In October 1066, following the death of King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, thirteen-year-old Edgar Atheling was proclaimed King of England by the English Witan. He was never crowned; the victory of William the Bastard's Norman army over the English was by this time inevitable. William offered to spare Edgar's life if the boy would submit to his rule and recognize the Conqueror as king. But Edgar, even then a headstrong lad, refused to do this, and instead fled northwards to Scotland, where his sister Margaret had recently taken refuge in the court of Malcolm III.
Malcolm was all too happy to have the heir of the House of Wessex in his custody. In those days the Scottish monarchs got along tolerably well with their Anglo-Saxon neighbors to the south. By contrast, Malcolm viewed the Conqueror and his men in the same light as a wild, dangerous beast. Any weapon he could get to use against them would be useful, and the boy, whom many regarded as the rightful king of England, was a valuable asset. Also, Edgar's lovely, Hungarian-born sister Margaret caught the recently widowed king's eye, and he proposed marriage. Margaret, however, spurned his advances.
The chaotic and violent events in England would become inextricably tangled with a much more personal conflict that also took place in late 1066, in Schloss Lenzburg, a castle in the Swiss Alps. Legend has it that the three sons of Ulrich von Lenzburg, Graf of Bern, quarreled over a beautiful and licentious scullery maid named Ursula, and the eldest and youngest of the brothers came to blows over it.
Little is known of Ursula; if she even existed, her name is probably an invention of Magnus von Pfirt, the bishop of Bern and author of the only surviving contemporary account of the von Lenzburg family. Magnus actually says very little about her directly, which has allowed her to fulfill whatever role later authors choose to have her play. The famed English playwright Samuel Crubish created the best-known version of her in his play Elric of Lensburg, in which she is a wicked, seductive vixen who deliberately sets one brother against another, with fatal consequences. More modern accounts have alternately portrayed her as a strong proto-feminist heroine, a helpless victim who is abused by the powerful men who surround her, or as a simple-minded nymphomaniac who had no conception of the fraternal strife she caused.
Whatever the truth may be about her character, Magnus' account of the events relates that she was a favorite companion of Ulrich the Younger, Graf Ulrich's eldest son and heir (and the tragic hero "Elric" of Crubish's play.) Magnus further relates that she was far from faithful to young Ulrich, sleeping with, among others, Ulrich's younger brothers Arnold and Rudolf. This was a source of much ill feeling between the three brothers, particularly Ulrich and Rudolf (though this did not lead to Rudolf's murder, Crubish notwithstanding.) Graf Ulrich decided it was necessary to put a stop to the quarrel among his sons before it grew out of control, and so, on Christmas Day of 1066, he announced that it was high time that his sons went out and found wives for themselves.
The life of the European nobility of the day was enlivened by a nearly endless series of feasts, tournaments, hunts, fairs, and other social occasions that brought together royal and noble families from across the continent. One of the underlying motivations for these festivals was to create a venue in which young noblemen could seek out suitably noble and marriageable young ladies. Of course, they also provided a certain amount of cover for confidential diplomatic negotiations and other forms of intrigue; more than one young lady's chaperone would likely be carrying secret messages to be quietly delivered into the hands of a powerful nobleman's spymaster.
Thus it was that Ulrich von Lenzburg found himself in Paris in the spring of 1067, attending a feast given on behalf of Phillippe, the young French king, who was approaching his majority and thus was in the market for a wife. Not surprisingly, every marriageable young lady who could manage it was in attendance. Highly placed among them was Margaret Atheling; as the sister of the main pretender to the English throne, she was a highly desirable catch for an ambitious nobleman. The fact that she was beautiful, and of sterling reputation, and sponsored by the King of Scotland, only added to her attractions.
This was likely not the only reason for her attendance, though. Margaret's brother Edgar, ostensibly her chaperone, was engaged in highly secret negotiations with the French court, seeking potential allies for a bid to regain the English throne. These would, of course, come to naught, as would many of Edgar's wildly flamboyant schemes to bring down the House of Normandy in the years to come.
It is not recorded how Ulrich and Margaret actually met, but following a brief courtship in Paris, Margaret accepted Ulrich's proposal. They were married in the Basilica of Saint-Étienne at Easter, and then Margaret accompanied Ulrich back to his home at Lenzburg.
Of course, given that Ulrich had married a daughter of the House of Wessex, it probably did little to improve fraternal relations when his younger brothers came home with brides from Normandy. Arnold had married Adelais de Ponthieu, daughter of the Count of Ponthieu by the Conqueror's sister Adelaide de Normandie; and Rudolf was engaged to Cundo Hastings, daughter of the Count of Eu and second cousin to Adelais. Thus, a war half a continent away became yet another matter contributing to the ongoing von Lenzburg family feud.
Indeed, the conflict between Margaret and Cundo soon overshadowed the arguments between their husbands; the two women despised each other, and did everything possible to undermine one another. This included persuading their husbands to attempt to undermine each other, which further added to Graf Ulrich's headaches. Matters went from bad to worse when Graf Ulrich decided to relieve his stress by taking as his mistress none other than Ursula, the maid who had provoked the trouble in the first place.
It was into this unhappy setting that Heinrich von Lenzburg was born to Ulrich and Margaret on the 27th day of February 1069.