Henry III (1039-1056)


Henry III -  History of the Germans
Henry III – History of the Germans
The second Salian ruler brings the medieval empire to its zenith in 1046. Poland, Bohemia and Hungary have to swear fealty. Internally all five duchies are either directly controlled by the Emperor or brought to submission. At the synod of Sutri he dismisses three popes is one fell swoop and puts a fourth one in place. It is all downhill from there. The new popes are growing in stature and influence. The Saxons keep grumbling whilst Lothringia remains a source of troubles. The Hungarians throw off their chains….and then he dies leaving a 6-year old son behind"A great many things keep happening, some good, some bad" (Gregory of Tours 539-594). From the Coronation of Henry the Fowler in 919 CE to German Reunification in 1990 in weekly chronological 20-30 min episodes.
Episode 26 – Henry III Comin' in Smoothly
by Dirk Hoffmann-Becking

For the first time in almost 70 years the transition from one king/emperor to the next is smooth. Konrad II was not only one of the most successful medieval rulers, he also managed to live long enough for his son Henry III to grow up to adulthood before taking over.

Henry III is outwardly quite different from his father, well educated, deeply immersed in the concepts of sacred kingship and immensely powerful even before he had become king. But at the same time he shares Konrad’s steely determination and aggressive nature.

Items 1-3 on his agenda are Poland (a mess), Bohemia (a pseudo-Boleslav) and Hungary (an old grudge).

Check out the website: http://www.historyofthegermans.com

Episode 26 – Henry III Comin' in Smoothly
Episode 27 – Peace in Our Time
Episode 28 – Three Popes with One Stone
Episode 29 – The Last Years of Henry III
Episode 30 – Three Roads to Canossa

30 second summary

The second Salian ruler brings the medieval empire to its zenith in 1046. Poland, Bohemia and Hungary have to swear fealty. Internally all five duchies are either directly controlled by the Emperor or brought to submission. At the synod of Sutri he dismisses three popes is one fell swoop and puts a fourth one in place.
It is all downhill from there. The new popes are growing in stature and influence. The Saxons keep grumbling whilst Lothringia remains a source of troubles. The Hungarians throw off their chains….and then he dies leaving a 6-year old son behind




Henry III – Comin’ in Smooth

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans, Episode 26 – Henry III Comin’ in Smooth

Last week we discussed the last few years of Konrad II’s reign, which despite some setbacks in the trial of Adalbero of Carinthia and a pretty pointless Italian expedition still counts as one of the most successful rules of the Middle Ages. Not only does Konrad leave an empire behind whose central authority is undisputed, but he also managed to live long enough for his heir and successor Henry III to grow up to adulthood before taking over. The transition from Konrad II to Henry III 1039 is the first smooth handover of power since the transition form Otto I to Otto II in 972, 67 years ago.

With these two exceptions, the death of a king or emperor had always been a period of huge uncertainty and upheaval. Henry the Fowler, Otto the Great, Otto III, Henry II and Konrad II all had to fight opponents for the throne forcing the magnate to take sides. Once one side had won, the deck of cards was reshuffled and previously powerful men lose their position, like the kingmaker Aribo of Mainz did in 1039.

Henry III’s transition was entirely smooth. He had already been elected and crowned king in 1028. Beyond his royal title he had already become duke of Bavaria in 1027, duke of Swabia in 1038 and in the same year he also became king of Burgundy. In 1041, two years after taking over he also became duke of Carinthia. On top of that he controlled his family estates that amounted to almost a duchy in Franconia as well as the royal demesne which comprised the private Ottonian estate in Saxony, including the silver mines of Goslar. Never in medieval history did a German king concentrate so many powerful offices in his own hands.

That is not the only contrast to his father who ascended the throne backed by merely a portion of his family’s estate and the wealth his wife had brought into the marriage.  When Konrad was a 6’6 feet action man who could ride a hundred miles in a day and fight when half submerged in a swamp. Henry III may have borne some physical similarity to his father but failed to match him in strength and energy. He fell ill from an unknown illness in 1046 from which he never fully recovered.

Other than his father, Henry III had been diligently prepared for kingship from an early age. He was seven years old when his father ascended to the throne and from then on, he was educated by the leading clerics of his day. His first tutor was Bruno, bishop of Augsburg and brother of the former emperor Henry II. It is likely that he developed his notion of sacred kingship that was so similar to Henry II under Bruno’s influence. After Bruno’s death in 1029 Henry is given into the care of Egilbert, bishop of Freising, another member of Henry II’s inner circle. Another major influence was Wipo, the member of the imperial chancellery and chronicler of Konrad II’s life.

Henry’s worldview is very similar to Henry II. He sees his role as emperor in providing peace to his people, both from external foes as from internal strife. The king’s main job as a secular ruler is to uphold the law and dispense harsh justice if necessary but show mercy wherever possible.

But the emperor is not just a lay ruler, he is also the vicar of Christ on earth and a sacred individual making him responsible for the wellbeing of the holy church. And that means supporting the movement for church reform that emanated from Cluny and other reform monasteries. Like Henry II, this henry also believes that he has to make sure that prayer is effective, and the sacraments are dispensed by individuals educationally and morally qualified. Behind that is a firm belief that the wellbeing in the afterlife is way more important than wellbeing in the here and now. The emperor as the lord of all he surveys is hence primarily responsible to provide the infrastructure needed to prepare for the afterlife. And that includes competent priests who received their office on merit rather than bribes, who live by the rules of the bible, which includes increasingly the notion of celibacy.

In that latter, theological component Henry III differs from his father. Konrad II, whilst pious, had little time for theological disputations. He spent most of his time on horseback, sword in hand, rushing form one part of the empire to the other bashing heads together. Henry III will do his fair share of travelling and axe-wielding, but his true pleasures lie in reading the bible, prayer and listening to sermons. It is all party, party, party at the court of Henry III.

But before you think he is a bookish geek who shrinks away from his father, think again. In 1031, just 14 years old he signs a peace agreement with the Hungarians that brings down the wrath of his father and the disgrace of his tutor Egilbert of Freising. But Henry III does not kowtow. When a few years late the whole thing comes up again in the context of Adalbero of Carinthia’s dismissal, Henry III refuses his father’s explicit demands. Henry is now about 18 and his father, an absolute bull of a man with the subtlety of a sharpened axe gets into such a rage with him, he actually faints with anger. But Henry III still holds out. He only relents when his father begs him on his knees. There is a real steeliness to his character that may be covered by his preference for consensus and mercy, but, as we will see, comes out on occasions when it is needed.

Enough with the preliminaries, lets get into the action.

When Konrad II died in 1039, Henry III takes over seamlessly. Though no coronation as such is required, he still goes through a formal enthronisation on Charlemagne’s chair in Aachen but he does not have to undertake a full royal progress as both Konrad II and Henry II had done.

It is straight onto the desk and item 1 on the agenda.

A you may remember Konrad the II had made a right old mess in Italy in the year before. Konrad had been called to mediate in a conflict between the archbishop of Milan and his vassals where he took the side of the rebellious vassals. That resulted in an uproar by the Italian clergy, which up until then had been the bedrock of imperial power in Italy. Konrad managed to make things really bad by apprehending the archbishop of Milan. At that point all inhabitants of Milan who only weeks earlier were at each other’s throat united behind their archbishop. They may dislike their current archbishop but that does not mean they would let a foreigner run roughshod over the head of their city. Konrad ended up besieging the city of Milan without success. In his desperation he even granted the smaller nobles the right to inherit their fiefs, even the fiefs of the church which brought the red mist down over the Italian bishop’s eyes. The whole thing was quite an impressive blunder given that 4 years earlier the Milanese had been fielding an army to support the emperor’s cause in Italy.

Henry III quickly reversed his father’s policies. He made peace with bishop Aribert and mended the relationship with the bishops. He reverted to the tried and tested imperial policy of granting the bishops fiefs and rights in exchange for support in war. Henry III also relied heavily on the system of Missii, royal envoys usually counts or bishops who come to act on behalf of the king in resolving disputes and allocating fiefs that have become vacant. What he did not manage though was to revoke the vassals inheritance rights his father had so foolishly granted.

That brought stability to the imperial rule in Italy but not to the city of Milan. For the third time in a row bishop Aribert is getting expelled from his city, this time by a rebellion of the lower classes. This had nothing to do with anything Henry III had done but was a clear indication of the shifting economic and demographic environment. When 10 years earlier the big conflict was between the higher nobles, the Capitani and their sub-vassals, the Valvassores, now it is between the third estate against the whole lot of nobles and bishops lording it over them.  This is not the first city in Italy where the new class of merchants and artisans demand a role in the management of city affairs, but this is Milan, at this point possibly the largest city in western Europe of almost a 100,000 people.  

Again, the Milanese ask for mediation by the emperor and Henry III takes a more delicate approach than his father. Through a combination of carrots and sticks he gets the nobles to come down from the castles and horses and agree a new way of communal living in the city based on a city constitution. Within a hundred years most Italian cities will have constitutions that give its most important burghers participation in city affairs.

Apart from this patch-up job, Italy did not feature highly on the imperial agenda of the first few years. Most of Henry III’s energy in the first 5 years was taken up by the empire’s neighbours to the east, Poland, Bohemia and Hungary.

Poland as you may remember from previous episodes had tumbled into some sort of anarchy after the deposition of Miesco II. Konrad II and the grand prince of Kiev had decided to split the Polish kingdom into three parts given to the three remaining members of the Piast family. One of these was Kasimir, son of Miesco II and his wife Richeza, a German of the highest aristocracy and granddaughter of Otto the great. Kasimir had a difficult time in Poland and had to regularly ask for asylum in Germany where he effectively grew up.

In 1037 Kasimir and his mother had another of their many attempts to regain the crown, which again failed. This effort compelled the still largely pagan population to rise up and smash up the Christian infrastructure of the kingdom. Kasimir tried again in 1038 but had to flee again, this time to Hungary.

As I said before, the states east of the empire are a bit like communicating pipes. If Poland goes down, Bohemia rises, which is exactly what happened. In 1039 Bretislaus, duke of Bohemia invaded Poland. He marched almost unopposed to the former Polish royal heartland and took away the relics of Saint Adalbert from the Cathedral of Gniesno. Adalbert, the friend of Otto III was not any old saint, but the saint of eastern Europe. He was revered for baptising king Stephen of Hungary, he had been bishop of Prague where he had performed many miracles and had died on a mission to the Prussians. Emperor Otto III had come in parson to pray barefoot and in hair shirt at his grave. With the relics of Adalbert, Bretislav could hope to have his own archbishopric which would make the Bohemian church independent from German influence. Remember that Mainz still had control over the bishopric of Prague putting Bohemia at a disadvantage against Poland and Hungary who both had their own archbishops reporting directly to the Pope. Apart form the spiritual trophies Bretislav also took the rich lands of Silesia for himself.

This rise of Bohemian power was intolerable for Henry III and it seems also for Jaroslav the Grand Prince of the Kievan Rus. The two agreed to help young Kasimir to create order in Poland. Jaroslav gave Kasimir his daughter and a lot of gold and Henry III gave him 1000 heavily armed soldiers and they sent him on his merry way.

This time Kasimir succeeded. He could establish some form of central government and embarked on the long and arduous process of putting Poland back together again, which is why he is known to Polish history as Kasimir the Restorer. In exchange for his generous help, Kashmir recognised Henry III as his overlord, confirmed vows made by his predecessors Miesco II and Bezprym

Sending Young Kasimir off to remake Poland was however not sufficient to put Bretislaus of Bohemia back into his box. Henry III mustered an army almost as soon as he heard about Bretislaus invasion of Poland. War is avoided in the last minute when Bretislaus sends hostages, including his son promising to come to Germany and give homage to Henry III as well as to “perform what was commended of him. That however turned out to be a lie. Breteslaus saw no need to submit to this fresh and untested king. Instead, he used the time to strengthen his defences, made a deal with Hungary and expand his military awaiting Henry III in the following year.

At least initially Bretislaus plan worked and Henry III’s army perished in an attempt to take a border defence. The losses must have been very severe. The chronicler Hermann of Reichenau reported that the king departed with a loss of very many knights and princes and with his purpose unfulfilled. Even worse, he had to hand back the hostages in exchange for his captured men, making him look really weak and incompetent.

But there is always next year. And so henry mustered an even bigger army, as usual, mostly from the Imperial church. The abbot of Fulda reports that even though most of his soldiers including their commander had died in the campaign of 1040, he had to provide an even larger contingent in 1041.

This time Henry III was cleverer.  Instead of attacking the border defences he snuck into the country by an unfrequented route with one army, whilst the margrave of Meissen came by another route further east and the margrave of the Eastern March came up from the south. Once Henry was in Bohemia, Bretislaus ran out of options and had to give in. He came to a royal assembly in Regensburg and renounced his acquisitions in Poland except for Silesia for which he paid tribute. He made an oath of fealty and Henry III accepted him as his vassal. That was the end of Bretislaus dream to become the next Boleslav the Brave.

One of the things that hampered Breteslaus in his last campaign was the loss of Hungarian support. In his first round King Peter Orseolo of Hungary had come to his aid and attacked the Eastern March, aka Austria. This time he could not, since King Peter Orseolo himself had been expelled from his country.  

There is an obvious question here, which is, who is king Peter Orseolo. Even if against all the odds you do not speak Hungarian you would know that this is not a Hungarian name.

The confusion is all my fault – as usual. Though Hungarian affairs have popped up regularly these last few episodes I have put off bringing you up to speed about the fascinating History of Hungary.

Now we can no longer postpone and it is time time to bring us all up to speed with Hungary again. Last time we took a closer look at Hungary was just after the battle on the Lechfeld in 955 which brought an end to the Magyar incursions. After the defeat Hungary reconsolidated during the long reign of prince Geza (972-997). Geza decisively shifted Hungary towards Christianity and in particular favoured Western Christianity over the Greek version. This religious distinction had an underlying political and ethnic dimension as well. After the emperor in Constantinople had subjugated the Bulgars, Hungary had a border with Byzantium in the South and the Empire in the West. As tensions between the west and the east intensified, the country balanced on a tightrope. The southern and eastern part of the country, the so-called “black” Hungarians leant towards Constantinople, whilst the so-called “white” Hungarians leant towards Roman Christianity and the Ottonian emperors. This conflict and the still resistant pagan population led to regular revolts and uprisings.

Geza’s son who was initially called Vajk took over in around 997. Vajk had been brought up in the Roman Christian tradition and had been married to Gisela, the sister of Emperor Henry II.

Transition was anything but smooth and his first act was to use soldiers sent by Gisela’s father to besiege and capture his uncle Koppany who had claimed the throne. Koppany was hung, drawn and quartered and parts of his body were sent around the realm pour decourager les autres.

In either 1000 or 1001 Vajk became king of Hungary and took the name of Stephen, later known as Saint Stephen. The Hungarian view of the coronation was that Hungary received the crown and sceptre from the pope and that Stephen was crowned without having to become a vassal to either the emperor or the pope. The in inverted commas German version is that the crown and sceptre was indeed sent by pope Sylvester II, but that Sylvester II acted in this matter as well as in all others in with the “favour and urging of emperor Otto III, in other words that Hungary had accepted ultimate suzerainty of the empire.

Saint Stephen ruled for an astonishing 40 years, until his death in 1039. During his rule he turned Hungary into a medieval kingdom, modelled on the Carolingian empire. He introduced ~40 counties, managed by counts who were royal officials. He established 2 archbishoprics and 8 bishoprics as well as many monasteries. Other than in Bohemia the Hungarian church always only recognised the papal authority and was not part of the Imperial church system.

In 1028 (or maybe a lot earlier) Stephen removed the last magnate still adhering to the Eastern church, Ajtony, prince of the black Hungarians who ruled an area equivalent to today’s Romania. After that, all of Hungary, which was a lot larger than today’s sate of Hungary had become part of the Roman catholic church, tieing the country firmly into Western Europe.

Despite the clear religious orientation towards Rome, Hungary still had to balance its link to the West with maintaining good relations with Byzantium. It seems that Hungary would at times provide troops to help with Byzantine efforts to subjugate the Bulgarians.

Hungary found itself in a situation not dissimilar to Venice as the link between west and east. Both were sort of rooted in the Western empire and were catholic, but also had close links to the empire in Constantinople. Venice began creating a string of ports along the dalmatian coast, whilst Hungary controlled much of the hinterland of these ports. Though the two states could not be more different, one a sophisticated, independent city republic built on international maritime trade and the other a nascent medieval kingdom created by steppe nomads, they formed a close alliance. Stephen married his sister to the Venetian Doge Otto Orseolo.

Saint Stephen had one son with his wife Gisela, Imre or Emmerich in German. At Konrad II’s election in 1024, Emmerich was the nephew and hence the closest relative of the previous emperor Henry II. Nevertheless, the chronicles do not report any explicit claim made by Emmerich or his father during the election. That was different when it came to the succession in Bavaria after the death of its duke in 1028. Bavaria had traditionally been run by members of the family of Henry II. Emmerich therefore had some claim and may have sounded out the Bavarian nobles for his chances of election. Bavaria would have been a great prize for Hungary lying just access the border. However the plan failed and, as we know, the duchy went to Henry III.

The rejection of the Bavarian succession added to tensions with the empire. Other issues included Konrad’s aggressive policy against Venice which led amongst other things to a deposition of the Stephen’s brother-in-law, Otto Orseolo who fled to Hungary with his wife and little son, Peter. Border skirmishes mainly by Bavarian border counts escalated into all out war after 1028. This war was mainly led by Bavarian and Carinthian troops under the formal command of the 11-year-old Henry III. That war did not go well, and Henry suffered a severe defeat forcing him to agree a peace in 1031 whereby Hungary gained a stretch of land on the eastern frontier of the empire.

Konrad II did not like this treaty one bit and it resulted in the dismissal of Henry III’s tutor and guardian, Egilbert of Freising who I mentioned earlier this episode.

After 1031 the relationship with empire improved, mainly because Stephen’s son and heir, Emmerich died in a hunting accident and took all claims to the Bavarian title to his grave.

Meanwhile in Hungary the situation became complicated. The closest relative of Stephen in the male line was a man called Vazul (my pronunciation is likely totally wrong so forgive me). Vazul was believed to harbour pagan sympathies and Saint Stephen rejected his claim and appointed his nephew Peter Orseolo as heir.

Vazul was obviously unhappy about that and got into conflict with Saint Stephen. Whether he made an attempt to have him murdered is unclear, but Saint Stephen had him seized and killed anyway. According to some sources the saintly ruler had his enemy’s ears filled with molten lead – a sort of discount version of the poring of molten gold down Crassus’ throat. Vazul’s three sons, Levente, Andrew and Bela were expelled from the kingdom.

When Saint Stephen died in 1038, his nephew Peter Orseolo took over. As a foreigner he lacked support amongst the Hungarian elite and hence relied heavily on German and Italian foreigners who had migrated to Hungary during the reign of Saint Stephen.

In foreign policy he took an active stance against the empire and in particular Henry III, presumably because the Salians had forced him and his father into exile. He supported Bretislav of Bohemia in his raid on Poland and used the opportunity to invade Bavaria and Austria. Given this policy was quite successful it would have likely continued if peter could have managed his domestic issues more successfully.

His key policy was to increase the royal demesne at the expense of Hungarian nobles and magnates. He overstretched it when he seized the lands of the royal widow, Gisela the wife of Saint Stephen and imperial princess. That pushed the party of Stephen into the opposition who deposed Peter and replaced him with another nephew of Stephen, Samuel Abas.

Peter fled to his brother-in-law, Margrave Adalbert of Austria whose lands he had raided just the previous year. There he found a surprisingly warm welcome and Adalbert recommended him to emperor Henry III. In 1041 he showed up at the royal assembly in Regensburg where his former best mate and comrade in arms, Bretislaus of Bohemia was also asking for imperial mercy.

Samuel Abas who had no particular beef with the empire was also trying to agree some sort of lasting peace. However, negotiations failed, probably because Henry III insisted on full submission to his suzerainty and return of the lands seized in 1031.

War was now inevitable, and Samuel Aba attacked Bavaria and Austria in 1042. The army sent against Austria was destroyed by Margrave Adalbert whilst the army sent against Bavaria caused much damage. It took Henry until the autumn to raise troops and push the Hungarians back. Henry, or more likely his Margrave Adalbert sacked Bratislava, then a Hungarian fortress. And took most of what is now Slovakia.

The two sides agreed a peace treaty in 1043 whereby Samuel Aba returned the lands seized in 1031, which were given to the counts of Austria, thereby much improving their fortunes.

But by 1044 the king of Hungary was back on it. Henry III mustered a comparatively small army and invaded. Samuel Aba whose army was much larger let Henry progress fairly deep into Hungarian territory, presumably hoping to cut Henry off from supplies and capture the king himself.

However, Henry mounted a surprise attack by his armoured riders having shipped his army across the river Raab. The large Hungarian army turned to flight or surrendered right there and then. King Peter was reinstated as king and Samuel Aba was captured and killed shortly afterwards.

With this battle of Menfo Henry III had achieved a clean sweep of the eastern frontier. The rulers of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary are now all vassals of the empire. This completes his father’s policy that started with breaking the empire of Bolelsav the Brave. Savour the moment, because only 2 years later king Peter is deposed again and presumably killed. His successor, Andrew, a son of Vazul who had been so cruelly killed by the saintly King Stephen will take over.

He and his successors will no longer make the mistake of letting an imperial army loose inside their kingdom. Despite all their internal squabbles the Hungarians will strengthen and man their border defences making all subsequent attempts to invade futile.

But this is two years down the line. Right now Henry is the master of the East, duke and lord of Burgundy and Southern Germany. Two items are still outstanding before he climbs to the absolute high point of the medieval empire, asserting control over The last two remaining duchies, Lothringia and Saxony and the big Biggy, reform of the Papacy. Some or maybe all of it will be in next episode.

I hope you will join us again. And in the meantime if you enjoy the podcast why don’t you tell your friends about it. If they want to check it out, send them to my website historyofthegermans.com or my Facebook page History of the Germans Podcast. Thanks a lot for doing that.

Peace in Our Time

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans – Episode 27 – Peace in our time

Last week we saw the young emperor Henry III taking a Gold medal in the imperial sport of subjugating the East. After the campaigns of 1040, 1043 and 1044 he finally had the dukes of Poland and Bohemia and the king of Hungary swearing fealty to him and all his successors. The last emperor who may have got there was Otto III, but that is very much disputed. Henry III’s position is clear, mainly because the blood on his sword was still fresh.

As a medieval emperor Henry’s job is not only to expand the reach of Christianity, but also to bring peace and justice to his lands. The monarch’s obligation to bring peace is one of the distinguishing features between the dark ages and the Middle Ages. A dark ages king was expected to provide opportunities for plunder and tribute, whilst in the Middle Ages the population has settled down and cares more about safety and security than about raping and pillaging.

In the 11th century the call for peace gets louder and louder, in particular in France. Peace is not so much the absence of large international war. What the population suffered most from were the incessant feuds between rival lords. When two rival lords had a disagreement, they rarely went into trial by combat to see who was the stronger. No, no, no, that was actually dangerous. The better solution was to burn down the rival’s fields and murder his peasants. Unarmed peasants could not inflict much harm on an armoured rider and when the rival lord comes with his equally well-equipped men, you can always race back into the safe stone castle you had just built.

The simple equation is more stone castles equals more feuds equals more peasant misery. A king who wants to have peace in his lands needs to do one thing first and foremost, which is preventing his nobles from building castles. In an ideal world only the king would build and man castles. However, the 11th century is far from being an ideal world.

The world is particularly far from the ideal in France. King Henri I (1031-1060) is considered one of the weakest French kings in history. He was off to a bad start since he had to give the duchy of Burgundy to his brother Robert, shrinking the already modest royal possessions even further. Note, this is the duchy of Burgundy, which is part of France and roughly equivalent of what we call Burgundy today. It has obviously nothing at all to do with the Kingdom of Burgundy or the County of Burgundy.

His brother was one of Henri’s less pressing problems. He also had to deal with his overbearing magnates. The two most irritating ones were the counts of Anjou and the counts of Blois Champagne who would usually fight each other. Count Fulk III the Black of Anjou was famous for building castles. He is said to have built almost 100 castles mostly in stone, the ruins of which are still terrifying. Then you had the dukes of Normandy and the dukes of Aquitaine who were a bit further afield from Henri’s direct zone of control, but often intervened in the struggles. New powers rose as well like the counts of Flanders and the Count of Holland. But even the magnates were not able to maintain order much beyond their castle walls, which meant every little count, baron or castellan built his own castle(s) and went merrily along brutalising the villeins.

In this chaotic environment the Peace of God or Truce of God movement gained traction. The idea was to bring the perpetrator of violence to heel by threatening them with sanctions meted out by heavenly intervention. The Church took the lead and held several councils, the first in Le Puy in 975, but then quite regularly during the early 11th century with a frenzy of activity in the 1030s, the millennium of Christ’s passion and potential date for the arrival of the antichrist.

According to the monk Adhemar, these events were religious festivals where the bishops would whip the crowd into a frenzy through a generous display of relics and calls upon the saints to intervene. The warriors in presence would then declare their intention of making war on those who violate the peace of God.

These attempts of pitching an army of saintly warriors has more than the whiff of crusaders to it and indeed the Crusader movement incorporates elements of the Peace of God movement and develops them further by sending the most violent and aggressive lords out of the country.  

That being said, these holy amries or more accurately holy militias were rarely successful against the battle hardened Seigneurs. That is why from the 1030s onwards a more manageable Truce of God was sought. The concept was that the lords would make vows on powerful relics promising to suspend warfare during the weekend, Saturday to Monday or even Wednesday to Monday as well as on high days and holy days. If they breached this obligation they would be subject to all forms of spiritual sanctions from banning from mass to full excommunication. The imposition of these sanctions as well as the whole management of the Treuga Dei was initially in the hands of the church, mainly the bishops and Abbots who regularly suffered from incursions by secular lords. The Abbey of Cluny became a key sponsor and coordinator for the Treuga Dei.

The Treuga Dei was needed most in the parts of France where central power was weakest. The dukes of Normandy whose duchy was tightly run were able to maintain public order by themselves without having to take recourse to the church.  

Equally the empire did not feel the need for a Treuga Dei. The central power was strong under Henry III and entirely capable to prevent feuds and control the construction of stone castles.

Henry III however borrowed some elements from the Treuga Dei movement.  

In 1043 he holds a Synod in Constance where he assembles the nobles of Swabia. He first forgave every trespass committed against him. And then through prayers and exhortations he achieved a mutual reconciliation amongst all the Swabians presents, whereby they in turn forgave each other any trespass committed against them. The chronicler Hermann of Reichenau described the outcome of this peace happening and similar ones taking place all across the country as “a peace unheard of for many centuries that the king confirmed in an edict”.

The last sentence is what matters most in that description- confirmed by edict. In other words, Henry III did order peace or more precisely banned feuding by secular law. There were only two rulers at this point who had enough centralised power to do that, the duke of Normandy and the Emperor.

So, when the great wits on social media refer to this period as the Holy Roman Empire that was neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire, they could not be further from the truth. Leaving aside that the term Holy Roman Empire only coming into usage 200 years later, by 1044 the Empire was indeed sacred, led by a sacred ruler, it was Roman since it saw itself in the succession of the Roman empire in the same way as Constantinople saw itself, and it was very much an empire, the by far most powerful political entity in Western Europe.

The reason Henry III could impose his peace across the land had a lot to do with the fact that he still directly controlled pretty much all of Southern Germany. He is still himself duke of Swabia and Carinthia as well as King of Burgundy. He did give the duchy of Bavaria to a member of the Luxemburger clan in 1042. But according to Egon Boshof this did not significantly reduced his level of control. The new duke had not been elected by the Bavarian nobles and had little personal power base in the duchy. Under these circumstances he would be completely dependent upon the king, essentially an office holder rather than a magnate. Henry will do the same thing with the duchy of Swabia and Carinthia in the next few years, something I will discuss at length in a future episode.

The situation is somewhat different in the Northern duchies of Upper and Lower Lothringia and Saxony.

Let’s start with Saxony. Saxony was the heartland of the Ottonians. The success of the early Ottonians had clearly rubbed off on the Saxons in general and they saw themselves very much as the nucleus and foremost tribe in the empire Otto the great had created. After the Ottos had died out, the Saxons did not directly participate in the election of the last kings. Instead, Henry II and Konrad II had to come to Saxony after their elections and negotiate a separate acclamation. That acclamation was granted in both cases in exchange for recognition of ancient rights and probably the issuance of new privileges.

That already set Saxony apart. The other difference was the role of the duke. You may remember that Otto the great had made his old comrade in war, Hermann Billung, duke of Saxony. That elevation had initially been more of a governorship. Hermann Billung was to take orders from Otto in respect of the duchy and the main ducal lands, including the immensely valuable silver mines in Goslar remained in the personal possession of the Ottonians. Furthermore, Saxony had some immensely wealthy and powerful counts, such as the Margrave Gero and then later the Margraves of Meissen. One of the Margraves, Eckehard had even tried to become king and died under suspicious circumstances as we heard in episode 17.

Therefor ethe dukes of Saxony were less powerful within their duchy, operating more like Firsts amongst Equals. On the flipside the protection of the ancient rights of the Saxons meant that the Billungs could make their duchy an inherited fief, whilst all other duchies were offices the king could -in principle – assign to whoever he wanted.

For Konrad II and Henry III this situation was unsatisfactory. Both tried to strengthen royal authority in Saxony, using the Ottonian crown lands and the Imperial church as their base. The bishops of Hildesheim and Halberstadt were given generous donations. The dominant churchman in Saxony was however archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen. Adalbert was made archbishop in 1043 and clashed with duke Bernhard II of Saxony right from the start. The duke saw Adalbert as the king’s spy and agent in Saxony, sent to find the weakness in the Saxon defences. And he was probably not wrong in that. Adalbert and Henry had a strong alignment of interests. Henry wanted control over Saxony and Adalbert’s plan was to make Hamburg the metropolitan seat of an archbishopric that would cover all of Scandinavia and Saxony, from Lappland to Leipzig. On the latter front, Bernhard tried to torpedo Adalbert’s plans by marrying his son to the daughter to king Magnus of Norway and Denmark.

The other royal initiative was to expand the Ottonian heartlands in the Harz mountains. Henry III aggressively sponsored Goslar where he built his new imperial Pfalz. This building actually still stands today, another impressive testament to the great building boom of the Salian period. Furthermore, he also established a very special monastery in Goslar, the Priory of Saint Simon and St. Judas. This priory became a sort of stationary imperial chancellery. The main chancellery travelled with the peripatetic emperor, but some of its members would stay in Goslar. The members of the chancellery and the priory were trained to become bishops or abbots taking up the key positions in the imperial church. Under Henry III we are reaching the zenith of the Imperial church system we have discussed so many times in recent episodes.

Goslar was a provocation to the Saxons. Not only was the regular presence of the king an expensive exercise since the neighbouring counties had to provide the food to the court, it was also an affront to ancient Saxon rights. The Saxons would traditionally hold their assembly at the ducal palace in Werla, a place that no longer exists 20km from Goslar. Werla was a large palace covering nearly 20 hectares enclosed by a stone curtain wall with two or more gates, several towers, two palaces, one of which had a heating system etc., etc. pp. This was a place of Saxon pride and a demonstration of its ancient power. By building out Goslar, the Salians cut Werla out of the equation. The place emptied out and by the 15th century had entirely disappeared.

To cut a long story short, Henry III had it in for the Saxons and in particular its dukes, the Billungs.

In 1047 the Billungs had enough. Henry III had gone to a royal estate in Saxony called Lesum to meet with the archbishop Adalbert. Lesum was a bit of a red rag as well, since Konrad II had taken it off the Billungs under some legal pretext 10 years earlier. Whilst the Emperor and Archbishop met, the Billungs, duke Bernhard II and his brother Thietmar come around with a large retinue. During this probably rather uneasy stay one of Thietmar’s vassals, a certain Arnold confides in the archbishop that Thietmar plans to kill the emperor.

Arnold is made to accuse Thietmar openly which results in another trial by combat. There is no evidence on either side, so God is to decide. Thietmar is happy to go along, maybe less on grounds of actual innocence but more on his recognised prowess with the sword. Anyway, the Lord reveals that Thietmar was lying by means of Arnold’s sword sticking between his rips.

There is no record of how Bernhard II explains the situation to his overlord, but not much happen to him. Henry III may not yet have enough assets in place to take the duke of Saxony on directly.

There is a prologue to the story. A few years later Thietmar’s son captures his father’s killer and has him strung up between two dogs. That gets Henry III involved again. The son is exiled for life and his lands are given to the bishop of Halberstadt, further undermining ducal power in Saxony.

Apart from this attempted murder the Saxons held still and watched the erosion of their ancient rights and privileges with growing contempt and anger as long as Henry III lived.

Lothringia is another case again.

You may remember that the Brun of Cologne, the brother of Otto the Great had divided the duchy of Lothringia in two parts, Upper and Lower Lothringia in the 960s. Under Konrad II the two duchies were put together again by Konrad II. Konrad needed a strong duke of Lothringia as a counterweight to Count Odo of Blois-Champagne, his rival for the Burgundian crown. Odo’s lands bordered Lorraine and in 1037 he attacked Lorraine to seek revenge for the loss of Burgundy. Konrad II calculation worked and Odo was defeated and killed by the new duke of all Lothringia, Gozolo.

Gozolo’s success was a double-edged sword for his family. On the one hand he was successful in removing Odo, whose lands were divided amongst his sons. On the other hand, now the emperor no longer needs a strong Lothringian duk to fight the count of Champagne. In fact, the emperor wanted the exact opposite. He, and that is our friend Henry III now, he wanted a weaker duke who owes his office to him, the king.

That became even more so when Henry III met up with king Henri of France in 1043. In the meeting Henri agreed to let Henry III marry Agnes of Poitou, the daughter of the duke of Aquitaine and linked to the counts of Anjou through her mother. Henry now has a big enough stake in the French power play to keep any count of Champagne in check.

In 1044 he got the opportunity when Gozolo died. Henry III pressured Godzolo into changing  Gozolo  will. Instead of leaving the whole duchy to his able son Godfrey, hesplit the duchy up again. The duchy of Upper Lothringia went to his son Godfrey and the duchy of Lower Lothringia to his younger son Gozolo II, who according to the chroniclers was “ignavus”, which means something like lazy, slothful and cowardly.

That came as a huge surprise to Godfrey, known as Godferey the bearded. As ever so often there are no contemporary pictures of Godfrey the Bearded but the 19th century went to town on his beard. I will put some of the best images on the blog.

Godfrey had been sharing the running of the combined duchy with his father since 1044. Hence, he must have had an inkling that this division had not come about because his father suddenly found his younger son competent.

Godfrey simply could not understand why this was happening. Hadn’t his father and he himself served the Salians faithfully, spilled their blood to bring down the mighty count Odo? Had Lothringia not always been one entity since its creation in 843 with the recent division just a matter of administrative ease?

He made his disappointment known to all and sundry, which may well have involved bringing up an armed retinue to the royal assembly Henry III called him up to. Some sources claim he had conspired with king Henri of France promising the duchy of Lothringia. As we know every single king of France believes the duchy of Lothringia is his and wants it back. But it is unlikely Godfrey had already come to this point in 1044. Like Duke Ernst of Swabia, he thought he could negotiate with a Salian Emperor. Nope. As soon as he had arrived at court, Henry III’s court removed him as duke of Upper Lothringia. For Henry the role of Duke was an office, not feudal position. Hence if a duke refuses to accept the redrawing of the borders of his duchy, he is guilty of high treason.

As we know there is now only one thing for Godfrey to do – rebel. The fighting was ferocious, and Lothringia was beaten up severely. Henry III ultimately prevailed even though he did have to fight in Hungary and Burgundy at the same time. Godfrey was taken to the castle of Giebichenstein, the state prison.

In 1046 he was re-instated as duke of Upper Lothringia having handed over his son as a hostage. Lower Lothringia was taken away from the inept Gozolo II and given to another member of the Luxemburger family, who now ruled both Bavaria and Lower Lothringia. I know, me too. I cannot see why you bring down one family only to give it to another, equally powerful.

Another odd move was to enfief the count of Flanders with lands on the Schelde river and around Valenciennes. That irritated Godfrey, whose land it was, but the counts of Flanders were an ambitious lot with great plans, none of which involved strengthening the empire.

Inbetween the defeat of Godfrey and the re-organisation of Lothringia two things happen, one definitely significant, the other possibly important.

Let us start with the potentially important one. Henry falls gravely ill in 1045. What he suffered from is unclear. What is noticeable is that Henry III takes several decisions after his recovery that seem to be driven more by heightened personal animosity than political calculations. Or maybe he could just never stand duke Godfrey.

The other definitely significant event is his marriage to Agnes of Poitou. You may remember that Henry III had been married to Gunhild, the daughter of King Canute. Gunhild died in 1038 on return from Konrad II’s last expedition to Italy, probably of Malaria. Gunhild was an expensive miscalculation. King Canute drove a hard bargain, and Konrad II had to hand over the duchy of Schleswig to get the marriage alliance over the line. Canute repaid him by dying shortly afterwards, which lead to the disintegration of his Nordic Empire, making Gunhild politically worthless.  Moreover, the couple only had a daughter, Beatrice who became abbess of Quedlinburg.

Henry III should have got married quickly after that, but for some reason this did not happen. It took 5 years before he arranged the marriage with Agnes of Poitou. As I mentioned before, Agnes was the daughter of the duke of Aquitaine and the stepdaughter of the count of Anjou. That brings Henry great contacts in France but also some headaches.

As most nobles of that period, Agnes and Henry III were too closely related to get married according to canonical laws. The marriage immediately attracts criticism from the reform church, including from the influential abbot Siegfried of Gorze. Being French did not help either as some of the older curmudgeons disliked the fancy French dresses, haircuts and armour.

Another thing Agnes brought apart from Parisian, or more likely Bordelais fashion was a particular brand of church reform represented by the abbey of Cluny. I think we discussed Cluny a bit in the Germany in the Year 1000 episodes. Cluny was not just a monastery; it was a monastic empire. There were existing imperial centres of monastic reform like Gorze and St. Maximin near Trier. These monasteries supported reform by sending their monks out as abbots to bring back the strict interpretation of the rule of Saint Benedict. And that was it.

Cluny was different. If you asked Cluny for help to sort out your monastery or create a new one, they would require you to make it a daughter house of the Monastery of Cluny. That means it’s abbot reports to the Abbot of Cluny, who in turn reports to the pope. That in turn means the secular lord who held the monastery as an Eigenkirche until then, loses it to the abbot of Cluny.

A high price to pay for reform, but one the lords of France had been happy to pay, probably because their list of sins was so long. In Germany Cluny had made inroads, in particular with empress Adelheid, but were held back by the later Ottonians and Konrad II. Agnes opened the doors wide for the abbots of Cluny. Abbot Hugh of Cluny, known as the great, which makes him I think the only abbot who is called the great, anyway, Hugh of Cluny becomes godfather of Henry III’s son and heir.

There we are. You may not be aware, but in this short episode we have met some of the dramatis personae that will lead us to that great medieval turning point, the road to Canossa. Agnes of Poitou, Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen, Bernhard, duke of Saxony, Godfrey the Bearded and the great abbot of Cluny. Some people are still missing for the great play, but they will make their appearance next episode, when Henry III will take down three popes with one shot. Yes, it is time for our favourite pastime, an expedition to Italy. This expedition will be the most important imperial coronation journeys to Rome, not just for German history, but for the history of the papacy as well.

Stay tuned, things are hotting up.

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About Me

I am a history geek with no academic qualification in the field but a love for books and stories. I do this for fun and my personal self-aggrandisement.

I have been born, raised and educated in Germany but live in the UK for now over 20 years with my wife and two children. My professional background is in law, management consulting and banking. History has always been a hobby as are sailing, travelling, art, skiing and exercise (go BMF!).

My view of history is best summarised by Gregory of Tours (539-594): “A great many things keep happening, some good, some bad”. History has no beginning and no end and more importantly, it has no logic, no pattern and no purpose . But that does not mean there isn’t progress and sometimes we humans realise that doing the same thing again and again hoping for a different outcome is indeed madness. The great moments in history are those where we realise that we cannot go on as we were and things need to change. German history – as you will hopefully see – is full of these turning points, some good, some bad!

Hope you enjoy the Podcast