Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Alice, or Adelaide, Empress

detail of a statue of Saint Adelaide, Abbess of Seltz, Alsace, France, date unknown, artist unknown; the coloring is from a stained glass window; photographed by Rh-67 in 2010; swiped off Wikimedia CommonsArticle

The second kingdom of Burgundy, called also of Arles, was erected by Charles the Bald, emperor and king of France, who, in 879, bestowed Burgundy, Provence, Bresse, and Dauphiné, with his title on his brother-in-law Bose, descended by the mother from Lewis Debonnair. Rudolph or Ralph II, king of Burgundy, was father to Saint Alice, whom he left at his death, in 937, only six years old. At sixteen she was married to Lothaire, king of Italy, by whom she had a daughter named Emma, who was afterwards married to Lothaire, king of France. The death of our saint’s husband, which happened about the year 949, left her a young widow, and the afflictions with which she was visited contributed perfectly to disengage her heart from the world, and make her devote herself to the practice of piety, which had been from her infancy the ruling inclination of her heart. Berengarius III, margrave of Yvrea, possessed himself of all Lombardy, and succeeded to the title of king of Italy. This prince, who had always been the declared enemy of his predecessor’s family, cast Alice into prison at Pavia, where she suffered the greatest hardships and indignities. She at length found means to make her escape, and fled towards Germany; but was met by the Emperor Otho I., who, at the solicitation of Pope Agapetus II, was marching at the head of an army of fifty thousand men to do her justice. He made himself master of Pavia and other places, and married Alice; but restored the kingdom to Berengarius, upon condition he should hold it of the empire. Berengarius soon forgot his engagements: whereupon Otho, at the earnest request of Pope John XII, sent his son Luitolph against him; and Luitolph, after gaining many victories, dying, the emperor went in person into Italy, made Berengarius prisoner, and banished him into Germany, where he died at Bamberg. After this victory, Otho was crowned emperor at Rome by the pope in 963.

The good empress was not puffed up with prosperity, and made use both of her riches and power only to do good to all men, especially to protect, comfort, and relieve all that were in distress. Otho I, surnamed the Great, died in 973, having reigned as king of Germany thirty-six years, as emperor almost eleven. Alice educated her son, Otho II, with great care, and his reign was happy so long as he governed by her directions. But not standing upon his guard against flatterers, he suffered his heart to be debauched by evil counsellors. After the death of his first wife, who was daughter to the marquis of Austria, he married Theophania, a Grecian princess, and so far forgot his duty to his good mother as to banish her from court. Her tears for his irregularities were not shed in vain. Misfortunes opened his eyes; he recalled her, and, with the most dutiful deference, reformed the abuses of the government by her counsels. The young emperor, having been defeated by the Greeks in Calabria, died of a dysentery at Rome in 983, after he had reigned nine years. His imperious widow, Theophania, who became regent for her son, Otho III, made it a point of honour to insult her pious mother-in-law; but Alice made no other return for all the ill treatment she received at her hands but that of meekness and patience. The young empress being snatched away by a sudden death, she was obliged to take upon her the regency. On this occasion it appeared how perfectly she was dead to herself. Power she looked upon merely as a burden and most difficult stewardship; but she applied herself to public affairs with indefatigable care. She showed herself so much a stranger to all resentment, as to load with benefactions those courtiers who had formerly given her most to suffer. Her attention to the public concerns never made her neglect the exercises of mortification and devotion. At set hours she retired to her oratory, there to seek by humble prayer the direction and light of heaven in her counsels, and to weep before God for those sins of the people which it was not in her power to remedy. In correcting others she felt in her own breast the confusion and trouble which her correction must give them; hence she forgot nothing which could soften it. Thus, by gaining their confidence and affection, she easily conducted them to virtue. Her own household appeared as regular as the most edifying monastery. She filled all the provinces which had the happiness to share in her protection, but especially the city of Magdeburg, with religious houses, and other monuments of charity and piety, and she zealously promoted the conversion of the Rugi and other infidels. In the last year of her life she took a journey into the kingdom of Burgundy to reconcile the subjects of that realm to King Ralph, her nephew, and died on the road, at Salces, in Alsace, in the year 999. Her name is honoured in the calendars of several churches in Germany, though not in the Roman. A portion of her relics is kept in a costly shrine in the Treasury of Relics at Hanover, and is mentioned in the Lipsanographia of the electoral palace at Brunswick-Lunenburg, printed in 1713. See the life of Saint Alice, written by Saint Odilo, with histories of her miracles, published by Leibnitz, Collectio Scriptorum Brunswicensium.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Alice, or Adelaide, Empress”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 May 2017. Web. 1 December 2021. <>