Hildebrand was born sometime between 1020 and 1025 in Tuscany. We know practically nothing about his family. He himself said that he grew up in the bosom of the Roman church, which suggests he grew up in the Lateran palace and was destined for a church career from his very first years. we do not know for a fact whether he joined a monastery upon reaching maturity though it would fit with his papal name, since Gregory the Great had also been a monk.

He first becomes noticed when he acts as chaplain to pope Gregory VI, the pope who famously bought the papacy from Benedict IX for cold hard cash. Hildebrand follows Gregory VI into exile in Cologne. In 1049 Hildebrand returns to Rome as a member of pope Leo IX’s entourage. Hildebrand seems to have made himself useful in Leo’s broad restructuring program that created the college of Cardinals and the role of papal Legate. Hildebrand was one of the few Romans within Leo IX’s inner circle which must have come in useful for this German pope. As Leo IX undertook extensive journeys to France and Germany asserting control over the local bishops, it was Hildebrand’s job to keep control of the city of Rome.

In 1054 we find Hildebrand as a papal legate in France and Germany, harassing bishops for their licentious lifestyle and heretic convictions. He is still technically only a subdeacon but gets into fights with bishops and archbishops. When Leo IX died, he rushed to Rome to ensure the Roman aristocracy does not usurp the throne of St. Peter. He strongly supports the next pope, Victor II, again an appointment by Henry III. Hildebrand actually meets Henry III and retains a huge amount of respect for the emperor. Victor II makes Hildebrand his chancellor, in charge of finances and documentation. By the time the papacy moved from Victor II to Stephen IX, Hildebrand was already one of, if not the dominating figure in the college of cardinals. Hildebrand star keeps rising during the papacies of Stephen IX (1057-1058), Nicolas II (1059-1061) and Alexander II (1061 – 1073).

On the 21st of April 1073, Pope Alexander II died unexpectedly in the palace of the Lateran. The next day as the pope’s body is laid out in the basilica of the Lateran, the people call for Hildebrand to be made pope. As the funeral cortege winds through the city f Rome, the calls grow louder and louder. And when they reach the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, the place where Saint Peter was kept in chain before his martyrdom the masses sweep the archdeacon into the church and enthrone him there and then.

A few minor hitches in that process. First, Hildebrand despite 35 years of service to the papal court had not yet been ordained a priest, something that had to be done at double speed.. And second, the Papacy had just established  that the pope should be elected by the college of Cardinals not raised by public acclaim. That was conveniently forgotten in the melee outside SAN Pietro in Vincoli.

When Hildebrand is coming to, he finds himself on the papal throne. That cannot have been much of a surprise for the now roughly 55-year old. His position inside the church had grown and grown these last 20 years and his modest title belied his actual position. Peter Damian used to joke that some people came to Rome to meet the Lord Pope, but most went to see the pope’s lord, Hildebrand.

Hildebrand takes the papal name of Gregory VII, which must be the wickedest joke of the 11th century. The previous bearer of this papal name had been Gregory VI, the only pope ever proven to have actually paid cold hard cash to get the job, and Hildebrand’s first boss who he accompanied into exile. When Gregory VI had been the symbol of the corruption of the church, his pupil, Gregory VII will become synonymous with the fight against the buying and selling of holy offices.

I have complained many times before that we hardly ever find anything resembling a political manifesto from any of the emperors or popes that have so far featured on the podcast. Historians are forced to deduce their intentions from their actions, rather than measuring their actions against their intentions. Gregory VII is in this, as in so many other things, the great exception.

Gregory filed a register of letters and other documents he deemed important to the library of the Vatican. This register contains a very unusual note, known today as the Dictatus Papae. What its purpose was is unclear. It is not dated , it was definitely not a letter and it was not made public during his lifetime. It may have been a note to structure a collection of canon law, Gregory wanted compiled. Or it was what it sounds and looks like, a political manifesto, outlining the fundamental concepts underpinning Gregory’s papacy.

It contains 27 statements of fact, or of facts as Gregory saw them, which I quote here in the translation by Ernest F. Henderson, 1919:

  1. That the Roman church was founded by God alone.
  2. That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal.
  3. That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops.
  4. That, in a council his legate, even if a lower grade, is above all bishops, and can pass sentence of deposition against them.
  5. That the pope may depose the absent.
  6. That, among other things, we ought not to remain in the same house with those excommunicated by him.
  7. That for him alone is it lawful, according to the needs of the time, to make new laws, to assemble together new congregations, to make an abbey of a canonry; and, on the other hand, to divide a rich bishopric and unite the poor ones.
  8. That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
  9. That of the pope alone all princes shall kiss the feet.
  10. That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches.
  11. That this is the only name in the world.
  12. That it may be permitted to him to depose emperors.
  13. That he may be permitted to transfer bishops if need be.
  14. That he has power to ordain a clerk of any church he may wish.
  15. That he who is ordained by him may preside over another church, but may not hold a subordinate position; and that such a one may not receive a higher grade from any bishop.
  16. That no synod shall be called a general one without his order.
  17. That no chapter and no book shall be considered canonical without his authority.
  18. That a sentence passed by him may be retracted by no one; and that he himself, alone of all, may retract it.
  19. That he himself may be judged by no one.
  20. That no one shall dare to condemn one who appeals to the apostolic chair.
  21. That to the latter should be referred the more important cases of every church.
  22. That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness.
  23. That the Roman pontiff, if he has been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter; St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As is contained in the decrees of St. Symmachus the pope.
  24. That, by his command and consent, it may be lawful for subordinates to bring accusations.
  25. That he may depose and reinstate bishops without assembling a synod.
  26. That he who is not at peace with the Roman church shall not be considered catholic.
  27. That he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.

I will not get into the debate about what of these statements has already been canonical law before Gregory has put them on paper here or whether he had made them up entirely. Nor can I really give you a steer, which parts are derived from known fakes like the Constantine donation and the papal decretals and imperial laws made up by the so-called Pseudo Isidore in the 9th century.

In the end it does not matter whether these statements are canonical or not, what matters is that Gregory believed these maxims to be true and that it was his job to enforce them across the whole of Christendom. Whatever the cost.

And so, he got to work.

What he does and how he does it would go far beyond the space available here. Check out episodes 32 and following which are all about Gregory VII.

Hildebrand, not Pope but false Monk

The rise of the papacy since 1046 is almost linear. The popes throw off the chokehold of the roman aristocracy, they take over leadership of the church reform movement from the emperors, and by the end of the pontificate of Alexander II the Holy See has become universal with kings hailing the pope and not the emperor as their overlord.

In 1073 Hildebrand, the eminence grise of the last 20 years ascends the throne of St. Peter. His view of the role of the papacy goes even further than his predecessors. We know this because he laid it out in one of the most remarkable documents of the middle ages, the Dictatus Papae.

This ever expanding role of the papacy had to collide at some point with the other universal power, the king and future emperor Henry IV. Letters are exchanged and words are spoken that set events in motion that will destroy them both……

Listen here or on Apple podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting platform. Link: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen

Otto was born into a family of Saxon magnates with possessions in the Harz mountains. He was one of the most accomplished military and political leaders in Germany during the reign of Henry IV. The Empress Agnes made him duke of Bavaria in 1061 to lead a campaign into Hungary. A mere 12 months later he repaid her by becoming one of the leaders in the coup of Kaiserswerth. He and his co-conspirators abducted the 12-year old King Henry IV. Henry IV never forgave him for that.

In 1070 he was accused of having hired thugs to murder king Henry IV. Absent any proof, other than the word of the thug himself, King Henry IV. ordered a trial by combat. When Otto did not show, he was deposed as duke of Bavaria and lost all his possessions. He was captured and imprisoned for 2 years before the king released him. He returned some of his personal property back to him. The Saxon chroniclers claim that all of that was a plot by the king to depose Otto of Northeim.

Northeim’s revenge came when the Saxons had gathered in Hötensleben in 1073 to discuss what to do about the king’s encroachment on to their land and ancient freedoms. The king had built a string of castles, including the famous Harzburg (see previous post) in order to create a new royal territory.

Though the Saxons had been insulted by the king just weeks earlier and had been seething under the Salian rule for decades, outright rebellion is no easy decision. That is when Otto takes a stand and delivers a speech, which must be one of the first political speeches by someone not a king or pope ever recorded in Germany:

“The calamities and disgraces that our king has brought upon each one of you for a long time are great and unbearable, but what he still intends to do, if the Almighty God permits him, is even greater and more severe. Strong castles he has erected, as you know, numerous in places already firm by nature, and has placed in them a great multitude of his vassals, and abundantly provided with weapons of all kinds. These castles are not erected against the heathen, who have completely devastated our land where it borders theirs, but in the midst of our country, where no one ever thought of making war against him; he has fortified them with such great effort, and what they mean for this land some of you have already experienced, and if God’s mercy and your bravery do not intervene, you will soon all experience it.

They take your possessions by force and hide them in their castles; they abuse your wives and daughters for their pleasure when they please; they demand your servants and your cattle, and all that they like, for their service; yes, they even force you yourselves to bear every burden, however odious, on your free shoulders.

But when I imagine in my thoughts what is still waiting for us, then everything that you are now enduring still seems to me to be bearable. For when he will have built his castles in our whole country at his discretion and will have equipped them with armed warriors and all other necessities, then he will no longer plunder your possessions one by one, but he will snatch from you all that you possess with one blow, will give your goods to strangers, and will make you yourselves, you freeborn men, oblige unknown men as servants. And all this, you brave men, will you let it happen to you? Is it not better to fall in brave fight than to live a miserable and ignominious life, being made a shameful mockery by these people?

Even Serfs who are bought for money do not endure the unreasonable commands of their masters, and you, who were born free, should patiently endure servitude? Perhaps you, as Christians, are afraid to violate the oath with which you have paid homage to the king. Indeed, to the king you have sworn. As long as he was a king to me and acted royally, I also kept the oath I swore to him freely and faithfully; but after he ceased to be a king, the one to whom I had to keep loyalty was no longer there. So not against the king, but against the unjust robber of my freedom; not against the fatherland, but for the fatherland, and for freedom, which no good man surrenders other than with his life at the same time, I take up arms, and I demand of you that you also take them up. Awake, therefore, and preserve for your children the inheritance which your fathers have left you; beware lest through your carelessness or slothfulness you yourselves and your children become serfs of strangers”

(Rough translation based on W. Wattenbachs translation of Bruno’s Buch vom Sachsenkrieg)

Now before you go and think that here is the first outburst of German nationalism, I have to stop you there. When Northeim talks of “patria” or “fatherland” he talks about Saxony, not Germany. And when he talks about freedom, he is not talking about human rights, but ancestral privileges, the “Freedoms” as they will be later called.

The speech was successful, and the Saxons rebelled, a rebellion that was ultimately crushed in the first of many brutal battles of the ensuing 50 years of civil war. Success in this first battle encouraged young King Henry to take the fight to the papacy and its most formidable leader, Pope Gregory VII, a fight that neither side would win, but would leave Germany on a path towards a weaker centre controlled by the princes, a structure known as the Holy Roman Empire (again see previous post).

Otto was, despite his great oratory, a turncoat. Once the rebellion had failed, he joined the king and became his administrator in Saxony. In a twist of irony, he was put in charge of rebuilding all these castles he had railed against.

He changed sides again in 1078 and joined the anti-king Rudolf of Rheinfelden in his campaign against Henry IV. That was the last time he swapped sides. Even after Rudolf had lost and died, Otto remained in arms against the now emperor Henry IV. Otto of Northeim died in 1083.

Otto is a typical example of a magnate of the 11th century. He was not opposed to the dynasty as such or the king specifically. What he fought against was the rise of territorial kingship that would reduce the senior lords influence on imperial decision making. And in that, despite the regular setbacks, he was successful.

Otto’s speech features heavily in episode 31 of the History of the Germans Podcast that looks more closely at the conflict between Henry IV and his magnates. To listen for free on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcast, Podbean etc., follow this link: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen or go to my website www.historyofthegermans.com where you can also find ways to support the Podcast and Blog.

Picture: From Froissart’s Chronicles, so clearly not a depiction of Otto of Northeim, but the only picture of a medieval speech I could find.

There are nearly 20,000 castles in Germany, some are famous for good reason like Trifels, Wartburg or the Hambacher Schloss. Some are historically irrelevant pastiches like Neuschwanstein or Schwerin. And very few are really important to the point of being almost protagonists by themselves. One of these few is the Harzburg.

Construction begun in 1065/1066 under King (later emperor) Henry IV. At that point Henry had been king for almost 10 years, though most of the time the government was in the hands of a regency council headed initially by his mother and later by the archbishop Anno of Cologne, a rapacious prelate who had abducted the king in a coup d’etat when he was just 12 years old.

In 1065 Henry is 15 years old and therefore mature enough to begin his personal rule. His personal rule was however still heavily constrained. How constrained can be explained by the following story told by Lambert of Hersfeld.

For background, Henry IV had travelled to the Imperial Pfalz of Trebur to confront his barons who are intending to dismiss one of Henry’s allies from his council. According to the chronicler, the king stayed not in his own royal palace at Trebur, but in a nearby village that belonged to the abbey of Hersfeld. It seems there was nothing there to feed the royal party and the peasants refused to hand over the goods. A bloody fight between the royal soldiers and the local population ensued. In the fight either a lowly peasant or -shame of shames- a dancing girl, felled the commander of the royal bodyguard, count Werner. Werner was brought before the king. And whilst he lay on the ground in mortal agony, the bishops present refused the dying man the last rites, until he handed back an estate he had received from the king but which the abbot of Hersfeld claimed was his.

All this happened in front of the king. His man was lying there, and the churchmen refused him the last sacraments until some money issue was settled. And not just any money issue, but the reversal of a donation the king had made himself. And why was his man lying there? Because the abbey of Hersfeld had refused to feed the royal troops, something they were obliged to as an imperial abbey. Nothing shows more clearly the powerlessness of the young king, and nothing explains better his deep-seated animosity to his magnates.

No chronicler says it, but my sense is that it is right after the meeting in Trebur when Henry IV. decides that enough is enough. No longer can an emperor rely on oaths of fealty from his dukes and counts, nor can he rely on the support from the Imperial Church as his father had been able to. A new form of royal administration is required.

Henry IV. begins his major castle building project around Goslar. His father had already begun the process of creating a coherent royal territory around the silver mines in the Harz mountains. This is a different concept to the 10th century imperial duchies which were administrated through assemblies and vows of fealty. Not here. These royal lands around Goslar will be administrated by Ministeriales, unfree men trained in war and administration. Mighty castles are built on the tops of mountains and, instead of enfeoffing it to loyal men of noble descent, he manned it with his Ministeriales. He put the management of the royal territory not into the hands of a count as would have been the case 50 years earlier but appoints a governor (Prefectus) who could be hired and fired at will.

The largest and most important of these new castles was the Harzburg, not far from the imperial residence in Goslar. Harzburg was not only one of the largest castles built in the 11th century, rivalling Fulk of Anjou’s mighty constructions, it was also designed as an imperial residence and administrative centre. Nothing indicates more clearly the change of times than the fact that the emperors are leaving their indefensible palaces on the plains like Ingelheim and Frankfurt and move behind 10-metre-high walls on mountaintops.

The Harzburg contained an imperial palace as well as a monastery. Henry IV had his brother Konrad who had died very young as well as his first son buried in this richly decorated chapel. He also transferred the imperial regalia, i.e., the imperial crown, the Holy Lance etc. onto the Harzburg.

In the summer of 1073, the Saxon had enough of Henry’s castles. Led by Otto of Northeim they rebelled, and besieged the Harzburg. The Saxons set up camp on an opposite hill and sent their demands to the king. He was to dismantle all his castles in Saxony and dismiss his false councillors. The Harzburg was almost impregnable, so the Saxons blockaded the castle’s food supplies whilst throwing large stones down on the fortifications from a new structure built on the hill opposite.

Henry IV realised his situation was precarious unless he could raise an army to relieve the Harzburg. He fled the castle under cover of darkness, allegedly via the sewage system. He set up camp in Worms but failed to convince his magnates, in particular the dukes of Bavaria, Swabia and Carinthia to support his endeavour.

On February 2nd, 1074, he had to sign the peace of Gerstungen, which cannot be described as anything but a complete capitulation. In a near full assembly of the great bishops and princes of the realm, Henry IV. conceded the demolition of all his castles, dismissed his councillors and gave full amnesty to all the rebels.

Henry IV. withdrew the garrison of the Harzburg and immediately the Saxons stormed in. The Saxon troops it is important to note were not just aristocratic knights but comprised a lot of free peasants. These guys were the first through the gate and began the demolition work. In the peace agreement it was specifically stated that the demolition of the Harzburg should be gentle, respecting the imperial chapel on the site. Well, that did not happen. The Saxon commanders could not stop their enraged mob who tore down the chapel, stole the relics and horror of horrors pulled the remains of the Salian princes buried there out of their coffins and threw them in the ditch like vile garbage.

This profound insult to the honour not just of Henry IV. but the realm as a whole led to one of these sudden mood swings that will punctuate the story of the Investiture Controversy.

The Saxon nobles apologised immediately and promised a thorough investigation and harsh punishment for the perpetrators. But that was not enough. The mighty princes, who did not treat their peasants any different to the way Henry IV. had treated the neighbours of the Harzburg suddenly realised that these Saxon armies contained an unsettlingly large contingent of villeins. And in 1073/1074 there had already been uprisings in major cities, namely Worms and Cologne where the bishops had to run for their lives. Our old friend Anno of Cologne was one of them. He only managed to get out because one of his supporters had just put a door into the city walls near his house. This “hole of Anno” can still be seen in Cologne.

Given the choice between supporting a potentially overbearing emperor or the rabble-rousing Saxons, many of the Southern dukes, namely Rudolf of Rheinfelden took the side of Henry IV. Henry IV. could finally muster his army to bring the Saxons to heel. The two sides met at the Unstrut river on June 9, 1075.

What ensued was one of the bloodiest and most painful battles of the 11th century. Though in principle it was Saxons against the rest of the kingdom, in reality many families were split. Fathers were fighting sons; brothers were killing each other in the melee.

The unity of the kingdom created at the battle of Riade against the Hungarians in 934 was trampled into the dust on that early summer’s day.

Henry IV. prevailed in the brutal fighting. After the battle his troops were let loose across Saxony, murdering and pillaging as if they were in enemy lands. On October 25th, 1075, the Saxon barons conceded an unconditional surrender.

After a decade of humiliation and defeat, Henry IV. had finally regained the position his father and grandfather had held. The magnates of the land recognised him as his overlord and the Saxons, who had plotted to kill him since he was a child were utterly defeated. Finally, he should now be able to go to Rome and take what had been his since birth, the imperial crown.

That is not what is going to happen. Within a mere 18 months Henry IV. will find himself kneeling barefoot in the snow outside the inner gate of the castle of Canossa utterly friendless and about to lose his crown.

If you want to hear how this story continues into one of the great turning points of the Middle Ages, check out the History of the Germans Podcast available on this website: http://www.historyofthegermans.com or on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Podbean etc.

King Henry IV embarks on his ambitious castle building project around Goslar, Otto of Northeim delivers a rousing speech, Saxons rebel, royal bones are thrown in the rubbish, brother fights brother…and more! Listen here https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen

Picture: Burg Hanstein Carl Duval (1807-1853) Wikimedia Commons

Shownotes:

In 1065 king Henry IV begins his personal rule. After 9 years of regency imperial power is much diminished. Under the rule of Anno of Cologne and Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen prelates and lords are raiding the imperial purse. When the barons force the young king to dismiss his main adviser, he realises that the previous model of kingship no longer works. He cannot rely on the oaths of fealty sworn by his counts and dukes, nor can he put faith in the Imperial Church System his predecessors could draw on.

The royal lands around the rich silver mines of Goslar are the nucleus for his new, territorial power base. Mighty castles on the tops of mountains project royal power, a governor, rather than a count heads his administration, and most of the castles’ garrison and administrators are ministeriales, unfree men trained in war.

This new policy clashes with the Saxons, the stem that already stood in opposition to Henry’s father and plotted to murder him when he was a child. In 1073 Otto of Northeim delivers his famous speech that turned disaffection into outright rebellion. In 18 months, Henry IV’s Saxon War will become a rollercoaster hurtling from unconditional surrender to triumph – but is the triumph going to last?

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

Another Key Protagonist in the Investiture Controversy
Anno was a bit of a new man, coming from a more modest background than his peers amongst the great archbishoprics of the realm. And that meant he was out to get even bigger.

His main target was the land held by the descendants of count Ezzo north of Cologne. The Ezzonen/Ezzonids as they were called were one of the great magnate families regularly being elevated to dukes of Bavaria or Carinthia and were hereditary Counts Palatinate with possessions along the Rhine and Ruhr valley. When Anno comes on the stage, tensions were already running high between bishops and counts.

God knows who provoked who, but in 1060 the Count Palatinate Henry plundered the episcopal lands and besieged Cologne itself. Anno seems to have set up his defences well and the count had to retreat. Anno followed him and locked him into his castle at Cochem.

Count Henry, scion of one of the most powerful families in the land and a man who not too long ago was seen as a potential king should the Salian house die out, could not get his head round being beaten by some country parson with a fancy hat. He went mad, like completely mad and decapitated his wife. Before he could go after his son, the castle guards opened the gate and let Anno’s troops in. Count Henry’s little son survived and became a vassal of the church of Cologne. With that the archbishop of Cologne took over from one of the richest and most powerful magnates in the land. The archbishopric of Cologne is to this day one of the richest dioceses in the world.

Anno’s main role was however in imperial politics. In 1061 the empress Agnes had created a papal schism that threatened the reputation of the empire as a champion of church reform. The magnates led b Anno believed that she needed to be neutralised before any more damage could be done.
In April 1062 the court stayed at the imperial palace of Kaiserswerth, today a part of Duesseldorf. The palace stands right by the Rhine River and at the end of the feast Archbishop Anno of Cologne invited the 12-year-old king Henry IV to check out his new luxury boat that was moored in the centre of the stream. As soon as young Henry came on board, Archbishop Anno of Cologne gave the order to raise the anchor, Anno’s soldiers surrounded the young king, and the rowers began pulling away towards the city of Cologne 20 miles upstream. Henry IV realised he was being abducted and jumped overboard. Unlike his ancestor Otto II, Henry could not swim. He would have almost certainly have drowned in the cold and fast flowing river that day, had not count Ekbert jumped after him and dragged him out.

Anno and his co-conspirators made it to Cologne and formed a new imperial government. The new government put an end to the schism of Cadulus. But it was too late. The imperial reputation was broken. The church reform movement looked to the popes and cardinals to bring about change. Anno of Cologne may have chaired the initial synod that ended the schism, but he soon found himself on the back benches. Pope Alexander II and the archdeacon Hildebrand were now in charge. From now on, no medieval emperor will ever have the influence over the church that Henry III had in 1046.

And Kaiserswerth had another effect. The young Henry IV will never forget how he was betrayed by his magnates. He would not believe that the dukes, counts and bishops of his realm would ever give him advice that was anything but driven by self-interest.

And Henry IV retained a deep hatred for the hijacking Archbishop Anno of Cologne. On March 29,1065 Henry IV celebrated his Schwertleite at the cathedral of Worms, a ceremony that declared him formally an adult. As soon as he had been girded with a sword, he pulled it to go after Anno of Cologne. Only his mother’s quick intervention saved the archbishop’s life.
There is a lot more to say about Anno of Cologne, namely his role as regent between 1062 and ~1068 and the rebellion of the citizens of Cologne in 1074. We will get there on the History of the Germans Podcast, probably in the next episode.

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

In this series of posts I will highlight some key protagonists in the Investiture Controversy, in part to make it easier to follow the podcast where we run into a bewildering array of personalities, locations and events. The bios will also be placed on a specific page on the website once I get to grips with the recent updates in WordPress.

Agnes was the daughter of duke William V of Aquitaine and Agnes of Burgundy. She married emperor Henry III in 1043. The marriage was entirely political, giving Henry III links to the powerful Angevin counts and solidified his position in Burgundy.
The couple had five children, three daughters and two sons, one of whom survived and became emperor Henry IV.
Henry IV was born in 1050 and was hence just 6 years old when Henry III died. Agnes assumed the regency for her son. To say it right away, Agnes of Poitou was no Theophanu and certainly no Adelheid. That is not to say she was terribly incompetent; she just was not absolutely brilliant. And given the situation, absolutely brilliant was the baseline for a successful reign.
After decades of centralisation of power under the previous three emperors time was ripe for a backlash by the mighty barons. Tensions had been mounting in the last years of Henry III, but now the magnates openly demanded a return to the previous system where the king/emperor was more of a “First amongst Equals”. Agnes was unable to hold back the tide, had to enfeoff major nobles with strategically important duchies and was unable to stop feuding amongst the castellans, counts and even bishops. Central power was quickly dissipating.
Her downfall came when the cardinals in Rome elected Pope Alexander II without requesting imperial permission before. Insisting on the ancestral right of the emperors to appoint or at least confirm the pope, Agnes supported an antipope, Honorius III. Honorius was the candidate of the anti-reform party, which comprised the Roman aristocracy and Northern Italian bishops. This party wanted to dial back the clock to a time when the pope was just the bishop of Rome that the city’s rulers literally used as a footstool. And they hoped for a reversal of the tighter rules on clerical marriage and simony, the buying and selling of holy offices.
This was a terrible PR move. Creating a papal schism was bad enough, but the imperial government was backing the bad guys. They pushed against the drive to clean the church from corruption and licentiousness.
And in this one fell swoop Agnes destroyed the reputation of the empire as champion of reform that Henry III and his predecessors worked so hard for.
When Agnes realised what she had done, she froze. Her entire background was in the church reform movement. Her grandfather had founded the abbey of Cluny after all. She took to her bed, pulled the duvet over her face and left all government activity to her advisers.
Her situation had become completely untenable. In 1062 the German magnates, led by archbishop Anno of Cologne staged a coup, abducting the young King Henry IV at Kaiserswerth (check out tomorrow’s post).
Agnes conceded after Kaiserswerth. She no longer led the regency and in 1065 moved to Rome to atone for her sins and in particular her role in creating the schism. She died in 1077 and is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

The podcast is – as always – available on my website. Links to Apple, Spotify etc. are here: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen

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…