The Ugly Duchess Summary
by Lion Feuchtwanger

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The Ugly Duchess Summary

(Essentials of European Literature)

Heinrich, King of Bohemia, Duke of Carinthia, and Court of Tyrol, was an important person to three people—King John of Luxemburg, Albert of Austria, and Ludwig of Wittelsbach. Though most of the king’s hereditary territory had long been taken by others, the Tyrol and other lands he still owned were valuable. The three rival monarchs sought, by various means, to control them in order to extend their respective empires.

John of Luxemburg persuaded Heinrich to agree that his daughter, Princess Margarete, should marry John’s son, Prince Johann of Luxemburg, and that Princess Margarete should be declared Heinrich’s heir. It was not likely that Heinrich himself should have another heir, despite the fact that his wife, Princess Beatrix, was still young.

Princess Margarete and Prince Heinrich were married in childhood. At the wedding feast, Margarete took a fancy to the prince’s page, Chretien de Laferte, and insisted that he be made a knight. Johann refused, but Margarete had her way when the prince’s father agreed.

Margarete was undoubtedly one of the ugliest women ever born. To compensate for her lack of charm, she concentrated upon becoming a good ruler and achieving power. She always had to be vigilant against the encroachments of other nations, even against her own barons and nobles, who were despoiling the land. When her father died and John of Luxemburg was killed in battle, she and Johann were the joint heirs of their principalities, but it was Margarete who ruled, governing so cleverly that her fame spread throughout Europe.

She and Chretien had become close friends. When Heinrich’s mistress died, she left three daughters. One of these, Agnes von Flavon, appealed to Margarete and Heinrich to be permitted to retain the two fiefs which Heinrich had granted her mother. Johann was willing, but the princess declared that one of the estates should go to Chretien. When a group of barons, including her illegitimate brother, Albert, plotted to drive the Luxemburgers from the country, Margarete consented to the revolt and urged that Chretien be made leader of the rebels. Then Johann informed Margarete that Agnes was to marry Chretien. Margarete sent anonymous letters revealing the planned revolt, and the rebellion was put down. Chretien’s head was sent to her by Johann, who did not know that Margarete herself had revealed the conspiracy.

A Jew named Mendel Hirsch came to the castle to ask for permission to settle in the Tyrol. Margarete granted his petition, and the country prospered from the industry and crafts which the Jews brought to the area. Mendel Hirsch became her confidant. Meanwhile another rebellion was brewing. Jacob von Schenna, a friend from her youth, brought the news of the plot to Margarete. She consented to it listlessly, for her spirit had been broken because of a pogrom which resulted in the death of Hirsch and the other Jews. When Prince Johann returned to the castle, he found it barred to him. Margarete had their marriage annulled.

Margarete and Margrave Karl, son of Emperor Ludwig, were married. As a result, Luxemburgers close to the Pope influenced the pontiff to excommunicate Margarete and Karl and to place the land under an interdict. John’s son was elected Holy Roman Emperor in place of the excommunicated Ludwig. The years that followed were unhappy ones, and plagues and destructive fires ravaged the country. Margarete was blamed because the people thought these visitations a punishment for her illegal marriage. She and Karl had a son, Prince Meinhard, who grew up easygoing and unintelligent. Conditions of the country were so perilous that Margarete, in an effort to secure money, entered into an agreement with Albert of Austria, who promised financial assistance in return for a treaty by which Tyrol should go to Austria if she died without heirs.

In the meantime Prince Johann wished to remarry. Accordingly, he went to Margarete and made an agreement with her. When a new Pope was elected, the marriage of Margarete and Karl was solemnized, and Prince Meinhard was declared their rightful heir. Later the interdict was lifted, and church bells pealed as services were resumed.

One day, as the margrave was setting out on a trip, Konrad von Frauenberg, Margarete’s unscrupulous adviser, went to her to say good-bye and hinted that his death might occur at any moment, since Karl detested him; but it was the margrave who died, mysteriously poisoned, leaving Margarete the undisputed ruler of the principality. Then Prince Meinhard and another young prince formed the Arthurian Order, which pillaged the community. Later the order was put down, but Prince Meinhard stayed in Munich, the pawn of a rival prince. Agnes von Flavon was also in Munich and was plotting against Margarete.

At the castle a group led by Konrad von Frauenberg had organized a council for the control of the state. Margarete wanted her son back, sure that her position would be stronger if he could be married to an Austrian princess. Von Frauenberg went to Munich and after some time succeeded in persuading Prince Meinhard to return home. As they were crossing the mountains, however, von Frauenberg pushed Meinhard off a cliff. He told the pursuers that the prince’s death had been an accident.

Agnes von Flavon returned to Tyrol where she was promptly imprisoned by Margarete. She was tried for crimes against the state and convicted. Margarete insisted that Agnes be executed, but the council refused to pass the death sentence. Balked, Margarete was willing to free Agnes if the prisoner would acknowledge her crimes against the state, promise to plot no more, and leave Tyrol. Agnes refused, believing that Margarete would not order her execution. A few days later Konrad von Frauenberg slipped into her cell and poisoned Agnes.

Her funeral took place on the same day that Prince Meinhard was buried. All the nobles and barons went to Agnes’ funeral; no one went to that of the prince. Even in death Agnes had won. A few days later Margarete was called upon to honor her agreement with Austria. Accordingly, she signed a proclamation to the effect that her territories were now the property of the Austrian duke. Then Margarete went into exile, to spend the rest of her days in a peasant’s hut. A greedy, ugly old woman, she sniffed hungrily whenever she smelled fish cooking for dinner.