Episode 103 – All the Duke’s men

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This week we talk about what happens after the fight for independence is won. As had happened countless times before in history, precious freedoms gained in bloody struggles can be lost easily in the subsequent peace, not to the old adversary, but to new, homegrown usurpers. That is at least one way of telling the story, the other being, that every major political upheaval is followed by a period of consolidation that embeds the gains made and truncates the excesses that appeared during the revolutionary period.

Something like that happened following the Saxon wars when Lothar of Supplinburg, a hitherto minor count from Westphalia is raised to ducal authority in 1106. Before he took the reins of the duchy, Saxony had turned into a free for all. Whenever a rich count or margrave fell victim to the various dangers a civil war generated, his cousins and peers would race to first seize his wife or daughter and then use their claim to grasp as much of his property as possible. A process not much more dignified than the opening of the doors on a Black Friday pre-pandemic.

Lothar established a central authority for the duchy that calms things down considerably. It is during this time that four of the five great princely dynasties in the North get established, the Welf, the Wettins, the Ascanier and the counts of Holstein. The rise of these four was however not a given. There were others, like the counts of Stade and Wiprecht of Groitzsch whose burning ambitions came to nought as they stumbled in the race between reproduction and their near inevitable violent death.


Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 103 – All the Duke’s Men

It is so nice to be back. Crossing the Atlantic was a great adventure, but I still missed the Podcast and you, lovely listeners, a lot. I had a lot of time thinking about whether I want to change anything about the podcast, and I have concluded to not change a thing. All will plough on as before. Upon my return I went straight to the British Library and hurrah, no more tinned episodes, but all freshly baked and sweet smelling.

This week we talk about what happens after the fight for independence is won. As had happened countless times before in history, precious freedoms gained in bloody struggles can be lost easily in the subsequent peace, not to the old adversary, but to new, homegrown usurpers. That is at least one way of telling the story, the other being, that every major political upheaval is followed by a period of consolidation that embeds the gains made and truncates the excesses that appeared during the revolutionary period.

Something like that happened following the Saxon wars when Lothar of Supplinburg, a hitherto minor count from Westphalia is raised to ducal authority in 1106. Before he took the reins of the duchy, Saxony had turned into a free for all. Whenever a rich count or margrave fell victim to the various dangers a civil war generated, his cousins and peers would race to first seize his wife or daughter and then use their claim to grasp as much of his property as possible. A process not much more dignified than the opening of the doors on a Black Friday pre-pandemic.

Lothar established a central authority for the duchy that calms things down considerably. It is during this time that four of the five great princely dynasties in the North get established, the Welf, the Wettins, the Ascanier and the counts of Holstein. The rise of these four was however not a given. There were others, like the counts of Stade and Wiprecht of Groitzsch whose burning ambitions came to nought as they stumbled in the race between reproduction and their near inevitable violent death.

But before we start let me tell you that the History of the Germans Podcast is advertising free thanks to the generous support from patrons. And you can become a patron too and enjoy exclusive bonus episodes and other privileges from the price of a latte per month. All you have to do is sign up at patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website historyofthegermans.com. You find all the links in the show notes. And thanks a lot to Jeff M., Michael M, Robin R., and Claude L. who have already signed up.

Last time we ended with the death of Ekbert II, margrave of Meissen, an event that brought the Saxon wars against emperor Henry IV to an end. 15 times the emperor had taken an army into Saxony and 14 times he was unsuccessful.  Though Henry IV could claim victory in this his last attempt after the leaders of the rebellion had sworn allegiance to him, in reality, it was the Saxons who had achieved their political objectives.

The conflict that began as far back as 1075 had always been more about limiting royal power in the duchy, than about removing Henry IV from the throne. Yes, the Saxons had supported the deposing of Henry IV at Forchheim, had sworn allegiance to the anti-king Rudolf von Rheinfelden and aligned themselves with pope Gregory VII and the reformers. But at the heart of the conflict had been the resistance against royal encroachment into the richest parts of the duchy as symbolised by the Harzburg. On that count, the Saxons were entirely successful. Henry IV never again set foot in the duchy and his position in the Harz mountains eroded quickly. Only Goslar itself remained imperial.

The solution was a face-saving compromise. Henry IV was technically the overlord of Saxony but had no material influence in the affairs of the duchy. To make this solution work on a day to day basis, a political buffer was created between the emperor and the Saxon magnates.

This political buffer had a name, or in fact two names. Hartwig of Magdeburg and Henry the Fat, Count of Frisia. These two men’s job was to keep the emperor and the magnates apart. They would formally swear allegiance to Henry IV and do all the required kneeling and nodding. At the same time they reassured the Saxons that none of the Imperial orders had any actual effect on the ground.

Hartwig and Henry were ideally suited for this job. Hartwig had been one of the leaders of the Saxon rebellion and a firm supporter of the Gregorian reforms. Henry was the eldest son of Otto von Northeim, the hero of the initial decade of the war as well as being the largest magnate in Saxony. At the same time these two managed to gain the confidence of Henry IV, reassuring him that the Saxons would remain outwardly loyal.

Having a feudal layer between the king and the counts is nothing new. When the Carolingian empire shuffled off into the eternal sunset of history exactly such a structure had emerged, the stem duchies. Duchies were a middle layer between the king and the counts and knights below. A duke would exercise some of the royal prerogatives, such as guaranteeing peace, dispensing justice, leading the ducal contingents in war and holding regular ducal assemblies.

Saxony was such a stem duchy and still had a duke. Which gets us to the now obvious question, where is the duke of Saxony in all of this? Shouldn’t this be his job?

Well, there is a duke of Saxony, Magnus Billung. But as you may remember, the Billungs had never risen to being proper stem dukes. The dynasties’ founder, Hermann Billung had ruled the duchy only on behalf of Otto the Great and it seems his successors struggled to shake off this inferior status. The Billungs were rarely called upon to dole out justice, assemblies were called with and sometimes without the duke and military leadership these last decades rested with Otto von Northeim and other magnates, not with the duke Magnus,

On top of that you had the system of margraviates along the eastern border. Margraves had a special status, being direct vassals of the king or emperor, not of the duke. With five margraviates in the duchy and those held typically by the most powerful families, ducal power was constitutionally curtailed.

And then you had a solid dose of bad luck. Magnus Billung had joined and to a degree led the Saxon rebellion. But he somehow managed to get captured again and again. Sure, the Saxons were duly enraged by the imprisonment of their duke and felt honour bound to free him. But whilst he was in prison, they still needed a leader, which is how the military and political role of the duke transferred to Otto von Northeim. Magnus became more and more marginalised and focused on his perennial feud with the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. The final blow to his reputation came when he defected to Henry IV early on in the final struggle.

Duke Magnus died in 1106 without male offspring and his only brother had died long before, bringing an end to the Billung dynasty. Despite the ineffectual role Magnus had played as duke, the institution was not completely obsolete. So a new duke needed to be found.

Magnus had left behind two daughters. One, Wulfhild, had married Henry from the House of Welf, nicknamed the Black, the second son of the duke of Bavaria. Though we associate the house of Welf very much with Hannover, Braunschweig and Lueneburg and ultimately the crown of England, in 1106, the Welf had no material possessions north of the Main River. Their power base was in Swabia, in the duchy of Bavaria and in Northern Italy. As a second son Henry the Black only held some family possessions whilst the title of duke of Bavaria and all the rest was held by his brother Welf V. His only claim to get into the upper echelons of aristocratic society was via his wife’s connections. Which is why Henry the Black threw his hat in the ring to become duke of Saxony.

The other daughter of duke Magnus was Eilika, a rather formidable woman who, judging by the scarce sources available, asserted her rights forcefully. In the context of the times that suggests she took up arms against whichever neighbour had stood in her way. Her martial prowess may have got something to do with the fact that she was the great-granddaughter of the axe-wielding saint-king Olaf II of Norway. Sorry, I am getting carried away with my excitement to get closer to the Scandinavian part of the story. But before we get there, we have to plough through a bit more German genealogy.

So, the formidable Eilika married Otto von Ballenstedt. This count was part of the highest ranks of Saxon nobility, related to all and sundry, though up to that point his family, soon to be known as the Askanier, had not held positions as margrave or duke. The most famous of the Ballenstedts was Uta, the medieval pin-up on Naumburg cathedral. Being perennially on the cusp of becoming an imperial prince with a direct vassalage to the emperor fuelled the Ballenstedts’ ambitions and the death of good old Magnus gave Otto hope he might finally rise in his station.

So, the two sons in law of Magnus Billung would very much like become duke, sport an excessively noble line and are recognised as competent military leaders. But they are not the most powerful men in the duchy. These were still the great margraves, in particular Henry of Eilenburg, from the family of Wettin who had taken over the Margraviate of Meissen after the death of Ekbert II, the counts of Stade who held the Northern March, Wiprecht of Groitzsch we will hear about in a moment, the recently created landgraves of Thuringia and probably some others I have missed out.

I could not find any detailed accounts of the election/selection process for the new duke of Saxony, but my assumption is that given the complexity of the situation, the lack of one obvious claimant and the relative insignificance of the role meant, the Saxons had to go to the ultimate arbiter of decisions in the empire, the emperor himself. What facilitated that decision was that the hated Henry IV had just been deposed by his son, Henry V. Henry V had been the champion of the princes against his father and had been supported by many of the magnates of Saxony. Check out Episode 39 if you want to hear more about that.

This unusual combination of circumstances is the only way to explain why the Saxons -after 30 years of war against the central power- would let the emperor decide who will become their duke. What was even more surprising than the fact they let the emperor have a say in such an important decision was Henry V’s choice for the role, Lothar of Supplinburg.

Lothar was the son of a rather obscure count in the Harz mountains. In the older literature his father is described as a minor nobleman, which is not quite correct. He was a member of the high aristocracy of Saxony, related to the counts of Walbek and the counts of Querfurt. His mother, Lothar’s grandmother had married the duke Ornulf of Saxony after his grandfather’s death. Lothar’s father augmented his possessions by abducting and then marrying Gertrud, the daughter of the Bavarian counts of Formbach. The Supplinburg that Lothar is named after came in the dowry of his mother. So, a family of ancient origin and on the rise, but not exactly in the top five.

Lothar was born in 1075, the same year his father died in the battle of Langensalza on the side of the Saxons. In that same year 1075 his mother married again, this time the duke of Lothringia, who had fought against her now dead husband on the side of emperor Henry IV at the same battle. As ever, it is unclear whether she – and her inheritance – were parts of the spoils of war, or whether she had a passionate longing for the duke. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, he was known as “Theorderic the Valiant” after all.

We also do not know what happened to little Lothar in the aftermath of his father’s death and his mother’s shotgun wedding. He might have gone to Lothringia with his mother, which meant he would have been raised at the ducal court in Namur. Or alternatively he would have been raised by his grandmother at the court of Magnus of Saxony, or finally he may have been raised by servants at the castle of Supplinburg which he was named after, or a combination of all three.

We hear that in 1088, aged 13 he takes over his father’s role as a count in the Harz mountains. Then it gets dark again. In 1101 he is mentioned as an attendant in a grand assembly of Saxon nobles and in 1104 he is found in the entourage of Henry V. He is now 29 years old, presumably rising in the imperial hierarchy and growing his lands and possessions. When Henry V rebels against his father, Lothar becomes one of his key supporters who might have been the one who convinced the Saxon magnates to support the young price.

At this point Lothar had hugely increased his wealth and position as he had married the richest heiress the country had on offer at the time, Richenza. Richenza is the daughter of Henry the Fat who had inherited the lion’s share of his father, Otto of Northeim’s lands. She is also the daughter of Gertrud, the heiress to the fortune of Ekbert II, margrave of Meissen and count of Brunswick.

Whatever the exact mechanics, but in 1106, Henry V selects Lothar von Supplinburg to become duke of Saxony. With his elevation to duke of Saxony Lothar also acquires the old Billung possessions around Luneburg and the march of the Billungs. Over the next decades Lothar of Supplinburg, modest count from the Harz mountains, became, not only duke but also the by far largest landowner is Saxony. In 1117 his mother-in-law died and the county of Brunswick comes to Richenza. Around the same time Richenza’s brother and sole male descendant of Henry the Fat died resulting in most of the Northeim inheritance coming to Lothar. Basically by 1120 most of the territory that would later make up the kingdom of Hannover had come together in Lothar’s hands.

Backed up by his enormous wealth and burning ambition, Lothar began to restore the ducal institutions. Because the Saxons had removed any direct imperial influence inside the duchy and the Billung’s power such as it was had faded, there had been a vacuum in the duchy where the ruler should be.

There was no justice, there were no regular assemblies, no truce of god. This absence of a final decision authority, may it be an emperor, a duke or an assembly meant that disputes could not be resolved and often lingered on for decades, if not centuries. These disputes were sometimes about some perceived slight to a man’s honour, but mostly they were about land and wealth.

The Saxon aristocracy had intermarried to an astonishing extent as we have heard in the section about Lothar’s family connections. Add to that a near constant civil war that claimed the lives of many wealthy knights and counts well before their time. As they died young, they often left no male heirs behind, or the heirs were small children. In that case their inheritance is in play. As you may remember when we talked about the Hohenstaufen and earlier about Konrad II, the notion of inheritance and clan affiliation were still cognatic, i.e., weren’t strictly a function of being the eldest son of the eldest son. Inheritance and family association could be transferred in the female line, as had been the case of the impressively fecund Agnes of Waiblingen.

Therefore any greedy neighbour or cousin will pounce on the wife and daughters of a recently deceased rich count as a means to strengthen their claim. We hear of women being married off, like Lothar’s mother, as soon as the last verse of her husband’s funerary mass had been sung. Three or more marriages were not uncommon. And where the bride was unwilling or the negotiations went on for too long, ardent suitors are known to have kidnapped their future wife and run away to the medieval equivalent of Gretna Green.

And even if the lord managed to live to the ripe old age of fifty and had been blessed with a brace of strapping sons, that wasn’t much better. According to tradition, the lands were split between the brothers who turned against each other as soon as the old man had settled down to watch the radishes grow from below. Great territorial fortunes are gathered and lost at an astonishing speed and with ruthless brutality.

This fluid situation allowed even men from outside the close-knit Saxon aristocracy to rise to astounding heights.

One of them was Wiprecht of Groitzsch. He came from an ancient Slawic family, that -like Gottschalk, the prince of the Abodrites – had converted to Christianity. He swapped his father’s possessions for the castle of Groitzsch, south of Leipzig. This swap turned out to be a bad deal since he faced severe local opposition, forcing him into exile in Bohemia. There he became a close friend and adviser of duke Vratislav of Bohemia, the closest ally of Henry IV during the Saxon wars. He gained a reputation as a fearsome warrior and accompanied the emperor on his subsequent campaigns in Italy. The annals of the Pegau Monastery report that he attacked the papal forces with just his shield and was the second over the walls of Rome in 1084. He is also supposed to have knocked out a male lion with his bare fists. All these manly feats gained him the hand of the beautiful Judith, daughter of the duke of Bohemia. She brought him the counties of Nisani and Budisin, modern day Dresden and Bautzen, not far from Groitzsch which he regained and fortified. He further added lands in a series of local feuds that included the destruction of the city of Zeitz and the burning of its cathedral. After Judith had died, Wiprecht married Kunigunde of Weimar, and with her a claim to Weimar inheritance. Kunigunde had already been widowed twice, another example of the process I described above. Wiprecht tried to tie down the inheritance even further by marrying his son to Kunigunde’s daughter.

That way Wiprecht managed to expand his territory to the point it covered a large chunk of the modern-day state of Saxony. As was typical for a man of his time, he was ravaged by guilt for his attacks on the church. To atone for his sins he went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain from where he returned with a priceless relic and the intention to found a monastery. In 1091 he established a Benedictine abbey in Pegau close to Groitzsch, one of the oldest monasteries east of the Elbe. Wiprecht was a pioneer not only in that respect but was also amongst the first to invite colonists from the western parts of the empire to settle in the Marches. By the time Lothar became duke, Wiprecht had risen from minor Slavic ruler to being one of the great Christian magnates of Saxony.

Another, even more unusual story is that of Frederick, Count of Stade. Frederick was born not as a member of the ancient family of the Udones, the counts of Stade since time immemorial, but as the son of an English noblewoman who had fled after the battle of Hastings and was shipwrecked on the North Sea coast. That calamity turned her into the property of the count of Stade who married her to one of his Ministeriales. Ministeriales are, as you probably know by now, unfree men trained in knightly warfare that territorial lords used extensively as soldiers and administrators. Frederick was hence born a serf. He received the same training as a knight, preparing him for his role as a Ministeriale. He quickly rose through the ranks and the reigning count Udo entrusted him with the management of the county of Stade whilst he was busy with his margraviate, the Northern March.

Stade is today a delightful city of 50,000 inhabitants, downriver from Hamburg, Germany’s largest port. The port of Hamburg was only founded in 1189 which meant that until then, Stade was the largest harbour in Germany. That made the county of Stade strategically important and very rich. It stretched along the Elbe River and west towards Bremen.

Count Udo of Stade died in 1106, leaving behind a four-year old son, Henry. Henry’s uncle Rudolf acted as the guardian for the little count, whilst Frederick remained as manager of the county. Rudolf and Frederick did not get on to say it politely. When Frederick tried to buy his freedom for 40 marks of silver, Rudolf thwarted this attempt. As a consequence Frederick and Rudolf began an open feud. Each gathered allies. The emperor Henry V sided with Frederick, in part because he hoped to gain more leverage into Saxony. Imperial leverage in Saxony wasn’t something Lothar could tolerate since part of his job was to continue as the buffer between imperial power and the Saxon magnates. In 1112 Lothar apprehends Frederick whilst he was on his way to the imperial court where he had filed a complaint against Lothar. That was a blatant display of disrespect for Henry V who had guaranteed safe passage to Frederick. In retaliation, Henry V deposed Lothar as duke of Saxony and replaced him with Otto von Ballenstedt, one of the ambitious sons-in-law of old duke Magnus.

A brief military campaign followed that Lothar lost. Lothar had to submit to Henry V on his knees and -since this was the first disobedience – was reinstalled as duke. Frederick was freed and returned as vice-count in charge of the county of Stade, albeit still an unfree Ministeriale acting on behalf of little Henry.

In 1115 Frederick swapped sides and struck up a friendship with Lothar. Lothar now supported him against young Henry. When Lothar becomes emperor in 1125 Frederick was released from serfdom and in 1135, once Henry had died, was formally enfeoffed with the county he had controlled for 25 years. But upon his death his little empire unravelled. The county was returned to the Udones, the family that had ruled it for centuries.

This is the kind of environment Lothar of Supplinburg inherits. It isn’t exactly a free for all. There are some rules, such as, you need some sort of justification for your claim, even if it is down to kidnapping a twice widowed second cousin, but largely it is “might is right”.

How he resolves the situation is difficult to nail down. I have just spent a bit more than a day reading Ruth Hildebrand’s book about Lothar as duke of Saxony and I can confirm that we really do not have much to go on in the sources. What is indisputable though is that by the time Lothar is elected emperor in 1125, he is by far the most powerful duke of Saxony since Ottonian times. And this is not just down to the force of his personality since the ducal position remains dominant under his two successors.

In my assessment there were two things that helped him establish his position, the first was taking the lead in the Saxon opposition against the emperor Henry V, and the other was his ability to place competent and loyal people into key positions.

As for the military leadership, we have just heard that Lothar clashed with Henry V over the county of Stade and lost. But that was a temporary setback, so temporary, it barely lasted a month.

By 1115 the honeymoon period of emperor Henry V’s reign was over – even though he does not yet know it. Henry V had returned from Rome in 1112, freshly crowned and after having forced the unlucky pope Paschalis II to make all sorts of concessions. Riding high, he resumed the policy of his father, trying to create a coherent royal territory, administered by his ministeriales. This time his focus wasn’t Saxony, but along the Rhine River, bringing him in conflict with his former friend, the archbishop Adalbert of Mainz. He also clashed with the archbishop of Cologne and the city itself. Finally, Henry’s support for Frederick in Stade was seen as part of a larger plan to expand imperial power into Saxony itself.

The Rhineland and Saxony erupt in rebellion literally days after Lothar had kneeled before the emperor. On February 11th, 1115 an imperial army, led by the general Hoyer von Mansfeld takes the field against the rebel forces, outnumbering them 5 to 3. The battle was in equal measure brutal as it was decisive. The general Hoyer von Mansfeld fell whilst attempting to break the centre of the rebel forces. Thereafter the imperial troops lost cohesion and turned to flight. Whether Lothar did indeed lead the rebel forces, or he just ended up being the last of the magnates left alive after the fighting, Lothar was credited with this success, which raised his profile enormously. Helmold of Bosau reports that following the battle Lothar convinced all the princes of Saxony to swear oaths to support each other against any potential retaliation by the emperor Henry V. That seems to have involved princes who had been neutral or even supportive to the imperial cause such as Frederick of Stade who now switched to the ducal side. After Westenholz Lothar had become the military leader of the duchy.

The other reason for his success was a great HR policy. His first major appointment was count Adolf of Schauenburg as count of Holstein. The Schauenburgs were an aristocratic clan based in Westphalia. Not top drawer, but like Lothar’s own family, they have been around for a long time. The county of Holstein on the other hand was a relatively new invention. These lands, roughly between Kiel, Hamburg and Bremen were in part inhabited by Slavic people who were part of the Abodrites federation and the Holstens, a Saxon subgroup who lived in peasant republics unwilling to recognise any count or duke above them. Interspersed were castles established by the Billungs. Lothar had initially placed a man called Godfrey in charge of these defences and given him the title of count of Holstein. How fragile his position was is explained in a story that Helmond of Bosau tells. In 1111 a band of Slavic raiders had come to plunder Hamburg, at the time not much more than a small agglomeration of wooden shacks surrounding a church. The count arrived on scene and surveyed the damage. Egged on by the locals who call him a coward he pursues the raiders who lure him into a trap. The raiders fall upon him as he is crossing a large, wooded area. All the local peasants found afterwards were the remains of his 20 companions and the headless body of the count. If a count can taken down by common rabble one has to wonder about the strength of this new institution.

That will change quite significantly under the Schauenburgs. Like Wiprecht of Groitzsch, they are pioneers in the colonisation of the former Slavic lands and founders of important cities that will take a lead role in our story, namely Kiel, Lubeck and Hamburg. When they are done, no Slavic raider would dare to attack Hamburg again.

The next major appointment was Konrad of Wettin as Margrave of Meissen. You may remember that after the death of the rebellious Ekbert the margraviate of Meissen had gone to Henry of Eilenburg who was already margrave of Lusatia. Henry died in 1103 fighting Polabian Slavs and his son and heir died in 1123 without having produced any offspring. That renders two margraviates available, margraviates that are strategically important.

A margrave is an imperial prince and hence has at least formally to be enfeoffed directly by the emperor. And that is exactly what emperor Henry V does. He gives both margraviates to Wiprecht of Groitzsch, you remember, the Slavic lord who had felled a lion with his bare hands. Apart from being of herculean strength, Wiprecht had also been loyal to the imperial family for decades, had large possessions in the marches and has proven to be a competent manager. By all accounts a sensible choice.

But Lothar was not happy with the appointment of a Salian loyalist in this crucial post. He allied with Conrad of Wettin, the closest relative of Henry of Eilenburg and elevated him to be Margrave of Meissen. This was an unprecedented act. Lothar had no right to make any such appointment. As duke he wasn’t even the feudal overlord of the margrave. But hey, Lothar had by now the full support of the duchy and though Wiprecht put on a good fight, Conrad and Lothar defeated him. Wiprecht died in 1124 from wounds he received when he tried to extinguish a fire with his bare feet. From then on Conrad was de facto Margrave of Meissen. Wiprecht had left behind a son and successor, Henry who died 7 years later without being able to enforce his claim to the margraviates. The great territory of the counts of Groitzsch was then snatched up by his enemies, the same Conrad of Wettin.

As for Eilenburg’s other margraviate, that of Lusatia, Lothar gave that to Albrecht, the son of Otto of Ballenstedt and Eilika Billung. Albrecht was not necessary a loyal follower, but he needed to be appeased. As we have heard, Otto of Ballenstedt had taken on the mantle of duke of Saxony for a brief period and that claim had now gone to Albrecht. Granting Albrecht the title of Margrave was a way to partially compensate him. That did work. Albrecht was content to be elevated to imperial prince and became a close follower of Lothar.

We have introduced Albrecht and his father Otto as counts of Ballenstedt because that was the name by which they were known at the time. However the clan would change its name to the latinised form of another of its possessions, Aschensleben and will be known from then on as the Ascanier. The Ascanier would rule a range of principalities, including the state of Anhalt until 1918.

The combination of massive personal possessions, military leadership and putting loyal followers into key positions allowed Lothar to also take over the control of the church. He is again usuroing royal privileges when he influences the selection of bishops in Saxony. In defiance of the just recently agreed concordat of Worms, Lothar effectively chooses the bishop of Halberstadt against the wishes of the cathedral chapter. As we will see church power in Saxony is a lot weaker than in the rest of the empire. The two archbishoprics, Hamburg-Bremen and Magdeburg are way poorer than the mighty and ancient seats of Cologne, Mainz, Trier and Salzburg. Moreover, they are subject to constant harassment and as we will see soon, find their property alienated to the rising territorial powers.

By 1125 Lothar has become the undisputed ruler of Saxony, the by far largest of the German duchies. And he was not just nominal lord of this territory but had real control, more control than any of his predecessors since Otto the Great ever had. In 1125 Lothar is elected King of the Romans and is crowned emperor in 1133. We have covered the story of his interesting reign, his struggle with the Hohenstaufen and his ambiguous relationship with the popes and Bernhard of Clairvaux in episodes 43 to 46. Have a listen just in case you want to hear more about what was ging on in the wider European context.

Once Lothar is elected King and later crowned emperor Saxony finds itself in a situation that at least on the face of it never wanted. There is now significant imperial influence in the duchy and the emperor is directly controlling a large, coherent territory right in their midst. This fact got lost in the exuberance of Lothar’s election and the idea that once more the emperor is one of them and the Saxon magnates have great influence at court. The imperial army is now stacked with margraves and counts from Saxony, families that haven’t sent contingents down to Italy for almost a century.

Will this last? It depends on who follows Lothar as duke of Saxony and as emperor. You remember the tumultuous election of Lothar III in Mainz? Where at the last minute the duke of Bavaria, Henry the Black switches side and instead of supporting the imperial nephew and his own son-in-law Friedrich of Hohenstaufen he tilts the election in Lothar’s favour. In exchange for this move, Henry gains the hand of Gertrud, the only child of the aging emperor, for his son, Henry the Proud. Gertrud’s inheritance is truly enormous. All the lands the Billungs, the Brunones and the Northeims had gathered over the centuries will now go to the House of Welf. And the Welf themselves aren’t exactly poor. Henry the Black is already duke of Bavaria and count of Este in Italy. His son will add to that the lands of Matilda of Tuscany making him the by far most powerful magnate in the empire. And he will also claim the title of duke of Saxony.

I know, this was a blizzard of confusing names and you will be wondering whether you should write them down somewhere just in case we need them later. No, not to worry. You will not have to write them down because some, like Wiprecht of Groitzsch and Frederick of Stade disappear down the orcus of history. But others, namely Adolf von Schauenburg, Conrad von Meissen, Albrecht the Baer, Henry the Proud and the dynasties they created will stick around. They will get their own episodes shortly, because these dynasties and the territories they created will last for the next almost 800 years and will shape not just Saxon, but German and European history going forward.

Next week we will start with the counts of Holstein and the start of the eastern colonisation that will get almost 7% of the empire’s population to pack their bags and go east. And we will hear about the foundation of two of the major Hanseatic cities, Lubeck and Hamburg. I hope you will join us again.

Finally, I just want to thank you guys for the support to the podcast whilst was away. So many nice posts and comments on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you, thank you! It makes all the difference. As you may know the platform algorithms are driven more by subscriber growth than by downloads which means that to keep the History of the Germans visible on something like Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Podcast Addict requires a constant flow of new listeners. And the place to find new listeners is either through word of mouth from existing listeners or social media. So thanks so much for your support and I promise not to disappear for six weeks ever again.

And last but by no means least thanks to all of you who have become Patreons during this time. I always appreciate and even more so when it was clear that not much in terms of bonus episodes would be produced whilst I was away. So thanks again.

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