaving a comment or reaching out via Twitter or Instagram @mschristinemo!