Duchy of Merania
Even though the Duchy of Merania had a fairly short-lived existence, some exceptionally influential noble families were involved. It was founded in the 12th century when the House of Hohenstaufen – first Conrad III and then his successor Frederick I Barbarossa – reorganised Bavaria. Both of them rewarded vassals and partisans with nobility titles and fiefs. Barbarossa also awarded Wittelsbach’s Count Conrad II of Scheyer-Dachau dukedom. In 1153, he received the highest noble rank and became Duke of Merania. This was a new name for the Duchy as well.
Merania’s history didn’t last very long either. Politically speaking, these were tumultuous times and the power relations could change entirely within just one generation. The Duchy of Merania existed for merely 95 years. In addition to Merania, Conrad II also reigned over Dalmatia and Croatia and was considered a powerful local ruler. Because his relatives ruled the neighbouring regions, his House’s influence in Bavaria was quite extensive.His son Conrad II, however, had a more reclusive lifestyle, spent most of his time in Dachau and went by “Duke of Dachau”.
As he did not have a male heir, the duchy fell into new hands after his death. In around 1180, Barbarossa awarded Count Berthold IV of Andechs the title “Duke of Merania”.
Berthold already had a special connection to the name of the duchy because of his mother Hedwig: the name “Merania” is believed to come from a region near the Adriatic coast in Istria, which Berthold’s maternal great-grandfather had ruled. The counts of Andechs-Merania were considered faithful followers of the German emperor and ruled the area from Bavaria all the way to the Adriatic Sea. In connection with the murder of Frederick Barbarossa’s son, Philipp of Swabia, the last duke of Andechs-Merania, Otto VIII, was suspected of connivance and lost his office and titles.
From a historical standpoint, these accusations were not justified but in those days these types of schemes were commonplace.
The Duchy of Merania ended here and the fiefdoms were distributed to various noble families. It is in part thanks to religious legends that accounts of this short-lived heyday, during which the House of Andechs played an important role in history, survived until today. In the 9th century, one descendent of the family, Count Rasso (a.k.a. Grafrath) – who is the namesake for a Bavarian town – was already an admired saint in the Middle Ages.
Saint Hedwig of Silesia, originally Hedwig of Andechs, was the daughter of Berthold IV of Andechs-Merania and married to Duke of Silesia and Poland, Henry I. She is said to have lived an ascetic life dedicated to the poor; she is also patron saint of Silesia and Andechs.
Her niece, Elizabeth of Hungary, was even more famous. The daughter of Hedwig’s sister Gertrude of Andechs was worshipped as Saint Elizabeth worldwide. There are numerous legends surrounding Elizabeth’s life, which she lived dedicated to the poor and the sick. Even Protestants recognise her as a role model for a good, Christian life. Furthermore, there was a popular chivalric story that mentioned a character called Berchtung of Meran.
During the Middle Ages, several different versions of this tale existed. Berchtung was a faithful vassal of the hero Wolfdietrich, who experienced various adventures before he could finally be the ruler he was born to be.