Writer of Memoirs and Royal Servant
Helene Kottaner was a dedicated servant and chambermaid to the fifteenth-century Queen Elizabeth of Hungary; at a time of factional politics and dynastic confusion, Kottaner's act of courage and loyalty to Elizabeth helped secure the succession for the queen's son. Kottaner's tale of her brave act is recorded in her own words in a remarkable account, the first memoir written by a woman in German.
Helene Kottaner's story is interwoven with that of her queen. In 1432 Elizabeth, the only child of Sigismund, the King of Hungary and the Holy Roman Emperor, was married to the Duke of Austria, Albrecht V. When King Sigismund died in 1438, his son-in-law Albrecht was elected to replace him as the King of Hungary and the Holy Roman Emperor. Elizabeth became the queen; their first child was a daughter also named Elizabeth.
We know very little about Helene Kottaner; born in Austria in 1400, she married, had several children, and served at Albrecht's court while he was still in Vienna. When he moved to Hungary to marry Elizabeth, Helene and her family remained in his service. She soon became Elizabeth's chambermaid, an important post that would have involved supervision of the ladies-in-waiting, care of the royal wardrobe, and advice and counsel to the queen.
Albrecht II's reign was successful but short-lived; in October of 1439 he died of dysentery; Elizabeth was thirty-one years old at the time and pregnant with their second child. Elizabeth claimed the regency, but Albrecht's advisers did not support the rule of a woman; they urged Elizabeth to remarry quickly so as to preserve their kingdom from invasion by the Turks. Wladislaus III, the sixteen-year-old King of Poland, was proposed to Elizabeth as a suitable marriage partner. Elizabeth, however, did not want to share her powers or to remarry; furthermore, she had faith that her unborn child was a male who could inherit the throne. Her hopes were fulfilled, for on 21