Lady Di of Mediëval Germany

The Sacrophage of Edith of England (910-946), Queen of Saxony, Dom Magdeburg. Photo: Dom Magdeburg

The post-carolingian era is by common consent the period in which the ancestors of modern European nation-states were formed, although the processes of formation were rather varied ones. The medieval German polity, starting with the Ottonian governments in the tenth century, were from its beginnings decentralized, unbureaucratic, untaxed and above all lacking a homogeneous network of administrative institutions which could be controlled by a fixed centre of power.

What we call Germany today, was basically a ninth century creation from the Carolingian legacy. Territorially unification was essentially complete by 900, although the polity should change in the course of the tenth century, its model remained the ninth century creation. The tenth century creation by the Ottonians was a kind of loose confederation, that paralleled the lack of sense of ethnic and national identity, although outsiders often had a kind of sense of a common identity of the teutisci or nemci. The royal chancery itself rarely designated the kingdom by a territorial or ethnic term, the standard royal title was rather Otto dei gratia rex, ‘Otto by the grace of God king’.

To the extent that contemporaries thought of it as having an ethnic component, it was primarily a Saxon kingdom, or a kingdom which rested on a coalition of Franks and Saxons. There was no common language neither. It was only in the eleventh century that the German nation as such came into being. The regnum Germaniae or regnum Teutonicorum (and afterwards the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations) did not come into general use until popularized by Pope Gregory VII (1020/1025-1085).

The Ottonian rule lasted from 919 to 1024. Otto I, the sun of the Saxon King Henry I, was crowned emperor by John Pope XI I in 962. Otto I or Otto the Great (912-973) was married to Edith of England (910-946), daughter of the English king Edward, in 929. She arrived from Wessex and arrived in Magdeburg in 929, to receive the city as present from Otto I. She died in 946 and was buried in the Mauritius monastery in Magdeburg. However, after the death of Otto I, she was reunited with her husband in the Dom of Magdeburg, to be removed several times afterwards due to fire and other damages.

However, the remains of ‘lady Di of the Middle Ages’ were recently identified and reburied in the Dom, perhaps for the last time. As oldest identified representative of the English royal family, the English envoy was present as well (Source: A.P. Smyth (Ed.) Medieval Europeans. Studies in Ethnic Identity and National Perspectives in Medieval Europe, New York 1998).