Hello and Welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 41 – The Duke’s Rebuke
In this week’s episode the last of the Salians will find that despite all his efforts, the tide of history cannot be stemmed, almost leaving him in exactly the same place his father ended up in 1076.
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Last episode we left Emperor Henry V in May 1111 returning from his journey to Rome in triumph. The pope had confirmed the full ancient rights of investiture of the emperors. Not just that but the pope also promised not to bother the emperor ever again about investiture and had renounced any possibility of ever excommunicating him again. And, to top it all off, Henry V had secured the unimaginably rich inheritance of Great Countess Matilda of Tuscany upon her soon to be expected demise.
With more than anything anyone could have hoped to achieve, why the long faces, even amongst Henry’s entourage?
Henry’s close supporters, many of them bishops and abbots were still reeling from the events in Rome that happened before the pope’s hand was dragged over the signature box of the agreement by a rough looking imperial retainer.
You see, before all this heavy handed ness The pope had made a deal with the Emperor whereby the church would hand back all the counties, estates, market rights, mills and mints they had been awarded by the crown in exchange for the emperor renouncing any involvement in the selection and investiture of prelates.
Even though the deal collapsed as soon as it had been made public, for the bishops it was the ultimate betrayal. Their king had been willing to strip them of all their ancient rights and privileges. After all these centuries of service to the king, he was happy to drop them.
It is not just that. If Henry V had indeed taken back all the church’s lands and rights into his direct ownership and control, he would have been able to establish an all-powerful central authority. Something his father, with much less resources had tried to do in Saxony. Imagine what the son could have done with more than a third of all the assets of the country. A tyranny is what the bishops, abbots and their cousins, the dukes, counts, lords and knights would have called it.
It did not happen, but from this moment onwards all these bishops, abbots, dukes, counts, lords and knights no longer believed the king was the guarantor of their rights and freedoms. They now had to protect these rights by joining up together, against the king. It is from now that the documents begin to call all of these potentates, be they secular lords or bishops and abbots as princes. And these princes began to see themselves as the mutual guarantors of each other’s status against royal overreach. The Imperial Church, if it ever was under orders of the king, no longer sees itself as the instrument of the crown. These men, and very few women were Princes now, focused on expanding their territorial power and supporting their brethren.
How sudden this shift happens becomes visible in the person of Adalbert, chancellor of Henry V. He was a member of the inner circle of Henry’s government. He was one of the handful of people involved in the initial negotiations with Pope Paschalis II that had led to that infamous deal in February 1111. In recognition of his services, Adalbert was made archbishop of Mainz that same year.
When Adalbert arrived at Mainz, he decided that his archdiocese could not rely on the protection from the emperor. What was needed was a strong, coherent territorial power base that would allow him in extremis to give the “dos fingos” to the emperor.
Mainz being a mere 30 miles from the Salian heartlands around Worms the archbishop quickly found himself in a direct conflict with his former boss. The ultimate point of contention was the castle of Trifels, at this point still a modest fortification on a very promising location in the Palatinate. The two former friends came to blows and after alleging Adalbert was about to attack, Henry V had the archbishop arrested in 1112. That resulted in an outcry not just in Germany, but even in Rome where Pope Paschalis II intervened on behalf of his former adversary.
Henry took the Trifels and turned it into an imperial fortress, and probably one of the most famous ones. For a hundred years it will the place where the imperial regalia would be held for safekeeping, and it was also where King Richard Lionheart will be imprisoned.
The conflict with Adalbert was not the only indication that things weren’t right. Whilst Henry V maintained the outright façade of a ruler who acted always in concert with his magnates, backstage he was gradually building a royal territory in the Rhineland, sort of what his father had tried to do in Saxony. For that he relied on his Ministeriales who he supported across the whole of the realm. When he was called to adjudicate conflicts between nobles and Ministeriales, it seemed to the magnates that their Emperor would always side with the Ministeriales.
One of these disputes escalated and the Duke of Saxony with some of his magnates decided to abduct one of these litigious ministeriales who had appealed to the imperial court. That was a direct challenge to imperial authority. Henry V deposed the Duke of Soxony, who was, you may remember a certain Lothar of Supplinburg. Remember the name. He will be important. In this initial effort Henry V was very successful. He apprehended the duke as well as a number of Saxon Magnates. One of them had also been the Count Palatinate holding lands along the river adjacent to the Salian lands. Henry V removed the title and lands and granted them to one of his closest followers. This was again another move to create a coherent power base around his family lands.
In 1113 Henry V looks as if he is on top of the world. His adversaries in Germany have not been able to foil his plans and he calls a royal assembly in Mainz. It is a splendid occasion where Henry V formally marries Matilda of England, now 11 years old. The duke of Saxony, Lothar of Supplinburg submits and is received back into the imperial grace. Some of his co-conspirators are not so lucky and remain in jail.
All that leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth of many a mighty lord. The attempt to strip the church of its lands, the expansion of royal territory, the support of the Ministeriales and the incarceration of Adalbert and the conspirators makes Henry V look very much like his dad.
The rebellion starts in Cologne where the archbishop and the now very powerful city reject imperial rule. When Henry V’s attempt to besiege and subdue Cologne fails, the rebels are joined by various Lotharingian nobles, always willing to push back imperial control.
When Henry fights these combined forces and loses the whole of Northern Germany is encouraged to refute imperial authority.
Henry V changes tack and calls a royal assembly in Goslar to debate the issues and maybe find a compromise. When nobody who matters shows up, the severity of the situation is becoming clear.
A major military conflict is now inevitable.
On February 11th, 1115 in a place called Welfenholze the armies of Lothar of Supplinburg, mostly Saxons and people from the lower Rhine face up against the imperial army under Henry’s general, Count Hoyer von Mansfeld.
Not much detail is known about the battle. It seems that at some point the Saxons were under severe pressure and Hoyer von Mansfeld set out to bring the Duke Lothar of Supplinburg down himself. In that attack the imperial general was felled by a Saxon nobleman. After that the imperial army lost cohesion and the Saxons prevailed.
Lothar uses his advantage and quickly consolidates his position in the North occupying the Harz mountains including the silver mines in Goslar as well as Westphalia. From this point onwards Henry V will no longer have any power in Northern Germany. The citizens of Mainz even force him to release Adalbert their archbishop, who immediately joins Lothar’s army.
The excommunications that had been raining down on henry since 1111 not from the pope himself but from various bishops and archbishops. He could initially ignore them but now the bans are taking effect. Kicking a guy when he is down. Bishops are leaving the imperial camp as are many of the lay lords. The rebels hold an assembly in Cologne 1115 where they endorse the excommunication.
Henry’s saving grace were the southern lords, the Staufer, the Welfs and the Zaehringer who remained loyal. In that respect he was luckier than his dad who had to fight both the North and the South West. The lack of support in the south may have been the reason his opponents did not proceed to elect an anti-king as they had done in 1077..
From now on there is this odd situation that the country is split in half. The north is run by Lothar of Supplinburg, whilst the south is held by Henry V and his allies. The two sides kept fighting along the faultline, which was more or less along the Rhine and Main rivers. But neither side was able to mount an invasion of their enemy’s territory.
In this gridlock the news break that Matilda of Tuscany has died at the ripe old age of 69. Henry V sees this inheritance as crucial to tilt the overall balance in his favor. With the wealth of Northern Italy behind him he may be able to break his opponent’s stranglehold and establish true imperial control of the Reich. This logic will become the mainstay of imperial policy for the next century. Henry V’s ultimate successors, the Staufer will pursue a strategy of gaining resources in Italy as a means to defeat their enemies in the north.
In this, the first time the plan was implemented, it went surprisingly well. Even though Henry V had arrived without an army, he could take possession of most of Matilda’s assets and awarded her imperial fiefs to loyal men.
Whilst he was in Italy, opportunity came knocking. Pope Paschalis II had been expelled from the city of Rome. You may remember that old aristocracy of the Crescenti and the Tuscolani had become casualties of the Gregorian reform and the subsequent destruction of Rome by Robert Guiscard. By now a new set of families were taking control. The two leading clans now were the Pierleoni and the Frangipani. The Frangipani had risen within the old system of city government and one of their ancestors had been the prefect of the city. They converted the Colosseum into their private fortress. The Pierleoni were of a different sort. They were merchants and financiers who had most probably converted from Judaism in the late 11th century. They operated mainly as an urban family with their headquarters in the former Roman Theatre of Marcellus, that they had converted into their fortress.
At this time several of the ancient Roman monuments served as family strongholds. The Capitoline Hill was the seat of the Corsi family and the Palatine was held by a other clan. The Mausoleum of Hadrian had been Rome’s most formidable fortification, the Castello Sant Angelo for centuries. As in many Italian cities the ruling families lived in heavily fortified compounds to protect themselves against their rivals.
It was one of these conflicts between the major aristocratic families that led to the expulsion of the Pope. Paschalis II had supported a Pierleoni to become City prefect. That annoyed the Frangipani who started rioting. The rioters gained the upper hand and the pope, as well as their Pierleoni. Followers had to leave the city.
That meant the city was open for Henry V who entered in early 1117. There was not much for him to do in rome other than demonstrate to Paschalis that he should call back his excommunicating prelates if he wants his city back. But since he was there why not celebrate a coronation.
Maybe a quick word on coronations. There are generally two types. There is the “real coronation where an individual is elevated to a new status as king, queen, emperor or empress. And there are the festive coronations. These are sort of re-enactments of the actual coronation performed quite regularly at major gatherings like royal assemblies or on important church holidays. These were festivals meant to show off the magnificence and holiness of the monarch.
The coronation in Rome in 1117 was probably a bit of both. Henry was already emperor, so for him it was just a reenactment. But his new bride had not yet been crowned empress, so it may have been intended as an elevation of her to imperial status. Henry’s party planners quickly ran up against an obstacle. None of the cardinals still resident in Rome were willing to crown the young lady. Finally, a bishop, Maurice of Braga could be convinced to put a crown on the head of the wife of the emperor. This ceremony, even in the widest definition of the word coronation, could not be regarded as a valid elevation of Matilda to Empress. For that you need a pope actual or antipope, or at least someone authorised by a pope. Maurice of a Braga was neither on the day of Matilda’s coronation. Hence when English history talks about the Empress Matilda, she wasn’t really an empress.
The proceedings were still irritating enough for the actual pope Paschalis II to excommunicate the hapless bishop Maurice of Braga. This did not facilitate any further rapprochement between emperor and pope.
In the summer of 1117 Henry left Rome, as he had to if he wanted to avoid dying from malaria. As we all know, come the summer the Germans die in Rome. That allowed Paschalis II to get back in, thinking he was made of sterner stuff. Paschalis and his team stayed until January, when Paschalis suddenly died.
The cardinals elected Paschalis chancellor as pope Gelasius II, a man widely seen to be willing to compromise. Henry came down to Rome again in March 1118, which frightened the brand-new pope no end. Gelasius disappeared down south to Gaeta when Henry entered the Holy City.
And then Henry V did something odd, so odd that I simply have no explanation. He made his pet bishop, Maurice of Braga pope who took the papal name Gregory VIII. Why Henry decided to create a schism, something that had so badly hampered his father’s room to maneuver is simply inexplicable. Gregory VIII had no material support in Rome or elsewhere in Europe. It might be that Henry V followed demands of his Roman allies, the Frangipani, but their loyalty should not be worth a full-blown schism. It seems Henry realized his mistake almost immediately. He made no efforts to push his new antipope even in Germany and by June the emperor left Rome to leave Gregory the not really VIII to his fate. That fate would be to be captured by the true pope 4 years later and made to ride through the streets of Rome sitting naked backwards on a donkey. This punishment was not unknown and had been meted out to Roman prefects and popes but in this case was particularly apt as Gregory VIII’s nickname was “Spanish Ass”.
The pointless creation of a schism did not just blight the life of a poor Spaniard, but also meant that the new pope Gelasius II finally came off the fence and publicly excommunicated Henry V. With that the temperature in Germany was rising and the opposition was preparing for a royal assembly in Wuerzburg where the emperor was invited to defend his track record. That sounds far too much like a rerun of the Assembly at Tribur where Henry IV had been threatened with deposition. And that led immediately to Henry IV kneeling in the snow outside the castle of Canossa.
Henry V had no desire for frostbite and returned to Germany in haste. When he arrived the idea of a royal assemby dissipated quickly since the Southern dukes stuck with the emperor. On the face of it the situation looked almost unchanged from when he had left. The North was held by Lothar, whilst his governors, Duke Frederick of Hohenstaufen and the Count Palatinate Gottfried did a good job at preventing him moving south.
But underneath the surface things have changed. The princes no longer just fought for status, tributes or honor. They were beginning to build what we would later call principalities. They built castles to force their will upon those within their territory, constraining their respective rights and privileges. Lothar did a great job of it in Saxony, making himself the most powerful Saxon Duke since Hermann Billung. And the same goes for his counterpart, Frederick von Hohenstaufen. Frederick did indeed defend the position of his imperial overlord, but at the same time began acquiring lands and castles for his own private estate. The chronicler Otto von Freising will describe this period as the time when the Staufer began building their private power base, their Hausmacht as it will be known from now on. They said of him that he would always pull a castle along the tail of his horse. The princes are on the rise.
By 1119 the war between Henry and Lothar had been going on for 4 years and both sides began to get exhausted. All in the country had been in civil war for more than 40 years since the conflict first started with the Saxon uprising 1073. Occasional periods of peace notwithstanding, the constant devastation had badly hurt the economy and let Germany fall behind France and England in cultural and intellectual leadership.
Even amongst his supporters the pressure to bring this endless conflict to an end was rising. Another opportunity emerged after the Pope Gelasius II had died after less than 2 years in office. His successor was Calixtus II, a Burgundian lord and distantly related to the emperor. He had initially been a harsh opponent of Henry V, but once he had ascended to the papacy had mellowed a bit. Calixtus indicated a willingness to negotiate and invited the German bishops to a council at Reims, close to the Franco-Imperial border.
Discussions between Henry V and the papal negotiators focused on a solution not dissimilar to the solution found in France. Henry offered that the bishops and abbots would be freely elected but had to swear a full oath of fealty to the emperor. And most crucially, that the churchmen were obliged to provide financial and military support to the emperor.
This solution seemed to have met with positive noises from the other side and Pope Calixtus was prepared to meet the emperor in person at the border town of Mouzon.
The parties exchanged draft contracts as both the Papal court and the Imperial entourage travelled to the agreed meeting point. The German side specifically believed that all was agreed and all they would do in Mouzon was put pen to paper, crack open the champagne and peace would be upon them.
This may or may not have been the same on the Papal side. But just before the two sides were to meet, the clerks on both sides began to stumble over a formulation in the draft contract. The wording in the papal draft suggests that the obligation of the bishops to support the emperor had a voluntary element to it. That was not acceptable to Henry V. The emperor even though taken aback by what he believed was a last-minute change of terms, he offered to discuss it with the princes. but in the end, there was no rescuing the negotiations.
Afraid of papal duplicity Henry returned home. Meanwhile the Pope’s negotiators made up a story that Henry had appeared with a large retinue of armored men intend on apprehending the pope. That was followed by a full excommunication and a re-iteration of the total ban on investiture.
All back to square 1.
But three years later the two sides will finally agree what has become known as the Concordat of Worms. What it says is not earthshattering and certainly not worth 50 years of war and destruction. But then it was never really about investiture in the first place. What it really was about we should explore next week. I hope to see you then.
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