Henry III (1039-1056)

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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 behindA 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” .

Episode 26 – Henry III Comin' in Smoothly
byDirk 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).

The music for the show is Flute Sonata in E-flat major, H.545 by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach (or some claim it as BWV 1031 Johann Sebastian Bach) performed and arranged by Michel Rondeau under Common Creative Licence 3.0.

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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

The music for the show is Flute Sonata in E-flat major, H.545 by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach (or some claim it as BWV 1031 Johann Sebastian Bach) performed and arranged by Michel Rondeau under Common Creative Licence 3.0.

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




Episode 26 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.

Episode 27 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.

And if you enjoy the History of the Germans, tell your friends, your family, your neighbours, your followers, or anyone else you think may enjoy the podcast. It makes a huge difference.
See you next week

Episode 28 – 3 Popes in one stone

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans – Episode 28 – 3 Popes with one Stone

In today’s episode we will witness the very beginnings of what Norman Cantor described as the first of the tree world revolutions. We are laying the foundations to that moment Tom Holland compares to the crossing of the Rubicon or the storming of the Bastille. An event that shaped Western Europe into its own specific narrative that let it to get ahead of civilisations far older and far more sophisticated than its own. History would call this the Gregorian Reform, though it starts well before pope Gregory VII and Gregory VII was by no means its intellectual leader.

And like all great revolutions it starts with something the significance of which is overlooked by contemporaries.. Remember Louis XVI diary entry for the 14th of July 1789 “rien”, nothing.

Well in the case of the Gregorian reform it starts not with a nothing, but with something we have seen many times before in the History of the Germans podcast, a standard imperial expedition to Rome to acquire the imperial crown.

Henry III’s intention was in all likelihood to cruise down to Rome, get crowned during the now traditional winter months and be back across the alps before the malaria season starts in spring. That is what his father Konrad II and his predecessor Henry II had done. Neither of these had had any interest in getting embroiled in Roman affairs. They all remembered Otto III and how that had ended.

In October 1046 Henry III arrives in the capital of the Lombards, Pavia where he holds a synod. He could travel with just his bodyguard. The last 7 years he had made good decisions as regards Italy. It started with his mediation in the Milanese uprising we had discussed in Episode 26. He appointed sensible bishops who supported the reform of the church, and where he had made a mistake, reversed decisions based on advice. The Italians were glad to see him and regarded him as a good, if mainly absent overlord.

In November he meets the current pope, Gregory VI in Piacenca to hammer out the details of the upcoming coronation. Things are fine and both pope and emperor treat each other with the respect their offices afford.

Sometime after this meeting Henry III has concerns. The more he hears about the way Gregory VI has been elevated to the throne of St. Peter, the more he wonders whether his coronation would be valid.

To understand his concerns as well as the background to our much bigger story, I need to bring you up to speed with the history of the papacy since the death of Otto III.

The last time we have seriously talked about Rome was in the last years of Otto III, the young emperor who dreamt of a Renovation of the Roman Empire with its actual capital in the actual city of Rome. Otto III had appointed 2 popes, first Gregory V, one of his close relatives and then his tutor and spiritual counsellor Gregory of Aurilhac, who took the name of Sylvester II.

Gregory V and Sylvester II had tried to clean up the papacy, which for hundreds of years had been a plaything of the Roman gangster aristocrats and had failed to project any spiritual leadership outside the Contado of the city of Rome. Sylvester II tried to bring the two-sword theory into practice. On this general theory the Pope yields the spiritual power and the emperor the secular power. Pope and Emperor are to work in unison at spreading the word of Christ and preparing the people for the coming of the antichrist. He worked tirelessly at improving the moral and educational standards of the clergy, papal administration and ecclesiastical authority.

But Sylvester II only lasted a year after Otto III had died in 1002.

As soon as Otto III had left Rome in 1001 John Crescentius took control of the holy city. John Crescentius was the son of Crescentius II, the man Otto III had executed on the roof of the Castel Sant Angelo and whose body was hung upside down from the gallows of Monte Mario. Unsurprisingly John Crescentius did not like the Germans very much.

Like other secular rulers of the city of Rome before him he appointed a string of tame popes, John XVII, John XVIII and Sergius V, who did as far as I can see pretty much nothing of note. The only thing they did was refusing to crown emperors which is why Henry II took his time to become emperor.

John Crescentius died in 1012 probably of natural causes. With his death the Crescenti rule of Rome ended. They were replaced by the other leading family of Rome, the Theophylacts. We met them before. They had graced papal history with such impeccable spiritual leaders like the senatrix Mariaza and the debauched child Pope John XII.

The intervening years in the wilderness had turned the Theophylacts into battle-hardened warriors. To avoid the whole Malaki of having to find a suitable prelate to be pet pope, count Gregory of Tusculum decides to do the job himself. He gets ordained as priest and elevated to the see of St. Peter on the same day as Pope Benedict VIII.

Benedict VIII was a competent administrator and soldier. He mended the relationship with the empire and crowned Henry II in 1014. He even travelled to Bamberg to consecrate Henry II’s magnificent new cathedral.

When Benedict VIII died his brother had to pick up the job. Another same day ordination, election and elevation takes place. This Tusculum count took the name of John XIX. Things continued pretty much as before. John XIX crowns Konrad II in one of the most splendid and best attended coronations of the Middle Ages. He does however pursue a more independent policy from the empire.

In 1032 the next count of Tusculum ascends the throne, Benedict IX, a nephew of John XIX and Benedict VIII. He was quite young, probably 18 or 20 when he became the leader of Christianity. There are some chroniclers who claim he was only 12 when he was elevated, indulged in rape and murder and even displayed homosexual tendencies, though all that is likely imperial propaganda. But even 20 is not really an age when one should become pope. It is likely that his personal conduct fell somewhat short of the moral demands the office is usually associated with. Be that as it may, the emperors did not care as long as Benedict IX pursued a generally imperial friendly policy. HE even joined Konrad II during his campaign in Southern Italy in 1038.

Things get complicated for him in 1044. A “new aristocracy” in Rome is emerging that challenges the traditional mafia oligarchy that had ruled the city since the 9th century. The upstarts throw Benedict IX out and bring in a new pope, Sylvester III. By 1045 Benedict IX is back. For reasons that are somewhat unclear he decides that the papacy is not really for him, and he sells it to a gentleman called John Gratian. That sale is not propaganda, that actually happened.

John Gratian takes the title of Gregory VI and it is this pope our friend Henry III encounters in November 1046 in Piacenza.

News trickle through that Gregory VI has paid to become pope, which constitute the sin of Simony. That causes a serious problem for Henry III. If Gregory VI had indeed acquired the papacy in such a crass manner, then what is any of the sacraments worth he will be conducting. Could he, Henry III be taking part in a sinful act if he had himself crowned by a pope whose foul act condemns him to eternal hellfire.

He is now on theologically thin ice. And to say it in German “Wenn ich nicht mehr weiter weiss, gruende ich einen Arbeitskreis” which loosely translates as “if I am at a loss, I will found a taskforce”. That task force was the Council of Sutri in December 1046. For that he convened the main churchmen of Italy as well as the German church leaders who had accompanied him on his journey.

The assembled bishops easily dismissed antipope Sylvester III as uncanonical. When Gregory VI admitted to have bought the papacy in order to bring an end to the travesty that was the papacy of Benedict IX, that made this question easy. And Benedict IX did not even show up. Henry III in one fell swoop deposed all three popes.

He now needed a new one. And this time it had to be a proper churchman who cleans up the mess the papacy has become. Henry III knew a lot of proper churchmen, all of whom were members of the German Imperial church. He first asked Adalbert archbishop of Bremen/Hamburg and eternal scorn of the Saxons but he refused. Bishop Suitger of Bamberg was more amenable and is made Pope Clement II on the spot.

Clement II crowns Henry III and sends him back on his way home to avoid the Malaria. Clement II stays behind and dies of the disease within 10 months. The next volunteer was Poppo, bishop of Brixen, who as Damasus II lasts just 30 days before being taken down by the disease. In 1048 Henry appoints his cousin, Bruno, bishop of Toul to become pope as Leo IX.

Leo IX lasts almost 5 years. These five years are a crucial time for the papacy and ultimately European history.

The first smart thing Leo IX does is to make his acceptance of the papal crown dependent upon the consent of the Romans. That may not be quite a free election as such given Leo arrives with a contingent of imperial soldiers, but he shows the Romans respect which they appreciate. He is also coming back to a city of Rome that has changed. The Crescenti have died out and the counts of Tusculum are on the run. The whole place is looking for a new equilibrium.

The new thing is that the pope is now appearing on the international stage. Leo IX will undertake three major journeys to Germany in his 5-year reign, travel extensively across Italy and will hold a total of 12 synods. The key topics of his synods were simony, the purchasing of holy offices and the marriage of clergy.

Until Leo IX these gatherings of German or Italian bishops were usually presided over by the king or emperor. Now the pope takes a more hands-on role in managing the church. He begins a fundamental reform of the church infrastructure. That includes introducing the college of cardinals as an administrative body. Up until then the cardinal was just a honorific given to priests of the major basilicas of Rome. Now they get directly involved in the management of the global church. Leo paves the way to solve theological disputes using the new techniques of logic and dialectic that would ultimately become the scholastic method which will dominate European thinking in the high Middle Ages. The objective here is not just to make management as usual more effective, no, Leo IX is driving fundamental change and reform.

To understand the significance of Leo IX we have to see his actions in the context of some major changes happening in the early 11th century.

The 11th century is not short of momentous change. For one, there is a dramatic rise in economic activity brought about by climate change, improved agricultural methods and the replacement of slavery with feudal obligations. The agricultural surplus allows for the creation of markets, trade and cities. People as a whole are wealthier. They are climbing up Mazlov’s pyramid having much higher security of food and shelter than 150 years ago. That drives the demand for peace, as defined as the absence of violence we discussed last episode. In areas where such security is provided, self-actualisation becomes a more and more significant desire.

In the 11th century being the person, you always wanted to be did not involve yoga, veganism or podcasting. What people wanted to do is live the right life so that they would be chosen at the day of judgement. And the day of judgement was imminent as a 1000 years had passed since the passion of Christ.

We have encountered these extreme forms of piety amongst lay men already in the personalities of Otto III and Henry II. As the century progresses, more and more often just ordinary people feel the need to follow Christ’s example without becoming priests or monks They spend long time in religious devotion, give money or their labour to the church, help the poor and in extremis embark on self-flagellation or wearing of hair shirts. Going on arduous pilgrimages to Rome or Jerusalem is no longer something only churchmen and holy hermits do, in 1034 Robert, duke of Normandy leaves his worldly possessions to his 8-year-old bastard son and goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he dies. In 1096 ordinary people follow Pope Urban’s call for a crusade and set off on foot to Jerusalem, crossing Germany and the Balkans before being sent to their certain death by the Byzantine emperor.

This rise in lay piety scared the church no end. How can the church maintain their moral authority in society when the flock lives more saintly lives than the vicars sent to lead them in prayer. At the same time the laymen ask how effective prayer by a bent prelate could be.

We have been talking about church reform several times before. Led by the Abbey of Cluny and the reform monasteries inside the empire the church had responded. Since the time of Henry II monasteries were regularly reviewed as to their adherence to the rules of Saint Benedict.

Weakness in discipline usually meant (i) priests and monks living in relationships or even got married, (ii) the sin of Simony, i.e., the buying of selling of holy offices, which usually led to (iii) laziness, greed and incompetence.

If weaknesses in discipline are discovered, the abbot would be replaced, and things were put right.

The chronicler Hermann of Reichenau, himself a monk at that famous monastery describes the process as follows:

Quote: “In Reichenau on the death of Abbot Werner the brethren elected the monk henry. King Henry (that is Henry II), loathed his arrogance -although he had received money from him. Henry was hostile to the brethren, who had been subject of accusations in his presence. Against their will he appointed to rule them a certain Immo. Abbot of Gorze, a harsh man who at the time also held Prum. Some of the brethren, therefore, left that place on their own accord and some of them were severely afflicted by him with fasts, scourges and exile. Thus the noble monastery suffered for its sins a heavy loss in great men, books and church treasures..” unquote.

Two years later “King Henry, after hearing at last of the cruelty of Immo, removed him and appointed Bern, a learned and pious man….he was joyfully received and gathered the scattered brethren together again.”

This little story tells us not just about the effort going into the church reform but also the degree of success. Leaving aside the hypocrisy that Henry II had taken money from the abbot elect. But bringing Immo in and accepting a loss in the economic viability of a monastery as important as Reichenau was a considerable financial effort on Henry II’s part. However, it seems the measures did not achieve their ultimate goal as Immo had to be removed. The new Abbot presumably had to scale down standards to entice the brethren to return.

Such ultimately half-hearted efforts failed to cut the mustard with the increasingly pious laymen. They were looking for more and for better.

In the 1030s the next iteration of church reform, call it Church Reform 2.0 took hold. This next generation of reformers had little in common with the grand abbots of Cluny. They revived the ancient tradition of hermits and holy men who had thrived in the Eastern Roman Empire since the 5th century.   

According to Norman Cantor Ascetics came back in fashion in Western Europe during the 11th century because now people had enough to eat. Before that everyone was going hungry, making it hard to differentiate between a poor man and a saint.

We have met some of these hermits already, unsurprisingly in the company of Otto III the epitome of lay piety amongst early medieval rulers. There was St. NIlus who accused the emperor of overreach when he had Crescentius II cut to pieces and pope John XVII mutilated and humiliated. Another was St. Romuald who founded his own ascetic order. His motto was: Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.

From this purely eremitic tradition the community of Vallombrosa near Florence emerged. Their aim was to combine the ascetic, eremitic lifestyle with life in the community, preaching the gospel and doing good works. The rules were much stricter than the traditional Benedictine rule and involved vows of silence, seclusion and poverty.

It is out of these communities and spiritual tradition that two of the four most important Gregorian reformers come.

The first one is St. Peter Damian or Pietro Damiano.  He was born an orphan of a noble but impoverished family. He was badly mistreated in his early youth before being taken in by a cousin who was a priest. Once his intelligence is noticed, he is sent to study theology and canon law at the cathedral schools of Ravenna and Parma. In Parma he becomes a lecturer at the age of 25.  

He joins the hermitage of Fonte Avellano where he becomes prior in 1043. He will remain in this role until the end of his life. Pietro Damiano embraces the life of an ascetic hermit enthusiastically and subjects himself to extreme forms of devotion and penitence, including regular flagellation up to a point where he is near death.

But the solitary life of an hermit is not really for him. His true passion is to meet people, preach on street corners and squares, reaching out to the Common man.. In between excessive religious exercises and itenerant preaching he gets involved in the controversies that shake the church in his time. He has a habit of sending out treatises analysing and judging ecclesiastical decisions.

How smart or well informed they are, is a bit doubtful since he constantly declares individuals as the harbingers of a golden age, which includes the debauched Pope benedict IX and the simonistic Gregory VI, two issues he is particularly opposed to.  

His pet hates were Simony and Homosexuality.

Simony probably needs a bit of explanation. It is named after Simon the Sorcerer who makes an appearance in the deeds of the Apostles, chapter 8 verse 9 to 25. A sorcerer, as we all know is a wizard without a hat. Simon was -according to the account – a very successful sorcerer with a large followership in Samaria. When he saw the apostle Philip preach, he became a believer, was baptised and began to follow him around amazed by all the great signs and miracles Philip performed. At one point they were joined by Peter and John who could bring down the Holy Spirit by placing their hands on the heads of the believers.

Simon was mightily impressed by that and offered Peter and John money to learn this skill. He said that they should give him this ability so that everyone on whom he lays his hands may receive the holy spirit.

Peter was not happy and answered: ““May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

The interesting point about simony is that it is not a sin of bad intention but a sin of bad means. Simon the sorcerer is not ill disposed to the church. Au contraire, he wants to  do good, spread the gospel and bring the Holy Spirit to the believers. His sin is that he wants to buy the skills needed, which shows that his heart is not right. Hence when Gregory VI tried to justify his payment to Benedict IX with the argument that it was all for the good of the church, the argument does not cut it. He may have the right intention but uses the wrong means. We will find out how important that distinction is.

Pietro Damiano wrote a long work on Simony and how to define it and what its consequences are. The important question is what constitutes the “offer of money”. In the case of Gregory VI it is quite obvious, I pay you X to become pope. But what about the usual payments a new bishop or Abbot has to pay to his new liege lord? What about the abbot or bishop’s feudal obligations to the king? And then there is the question, are the sacraments performed by a simonistic priest still valid? Is a priest ordained by a simonistic bishop properly ordained, and if not, are his sacraments invalid as a fruit of the poison tree? Pietro Damiano writes three books on this subject, generally taking a somewhat pragmatic view.

Where he is not pragmatic at all is on licentiousness. His argument was -not unreasonably – that a priest or bishop engaging in every kind of immorality undermines the authority of the church and would bring down the wrath of the pious laity on them. He is particularly concerned about sexual relationships between priests and adolescent boys that were often covered up by their superiors – plus ca change. And then he is a full on rabid homophobe promising fire and brimstone to men loving men. Just when you thought, maybe the guy is not so bad, that thing comes out.

The other thought leader of the Gregorian reforms who appears in the 1040s is Humbert, usually called da Silva Candida after the church whose priest he was in Rome. He was a lot more dogmatic and radical than Pietro Damiano. In particular he believed that all sacraments of simonistic priests were invalid, including the acts of priests ordained by a simonistic priest. He also firmly believed in a very wide definition of simony that included any involvement of the emperor in the election of bishops or abbots.

I guess you get an idea of what is going on here. The church is under pressure to improve its image. Reform has been ongoing for a long time, but the outcome is underwhelming against the backdrop of growing lay piety. That creates room for new and revolutionary ideas about monastic life, priestly conduct and ultimately the roles of temporal and spiritual power.

And Pope Leo IX, cousin of emperor Henry III, member of the imperial church jumps right on to that bandwagon. Actually, the emperor himself is massively in favour of the early reform.

For Leo IX, Henry III, the mighty abbot of Cluny and even Pietro Damiano, there is no question whatsoever who should ultimately lead the reform effort, the emperor. After 200 years of papal agony and irrelevance, there simply cannot be anyone else who has the moral and physical assets to push through major change.

Ever since Otto the Great the world had operated in what Norman Cantor called the early medieval equilibrium. The world and the Church are one and the same. The rule of the world is in principle divided between the spiritual and the temporal, the pope and the emperor. But they are just two sides of the same coin. The emperor brings not just peace and justice, he also promotes Christianity to far-flung pagan lands and looks after the spiritual well-being of his people. Him getting involved in theological debates or church reform is not meddling, but part of the job. The pope should in principle do the same, but in all protagonists’ lifetime to date never did any of it. Henry III was simply happy that his cousin was shouldering some of the work.

A papacy that actually does something is new. Being present, living a moral life and caring about the spiritual well-being of the people dramatically improves the standing of the papacy. That is why Leo IX is so important. His change in papal standing creates an alternative that simply did not exist before. If the realm of the spiritual is managed well, there is less justification for an emperor to be involved. If we have a well run church, why do we have a theocratic ruler who claims to be the vicar of Christ on earth? After Leo IX the direct involvement of the emperor in church affairs is no longer the natural state of affairs. The two sides of the medal are drifting apart.

The other component that allows the two sides to drift apart is even less obvious to Leo IX and even more unexpected. The Normans.

I told you in episode 25 that the Normans will appear in the narrative and that they matter, like a lot. The Normans I talk about are not exactly the ones you probably think about right now. I am talking about the Sicilian Normans.

We are in the year 1048 now, 18 years before William the Conqueror sets sail for the English coast.  Normandy is the most tightly run state in western Europe outside the empire. Like in the empire central power is able to maintain order, prevent the construction of castles and stop the nobles from feuding. That is great for peasants but not great for the second, third, fourth and fifth sons of the Norman knightly class.

One outlet for their ambition had been to take service as a mercenary in Southern Italy. Southern Italy was a perennial mess where Lombard dukes, Byzantine viceroys, independent cities and the emir of Sicily are tied up in near incessant fighting. The Normans, the superheroes of the 11th century, show up from 999 onwards and everyone wants them in their army. Initially they work for cold hard cash, but as that is scarce, accept land and fiefs as payment. Konrad II for the first time enfeoffs a Norman lord with the county of Aversa in the 1030s.

From there it goes bang, bang, bang. Ranulf of Aversa takes over the much bigger Capua. Then the 7 Hauteville brothers arrive. They were the sons of a Norman nobleman, Tancred of Hauteville. The first to come to prominence was William, called Ironhand. The name came about when he decapitated the emir of Sicily with just one stroke of his sword. He becomes count of Puglia in 1042 after taking it from the Byzantines. William and his brother Drogo then attacked Calabria. William died in 1046 and was succeeded by Drogo who was murdered by a local mercenary. On whose orders, nobody knows. But there were still a lot of Hauteville brothers left. The next count of Apulia was Humbert. Humbert picks up Bari and by now, large parts of Southern Italy is in the hands of various Norman lords, with the Hauteville family the most powerful.

The rise of the Normans concerns Leo IX a lot. The last couple of hundred years the papacy’s neighbours to the south were the Lombard princes of Benevent, Capua and Spoleto. These guys may be well armed but spent most of the time fighting each other or the Byzantines or the Emir of Sicily, leaving the pope well alone. Projecting the development of the last 15 years forward Leo IX concluded that soon the Byzantines and Lombards would be gone, and he would look down the barrel of a heavily armed force of Scandinavian giants.

In 1053 he decided to act. Leo IX raised an army amongst the Lombards and Northern Italians supported by a small contingent of imperial troops. Near the town of Civitate in Puglia, the papal army meets the Norman forces led by HumBert of Hauteville and another Hauteville brother brother Robert Giuscard (“The Cunning”). The Normans were outnumbered and undersupplied. The situation was so dire that Humbert asked for a truce which Leo IX refused. When the two sides met the Normans did however win quite unexpectedly. The Norman troops displayed the discipline and cohesion needed to hold the line, something the motley crew of Papal allies lacked. Only the Imperial troops in the centre fought all the way to the end but were ultimately defeated. Pope Leo IX was captured and brought to Benevento, which the Normans quickly annexed.

Leo IX was held for nearly a year and treated with all the honours of his office. He finally made an agreement with Humphrey and Robert Giuscard, the contents of which are not known.

One man in Leo IX’s company direct observed these developments and drew his own conclusions, Hildebrand Cardinal priest of the Basilica of St. Paul outside ethe Walls. He realised the Normans were not only a military force that could counterbalance any emperor’s troops in Italy but also that they craved acceptance by the Holy See. Even before Hildebrand ascended the papal throne as Gregory VII did he forge an alliance with Robert Giuscard which made the latter king of Sicily and the former the most powerful Pope the world had ever seen.

We will spend a lot of time talking about Gregory VII in the upcoming episodes, so there will be a lot of opportunity to dive into his background, worldview and deeds as we go along. The only thing to point out here is a grandiose twist of Irony. Gregory VII whose great reform objective was to end Simony started his career in the chancery of pope Gregory VI, the one and only pope who definitely bought the papacy for cold hard cash. Hildebrand followed Gregory VI into exile in Cologne, never officially renounced him and even chose his papal name after his old simonistic boss.

Next week we will go back to Germany and look at the remaining years of Henry III’s reign, where we will find the other strains of history that inevitably drag the Salian regime onto the frozen field outside the castle of Canossa.  I hope to see you then.

Episode 29 – The last Years of Henry III

Hello and welcome to the history of the Germans – Episode 29 The last years of Henry III.

Last episode we left Henry III at the height of his power.  He had deposed 3 popes and put a new set of popes in place who responded to the great desire of Christendom, the reform of the church. The popes would fight the corruption of simony, the licentiousness of priests and the renew discipline in monasteries. In 1046 Henry III was not just master of the spiritual world, he also believed he had absolute dominion over his realm.

Oh Henry, cherish the moment, because this is not to last.

We already heard that the Saxons were chafing under the rule of a Southern overlord. Henry’s policy of expanding the crown domain into Saxony and his support to the bishops of Hildesheim, Halberstadt and most of all Hamburg-Bremen irritated the dukes of Saxony and its major nobles. In 1046 Margrave Eckehard of Meissen, one of Saxony’s wealthiest and most powerful magnates died childless. When he bestowed all his possessions to Henry III, the Saxons saw the encroachment tightening further.

At the same time the Slavs to the east of the duchy resumed hostilities. The defending nobles did not receive any support from the emperor, and even the bishoprics in Saxony failed to contribute to the defence of the realm. In 1056 a major Saxon army was defeated near the mouth of the Havel River, a defeat blamed on the absent emperor and his hostile policy towards the ancient heartland of the empire. Miraculously Saxony does not rebel yet.

That is something that cannot be said about the recently subjugated Hungarians. In 1044 Henry III had fought the successful battle of Ménfő and put king Peter Orseolo back on the throne. This improbable king of the Hungarian whose father had been the doge of Venice had stubbornly continued the policies that had already lost him the throne once. As before he relied of foreigners to govern the kingdom, mainly Germans and Italians who received all the plum jobs, rich heiresses and splendid fiefs. Last time the enraged Hungarians took only his crown and sceptre and sent him on his merry way. This time round they hoped to accelerate the learning process by taking his eyesight. It remains unclear whether the treatment worked since king Peter either passed shortly afterwards or ended his days in relative obscurity in Bohemia.

The new king of Hungary was Andreas, son of Vazul who was so brutally executed by Saint Stephen. Despite all possible grudges Andreas might have had against the emperor he did sent envoys with humble entreaties, offered subjugation to imperial rule and restitution for the treatment of Peter. Admittedly Andreas had not many options since a pagan uprising was still raging across Hungary and he needed calm frontiers to sort that out.

Henry III was given the choice between accepting Andreas as his new unruly vassal or fighting to avenge the feckless Peter. He chose, not to choose, which is probably the worst of all available options. Admittedly he was distracted by events in Lothringia we will talk about in a second. Doing nothing was particularly bad because it allowed Andreas to sort out his domestic issues without ending up in an obligation to the emperor. And when Henry III finally got round to attacking Hungary Andreas had built a string of border defences and renewed his army.

Between 1050 and 1053 Henry attacked Hungary every yearwithout much success. Sometimes his troops are being lured deep into the Great Hungarian Plain until the supply lines become overstretched making the starved soldiers on their emaciated steeds an easy prey for the fearsome horse archers. On other occasions the Hungarians held out in their re-enforced defensive structures like the castle of Pressburg/Bratislava until the emperor had to turn back home. Counterattacks into Bavaria followed that will become costly as you will see later.

In between these military campaigns the Hungarians would regularly offer peace and submission provided the emperor accepts Andreas as king. Even pope Leo IX intervenes on Andreas’ behalf. But Henry III remains stubborn.

The inability of Henry III to bring the Hungarians to heel affects the whole of his eastern European policy. The Polish duke Kasimir, who -after all- owes his throne to Henry III is contemplating rebellion, aka refusal to pay tribute. Equally the new duke of Bohemia links up with Hungary in 1055. Andreas marries the daughter of Jaroslaw, Grand Prince of Kiev who had created a veritable network of allies surrounding Henry III. Jaroslaw had married one of his daughters to the king of Norway and another to the king of France after Henry III had refused that self-same daughter.

Henry III’s Eastern European policy has not yet collapsed but is under severe threat.

What stopped Henry III to go  immediately after King Andreas of Hungary was another, ultimately unnecessary fight. You remember that in 1046, just before going down to Rome, Henry III had released Godfrey the Bearded from his jailcell and re-instated him as duke of Upper Lothringia.

While in Rome, Henry issued another one of his peace proclamations where he forgave all his enemies and in turn expected everyone else to forgive those who had trespassed against them. Godfrey the bearded was explicitly excluded from this act of mercy, a terrible affront that is hard to explain given Henry III had just received Godfrey back into his grace.

Despite this rudeness Godfrey still towed the line and remained a faithful servant. That only changed when the Dietrich, count of Holland continued his attempts to expand his territory at the expense of the empire and the bishop of Utrecht. Rumours were going around that the King of France had offered Dietrich support. Henry’s attempt to bring Dietrich to heel fell short as he struggled with the waterlogged conditions. On his return the locals were chasing the imperial troops with small ships like pirates killing many.

Seeing the mighty emperor flailing about, Godfrey saw a way to restore his honour. He joined Dietrich of Holland who had gathered another set of magnates in his quest, Baldwin, the count of Flanders and Hermann, count of Hainault. Now pretty much all of the Netherlands, Belgium plus what is today Lorraine are in open revolt. They devastate the imperial Pfalz in Nijmegen, one of the great residences inherited from Carolingian times where Theophano died and Henry III had got married in 1036. Godfrey burns the  city of Verdun to the ground and many imperial castles fell to the conspirators. This is now a serious threat to the Imperial rule.

What does Henry III do? He raises a previously unknown count, Adalbert of Longwy to be the new duke of upper Lothringia. That does not last long since Godfrey killed Adalbert in an ambush within a year. Henry III now appoints his brother, Gerard of Chatenois to be the new duke. Just as an aside, his family would rule Lorraine until the 18th century and with Francis I marriage to Maria Theresia become the ancestors of the Habsburgs in the male line. Not bad for a second rate count. But apart from this great optionality the count of Chatenois gets very little in terms of help from the emperor.

The picture turned in Henry’s favour after 1049, first because the bishops of Utrecht, Liege and Metz gang up on Dietrich of Holland and lure him into trap where he gets killed. Godfrey tries to take over Holland after Dietrich’s demise but get expelled by the bishops. These three bishops are clearly not to be messed with. The other military support came when henry could mobilise Danish and English ships against the count of Flanders whose expansion had raised concerns with the other states along the North Sea coast.

The final blow came when Henry III took advantage of having a pet pope in the form of Leo IX. He excommunicated both Baldwin of Flanders and Godfrey the Bearded. Godfrey succumbed and surrendered to the imperial mercy in Aachen in 1049. Baldwin of Flanders held out a bit longer but finally had to give up and sign a peace agreement with Henry III.

This may all look like a great outcome for Henry III. But by breaking the ducal authority in Lothringia he also created a political vacuum. As it happened the empire was either unwilling or unable to step into this vacuum which ultimately led to a fragmentation of power in Lothringia that weakened the realm’s western frontier.  

It did not take long for the problem to materialise, not even 12 months to be precise. The ink on the agreement between Baldwin of Flanders and the empire was barely dry when the cunning count concocted his next move. He married his son and heir to the heiress of the county of Hainault, or Hennegau in German. This brought Flanders a major dominion inside the Empire, to which Hainault belonged. Under feudal law the marriage would have required Henry III’s consent. Marrying without it was a breach of the law. So war returns. In 1053 the Baldwin and his son mount an aggressive attack into imperial territory, burning down the lands of the bishop of Liege. Henry III retaliated in 1054 with a large army but failed to dislodge the enemy from Hennegau.

The situation is so dire that Henry III calls Godfrey the Bearded back. Not that he makes him duke again, but he gets some of his lands back. He even gets a role in the war against Baldwin of Flanders. This gradual reconciliation may have been brought about by pope Leo IX. Leo IX had been bishop of Toul and had been close to the family of Godfrey the Bearded. Godfrey’s brother, Frederick was Leo IX’s chancellor.

But that improvement to the relationship did not last. For once it was not Henry III’s behaviour that led to the breakdown, but Godfrey himself. In 1054 he married Beatrix, widow of the count Boniface of Canossa and Tuscany.

Boniface was the most powerful secular lord in Northern Italy. He was a creature of the imperial rule in Italy through and through. His family owed its rise from obscurity to Empress Adelheid who awarded them with Mantua and other counties iin the 960s and Konrad II had awarded Boniface the mighty county of Tuscany in 1027. His relationship with the imperial house was further strengthened when he married Beatrix, a wealthy niece of Konrad II. His lands comprised a band of cities and fortresses going east to west across Italy including Mantua, Parma, Reggio, Modena, Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Brescia and Verona. Imperial rule in Italy was simply unimaginable without Boniface’ support. Boniface stopped French ambitions on the Italian crown after Henry II’s death and fought Odo of Blois for Konrad II

The relationship between Boniface and Henry III must have become fraught after the two men met in Florence in 1046. By 1047 when Boniface opposed the emperor and supported a futile attempt by the ex-pope Boniface IX to return to Rome. When Boniface died in a hunting accident/ambush in 1052, rumours spread that Henry III had his hand in the game. There were other people who held a grudge against Boniface who had conquered and burned many a city in Italy, so the rumour is likely unfounded. After all, it might have been the angry boar.

But do you notice something here? A lot of Henry III’s problems after 1046 stem from his stubbornness. Why did he insist on fighting king Andreas of Hungary who was constantly trying to become his vassal? What is it Godfrey the bearded had done to be excluded from the indulgence of 1046? And now he is clearly falling out with his most powerful vassal in Italy. Historians have two explanations. One is that henry III had a notion of imperial dignity that did not allow the slightest compromise or challenge to his rule. Hence King Peter, incompetent as he was, needed to be avenged, Godfrey and Boniface were simply too powerful to be tolerated. The other theory is that the change in behaviour came about after his illness in 1045. During that illness the magnates feared for the emperor’s life and -since he had no son at the time – lined up a Count Palatinate as his successor, just in case. It seems something in this period had changed Henry’s personality and outlook that contributed to the tensions with his magnates.

No bonus points for guessing Henry’s reaction when he realises his archenemy Godfrey has just got hold of a big chunk of Northern Italy by marrying the widow of Boniface.  Imagine Godfrey teams up with the Normans who had just won the battle of Civitate. Suddenly Godfrey would be the master of Rome and hence of the Papacy.

Godfrey tried to assure Henry of his unwavering loyalty, but there was nothing going. Henry mobilised all his supporters in Italy to oust Godfrey, which they managed even before the year 1054 was out. In 1055 when Henry came down to Rome for a second time, he had the dowager countess Beatrix and her daughter Matilda arrested and sent to Germany. Frederick, the heir to the lands of Boniface died around that time under mysterious circumstances, making Matilda the heiress to one of the largest territorial lordships in Southern Europe. That makes her the Matilda of Tuscany, who will play such an important role in our narrative going forward.

You would think that with Saxony grumbling, Hungary resisting, Lothringia in perennial revolt and a key ally in Northern Italy lost, this would be the full compliment of later rule issues for an emperor.

But no. You may remember that two episodes ago I said we would get back to the awarding of the Southern duchies to major magnates. Now is the time.

Henry III started his reign being Duke of Bavaria, Swabia and Carinthia as well as king of Burgundy. By 1050 all these duchies have been granted to other magnates, the only title he keeps is King of Burgundy. According to Egon Boshof the political logic was that the empire needed these mid-layers between the counts and lords on the one hand and the emperor on the other to function. Since Henry the Fowler only one duchy has ever been dissolved, Franconia after the rebellion against Otto the Great. But that did not last since the Salians established a power-base within the old duchy of Franconia that effectively replaced it. Given the fact duchies are necessary, Henry III decided to hand them to magnates whose main possessions lay outside the duchy. That way the new duke would be dependent upon the emperor. Or so he thought.

By 1052 the duke of Bavaria is Konrad, member of the powerful Ezzonian family. The Ezzonians’ main territories lay along the Rhine north of Cologne. By now they were no longer nouveau riche but highest nobility, tracing their line back to Otto the Great. Konrad of Bavaria like his predecessors, had been appointed directly by the emperor without regard to ancient Bavarian traditions that allowed for an election of their duke. All that should have made sure he had little support amongst the Bavarian nobility.

What happens next is a bit unclear. Some sources talk about a personal clash between Konrad and Henry over a marriage proposal. And there is also the question of what to do with regards to Hungary. Bavaria was the main battlefield of the Hungarian war which caused a lot of damage. It seems Konrad could not quite see the point of perennial, un-winnable conflict for the sake of revenge for an inept and now long dead former king. On this point he clashed with the Gebhard, bishop of Regensburg who took a hard line. The feud between Gebhard and Konrad escalated into full on revolt by the duke, who found support amongst the Bavarian nobles tired of having their lands raided.

Henry III deposes Konrad who flees to Hungary. He then awards the duchy successively to his 2-year-old son Henry, then Henry’s little brother and finally his wife, Agnes of Poitou. When Gebhard of Regensburg did not get the regency over Bavaria, he joined the rebels as well, as did duke Welf of Carinthia. This is now a major, major problem. The conspirators are putting plans together to have Henry murdered and Konrad to be made king. This plan would have had a good chance of succeeding given the issues in Saxony and Lothringia and the fact that henry III’s heir was a child of 4 or five at the time.

Luckily for Henry the rebellion collapsed when the main instigators, Konrad of Bavaria and Welf of Carinthia died in 1055. Gebhard of Regensburg is put in jail but returns to his bishopric after a year. Another conspirator ends up as duke of Carinthia in 1056.

This highlights the big difference between the way the emperors managed their realm and the way the French kings go about it. No French king in the 11th to 13th century would ever, in his wildest dreams, hand over a vacant duchy or county to another magnate, unless forced. Because the French nobles are constantly at war with the king, the logic for the king is to grab hold of any plot of land he can get his hands on and build an infrastructure that allows him to administrate this land without having to enfeoff it to someone else. When Phillippe Auguste in the 13th century rebuilds the French monarchy, he takes over Normandy and the County of Toulouse amongst others and incorporates them into the crown lands.

Compared to France, the empire is largely at peace. The prevailing ideology is that the empire is run through a consensus between the emperor and his major vassals who give him support in war and advice in peacetime. Yes, the emperors did try to build a territorial structure in the crown lands of Saxony around Goslar and in Franconia around Speyer. But that is small fry compared with whole duchies they often held in their hands. They did not create a bureaucracy that could manage a whole duchy directly on their behalf. It seems that ducal positions had to be granted to members of the highest nobility to maintain that semblance of consensual rule. The emperors increasingly relied on the church to provide administration, military support and a counterbalance to the dukes..

Talking about the church, Henry III even managed to weaken that pillar of his realm. The first incidence involved the bishop of Cambrai. The bishop’s lands had been subject to raids by the rebels in the endless Lothringian wars. One of his particular scourges was his neighbour, John of Arras. At some point in the fighting Henry III needed the support of John of Arras. He offered John the role of count of Cambrai if he would switch sides. Henry may well have thought that the bishop of Cambrai would accept this tactical decision. But he did not. Henry, caught between his promise to John and his obligation to the loyal bishop took the wrong decision. He forced the bishop to accept John using force. That caused no end of concern amongst the bishops of Lothringia who had been the main combatant on the imperial side. Equally bishop Wazo of Liege found himself exposed to imperial displeasure when he signed a truce with Godfrey the Bearded after a long siege and the emperor had failed to send relief.

These may be minor issues caused by a lack of understanding of the political situation in Lower Lothringia. But there is a broader context that causes the churchmen to question their position. We have no data on how severe the imperial demands for military assistance from the bishops and abbots were in 1050. If already by 982 the majority of imperial troops had been raised by bishops and abbots, it is likely that after a further 70 years of Imperial Church policy the army was predominantly provided by the church. We did hear about the abbot of Fulda’s complaint to send even more soldiers  after the previous contingent had been all but wiped out.

Polemic against the burden of military service on the churches is circulating and at a Synod in Rheims, presided over by pope Leo IX the bishops reiterate the ancient ban on military service for the clergy.

Equally churchmen begin to question the level of involvement of the emperor in the management of the church. Wazo of Liege wonders in 1046 on what grounds Henry III can remove the correctly ordained archbishop of Ravenna? And equally, is it really the emperor’s job to depose three popes in Sutri before appointing another? Aren’t the spiritual and the secular realm separate, one ruled by the pope and the other by the emperor. Wazo, who is otherwise a staunchly loyal supporter of the emperor even questions the anointment of the king. It is, he argues, not the same as the anointment of a bishop, whose aim is to give life, whilst the kings anointment gives him the right to condemn people to death.

Anonymous treatises start to circulate which condemn Henry III for his uncanonical marriage to Agnes of Poitou who was too closely related. This incestuous marriage makes him an infamus, a man without honour, who cannot even sit in judgement over laymen, let alone judge clerics or even popes.

When the abbot Halinard is elevated to archbishop of Lyon in 1046, he refuses to swear the customary oath of fealty. Halimard argues that his obligation is to first and foremost to god and the diocese, so swearing fealty would be perjury. Henry III had to accept Halimard’s refusal and invests him without oath.

The fact that the marriage to Agnes of Poitou was uncanonical is a recurring issue in the relationship with the church and undermines Henry’s position as leader of the church reform. The abbot of the important reform monastery of Gorze publicly and private criticised the marriage and the whole atmosphere at court and Henry’s choice of advisers.

And even in Rome Pope Leo IX was disappointed in the lacklustre support he received for his plans to fight the Normans. Henry III offered a small number of troops and allowed ambitious men to follow the papal flag, which attracted rogues and adventurers rather than proper fighting men who ran for cover at Civitate.

Towards the end of his reign Hermann of Reichenau, our most reliable chronicler writes: quote “At this time both the foremost men and the lesser men of the kingdom began more and more to murmur against the emperor. They complained he had long since departed from his original conduct of justice, peace, piety, fear of god and manifold virtues in which he ought to have made progress from day to day; that he was gradually turning towards acquisitiveness and a certain negligence and that he would become much worse than he was before”.

Henry III died on October 5th at his palace in Bodfeld in the Harz mountains aged just 39. He leaves behind his eldest son, Henry IV who is just 6 years old when his father succumbs.

Henry III had tried for a son for a very long time. His first wife Gunhild only provided him with a daughter and Agnes of Poitou bore him three daughters before the long-desired son arrived on November 11th, 1050 in Goslar. Henry III must have already known that he had not much time left. He made his nobles swear fealty to the newborn and again at his christening a year later. In July 1054 the now 4-year old was anointed and crowned by the archbishop of Cologne in Aachen, making him king alongside his father after having been elected in Tribur 1053.

All this looks smooth, though the election of henry IV had an unusual quirk. The nobles elected him and swore to serve him for as long as he reigned as a “just king”. In other words, they reserved the right to refuse suit in case young Henry IV does not turn out a good king who respects the rights of the nobility.

Well, we will find out in the next few episodes whether Henry IV is going to live up to these standards, whether the foremost and the lower men of the kingdom will give him suit as the just king when it is most crucial.

But before we go there, I have something special for you. As you know the History of the Germans Podcast has no advertising and I have no intention to go down that route in the future. However, what I am happy to do is help promote other podcasters whose work I respect and admire. Hence next week you will find Episode 1 of the Thugs and Miracle podcast by Benjamin Bernier in your feed. Benjamin is an exceptional storyteller who has taken it upon himself to bring you the story of France from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the fall of the Guillotine. In his more than 50 episodes to date he brings the ancient kingdom of the Franks to life. As you may know, I am not a huge fan of the so-called dark ages and have skipped over them somewhat casually. Listening to Benjamin I am wondering whether that was such a good idea. There are some truly fabulous stories there I missed. But only because I missed out does not mean you have to miss out. So listen in to Thugs and Miracles next week. I will be back on air on September 9th. See you then

Episode 30: The Three Roads to Canossa

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans – Episode 30: The Three Roads to Canossa

First up apologies for missing last week. I had to deal with a long-anticipated family issue that took me back home to Germany and left little or no time to work on the podcast. I am actually at the airport right now writing up this episode.

The enforced break had however a positive side. I could spend a bit more time on thinking about the structure of our narrative. And that is important since the time period we are entering right now is extremely complex. And what makes it worse is that events between 1056 and 1125 go bang, bang, bang, with important strands of the narrative happening in parallel before violently intersecting, and occasionally looping back on themselves. There is a confusing array of characters and locations, erratic behaviours and theological disputes, it is genuine playwright’s nightmare.

What is needed is a framework. And that framework – which I made up entirely out of thin air -, breaks the story down in three different main historical trends,

  • The first one is the conflict between the imperial central authority and the German magnates.
  • And second strand is the church reform, specifically the rise of lay piety that demanded priests, monks and bishops to lead exemplary lives.
  • And finally, the third strand is the expansion of the papacy from being just the most senior bishop into a role as the universal leader of Christendom

These narrative strands are nothing new. They have featured in our story before, in particular the first two.  But in the second half of the 11th century each one of them is on speed.

  • Let’s take imperial central power first. The emperors since Henry II have aggressively expanded central imperial power and created institutions, mainly by using the Imperial Church System. Henry II, Konrad II and Henry III were all competent rulers, each in their own way, who acceded to the throne at the height of their abilities. They could each build on the previous ruler’s achievements, pulling the realm kicking and screaming towards statehood. None of them were popular with the great families of the realm, the Babenberger, the Ezzonen, the Welf and the Hezeliner. And all  three were called tyrants by their magnates. In 1056, the crown goes to a 6-year-old and his foreign mother. It is payback time!
  • Church reform had gone on for a while. Why it suddenly became all-encompassing is disputed. Some believe it was the predominantly driven by fear of the Second Coming of Christ around the Millennium. Other, like myself believe the improvement in economic circumstances created room for self-actualisation, which in the 11th century meant religion. Whatever brought it about, it was a huge movement. And it was not just an intellectual movement but a popular one too. As we will see urban populations will go on the barricades asking for simonistic bishops to be replaced. Burghers and knights join the congregations of monks as lay brothers. What people cared more about than anything else was the route to heaven. Priests, monks, bishops were to chaperone the faithful along that route. To be a good guide and to administer effective sacraments and prayers that will be heard by the saints and angels, the churchman must not be tainted with sin. The people craved for Religious leaders who lived like the early apostles, dedicated to God, without material desires.
  • Meanwhile in Rome the fortunes of the papacy are turning for the better, creating the third major historical trend. The city aristocracy who had literally used the popes as footstools and ATMs lost control when Henry III became the pope-maker in 1046. The new German popes, in particular Leo IX and Victor II saw their role in reforming the church, not in pleasing some city mafioso. They wanted to get away from being just the bishop of Rome who would occasionally arbitrate broader church issues brought to him. They wanted the papacy to be proactive and to be universal.to that aim they reorganised the church, creating a college of cardinals. The cardinals would fan out across the world requesting better behaviour from monks, the removal of simonistic priests and obedience to Rome. The pope was to actively guide Christendom anywhere in the world. This did not automatically mean conflict with the emperor. Leo IX and Victor II were members of the Imperial Church system who saw themselves as partners of the emperor. They needed the sharp swords the emperor would to keep the Roman aristocracy down. In the middle of the 11th century new powers appeared in Italy who could provide the necessary security, whilst simultaneously imperial power in Italy declined. And that meant the popes needed nee allies.

These three strands, conflict between imperial authority and magnates, the church reform movement and the ascend of the papacy are not separate. They constantly intersect. Emperors using the church reform movement to control the magnates, popes using emperors to gain control over national churches etc. It is on these intersections that the great historic turning points come. And finally at Canossa all three lines of development come together in an explosive cocktail that created one of the unique features of Western European history, the separation between spiritual and secular power.

Ok. Enough theorising. Let’s get into the meat of today’s episode and put the new framework to the test. I hope it works because this is going to be messy. In this first part, the focus is on the conflict between imperial central power and the magnates.

Last episode emperor Henry III died in 1056 at the age of just 39. At the start of his reign, Henry III was the most powerful of the early German monarchs. He presided over a coherent political entity where he could maintain peace and order by edict. He directly controlled the three southern duchies, accepted vows of vassalage from the dukes of Poland and Bohemia as well as the king of Hungary, expanded royal power around the precious silver mines of Goslar and removed Godfrey the Bearded as duke of Upper Lothringia. His crowning glory was the council of Sutri, where Henry III removed three popes and replaced them with a string of reform minded serious German popes. In 1046 Henry III controls all three of the historic strands of the 11th century we had just discussed.

But after his imperial coronation in 1046 things began to fall apart. The Hungarians had thrown off their king, a king that Henry III had put above them. Henry’s insistence of revenge for this feckless former king Peter of Hungary resulted in an endless and unwinnable war in the east. The cost of this war was borne mainly by the Bavarians and Carinthians who stood up against their overlord when they could no longer bear it. Seeing the Hungarians gaining the upper hand was not lost on the Poles and Bohemians, who began asserting their independence again. Bottom line was that in the 1050s the situation in the southeast had become extremely fraught. Disaster was only avoided because the rebellious dukes of Bavaria and Carinthia conveniently died.

After the rebellion of the Bavarians and Carinthians, Henry III had become ever more suspicious of his magnates. He made first his sons and then his wife duke of Bavaria. In the charters of this period only his wife and pope Victor II are mentioned as advisors to the emperor. That suggests the magnates were excluded from one of their main roles, being advisors to the ruler. As we have heard many times before, the magnates cannot function unless they have access to the king. They are the senior managers who tell the troops that they will go and take their concerns, achievements, ideas etc. up to the 23rd floor. If the troops find out their senior manager no longer has a boardroom pass, they no longer follow him.

Even worse for the magnates, the people that surrounded Henry III towards the end of his reign were mostly Ministeriales. Ministeriales are these unfree knights, i.e., peasants with a skill for violence who have been given a knight’s training but remain serfs. Imagine how a haughty Babenberger or Welf, whose family goes back to Charlemagne or even Clovis feels about being pushed aside by some slave.

Whilst this sense of exclusion was painful for the Bavarians, Swabians and Franconians, the Saxon nobles had moved on from there. They had been excluded from the imperial favour for such a long time, they did not believe the Salian dynasty would ever let them back into their ancestral rights and privileges.. The magnates had been plotting behind closed doors for decades. Remember the assassination attempt at Henry III? In 1057 the Saxon dukes even considered murdering the 7-year-old king Henry IV since “he is likely to follow his father in lifestyle and character”. That is tough talk in a world where the murder of children of the highest aristocracy was frowned upon.

The situation in the West was no better. Unseating Godfrey as duke had not stabilised the situation in Lothringia. Au contraire, it created a vacuum that attracted new powers from both inside and outside the empire. Namely the fiercely ambitious and competent counts of Flanders expanded their territory into the empire.

And even Godfrey landed on his feat when he married Beatrix, widow of the margrave of Tuscany. That gave him de facto control over a vast territory that stretched from coast to coast in Northern Italy, from Mantua to Florence and Lucca. Effectively nobody could go from Germany to Rome or vice versa without Godfrey’s say-so. Moreover, thanks to his connections in Lothringia and with the Counts of Flanders, Godfrey was the only person who could engineer peace of the Western frontier.

Henry III may have had premonitions that he may no be for this world for much longer or had realised that some conflicts could not be won. In his last years he tried to find a compromise with his opponents.

Just before his death, he reconciled with Godfrey the Bearded. He released Godfrey’s wife and stepdaughter who he had been imprisoned in Germany. He might even have promised him to get his old ducal title back, something that happened 9 years later.

This must have been an exceedingly painful moment for Henry III. Henry’s entire policy was about curtailing his largest vassals power. But after 16 years of war, Godfrey had become even more powerful than he would have been, had Henry let things go earlier in his reign. Godfrey controlled both the Western and the Southern border of the empire. As we will see, he will become one of those powers that protect the popes against the Roman aristocracy, making him the maker and protector of popes and a leader of the church reform project. This role would pass on to his stepdaughter, the mighty Mathilda, margrave of Tuscany and shield of the papacy.

When Henry III succumbed on October 5th, 1056 at Bodfeld, an imperial Pfalz in the Harz mountains, he left this giant mess to his son, the six-year old Henry IV and the boy’s mother, Agnes of Poitou.

To say it right away, Agnes of Poitou is no Theophanu and certainly no Adelheid. That is not to say she is terribly incompetent; she just isn’t absolutely brilliant. And given the situation I have just described, absolutely brilliant is the baseline for a successful reign.

Luckily for the first year and a half Agnes and little Henry IV can rely on the wise council of pope Victor II, the last pope installed by Henry III. Victor II was originally the bishop of Eichstaett, a former member of the imperial chancery, and one of Henry III’s closest advisors.

Pope Victor II knew where all the bodies were buried and guided the regency successfully through the first few years. He managed the complex process of the pacification of Lothringia, including the peace agreement with Flanders. He strengthened the authority of the young king by elevating him onto the throne of Charlemagne in Aachen, a ceremony rarely performed by a pope in person. Then he soothed the bruised egos of the Bavarian nobles by giving them the opportunity to formally elect the young king. In exchange the Bavarians recognised the empress as duke of Bavaria.

This dialled the situation almost back to the beginning of the 11th century, i.e., the power structure before Henry II. The imperial government was acting in consort and upon advice from the magnates who in turn swore fealty to the imperial ruler. A great sigh of relief went through the ranks of the dukes, counts and nobles. As they saw it, the tyranny of the last three emperors was over.

This satisfaction with the new imperial governmental structure went so far that the magnates awarded Agnes the right to designate the new king, should the young king Henry IV unexpectedly die. That was not improbably since his younger brother Konrad had died in 1055. By passing the right to make a king to Agnes, the magnates got the best of both worlds.  On the one hand the risk of an interregnum and civil war was materially reduced if only one person chooses and on the other, this person, Agnes was happy to run the empire along traditional lines.

That honeymoon period came to an end when pope Victor II died in 1057. Having lost the wise council of the former bishop of Eichstaett, Agnes weaknesses began to shine through.

Her biggest problems were less the decisions she took but the decisions she did not take or delegated. Despite her long period as Henry III closest confidante and advisor, she failed to grasp the consequences of her actions. She lost the initiative and ended up dragged along by events, rather than shaping them.

The first thing she failed to do was taking direct control of the southern duchies. Carinthia had been vacant for a while, but instead of taking it over directly, she gave it to a member of the powerful Ezzonen clan. Then Swabia became vacant in 1057. And as with Carinthia, the royal family could not take direct control. The duchy went to Rudolf of Rheinfelden. Rudolf of Rheinfelden would not just get Swabia but also the administration of Burgundy, which until then was under direct royal control. Rudolf of Rheinfelden even married Henry IV’s sister Mathilda who he may have abducted against her or at least her mother’s will, which forced the royal family’s hand. Mathilda died shortly afterwards, but Rheinfelden had by now become a seriously powerful player in the South-West.

Making Rheinfelden duke of Swabia irritated the increasingly powerful counts of Zaehringen who had built a power-base on the upper Rhine and into German speaking Switzerland. Berthold of Zaehringen claimed that he had been promised the duchy by Henry III and he even produced a ring as proof. True or not, Agnes felt she had to at least compensate Zaehringen, so he gave him the duchy of Carinthia after the aforementioned Ezzonian duke had died.

And even Bavaria could not be kept in royal hands for long. Conflict with the Hungarians continued, despite or maybe because the imperial government finally agreed a reconciliation with King Andreas. Andrea’s son was married to another sister of Henry IV which should have brought the war to an end. But no, king Andreas was toppled by his brother Bela and Henry IV brand-new brother-in-law showed up in Germany with no kingdom. Imperial honour demanded that fighting resumed and Bela’s offer of peace was rejected. It is basically a re-run of the wars over King Peter. Neither Agnes nor her now 10-year-old son were the right people to fight this war. Hence Agnes had to appoint a new duke of Bavaria, Otto of Northeim. Otto of Northeim was a Saxon noble deeply connected with the Saxon magnates that just recently plotted to have little Henry run through with a lance. In one way the deal with Northeim worked. King Bela of Hungary capitulated, and the imperial candidate was installed as the new king.

But that is a modest consolation price for handing all three southern duchies to men, we will find out later will become the most dangerous enemies of the emperor Henry IV.  

As the lay magnates were enjoying this fresh air of freedom and opportunity, the spiritual lords did not want to miss out either. Archbishop Anno of Cologne was one of the most rapacious. Anno was a bit of a new man, coming from a more modest background than his peers amongst the great archbishoprics of the realm. And that meant he was out to get even bigger. His main target was the land held by the descendants of count Ezzo north of Cologne. The Ezzonen as they were called were one of the great magnate families regularly being elevated to dukes of Bavaria or Carinthia and were hereditary counts palatinate with possessions along the Rhine and Ruhr valley. When Anno comes on the stage, tensions were already running high between bishops and counts. God knows who provoked who, but in 1060 the Count Palatinate Henry plundered the episcopal lands and besieged Cologne itself. Anno seems to have set up his defences well and the count had to retreat. Anno followed him and locked him into his castle at Cochem. Count Henry, scion of one of the most powerful families in the land and a man who not too long ago was seen as a potential king should the Salian house die out, could not get his head round being beaten by some country parson with a fancy hat. He went mad, like completely mad and decapitated his wife. Before he could go after his son, the castle guards opened the gate and let Anno’s troops in. Count Henry’s little son survived and became a vassal of the church of Cologne. With that the archbishop of Cologne took over from one of the richest and most powerful magnates in the land. The archbishopric of Cologne is to this day the richest diocese in the world. As I said, the spiritual lords were having a ball too.

Whilst Anno of Cologne was riding high, another archbishop, Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen, had a much rougher time under the new regime. You remember, Adalbert was the ally of Henry III who tried to keep the Saxons down and build an ecclesiastical super-diocese that stretched from Lapland to Leipzig. With his sponsor gone, world domination had to be suspended.

We are now in 1061, five years after Emperor Henry III had died and it is clear, Agnes is not really in charge. Actually, nobody is really in charge. The magnates do what they want. Even the abbess of Gandersheim, a Salian princess, found herself humiliated in a court case before the papal legate.

But that alone is not enough yet to explain the dramatic events of 1062, an event I remember vividly as a story from my schooldays, and a story that again involves Anno, Archbishop of Cologne.

As I said, the really dramatic events usually take place when two or more strands of the narrative come together. And so it is here.

Let us first take a look at what happened on church reform in these last five years.

In 1059 Humbert of Silva Candida, the most radical of the reformist thinkers published his three books against the Simoniacs. His argument was as simple as it was radical. Any lay involvement in the election of priests, bishops, abbots, canons etc. Was a form of simony, even if no money changed hands. And furthermore any act by a priest culpable of the sin of simony was invalid. So if a simonistic bishop would ordain a priest, even if that happened gratis, the ordination was invalid. Any sacrament given by that priest would also be null and void.

That would obviously create complete havoc. But on the other hand, something needed to be done. Bans on simony had been issued since the council of Nicaea in the 4th century but to no avail.

At the Lateran synod in 1059 pope Nicolas II decided to take a staged approach, quote:

“We decree that there should be no mercy for the simoniacs to protect their indignity, and we condemn them according to the sanctions of the canons and the decrees of the holy fathers, and we declare with apostolic authority that they should be deposed. About those who were ordained by simoniacs not for money but freely, since this question has now been debated for a very long time, we remove every knot of doubt, so that we permit no one henceforth to hesitate over this decree.

Since the poisonous calamity of the simoniac heresy has until now grown up to such an extent that hardly any church can be found that is not corrupted in some part by this disease, we permit those who have been freely ordained already by simoniacs to remain in their orders, according not to the censure of justice but to the perspective of mercy, unless perhaps some fault from their life stands against them according to the canons. There is such a multitude of these people that since we are not able to enforce the rigour of canonical vigour upon them, it is necessary that we incline our spirit for the moment to the zeal of pious condescension. We do this on condition, however, that by the authority of the Apostles Peter and Paul we absolutely forbid that any of our successors should ever take this permission of ours as a rule for themselves or anyone else, since the authority of the ancient fathers did not promulgate this by command or concession, but the great necessity of the time extorted it from us by permission.” (End quote)

Bottom line is that Simonists will be prosecuted, but not if there are too many of them.

Papal decrees and theological treatises against church corruption did not remain behind the thick walls of the Lateran palace. The rise in lay piety drive calls to have well trained and well-behaved priests. This popular movement flipped into street violence in the largest city in Western Europe at the time, Milan.

Milan had been a hotbed of revolt all the way back to the time of Konrad II. This time it is the lowest classes, the Pataria, or rag collectors, who stand up and demand the canons and bishop live a saintlier life. They object to the senior clergy being married and having received their benefices against payment of cash. They worry that all their prayers are worthless and the doors to heaven will be barred to them. They may also be rebelling against the older grievances of overbearing Capitani families keeping a tight grip on all levers of city politics.

The Pataria expel their quite obviously simonistic archbishop and his licentious canons. The popes send legates to negotiate a settlement. These papal legates sympathised with the urban poor and their call for change, which so matched their own mindset. And so the archbishop stayed out for years. The Pataria and the reform wing of the papacy remained allies for most of what is to come. The bishop and his party looked for help to the emperor.

This is the beginning of the split in the Italian communes between the papal party and the imperial party that we would later know as the Guelfs and the Ghibellines.

With church reform getting another boost, let’s take a look at how the papacy as an organisation had feared these last five years.

As I mentioned before pope Victor II, the last pope appointed by emperor Henry III had died in July 1057. His death put the modernisers amongst the cardinals into a panic. With the emperor just a 7-year-old boy, who will protect the papacy from sliding back into the hands of the Roman aristocracy? In their distress they decided to elect someone quickly. The person they elected was Frederick, abbot of the great monastery of Monte Cassino. Frederick took the name of Stephen IX.

Why him? Well, Stephen IX was not only the abbot of Montecassino, he was also the brother of Godfrey the Bearded. And Godfrey, thanks to his successful marriage, controlled central Italy from Mantua to Florence. He was close enough and had enough lances to keep the Roman aristocracy at bay.

So far so good, but what about the imperial court? The last five popes had been appointed by emperor Henry III and the emperor was the de facto leader of the church and greatest sponsor of the church reform movement. Keeping this in mind, a delegation of cardinals, including the Cardinal deacon Hildebrand travelled to the imperial court to receive retroactive consent for their unauthorised election. Consent was granted, even though Stephen IX could not possibly have been Agnes’ choice. He was too close to Godfrey the Bearded and her husband’s personal dislike of the house of Verdun had extended to this amendable monk and key adviser to pope Leo IX.. Henry III had allegedly tried to have Frederick killed when he last came to Rome in 1055, which is why the future pope Stephen IX had to flee behind the walls of the monastery of Monte Cassino.

By the time of the papacy of Stephen IX the college of cardinals had become not only very powerful, but also increasingly dominated by three men. These three men were

  • Humbert of Silva Candida, the radical antisimonist,
  • St. Peter Damian, overall moderate and thoughtful, though rabid homophobe, and
  • Hildebrand, cardinal priest of St. Paul outside the Walls.

We talked about the first two extensively in the last episode. Now it is time to talk about Hildebrand. This is really worth it, because he will simply dominate the story from here on.

Hildebrand was born sometime between 1020 and 1025 in Tuscany. We know practically nothing about his family. He himself said that he grew up in the bosom of the Roman church, which suggests he grew up in the Lateran palace and was destined for a church career from his very first years. He may have joined a monastery upon reaching maturity, though that is not confirmed, nor is clear where he would have become a monk.

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

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

Stephen died within just 8 months of his election. This time the Roman aristocrats did not let it slip. Within 5 days of the pope’s death, the Romans elected Benedict X, an old school pope. Benedict X was a creature of the counts of Tusculum or Theaphylacts who had ruled the holy city and the papacy for centuries before emperor Henry III had put a stop to this.

But times had moved on too far to put the genie back in the bottle. The majority of the reform minded cardinals left Rome and travelled to Florence, the capital of Godfrey the Bearded. There they met up with Hildebrand and Humbert of Silva Candida who took charge.

The cardinals elevated the local bishop of Florence as pope Nicolas II. Godfrey the Bearded provided the muscle that pushed Benedict X out and brought Nicolas II into the city of Rome in January 1059. This time the delegation to empress Agnes did not ask for consent, but just for confirmation. The right to appoint a pope is rapidly sliding from the hands of the imperial court.

In May 1059 a great synod takes place in the palace of the Lateran that will have wide ranging consequences. The synod is led by the three most prominent reformers, Humbert of Silva Candida, Pietro Damiano and Hildebrand. The synod did not just condemn simony, as we have already heard in this episode, it also created the process by which popes have been elected ever since.

Nicolas II decreed that the pope is no longer appointed by the emperor or elevated by simple acclamation by the citizens of Rome, but should be elected by the cardinals, specifically the cardinal bishops, i.e., those cardinals that are bishops at the same time. The emperor was no longer directly involved in the selection of the pope though quote “due regard should be given to Henry, currently king and by God’s will future emperor”. The people and nobles of Rome are called upon to give an acclamation but are not given choice.

With that the imperial prerogative established with Louis the Pious, upheld by all four Ottonian emperors and most explicitly exercised by Henry III seems to have been cancelled. In hindsight we know that this is what happened.

However, it is not clear whether this was the intention of the bishops meeting in the basilica of the Lateran in 1059. The main concern of Hildebrand, Humbert and Peter Damian was not to throw off the yoke of imperial octroys, but to maintain the momentum of the church reform. Most specifically they wanted to keep the Roman mafia aristocracy and the anti-reform minded northern Italian bishops out of the selection process. It is about making sure no Benedict X could ever be legally elected again.

Preventing the election of an old school pope by papal decree is all nice and dandy, but in the world of 11th century power politics, swords count more than quills.  This was not lost the inner circle of church reformers and Hildebrand in particular. For now, they have Godfrey the Bearded as the protector of the reform papacy. But who comes after him? He had no sons, and his stepdaughter Mathilda was a mere woman. Well, they did not know that this Mathilda would turn into the Mathilda of Tuscany.

Hence, they needed insurance should the Roman aristocrats rise up, should the emperor turn against the reform or Godfrey the bearded die. And there were some rough looking fellows happy to provide exactly that kind of insurance, the Normans.

The Normans had kept expanding their territory in southern Italy after the battle of Civitate, where they had beaten and captured pope Leo IX. These guys had the strength of arms, but no further legitimacy. And that gave Hildebrand an idea. He offered the two leaders of the Normans, Richard of Aversa and Robert Guiscard to make them honourable men by awarding them titles in the name of the pope in exchange for military support against the Roman aristocracy and even the emperors.

That was a sweet deal for both sides. The papacy did not give away anything since they did not really have a claim to be the overlord of Sicily and southern Italy in the first place. For the Normans it was even better since they would have to fight the Romans and the emperors anyway since they had stolen their land, and now they were soldiers of St. Peter and get a free ticket to heaven.

The only one who looses was the imperial court, namely empress Agnes. And what did Agnes do? Well, this time she does something, but let us see whether it was a smart move.

Meanwhile in Rome pope Nicolas II died and the cardinals get a chance to road test their brand new system for papal elections. They elevated the bishop Anselm of Lucca to be Pope, who took the name of Alexander II. Anselm was well known at the imperial court, had been invested as bishop of Lucca by Henry III and had come to Germany several times as papal legate. So he was not an anti-imperial candidate per se.

The problem was that the cardinal electors as per the rules established in 1059 had not asked the empress for approval or even confirmation. And that was when she decided to finally do something. After years of passivity she finally moves, and what a move that was.

She received a delegation of Roman aristocrats and Northern Italian bishops who were concerned about constant papal meddling in their affairs. There were more than a few bishops and canons who did not like being asked by some pesky papal legates who the father of all these kids were who run round the episcopal palace. This alliance of anti-reform, conservative forces suggested the bishop Cadalus of Parma as the new pope. Agnes agreed and appointed him as pope Honorius III.

We now have a papal schism, and a bad one at that. Previously schisms did not matter that much since the pope was mostly acting as bishop of Rome and had little influence in say Reims or Trier or Canterbury. But now, after 15 years of proactive popes and cardinal legates driving reform in every realm in Christendom, now it matters who is the correct pope.

And the schism was blamed on Agnes, with some justification. And what makes it even worse for her is that her pope was with the bad guys! The Roman mafia aristocracy and corrupt bishops is not exactly the kind of company a devout empress and widow of the great protector of church reform should keep.

The military situation for Cadulus as pope was not entirely hopeless since he could rely on support amongst northern Italian bishops and the leaders in Rome. Hildebrand, by now archdeacon of the papacy, aka prime minister, created a papal militia, which over time turned into the papal armies of the 15th and 16th century. His opponents will later claim that he led the troops himself yielding the sword.

But irrespective of military success or failure, the campaign was a PR disaster of epic proportions. The empire looked bad, like really, really bad. This is not just about power politics; this is a fight over access to heaven and eternal life.  The emperor had gone from being the natural leader of the progressive reform movement to being the champion of the reactionary forces. How could that be squared with the emperor as the representative of Christ on earth, a notion that the last three emperors had set out so clearly.

When Agnes realised what she had done, she froze. Her entire background was in the church reform movement. Her grandfather had founded the abbey of Cluny after all. She took to her bed, pulled the duvet over her face and left all government activity to her advisers.

Something needed to be done. It was clear that Agnes of Poitou was past her sell-by date, and she needed to be neutralised before any more damage could be done.

In April 1062 the court stayed at the imperial palace of Kaiserswerth, today a part of Duesseldorf. The palace stands right by the Rhine River and at the end of the feast Archbishop Anno of Cologne invited the 12-year-old king Henry IV to check out his new luxury boat that was moored in the centre of the stream. As soon as young Henry came on board, Archbishop Anno of Cologne gave the order to raise the anchor, Anno’s soldiers surrounded the young king, and the rowers began pulling away towards the city of Cologne 20 miles upstream. Henry IV realised he was being abducted and jumped overboard. Unlike his ancestor Otto II Henry could not swim. He would have almost certainly have drowned in the cold and fast flowing river that day, had not count Ekbert jumped after him and dragged him out.

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

And Kaiserswerth had another effect. The young Henry IV will never forget how he was betrayed by his magnates. He would never believe that the dukes, counts and bishops of his realm would give him advice that was anything but driven by self-interest. Henry IV rely on a small group of often lower status Ministeriales and the senior nobles had their boardroom passes cancelled.

And Henry IV retained a deep hatred for the hijacking Archbishop Anno of Cologne. March 29, 1065 Henry IV celebrated his Schwertleite at the cathedral of Worms, a ceremony that declared him formally an adult. As soon as he had been girded with a sword, he pulled it to go after Anno of Cologne. Only his mother’s quick intervention saved the archbishop’s life.

Next week we will see how this impulsive young man deals with the next chapter in the escalating conflict. Tensions in Saxony flare up into outright war. Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg gained the young king’s confidence and established a rapacious regime that stripped the imperial treasury bare. Magnates are feuding with each other, and the peace and order Henry III had still maintained is crumbling. To top it off, Henry IV goes full teenager and wants a divorce, whilst the most aggressive and most politically astute of the reformers, Hildebrand becomes pope as Gregor VII.

I hope I see you then and if you enjoy the history of the Germans, spread the word, on social media, on your podcast app, on my website or even old school, by talking to people.

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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