Episode 39 – The end of Emperor Henry IV

It is hard to believe, but the last years of Henry IV’s tumultuous reign still held one final humiliation that capped the pain this man had already endured.

And that despite a period of relative stability which began after his return to Germany in 1097. Henry IV had accepted that his rule could not be one more than a First amongst Equals. He reconciled with his enemies in Swabia and Bavaria, largely by bribing them with valuable crown lands and settled into his new favourite residence in Mainz. The only one he did take issue with was the archbishop of Mainz for his involvement in the murder of the Jewish community under his protection.

He even attempted a lasting reconciliation with the Gregorian papacy admitting to having broken the unity of the holy mother church. But the new Pope, Paschalis II was not playing ball, leaving this issue as an open wound…long after the antipope Clement III had died.

The internal weakness of his regime became apparent when one of the guests at his imperial assembly in Regensburg ends up murdered by Ministeriales…..

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Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 39 – The End of Henry IV

This week we will talk about the last years of Henry IV, which, as hard as it is to believe, holds a final humiliation that capped the pain this man had already endured.

Before we start a just a reminder. 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 John, Jason and Demetrio who have already signed up.

At the end of episode 37 Henry IV was finally allowed to return home thanks to the reconciliation with his Southern German enemies, Welf IV and Berthold von Zaehringen. The price Henry had to pay for this reconciliation was fairly straightforward. He had to reinstate Welf IV as duke of Bavaria, and most painful of all, accept that Bavaria became a hereditary duchy, in other words, the king could no longer appoint the duke of Bavaria, let alone manage the duchy himself as he had done for the past 14 years.

As for the Zaehringer who had himself elected as anti-duke of Swabia against Frederick of Hohenstaufen, the deal was that Berthold retained the title of Duke, even though he was no longer duke of Swabia. He also received the royal demesne around Zurich, one of the most valuable of the crown’s possessions.

The net effect of that was that Swabia was divided into the ducal Swabia ruled by Frederick of Hohenstaufen and the Zaehringer Duchy in the south. Some argue it was even a three-way split, as the possessions of the Welfs in the eastern part of the duchy around Ravensburg were also out of ducal control.

The reconciliation with his last enemies meant that Henry IV could finally reign as emperor recognised across the whole of the empire. But this reign was now very different from the reign his father and grandfather exercised. Henry IV was now a First amongst Equals, a bit like his namesake Henry the Fowler had been. 200 years of expansion of central authority have been reversed.

The only right he still held on to was the right to invest bishops. These last 20 years, the bishops were often the only support Henry IV enjoyed. Amongst the secular princes only Frederick von Hohenstaufen had been unwaveringly loyal. The rest had to be bought or otherwise placated.

Before we get to the attack on this, the last real royal prerogative, there was one other thing that he believed his royal authority extended to, the protection of the Jews.

Those of you who have listened to the whole of Episode 38 may remember that Henry IV had declared himself the protector of the Jews in the empire in 1090. That was probably less of an act of religious tolerance than an attempt to raise funds for the depleted imperial coffers. Whether it was greed or enlightened self-interest does not matter because the imperial protection counted pretty much for nought when the crusaders massacred Jewish communities in Worms, Mainz, Trier and elsewhere.

Upon his return Henry IV initiated an investigation into these horrific atrocities, specifically the events in Mainz. He explicitly condemned the enforced conversions and allowed the Jews to return to their faith. Pope Clement III seconded this by declaring their baptisms uncanonical, which means they could return to their faith without being deemed apostate. That mattered because the sanction for apostasy was death.

Henry then followed the money trail and detected that a lot of the property of the murdered Jews had miraculously ended up in the hands of kinsmen and followers of the archbishop of Mainz, Ruothard. In fact a significant chunk of the assets had gone directly to this great prelate.

Henry could not let that go since Ruothard had been specifically ordered by the emperor to offer protection to the Jews. Ruothard had gone through the motions and offered the large Jewish community shelter in his fortified palace in the city. But when the troops of Emrich of Leiningen came knocking, the archbishop and his knights fled by the back door, leaving the unarmed men, women and children to their fate.

It transpired that the archbishop took 50 of the most prominent members of the community along and held them in a castle nearby. There they were offered freedom for conversion and compensation, which most refused resulting in them being killed or killing themselves in front of the archbishop.

Before the investigation was completed the archbishop and his kinsmen decided to run for it and hid in Thuringia for the next 7 ½ years.

That suited Henry well who took over Mainz as one of his preferred residences. It suited the citizens of Mainz even more as they thoroughly disliked their archbishop. This trend of citizens throwing their bishops out and forming their own independent city states is now really taking hold with Worms and Cologne leading the movement..

These next five years are a period of calm, most unusual for the reign of Henry IV. His rule is recognised by almost everyone. Once the Welf and the Zaehringer had reconciled themselves to the king, the only truly Gregorian base was the bishop of Constance, Gebhard. Though he remained the legate of the Gregorian pope in Germany, he had no more influence outside his own diocese, where Henry IV left him alone.

With his authority recognised across the land, Henry IV could move on to plan for his succession. He was now 48 years old, older than his father and grandfather when they died.

His eldest son, Konrad was still alive. You remember that he had betrayed his father and joined the Gregorian party. Pope Urban II and Matilda had promised him the world, including the imperial crown. He was even given a rich bride, the daughter of king Roger of Sicily. But, once the alliance between Matilda and the House of Welf had fallen apart and Henry IV had returned to Germany, young Konrad served no further purpose. He was given a modest castle to live in with his bride and was left to rot. Nobody called on him and even the pope who had promised to be his guardian and advisor never contacted him again.

But he was still technically King of the Romans and the future emperor, which meant he had to be formally deposed. That happened without much fuss in May 1098. Konrad ultimately died a broken man in 1101.

At the same royal assembly, Henry IV pushed through the election of his second son, also Henry. He was crowned King Henry V in Aachen in January 1099. His father had become a bit suspicious after the treachery of his eldest. Hence Henry V had to guarantee the emperors life and safety of his person on oath and was made to swear that he would never interfere against his will and command with matters of the kingdom, his honour and current and future possessions during his lifetime.

Hmm, this sounds long enough and legalese enough an oath to be broken some day…

Part two of the program was to make the current peace a lasting one. At the royal assembly in 1103 Henry IV declared a comprehensive peace to last for four years. He committed his nobles to preserve the peace for the churches, clergy, monks and lay brethren, for merchants, for women and Jews. Penalties for breaching the peace were severe. Perpetrators were to be blinded or would lose a hand for attacking and burning another one’s house, taking prisoners, wounding or killing a debtor, persistent theft or defending a peace-breaker. A castle where the peace breaker had taken refuge could be destroyed and his benefice could be seized by his lord and his possessions taken by his kinsmen.

That sounds again like a peace of god his father could have declared. But in the end it was not. The administration of the penalty was not to be done by the emperor or his appointees, but by those who had sworn the peace. It wasn’t the central authority that delivered the peace, it was the community, or so they hoped.

This peace is sometimes seen as the first act of imperial legislation within the context of the Holy Roman Empire, a construct not of a central monarchy but a mixed monarchy built around co-operation rather than command. It sort of was as the imperial peace or Reichsfrieden and its smaller cousins, the Landfrieden which became regular instruments of imperial rule. Yeah, maybe the Holy Roman Empire starts here, at the royal assembly of 1103. It is not called that for another 150 years, but the foundations are being laid.

The third part of his program to stabilise his reign was a reconciliation with the papacy. After Urban II’s propaganda coup with the crusades and even more so after the fall of Jerusalem in 1099, the old conflict between pope and emperor was resolved. The pope had won. No ifs, no buts.

The last obstacle was the anti-pope Clement III. As long as he lived Henry could not accept a Gregorian pope since that would have invalidated his coronation. Clement III was kind enough to die in 1100 removing this particular obstacle. Though. Cement’s cardinals elected a number of successor anti popes and held parts of the city of Rome, Henry ignored them. 

So, all could now be resolved. Henry IV called a royal assembly in Mainz where he proposed to send envoys to the pope to negotiate a settlement. And from 1100 to 1103 he made regular attempts to agree with Paschalis II.

With the question of who has the biggest now resolved, the pope came up with the next set of demands set out in the Dictatus Papae, the investiture of the bishops.

This whole fight between emperor and pope has been labelled the investiture conflict but you may have noticed that I barely mentioned investiture much in previous episodes. The issue made appearances all throughout the reign of Henry IV, going back to 1059 and it was usually included in the list of papal prerogatives.  But in reality, it wasn’t the big issue in the previous conflicts. All throughout this period henry IV had invested bishops and the Gregorian popes would happily receive bishops into their party who had been invested by Henry IV. Several of the reform popes had been present at investiture ceremonies performed by the emperor and kept stum.

But now, as the emperor was down, the popes saw the opportunity to tackle the issue.

What was the issue? The bottom line of it is, who appoints the bishops and abbots. In canon law, the question is a bit more complex. Because of the way the imperial church system had evolved over the previous two centuries, the German bishops were both religious leaders for the people in their diocese and feudal lords over the counties, castles, privileges and estates granted to their church. Under the early Ottonians the process of making a bishop consisted in two separate acts. Part one was the election as a religious leader by the congregation, specifically by the cathedral canons. Once elected, the bishop would then ask the king or emperor to be enfeoffed with the various secular rights of the bishopric. These two separate appointments were represented by the ring as a sign of the religious marriage of the bishop with his diocese and the staff as his sign of secular power. That sort of made sense, reflecting both the religious and the political dimension of the role of the bishop.

But as time went by the weight of the king and emperor in the decision who would be bishop had become ever more significant. The canons were aware that the king could refuse to enfeoff their chosen bishop with the lands, making them all suddenly very poor. Hence, they would ask the emperor for guidance in advance of an election. That then mutated in a process of direct orders of the king to elect so and so. Finally, under Henry III they dispensed with the niceties entirely and the king would invest his bishops directly with both the ring and the staff.

For the popes who saw themselves as the leader of Christendom and the immediate superior of the bishops, this system was unacceptable. How could a layman appoint a church leader, in particular a layman whose morals were not just in doubt but who was even excommunicated.

On the other hand, Henry IV could not relinquish the right to appoint bishops. That was literally the only power base he had left. The crown lands had been diminished and after the disaster in Saxony earlier in his reign there was no chance of building his own territorial power base.

We are at a complete impasse. Both sides want to come together, but they cannot get over this hurdle. Henry IV will send messages of peace and reconciliation to Paschalis II whilst at the same time investing bishops as before. Paschalis never writes back. Instead, he calls him “the chief of the heretics” and grants the soldiers fighting against henry in the constant border conflicts the same absolution crusaders received for going to Jerusalem. In 1102 he solemnly repeats Henry IV’s excommunication at a council in Rome and again releases everyone from their oath sworn to the king.

Henry’s response was to brush up his PR. He would make a big show and dance of his efforts to protect the priests and abbots against their rapacious secular neighbours. He would make another string of donations to the churches of Worms and Speyer. The cathedral in Speyer is by now reaching its completion as the extraordinary building that still stands today. He talks about going on pilgrimage to the Holy land to atone for his sins and he even writes to his godfather, abbot Hugh of Cluny, that he wants to do penance for his acts that ruined the unity of the holy church.

Did he mean all that? Maybe he did. He is now really old by the standards of the time and had been through the wringer so many time, I am wiling to believe he had enough. All he now cared about is leaving the empire to his successor in a reasonable shape and the conflict with the papacy resolved.

And most people in Germany agreed. 30 years of civil war had been enough, and nobody wanted a repeat. But as the failure to resolve the investiture conflict dragged on, the outward appearance of peace and stability hid some profound disagreements.

All came to a head at an assembly in Regensburg, capital of the duchy of Bavaria in the winter of 1103/1104. Many princes from all over the realm joined the emperor and his son for great festivities.  One of them, Count Sieghard of Burghausen, a rich noble from Southern Bavaria showed up with an unsuitably number of retainers. He argued that he needed so much protection because the court was too friendly to the Saxons and Franconians and that he feared for his life.

He may have been right about that. On the 5th of February 1104 Count Sieghard was murdered in his lodgings in Regensburg by a mob of Ministeriales. Ministeriales you may remember were unfree knights who were obliged to follow orders of their owners, usually princes, bishops or the emperor himself. But they weren’t just salaried soldiers. They had received fiefs to fund their weapons and cover their expenses. They would build castles on these lands and -over time- become indistinguishable from actual knights.

 According to some chroniclers, the Ministeriales had been enraged by some judgement count Sieghard had made in respect of one of his own Ministeriales. It was clearly not a smart move to antagonise a group of heavily armoured thugs with a chip on their shoulder for not being real knights. The Ministeriales besieged the lodgings of Count Sieghard for six hours and even the entreaties of the crown prince King Henry V could calm them down. The Ministeriales finally broke in and killed the Count and his household.

Public opinion blamed Henry IV for this murder. Sieghard was a guest of the emperor and was hence under his protection. Henry IV had sponsored the Ministeriales throughout his reign and his voice should have carried favour with them. In other words, Henry IV had failed to do his job, which led to the accusation that he was condoning the murder.

Feuds broke out across the empire, and particularly in the Northern provinces of Bavaria where many of the local counts had Gregorian leanings. The rebellion than extended to Saxony where another count apprehended the imperial candidate for the archbishopric of Magdeburg.

It is civil war again and Henry IV musters an army at Fritzlar in December 1104. And in the night of December 14th, 1104 young King Henry V, son of the emperor and sworn to obey him in all his commands, leaves the imperial camp. He runs for Bavaria where he finds support amongst the relatives of the murdered Sieghard.

Henry IV has to abandon his expedition to Saxony and returns to Mainz.

Henry IV’s enemies rally around his son. The pope, who had almost given up hope to unseat Henry IV was clearly surprised to receive a letter from young king henry V offering him allegiance in exchange for support in his fight with the father. He also urgently needs to be absolved from his solemn oath to obey his father. An oath he had made before the whole of the realm and on the most precious relics and regalia of the land. Without absolution, his soul and his rebellion would be lost.

But hey, that is one of the easiest things to sort out. Paschalis argument is simple. Henry IV has been excommunicated since, like forever. What is an oath to an excommunicate – just hollow words.

Being absolved meant that more malcontents could join young Henry Vth’s banner. And malcontent the Saxons always are. Archbishop Ruothgar of Mainz is another obvious supporter, as is the nominal leader of the Gregorian party in Germany, bishop Gebhard of Constance.

Most of the year 1105 was spent in military walkabout whereby Henry V failed to successfully challenge his father but gradually gains control of Southern Germany. One great coup was to get hold of the 15 year old Frederick II of Swabia, the son of Henry IV’s great ally Frederick of Hohenstaufen who had died the year before.

The elder Henry made a last attempt to take Regensburg with the help of the Austrians and the Bohemians. But after 3 days of a standoff outside the ancient city, Henry IV was betrayed by his allies and had to flee back to the one loyal area he still had, the cities of the Rhineland, namely Mainz, Speyer and Cologne.

Speyer fell at the end of October and Mainz was considered too dangerous, so he retreated towards Cologne. His son caught up with him near Koblenz.

Father and son finally met and first the elder Henry fell on his knees and begged his son to end the inhumane persecution. Then his son fell to his knees and said he would make peace with him if only he could reconcile with the pope.

The father accepted to come to a royal assembly in Mainz to debate the issue with the nobles and subject himself to whatever conclusion the assembly may reach. On the promise of safe passage to Mainz, Henry IV dismissed his army and joined the camp of his son.

On the first day his advisors told hm that they feared his son would break the oath and imprison him. When he confronted him, Henry V repeated his guarantee to take him to mains.

And when on the second day the number of armed men in Henry V entourage increased, the father asked the son again, are you taking me to Mainz to state my case, and again the son guaranteed the emperor’s safety.

And on the third day…well do I have to tell you, yes and for a third time Henry V guaranteed his father’s safety.

On the fourth day Henry IV was imprisoned in the castle of Boeckelheim. His goaler was a particularly Gregorian minded bishop who had little regard for an excommunicate imprisoned emperor. The former ruler’s followers had been dismissed except for three laymen, he was left without a bath and unshaven but worst of all, without being allowed communion during the holy days of Christmas.

There was no way Henry V would let his father appear in Mainz, a city staunchly supportive of the old emperor. He was allowed to come before an assembly in the imperial Pfalz of Ingelheim, but that was an assembly of henry V’s supporters. All the undecided and the supporters of the old king were left in Mainz.

Henry IV tried one last time to get himself out of the pickle he was in by displaying excessive penance. In a rerun of Canossa he threw himself at the feet of the apostolic legate, confessed his sins including his unjust persecution of the apostolic see and even performed the prescribed abdication. He then begged the legate to give him the absolution, having done all that was required of him. And if the man in front of him had been the pope, henry IV would probably have been absolved from the excommunication again, letting him fight another day. But the man in front of him was a mere apostolic legate who came up with the eternal rebuttal of the bureaucrat – I do not have the authority to release you from the ban. I will write to the pope who will sure acquiesce to your request. And even when he claimed he was in immediate mortal danger running the risk of dying without reconciliation with the church the legate remained unwavering – No can do. Do I need to tell you that under canon law he had been obliged to absolve the king under these circumstances? I presume you have heard enough about the Gregorian papacy by now to know the answer to that.

As Henry IV had now abdicated, his son Henry V was crowned in the cathedral of Mainz with the regalia he had forced his father to surrender and by that self-same archbishop Ruothard of Mainz who still had the blood of hundreds of Jews on his hands.

Henry IV was left in Ingelheim, apolitical and probably also emotional wreck. At some point he realise that his son could not let him live much longer and he fled. First to Cologne and then to Lothringia.

I have no idea how he did that, but somehow even after this last hammer blow, Henry IV did not give up. He retired too liege and when henry V send troops to capture him, his allies beat them. He then returned to Cologne where the citizens urged him to resume his role as emperor. When his son came to besiege the city he had to retreat twice experiencing heavy losses.

The father began to rebuild his power base and some disaffected nobles and bishops joined his side. He even opened up the possibility of giving in on royal investiture to split the Gregorian party. Things were looking up for old emperor henry in the spring of 1106 when he was suddenly struck by an illness. He died after nine days in Liege surrounded by his closest friends and advisers having received the last rites.

What a life. Henry IV had been emperor from 1056 to 1105, 49 years in total. In that time he was abducted by a faction of his nobles, abandoned by his mother, forced to marry a girl he saw as a sister, betrayed a hundred times by his nobles, forced to stand in the snow for three days to do penance, stabbed in the back by his eldest son , publicly accused of the worst misdemeanours by his second wife, and finally deposed by his youngest son. Where is the scriptwriter who sells the story to Netflix?

He was initially buried in the cathedral of Liege but was soon exhumed as the archbishops and bishops objected to an excommunicate to be laid to rest in consecrated ground. His body was then buried in un-consecrated ground outside the city. A few weeks later henry V demanded for his father’s remains to be brought to Speyer, but the citizens of Liege tried to keep hold of the body who they began to believe to be sacred. They would touch the bier for a blessing and spread the earth from his grave on their fields to ensure an abundant harvest.

Finally one of Henry IV’s most faithful servants was able to extract the body and transport it to Speyer where it was placed in a stone sarcophagus that was kept outside his magnificent cathedral for five years. Only once his son had achieved a breakthrough in the conflict with the papacy that from now on is indeed the Investiture conflict did he obtain absolution from the excommunication. He was finally buried in the magnificent cathedral he had built in the year 1111. His son held a eulogy of his great and beloved father, emperor Henry IV of happy memory.

Next week we will look at how Henry V, champion of pope Paschalis II finds himself caught in the same gridlock that prevented his fathers reconciliation with the mother church. I hope you will join us again.

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