The extravagant life of Duke Siegmund the Rich in Coin

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Siegmund was renowned for the splendour of his court at Innsbruck, and he commissioned the magnificent late Gothic remodelling of the Innsbruck Hofburg. However, the colourful atmosphere at the court was clouded by Siegmund’s childlessness.

His first wife Eleanor of Scotland (1433–1480) grew up at the French court, where one of her sisters was married to the heir to the throne. Her marriage to Siegmund, celebrated in 1448, took her to Innsbruck in 1449. There she lived a relatively isolated and secluded life. Lasting thirty-one years, the marriage produced no children.

After the death of his first wife the fifty-six-year-old widower Siegmund married Catherine of Saxony, who was just sixteen, in 1484. The marriage of these two mismatched individuals was joyless and remained without issue. A telling sign of this was the affair of her alleged scheme to poison her husband, although this was in fact a wicked rumour started by one of Siegmund’s numerous mistresses. After Siegmund’s death Catherine contracted another marriage, this time to the duke of Brunswick.

While Siegmund left no legitimate heirs, popular legend credits him with having sired some fifty illegitimate offspring.

In the latter years of his reign when increasing signs of senility became noticeable, favouritism began to take over at court. The monarch’s favourites, who enriched themselves shamelessly, were known in Tyrol as the ‘wicked counsellors’, and are said to have advised their childless overlord to pledge the entire country to the duke of Bavaria. This led to Siegmund being deprived of his sovereignty by the head of the Habsburg dynasty, Emperor Frederick III, who travelled to Innsbruck in 1487 to appeal in person to Siegmund, eventually prevailing upon him to abdicate in 1490 and hand the regency over to Frederick’s son Maximilian. Tyrol thus passed back to the main line of the dynasty.

Siegmund died in 1496 and was buried in the church of the Cistercian abbey of Stams in the upper Inn valley in Tyrol.

Martin Mutschlechner