The Three Roads to Canossa
Emperor Henry III is dead. The realm is now in the hands of his widow, Agnes of Poitou who rules on behalf of the six-year-old king Henry IV. Agnes is no Theophanu and no Adelheid. Not that she is incompetent, she just isn’t absolutely brilliant, and absolutely brilliant is the baseline necessary to manage this fragile situation.
The relationship between the central imperial power and the magnates has flipped, and instead of all-powerful emperors, the dukes, counts and bishops do what they like. And Henry III’s bête noire, Godfrey the Bearded is more powerful than ever.
The laity calls for a church that is more like the church of the apostles, pious and dedicated to the poor. They demand an end to simony and the licentiousness of priests.
And the papacy asserts its independence. Not that they necessarily intend to throw off the imperial yoke, but the reformers need protectors against the Roman aristocracy that literally used popes as footstools and ATMs.
All this culminates in a situation where the young king Henry IV sees no other way to escape from his opponents than by jumping into the cold and fast flowing River Rhine, choosing death over captivity…