Born in 1226 to Henry II, Duke of Brabant and Maria of Hohenstaufen. She was one of six children and had two half siblings from his father’s second marriage. Not much is known about her childhood, but one can assume it was typical of a noblewoman of that time. She was originally betrothed to Prince Edward, who eventually became King Edward I. This betrothal did not stick and eventually Maria was married to Duke Louis II of Bavaria.
This seemed normal and the two settled down to married life. Louis was away from his young wife for long periods of time. As can happen when a couple is apart for long periods of time, loneliness and suspicion grew. In 1256, two letters were delivered from Maria, one for Duke Louis and one for another man. Legend states messenger mixed up the two letters. The results were catastrophic. One version of the legend states, “[Lewis] held his Court in Heidelberg, and by him stood ever his dearest friend, Henry, Count of Leiningen, and to him one day the anxious wife sent a letter, beseeching he would use his influence to quicken her husband’s return. Another missive was dispatched at the same time to Duke Lewis … The old mistake was made, Duke Lewis received the letter destined for his friend, wherein the artless Duchess had assured Henry of Leiningen that, if he accompanied her lord in his return, her pleasure in welcoming him would be great.”
Duke Louis assumed her pleasure in welcoming his friend would be in Maria’s bed. Legends say Duke Louis went into a murderous rage and killed the messenger. What is known is he had Maria beheaded at Castle Mangoldstein at Donauwörth on 18 January 1256 by ducal decree. Two of her ladies were also killed.
Maria’s infidelity was never proven. There are political reasons for her execution as her cousin William II of Holland was Louis’ rival. They had been married for two years, perhaps he was tired of waiting for an heir. We will never know. Pope Alexander IV ordered Louis to found a monastery as penance, but lived to marry twice more and earn the nickname Louis the Severe. Maria’s life was lost to a whim and an ax.
Sources available on request