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The Most Maligned Woman in History
Tales of the Tyrolean Alps
No one was ever given a nastier set of nicknames than Margaret, the last Countess of Tyrol: Maultasch (Mouth Bag), Vicious Woman, Medusa, Mouth-Poke, Pocket-Mouth, Satchel-Mouth, Big Mouth, Pouch Mouth, the She-Wolf of the Tyrol, the Ugly Duchess, and Kriemhild (after the wife of Attila the Hun).
Margaret, naturally enough, was a remarkable beauty (with exquisite lips), who just happened to run afoul of the church authorities. Her sin was that she booted her feckless, philandering husband, John Henry, out of their Tyrolean Schloss when he returned late one night in November, 1341, from a particularly evil bender.
None of the neighbors was surprised. Ever since meeting each other at their wedding vows—at ages eight and nine—the couple had famously despised each other. According to Margaret, they’d never even consummated their marriage. So when she finally lost her patience, the other castles all signed up to Team Margaret and refused entry to John Henry. Friendless, he scarpered off to Bohemia and a lifetime of pampered uselessness.
Margaret disavowed her husband and immediately remarried without benefit of an annulment. This was too much for the Vatican, which excommunicated her and started the nastiest smear campaign in its long and contentious history. Margaret responded the only way a woman of her era could—she handed over her lands and worldly goods to the Hapsburgs. Rudolf IV got the excommunication lifted and allowed Margaret to retire to Vienna. But she never again set eyes on her gorgeous, snow-swept Alps.
Schloss Tirol, or Castel Tirolo to the Italians, is located in the far northern Trentino Province of Italy and can be found outside the former Tyrolean capital, Merano, with Google Maps. This southern section of the Tyrolean estates was lost by Austria in the breakup of their empire following World War I.
Today, the four Tyrolean regions (North and East Tyrol in Austria and South Tyrol and Trentino in Italy) have re-joined, a little ironically, in the new concept of a Euroregion to co-operate on a range of issues.
At the heart of the region, midway between Merano and Innsbruck, sits the Brenner Pass (found here on Google Maps), one of the highest and most breathtaking points of Alpine Europe. Most travelers take the auto-train tunnel under the mountain, but in summer, it is one of the most exciting routes we’ve ever driven.