Godfrey the Bearded (997-1069)

And another protagonist in the Investiture Controversy

Godfrey the Bearded is one of those figures of History who despite his significant influence over crucial events has fallen through the cracks because he did not fit into a national narrative in either Germany, France or Italy.
Godfrey was the son of Gozelo, duke of Upper and Lower Lothringia. Emperor Konrad II had put Gozelo in charge of the two duchies of Lothringia since he needed a strong defender of the French border, particular against the mighty counts of Blois-Champagne. Konrad II died in 1039 and his son Henry III changed the strategic outlook. The threat from France had receded, which removed the rationale to create such a powerful vassal in the west. When Gozolo died in 1044, Henry III split the two duchies up again between Godfrey, who received Upper Lothringia, and his brother.
Godfrey felt wronged by this decision and began feuding against the emperor. Though Godfrey had to concede defeat several times and lost the duchy of Upper Lothringia, he retained huge support amongst the Lothringian nobles. Henry III could never really gain control of Lothringia. The ambitious counts of Flanders were the main beneficiaries of the power vacuum his wars with Godfrey created. The counts of Flanders put together a territory that after many iterations ended up as the country of Belgium.
During his conflict with the emperor Godfrey made a great political move. He married Beatrix, widow of Count Boniface of Tuscany. That gave him control of a broad stretch of land across central Italy, from Mantua to Florence. Sometime later he would also acquire the duchy of Spoleto, giving him control over access to Rome and hence the papacy.
In 1056, Godfrey’s archenemy, emperor Henry III died. The crown went to his 6-year-old son Henry IV and his mother, Agnes of Poitou.
This event was not just significant for Godfrey who would gain the duchy of Lower Lothringia under the new regime, but even more for the papacy.
The elevation of pope Leo IX in 1046 had kickstarted the reform of the papacy, which was part of a broader church reform movement. Church reform focused on ending Simony, the practice of buying and selling holy offices and curbing the licentiousness of priests, including the marriage of clerics. The papacy itself was being reorganised. Leo IX created the college of Cardinals and began to proactively get involved in church policy across western Europe, either personally or through papal legates. This is the beginning of the universal papacy we know today.
The papal reform had initially been sponsored by emperor Henry III. Henry III freed the papacy from the chokehold of the Roman aristocracy. The great Roman families had dominated the papacy until 1046, appointing and dismissing popes at will.
After emperor Henry III had died the reform party was concerned that once the current pope, Victor II, died, the Roman aristocracy would come back. They turned to Godfrey as the only power in Italy that could offer protection during the regency.
It is hence no surprise that the reform-minded bishops elected Godfrey’s brother as pope Stephen IX within two days of receiving note of Pope Victor II’s death. Stephen IX lasted only 8 months, hence the issue came up again in March 1058. This time the Roman Aristocracy were quicker and elected one of their own as Pope Benedict X before the reform-minded party managed to elect someone.
The reform leaders, including the future pope Gregory VII fled to Godfrey’s capital of Florence. There they elected the local bishop as pope Nicolas II. Godfrey provided the muscle that brought Nicolas II into Rome and on to the throne of St. Peter.
Pope Nicholas II presided over the synod of 1059 where the process for papal election was first established. Instead of imperial appointment or acclamation by the people of Rome, the pope was to be elected by the Cardinal Bishops, a process that still takes place today.
Thanks to Godfrey’s support the papacy could hold its own against the Roman aristocracy and, at the same time free itself from the imperial dominance. Two papal elections later, pope Gregory VII will excommunicate Emperor (at the time only king) Henry IV which will lead to the famous scene of the most powerful ruler in Europe kneeling in the snow before the pope in the castle of Canossa. Godfrey will be dead by then, but his stepdaughter, Mathilda of Tuscany, whose castle Canossa was, will play another key role in the story of the Investiture Controversy.
All this is still to come on the History of the Germans Podcast, though we are getting close. If you want to catch up, check out the Episodes 26-30 where we go through the reign of emperor Henry III and the regency of his wife Agnes of Poitou. The podcast is – as always – available on my website www.historyofthegermans.com and links to Apple, Spotify etc. are here: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen

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