Elizabeth of Hungary - Early Life and Marriage

Early Life and Marriage

Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and Gertrude of Merania. Her ancestry included many notable figures of European royalty, going back as far back as Vladimir the Great of Kievan Rus. According to tradition, she was born in the castle of Sárospatak, Kingdom of Hungary, on 7 July 1207. According to a different tradition she was born in Pozsony, Kingdom of Hungary (modern-day Bratislava, Slovakia), where she lived in the Castle of Posonium until the age of four.

A sermon printed in 1497 by the Franciscan friar Osvaldus de Lasco, a church official in Hungary, is the first to name Sárospatak as the saint's birthplace, perhaps building on local tradition. The veracity of this account is not without reproach: Osvaldus also transforms the miracle of the roses (see below) to Elizabeth's childhood in Sárospatak, and has her leave Hungary at the age of five.

Elizabeth was brought to the court of the rulers of Thuringia in central Germany, to become betrothed to Louis IV, Landgrave of Thuringia, a future bride who would reinforce political alliances between the families. She was raised by the Thuringian court, so she would be familiar with the local language and culture.

In 1221, at the age of fourteen, Elizabeth married Louis; the same year he was enthroned as Landgrave Louis IV, and the marriage appears to have been happy. In 1223, Franciscan friars arrived, and the teenage Elizabeth not only learned about the ideals of Francis of Assisi, but started to live them. Louis was not upset by his wife's charitable efforts, believing that the distribution of his wealth to the poor would bring eternal reward; he is venerated in Thuringia as a saint, though he was never canonized by the Church.

It was also about this time that the priest and later inquisitor Konrad von Marburg gained considerable influence over Elizabeth when he was appointed as her confessor.

In the spring of 1226, when floods, famine, and plague wrought havoc in Thuringia, Louis, a staunch supporter of the Hohenstaufen Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, represented Frederick II at the Reichstag (Imperial Diet) in Cremona. Elizabeth assumed control of affairs at home and distributed alms in all parts of their territory, even giving away state robes and ornaments to the poor. Below Wartburg Castle, she built a hospital with twenty-eight beds and visited the inmates daily to attend to them.

Elizabeth's life changed irrevocably on 11 September 1227 when Louis, en route to join the Sixth Crusade, died of a fever in Otranto, Italy. On hearing the news of her husband's death, Elizabeth is reported to have said, "He is dead. He is dead. It is to me as if the whole world died today." His remains were returned to Elizabeth in 1228 and entombed at the Abbey of Reinhardsbrunn.

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