Barbara of Celje was born most probably in 1392 as the daughter of Herman II of Celje and Countess Ana von Schaunberg. Her father was one of the most powerful feudal lords in the Hungarian-Croatian kingdom with large estates in Slovenia and Croatia. He was also a big friend of the then King Sigismund of Luxembourg, whom he even saved by helping to escape the catastrophic defeat of the Ottomans at Nicopolis in 1396. After the death of his first wife Maria Sigismund, he chose the then minor Barbara as his future wife. They married in Krapina in 1405.
Sigismund of Luxembourg was an extremely powerful and skilled ruler. In addition to the Hungarian-Croatian throne, in 1420 he became the King of Bohemia, and from 1433 the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. So Barbara as his wife became one of the most powerful women in Europe. Barbara was distinguished by exceptional beauty and intelligence, and Sigismund often left her state affairs in his absence, which met with extreme disapproval from courtiers who could not reconcile themselves to the fact that the kingdom was ruled by women. In 1419 there was a conflict between the spouses and Sigismund expelled Barbara and their daughter Elizabeth. After reconciliation, they ruled the country together until Sigismund ‘s death in 1437.
In order to secure power, she resisted the succession to Albert II. A Habsburg, who married her daughter Elizabeth, so Sigismund ordered him imprisoned while he was still alive. However, Albert ruled and imprisoned Barbara in Pressburg (Bratislava). After her release and despite an apparent reconciliation with the king and her son-in-law Albert, Barbara supported Casimir Jagel as anti-king in Bohemia.
Barbara of Celje was an intriguing person. In addition to having numerous lovers before and after the king’s death, it is said, among other things, that she gave herself and the Zagreb fortress of Medvedgrad, ruled by her brother Frederick, to the devil to save her treasure from Turkish attacks. And that because of that she did not find peace even in death, but turned into a snake queen who still keeps a great wealth in the tunnels between Medvedgrad and the church of St. Mark in the Upper Town. The impression of darkness was further confirmed by her appearance. She had long black hair and walked constantly dressed in black, with black gloves on her hands on which most often stood a domesticated black raven. Allegedly, the bird dug peoples eyes and wounded everyone who resented the Black Queen with her claws, and it is said that it was actually her love that was turned into a raven by a curse. They associated Barbara with black magic. She has been accused of being a witch, and there is evidence that she practiced alchemy. Her experiments are recorded in the records of the Czech alchemist Johann von Laaz, who visited her in the castle above Samobor, in the basement of which she had a laboratory. No wonder she placed it in an area that was rich in copper in the 15th century. Because she knew “to make silver from copper with arsenic and gold from silver”, and many people were deceived by these metals, Laaz also writes.
After Albert’s death, Barbara went to Bohemia and settled in Melnik, where she died of the plague on July 11, 1451. She was buried without many ceremonies in the royal tomb in Prague…