|The historic little Catholic town of Straubing in Bavaria lazes quietly on the right bank of the Danube,
crossed by two bridges and crowned by a tall square tower with five pointed turrets dating from
1208. Straubing was founded as a city in 1218 by Louis I Wittelsbach, Duke of Bavaria. It was, like
many German states of its time, a small family dukedom. Today, one of the town's eight Catholic
churches, St Peter's, houses the tomb of one Agnes Bernauer.
Duke Albrecht, the son of Duke Ernst of Würtemberg, made the intimate acquaintance of notoriously
beautiful Agnes, born about 1410 in Biberach, but she was a mere servant girl and the daughter of a
bath house proprieter. Duke Albrecht courted her and took her with him to his residence in
Vohnburg. Albrecht's father knew about Agnes, but was not concerned until he became anxious
about having a legal heir. He wanted his son to marry the daughter of Duke Erich of Braunschweig,
but Albrecht refused because of his love for Agnes.
Persuasion was useless, so the Duke resorted to publicly humiliating his son at a tournament when
he ordered the judges to refuse admittance to Albrecht on the grounds that his concubine had caused
him to neglect his filial duties. Albrecht was furious, and as soon as he returned to Vohnburg he
married Agnes. With the consent of his uncle, Duke Wilhelm, he moved his bride to Schloss
Straubing as his duchess and surrounded her with a ducal court.
Her happiness was short lived and filled with constant worry, and Agnes even had a premonition of
a little chapel being built for her own future crypt. Indeed, while her husband was on a journey in
1435, the Duke took advantage of his son's absence and had Agnes seized and imprisoned as a
witch, her guilt predetermined: she was condemned for bewitching Duke Albrecht and thus
vicariously committing a criminal offence against Duke Ernst, who signed the guilty verdict himself.
The judgment ordered her death be drowning in the river. A crowd gathered as the hangmen carried
Agnes to the bridge at Straubing. She was thrust into the water and, in a gruesome scene, drifted
back ashore because of the strong current. She held up her arms for help, and the people would have
saved her had not the hangman grabbed a pole and snarled Agnes's long hair around it so as to hold
her under water until she died. She was buried in St. Peter's cemetery.
When Albrecht returned and learned of the horrible act, and he swore vengeance. He and his cousin,
formed an alliance and began war against his own father. Reconciliation was forced upon them,
however, at the council of Basel. After building a chapel over the grave of his beloved, Albrecht
obediently married Anna, Princess of Braunschweig and in his sorrow (?) managed to produce ten
children with his new wife. In 1447, Duke Albrecht had the body of Agnes transferred to the chapel
which she had built for herself and adorned a marble of her with a simple inscription: "Obiit Agnes
Bernauerin. Requiescat in pace."
|Agnes the Witch