Boniface III, Margrave of Tuscany

Miniature of Boniface from the early twelfth-century manuscript of Donizo’s Vita Mathildis (Codex Vat. Lat. 4922, fol. 28v.). The script down the side reads: Te redimat Sothér Bonifaci marchio duxque (May the Saviour redeem you Boniface, duke and margrave).

Boniface III (also Boniface IV or Boniface of Canossa) (c. 985 – 6 May 1052), son of Tedald of Canossa and the father of Matilda of Canossa, was the most powerful north Italian prince of his age. By inheritance he was Count (or lord) of Brescia, Canossa, Ferrara, Florence, Lucca, Mantua, Modena, Pisa, Pistoia, Parma, Reggio, and Verona from 1007 and, by appointment, Margrave of Tuscany[1] from 1027 until his assassination in 1052.

Early life

He was the son of the Margrave Tedald and Willa of Bologna. The Lombard family's ancestral castle was Canossa and they had held Modena for several generations. They possessed a great many allodial titles and their power lay chiefly in Emilia.

Boniface was probably associated with his father before the latter's death. In 1004, with the title marchio, he donated land to the abbey of Polirone, and he appears in two documents of the same year as gloriosus marchio. He kept his court at Mantua, which he transformed into a city of culture: "With so many magnificent spectacles and feasts that all posterity and all their contemporaries marvelled thereat."[2]

Imperial politics

In 1014, Boniface aided the Emperor Henry II in putting down Arduin, Margrave of Ivrea, self-styled King of Italy, a royal title that the Emperor did not recognise. His father nominated him as heir over his brothers and, in 1016, he was again fighting alongside the emperor, this time against the Margrave of Turin, Ulric Manfred II.

In 1020, he defeated a rebellion of his brother Conrad, but the two reconciled and both were later recorded as duces. In 1027, he supported the candidacy of Conrad II of Germany for the Iron Crown of Lombardy and the Imperial Crown against the other claimaints: William V of Aquitaine, Robert II of France, or Hugh Magnus. When Boniface's Lombard enemies tried to incite his brother against him, the two (Boniface and his brother Conrad) offered battle to them at Coviolo, near Reggio, and emerged victorious, though Conrad was killed.[3] When Conrad II finally succeeded in entering Italy, he was met with defiance at Lucca and he deposed the reigning margrave of Tuscany, Rainier, and gave his lands and titles to Boniface. This seems to be the probable scenario, though the exact date of Boniface's assumption of the Tuscan lordship is uncertain.[4]

Boniface subdued Pavia and Parma, in revolt against the Emperor, and the Emperor made a treaty with Boniface, an act which has been construed as recognition of Boniface's independence.[5] In 1032, he was at war with the rebel Odo II, Count of Blois, Chartres, Meaux, and Troyes.

In early summer 1036, Boniface attended the Emperor at Nijmegen.[6] In 1037, he helped put down a revolt against the Emperor Conrad, and in February 1038, hosted the Emperor, while the latter journeyed to Florence. In 1043, for services rendered the Empire, he received the Duchy of Spoleto and Camerino. He also acquired more land in Parma and Piacenza, and his chief residence in this time was at Mantua.

In 1039, he travelled to Miroalto to aid the Emperor Henry III against the rebellious Odo of Blois. While he was returning, he destroyed the grain fields of the region and the enraged populace retaliated and stole some of his retainers' horses. It was during his blood reprisal that Boniface made his most famous recorded statement. Preparing to hack off the ears and nose of a young man, Boniface was confronted by the youth's mother, who begged him be spared and promised him her son's weigh in silver. Boniface replied to his offer that he "was no merchant, but a soldier," adding: "Absit ut hostes ferro capti redimantur argento". (Far be it that what was captured by steel should be redeemed with silver.)[7]

In 1046, Henry III entered Italy to be crowned Emperor. Boniface received the emperor and his empress, Agnes of Poitou, with honour and munificence on their arrival at Piacenza and his governor did so at Mantua on their return journey. The relationship between Boniface and Henry, however, soon deteriorated in 1047.

Papal intrigue

With the death of Pope Clement II, Pope Benedict IX, with the covert support of Boniface, was re-instated, This was a choice not universally approved, and by Christmas 1047, a delegation of Romans met with the emperor to ask him to name a successor. The following month, Henry called a council. Although the Romans wanted Halinard of Lyons, the Bavarian Bishop Poppo of Brixen was chosen, taking the name of Damasus II. On his way to Rome, Damasus met Boniface, who informed him that Benedict had already been chosen by the people; and declined to accompany Damasus. Damasus returned to Henry, who viewed Boniface's support of Benedict a challenge to imperial authority. He ordered Boniface to escort Damasus to Rome. Damasus was consecrated on July 17, 1048, but died less than a month later, at Palestrina, just outside Rome, probably poisoned.[8]

In fact, his habit of cheating the church of land, especially the Diocese of Reggio, by offering some small farm land and an annual rent in turn for it was legendary. He rarely paid the promised rents. However, Boniface eventually joined the reform party of Leo IX and was present at the Synod of Pavia in 1049.

In his later years, he kept the Abbey of Pomposa well-endowed for the sake of his soul and even confessed to simony and permitted Guido of Pomposa to flagellate him in punishment for it.


He tried to restrict the rights of his valvassores, despite Conrad's imperial edict of 1037. It was this action against his undertenants which got him killed in 1052, during a hunting expedition. This version of Boniface's death is disputed. Some have alleged that Henry played a part in his assassination. It is also held by some that in 1044 there was an attempt made on the margrave's life at Brescia and that the conspirators fled to Verona, which Boniface subsequently sacked before expelling some Veronese conspirators from Mantua as well. One Scarpetta Carnevari apparently nursed a grudge for this act and years later, while Boniface was preparing a galley for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, shot him with a poisoned arrow on the river Oglio, near Martino dall'Argine in the region of Spineta while on the hunt.[9]


Boniface's first marriage (before 1015) was to Richilda, daughter of Giselbert II, Count Palatine of Bergamo. Richilda took little part in Boniface's government and was dead by 1034, leaving him no children. In 1037, he married Beatrice, daughter of Frederick II, Duke of Upper Lorraine and Count of Bar, and niece and adoptive daughter of the Empress Gisela, wife of Conrad II.[6] They celebrated their marriage in high style, keeping court at Marengo for three months afterwards. Beatrice also had but a small role in the rule of Tuscany, but she did bear her husband three children. The eldest, Beatrice, died in 1053, shortly after Boniface. The only son, Frederick, succeeded his father, but died soon after. The youngest child was Matilda, who inherited the great patrimony from Frederick. Beatrice remarried in 1054 to Godfrey III, Duke of Lower Lorraine, who ruled until his death in 1069.

Boniface' signature from a document of 1038, preserved in the state archives of Lucca.


  1. Boniface's title (dux et marchio) has been given as Duke of Lucca, or Marquis of Mantua and Ferrara.
  2. Duff, 17, quoting Giacomo Ottali.
  3. Duff, p.21.
  4. Duff, He is first so entitled in 1031: dux et marchio Tusciae. In 1032, he was serenissimus dux et marchio.
  5. Duff, p.22.
  6. 1 2 Wolfram, Herwig. Conrad II, 990-1039, Penn State Press, 2010 ISBN 9780271048185
  7. Duff, p.18.
  8. Stroll, Mary. Popes and Antipopes, Brill, 2011 ISBN 9789004226197
  9. Duff, pp.2627.
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Preceded by
Margrave of Tuscany
Succeeded by
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