Episode 40 – Henry V’s cunning Plan

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 40 – Henry V’s Cunning Plan

In this episode we will see whether young Henry V will do any better at ending the conflict between Pope and Emperor, featuring one of the most audacious political moves seen in this conflict.

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Last week e followed our antihero Henry IV to his last and final betrayal when his youngest son, King Henry V rose up against him, like his elder brother Konrad had done. Henry V prevailed and the old emperor Henry IV died in 1106 still hoping against all the odds to return to the throne.

The king is dead, long live the king!

Who is that new king, Henry, fifth of his name?

In 1105 Henry V was 21 years of age. He was born in 1086, in one of the very few years of comparative quite in his father’s reign. But just 4 years later did the emperor go down to Italy where he would stay for 7 years, most of which spent in impotent rage against the pope, the countess Matilda, the German princes and his son Konrad. We do not know whether young Henry was with his father during this time or whether he stayed behind in Germany, and if so where and with whom..

All his formative years were spent in some form of limbo where he saw the ruler of the Reich being put under the yoke by his powerful vassals. In all likelihood Henry V did believe that it wasn’t easy to become king and even harder to remain king.

With that in mind we may have to retell the story of the end of Henry IV again. You see, last time you heard it from the point of view of the broken old emperor being subjected to yet another round of treachery, lies and deceit.

But now, let’s take a look at these events from the viewpoint of young King Henry V.

For him the year 1105 had become decision time. His father was old, so his last days were nigh.

At the same time the old man had been unable to reconcile with the pope, which meant that his rule was fragile and his succession even more so. Henry V’s worst-case scenario was that his father would suddenly die, and the Gregorian party would then propose their own candidate as king. All Henry V could rely upon was that he had been formally elected, anointed, and crowned in 1099 and that all the magnates had sworn fealty to him. But what is that worth? His own father was elected, anointed and crowned when the magnates deposed him in 1076. All it needs is a Gregorian pope to excommunicate him, and all that frankincense and Myrrh would fade into nothingness. As far as Henry V was concerned, his father needed to reconcile with the pope pronto or the new king’s reign would start with a civil war. 

After the murder of count Sighard and the subsequent Bavarian uprising that reconciliation would not happen for a long, long time. Pope Paschalis’ policy is reinvigorated, and he can again see the opportunity of maybe, maybe unseating Henry IV after all. If he was unwilling to compromise when Henry IV was well established, on what basis would he do it now?

Well, there was one way Henry IV could achieve a reconciliation with the pope, and that was by giving up all the investiture rights, the last remaining open issue between pope and emperor. But that would also mean that the empire would be finished. No investiture means no control over bishops, which means no call on episcopal military, which means no central power.

That would be the worst of all worlds for Henry V, a contested succession to an empire that was barely worth of its name.

The only way to avoid that outcome was to take over right now, put himself at the head of the Gregorian party and take a stab at reconciling with the pope. He made his point quite clear in a speech before the Magnates where he said that “he wasn’t fighting against his father, but on behalf his father’s realm”. The realm had become something that was truly detached from the person of the emperor, a concept first put out by Konrad II almost a 100 years earlier. The individual emperor had to protect the realm, even if it meant acting against his filial duties.

In light of that I simply do not understand why some historians accuse Henry V of ruthless ambition. Yes, the way he lured his father into the prison of Boeckelheim may not have been cricket, but there he stood and he could do no other.

And if we look at the end result, from the perspective of the empire, the situation improved massively under Henry V.

The empire recognizes Pope Paschalis II, Urban II’s successor. The schism is over. Each bishopric now has only one bishop so that no priest has to worry any more whether he was canonically appointed and no parishioner has to ask whether the baptism, marriage or last rites were valid. The pope has endorsed and absolved the king, meaning everyone can fulfil the oath to the king without opposing the church. And so the magnates recognize Henry V as their king and future emperor. A major civil war has been avoided. The country is at peace.

And, for the next 4 years the magnates remain supportive of the young king. The king listens to their council and makes a number of sensible decisions. One of which related to the succession to the duke of Saxony. Saxony, as you may remember had been a hereditary duchy for some time and its ducal family, the Billungs had ruled (in inverted commas) the duchy since the time of Otto the Great. The dukes were not massively powerful given that some of the Saxon counts ruled territories large enough to be dukedoms in their own right. The last of the Billung Dukes, Magnus had died in 1106. He had two daughters, who were each married to one of these extremely powerful Saxon counts.

If Henry had granted to duchy to either of these counts, the other would have contested the election and Saxony would have descended into civil war. To avoid that, Henry chose a compromise candidate, Lothar of Supplinburg. Lothar was related to all the major families in Saxony and even some of the Bavarian and Lothringian magnates. But he did not have much of a powerbase himself. That made him a popular candidate with all concerned. Remember the name, Lothar of Supplinburg, because, as we will find out in a few episodes, all concerned does not include the King Henry V and his heirs.

Apart from the Saxon succession the other key imperial job was to keep an eye and occasionally throw a lance at the restless neighbours, namely the still irritating counts of Flanders, dukes of lower Lothringia and assorted other potentates in the West. As for the east, the pattern that emerges is that both Poland and Hungary drift out of the influence of the empire. Poland is increasingly looking even further east to Russia and the Baltic seaboard rather than getting involved in imperial affairs. Hungary is expanding south. Its king became king of Croatia as well in 1102. Along with this southward focus, Hungary moved closer to Constantinople taking a neutral if not sometimes hostile stance towards the empire. Henry V tried to assert his increasingly theoretical suzerainty by supporting a pretender to the crown of Hungary, as Henry III had done before. But like him, the policy ultimately failed and Hungary will remain outside the empire.

In Bohemia, i.e., what is today the Czech Republic, it is the opposite. The dukes of Bohemia were roped even further into the empire as they were looking for support in their eternal internal family feuds. In 1114 the then duke of Bohemia confirmed his vassal status to the emperor by accepting one of the Erzaemter, or arch-offices of the realm. He became the Arch Cupbearer to the emperor. For the next few thousand imperial pints, Bohemia will be an integral part of the empire.

With the country at peace and the borders more or less calm, there remained only one really big issue to be resolved, and that was the conflict over the investiture of bishops.

Henry V had managed to gain papal support for his rebellion without having to renounce royal investiture. His smart move was not to negotiate with Paschalis beforehand. Hence the Pope was as surprised about events as everyone else. When Henry V asked to be absolved from the oath to his father, there was no time for the two sides discuss investiture. Paschalis had to choose to either refuse absolution and the rebellion would have collapsed, leaving him to continue negotiating with the intractable Henry IV, or to grant the absolution without conditions and see what happens next. He chose option 2.

And that meant once Henry V ascended the throne, he continued to select and invest bishops with ring and staff as his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had done.

The pope on the other hand kept insisting on the total ban of royal investiture, including a ban on churchmen given the oath of vassalage to the king. The problem was intractable and though both sides tried to remain civil and no excommunication was yet forthcoming, tensions are mounting.

Whilst Paschalis and Henry V are gradually falling out, there is some movement in the debate about investiture outside the empire.

Let us not forget that the right to invest bishops and abbots is a topic not just in the empire, but all across Europe. The King of France and the King of England are also at loggerheads with the papacy over this question. The King of France needs investiture mainly because otherwise he would be pretty much bankrupt. The King of England has more money but had been relying on the church in England and Normandie for his financial and military resources in the same way as the emperors have done in Germany.

As a consequence, there were similar struggles in France and England between supporters of the Gregorian reform and the kings. In England it was the fight between Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury and the kings William Rufus and Henry I.

In France the king had so many issues with the papacy, the issue was outsourced to his bishops. It culminated in the debate over the succession to the bishoprics of Sens and Beauvais. Maybe because the less intense royal involvement, France was the first to reach a breakthrough. The great canonical jurist Ivo of Chartres came up with the concept that royal investiture had nothing to do with the spiritual role of the bishop. All it did was to grant the bishop lands and rights from the king in exchange for the oath of fealty as regards his obligations as a vassal. Otherwise the bishop remained free in his role as a spiritual leader. That was gradually accepted and ended up in a modus operandi where the king would not hand over the symbols of the bishop’s spiritual role, i.e., the ring and the crozier, but the bishop would swear him the oath of fealty – and presumably pay for taking on the fiefs.

In England the struggle also involved the exchange of many a learned treatise, one of which even claimed the opposite of the Gregorian doctrine, i.e., that the king is by his anointment put atop of the church. After a lot of to and fro in 1107 the King of England and the Pope agreed the concordat of Westminster. That sets out that -as in France- the spiritual investiture was a purely church affair but that the new prelate was to make an oath of fealty to the king as regards his fiefs. The royal rights however go further than in France. The king had the right to be present at the election of a bishop or abbot and, in case of disagreement, has the casting vote. In that arrangement the king remained pretty much in charge of his church.

Whilst France and England reach an agreement, the negotiations between Paschalis and Henry V are not going so well. In a first round in November 1106, both sides remained stubborn, and Paschalis reaffirmed the complete ban on Royal Investiture.

A delegation of German bishops and even a number of temporal lords with impeccable Gregorian leanings meet with representatives of Pope Paschalis in May 1107, but again negotiations run into the ground.

Whilst he refuses any compromise with the German side, Pope Paschalis goes to France and celebrates a solemn mass with king Phillip I and his son Louis VI in the church of Saint Denis. That puts the seal on that unofficial agreement over investiture and some other issues relating to the sexual incontinence French monarchs are so famous for. The church of Saint Denis is of huge significance as it is the same church where Pope Stephen II had crowned Pippin the Short and his son, the future emperor Charlemagne. The implication of this ceremony is straightforward, the pope wants the kings of France to take over the role of leader of Christendom from that evil tyrant from across the Meuse River, our friend King Henry V.

The journeys of Pope Urban II had already laid the foundations for this alliance between the French Monarchy and the Papacy, that the events of Saint Denis made public and for all to see. Over the next centuries the Capetian kings will use this papal endorsement to forge a coherent kingdom out of a hotchpotch of lands and rights around Paris. This support culminates a hundred years later in the Albigensian crusade where the pope promised a free ticket to heaven for anyone helping to bring the South of France under royal control. The French monarchs rewarded such support another century later with the installation of the papacy in Avignon under the watchful eye of a French garrison across the Rhone. I digress.

Back to year 1107. As the pope moves closer to the French and agrees the concordat with the King of England, he remains unmoved to the pleas of king Henry V. By now the German side realizes that the full investiture with ring and staff is no longer to be retained. In treatises presumably sponsored by the court, German writers begin to differentiate very clearly between the spiritual role and the secular role of the bishop, suggesting solutions along the lines of what had been agreed with France and England.

But again, the German delegations are rebuffed by Pope Paschalis II.

There is now only one thing to do. The king and the pope have to meet and thrash out their differences. But before he sets off, Henry V lays the foundation for another axis of European politics that lasted more or less until the First World war. He gets engaged to Matilda, daughter of King Henry I of England. She was at the time just 8 years old and the only surviving child of the Norman king. English History knows her as the Empress Matilda, adversary of King Stephen in the Anarchy and mother of King Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet kings of England.

This marriage was -as all other medieval marriages a political one. As the papacy aligned itself with France, Henry was looking for a counterweight, and who could be better than the King of England who was also duke of Normandy and hence in perennial squabbles with his southern neighbour. Henry also provided 10,000 pounds of silver as a dowry which was surely welcome. The slight problem was that the bride was only 8 years old and hence the marriage could not be consumed. Therefore, the happy couple could only get engaged. Now, the King of England was not prepared to hand over this kind of money for a mere engagement. So, instead of getting married, little Matilda is crowned queen in Mainz. Matilda will spend the next few years being educated by German bishops until Henry marries her when she turned 11, one hopes the consummation was still delayed by a few years after that.

His pockets refilled, Henry V sets off for Rome in the summer of 1110 and as usual spends the winter in Lombardy. He signs a standstill agreement with the Countess Matilda, who is still there, holding the keys to Rome. In February 1111 Henry V arrives at the gates of the eternal city.

The timing could not have been worse for Paschalis II. Like his predecessors he relied on the support of the Normans and the Countess Matilda in his squabbles with the emperor. Matilda had already decided to stand aside this time. And in a terrible twist of fate for the pope, the two leaders of the Normans, Roger of Apulia and Bohemond of Antioch died right around this time. Their future leader, Count Roger II of Sicily was a child. So, there was no hope for Norman support.

What to do now?

At this point Paschalis II comes up with a plan, to say it in the words of inimitable baldrick, a plan so cunning you can put a tail on it and call it a weasel.

Here is version one of how this plan came about: Pope Paschalis is a true Gregorian reformer who cares little about worldly politics, but a lot about the wellbeing of the holy mother church. And as he contemplates how to solve the problem of lay interference in the appointment of bishops, he has an idea. The king does not want the right of investiture because he wants to control the pastoral role of his bishops or abbots. He needs investiture because he needs access to the church’s financial and military resources. So, what about the church handing back all these counties, market rights, mints, mills and farms to the king in exchange for the king to completely withdraw from any interference with the bishops? Isn’t that the best solution? The church is free from royal interference and the king has no longer any need to interfere. Brilliant!

And so, he makes exactly that proposal to Henry V as the king approaches Rome. Henry V must have been dumbfounded by such an unimaginably generous offer. There are no statistics, but the typical estimate is that the church owned 1/3rd of all the land in western Europe and probably even more in Germany given the incessant transfer of land and titles to the bishops under the Imperial Church system. A generous offer indeed.

His advisors and even the king himself has doubts about the feasibility of this plan. How will the royal court administrate these enormous estates? Can you recruit enough Ministeriales to manage it? What about the bishops’ and abbots’ reactions?

But Henry V takes the offer. An agreement is signed and on February 12th he enters Rome for his coronation. He greets the pope on the steps of Saint Peter and kisses the Holy Father’s feet. As is the tradition, he swears to be the protector and defender of the holy church in all ways he could be of help. Paschalis then welcomes him as the son of the church and guides him into the forecourt of the old church of St. Peter.

The next part of the coronation was the scrutinium, an assessment of the fitness of the candidate to become emperor. It is here that Henry V formally renounces the right to invest the bishops. That is followed by the reading of the papal charter whereby the pope orders the bishops and abbots to hand back all the lands they own, every county, castle, farm and mill apart from those they had received as donations from private individuals.

And the result of this plan that was to please everyone was, was total mayhem.

The clergymen present had not been advised of the arrangements beforehand. In fact the whole treaty had been negotiated in secret between the king’s advisors and a small number of the pope’s confidants. These mighty bishops and abbots were not at all keen to give up their lands. Nor were the secular lords pleased with the outcome. Many of them held fiefs from the church, which they assumed would be lost to some ruddy Ministeriales under this arrangement.

Shouts went up, swords were drawn, crucifixes hurled and Rome broke out into rioting. The coronation had to be suspended. The parties tried to negotiate in the middle of the chaos. Henry insisted on the coronation and, since the pope was unable to hold up his side of the bargain demanded acceptance of his right of investiture. No agreement could be reached and by nightfall the still only King Henry V took the pope and his cardinals along into his army camp.

King and Pope left the city of Rome and set up camp at Ponte Mammolo just outside the walls. For 2 moth the pope and his cardinals refused to agree to Henry’s demands until they finally caved on April 12th. The pope and his cardinals issued a privilege to Henry V that allowed him to invest his bishops with both ring and staff – basically allowing him to run the imperial church exactly as his ancestors had been able to. Furthermore, he swore an oath to never bother the king again about investiture and to never excommunicate him. In exchange the king released his prisoners and swore allegiance to the pope and the holy church. And there was a side deal whereby Paschalis II released the old emperor Henry IV from his excommunication which meant he could finally be buried in his cathedral in Speyer.

All that was sealed off with the coronation of the Emperor Henry V which finally took place on April 13th. In May the freshly minted emperor set off home. And on the way home he scored another victory. He convinced the childless countess Matilda to name the emperor himself as the heir to her enormous wealth. How that happened, I have no idea. She had previously promised her lands to the seat of St. Peter.

All this looks like Henry V had achieved a complete triumph. He has been crowned emperor, the investiture controversy is resolved in such a way that all the imperial rights are protected, he is safe from any excommunication or papal interference and, to top it off, the empire gets hold of Matilda’s lands. 

Brilliant, eh!

No, not really. The agreement with the pope was so blatantly brought about by force, it was easily renounced. That happened as early as 1112 at a synod in Rome. The document was now called the “Pravileg”, the depraved privilege. Without waiting for any papal authorization several Gregorian bishops excommunicated Henry V, a process that was repeated multiple time throughout the rest of his reign.

As for the inheritance of Matilda, the competing claims of pope and emperor were added to the long list of their differences.

But the most severe impact was on his own vassals. When Henry V agreed to have his bishops and many of his magnates stripped of their possessions, the spectre of an overbearing Salian emperor returned. The great lords had believed Henry V had become one of them, had understood that all the title provided was a role as the First amongst Equals listening to his magnates’ advice in all his endeavours and bound to protect their rights and privileges. But with the acceptance of Paschalis’ offer he revealed himself as a man in the mould of his father and all his predecessors. A man who wanted to consolidate central power, push down the princes into mere royal subjects and rule as a Roman emperor, not as a Germanic king.

As the emperor’s perception changed and the excommunications began to reign down, Henry V’s reign begins to more and more resemble the reign of his father. Maybe that was the true motive behind Paschalis plan all along. He was as cunning as a weasel after all. Next week we will see how henry V handles this next turn of the wheel of fortune. I hope to see you then.

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