1138-1142 – This week we will watch another candidate having the royal title snatched from his fingers. Henry the Proud, duke of Bavaria, duke of Saxony, Margrave of Tuscany and Este, richest landowner in Germany and Italy, son-in-law of the previous emperor and his designated successor is a shoo in for the imperial title.
Only Konrad of Hohenstaufen, failed anti-king and hero of the Italian campaign together with his friend, Albero, archbishop of Trier and James Bond of the 12th century dare to disagree.
Will it be the German nobles or again the church who will be deciding the election? We know where the pope stands who had fallen out with Henry the Proud over some ransom money two years earlier…
A German history starting in the Middle Ages when the emperors fought an epic struggle with the papacy to the Reformation, the great 18th century of Kant, Goethe, Gauss, the rise of Prussia and the horrors of the Nazi regime. We will end with the post-war period of moral and physical rebuilding. As Gregory of Tours (539-594) said: “A great many things keep happening, some good, some bad” .
Hello and Welcome to The History of the Germans – Episode 47 –Conrad’s Coup
This week we will watch another candidate having the royal title snatched from his fingers. And since the winner is a Hohenstaufen, the whole Staufer versus Welf game kicks off again. More ups and downs than last time though.
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Last time we saw the positively ancient emperor Lothar III finally succumbing to the strains of office. When he passed away on December 3rd, 1137 in a peasant’s hut in Tyrol, he thought his succession was well ordered. His son in law, Henry the Proud, duke of Bavaria, duke of Saxony, margrave of Tuscany and huge landowner across Germany and Italy was his designated heir. He handed him the imperial regalia, the holy lance, the crown and all the other paraphernalia of imperial rule.
The empress Richieza, Henry the Proud, and his men accompanied the imperial funeral procession to Koenigslutter in Saxony, the church Lothar had built as a shrine to his memory. There a great funeral is held on December 31st, 1137.
As happened last time around, the nobles present at the funeral, this time mostly Saxons, send out invitations for an election to be held the day after Pentecost, i.e., May 22nd, 1138 in Mainz. The reason they left a gap of almost five months between the funeral and the election is down to the fact that the Italian campaign had thinned the ranks of archbishops quite considerably. As of December 1138, there was neither an archbishop of Mainz nor an Archbishop of Cologne formally in office, and as we know too well, having the right archbishop is absolutely key.
Well, is it? There is still one of the three Rhinish archbishops available, Albero of Trier. I noticed we rarely talk about Trier and Salzburg, the other archbishoprics. Trier does rank third, which is a problem when there are only two things to do, managing the election, which is the job of Mainz and performing the coronation, which is Cologne. The archbishop of Trier ends up just holding the towels at the ceremony. That does not stop them from being ambitious, and none more so than Albero.
Albero was the James Bond of 12th century Germany. Though a fan of good food and other pleasures, he was also a great spy. Before he became bishop he attracted the wrath of emperor Henry V who put a prize of 500 talents of silver on his head. He was a master of disguise pretending to be a merchant, a servant and often a a beggar dying his hair and beard. In the disguise of a beggar he hid under the table of emperor Henry V to listen to his plotting against him. Once he wore women’s clothes to bring a papal bulle of excommunication into the city of Metz. Albero was by far the most ambitious and crafty Archbishop Trier had yet produced.
And then we have a couple of people who are none to comfortable with the idea of Henry the Proud becoming King of the Romans and even Emperor. Henry’s power even before he is elected to any office stretches from sea to sea, from the border of Denmark to Sicily. And he is quite proud of it, as in he really thinks it is all his achievement, rather than his father’s smart marriage tactics and his father-in-laws luck in inheritances.
So proud and so sure of his election is he that he does not even bother to sit down with the magnates to do the traditional pre-election chats. I mean I say chats, but what they really are, are hard-nosed negotiations in secret locations where monasteries and counties change hands ahead of elections.
Albero may well have been keen on such a chat since he has been droning on about the monastery of St. Maximin that should by rights be his for god knows how long. But Henry did not sit down with Albero. He probably already knew what the archbishop wanted as the two of them had been on the last Italian campaign together, having lots of opportunity for a chat. As far as Albero was concerned, the road to St. Maximin did not lead via Henry. And Henry was just 32 years old, so the wait could be long.
Who else? The most obvious one are the two Hohenstaufen brother, Konrad former anti king and hero of the Italian campaign and Frederick, duke of Hohenstaufen. But they were not alone. There is Albrecht the Bear great Saxon noble and margrave of Luxation and the Northern Matches. He had his own views about the inheritance of Lothar III. His mother had been the daughter of the last Billung duke of Saxony. Albrecht hence saw himself as the heir to the ducal authority, not Henry the Proud. As long as Lothar was alive, he could paper rover the cracks by awarding Albrecht first Lusatia and then the Northern Marches.
But Albrecht did not see this continuing under a Welf regime, nor did he rate his chances to become duke once Henry is king. So, he started to undermine Henry’s election campaign. Lothar’s widow, Richeza had called for a meeting of the Saxon nobles in Quedlinburg, most probably to confirm the support for Henry’s election. Albrecht got there a few days earlier and stole all the food. Richeza did not dare to invite the magnates to an empty table and so they were not all lined up behind the proud Henry.
And even more generally there is a question how keen the princes were to make someone king who was called the Proud and was already the most powerful man in the land. In fact, more powerful than any candidate for kingship had been since Henry III. Though few opened their mouths, there was sure some groundswell of concern.
Finally, there is one who is quite open in his opposition to Henry the Proud, and that is pope Innocent II. On a personal level the two had been on bad terms ever since they had that falling out over the ransom money of Viterbo paid. But what is more concerning for the pope is that Henry could be an even more powerful emperor than Lothar III, and most worrying of all, an emperor with great interest in Italy. Henry was count of Tuscany as well as count of Este, making him the largest landholder in Italy. And worse, as Innocent had realised during the Italian campaign, the emperors still held unnatural pretensions, they still had not understood that they are papal vassals who are to kiss his feet, like any other king..
As Innocent would write some months later, he felt that Henry was out to suffocate the holy mother church.
And hence Innocent had dispatched a cardinal legate, Dietwin to Germany probably even before Lothar III had actually died with orders to prevent an election of Henry the Proud.
There we are a small band of opposition is forming against the election of Henry the Proud to become Henry VI. But what can they do? Henry has the Imperial regalia; he commands the votes of Saxony and Bavaria as well as supporters in Swabia and elsewhere.
Well, they can at least meet up, which they do, on March 7th in Koblenz. And there they debated what can be done. Waiting until the set election day in May can have only one outcome, the election of Henry the Proud. The papal legate tells the electors present that the holy church as well as the bishops, counts and cities of Italy are supportive of the election of anyone but Henry the Proud. And so encouraged they decide on what I would call a coup d’état.
Even though they were just a small subset of potential electors, in fact a few bishops, some nobles from Lothringia and the two Staufer brothers, even though they had none of the necessary archbishops, and even though they had none of the Imperial regalia, no crown, no Holy Lance, no coat, no sceptre and no Imperial cross, they decided to elect Konrad of Hohenstaufen to be King Konrad III. Why, because they could not do anything else.
That was on March 7th. Six days later this motley crew of “electors” was in Aachen where the Papal Legate crowned the Staufer with some random crown, handing him some random pieces of metal and declared him Konrad, King of the Romans, Third of his name.
And then they waited.
Henry the Proud has a fit when he hears of the events in Koblenz and Aachen. He declares the election invalid, as no Saxons or Bavarians were present, which is correct. He declares the coronation invalid as none of the necessary paraphernalia were available. And then he calls all his supporters and friends to rise up against the usurper.
And then nothing happened.
Konrad is now behind the mighty walls of the city of Cologne and calls his first royal assembly. Quite a few people show up. Many princes of Upper and Lower Lothringia, but also some bishops, even some bishops from Saxony.
Konrad decides that things are going well enough that he sets up his government. He appoints his chancellor Arnold, a cleric from Cologne and he brings Wibald, abbot of Sablo and Malmedy into his inner circle. Wibald had been one of Lothar’s closest advisers, which makes this a big win for Konrad III.
The papal legate formally installs the new archbishop of Cologne, who is, no surprise a supporter of Konrad.
So far so good.
The next stop is Mainz. There again he receives more support. The city opens its gates and Konrad supervises the election of the new archbishop of Mainz, another Adalbert, nephew of the previous occupant.
Konrad now has the magnates of Lothringia and Franconia in his camp as well as 3 archbishops. Things look good enough that he invites all the princes of the realm for an assembly at Pentecost in Bamberg. He invites them to come and receive their fiefs from his hand and to decide the question who would be duke of Saxony.
And so the actual quorum of electors come together in Bamberg on May 22nd-23rd, 1138. And I mean really all of them, the southern dukes of Zaehringen and Carinthia, the Babenberger Leopold, new margrave of Austria, the duke of Bohemia and many of Henry the Proud’s vassals, counts and magnates from Saxony and Bavaria. The Saxons are there because they do not want Konrad to install Albrecht the Bear as duke of Saxony. The Bavarians are there, probably for the spectacle of seeing their unloved duke being humiliated.
When they are all assembled, the old empress Richeza tilts the balance in Konrad’s favour. She gives up her support of her son-in-law’s claim to the throne and hands over the imperial regalia. On that decision the magnates present swear fealty to their new king, Konrad III of the house of Hohenstaufen. The only one not doing so in Henry the Proud, too proud to show his face or maybe still negotiating terms, does not appear.
Then there is just a bit of mopping up to do. The archbishop of Salzburg is placated by Konrad showing him his special favour.
Konrad and Henry then negotiate for three days before Augsburg but cannot reach an agreement. As the debate gets heated Konrad is getting worried about the large retinue or armoured knights Henry had brought with him. In the depth of the night Konrad flees from Augsburg.
He rides to Wurzburg where he assembles a court of princes, all solid supporters of the Hohenstaufen, who put Henry the Proud into the Imperial ban. Henry is stripped of his title as duke of Saxony and his position is handed over to Albrecht the Bear. Six months later he also deposes him as duke of Bavaria and installs his half brother Leopold, margrave of Austria as the new duke.
It is 1138 and we are watching a re-run of the year 1125, just with inverse prefixes.
- Two candidates compete for the title, one Hohenstaufen, one Welf.
- The churchmen tilt the election outcome to suit their interests.
- Hohenstaufen and Welf go to war over the royal rights and privileges the other kept from the previous regime.
And, who wins? The princes and the church, as before. Who loses? The peasants that are in the way of the armoured knights.
War is taking place in two main areas. One is Saxony where Konrad’s ally, Albrecht the Bear fights the old empress Richeza and Swabia, where Henry the Proud’s brother whose name is Welf VI is fighting the brand-new duke of Bavaria, Leopold.
In Saxony things were initially off to a decent start. Albrecht the bear can occupy Luneburg, the centre of Welf possessions and pushes the old empress hard. By Christmas Konrad believes that everything is sorted and calls for an assembly in Goslar to effectively settle the conflict, make everybody accept Albrecht as duke and be done. He arrives in Goslar with just his bodyguard and entourage, indicating he comes to make peace. But several of the important Saxon leaders do not show, in particular the old empress and the archbishop of Magdeburg.. Konrad twiddles his thumps for a month hoping he can convince all parties to come to another assembly, in February, in Quedlinburg.
And this time they do show, with a large army. Amongst them is now Henry the Proud who had fought his way back home from Augsburg. Konrad looks at the enemy army, counts his own troops and does the same thing as he did in Augsburg, he ran.
A running king, even if he was indeed running for his life, is not an edifying sight. In particular in the middle of a civil war. Even Albrecht the Bear cannot keep the supporters of Konrad together. One by one they go over to Henry. 3 months later Albrecht and his few remaining allies have to leave Saxony. Henry is back in charge in the largest and most important German duchy.
In May 1139 the princes of Southern Germany commit to undertake a campaign against Henry the proud. Archbishop Albero of Trier is the most enthusiastic. He provides 500 knights instead of the just 20 he is required to bring. Not just that but being a jolly churchman, he also brings food and drink. We are told he brought 30 fuder of the finest Moselle wine, that is equivalent to about 30,000 litres.
When this well-equipped force meets the army of Henry the Proud in August, the two sides measure each other up and then do something we have seen happening several times before. The bishops realise that the battle could go either way and decide it is better to negotiate. And so they do. In the end, Henry pretty much wins. He is confirmed in the possession of Saxony and the parties agree an armistice for the next 9 months. Then Adalbero brings on his 30,000 litres of wine and they have one hell of a work event. Except for Konrad and Albrecht who sits in his tent most likely exchanging choice words about the prelate’s peaceable nature. After this fiasco the last remaining supporters of Konrad and Albrecht’s cause return to Saxony, make peace with Henry the Proud.
In Bavaria the situation is more advantageous for the Hohenstaufen. The Welf had become quite unpopular, probably because they were trying to introduce a tight governmental structure. Konrad’s new duke Leopold is quickly established and takes his seat in the old Bavarian capital, Regensburg. Konrad provides him with some more help by installing his brother Otto as bishop of Freising and his brother Konrad as Bishop of Passau. All these brothers were sons of that exceptionally reproductive Agnes of Waiblingen.
Otto of Freising is well known as a historian who wrote two books, one a world chronicle covering the whole of history from Adam & Eve to the reign of king Henry V. It ends in a sad contemplation of the end of the world as pope and emperor had fallen out, a clear portend of the coming of the antichrist. And then, in his later years he will be asked by his nephew, Frederick Barbarossa to write up his reign, where he puts a much more optimistic spin on things. He is also one of the main sources for this period, which he experienced first-hand.
The new duke of Bavaria, Leopold is now well settled and holds a ducal assembly where pretty much the whole of the duchy shows. Henry’s brother, Welf VI did not, but that was not to be expected.
Nevertheless, as Konrad had been unable to dislodge Henry is Saxony, the Welf are now preparing to get their old duchy back. Remember they had received this duchy not by the generosity of Lothar III. It had been in the family for more than a century and part of the reconciliation between Henry IV and the Welf was that Bavaria would forever remain within their family. How could they, why would they give it up.
As Henry was mustering his army in October 1139, he suddenly keels over and dies. He was just 35 years old. Rumours swirl around Saxony immediately thereafter suggesting he had ben poisoned. The rumour found credibility when Albrecht the bear suddenly appeared and pretended, he was again duke. But he found no support. The Saxons insisted that the 10-year-old son of Henry the Proud, also Henry should be duke and his grandmother the old empress be regent.. Albrecht lost his last strongholds in Saxony, even his family home in Anhalt was raised to the ground.
With Saxony all but lost the woes continued. Duke Leopold’s position in Bavaria began to get wobbly. Two counts rebelled and supported by Welf VI inflicted a painful defeat on the duke.
Konrad needed a success badly, like very badly. And so he attacked one of Welf VI most important positions, the town and castle of Weinsberg near Heilbronn. If you ever drive from Heidelberg to Nurnberg or from Stuttgart to Wurzburg, you cannot miss the impressive ruins of the castle of Weinsberg. It sits on top of a near perfect cone, its slopes covered in vines. In 1140 Konrad III had brought almost his whole army down there to break the Welf power in Northern Swabia. The garrison held out, waiting for their lord to relieve them. And he did indeed arrive but was heavily defeated by Konrad and his brother Frederick, the duke of Swabia.
The garrison surrendered and the story goes that Konrad allowed the Women of Weinsberg free passage with all valuables they could carry on their shoulders. The ladies of the town, worried about the fate of their husbands and boyfriends, decided to carry them down the hill, and it was said that many a sturdy maid was able to finally find love. When the Women came down the hill, Konrad’s aides called foul play and asked the king whether they should arrest the men. But Konrad said, that no, a king’s word is a king’s word and so he let them pass.
Now this story may well be made up. There are several such stories circulating about other castles as well. But none is so famous at least in Germany as this one. The castle of Weinsberg is until this day called Weibertreu which translates as wifely loyalty.
The story had an epilogue. The castle was finally destroyed during the peasants War of 1525. In 1819 a local group of women began collecting funds for the renovation of the castle that stabilised the existing structure.
In 1855 the architect of the famous Schloss Lichtenstein which is on almost every third piictture tagged Germany on Facebook, suggested the construction of a Pantheon of famous German Women. That failed due to opposition of the Wuerrtemberg authorities.
Joseph Goebbels picked up the idea and planned a great Walhalla of the German woman to be inaugurated in 1940. The outbreak of WWII prevented this awfulness. We are left with the beautiful ruinsof Weinsberg, still managed by the Frauenverein, the women’s association founded in 1819. And no man built anything ver it.
Do I believe the story of Weibertreu? Yes, I sort of do. The reason is quite prosaic. In 1140 Konrad III’s reputation was in tatters. He had fled Saxony twice, his duke of Bavaria had been humiliated by Welf VI and his castles overrun and peasants killed. Assuming the women of Weinsberg did indeed pull this stunt, Konrad realised that this was a great opportunity to rebuild his reputation as a magnanimous ruler.
And it may have worked. It took another year of brutal fighting in Bavaria for the position of duke Leopold to be restored. That momentum did not even stop when Leopold unexpectedly died. Konrad III then appointed another of his half-brothers, Henry, called Jasomirgott as duke of Bavaria. Where his nickname which translates roughly as “yes, with the help of god” comes from is unclear. But it is helpful as by now far too many Henries clutter our narrative.
Several events the paved the road to peace in Saxony. Empress Richeza who had been relentless in her efforts to regain all the Welf possessions for her grandson had died in 1141. Albrecht the bear had conceded he would never become duke of Saxony, reverted back to calling himself just a margrave and began negotiations with the Saxon leaders.
In May 1142 the Saxon magnates, including the mother of the little duke Henry appeared at an assembly at Frankfurt. The parties agreed to end the conflict over Saxony. Konrad III accepted young Henry as the legitimate duke of Saxony. In exchange little duke Henry, soon to be known as Henry the Lion, represented by his mother and a council of magnates, gives up his claims on Bavaria. To seal the deal Henry’s mother, Gertrud, the daughter of emperor Lothar III marries Henry Jasomirgott of Bavaria. Albrecht the bear gets his old possessions in Saxony back.
That, everyone thought, should close down this war for good. Well it did and it did not. There was one person nobody had asked, and that was Welf VI, the uncle of Henry the Lioncup. Welf VI did not see any reason to give up. In fact, he now claimed Bavaria as his own since Henry’s renunciation made him, Welf VI, the true heir to the duchy. Welf VI will keep fighting the good fight for almost the whole of Konrad’s reign, making it hard for him to ever leave the country, for instance to get the imperial crown in Italy. Likewise, Konrad III had very little, if any authority in Saxony.
In the 19th century retelling of the story, the election of a Konrad III is often seen as another one in the string of Disasters brought upon the German nation by the hateful papacy. If Henry the Proud had been elected and then not poisoned, imperial power could have been restored back to the glory days of Henry III and before. The Welf rulers having control of Bavaria and Saxony could have created the institutions that the empire so sadly lacked and that were taking shape in France. Their interest in the east could have given the empire a new purpose, away from the entanglement with the unsavoury affairs of Italy. And that would have led directly to a strong and confident German national state, avoiding the horrors of the 30 years war and the humiliation of the Napoleonic occupation.
A lot of what-ifs and long range hypothetical outcomes. And in no way had Henry the Proud an interest in or any even faint notion of creating a German national state. But still, Pope Innocent II’s fear of Henry as emperor is a clear sign contemporaries were expecting a very different outcome under Welf rule.
As it happens we now have King Konrad III. Yes, he was a weak king, but that will not stop him mounting one of the largest military campaigns the empire had seen to date. Whether that succeeds we will see next week.
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