Henry V (1105-1125)

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Henry V comes in for a lot of flak for the way he gained his crown, but what options did he really have? All could have gone smoothly had the pope not made a truly unimaginably generous offer…

Henry V – History of the Germans
Henry V – History of the Germans

Having deposed his father out of fear the empire would be lost, young king Henry V finds out that the train of history cannot be stopped, not even by the most cunning of plans A German history starting in the Middle Ages when the emperors fought an epic struggle with the papacy to the Reformation, the great 18th century of Kant, Goethe, Gauss, the rise of Prussia and the horrors of the Nazi regime. We will end with the post-war period of moral and physical rebuilding. As Gregory of Tours (539-594) said: “A great many things keep happening, some good, some bad” .

Episode 39 – The End of Emperor Henry IV
byDirk Hoffmann-Becking

This week we will talk about the last years of Henry IV, which, as hard as it is to believe, holds a final humiliation that capped the pain this man had already endured.

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 39 – The End of Emperor Henry IV
Episode 40 – Henry V’s Cunning Plan
Episode 41 – The Duke’s Rebuke
Episode 42 – A World Revolution?

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

Even though Henry V takes over from his father through treachery, the early years of his reign are a much needed reprieve from the turbulent reign of his father.

Things get out of hand when he accepts a proposal of Pope Paschalis II to forsake any involvement in the management of the church in exchange for receiving all of the church lands and rights back, a good third of all the assets of the empire.

Though the plan cannot be implemented against the staunch opposition of the princes, it has repercussion on the standing of the young emperor. How can the bishops and abbots, and their cousins, the dukes, counts and barons believe the emperor is a guarantor of their ancient rights, when he almost expropriated them.

Henry V finds himself quickly in a situation not dissimilar to his father. He tried to seal this can of creepy-crawlies with the Concordat of Worms…



Episode 39 – The End of Emperor Henry IV

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 39 – The End of Henry IV

This week we will talk about the last years of Henry IV, which, as hard as it is to believe, holds a final humiliation that capped the pain this man had already endured.

Before we start a just a reminder. The History of the Germans Podcast is advertising free thanks to the generous support from patrons. And you can become a patron too and enjoy exclusive bonus episodes and other privileges from the price of a latte per month. All you have to do is sign up at patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website historyofthegermans.com. You find all the links in the show notes. And thanks a lot to John, Jason and Demetrio who have already signed up.

At the end of episode 37 Henry IV was finally allowed to return home thanks to the reconciliation with his Southern German enemies, Welf IV and Berthold von Zaehringen. The price Henry had to pay for this reconciliation was fairly straightforward. He had to reinstate Welf IV as duke of Bavaria, and most painful of all, accept that Bavaria became a hereditary duchy, in other words, the king could no longer appoint the duke of Bavaria, let alone manage the duchy himself as he had done for the past 14 years.

As for the Zaehringer who had himself elected as anti-duke of Swabia against Frederick of Hohenstaufen, the deal was that Berthold retained the title of Duke, even though he was no longer duke of Swabia. He also received the royal demesne around Zurich, one of the most valuable of the crown’s possessions.

The net effect of that was that Swabia was divided into the ducal Swabia ruled by Frederick of Hohenstaufen and the Zaehringer Duchy in the south. Some argue it was even a three-way split, as the possessions of the Welfs in the eastern part of the duchy around Ravensburg were also out of ducal control.

The reconciliation with his last enemies meant that Henry IV could finally reign as emperor recognised across the whole of the empire. But this reign was now very different from the reign his father and grandfather exercised. Henry IV was now a First amongst Equals, a bit like his namesake Henry the Fowler had been. 200 years of expansion of central authority have been reversed.

The only right he still held on to was the right to invest bishops. These last 20 years, the bishops were often the only support Henry IV enjoyed. Amongst the secular princes only Frederick von Hohenstaufen had been unwaveringly loyal. The rest had to be bought or otherwise placated.

Before we get to the attack on this, the last real royal prerogative, there was one other thing that he believed his royal authority extended to, the protection of the Jews.

Those of you who have listened to the whole of Episode 38 may remember that Henry IV had declared himself the protector of the Jews in the empire in 1090. That was probably less of an act of religious tolerance than an attempt to raise funds for the depleted imperial coffers. Whether it was greed or enlightened self-interest does not matter because the imperial protection counted pretty much for nought when the crusaders massacred Jewish communities in Worms, Mainz, Trier and elsewhere.

Upon his return Henry IV initiated an investigation into these horrific atrocities, specifically the events in Mainz. He explicitly condemned the enforced conversions and allowed the Jews to return to their faith. Pope Clement III seconded this by declaring their baptisms uncanonical, which means they could return to their faith without being deemed apostate. That mattered because the sanction for apostasy was death.

Henry then followed the money trail and detected that a lot of the property of the murdered Jews had miraculously ended up in the hands of kinsmen and followers of the archbishop of Mainz, Ruothard. In fact a significant chunk of the assets had gone directly to this great prelate.

Henry could not let that go since Ruothard had been specifically ordered by the emperor to offer protection to the Jews. Ruothard had gone through the motions and offered the large Jewish community shelter in his fortified palace in the city. But when the troops of Emrich of Leiningen came knocking, the archbishop and his knights fled by the back door, leaving the unarmed men, women and children to their fate.

It transpired that the archbishop took 50 of the most prominent members of the community along and held them in a castle nearby. There they were offered freedom for conversion and compensation, which most refused resulting in them being killed or killing themselves in front of the archbishop.

Before the investigation was completed the archbishop and his kinsmen decided to run for it and hid in Thuringia for the next 7 ½ years.

That suited Henry well who took over Mainz as one of his preferred residences. It suited the citizens of Mainz even more as they thoroughly disliked their archbishop. This trend of citizens throwing their bishops out and forming their own independent city states is now really taking hold with Worms and Cologne leading the movement..

These next five years are a period of calm, most unusual for the reign of Henry IV. His rule is recognised by almost everyone. Once the Welf and the Zaehringer had reconciled themselves to the king, the only truly Gregorian base was the bishop of Constance, Gebhard. Though he remained the legate of the Gregorian pope in Germany, he had no more influence outside his own diocese, where Henry IV left him alone.

With his authority recognised across the land, Henry IV could move on to plan for his succession. He was now 48 years old, older than his father and grandfather when they died.

His eldest son, Konrad was still alive. You remember that he had betrayed his father and joined the Gregorian party. Pope Urban II and Matilda had promised him the world, including the imperial crown. He was even given a rich bride, the daughter of king Roger of Sicily. But, once the alliance between Matilda and the House of Welf had fallen apart and Henry IV had returned to Germany, young Konrad served no further purpose. He was given a modest castle to live in with his bride and was left to rot. Nobody called on him and even the pope who had promised to be his guardian and advisor never contacted him again.

But he was still technically King of the Romans and the future emperor, which meant he had to be formally deposed. That happened without much fuss in May 1098. Konrad ultimately died a broken man in 1101.

At the same royal assembly, Henry IV pushed through the election of his second son, also Henry. He was crowned King Henry V in Aachen in January 1099. His father had become a bit suspicious after the treachery of his eldest. Hence Henry V had to guarantee the emperors life and safety of his person on oath and was made to swear that he would never interfere against his will and command with matters of the kingdom, his honour and current and future possessions during his lifetime.

Hmm, this sounds long enough and legalese enough an oath to be broken some day…

Part two of the program was to make the current peace a lasting one. At the royal assembly in 1103 Henry IV declared an comprehensive peace to last for four years. He committed his nobles to preserve the peace for the churches, clergy, monks and lay brethren, for merchants, for women and Jews. Penalties for breaching the peace were severe. Perpetrators were to be blinded or would lose a hand for attacking and burning another one’s house, taking prisoners, wounding or killing a debtor, persistent theft or defending a peace-breaker. A castle where the peace breaker had taken refuge could be destroyed and his benefice could be seized by his lord and his possessions taken by his kinsmen.

That sounds again like a peace of god his father could have declared. But in the end it was not. The administration of the penalty was not to be done by the emperor or his appointees, but by those who had sworn the peace. It wasn’t the central authority that delivered the peace, it was the community, or so they hoped.

This peace is sometimes seen as the first act of imperial legislation within the context of the Holy Roman Empire, a construct not of a central monarchy but a mixed monarchy built around co-operation rather than command. It sort of was as the imperial peace or Reichsfrieden and its smaller cousins, the Landfrieden which became regular instruments of imperial rule. Yeah, maybe the Holy Roman Empire starts here, at the royal assembly of 1103. It is not called that for another 150 years, but the foundations are being laid.

The third part of his program to stabilise his reign was a reconciliation with the papacy. After Urban II’s propaganda coup with the crusades and even more so after the fall of Jerusalem in 1099, the old conflict between pope and emperor was resolved. The pope had won. No ifs, no buts.

The last obstacle was the anti-pope Clement III. As long as he lived Henry could not accept a Gregorian pope since that would have invalidated his coronation. Clement III was kind enough to die in 1100 removing this particular obstacle. Though. Cement’s cardinals elected a number of successor anti popes and held parts of the city of Rome, Henry ignored them.  

So, all could now be resolved. Henry IV called a royal assembly in Mainz where he proposed to send envoys to the pope to negotiate a settlement. And from 1100 to 1103 he made regular attempts to agree with Paschalis II.

With the question of who has the biggest now resolved, the pope came up with the next set of demands set out in the Dictatus Papae, the investiture of the bishops.

This whole fight between emperor and pope has been labelled the investiture conflict but you may have noticed that I barely mentioned investiture much in previous episodes. The issue made appearances all throughout the reign of Henry IV, going back to 1059 and it was usually included in the list of papal prerogatives.  But in reality, it wasn’t the big issue in the previous conflicts. All throughout this period henry IV had invested bishops and the Gregorian popes would happily receive bishops into their party who had been invested by Henry IV. Several of the reform popes had been present at investiture ceremonies performed by the emperor and kept stum.

But now, as the emperor was down, the popes saw the opportunity to tackle the issue.

What was the issue? The bottom line of it is, who appoints the bishops and abbots. In canon law, the question is a bit more complex. Because of the way the imperial church system had evolved over the previous two centuries, the German bishops were both religious leaders for the people in their diocese and feudal lords over the counties, castles, privileges and estates granted to their church. Under the early Ottonians the process of making a bishop consisted in two separate acts. Part one was the election as a religious leader by the congregation, specifically by the cathedral canons. Once elected, the bishop would then ask the king or emperor to be enfeoffed with the various secular rights of the bishopric. These two separate appointments were represented by the ring as a sign of the religious marriage of the bishop with his diocese and the staff as his sign of secular power. That sort of made sense, reflecting both the religious and the political dimension of the role of the bishop.

But as time went by the weight of the king and emperor in the decision who would be bishop had become ever more significant. The canons were aware that the king could refuse to enfeoff their chosen bishop with the lands, making them all suddenly very poor. Hence, they would ask the emperor for guidance in advance of an election. That then mutated in a process of direct orders of the king to elect so and so. Finally, under Henry III they dispensed with the niceties entirely and the king would invest his bishops directly with both the ring and the staff.

For the popes who saw themselves as the leader of Christendom and the immediate superior of the bishops, this system was unacceptable. How could a layman appoint a church leader, in particular a layman whose morals were not just in doubt but who was even excommunicated.

On the other hand, Henry IV could not relinquish the right to appoint bishops. That was literally the only power base he had left. The crown lands had been diminished and after the disaster in Saxony earlier in his reign there was no chance of building his own territorial power base.

We are at a complete impasse. Both sides want to come together, but they cannot get over this hurdle. Henry IV will send messages of peace and reconciliation to Paschalis II whilst at the same time investing bishops as before. Paschalis never writes back. Instead, he calls him “the chief of the heretics” and grants the soldiers fighting against henry in the constant border conflicts the same absolution crusaders received for going to Jerusalem. In 1102 he solemnly repeats Henry IV’s excommunication at a council in Rome and again releases everyone from their oath sworn to the king.

Henry’s response was to brush up his PR. He would make a big show and dance of his efforts to protect the priests and abbots against their rapacious secular neighbours. He would make another string of donations to the churches of Worms and Speyer. The cathedral in Speyer is by now reaching its completion as the extraordinary building that still stands today. He talks about going on pilgrimage to the Holy land to atone for his sins and he even writes to his godfather, abbot Hugh of Cluny, that he wants to do penance for his acts that ruined the unity of the holy church.

Did he mean all that? Maybe he did. He is now really old by the standards of the time and had been through the wringer so many time, I am wiling to believe he had enough. All he now cared about is leaving the empire to his successor in a reasonable shape and the conflict with the papacy resolved.

And most people in Germany agreed. 30 years of civil war had been enough, and nobody wanted a repeat. But as the failure to resolve the investiture conflict dragged on, the outward appearance eof peace and stability hid some profound disagreements.

All came to a head at an assembly in Regensburg, capital of the duchy of Bavaria in the winter of 1103/1104. Many princes from all over the realm joined the emperor and his son for great festivities.  One of them, Count Sieghard of Burghausen, a rich noble from Southern Bavaria showed up with an unsuitably number of retainers. He argued that he needed so much protection because the court was too friendly to the Saxons and Franconians and that he feared for his life.

He may have been right about that. On the 5th of February 1104 Count Sieghard was murdered in his lodgings in Regensburg by a mob of Ministeriales. Ministeriales you may remember were unfree knights who were obliged to follow orders of their owners, usually princes, bishops or the emperor himself. But they weren’t just salaried soldiers. They had received fiefs to fund their weapons and cover their expenses. They would build castles on these lands and -over time- become indistinguishable from actual knights.

 According to some chroniclers, the Ministeriales had been enraged by some judgement count Sieghard had made in respect of one of his own Ministeriales. It was clearly not a smart move to antagonise a group of heavily armoured thugs with a chip on their shoulder for not being real knights. The Ministeriales besieged the lodgings of Count Sieghard for six hours and even the entreaties of the crown prince King Henry V could calm them down. The Ministeriales finally broke in and killed the Count and his household.

Public opinion blamed Henry IV for this murder. Sieghard was a guest of the emperor and was hence under his protection. Henry IV had sponsored the Ministeriales throughout his reign and his voice should have carried favour with them. In other words, Henry IV had failed to do his job, which led to the accusation that he was condoning the murder.

Feuds broke out across the empire, and particularly in the Northern provinces of Bavaria where many of the local counts had Gregorian leanings. The rebellion than extended to Saxony where another count apprehended the imperial candidate for the archbishopric of Magdeburg.

It is civil war again and Henry IV musters an army at Fritzlar in December 1104. And in the night of December 14th, 1104 young King Henry V, son of the emperor and sworn to obey him in all his commands, leaves the imperial camp. He runs for Bavaria where he finds support amongst the relatives of the murdered Sieghard.

Henry IV has to abandon his expedition to Saxony and returns to Mainz.

Henry IV’s enemies rally around his son. The pope, who had almost given up hope to unseat Henry IV was clearly surprised to receive a letter from young king henry V offering him allegiance in exchange for support in his fight with the father. He also urgently needs to be absolved from his solemn oath to obey his father. An oath he had made before the whole of the realm and on the most precious relics and regalia of the land. Without absolution, his soul and his rebellion would be lost.

But hey, that is one of the easiest things to sort out. Paschalis argument is simple. Henry IV has been excommunicated since, like forever. What is an oath to an excommunicate – just hollow words.

Being absolved meant that more malcontents could join young Henry Vth’s banner. And malcontent the Saxons always are. Archbishop Ruothgar of Mainz is another obvious supporter, as is the nominal leader of the Gregorian party in Germany, bishop Gebhard of Constance.

Most of the year 1005 was spent in military walkabout whereby henry V failed to successfully challenge his father but gradually gains control of Southern Germany. One great coup was to get hold of the 15 year old Frederick II of Swabia, the son of henry IV’s great ally Frederick of Hohenstaufen who had died the year before.

The elder henry made a last attempt to take Regensburg with the help of the Austrians and the Bohemians. But after 3 days of a standoff outside the ancient city, Henry IV was betrayed by his allies and had to flee back to the one loyal area he still had, the cities of the Rhineland, namely Mainz, Speyer and Cologne.

Speyer fell at the end of October and Mainz was considered too dangerous, so he retreated towards Cologne. His son caught up with him near Koblenz.

Father and son finally met and first the elder henry fell on his knees and begged his son to end the inhumane persecution. Then his son fell to his knees and said he would make peace with him if only he could reconcile with the pope.

The father accepted to come to a royal assembly in Mainz to debate the issue with the nobles and subject himself to whatever conclusion the assembly may reach. On the promise of safe passage to Mainz, Henry IV dismissed his army and joined the camp of his son.

On the first day his advisors told hm that they feared his son would break the oath and imprison him. When he confronted him, Henry V repeated his guarantee to take him to mains.

And when on the second day the number of armed men in Henry V entourage increased, the father asked the son again, are you taking me to Mainz to state my case, and again the son guaranteed the emperor’s safety.

And on the third day…well do I have to tell you, yes and for a third time Henry V guaranteed his father’s safety.

On the fourth day henry IV was imprisoned in the castle of Boeckelheim. His goaler was a particularly Gregorian minded bishop who had little regard for an excommunicate imprisoned emperor. The former ruler’s followers had been dismissed except for three laymen, he was left without a bath and unshaven but worst of all, without being allowed communion during the holy days of Christmas.

There was no way Henry V would let his father appear in Mainz, a city staunchly supportive of the old emperor. He was allowed to come before an assembly in the imperial Pfalz of Ingelheim, but that was an assembly of henry V’s supporters. All the undecided and the supporters of the old king were left in Mainz.

Henry IV tried one last time to get himself out of the pickle he was in by displaying excessive penance. In a rerun of Canossa he threw himself at the feet of the apostolic legate, confessed his sins including his unjust persecution of the apostolic see and even performed the prescribed abdication. He then begged the legate to give him the absolution, having done all that was required of him. And if the man in front of him had been the pope, henry IV would probably have been absolved from the excommunication again, letting him fight another day. But the man in front of him was a mere apostolic legate who came up with the eternal rebuttal of the bureaucrat – I do not have the authority to release you from the ban. I will write to the pope who will sure acquiesce to your request. And even when he claimed he was in immediate mortal danger running the risk of dying without reconciliation with the church the legate remained unwavering – No can do. Do I need to tell you that under canon law he had been obliged to absolve the king under these circumstances? I presume you have heard enough about the Gregorian papacy by now to know the answer to that.

As Henry IV had now abdicated, his son Henry V was crowned in the cathedral of Mainz with the regalia he had forced his father to surrender and by that self-same archbishop Ruothard of Mainz who still had the blood of hundreds of Jews on his hands.

Henry IV was left in Ingelheim, apolitical and probably also emotional wreck. At some point he realise that his son could not let him live much longer and he fled. First to Cologne and then to Lothringia.

I have no idea how he did that, but somehow even after this last hammer blow, Henry IV did not give up. He retired too liege and when henry V send troops to capture him, his allies beat them. He then returned to Cologne where the citizens urged him to resume his role as emperor. When his son came to besiege the city he had to retreat twice experiencing heavy losses.

The father began to rebuild his power base and some disaffected nobles and bishops joined his side. He even opened up the possibility of giving in on royal investiture to split the Gregorian party. Things were looking up for old emperor henry in the spring of 1106 when he was suddenly struck by an illness. He died after nine days in Liege surrounded by his closest friends and advisers having received the last rites.

What a life. Henry IV had been emperor from 1056 to 1105, 49 years in total. In that time he was abducted by a faction of his nobles, abandoned by his mother, forced to marry a girl he saw as a sister, betrayed a hundred times by his nobles, forced to stand in the snow for three days to do penance, stabbed in the back by his eldest son , publicly accused of the worst misdemeanours by his second wife, and finally deposed by his youngest son. Where is the scriptwriter who sells the story to Netflicks?

He was initially buried in the cathedral of Liege but was soon exhumed as the archbishops and bishops objected to an excommunicate to be laid to rest in consecrated ground. His body was then buried in unconsecrated ground outsid ethe city. A few weeks later henry V demanded for his father’s remains to be brought to Speyer, but the citizens of Liege tried to keep hold of the body who they began to believe to be sacred. They would touch the bier for a blessing and spread the earth from his grave on their fields to ensure an abundant harvest.

Finally one of henry IV’s most faithful servants was able to extract the body and transport it to Speyer where it was placed in a stone sarcophagus that was kept outside his magnificent cathedral for five years. Only once his son had achieved a breakthrough in the conflict with the papacy that from now on is indeed the Investiture conflict did he obtain absolution from the excommunication. He was finally buried in the magnificent cathedral he had built in the year 1111. His son held a eulogy of his great and beloved father, emperor Henry IV of happy memory.

Next week we will look at how Henry V, champion of pope Paschalis II finds himself caught in the same gridlock that prevented his fathers reconciliation with the mother church. I hope you will join us again.

And in the meantime, should you feel like supporting the show and get hold of these bonus episodes, sign up on Patreon. The links are in the show notes or on my website at historyofthegermans.com.

The wheel of fortune turns again, tumbling our antihero Henry IV down from the heights he had so recently scaled. We will see him sink to the point of utter despair. And all that because a 43 year old woman marries an 18 year old.

Episode 40 – Henry V Cunning Plan

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 40 – Henry V’s Cunning Plan

In this episode we will see whether young Henry V will do any better at ending the conflict between Pope and Emperor, featuring one of the most audacious political moves seen in this conflict.

Before we start a just a reminder. The History of the Germans Podcast is advertising free thanks to the generous support from patrons. And you can become a patron too and enjoy exclusive bonus episodes and other privileges from the price of a latte per month. All you have to do is sign up at patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website historyofthegermans.com. You find all the links in the show notes. And thanks a lot to Ralf, Mehmet and Glenn who have already signed up.

Last week e followed our antihero Henry IV to his last and final betrayal when his youngest son, King Henry V rose up against him, like his elder brother Konrad had done. Henry V prevailed and the old emperor Henry IV died in 1106 still hoping against all the odds to return to the throne.

The king is dead, long live the king!

Who is that new king, Henry, fifth of his name?

In 1105 Henry V was 21 years of age. He was born in 1086, in one of the very few years of comparative quite in his father’s reign. But just 4 years later did the emperor go down to Italy where he would stay for 7 years, most of which spent in impotent rage against the pope, the countess Matilda, the German princes and his son Konrad. We do not know whether young Henry was with his father during this time or whether he stayed behind in Germany, and if so where and with whom..

All his formative years were spent in some form of limbo where he saw the ruler of the Reich being put under the yoke by his powerful vassals. In all likelihood Henry V did believe that it wasn’t easy to become king and even harder to remain king.

With that in mind we may have to retell the story of the end of Henry IV again. You see, last time you heard it from the point of view of the broken old emperor being subjected to yet another round of treachery, lies and deceit.

But now, let’s take a look at these events from the viewpoint of young King Henry V.

For him the year 1105 had become decision time. His father was old, so his last days were nigh.

At the same time the old man had been unable to reconcile with the pope, which meant that his rule was fragile and his succession even more so. Henry V’s worst-case scenario was that his father would suddenly die, and the Gregorian party would then propose their own candidate as king. All Henry V could rely upon was that he had been formally elected, anointed, and crowned in 1099 and that all the magnates had sworn fealty to him. But what is that worth? His own father was elected, anointed and crowned when the magnates deposed him in 1076. All it needs is a Gregorian pope to excommunicate him, and all that frankincense and Myrrh would fade into nothingness. As far as Henry V was concerned, his father needed to reconcile with the pope pronto or the new king’s reign would start with a civil war.  

After the murder of count Sighard and the subsequent Bavarian uprising that  reconciliation would not happen for a long, long time. Pope Paschalis’ policy is  reinvigorated and he can again see the opportunity of maybe, maybe unseating Henry IV after all. If he was unwilling to compromise when Henry IV was well established, on what basis would he do it now?

Well, there was one way Henry IV could achieve a reconciliation with the pope, and that was by giving up all the investiture rights, the last remaining open issue between pope and emperor. But that would also mean that the empire would be finished. No investiture means no control over bishops, which means no call on episcopal military, which means no central power.

That would be the worst of all worlds for Henry V, a contested succession to an empire that was barely worth of its name.

The only way to avoid that outcome was to take over right now, put himself at the head of the Gregorian party and take a stab at reconciling with the pope. He made his point quite clear in a speech before the Magnates where he said that “he wasn’t fighting against his father, but on behalf his father’s realm”. The realm had become something that was truly detached from the person of the emperor, a concept first put out by Konrad II almost a 100 years earlier. The individual emperor had to protect the realm, even if it meant acting against his filial duties.

In light of that I simply do not understand why some historians accuse Henry V of ruthless ambition. Yes, the way he lured his father into the prison of Boeckelheim may not have been cricket, but there he stood and he could do no other.

And if we look at the end result, from the perspective of the empire, the situation improved massively under Henry V.

The empire recognizes Pope Paschalis II, Urban II’s successor. The schism is over. Each bishopric now has only one bishop so that no priest has to worry any more whether he was canonically appointed and no parishioner has to ask whether the baptism, marriage or last rites were valid. The pope has endorsed and absolved the king, meaning everyone can fulfill the oath to the king without opposing the church. And so the magnates recognize Henry V as their king and future emperor. A major civil war has been avoided. The country is at peace.

And, for the next 4 years the magnates remain supportive of the young king. The king listens to their council and makes a number of sensible decisions. One of which related to the succession to the duke of Saxony. Saxony, as you may remember had been a hereditary duchy for some time and its ducal family, the Billungs had ruled (in inverted commas) the duchy since the time of Otto the Great. The dukes were not massively powerful given that some of the Saxon counts ruled territories large enough to be dukedoms in their own right. The last of the Billung Dukes, Magnus had died in 1106. He had two daughters, who were each married to one of these extremely powerful Saxon counts.

If Henry had granted to duchy to either of these counts, the other would have contested the election and Saxony would have descended into civil war. To avoid that, Henry chose a compromise candidate, Lothar of Supplinburg. Lothar was related to all the major families in Saxony and even some of the Bavarian and Lothringian magnates. But he did not have much of a powerbase himself. That made him a popular candidate with all concerned. Remember the name, Lothar of Supplinburg, because, as we will find out in a few episodes, all concerned does not include the King Henry V and his heirs.

Apart from the Saxon succession the other key imperial job was to keep an eye and occasionally throw a lance at the restless neighbors, namely the still irritating counts of Flanders, dukes of lower Lothringia and assorted other potentates in the West. As for the east, the pattern that emerges is that both Poland and Hungary drift out of the influence of the empire. Poland is increasingly looking even further east to Russia and the Baltic seabord rather than getting involved in imperial affairs. Hungary is expanding south. Its king became king of Croatia as well in 1102. Along with this southward focus, Hungary moved closer to Constantinople taking a neutral if not sometimes hostile stance towards the empire. Henry V tried to assert his increasingly theoretical suzerainty by supporting a pretender to the crown of Hungary, as Henry III had done before. But like him, the policy ultimately failed and Hungary will remain outside the empire.

In Bohemia, i.e., what is today the Czech Republic, it is the opposite. The dukes of Bohemia were roped even further into the empire as they were looking for support in their eternal internal family feuds. In 1114 the then duke of Bohemia confirmed his vassal status to the emperor by accepting one of the Erzaemter, or arch-offices of the realm. He became the Arch Cupbearer to the emperor. For the next few thousand imperial pints, Bohemia will be an integral part of the empire.

With the country at peace and the borders more or less calm, there remained only one really big issue to be resolved, and that was the conflict over the investiture of bishops.

Henry V had managed to gain papal support for his rebellion without having to renounce royal investiture. His smart move was not to negotiate with Paschalis beforehand. Hence the Pope was as surprised about events as everyone else. When Henry V asked to be absolved from the oath to his father, there was no time for the two sides discuss investiture. Paschalis had to choose to either refuse absolution and the rebellion would have collapsed, leaving him to continue negotiating with the intractable Henry IV, or to grant the absolution without conditions and see what happens next. He chose option 2.

And that meant once Henry V ascended the throne, he continued to select and invest bishops with ring and staff as his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had done.

The pope on the other hand kept insisting on the total ban of royal investiture, including a ban on churchmen given the oath of vassalage to the king. The problem was intractable and though both sides tried to remain civil and no excommunication was yet forthcoming, tensions are mounting.

Whilst Paschalis and Henry V are gradually falling out, there is some movement in the debate about investiture outside the empire.

Let us not forget that the right to invest bishops and abbots is a topic not just in the empire, but all across Europe. The King of France and the King of England are also at loggerheads with the papacy over this question. The King of France needs investiture mainly because otherwise he would be pretty much bankrupt. The King of England has more money but had been relying on the church in England and Normandie for his financial and military resources in the same way as the emperors have done in Germany.

As a consequence, there were similar struggles in France and England between supporters of the Gregorian reform and the kings. In England it was the fight between Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury and the kings William Rufus and Henry I.

In France the king had so many issues with the papacy, the issue was outsourced to his bishops. It culminated in the debate over the succession to the bishoprics of Sens and Beauvais. Maybe because the less intense royal involvement, France was the first to reach a breakthrough. The great canonical jurist Ivo of Chartres came up with the concept that royal investiture had nothing to do with the spiritual role of the bishop. All it did was to grant the bishop lands and rights from the king in exchange for the oath of fealty as regards his obligations as a vassal. Otherwise the bishop remained free in his role as a spiritual leader. That was gradually accepted and ended up in a modus operandi where the king would not hand over the symbols of the bishop’s spiritual role, i.e., the ring and the crozier, but the bishop would swear him the oath of fealty – and presumably pay for taking on the fiefs.

In England the struggle also involved the exchange of many a learned treatise, one of which even claimed the opposite of the Gregorian doctrine, i.e., that the king is by his anointment put atop of the church. After a lot of to and fro in 1107 the King of England and the Pope agreed the concordat of Westminster. That sets out that -as in France- the spiritual investiture was a purely church affair but that the new prelate was to make an oath of fealty to the king as regards his fiefs. The royal rights however go further than in France. The king had the right to be present at the election of a bishop or abbot and, in case of disagreement, has the casting vote. In that arrangement the king remained pretty much in charge of his church.

Whilst France and England reach an agreement, the negotiations between Paschalis and henry V are not going so well. In a first round in November 1106, both sides remained stubborn, and Paschalis reaffirmed the complete ban on Royal Investiture.

A delegation of German bishops and even a number of temporal lords with impeccable Gregorian leanings meet with representatives of Pope Paschalis in May 1107, but again negotiations run into the ground.

Whilst he refuses any compromise with the German side, Pope Paschalis goes to France and celebrates a solemn mass with king Phillip I and his son Louis VI in the church of Saint Denis. That puts the seal on that unofficial agreement over investiture and some other issues relating to the sexual incontinence French monarchs are so famous for. The church of Saint Denis is of huge significance as it is the same church where Pope Stephen II had crowned Pippin the Short and his son, the future emperor Charlemagne. The implication of this ceremony is straightforward, the pope wants the kings of France to take over the role of leader of Christendom from that evil tyrant from across the Meuse River, our friend King Henry V.

The journeys of Pope Urban II had already laid the foundations for this alliance between the French Monarchy and the Papacy, that the events of Saint Denis made public and for all to see. Over the next centuries the Capetian kings will use this papal endorsement to forge a coherent kingdom out of a hotchpotch of lands and rights around Paris. This support culminates a hundred years later in the Albigensian crusade where the pope promised a free ticket to heaven for anyone helping to bring the South of France under royal control. The French monarchs rewarded such support another century later with the installation of the papacy in Avignon under the watchful eye of a French garrison across the Rhone. I digress.

Back to year 1107. As the pope moves closer to the French and agrees the concordat with the King of England, he remains unmoved to the pleas of king Henry V. By now the German side realizes that the full investiture with ring and staff is no longer to be retained. In treatises presumably sponsored by the court, German writers begin to differentiate very clearly between the spiritual role and the secular role of the bishop, suggesting solutions along the lines of what had been agreed with France and England.

But again, the German delegations are rebuffed by Pope Paschalis II.

There is now only one thing to do. The king and the pope have to meet and thrash out their differences. But before he sets off, Henry V lays the foundation for another axis of European politics that lasted more or less until the First World war. He gets engaged to Matilda, daughter of King Henry I of England. She was at the time just 8 years old and the only surviving child of the Norman king. English History knows her as the Empress Matilda, adversary of King Stephen in the Anarchy and mother of King Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet kings of England.

This marriage was -as all other medieval marriages a political one. As the papacy aligned itself with France, Henry was looking for a counterweight, and who could be better than the King of England who was also duke of Normandy and hence in perennial squabbles with his southern neighbor. Henry also provided 10,000 pounds of silver as a dowry which was surely welcome. The slight problem was that the bride was only 8 years old and hence the marriage could not be consumed. Therefore, the happy couple could only get engaged. Now, the King of England was not prepared to hand over this kind of money for a mere engagement. So, instead of getting married, little Matilda is crowned queen in Mainz. Matilda will spend the next few years being educated by German bishops until Henry marries her when she turned 11, one hopes the consummation was still delayed by a few years after that.

His pockets refilled, Henry V sets off for Rome in the summer of 1110 and as usual spends the winter in Lombardy. He signs a standstill agreement with the Countess Matilda, who is still there, holding the keys to Rome. In February 1111 Henry V arrives at the gates of the eternal city.

The timing could not have been worse for Paschalis II. Like his predecessors he relied on the support of the Normans and the Countess Matilda in his squabbles with the emperor. Matilda had already decided to stand aside this time. And in a terrible twist of fate for the pope, the two leaders of the Normans, Roger of Apulia and Bohemond of Antioch died right around this time. Their future leader, Count Roger II of Sicily was a child. So, there was no hope for Norman support.

What to do now?

At this point Paschalis II comes up with a plan, to say it in the words of inimitable baldrick, a plan so cunning you can put a tail on it and call it a weasel.

Here is version one of how this plan came about: Pope Paschalis is a true Gregorian reformer who cares little about worldly politics, but a lot about the wellbeing of the holy mother church. And as he contemplates how to solve the problem of lay interference in the appointment of bishops, he has an idea. The king does not want the right of investiture because he wants to control the pastoral role of his bishops or abbots. He needs investiture because he needs access to the church’s financial and military resources. So, what about the church handing back all these counties, market rights, mints, mills and farms to the king in exchange for the king to completely withdraw from any interference with the bishops? Isn’t that the best solution? The church is free from royal interference and the king has no longer any need to interfere. Brilliant!

And so, he makes exactly that proposal to Henry V as the king approaches Rome. Henry V must have been dumbfounded by such an unimaginably generous offer. There are no statistics, but the typical estimate is that the church owned 1/3rd of all the land in western Europe and probably even more in Germany given the incessant transfer of land and titles to the bishops under the Imperial Church system. A generous offer indeed.

His advisors and even the king himself has doubts about the feasibility of this plan. How will the royal court administrate these enormous estates? Can you recruit enough Ministeriales to manage it? What about the bishops’ and abbots’ reactions?

But Henry V takes the offer. An agreement is signed and on February 12th he enters Rome for his coronation. He greets the pope on the steps of Saint Peter and kisses the Holy Father’s feet. As is the tradition, he swears to be the protector and defender of the holy church in all ways he could be of help. Paschalis then welcomes him as the son of the church and guides him into the forecourt of the old church of St. Peter.

The next part of the coronation was the scrutinium, an assessment of the fitness of the candidate to become emperor. It is here that Henry V formally renounces the right to invest the bishops. That is followed by the reading of the papal charter whereby the pope orders the bishops and abbots to hand back all the lands they own, every county, castle, farm and mill apart from those they had received as donations from private individuals.

And the result of this plan that was to please everyone was, was total mayhem.

The clergymen present had not been advised of the arrangements beforehand. In fact the whole treaty had been negotiated in secret between the king’s advisors and a small number of the pope’s confidants. These mighty bishops and abbots were not at all keen to give up their lands. Nor were the secular lords pleased with the outcome. Many of them held fiefs from the church, which they assumed would be lost to some ruddy Ministeriales under this arrangement.

Shouts went up, swords were drawn, crucifixes hurled and Rome broke out into rioting. The coronation had to be suspended. The parties tried to negotiate in the middle of the chaos. Henry insisted on the coronation and, since the pope was unable to hold up his side of the bargain demanded acceptance of his right of investiture. No agreement could be reached and by nightfall the still only King Henry V took the pope and his cardinals along into his army camp.

King and Pope left the city of Rome and set up camp at Ponte Mammolo just outside the walls. For 2 moth the pope and his cardinals refused to agree to Henry’s demands until they finally caved on April 12th. The pope and his cardinals issued a privilege to Henry V that allowed him to invest his bishops with both ring and staff – basically allowing him to run the imperial church exactly as his ancestors had been able to. Furthermore, he swore an oath to never bother the king again about investiture and to never excommunicate him. In exchange the king released his prisoners and swore allegiance to the pope and the holy church. And there was a side deal whereby Paschalis II released the old emperor Henry IV from his excommunication which meant he could finally be buried in his cathedral in Speyer.

All that was sealed off with the coronation of the Emperor Henry V which finally took place on April 13th. In May the freshly minted emperor set off home. And on the way home he scored another victory. He convinced the childless countess Matilda to name the emperor himself as the heir to her enormous wealth. How that happened, I have no idea. She had previously promised her lands to the seat of St. Peter.

All this looks like Henry V had achieved a complete triumph. He has been crowned emperor, the investiture controversy is resolved in such a way that all the imperial rights are protected, he is safe from any excommunication or papal interference and, to top it off, the empire gets hold of Matilda’s lands. 

Brilliant, eh!

No, not really. The agreement with the pope was so blatantly brought about by force, it was easily renounced. That happened as early as 1112 at a synod in Rome. The document was now called the “Pravileg”, the depraved privilege. Without waiting for any papal authorization several Gregorian bishops excommunicated Henry V, a process that was repeated multiple time throughout the rest of his reign.

As for the inheritance of Matilda, the competing claims of pope and emperor were added to the long list of their differences.

But the most severe impact was on his own vassals. When Henry V agreed to have his bishops and many of his magnates stripped of their possessions, the specter of an overbearing Salian emperor returned. The great lords had believed Henry V had become one of them, had understood that all the title provided was a role as the First amongst Equals listening to his magnates’ advice in all his endeavors and bound to protect their rights and privileges. But with the acceptance of Paschalis’ offer he revealed himself as a man in the mold of his father and all his predecessors. A man who wanted to consolidate central power, push down the princes into mere royal subjects and rule as a Roman emperor, not as a Germanic king.

As the emperor’s perception changed and the excommunications began to reign down, Henry V’s reign begins to more and more resemble the reign of his father. Maybe that was the true motive behind Paschalis plan all along. He was as cunning as a weasel after all. Next week we will see how henry V handles this next turn of the wheel of fortune. I hope to see you then.

And in the meantime, should you feel like supporting the show and get hold of these bonus episodes, sign up on Patreon. The links are in the show notes or on my website at historyofthegermans.com.

Episode 41 – The Duke’s Rebuke

Hello and Welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 41 – The Duke’s Rebuke

In this week’s episode the last of the Salians will find that despite all his efforts, the tide of history cannot be stemmed, almost leaving him in exactly the same place his father ended up in 1076.

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Last episode we left Emperor Henry V in May 1111 returning from his journey to Rome in triumph. The pope had confirmed the full ancient rights of investiture of the emperors. Not just that but the pope also promised not to bother the emperor ever again about investiture and had renounced any possibility of ever excommunicating him again. And, to top it all off, Henry V had secured the unimaginably rich inheritance of Great Countess Matilda of Tuscany upon her soon to be expected demise.

With more than anything anyone could have hoped to achieve, why the long faces, even amongst Henry’s entourage?

Henry’s close supporters, many of them bishops and abbots were still reeling from the events in Rome that happened before the pope’s hand was dragged over the signature box of the agreement by a rough looking imperial retainer.

You see, before all this heavy handed ness The pope had made a deal with the Emperor whereby the church would hand back all the counties, estates, market rights, mills and mints they had been awarded by the crown in exchange for the emperor renouncing any involvement in the selection and investiture of prelates.

Even though the deal collapsed as soon as it had been made public, for the bishops it was the ultimate betrayal. Their king had been willing to strip them of all their ancient rights and privileges. After all these centuries of service to the king, he was happy to drop them.

It is not just that. If Henry V had indeed taken back all the church’s lands and rights into his direct ownership and control, he would have been able to establish an all-powerful central authority. Something his father, with much less resources had tried to do in Saxony. Imagine what the son could have done with more than a third of all the assets of the country. A tyranny is what the bishops, abbots and their cousins, the dukes, counts, lords and knights would have called it.

It did not happen, but from this moment onwards all these bishops, abbots, dukes, counts, lords and knights no longer believed the king was the guarantor of their rights and freedoms. They now had to protect these rights by joining up together, against the king. It is from now that the documents begin to call all of these potentates, be they secular lords or bishops and abbots as princes. And these princes began to see themselves as the mutual guarantors of each other’s status against royal overreach. The Imperial Church, if it ever was under orders of the king, no longer sees itself as the instrument of the crown. These men, and very few women were Princes now, focused on expanding their territorial power and supporting their brethren.

How sudden this shift happens becomes visible in the person of Adalbert, chancellor of Henry V. He was a member of the inner circle of Henry’s government. He was one of the handful of people involved in  the initial negotiations with Pope Paschalis II that had led to that infamous deal in February 1111. In recognition of his services, Adalbert was made archbishop of Mainz that same year.

When Adalbert arrived at Mainz, he decided that his archdiocese could not rely on the protection from the emperor. What was needed was a strong, coherent territorial power base that would allow him in extremis to give the “dos fingos” to the emperor.

Mainz being a mere 30 miles from the Salian heartlands around Worms the archbishop quickly found himself in a direct conflict with his former boss. The ultimate point of contention was the castle of Trifels, at this point still a modest fortification on a very promising location in the Palatinate. The two former friends came to blows and after alleging Adalbert was about to attack, Henry V had the archbishop arrested in 1112. That resulted in an outcry not just in Germany, but even in Rome where Pope Paschalis II intervened on behalf of his former adversary.

Henry took the Trifels and turned it into an imperial fortress, and probably one of the most famous ones. For a hundred years it will the place where the imperial regalia would be held for safekeeping, and it was also where King Richard Lionheart will be imprisoned.

The conflict with Adalbert was not the only indication that things weren’t right. Whilst Henry V maintained the outright façade of a ruler who acted always in concert with his magnates, backstage he was gradually building a royal territory in the Rhineland, sort of what his father had tried to do in Saxony. For that he relied on his Ministeriales who he supported across the whole of the realm. When he was called to adjudicate conflicts between nobles and Ministeriales, it seemed to the magnates that their Emperor would always side with the Ministeriales.

One of these disputes escalated and the Duke of Saxony with some of his magnates decided to abduct one of these litigious ministeriales who had appealed to the imperial court. That was a direct challenge to imperial authority. Henry V deposed the Duke of Soxony, who was, you may remember a certain Lothar of Supplinburg. Remember the name. He will be important. In this initial effort Henry V was very successful. He apprehended the duke as well as a number of Saxon Magnates. One of them had also been the Count Palatinate holding lands along the river adjacent to the Salian lands. Henry V removed the title and lands and granted them to one of his closest followers. This was again another move to create a coherent power base around his family lands.

In 1113 Henry V looks as if he is on top of the world. His adversaries in Germany have not been able to foil his plans and he calls a royal assembly in Mainz. It is a splendid occasion where Henry V formally marries Matilda of England, now 11 years old. The duke of Saxony, Lothar of Supplinburg submits and is received back into the imperial grace. Some of his co-conspirators are not so lucky and remain in jail.

All that leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth of many a mighty lord. The attempt to strip the church of its lands, the expansion of royal territory, the support of the Ministeriales and the incarceration of Adalbert and the conspirators makes Henry V look very much like his dad.

The rebellion starts in Cologne where the archbishop and the now very powerful city reject imperial rule. When Henry V’s attempt to besiege and subdue Cologne fails, the rebels are joined by various Lotharingian nobles, always willing to push back imperial control.

When Henry fights these combined forces and loses the whole of Northern Germany is encouraged to refute imperial authority.

Henry V changes tack and calls a royal assembly in Goslar to debate the issues and maybe find a compromise. When nobody who matters shows up, the severity of the situation is becoming clear.

A major military conflict is now inevitable.

On February 11th, 1115 in a place called Welfenholze the armies of Lothar of Supplinburg, mostly Saxons and people from the lower Rhine face up against the imperial army under Henry’s general, Count Hoyer von Mansfeld.

Not much detail is known about the battle. It seems that at some point the Saxons were under severe pressure and Hoyer von Mansfeld set out to bring the Duke Lothar of Supplinburg down himself. In that attack the imperial general was felled by a Saxon nobleman. After that the imperial army lost cohesion and the Saxons prevailed.

Lothar uses his advantage and  quickly consolidates his position in the North occupying the Harz mountains including the silver mines in Goslar as well as Westphalia. From this point onwards Henry V will no longer have any power in Northern Germany. The citizens of Mainz even force him to release Adalbert their archbishop, who immediately joins Lothar’s army.

The excommunications that had been raining down on henry since 1111 not from the pope himself but from various bishops and archbishops. He could initially ignore them but now the bans are  taking effect. Kicking a guy when he is down. Bishops are leaving the imperial camp as are many of the lay lords. The rebels hold an assembly in Cologne 1115 where they endorse the excommunication.

Henry’s saving grace were the southern lords, the Staufer, the Welfs and the Zaehringer who remained loyal. In that respect he was luckier than his dad who had to fight both the North and the South West. The lack of support in the south may have been the reason his opponents did not proceed to elect an anti-king as they had done in 1077..

From now on there is this odd situation that the country is split in half. The north is run by Lothar of Supplinburg, whilst the south is held by Henry V and his allies. The two sides kept fighting along the faultline, which was more or less along the Rhine and Main rivers. But neither side was able to mount an invasion of their enemy’s territory.

In this gridlock the news break that Matilda of Tuscany has died at the ripe old age of 69. Henry V sees this inheritance as crucial to tilt the overall balance in his favor. With the wealth of Northern Italy behind him he may be able to break his opponent’s stranglehold and establish true imperial control of the Reich. This logic will become the mainstay of imperial policy for the next century. Henry V’s ultimate successors, the Staufer will pursue a strategy of gaining resources in Italy as a means to defeat their enemies in the north.

In this, the first time the plan was implemented, it went surprisingly well. Even though Henry V had arrived without an army, he could take possession of most of Matilda’s assets and awarded her imperial fiefs to loyal men.

Whilst he was in Italy, opportunity came knocking. Pope Paschalis II had been expelled from the city of Rome. You may remember that old aristocracy of the Crescenti and the Tuscolani had become casualties of the Gregorian reform and the subsequent destruction of Rome by Robert Guiscard. By now a new set of families were taking control. The two leading clans now were the Pierleoni and the Frangipani. The Frangipani had risen within the old system of city government and one of their ancestors had been the prefect of the city. They converted the Colosseum into their private fortress. The Pierleoni were of a different sort. They were merchants and financiers who had most probably converted from Judaism in the late 11th century. They operated mainly as an urban family with their headquarters in the former Roman Theatre of Marcellus, that they had converted into their fortress.

At this time several of the ancient Roman monuments served as family strongholds. The Capitoline Hill was the seat of the  Corsi family and the Palatine was held by a other clan. The Mausoleum of Hadrian had been Rome’s most formidable fortification, the Castello Sant Angelo for centuries. As in many Italian cities the ruling families lived in heavily fortified compounds to protect themselves against their rivals.

It was one of these conflicts between the major aristocratic families that led to the expulsion of the Pope. Paschalis II had supported a Pierleoni to become City prefect. That annoyed the Frangipani who started rioting.  The rioters gained the upper hand and the pope, as well as their Pierleoni. Followers had to leave the city.

That meant the city was open for Henry V who entered in early 1117. There was not much for him to do in rome other than demonstrate to Paschalis that he should call back his excommunicating prelates if he wants his city back. But since he was there why not celebrate a coronation.

Maybe a quick word on coronations. There are generally two types. There is the “real coronation where an individual is elevated to a new status as king, queen, emperor or empress. And there are the festive coronations. These are sort of re-enactments of the actual coronation performed quite regularly at major gatherings like royal assemblies or on important church holidays. These were festivals meant to show off the magnificence and holiness of the monarch.

The coronation in Rome in 1117 was probably a bit of both. Henry was already emperor, so for him it was just a reenactment. But his new bride had not yet been crowned empress, so it may have been intended as an elevation of her to imperial status. Henry’s party planners quickly ran up against an obstacle. None of the cardinals still resident in Rome were willing to crown the young lady. Finally, a bishop, Maurice of Braga could be convinced to put a crown on the head of the wife of the emperor. This ceremony, even in the widest definition of the word coronation, could not be regarded as a valid elevation of Matilda to Empress. For that you need a pope actual or antipope, or at least someone authorised by a pope. Maurice of a Braga was neither on the day of Matilda’s coronation. Hence when English history talks about the Empress Matilda, she wasn’t really an empress.

The proceedings were still irritating enough for the actual pope Paschalis II to excommunicate the hapless bishop Maurice of Braga. This did not facilitate any further rapprochement between emperor and pope.

In the summer of 1117 Henry left Rome, as he had to if he wanted to avoid dying from malaria. As we all know, come the summer the Germans die in Rome.  That allowed Paschalis II to get back in, thinking he was made of sterner stuff. Paschalis and his team stayed until January, when Paschalis suddenly died.

The cardinals elected Paschalis chancellor as pope Gelasius II, a man widely seen to be willing to compromise. Henry came down to Rome again in March 1118, which frightened the brand-new pope no end. Gelasius disappeared down south to Gaeta when Henry entered the Holy City.

And then Henry V did something odd, so odd that I simply have no explanation. He made his pet bishop, Maurice of Braga pope who took the papal name Gregory VIII. Why Henry decided to create a schism, something that had so badly hampered his father’s room to maneuver is simply inexplicable. Gregory VIII had no material support in Rome or elsewhere in Europe. It might be that Henry V followed demands of his Roman allies, the Frangipani, but their loyalty should not be worth a full-blown schism. It seems Henry realized his mistake almost immediately. He made no efforts to push his new antipope even in Germany and by June the emperor left Rome to leave Gregory the not really VIII to his fate. That fate would be to be captured by the true pope 4 years later and made to ride through the streets of Rome sitting naked backwards on a donkey. This punishment was not unknown and had been meted out to Roman prefects and popes but in this case was particularly apt as Gregory VIII’s nickname was “Spanish Ass”.

The pointless creation of a schism did not just blight the life of a poor Spaniard, but also meant that the new pope Gelasius II finally came off the fence and publicly excommunicated Henry V. With that the temperature in Germany was rising and the opposition was preparing for a royal assembly in Wuerzburg where the emperor was invited to defend his track record. That sounds far too much like a rerun of the Assembly at Tribur where Henry IV had been threatened with deposition. And that led immediately to Henry IV kneeling in the snow outside the castle of Canossa.

Henry V had no desire for frostbite and returned to Germany in haste. When he arrived the idea of a royal assemby dissipated quickly since the Southern dukes stuck with the emperor.  On the face of it the situation looked almost unchanged from when he had left. The North was held by Lothar, whilst his governors, Duke Frederick of Hohenstaufen and the Count Palatinate Gottfried did a good job at preventing him moving south.

But underneath the surface things have changed. The princes no longer just fought for status, tributes or honor. They were beginning to build what we would later call principalities. They built castles to force their will upon those within their territory, constraining their respective rights and privileges. Lothar did a great job of it in Saxony, making himself the most powerful Saxon Duke since Hermann Billung. And the same goes for his counterpart, Frederick von Hohenstaufen. Frederick did indeed defend the position of his imperial overlord, but at the same time began acquiring lands and castles for his own private estate. The chronicler Otto von Freising will describe this period as the time when the Staufer began building their private power base, their Hausmacht as it will be known from now on. They said of him that he would always pull a castle along the tail of his horse. The princes are on the rise.

By 1119 the war between Henry and Lothar had been going on for 4 years and both sides began to get exhausted. All in the country had been in civil war for more than 40 years since the conflict first started with the Saxon uprising 1073. Occasional periods of peace notwithstanding, the constant devastation had badly hurt the economy and let Germany fall behind France and England in cultural and intellectual leadership.

Even amongst his supporters the pressure to bring this endless conflict to an end was rising. Another opportunity emerged after the Pope Gelasius II had died after less than 2 years in office. His successor was Calixtus II, a Burgundian lord and distantly related to the emperor. He had initially been a harsh opponent of Henry V, but once he had ascended to the papacy had mellowed a bit. Calixtus indicated a willingness to negotiate and invited the German bishops to a council at Reims, close to the Franco-Imperial border.

Discussions between Henry V and the papal negotiators focused on a solution not dissimilar to the solution found in France. Henry offered that the bishops and abbots would be freely elected but had to swear a full oath of fealty to the emperor. And most crucially, that the churchmen were obliged to provide financial and military support to the emperor. 

 This solution seemed to have met with positive noises from the other side and Pope Calixtus was prepared to meet the emperor in person at the border town of Mouzon.

The parties exchanged draft contracts as both the Papal court and the Imperial entourage travelled to the agreed meeting point. The German side specifically believed that all was agreed and all they would do in Mouzon was put pen to paper, crack open the champagne and peace would be upon them.

This may or may not have been the same on the Papal side. But just before the two sides were to meet, the clerks on both sides began to stumble over a formulation in the draft contract. The wording in the papal draft suggests that the obligation of the bishops to support the emperor had a voluntary element to it. That was not acceptable to Henry V. The emperor even though taken aback by what he believed was a last-minute change of terms, he offered to discuss it with the princes.  but in the end, there was no rescuing the negotiations.

Afraid of papal duplicity Henry returned home. Meanwhile the Pope’s negotiators made up a story that Henry had appeared with a large retinue of armored men intend on apprehending the pope. That was followed by a full excommunication and a re-iteration of the total ban on investiture. 

All back to square 1.

But three years later the two sides will finally agree what has become known as the Concordat of Worms. What it says is not earthshattering and certainly not worth 50 years of war and destruction. But then it was never really about investiture in the first place. What it really was about we should explore next week. I hope to see you then.

And in the meantime, should you feel like supporting the show and get hold of these bonus episodes, sign up on Patreon. The links are in the show notes or on my website at historyofthegermans.com.

Episode 42 – A World Revolution?

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 42 –  A World Revolution?

In this episode we will come to the end of the Investiture controversy, the end of the Salian dynasty and the end of Season 2  – and ask the question, what was all that about?

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Last week we ended with Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II getting within a hairs breadth of an agreement that would have brought the investiture conflict in Germany to an end.

Over almost 50 years of war the church and the secular rulers have narrowed down the so-called investiture controversy to one question, how are bishops and abbots appointed? Both France and England had settled the issue with the papacy in 1104 and 1107. In France the arrangement was that the church was free to select its bishops and abbots, however, once selected, the bishop or abbot would have to swear fealty to the king and offer him the services associated with the fiefs the church had received. In England that rule was similar with the crucial difference that the king was allowed to be present at the election and had a casting vote in case no unanimous decision could be agreed upon by the canons. Both of these compromises were a formal limitation of royal prerogatives, but left the rulers with the all important access to the church resources.

The Emperor Henry V was ready to go down a similar route in 1119 and had travelled towards an encounter with pope Calixtus II, only for negotiations to collapse at the last minute. Both sides accused each other of duplicity and last-minute changes. Everything reverted to square 1 and the pope excommunicated Henry V who in turn resumed hostilities against the Gregorian party in Germany.

In 1121 he mustered an army to attack the city of Mainz and its archbishop, his former friend and chancellor Adalbert. Adalbert had by now become papal legate in Germany and one of the most intransigent agents of the hardline reformers. His stubbornness had lost Adalbert some support amongst the more moderate factions, including his fellow church leaders, the archbishops of Cologne and Trier, but he still had the support of the Saxons under the leadership of Lothar of Supplinburg.

When the two armies faced each other the princes in both camps decided that for the sake of the realm, battle should be avoided. Without a mandate from the emperor of the archbishop the two sides negotiated a formula for peace: “regalia vel fiscalia regno, ecclesiastica ecclesii”. To the king the king’s rights and possessions, to the church the churches’ rights.

This, all the princes jointly promised, is what they would help the king to negotiate with the papacy. Facing a united front of emperor and all the princes, Calixtus II would have to yield. The princes did not have to say what would happen to Henry V if the emperor had dared to reject their proposal.

Let me just leave this here – we will discuss why this is probably an even more important event than the actual concordat of Worms in a moment.

With Germany united in its position, negotiations started swiftly and -after a bit of diplomatic to and fro were concluded on September 23rd 1122 in a field outside the city of Worms. The agreement consisted in two separate treaties.

In the first one, the Henricianum, named after Henry V, the emperor renounces his right to invest bishops with the ring and the staff. He guarantees the churches their right to freely elect their bishops and abbots. He promises to return or help recover whatever land and rights the churches may have lost to secular lords.

In the simultaneous treaty called the Calixtinium, Pope Calixtus II grants the emperor the right to invest the bishop or abbot with his royal fiefs. The symbol for that investiture is now a scepter. In Germany this investiture is to take place before the consecration of the prelate, whilst in Italy and in Burgundy it takes place afterwards. And the pope allows for Henry to be present at the elections of bishops and abbots and grants him some sort of involvement in resolving contentious elections. In all cases the bishop or abbot owes the king the services under the rules of the fief.

In non-legalese this means the role of the German king in the selection and investiture of bishops is very similar to the situation in England and more significant than in France. Hold that thought – we will get back to this in a moment.

The Concordat brought an end to the religious conflict in Germany but did not result in much of an increase in imperial power on the ground. Saxony remained firmly in the hands of Lothar of Supplinburg. How little influence he now has becomes clear when the counties of Meissen and Lausitz became vacant. It was the duke of Saxony, not the emperor who chose the new counts for these extremely wealthy and strategically important counties. Lothar’s choice as count of Meissen was Conrad of Wettin. Conrad’s descendants would rule the lands around Meissen until rising to become the electors of Saxony, later kings of Saxony-Poland and creators of the greatest of german baroque cities, Dresden.

Whilst Henry’s room to maneuver in Germany became tighter and tighter, he was looking for a way out. Anything that would help him gather enough resources to resume the fighting and return to effective power in Germany.

And that opportunity came after in 1120 thanks to a maritime disaster. On the 25th of November William Adelin, son of King Henry I of England boarded the Blanche Nef, the White Ship in Barfleur in Normandy. William being 17 and a man about town took along his entourage of some 300 retainers many of similar age. And they proceeded to do what 17-year-olds left without parental supervision have done since time immemorial, they had some hell of a party. Plus, they were on the fastest ship of the royal fleet, which meant that obviously they wanted to have a race. The king himself had set off earlier that day and bets were taken that the Blanche Nef could overtake the royal ship. The ship’s captain, probably ether sozzled or stirred in his pride set off with a bunch of pissheads in the depth of the night. Barfleur is not an especially difficult port to navigate. What you have to do is go EastNorthEast for about 2 miles to be clear of outlying rocks before you can turn due north for England.  The pilot and the captain, keen to speed things up cut the corner and hit a rock. In the dark and cold all onboard perished except for one man, a butcher from Rouen who clung on to the fatal rock.

The death of King Henry’s only son created an opportunity for our Henry, Emperor Henry V who was married to, yes, the only legitimate daughter of King Henry I, Matilda. It wasn’t clear at this point that Henry I would not have another son, but the optionality was attractive enough for the emperor to invest heavily in the friendship with the ruler of England and Normandy.

The two of them forged a military alliance and Henry V mustered an army to support his father-in-law in his perennial struggles with the French crown. Fighting the French suited Henry V well anyway after their king had been such a strong supporter of the pope in the run-up to the Concordat of Worms.

Henry V thought the puny king Louis VI of France who controlled nit much more than the area around Paris and could call some bishops his vassals would be a pushover. In particular if the two Henrys staged a pincer movement coming simultaneously from the North and the East. And he should have been, had it not been for a sudden emergence of national sentiment amongst the French.

Henry V’s initial target was the city of Reims, the place of royal coronations and place of Clovis’ baptism. Something about the idea of the German emperor lording it over the church of Saint remy stirred up patriotic sentiment amongst the French princes. They joined their king at the Abbey of Saint Denis, outside Paris, and raised the royal battle standard, the Oriflamme, a blood red, pointed banner flown from a golden lance for the very first time. The Oriflamme was the symbol of Saint Denis, everybody’s favorite headless saint, was believed to have been carried by Charlemagne into the Holy land and wielded by the legendary Roland. It would lead the French army into battle for the next couple of hundred years. Where the emperors had their Holy Lance, the Kings of France had their Oriflamme.

In this contest of the symbols in 1124 the shiny Oriflamme won out. The flipside of Louis’ support in France was the deafening silence Henry’s call for national unity found in Germany.

This defeat is by no means the end of the struggle for the succession of king Henry I, a process that will take decades and pitched Matilda against her cousin Stephen of Blois.

Henry V did not take part in any of these struggles. He died On Mai 23rd, 1125  in Utrecht. He was 39 years old. If he had lived it would have been him who had fought alongside Matilda for the crown of England and his sons rather than the Plantagenets would have ruled England for the next few centuries. No Eleanor of Aquitaine, no Richard Lionheart no Henry V or Richard III. Shakespeare’s heroes would have been called Henry, Konrad or Fritz and you would look at this podcast and go Ahh Salians – so boring. Can’t you talk about something we know nothing about.

His body was brought to imperial basilica in Speyer where he was buried next to his father, grandfather and great grandfather.

Henry V had no son and with that the Salian dynasty ended. Henry V designated the sons of his daughter Agnes, Frederick and Konrad of Hohenstaufen to be the heirs to his fortune.

The Salian dynasty had ruled the Empire for almost exactly 100 years, from the election of Konrad II in 1024 to the death of Henry V in 1125. It was a period of massive change, socially, economically, politically and spiritually. Debate about what had happened and what it meant for the future began amongst contemporaries and has been raging ever since.

The chronicler Otto von Freising, a grandson of Henry V who wrote just 25 years after the death of the emperor saw the conflict between the papacy and the emperor as a world-ending calamity. The fragmentation of the unity of the spiritual and the secular was a portent of the end of the Roman Empire, which according to Saint Augustin ushered in the coming of the antichrist and hence the end of the world. It was the bishops and abbots who were to blame for this. They had been made rich by the generosity of the emperors only to turn around and impale their now enfeebled benefactor with his own swords.

The German 19th century followed in that same vein. The church had stalled the progress of Germany towards statehood that ultimately resulted in the fratricidal religious wars and subsequent political decline to insignificance of the Reich. This storyline had the added advantage of blaming the catholic pope for all the misery of the 17th and 18th century.  A view that helped justify why Germany should be unified by protestant Prussia and not by catholic Austria. In 1872 Bismarck initiated the Kulturkampf, an early version of a culture war. He attempted to restrain the catholic churches political influence. When he had pushback from the pope he famously said “we would not go to Canossa”. This statement, later put on a monument erected on the Harzburg, summarizes the 19th century Prussian view that the pope was Germany’s downfall. Going to Canossa became a standing expression signifying humiliating defeat. It is the German equivalent of “eating humble pie”.

After World War II German historians began to de-emphasize the importance of the conflict between pope and emperor. Focus shifted to the reasons for the tensions between the emperor and the princes. A view emerged that the Investiture Controversy was mainly a German civil war over hegemony where the pope could tilt the balance but was not driving events. The ineptitude of Henry IV and the military success of the princes ended the command monarchy of the early Salians, not Canossa or the Concordat of Worms.

Whilst Germans were looking at the Investiture conflict more as a continuation of broader longer-term trends, English historians like Norman Cantor, Chris Wickham and most recently Tom Holland put the Investiture Conflict in a line with the French and the Russian revolution as one of the great turning points of European, if not world history.

A World Revolution they call it. Well, was it that? What is a “World Revolution”? Mike Duncan is on his 326th episode of Revolutions has not mentioned the Investiture Conflict once.

If I have taken anything away from listening to the Revolutions Podcast it is that all of Revolutions seem to have the same structure. It starts with an existing political and economic order that has some serious structural weaknesses. These weaknesses are getting exposed by a combination of specific events, lost wars, bad harvests, financial collapse etc.. The whole thing blows up because an incompetent or excessively stubborn ruler fails to see the opportunities to avoid disaster and hurtles the creaky wagon of history down the precipice.

Imperial rule being exposed to unreliable bishops and rebellious dukes, I.e., structurally weak – tick;

Untimely death of Henry III, papal schisms and abduction of the king at Kaiserswerth exposing weakness of the regime – tick

Henry IV acting like a bull in a China shop towards Gregory VII and the Saxons -tick, tick, tick

Once a revolution has started, we cycle through the degrees of extremism where last year’s hard left are this year’s conservatives until the process is led at absurdum. After that last spasm of revolutionary energy, the surviving protagonists begin to rebuild society by combining bits of the old and bits of the new.

Again tick, tick, tick. We go from moderate reformer Leo IX to revolutionary Gregory VII, inventive Urban II to extremist Paschalis II, only to end up with Calixtus II who tries to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

In episode 30 I suggested a structure for the narrative across three strains, the rise of the papacy, the conflict between the princes and the emperor and the rise of lay piety. Even now, 12 episodes later, I think this structure is still valid and a great way to look at how this new order differs from the old.

Let’s start with the papacy.

Before 1042 the pope was little more than the bishop of Rome and an authority that could be called upon to resolve conflicts within the church that could not be resolved at a lower level. There were no rules about the selection or investiture of popes and formally the emperor had a significant role to play in that selection process. Whenever the emperors were active in Italian politics, they appointed and dismissed the popes.

By 1125 the idea that the emperor could legitimately appoint popes was dead as the Dodo. Yes, Henry IV and Henry V had appointed antipopes, and future emperors will do too, but their power didn’t reach much further than the tip of the imperial spears. From now on, the only legitimate pope was the one elected by the College of Cardinals – full stop.

Again, before 1042 the pope had no direct influence in the churches outside Rome. He would hold synods, usually together with the emperor, to determine doctrine and resolve disputes. But the pope had little if any executive power. When we look at the situation in 1125, the pope, usually represented by his legates, exercised more hands-on control over church on the ground. Legates would depose or install bishops, demand changes in liturgy and enforce doctrine set in Rome. That is not to say the church in France or in Germany was at the Pope’s back and call. There are bishops like Hartwig of Magdeburg who were trying to be both supporters of the Gregorian reform and loyal vassals of the emperor. But relative to where we came from, the role of the papacy has become so much more significant.

And finally, the papacy began determining secular policy. Even though the Gregorians were focused on the spiritual world, they ended up becoming more and more political. The proposal of pope Paschalis II if we assume it wasn’t a cunning trick to discredit Henry V, would have been the most radical expression of Gregorian thinking. The church giving up its entanglement with the lay world and focusing entirely on the spiritual well-being of their flock would have pleased Peter Damian and Humbert of Silva Candida no end. But it never happened. Rather than severing the links to the world of power politics, the Gregorian reform dragged the papacy deeper into it. Calling the Crusades to Jerusalem might have been high politics but could still be seen as linked to the spiritual role of the church. When it comes to the military conflict between Gregory VII and Henry IV, that line was crossed. Using the Normans in Sicily and Matilda of Tuscany as a counterweight to the imperial armies meant the pope had to get his hands dirty. It is not just the sack of Rome by Robert Guiscard but the absolution of soldiers fighting the emperors that made the spiritual and political objectives of the church becoming indivisible.

And that is why the papacy did not really win in the investiture controversy. Yes, the pope stood now on par or even above the emperor, but he did so on the same playing field, the field of power politics. Being a significant secular player had its advantages, but in the long run undermined the role of the church as an organization, leading ultimately to the faithful searching for salvation outside the established church hierarchy, in ne monastic orders like the Franciscans, in new forms of religious communities like the Albigensians, Waldensians etc., and ultimately in the belief that salvation is to come from the individual itself, a process the culminated in the Reformation. In a way it comes full circle, because the Gregorians objective was to make the church a vehicle that allows the faithful to reach the gates of heaven. Like so many other well-intentioned plans, it failed in the end.

The rise of the papacy displaced the emperor in several of his roles. The Ottonian emperors had been universal sacred rulers. The 10th and early 11th century was the time of the sacred rulers. Saint Stephen in Hungary, Edward the confessor in England, Saint Olaf in Norway. Above these sacred kings was the sacred emperor, anointed to lead all of Christianity. His title was Vicar of Christ and most humble servant of the apostles. This is the time where people believe the king could heal diseases by laying his hand on people – like Aragorn of Gondor.

The transition to this state of sacred ruler was bestowed upon them when they were anointed during their coronation. You may remember that the child king Otto III was rescued from an early death by the mere fast that he had been anointed as king literally hours before news arrived that his father had died. A king, and even more so an emperor anointed by the pope was no mere mortal, he was a being halfway between this world and the next. And some of them, namely Otto III and Henry II live the lives of saints rather than those of worldly rulers.

Breaking an oath to such a sacred king was simply inconceivable. Untold horrors would come down on the oathbreaker, in this world and the next.

Something happened around the middle of the 11th century that devalued these oaths. And that happened even before Gregory released Henry’s vassals from their oaths. It was Otto von Nordheim’s speech in 1073 (check episode 31) that ends the idea that oaths are inviable. It is when he says “As long as he was a king to me and acted royally, I also kept the oath I swore to him freely and faithfully; but after he ceased to be a king, the one to whom I had to keep loyalty was no longer there.”  

Otto von Nordheim denies the king sacred status. For him he is just a human in a two-way relationship with his subjects. The king has to provide peace and justice in exchange for obedience. When he fails to do his bit, the oath is no longer binding.

When Gregory VII releases everyone from their oath to Henry IV and the emperor then has to do penance in the snow outside Canossa the idea of sacred, unbreakable oaths vanish. How little tehya re worth becomes so clear when Paschalis II releases Henry V from his solemn, public oath made before innumerable relics to never challenge his father.

By 1125 a king is just a man, an important man, but a man nevertheless.

And that gets us to the second strain of the narrative, the conflict between the princes and the emperor. If you think back over the last 20-odd episodes, most of the time was spent talking about the wheel of fortune that pulled good old Henry IV up to dizzying heights of military and political success before dropping him deep into the depth of desperation.

All this came about because we are in a period of transition. This is the transition from a time where wealth and power was tied to large agricultural estates to a more martial time where all that mattered was the strength of your stone castle. Encastellation had been held back in Germany until Henry III but went stratospheric during the minority of Henry IV. The king’s mother, Agnes of Poitou was unable to stem the process and the subsequent government of Anno of Cologne had no interest in doing so.

In these barely 15 years royal authority was gravely undermined. Once the vassals had gained a castle, they could very much do whatever they wanted, as no one could touch them on their mountain tops. Castles were a bit like nuclear weapons today.. All those who have them want to prevent anyone else to get them. Whilst the world in the 20th and 21st century was somewhat successful with its non-proliferation policy the medieval empire wasn’t. On top of that the size of the nobility grew alongside or faster than overall population. Chroniclers of the Ottonian era like Widukind and Thietmar mention roughly 500 individuals amongst the aristocracy from presumably a much smaller number of families. By 1125 this number has likely doubled. Add to that the proliferation of Ministeriales who also often held castles, you can easily assume a tripling of the numbers. In the end there will be 20,000 castles across Germany.

And when the king himself wanted a piece of the action and get his own superweapons in Saxony, the civil war started. And that was a war nobody could win because everybody by now had castles. Presumably some aristocrats did not build castles, but they were never heard from again.

With castles came something else, territorial power. Once you have the castle that overlooks the local town, the bridge and the market, it is only a question of time before the castellan will have gained control of the town, the bridge and the market, even if these rights had been granted to someone else, a bishop, a monastery or another knight.

By 1125 we are well en route to territorialization of the empire. The princes are consolidating their holdings both horizontally as well as vertically. The emperor is no longer able to prevent this process. Even worse, there are large parts of the country like Saxony where effective power has transitioned from the emperor to the territorial princes, like for instance in Saxony. The five duchies are no longer enough to satisfy the demand for status amongst ambitious families like the Babenberger, Zaehringer, Welf, Wettin etc., and gradually we see a proliferation of ducal title combined with a deterioration of the ducal function as one of the few institutions the empire possessed.

The same thing had happened in France, only some 50 years earlier. Where the story differs is that the French monarchy over time consolidated into an absolutist regime, whilst central authority in Germany continuously weakened. As always in history there is never just one reason or one event that creates a specific outcome, but during the hundred years of Salian rule decisive steps were taken that facilitated the outcome.

The first one we already talked about, the collapse of the sacred kingship under the battlements of Canossa which was never really recovered. In France the Investiture conflict had the opposite effect. It created an alliance between the pope and the French king that materially enhanced his prestige. Several subsequent rulers could expand on that prestige, recuperating some of the sacred component of kingship, which culminated in the reign of Louis IX, later to become Saint Louis.

The second key decision point was the assembly in Forchheim in 1077. There the nobles asserted their right to freely elect their king purely on merit. The kingdom they claimed was not a personal property that could be passed from father to son like a horse or a castle. It was the res publica, the common good in which all members of the aristocracy had a stake. We will see that there will be transfers of royal and imperial power from father to son, but these will still be based on elections which at least in principle were based on merit or size of bribe.

Making the empire an elective monarchy created an incentive for the holder of the position to transfer as much of the royal rights, lands and other assets to his family, rather than expanding central authority. Any subsequent occupant of the throne will then have to dig deep into his own wallet to maintain his authority. At the end of the process the emperors will derive their power not from the fact that they were emperors, but from their personal territorial wealth. Politics are driven by the dynastic interests of the Staufer, Luxemburger and Habsburgs, not by the interest of the empire. This is the second crucial difference with France, where the Capetians were better at producing sons, they usually promoted to co-king during their lifetime until the election process became a pure formality and fell into disuse.

Was the decision in Forchheim irreversible? Surely not. If one of the emperors had been able to expand their personal territory to ultimately comprise all of Germany, surely the Empire would have turned into a hereditary monarchy. But that was made harder thanks to some of the political choices the Salians had made.  

One was the excessively generous sponsorship of the Imperial church. Compared to France in particular the imperial church was extraordinarily rich not just in private goods but also in territorial lordships. Under the Ottonians and the early Salians these donations did not diminish the royal position as the bishops and abbots on the whole though with exceptions acted as organs of the emperor. During the later years of the Salian reign the imperial church stopped being an organ of the state and the bishops began operating like territorial princes. You remember Anno of Colognes acquisition of the territories of the Ezzonen and Adalbert of Mainz attack on Trifels. This development is usually believed to have been caused by the Investiture Controversy and specifically the Concordat of Worms. Modern historians take a more differentiated view. The concordat did not differ much from the settlement in England where the church remained under closer control of the king – Thomas a Beckett notwithstanding. And the trend to consolidate the territorial position started before the investiture conflict. For instance, the Lothringian bishops in Toul, Verdun, Liege and Utrecht were proactively pursuing territorial policies against Godfrey the Bearded in the 1050s. It feels that the urge to create a territorial power was a combination of opportunity and simple, old-fashioned greed, something not even a bishop is immune to. I would also throw in the betrayal of the bishops in 1111. When Henry V agreed with Paschalis II to expropriate the clergy, the remaining sense of fealty to the emperor evaporated.

Having lost so much of the royal resources to the church the emperors were now dependent upon their own territorial power. And again the Salians came up short. Henry IV tried create a territory under direct royal control outside interference of local dukes or counts around Goslar in Saxony. Henry IV defeat in the Saxon wars meant that the most valuable of the directly held royal territories was lost. Subsequent attempts for instance by Henry V around the family holdings in Worms were kept in check by a united front of the princes. With expansion in Germany blocked, the emperors had to find resources abroad. Henry V tried England, the Staufer looked to Italy, the Luxemburger and Habsburgs to Bohemia and Hungary and finally Prussia occupied lands to the east that were formally outside the empire.

That seemed a viable shortcut at the time but was not sustainable. Ruling Germany based on foreign resources was something even Emperor Charles V in whose empire the sun never set failed. In contrast  The kings of France  built their territory slowly and methodically, one castle at a time using only their domestic resources and a bit of help from the popes.. Again, the forks in the road the Salians went down or were dragged down were not roads that inevitably led to the fragmentation of the German states that could only be overcome by a militaristic regime. But it was a major contributing factor.

The flipside of imperial weakness is the enhanced role of the princes. Under the Ottonians the role of the dukes, counts and bishops was to support the emperor who was the sacred incorporation of the empire. By the time of Henry V’s death, the princes saw themselves as as guardians of the empire. They had both the right and the obligation to defend it against its foes, to maintain peace and to protect the church. The emperor and the princes were the pillars on which the empire rested. That meant the princes can call royal assemblies, even royal assemblies where the emperor is not present or even NFI. The empire becomes a coordination mechanism that settles disagreements between the princes by consensus, rather than a state that settles it by force.

We have talked about the change in the relationship between emperor and pope and between emperor and princes which leaves the third strain in our narrative, the rise in lay piety.

As we talked about before, the period between 1000 and 1300 is a period of massive demographic and economic change. Population numbers overall roughly doubled thanks to improved agricultural technology, the abolishment of slavery and an absence of deadly pandemics. The improvements in agriculture allowed for a repopulation of the ancient Roman cities and the growth of new ones. Urbanization went hand in hand with the growth in trade. The large cities created markets for goods and ideas that travelled along the great rivers, the Rhine, Main, Danube and Elbe. These increasingly prosperous people demanded better from their clergy and better from their rulers.

These demands transformed from specific calls for say celibacy of the cathedral canons to broader claims for participation in city politics. The process started in Milan with the Pataria uprisings in the 1070s and then spread rapidly. Cologne rose up against its Bishop in 1074. That same year Worms sides with the emperor against their bishop. Once independent, the cities themselves became political players. Henry IV allied with Pisa and Lucca against Matilda of Tuscany. Mainz and Cologne were Henry IV’s strongest allies in his fight with his son. By Henry V’s time a city like Mainz would negotiate with its archbishop as equals, demanding freedoms and privileges in exchange for support in war.

On the underlying issue, the improvement in the quality of the clergy, the years 1024 to 1125 saw major shifts. Under the Ottonians we find many learned and sincere bishops, monks and abbots. But their ability to expand and project their knowledge was limited. By 1125 more and more Christian doctrine is written down and passed around the clergy along the same routes the goods are now shipped from Venice to Norway and from Cordoba to  Kiev. We find that by 1076 most bishops owned a more or less comprehensive compilation of canon law that they consulted to determine how to react to the excommunication and deposition of their king. The scholastic method, this great invention of the Middle Ages begins to spread amongst the intellectuals of the age. An early form of university opened its doors in Bologna in 1088, teaching amongst other things Roman law.

For the layman, on the still unpaved street these debates mattered. All they wanted was a priest who could help them into heaven. But that was no longer so easy. Is my vicar properly ordained by the right bishop? If not, what does that mean for the sacraments I have received. If not, how do I get a priest who will be able to pave the road to the final judgement? Can I make sure my town is loyal to whoever I think is the true pope, rue archbishop and bishop.

Mostly they had little ability to determine political outcomes. To mitigate their risk of ending up in purgatory or even hellfire, laymen became ever more pious. They tried to incorporate some of the habits of the apostles into their own life, fasting, regular prayer, good works and the like. In many ways this upped the ante for the priests who had to be even more devout in order to stand out and justify their elevated status. Most bishops saw these developments which is why, on the whole, they were supportive of church reform even when they were not supportive of the Gregorian popes.

This urge to find a way to heaven for oneself found its culmination in the First Crusade. Finally there was one thing any individual, rich or poor could do that was quite obviously in line with God’s wishes, that was outside these debates and civil wars. The first Crusade, though an amazing and unexpected military success must have been a terrible let-down for its participants. Instead of experiencing a period of bliss within the grace of god, the crusaders unleashed unimaginable horrors. We talked about the death and destruction the German participation in the First Crusade caused but even those who made it to Jerusalem must have wondered whether the slaughter of the cities Muslim population, the burning of its Jews inside their Synagoge was synonymous with walking in the footsteps of the apostles.

We asked at the start of this section whether the Investiture Conflict was a “World Revolution”. Sure, the Investiture conflict has all the hallmarks of a revolution, an old order is replaced with a new structure. That makes it a Revolution, but a “World Revolution”. That would be a revolution that fundamentally changed the whole of the humanity. It describes a series of events that stands unique in history as a turning point that, if it had not happened, would have left us with a materially different world.

Of all the things we talked about so far, the rise of the papacy, the loss of a central power in Germany or the emergence of cities and city states is not something that in similar form had happened before in other parts of the world and even in Europe itself. What could make it a “World Revolution” is that last consequence of the Investiture Conflict, bringing people the obligation and the right to choose your spiritualty.

That unleashed the scholastic method, universities, disputations, the Franciscans, the early heretics, the Hussites and the Reformation. Without the Reformation and the plethora of belief systems it seeded, the philosophers of the Enlightenment would not have dared to replace God with reason and modern life would indeed be fundamentally different. The crusades manifested a restlessness of spirit and body that drove European society to expand both their intellectual and their physical horizon until it had consumed the whole world.

So maybe it was a World Revolution. And even if it wasn’t, it was an epic tale, one I hope you enjoyed.

I will take a break now until early January to prepare for the next season, the Hohenstaufen. These ultimate glamour emperors may now have to work in this unwieldy new order, but hey do they make a story out of it. You can look forward to Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa still asleep under the Kyffhauser mountain waiting for the day his people need him to protect them from harm, Henry VI who used the ransom paid for Richard Lionheart to buy himself a kingdom, Frederick II the child of Puglia who allegedly grew up on the streets of Palermo to become one of best educated men in Europe living the lifestyle like his friend Salah ad Din. His son Enzo who was betrayed by his golden locks and his grandson Konradin who was beheaded on the market square in Naples.  I can barey wait. I hope to see you then.

And in the meantime, should you feel like supporting the show and get hold of these bonus episodes, sign up on Patreon. The links are in the show notes or on my website at historyofthegermans.com.

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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