Henry IV (1056-1105)

Finding a more controversial German ruler in the Middle Ages will be difficult. The wheel of fortune turns at the double during his tumultuous reign contributing to what some call a World Revolution


Henry IV – History of the Germans
Henry IV – History of the Germans

xxA 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 30 – Three Roads to Canossa
byDirk Hoffmann-Becking

Emperor Henry III is dead. The realm is now in the hands of his widow, Agnes of Poitou who rules on behalf of the six-year-old king Henry IV. Agnes is no Theophanu and no Adelheid. Not that she is incompetent, she just isn’t absolutely brilliant, and absolutely brilliant is the baseline necessary to manage this fragile situation.

The relationship between the central imperial power and the magnates has flipped, and instead of all-powerful emperors, the dukes, counts and bishops do what they like. And Henry III’s bête noire, Godfrey the Bearded is more powerful than ever.

The laity calls for a church that is more like the church of the apostles, pious and dedicated to the poor. They demand an end to simony and the licentiousness of priests.

And the papacy asserts its independence. Not that they necessarily intend to throw off the imperial yoke, but the reformers need protectors against the Roman aristocracy that literally used popes as footstools and ATMs.

All this culminates in a situation where the young king Henry IV sees no other way to escape from his opponents than by jumping into the cold and fast flowing River Rhine, choosing death over captivity..

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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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

Finding a more controversial German ruler in the Middle Ages will be difficult. His enemies called him a debauched, spoiled brat who would rape and even murder his enemies. He himself had been subject to assassination plots ever since he was a mere 7 years old.

He became king at the age of 6 and saw the central power crumbling under his mother’s ineffective rule. Age 12 he is being abducted in a coup d’etat and finds that his mother does not fight for him, even sides with his enemies. When he assumes direct rule his magnates still do as they please with the imperial purse.

When he tries to establish a new territorial power base around the silver mines in Goslar he is forced into a bloody and remorseless war against the Saxons.

Meanwhile the papacy in Rome is on the rise. Pope Gregory VII believes the emperor is no different to any other king obliged to kneel and wash the pope’s feet.

A terrible miscalculation leaves Henry IV kneeling in the snow before Pope Gregory VII. The ensuing 50 years of war change the face of Europe



Episode 30 – Three Roads to Canossa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 31 – The (second) Saxon War

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans – Episode 31 The (second) Saxon War

I think I have to apologise for last weeks oversized episode. I am trying to keep the length to 25-30 minutes with a tolerance up to 35 minutes. 43 minutes was definitely too long. The problem came about because we reached one of these moments of high drama when the three strands of the Investiture Controversy come together. The struggle between imperial power and the magnates, the popular movement demanding church reform and the expanding role and conception of the papacy.

Today’s job should be a touch easier because we will predominantly focus on the first of these three, the escalating tensions between the young king Henry IV. and his Saxon barons. I say should, because it is not that simple.

One of the problems are the sources. Up until now most of the sources, be it Widukind, Liudprand of Cremona, Thietmar of Merseburg, Wipo, Hermann of Reichenau etc were usually supportive of the emperors but not excessively biased. Some had to be taken with a grain of salt as they skipped bits or put their favourite ruler into a better light. But they did not as a rule make things up. The chroniclers we have for the second half of the 11th century are different. Since the controversy between emperor and pope goes to the heart of people’s identity and beliefs, there is no neutral or semi neutral observer.

The main sources, namely Bruno who wrote the Book of the Saxon Wars and Lambert of Hersfeld whose annals provide a detailed account of Henry IV. reign are both heavily biased against the emperor. And when I say biased, I really mean biased. Bruno in particular accuses Henry IV. of all sorts of all sorts of treachery and licentiousness up to the rape of nuns, incest with his sister and premeditated murder. Henry IV. much less effective PR machine retaliates with accusations of papal love affairs with Matilda of Tuscany etc.

As for the protagonists themselves we have a register of 387 letters and notes written by pope Gregory VII between 1073 and 1084, whilst we have just 8 letters from Henry IV, and it can be assumed that whilst Gregory likely dictated them himself whilst Henry’s are the work of his chancery.

With almost all the sources painting a negative picture of Henry IV. and a big black hole where his own PR machine should be left historians with a serious dilemma. It is hard to dismiss the accusations entirely, since one of the consistent demands of Henry IV.’s enemies was for him to be subjected to an enquiry into his “crimes”. They would not have done that if he had had been whiter than white. But how much of that are we to believe? And if we do not believe it, what was he like instead?

In the 19th century German historians tried to dismiss the notion of Henry IV. as a debauched and incompetent ruler. Modern historians like Gerd Althoff have concluded that there was something, even to Bruno’s accusations and attribute at least some of the difficulties in his reign to his personality. Stefan Weinfurther highlights the unwillingness of Henry IV. to adhere to the traditional methods of imperial rule and conflict resolution as a major contributing factor to his failures.

Well, I will try to stay as close to the current consensus as I can, but with the sources as they are, I am likely to fall for my own biases as we go through this story. Apologies in advance. All angry comments please DM me, if you like what you hear, feel free to put it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.

With this let’s get into the story. Henry IV. had begun his personal rule in 1065 after he had been declared an adult at the ripe old age of 15. But as was the case with Otto III 70 years earlier, the transition to personal rule was not like flicking a switch. It was a gradual process whereby the dominant figures during the regency are gradually phased out and new advisors are phased in.

As we heard last week, imperial power had been receding under the regency of Agnes of Poitou. But once Anno of Cologne had abducted the young king and created a new government, things became nearly anarchic. Archbishop Anno of Cologne and his co-conspirators could not retain control unchallenged. They had to concede a role to their archenemy, Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen. That does not stop regular conspiracies aimed at removing Anno and/or Adalbert. It seems that all that the magnates cared about was to expand their personal power as quickly as possible, presumably thinking that once the king would get a handle on the levers of state, the party would be over.

We have little evidence about the rapaciousness of the secular lords, but there are some juicy stories about our two archbishops. Our friend Anno was accused of putting his family members into the plum bishoprics all across the country, and indeed one of his brothers became archbishop of Magdeburg, a cousin became bishop of Halberstadt and another was earmarked to become archbishop of Trier. That latter one did not make it though. The people of Trier were sufficiently irritated about not having any say in the matter who their bishop should be that they captured the pretender upon arrival and had him thrown down from the highest cliff.

Adalbert was no better. He tried to take over some of the most storied and richest imperial monasteries like Malmedi and Kornelimuenster. When he tried to take over Lorsch, south of Frankfurt, he had to contend with a bunch of very angry monks. They, quite understandably, argued that they cannot see any reason why the church of Hamburg, 550km north would be a suitable spiritual overlord.

With the government split right down the middle, imperial policy effectively seized to function. After the debacle of the papal schism that Agnes had created, a journey to Rome and a lavish coronation would have been paramount to restore imperial prestige. As part of the settlement of the schism, pope Alexander II was happy to crown young Henry IV. He might also have hoped to entice the emperor into a campaign against the Normans who had become a little too full of themselves after helping to end the schism.

Equally the Northern Italian bishops wanted their king to come and sort out the Pataria uprisings in Milan and other cities. I mentioned this popular movement last week. The citizens of Milan and elsewhere had requested a clean-up of their diocese where literally all priests had paid for their offices and the canons lived in luxury with their wives and children. When the archbishop refused he was thrown out and lacked the military resources to get back in. What did not help the bishop was that the Pataria enjoyed the support of at least parts of the papal administration.

Basically, it was high time to go down to Rome. Twice did the imperial army muster in Augsburg, and twice did they ultimately decide not to go. Squabbling amongst the magnates was the main reason.

Even though Henry IV had nominally become the effective sole ruler of the kingdom in 1065, he was shown in 1066 that his power was for naught when his magnates gang up on him. The one thing that changed upon Henry’s maturity was that power shifted away from Anno of Cologne to Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen. Adalbert had no difficulty in convincing the king that Anno did not have any interest in his well-being. As we heard before, Henry IV. never forgave Anno the hijacking in Kaiserswerth. One of the few things that most historians agree is that this event caused a massive trauma in Henry IV. Having been held at sword point by his barons aboard the vessel was one thing but watching his own mother failing to come to his aid, even siding with Anno over time must have created a sense of abandonment. And most of his resentment was directed at the architect of the coup, Anno of Cologne. Based on the mantra that my enemies enemies are my friends, Adalbert became Henry IV. Go-to person.

The anti-Henry propaganda machine accused Adalbert of spoiling the child-king, telling him that he could do whatever he desired, as long as he manages to get absolution on his deathbed. According to the super biased chronicler Bruno, Henry IV maintained 2-3 mistresses at any time and had ordered all the pretty girls to be brought to him, if necessary, by force.

I would not doubt that a sixteen-year-old with no parental supervision would indulge himself in bad behaviour. And I can also see that Adalbert would not admonish the young king too severely for transgressions since he was his only political asset.

However, I doubt it needed all that for Henry IV. to support Adalbert against the hated archbishop Anno of Cologne. Adalbert had been a close associate of his father and was supporting a strong central imperial power. Anno and his associates represented the powers that wanted to expand the baronial prerogatives at the expense of the empire.

In 1066 it came to a showdown in Trebur. There the magnates had come together in one of these now regular conspiracies and decided to put an ultimatum to the young king: Either he gives up on archbishop Adalbert, or he will be deposed as king.

Henry IV. and some of his followers raced to Trebur to confront the princes. To give you an idea how precarious the position of the king already was, let me tell you the story about what happened the day before that meeting. This is the story as it was told by Lampert of Hersfeld, the other main chronicler and opponent of the Salian policies.  

According to him, the king stayed not in his own royal palace at Trebur, but in a nearby village that belonged to the abbey of Hersfeld. It seems there was nothing there to feed the royal party and the peasants refused to hand over the goods. A bloody fight between the royal soldiers and the local population ensued. In the fight either a peasant or -shame of shames- a dancing girl felled the count Werner who commanded the royal bodyguard. Werner was brought before the king. And whilst he lay on the ground in mortal agony, the bishops present refused the dying man the last rites, until he handed back an estate he had received from the king but which the abbot of Hersfeld claimed was his.

All this happened in front of the king. His man was lying there, and the churchmen refused him the last sacraments until some money issue was settled. And not just any money issue, but the reversal of a donation the king had made himself. And why was his man lying there. Because the abbey of Hersfeld had refused to feed the royal troops, something they were obliged to as an imperial abbey. Nothing shows more clearly the powerlessness of the young king and nothing explains better his deep-seated animosity to his magnates.

Not much has to be said about the fate of Adalbert of Bremen. A king who cannot feed his men and protect his wounded soldiers cannot decide who should be his main advisor. Adalbert was to go, or more precisely to run back to Hamburg protected by the few soldiers the impecunious king could spare.

A few weeks later Henry IV falls severely ill. So severely ill the doctors give him up and the magnates begin discussion about who should succeed the king. But he recovers and by Pentecost he is back in health.

No chronicler says it, but my sense is that it is right after the meeting in Trebur and his recovery when Henry IV. decides that enough is enough. No longer can an emperor rely on oaths of fealty from his dukes and counts, nor can he rely on the support from the Imperial Church as his father had been able to. A new form of royal administration is required.

It is around now, 1066 that Henry IV. begins his major castle building project around Goslar. His father had already begun the process of creating a coherent royal territory around the silver mines in the Harz mountains. This is a different concept to the 10th century imperial duchies which were administrated through assemblies and vows of fealty.  Not here. These royal lands around Goslar will be administrated by Ministeriales, unfree men trained in war and administration. Mighty castles are built on the tops of mountains and, instead of enfeoffing it to loyal men of noble descent, he manned it with his Ministeriales. He put the administration of the royal territory not into the hands of a count as would have been the case 50 years earlier but appoints a governor (Prefectus) who could be hired and fired at will.

The largest and most important of these new castles was the Harzburg, not far from the imperial residence in Goslar. Harzburg was not only one of the largest castles built in the 11th century, rivalling Fulk of Anjou’s mighty constructions, it was also designed as an imperial residence and administrative centre. Nothing indicates more clearly the change of times than the fact that the emperors are leaving their indefensible palaces on the plains and move behind 10-metre-high walls on mountaintops. The Harzburg contained an imperial palace as well as a monastery. Henry IV had his brother Konrad who had died very young as well as his first son buried in this richly decorated chapel. He also transferred the imperial regalia, i.e., the imperial crown, the Holy Lance etc. onto the Harzburg.  

The Harzburg was designed by one of Henry IV. closest confidants, a man that would be by his side for a long time, bishop Benno of Osnabrueck. Benno came from a family of Ministeriales, i.e., was not a free man. He joined the clergy and got an education in Strasburg and Reichenau before joining the career path through the imperial chancery.  He was made bishop of Osnabrueck in 1068. He was a smart and effective administrator and, above all, a gifted architect. He not only built the Harzburg and other castles, but he was also the architect of the final remodelling of the astounding Speyer Cathedral. He was also a brutal taskmaster who had labourers beaten if they failed to work hard enough.

Back to the castles. They were designed to project royal power. But they were nothing new, not even in Saxony. The nobles of Saxony had engaged in the construction of mountaintop castles decades before Henry IV. started his building program. As I said before, the construction of castles is a clear indicator of deteriorating central power. And since the last years of Henry III and then even more under the regency, central power had declined and castles have risen in unison. And you may have noticed that the names of people have changed. Otto of Northeim, Rudolf of Rheinfelden are all named after their main possessions, aka their castles. Up until then major aristocrats were referenced by their ancestry, the Ezzone Konrad or the Konradiner Eberhard etc. If that was not distinctive enough, they were named after their title, margrave Eckehard of Meissen, duke Godfrey the Bearded.  Some made it even easier, by calling themselves just Welf I, II, II or IV. But from now on, aristocrats are referred to first and foremost by the name of their main castle, rather than their family or title. What this castle-building also means is that the model of peace by edict of Henry III had ended, making the life of the peasants in the empire just  that little bit harder.

Whilst the walls of the Harzburg and other fortifications are going up, the empire is shaken by a sequence of scandals that further undermine the imperial reputation.

The first one is entirely of Henry IV. making and concerns his marriage. Long ago, when Henry IV. was a child, his father had engaged him to marry Bertha, daughter of the Count of Savoy. That seems a rather odd choice, since as future emperor he should get married to a byzantine princess or absent that, at least the daughter of a king, not a mere count. Bertha’s family had however one key asset, which will become important as we go further, and that was the alpine pass of Mont Cenis. This pass, south of Mont Blanc was of major strategic importance as the connecting road between France and Italy. As the empire already controlled all other Alpine passes, Mont Cenis was the missing link that made sure no other power could get into Italy. In principle the emperor should not need the Count of Savoy for that since Mont Cenis was in Burgundy and Henry was already king of Burgundy. But Burgundy was a kingdom very much in principle, in practice Mont Cenis was held by the count of Savoy. And the count’s price for the pass was to become grandpa of an emperor.    

To make sure Bertha was at least brought up to an imperial standard, she was delivered aged 6 to the imperial court where she grew up in the household of Henry’s mother, the empress Agnes of Poitou.

In 1066, shortly after Adalbert had been sent packing and the king had recovered from his illness it was deemed time for Henry IV to finally marry little Bertha as had been agreed all these years ago.

By 1069 Henry IV. wants a divorce. At the Reichstag in Worms he stands up and declares that he simply “does not think he and his wife are a good match”.  He says that he is simply tired of pretending that the relationship was ok., when it was not. He does not accuse her of anything, that would warrant a divorce. But he, be it by fate or divine order, cannot be in a marital relationship with her. He therefore asks for the grace of God to be released from these chains. He hopes that she would find a happier life in another marriage and if needed, he would swear that the marriage had never beenconsummated..

This strikes me as a very modern grounds for a divorce. The fact that two people just simply are not meant to be together. But an 11th century royal marriage is not an agreement between two adults looking for fulfilment and happiness. It is a political contract, and that meant, liking each other is not a requirement. The pope sends Peter Damian up to Germany to explain these simple facts to the young king and he accepts the verdict. Henry and Bertha will from then on have a strong relationship where she will stand by him even in the most challenging moments and be more loyal than his own mother was. The couple had 5 children.

Step back. What was that. Henry IV. asks for a divorce because he does not think a relationship is possible and wants her to be happy with someone else. And then -when forced- fulfils the marriage and things turn out ok.

I am going out on a limb here, but it seems as if the most obvious point is completely overlooked by most historians Bertha and Henry have grown up together since they were five. They have grown up in a super tense environment where empress Agnes was clearly out of her depth most of the time. His older sisters have been sent away to become abbesses or have died early. It is not impossible that Henry and Berth felt more like siblings than marital partners. That would explain his insistence on her being blameless and his wish that she would be happy with someone else. It would also explain why the couple could maintain a relationship of trust and friendship despite his attempt at divorce.

That was scandal number one. Now for the second one which involves the recently appointed duke Otto of Northeim. Otto was a Saxon noble of the highest rank. He was put in as duke of Bavaria by Agnes in 1061, which is an odd choice to start with.

As we have heard before the Saxon nobles had been on a roll with attempts at the life of the Salians. The brother of the duke of Saxony may have tried to murder Emperor Henry III in 1048 and in 1057 the Saxon nobles conspired to have Henny IV. killed, a child of 7 at the time. There is no indication that Otto of Northeim was involved, but it is unlikely the Saxons kept him in the dark. The attempt on Henry’s life was foiled as allies of the king encountered the Saxon contingent by chance outside the royal palace and killed them.

Northeim then appears again as a co-conspirator in the coup at Keiserswerth, something that cannot have endeared him to Henry IV.

In 1069 a mysterious event happens. At a stay on one of Otto of Northeim’s estates, one of Henry’s ministeriales is ambushed and killed. Things are being investigated, but nothing comes of it. Since life is cheap and ministeriales are still serfs, nobody ascribes much significance to that event.

In 1070, a certain Enigo, a thug of ill repute, claims publicly that Otto of Northeim had tried to hire him to murder the king. Otto of Northeim strenuously denies the claim. In classic 11th century fashion, when it is one man’s word against another’s, the resolution has to be through trial by combat. Otto of Northeim initially accepts the ruling but does then not appear on the set dates in Goslar to fight for his honour. Under the circumstances Otto could demand a judgement in default, which the Saxon nobles assembled as the jury granted. Otto of Northeim was stripped of the duchy of Bavaria, all other fiefs and of his allodial possessions. Northeim is also declared an outlaw.

According to the chronicler Bruno, this was all a plot by Henry IV. to strip Northeim of his possessions. Bruno even alleges that Northeim would have been killed on the king’s orders even if he had won the trial by combat. I find in particular the latter hard to believe. The trial would have taken place in full view of the Saxon nobles and if Henry would have wanted to pull a stunt like this, his reputation would have suffered immeasurable damage. That in combination with the string of assassination attempts by Saxon nobles and the mysterious death of his ministeriales the year before makes it likely that there was something to this allegation.

Guilty or not, Otto finds support from other Saxon nobles, including from Magnus, son of the duke of Saxony in his fight with the king. But he failed to bring the whole of the duchy behind him and had to submit to the emperor after a year of fighting. Henry IV. imprisons him and Magnus. Otto of Northeim is released in 1072 and some of his inherited lands are returned to him, minus the chunk henry wanted to keep. Magnus, who after his father’s death had become the duke of Saxony, is kept longer, presumably as insurance against another Saxon uprising.

After Northeim’s fall, the duchy of Bavaria had been given to Welf IV upon recommendation of Rudolf of Rheinfelden, the powerful duke of Swabia. Over the years Rheinfelden and the duke of Carinthia, Berthold of Zaehringen had mended their relationship that had been strained when Rheinfelden was made duke of Swabia, a role Zaehringen thought was his. That now created a major political block in the south where Rheinfelden could rely on support from both the duke of Carinthia and his old friend Welf IV the newly appointed duke of Bavaria.

In 1072 Henry IV. accused Rheinfelden and his two dukes of a conspiracy against him. The three dukes, he claims, have tried to assassinate him and make Rheinfelden king. Lampert and Bruno, as one would expect, declare that this was again a plot by the king to bring down another of his magnates. Egon Boshof brings up a theory that blames Henry’s concerns down to the reform of the monastery of St. Blasien, which affected imperial prerogatives.

Again, who knows what went on. Maybe Henry Iv. looked at the comparatively easy win over Otto of Northeim and thought, hey this is a brilliant tool to break the power of his magnates. Or Rheinfelden looked at the events in Saxony and thought to himself, time to strike now before this king gets ever more powerful. Or it was indeed a misunderstanding over the indeed gorgeous monastery of St. Blasien.

Anyway, this time Henry IV. does not succeed in deposing Rheinfelden or the other two dukes. In 1073 they sign some sort of “let’s forget about all that and be friends again” agreement.

That came just in time, because events are now accelerating.

In the summer of 1073, the Saxon had enough of Henry’s castles. What had fuelled the flames was that Henry, cash strapped as he was, did not pay the ministeriales who manned the castles. The ministeriales hence forced the local peasants to bring food to them, and if they failed to do so, would see their villages burned and wives and daughters raped. At least that is the story told by the biased chroniclers Bruno and Lambert. It may also be that the villages belonging to the castles were obliged to bring the produce by law and custom, as was the case with the castles the mighty Saxon lords had built. The only difference was that the soldiers manning Henry’s castles weren’t Saxons, but from elsewhere, possibly Swabia.

In June of 1073 the magnates of Saxony, including the bishops of Magdeburg, Halberstadt, Hildesheim, as well as Hermann Billung, uncle of the incarcerated duke Magnus of Saxony and Otto of Northeim appear before the emperor in Goslar demanding an audience to discuss the castle building program.

Henry IV. does not grant an audience. In fact, he leaves the Saxon magnates stand outside the castle whilst he is playing dice with is mates inside. This is often seen as an unnecessary insult that justifies the upcoming rebellion and put Henry IV. in the wrong. On the other hand, imperial dignity required that the king would not yield to such explicit demands. Henry IV. remembered what happened when he rushed to Trebur in 1066 when the princes met to discuss the fate of Archbishop Adalbert, an experience he was not too keen to repeat. Henry also had been assembling an army for a campaign against Poland, which he believed he could use to suppress any Saxon uprising.

The Saxon magnates are now infuriated to the max. A month later they meet at Hoetensleben for an assembly. There Otto of Northeim gives his famous speech, which I will try to translate here. Thanks, by the way to deepl.com whose free translation service has become a lifesaver for this podcast. Here is Otto of Northeim:

“ The calamities and disgraces that our king has brought upon each one of you for a long time are great and unbearable, but what he still intends to do, if the Almighty God permits him, is even greater and more severe. Strong castles he has erected, as you know, numerous in places already firm by nature, and has placed in them a great multitude of his vassals, and abundantly provided with weapons of all kinds. These castles are not erected against the heathen, who have completely devastated our land where it borders theirs, but in the midst of our country, where no one ever thought of making war against him; he has fortified them with such great effort, and what they mean for this land some of you have already experienced, and if God’s mercy and your bravery do not intervene, you will soon all experience it. They take your possessions by force and hide them in their castles; they abuse your wives and daughters for their pleasure when they please; they demand your servants and your cattle, and all that they like, for their service; yes, they even force you yourselves to bear every burden, however odious, on your free shoulders. But when I imagine in my thoughts what is still waiting for us, then everything that you are now enduring still seems to me to be bearable. For when he will have built his castles in our whole country at his discretion and will have equipped them with armed warriors and all other necessities, then he will no longer plunder your possessions one by one, but he will snatch from you all that you possess with one blow, will give your goods to strangers, and will make you yourselves, you freeborn men, oblige unknown men as servants. And all this, you brave men, will you let it happen to you? Is it not better to fall in brave fight than to live a miserable and ignominious life, being made a shameful mockery by these people.

Even Serfs who are bought for money do not endure the unreasonable commands of their masters, and you, who were born free, should patiently endure servitude? Perhaps you, as Christians, are afraid to violate the oath with which you have paid homage to the king. Indeed, to the king you have sworn. 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. So not against the king, but against the unjust robber of my freedom; not against the fatherland, but for the fatherland, and for freedom, which no good man surrenders other than with his life at the same time, I take up arms, and I demand of you that you also take them up. Awake, therefore, and preserve for your children the inheritance which your fathers have left you; beware lest through your carelessness or slothfulness you yourselves and your children become serfs of strangers” (end quote)

Now before you go and thing that here is the first outburst of genuine German nationalism, I have to stop you there. When Northeim talks of “patria” or “fatherland” he talks about Saxony, not Germany. And when he talks about freedom, he is not talking about human rights, but ancestral privileges, the Freedoms as they will be later called.

But rousing the speech is nevertheless and the Saxons raise an army and head towards the Harzburg, where Henry IV. had gone to hold out while his agents bring over the army initially meant for the Poland campaign to defeat these obnoxious Saxons once and for all. The Saxons set up camp on an opposite hill and sent their demands to the king. He was to dismantle all his castles in Saxony and dismiss his false councillors.

The Harzburg was almost impregnable, so the Saxons blockaded the castle’s food supplies whilst throwing large stones down on the fortifications from a new structure built on the opposite hill.

Henry’s hope of support from the army readied for the war in Poland was quickly dashed. The mighty princes shared many of the views Otto of Northeim had articulated in his speech. They could see that if Henry were to prevail in Saxony, he would proceed to build similar castles in Bavaria, Swabia and anywhere else in the country. Rudolf of Rheinfelden and the two Southern dukes also had not forgotten that Henry had tried to nail them just a year earlier. So, the princes withdrew their troops. Some magnates led by the archbishop of Mainz even began negotiations with Otto of Northeim, allegedly offering him the crown.

Henry IV. fled the Harzburg and set up camp in Worms. There he managed to gather some bishops for an attempt to make a military move on Saxony, but his support was far too weak.

On February 2nd, 1074 he signed the peace of Gerstungen, which cannot be described as anything but a complete capitulation. In a near full assembly of the great bishops and princes of the realm, Henry IV. conceded the demolition of all his castles, dismissed his councillors and gave full amnesty to all the rebels.

Henry IV. withdrew the garrison of the Harzburg and immediately the Saxons stormed in. The Saxon troops it is important to note were not just aristocratic knights but comprised a lot of free or half free peasants. These guys were the first through the gate and began the demolition work. In the peace agreement it was specifically stated that the demolition of the Harzburg should be gentle, respecting the imperial chapel on the site. Well, that did not happen. The Saxon commanders could not stop their enraged mob who tore down the chapel, stole the relics and horror of horrors pulled the remains of the Salian princes buried there out of their coffins and threw them in the ditch like vile garbage.

This profound insult to the honour not just of Henry IV. but the realm as a whole led to one of these sudden mood swings that will punctuate the story of the Investiture Controversy.

The Saxon nobles apologised immediately and promised a thorough investigation and harsh punishment for the perpetrators. But that was not enough. The mighty princes, who did not treat their peasants any different to the way henry IV. had the neighbours of the Harzburg suddenly realised that these Saxon armies contained an unsettlingly large contingent of free peasants. And in 1073/1074 there had already been uprisings in major cities, namely worms and Cologne where the bishops had to run for their lives. Our old friend Anno of Cologne was one of them. He only managed to get out because one of his supporters had just put a door into the city walls near his house. This “hole of Anno” can still be seen in Cologne.

Given the choice between supporting a potentially overbearing emperor or a rabble-rousing Saxon, many of the Southern dukes, namely Rudolf of Rheinfelden took the side of Henry IV. Henry IV. could finally muster his army to bring the Saxons to heel. The two sides met at the Unstrut river on June 9, 1075.

What ensued was one of the bloodiest and painful battles of the 11th century. Though in principle it was Saxons against the rest of the kingdom, in reality many families were split. Fathers were fighting sons; brothers were killing each other in the melee. The unity of the kingdom created at the battle king Henry the Fowler had fought against the Hungarians nearby in 934 was trampled into the dust on that early summers day.

Henry IV. prevailed in the brutal fighting. After the battle his troops were let loose across Saxony, murdering and pillaging wherever they went. On October 25th, 1075 the Saxon barons conceded an unconditional surrender.

After a decade of humiliation and defeat, Henry IV. had finally regained the position his father and grandfather had held. The magnates of the land recognised him as his overlord and the Saxons, who had plotted to kill him since he was a child were utterly defeated. Finally, he should now be able to go to Rome and take what had been his since birth, the imperial crown.

That is not what is going to happen. Next week we will find out how it comes that within a mere 18 months Henry IV. will find himself utterly friendless about to lose it all kneeling barefoot in the snow outside the inner gate of the castle of Canossa. I hope you will join us again.

Episode 32 – Hildebrand, Not Pope but False Monk

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans – Episode 32: Hildebrand, Not Pope but False Monk.

Before we start, I want to let you know that there is something to celebrate. It is now almost exactly a year since I started working on the History of the Germans. The first episodes came out on January 14th and you response, dear listeners, far exceeded my expectations. Right now, more than 1500 of you tune in every week and download well over 3000 episodes. The podcast has reached its 25,000 pretty much as I speak.

When I started, I said I would take the narrative all the way up to the year 1990. As you can imagine, that was one of those promises that were under the premise that it would ultimately make sense to do that. With that much interest amongst you, it makes a lot of sense and so the Podcast will become a permanent feature in my life, and hopefully in yours.

Podcasting as it happens is a lot of work. I spend roughly 2 to 2.5 full working days on each episode, spread across the week. Most of that is spent on research. For instance I draw on 6 books on the Salians, 3 books on the papacy and 4 books on medieval ages in general plus two contemporary chroniclers and the letters of Pope Gregory VII for this episode. Wriiting, recording and editing takes another 8-10 hours in total per week. I am not complaining – this is what I call fun. The only thing I do complain about is the endless building work outside my window that you may hear from time to time in the background.

At my current run-rate of 5 years per episode, I still have 183 episodes to g0, including this one and the last episode will air on December 4, 2025. We will see whether my German urge for punctuality will prevail or whether 20 years of living in Britain had san impact on delivery against promises..

But in any event, it will be a long run. And I need to make this economically viable, if not for the sake of my sanity and my marriage. Since I hate advertising breaks in podcasts I and I am terrible at pretending a mattrass of online course has changed my life, the only way to finance this endeavour is by relying on your generosity.

I have set up a Patreon page where you can become a supporter of the podcast by making a monthly contribution. As a patron you get, first and foremost, my heartfelt gratitude, plus access to occasional bonus episodes on German Art, architecture or whatever else comes to my head. You can become a Patron for £2/$3 a month, the cost of a cappuccino. Those of you who feel the History of the Germans Podcast is worth supporting and have the funds please go to my website historyofthegermans.com and you can find the link under support the show, or go directly to patreon.com/historyofthegermans.

Special thanks go to Kraig, Donald and Margreatha who have already signed up.

Now let us get back to our story.

Last week we spent most of our time following one of the three strands of the story of the investiture controversy – the tension between expanding imperial central power and the magnates. In 1075 Henry IV. had managed to gain the upper hand in the conflict with the Saxons.  This came about, not because of a sudden emergence of support for the imperial idea, but because the magnates feared an uprising of the lower classes more than an overbearing ruler. We will leave our young king in the splendour of his achievement and catch up with events in Rome, following the second strand in our narrative, the rise of the papacy.

You may remember that the papacy’s fortune had begun improving with pope Leo IX (1049-1054). Over the following  20 years the papacy had grown even more in stature and when pope Alexander II died in 1073 the Holy See had reached a position that it never occupied before.

Firstly, the papacy had got out of the chokehold of the Roman aristocracy. We heard two episodes ago that the last attempt by the Theobhylacts to put one of theirs on the throne of Saint Peter in 1059, had been foiled by an alliance of the reform-oriented cardinals under the leadership of Hildebrand and the support of Godfrey the Bearded.

Godfrey was called upon again in 1062/63 to help pope Alexander II  gain access to the holy city that the local aristocrats held on behalf of Cadalus, the antipope installed by empress Agnes.

Godfrey the bearded died in 1069 and was succeeded in his Italian possessions by his stepdaughter Mathilda of Tuscany. If Godfrey was a staunch supporter of the reform movement, Mathilda was even more committed. The papacy could call upon her almost as if she was a vassal of the church. Why she was so committed to the papacy in general and Hildebrand in particular has kept tongues wagging for centuries, but we should remember that she mostly continued her stepfather’s policies.

Having more or less unlimited recourse on the power of Tuscany was not the only military capability of the Holy See. During the fighting between the supporters of Alexander II and the antipope Cadalus the papacy created its own military capability. Pope Leo IX may well have been the first pope to lead an army into battle, but his army consisted entirely of troops of his supporters, not papal troops. The units Hildebrand created in 1062/63 were papal armies. His detractors would later claim that he had led these troops into war, sword in hand, which was in contravention of canon law.

The next stone on the papal chessboard were the Normans. As of 1073 they had been loyal vassals of the pope, helping out when needed. Otherwise, they had been busy conquering the rest of Southern Italy and the island of Sicily. In 1072 when Robert Giuscard and his next brother, Roger, another fruit of the inexhaustible loins of Tancred of Hauteville, entered Palermo, a city of 50,000 inhabitants, larger than Rome, London, Florence, Naples or Genua and in Italy only surpassed by Milan in wealth and splendour. Under count and later king Roger of Sicily the island and its capital Palermo experienced a golden age. Roger, whose actual Norman forces may have numbered just a few hundred had to be a tolerant ruler who created a state where Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox Christian and Latin Christian communities lived in relative harmony, not something his feudal overlord the Pope much appreciated.

With the Normans not quite as reliable as the rulers of Tuscany, the Popes would not have minded an occasional imperial journey to Rome as a counterweight. In particular Alexander II offered an imperial coronation several times, but it never happened.

The popes, who a hundred years earlier served literally as the footstools of the Crescenti rulers of Rome have found a degree of political and military independence, never seen before.

In that context it is no surprise that the way a pope is chosen also changed.After the five popes between 1046 and 1058 been directly appointed by the emperor, the 1059 the Lateran Synod established that the pope should be elected by the Cardinals with some, not further defined involvement of the emperor. Imperial involvement in the subsequent elections dwindled to naught. And when empress Agnes tried to appoint her own pope, it ended with the schism of Cadalus, a massive loss of confidence in the imperial religious policy and her losing the regency. When the bishops meet at a synod in mantua to bring the schism to an end, archbishop Anno of Cologne initially presided over proceedings as the representative of the emperor. But he was soon relegated to the back benches thanks to Hildebrand insisting that the emperor has no longer any say in the choice of who should be pope.

Bottom line 1: The papacy has become an independent political, not just spiritual entity with its own military capability.

What gave the papacy the next push up the ladder was that it assumed the leadership in the church reform movement.

The church reform had started as a grass roots movement. Pious monks, disgusted by the worldly mores of the rich and powerful abbeys had formed communities in remote places like Cluny, Gorze or Moyenmoutier. They wanted to live according to the rule of St. Benedict, focused on praying and doing good works for a reward in heaven. Their efforts were recognised by noble lords, the duke of Aquitaine amongst them, who wanted these holy monks to pray for their souls in the afterlife. So they gave donations to the monks or asked them to set up a new priory or monastery on their lands. In the next step, the emperors, namely Henry II and Henry III embraced the movement and began to roll out reform in the mighty imperial abbeys of Reichenau, Corvey, Fulda etc.

At the same time the urban and rural population who had little interaction with the monks on their remote abbeys, demanded that the priest who administered their sacraments to live up to his billing. That meant initially that the priest should have been chosen for merit, rather than for the amount of kickback he offered the local bishop. But more and more the laity was upset by the fact that most priests, canons and deacons were married or had congress with women. Celibacy had been an ideal and monks and bishops were expected to live celibate since the early times of the church. But ordinary priests were not. I understand that there is no watertight theological reason for celibacy in the clergy, and it is not required for priests in other Christian denominations. But in the first half of the 11th century the demand for a higher standard in pastoral care in Western Europe became associated with celibacy. My non-theogical view is that if monks, the most effective communicators with divine, lived in celibacy, than being celibate clearly improved efficacy of the sacraments. And hence the city dwellers and peasants wanted access to the same quality of religious rites as the aristocrats who had their monks.

The education and moral standards of the priests was the responsibility of the bishops. Henry II and Henry III enthusiastically encouraged their bishops to improve the standards of their clergy.

By 1046 when Henry III deposed three popes at the council of Sutri, he was the undisputed leader of the church reform movement. He appointed competent bishops who raised the standards of the clergy and pushed through the reform of the monasteries. And finally, he appointed competent popes.

Leo IX and Victor II got the papacy involved in the work of church reform for the first time. They saw themselves as partners of the emperor in this great endeavour and focused on the parts of the world the emperor had difficulty to reach. In particular the French bishops came in for a drubbing. Simony was rife in France, since investiture of bishops was one of the few sources of income for the king.

The popes travelled endlessly; a level of touristic activity not seen again until Pope John Paul II’s popemobile tours. Leo IX for instance crossed the alps 6 times in the 5 years of his pontificate, holding synods in France, Germany and Italy. The same goes for his successor Victor II. Almost as important as the papal presence North of the Alps was the activity of papal legates, usually prominent cardinals like Pietro Damiano, the later popes Stephen IX, Nicolas II. Alexander IiI and Hreggoryg Vi. The legates would call and preside over Synods, where again bishops were investigated and condemned for simony or other forms of corruption or misdemeanour. Legates would be sent even to adjudicate in major political issues, like the attempt of Henry IV. to get a divorce.  

Within a span of maybe 20 years, the papacy goes from being almost invisible in the debate over the most important issue of its day to being everywhere.

Even the intellectual epicentre of the church reform shifts. Was the theological underpinning of the reform movement initially devised by the abbots of Cluny, Gorze etc., it is now the college of cardinal and the annual synods in Rome that set the tone. St. Peter Damian, Humbert of Silva candida and others who came to Rome from all over Europe form a new centre that sets the dogma.

At the same time, the imperial leadership role diminishes under the regency of  empress Agnes. Rapacious bishops like Anno of Cologne and Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen do not add much to the imperial reputation. That reputation completely crumbles when Agnes sides with the conservative  forces, the Northern Italian bishops and the Roman Aristocracy, appointing the bishop Cadalus as antipope Honorius III. Even though Anno of Cologne reverses the policy, it is too late to keep the imperial power in the lead.

Some hope is pinned on young Henry IV to step into his father’s footsteps. But that crumbles quickly. Henry IV. is likely a religious man, because everybody in the 11th century was. But he showed no particular enthusiasm for the cleaning up of the clergy. And there is even a question whether he could or should have done that, since his bishops, who he relied upon for soldiers and food, felt increasingly harassed by the pope and looked to the emperor for help, an emperor who until 1075 was extremely weak himself.

Bottom line 2: the papacy now leads the church reform movement

Not only has the papacy become a self-determining political organisation, and the leader of the largest popular movement of its time, it has also become universal.

Before 1046 the papacy operated predominantly in Italy and in relation to its neighbours, the emperor and the king of France. Yes, there would be interactions with far flung lands, like when king Canute came from rainy England or pope Sylvester II sent a crown for the coronation of the king of Hungary. But these actions were responsive, rather than proactive.

After 1046, the papacy got busy collecting oaths of fealty from kings and rulers all over Western Europe.

It started off with Pope Nicolas II enfeoffing the Normans Robert Guiscard as duke of Apulia and Richard of Aversa as duke of Capua. Moreover, the popes also granted these Normans the island of Sicily and the parts of Southern Italy still ruled by the Byzantines. That is a ballsy move on behalf of the pope, since it suggests the papacy was the feudal overlord of Southern Italy. Even the Constantine Donation, which we know and many people at the time knew was a fake, did not extend to Southern Italy and certainly not to Sicily. But where there is no plaintiff, there is no judge. The emperor in Constantinnople, whose lands these had been before the Muslim and Norman conquest had no standing in Rome any more as the break between the Eastern and the Western church had become permanent in 1054. And the emperor Henry IV. who would be next in line with a claim, well he had other things on his mind.

In 1068 the king of Aragon in Spain came on pilgrimage to Rome and gave his kingdom in the hands of the pope to receive it back as a fief. As usual, he did this only in part out of piety. What he got in exchange was papal support that turned the kings’ wars with the Muslim Emirs into a sort of pre-crusade type endeavour.

One of the great political tools the papacy used were papal banners. These were to be carried into battle as signs that the apostles Peter and Paul were fighting on the side of the flagbearer. That was most valuable to those whose claims to their conquests were weakest. One of these pretenders was William the Conqueror, whose claim to the English throne was, how can I say that most politely, a stretch. Pope Alexander II, upon insistence of Hildebrand gave William the banner and his endorsement. William enjoyed a reputation as a supporter of Church reform, whilst the old regime in England was seen as simonistic and insufficiently focused on enforcing celibacy amongst the clergy.

The reach of the papacy did not stop at England’s shore. In a few years pope Gregory will write letters of advice and admonishment to the great King of Ireland, the bishop of Carthage in North Africa and even the ruler of what is now Morocco.

In just 30 years the papacy’s ambition has grown from being the bishop of Rome to being the universal ruler of all Christendom. In doing so the papacy had simply stepped into a void that the emperors since Otto the great have left wide open.

In 972 when Otto the great died, he was the universal ruler of Christian Western Europe. Though technically he was not King of France or King of Burgundy, the rulers of these lands recognised him as the arbiter of their disputes and came to his assemblies. The same goes for the dukes of Poland and Bohemia. Hungary and Denmark were still mostly pagan, and England was a slaughterhouse of Viking invasions. In other words, there was a universal authority, and that was the emperor. His immediate successors, Otto II and Otto III tried to maintain that universal ambition. Otto III’s policy of a Renovatio Imperii was the most stringent expression of that idea.

But since Henry II’s reign from 1002-1024, imperial focus shifted towards expanding central authority within its own lands and its geographic zone of influence shrunk. France was on its own path since the Capetians had taken control. After Boleslav the Brave Poland could only be brought under imperial control for short periods. This goes even more for Hungary, now a Christian kingdom. Denmark and Norway were on a roll and did not recognise the emperor as their overlord. And let us not forget that Henry II waited 12 years before he went to Rome to be crowned. Konrad II and Henry III may have been quicker in going to Rome, but at that point the train had left the station. The empire was no longer universal.

A few years later, pope Gregory VII will write to the king of Hungary that if he took his kingdom as fief from the emperor, he would only be a regulus, a little king. The emperor is -said Gregory- no different from any other king who owes his rule to God and god’s representative on earth, the pope. The only way to true sovereignty was to receive the kingdom from the hand of the pope and swear fealty to him as the sole universal power in Christendom.

Now this is where we are on the 21st of April 1073, when Pope Alexander II died unexpectedly in the palace of the Lateran. The next day as the pope’s body is laid out in the basilica of the Lateran, the people call for Hildebrand to be made pope. As the funeral cortege winds through the city f Rome, the calls grow louder and louder. And when they reach the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, the place where Saint Peter was kept in chain before his martyrdom the masses sweep the archdeacon into the church and enthrone him there and then.

A few minor hitches in that process. First, Hildebrand despite 35 years of service to the papal court had not yet been ordained a priest, something that had to be done at double speed.. And second, the Papacy had just established  that the pope should be elected by the college of Cardinals not raised by public acclaim. That was conveniently forgotten in the melee outside SAN Pietro in Vincoli.

When Hildebrand is coming to, he finds himself on the papal throne. That cannot have been much of a surprise for the now roughly 55-year old. His position inside the church had grown and grown these last 20 years and his modest title belied his actual position. Peter Damian used to joke that some people came to Rome to meet the Lord Pope, but most went to see the pope’s lord, Hildebrand.

Hildebrand takes the papal name of Gregory VII, which must be the wickedest joke of the 11th century. The previous bearer of this papal name had been Gregory VI, the only pope ever proven to have actually paid cold hard cash to get the job, and Hildebrand’s first boss who he accompanied into exile. When Gregory VI had been the symbol of the corruption of the church, his pupil, Gregory VII will become synonymous with the fight against the buying and selling of holy offices..

I have complained many times before that we hardly ever find anything resembling a political manifesto from any of the emperors or popes that have so far featured on the podcast. Historians are forced to deduce their intentions from their actions, rather than measuring their actions against their intentions. Gregory VII is in this, as in so many other things, the great exception.

Gregory filed a register of letters and other documents he deemed important to the library of the Vatican. This register contains a very unusual note, known today as the Dictatus Papae. What its purpose was is unclear. It is not dated and was definitely not a letter. It was not made public during his lifetime. It may have been a note to structure a collection of canon law, Gregory wanted compiled. Or it was what it sounds and looks like, a political manifesto, outlining the fundamental concepts underpinning Gregory’s papacy.

It contains 27 statements of fact, or of facts as Gregory saw them, which I quote here in the translation by Ernest F. Henderson, 1919:

  1. That the Roman church was founded by God alone.
  2. That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal.
  3. That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops.
  4. That, in a council his legate, even if a lower grade, is above all bishops, and can pass sentence of deposition against them.
  5. That the pope may depose the absent.
  6. That, among other things, we ought not to remain in the same house with those excommunicated by him.
  7. That for him alone is it lawful, according to the needs of the time, to make new laws, to assemble together new congregations, to make an abbey of a canonry; and, on the other hand, to divide a rich bishopric and unite the poor ones.
  8. That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
  9. That of the pope alone all princes shall kiss the feet.
  10. That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches.
  11. That this is the only name in the world.
  12. That it may be permitted to him to depose emperors.
  13. That he may be permitted to transfer bishops if need be.
  14. That he has power to ordain a clerk of any church he may wish.
  15. That he who is ordained by him may preside over another church, but may not hold a subordinate position; and that such a one may not receive a higher grade from any bishop.
  16. That no synod shall be called a general one without his order.
  17. That no chapter and no book shall be considered canonical without his authority.
  18. That a sentence passed by him may be retracted by no one; and that he himself, alone of all, may retract it.
  19. That he himself may be judged by no one.
  20. That no one shall dare to condemn one who appeals to the apostolic chair.
  21. That to the latter should be referred the more important cases of every church.
  22. That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness.
  23. That the Roman pontiff, if he has been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter; St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As is contained in the decrees of St. Symmachus the pope.
  24. That, by his command and consent, it may be lawful for subordinates to bring accusations.
  25. That he may depose and reinstate bishops without assembling a synod.
  26. That he who is not at peace with the Roman church shall not be considered catholic.
  27. That he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.

I will not get into the debate about what of these statements has already been canonical law before Gregory has put them on paper here or whether he had made them up entirely. Nor can I really give you a steer, which parts are derived from known fakes like the Constantine donation and the papal decretals and imperial laws made up by the so-called Pseudo Isidore in the 9th century.

What is certain is that a number of these statements have not been in use for a long time, should they have ever been church law, and they go directly against the way the world had been run for nearly a thousand years. Let us go through a few:

The pope may depose and reinstate bishops? Without a synod and even when the bishop is absent? So far deposing a bishop was a very rare occurrence and happened if at all at a synod convened by the emperor.

The pope can transfer bishops? Didn’t we hear that transferring a bishop was impossible because the bishop was married to his diocese and when Otto II wanted his advisor to be elevated to be archbishop of Magdeburg he had to suppress the bishopric of Merseburg with the well known consequence of a lost battle in Italy and a pagan uprising in the east?

That the kings have to kiss the feet of the pope and that he can depose emperors (note the plural), and that he can absolve his subjects from their oath of fealty. More on that story later.

And then, my favourite: that the Roman Church has never erred; nor will it err to eternity; that a canonically ordained pope is undoubtably made a saint. Check out your books on rhetoric, you may find that an orator using the word “undoubtedly” is usually riddled with doubt. 

In the end it does not matter whether these statements are canonical or not, what matters is that Gregory believed these maxims to be true and that it was his job to enforce them across the whole of Christendom. Whatever the cost.

And so, he got to work.

He sets out his stall in the synod of 1074 where he summarises the rules for the new reformed church as follows:

  1. Those who are guilty of the crime of fornication may not celebrate masses or minister at the altar in lesser orders. 
  2. Those who have been promoted by the simoniac heresy, that is, with the intervention of money, to any rank or office of holy orders may no longer exercise any ministry in holy church.
  3. No one of the clergy shall receive the investiture with a bishopric or abbey or church from the hand of an emperor or king or of any lay person, male or female.

One of his main tools to implement these new rules were open letters to his bishops. These he would send either say to “all the bishops of France” or an individual bishop, however in copies so that his whole clergy would see them. In the letters he would name and shame an individual bishop for refusing or being slack in the implementation of these rules.

It tended to be a four-step process. First, he would outline the new rules. In the next letter he would admonish the bishop for lack of progress. Then in the third he would become threatening, ordering the bishop to come to Rome and account for himself. Like this letter to bishop Otto of Constance quote:

“O the impudence! O the unparalleled insolence! that a bishop should despise the decrees of the apostolic see, should set at naught the precepts of the holy fathers, and in truth should impose upon his subjects from his lofty place and from his episcopal chair things contrary to these precepts and opposed to the Christian faith! We accordingly command you by apostolic authority to present yourself at our next council in the first week of Lent, to answer canonically respecting both this disobedience and contempt of the apostolic see, and all the charges that have been laid against you.”

And as a final move, Gregory would depose the bishop and tell his congregation the following (quote):

“Accordingly, as we have already said, by apostolic authority we charge all of you, both greater and lesser, who stand by God and St. Peter, that if he is determined to continue in his obduracy you should show him neither respect nor obedience. Nor need you think this a danger to your souls. For if, as we have often said already, he is determined to resist apostolic precepts, we so absolve you by St. Peter’s authority from every yoke of subjection to him that, even if any of you is bound to him by the obligation of an oath, for so long as he is a rebel against God and the apostolic see you are bound to pay him no fealty.” 

Gregory VII writes an enormous amount of letters, 387 of which are held in the papal registry alone. Thanks to a great visualisation by George Litchfield, we can see where they went. Most went to France in these first years. It is there where Gregory sees the biggest issues and the most obstinate bishops.

But Henry IV is also on his mind.

Already in 1073 he writes to his best mate, Mathilda of Tuscany as follows:

Quote “And as to the king: As you have learned from our former letters, it is our intention to send pious men to him, by whose admonitions and the help of God we may be able to bring him back to loyalty to his mother, the Holy Church of Rome, and give him detailed instructions as to the proper form of assuming the empire. But if, contrary to our hopes, he shall refuse to listen to us, we cannot and we ought not to turn aside from our mother, the Roman Church, which has cherished us and has often brought forth other children from the blood of her sons; so God protect us! And surely it is safer for us to resist him even unto death in defence of the truth and for our own welfare than to give way to his will by consenting to iniquity and so rush on to our own ruin.”

As far as linear history goes, this story of the ascent of the papacy is about as linear as it can get. Every step along the way the papacy gains in stature until it is now in the hands of a driven, almost fanatic pope hell bent on establishing his supremacy over the whole of the Roman world.

Whilst the king of France gets out of his way and the kings of Denmark, England, Hungary and Poland are either too weak or too far away to put up any resistance, the clash had to happen with the empire, and its still not crowned emperor in waiting, Henry IV.

From Henry’s perspective Gregory is very much off the reservation. Not being involved in papal elections is something that could irritate an imperial government, but it is certainly not the first time that the empire had let things in Rome slack a bit.

But a pope who runs round in Germany, admonishing and deposing bishops left right and centre. That is not on. And what is certainly not on is #3 of Gregory’s stated political objectives, that no laymen should be allowed to invest a bishop or abbot.

This would be the death nail in the Imperial Church system. The Imperial Church System is built on the idea that the king/emperor can appoint bishops and abbots, usually from his own chancery. In particular the emperor would invest the bishop or abbot into his worldly possessions, i.e., the lands and counties that had been granted to him by the emperors long ago. Thanks to that investiture the bishops in particular were obliged to provide the military and financial resources to support the regime. You may remember that already under emperor Otto II, 100 years earlier, nearly 2/3 of the imperial army in Italy was provided by the Imperial church. By now this number is in all likelihood even larger since church had received even more land and privileges from the intervening emperors.

I did say last episode that Henry IV had lost faith in the reliability of the Imperial Church system, which is not a surprise having watched Anno of Cologne plundering the imperial purse. But that does not mean he could afford to give up on it. His territorial power in Goslar was clearly no match for his enemies as we have seen. And reliance on his magnates was not really an option, since they did effectively what they wanted.

What is also noticeable is that this ban on lay investiture came a bit out of the blue. Yes, Humbert of Silva Candida had suggested it as far back as 1059 and it had sneaked into some papal decrees. But it had never been implemented. All the way into the 1070s did first Agnes and later Henry IV. invest bishops across the empire. All three of the last popes, including Gregory VII himself had been witnesses to imperial investitures during their time as papal legates to the imperial court, but none of them ever said a peep about it being uncanonical.   

Things came to a head over the investiture of the archbishop of Milan. Milan had been internal turmoil since the days of the Valavassores uprising under Konrad II. It was the largest city in europe and the most economically advanced, which meant they were about 50 to 100 years ahead of their time when it came to social and political developments.

Since about 1057 the lower classes in Milan had demanded an improvement in the corrupt and licentious clergy of the city. Street gangs would harass clergymen they suspected of living with women or had acquired their office through the payment of bribes. Rioting became increasingly intense, and the rebels calling themselves the Pataria began to organise under the leadership of a member of the city nobility called Erlembald. Erlembald received a lot of support from the papacy, and even received a papal banner in his fight with the archbishop. This archbishop, Wido who had been exiled and was even at some point captured by the Pataria resigned in 1070, handing ove the reigns of the archbishopric to his deputy, Godfrey. Godfrey travelled to the imperial court for his investiture, as had been the tradition with archbishops of Milan for centuries. Whilst Godfrey received ring and staff from Henry IV., the Pataria raised one of their own, Atto to be archbishop.  Atto received recognition from the pope and civil war in the city continued between the supporters of Atto and the papacy on one hand and Godfrey and the emperor on the other.

In one of his last acts, pope Alexander II, under guidance of the future Gregory VII, tried to put pressure on Henry IV by excommunicated some of his advisors.  That excommunication lingered without much effect whilst the situation in Milan changed in favour of the imperial side. The Pataria suffered the loss of its leader, Erlembald in the fighting and after the city had burned down, the imperial party took control. They asked Henry IV for a new archbishop, even though Godfrey was still around. Henry IV agreed to this demand and appointed Tedald, one of the members of his chancery to be archbishop of Milan.

This is where Gregory loses it. In December 1075 he writes a letter to Henry IV admonishing him for his decisions in Milan as well as for retaining his advisors who had been excommunicated 2 years before. The letter is a not very veiled threat to excommunicate the king.

We are in step 3 of the Gregorian deposition process. Like with the bishop Otto fo Constance the process is, letter 1, information about the new rules, letter 2, call to implement, letter three, do it or else, and letter 4 deposition.

Henry IV sure had heard about this process. And he should know that Gregory was serious. For one, the letter was delivered by two papal legates who also brought a verbal message from the pope and were supposed to bring an account of the king’s informal response back to Rome.

And, Gregory VII had form in excommunicating kings. He had threatened to excommunicate King Henry I of France unless he took action on simony and had actually excommunicated the Norman leader Robert Giuscard, not for any spiritual failures, but for attacking papal land.

Henry’s reaction to the first two letters had been to play for time since, as you may remember, he was in the midst of getting his proverbial handed to him by the Saxons in 1073 and 1074. But when the third letter arrived in 1075, Henry IV had just won his great victory against the Saxons. No way is he going to yield to this rudeness.

He called a synod of the German bishops in Worms for the 24th of January, a mere month after the receipt of the letter. Despite the winter weather 26 bishops come to the synod, including the cardinal Hugo the White, who had fallen out with Gregory. Hugo who came up from Rome tells the synod that Gregory has gone completely out of control.  He says the pope lives in the Lateran in sin with Mathilda of Tuscany a woman in her 20s who had been estranged from her husband and an acclaimed beauty . Moreover, at Christmas the prefect Censius, member of the Roman aristocracy had the pope apprehended, though Gregory managed to escape with the help of the populace.

It was the pope’s alleged hypocrisy that irritated the German bishops. These mighty prelates were tired of being harassed and harangued by the fanatic on the papal throne. No more did they want to be summoned to Rome to atone for things they believed were perfectly acceptable, like letting their canons get married or accepting financial obligations to the king upon investiture. And even more so if the pope himself failed to adhere to his own standards..

And so Henry IV in agreement with his bishops writes back to Gregory on January 24th, 1076 as follows:

Quote: Henry, king not by force, but by the grace of God, to Hildebrand, at present not pope, but false monk. S

You deserve such greeting for the disorder you created. There is no rank in the Church which you have not made to partake in shame instead of honour, in curse instead of blessing. For, to mention only a few, most important instances out of so many; you have dared to lay hands on the leaders of the holy Church, the Lord’s anointed – the archbishops, the bishops and priests; you have trampled them underfoot like slaves who do not know what their master is doing.; by crushing them have you  endeared yourself to the commonest of people; you have regarded them all as ignorant, but yourself as omniscient. This knowledge, however, you have used not for edification but for destruction, so that we are justified in believing that St. Gregory, whose name you have arrogated to yourself, prophesied about you when he said, “The pride of him who has power becomes the greater the number of those who are subject to him, and he thinks that he himself can do more than all.”

And indeed we have endured all of this, being anxious to preserve the honour of the apostolic see; but you have understood our humility as fear, and therefore have not been afraid to rise up against the royal power given to us by God, daring to threaten to take it from us. As if we had received our kingdom from you! As if the kingdom and the dominion were in your hands and not in God’s!

And this, although our Lord Jesus Christ has called us to kingship, but has not called you to the priesthood. For you have ascended by the following steps. For by cunning, which the monastic profession abhors, have you obtained money; by money, favour; by the sword, the throne of peace. And from the throne of peace you have disturbed the peace by arming the subjects against those who rule over them; by teaching, that our bishops, called by God, are to be despised; by taken offices from priests and giving it laymen, by permitting them to depose or condemn those who had been  ordained as teachers by the laying on of the bishops’ hands.

And you even laid hand on me, who, though unworthy to be among the anointed, yet have been anointed to the kingdom; on me, who, as the tradition of the holy fathers teaches, may not be deposed for any crime unless, God forbid, I have departed from the faith, on me who is subject to the judgment of God alone.

The wisdom of the holy fathers even left Julian, the Apostate, not to be tried by themselves, but  left it to God alone, to judge and depose him. For even the true pope, Peter, exclaims, “Fear God, honor the King.”

But you, who do not fear God, dishonor Him in me whom He has appointed. Therefore St. Paul, when he spared no angel of heaven if he had preached otherwise, did not exempt even you who teach otherwise on earth. For he says, “If anyone, neither I nor an angel from heaven, preaches any other gospel than that which was preached to you, he will be condemned. You then, condemned by this curse and by the judgment of all our bishops and by our own, descend and renounce the apostolic chair which you have usurped. Let another ascend the throne of St. Peter, who shall not exercise violence under the guise of religion, but shall teach the sound doctrine of St. Peter. I, Henry, king by the grace of God, say to you, together with all our bishops, descend, descend or be damned forever.”

end quote

Translation by myself

This is the theological equivalent of parking tanks of the Vatican lawn.. Both sides are fighting for survival. Henry for his control of the Imperial church and hence the resources of the empire, Hildebrand for what he believes are the rights of the holy church and its leader, the bishop of Rome, and a bit about his own survival. I guess. In January 1076 a betting man would have put his money on the Panzerfahrer Heinrich who had the bishops and their resources on his side. But that will turn out a poor bet as we will see.

I know I wanted to get all the way to Canossa today, but that was not to be. This episode is already far too long. So, you will have to wait until next week. I hope you are going to join us again.

Episode 33 – Canoss aFinally

Hello and Welcome to the History of the Germans, Episode 33 –  Canossa finally

It has taken a while but today we will finally get to that famous moment reproduced in thousands of German schoolbooks and maybe the only event of the Middle Ages most Germans have heard about.

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 James, Sean and Stefan who have already signed up.

Last week we ended with the famous letter of Henry IV to Pope Gregory VII that began with an insult: Hildebrand, at present not pope but false monk and ended with a call for him to step down.

That letter arrived in February 1076 when Pope Gregory had convened bishops from near and far for his annual Lenten Synod in Rome. Gregory steps up to the altar and reads the letter of the king of the Romans. And then he reads another letter, sent by the German bishops making the same points and including the same insults that Henry IV had hurled at the holy father. And finally, he reads another letter sent by Henry IV to the people of Rome asking them to rise up against the false monk. Finally the imperial envoy addresses the congregation and demands the deposition of Gregory VII from the Synod. They promise that Henry IV will personally come to Rome at Pentecost and bring a new Pope.

10 out of 10 for Cujones, but not exactly mensa-level intelligent. Who will be at the Lenten Synod called by Pope Gregory VII? Wild guess, mostly people who support Gregory VII. The bishops and other prelates who are opposed to Gregory VII have declared him not pope but a false monk, which makes it unlikely they would put in an appearance.

No surprise then that the hostile audience erupts, and the royal envoys are lucky to get out alive. Allegedly they had to hide behind the billowing papal robes to avoid getting stabbed.

Gregory’s response was swift and unflinching.

First, he deposes Archbishop Siegfried of Mainz, the most senior German clergyman. Siegfried is excommunicated and suspended from all episcopal duties. He then lists all other bishops who he suspects of voluntarily supporting Henry IV and declares them equally suspended. The remaining bishops have until August 1 to declare allegiance to the pope by messenger or in person. Failure to do so means automatic suspension. And the bishops of Lombardy are suspended wholesale. To put that into perspective, Gregory has just dismissed 26 bishops out of ~45, some of whom were actually in prison at that point in time. I would call that bold.

As for Henry IV Gregory declares the followingLquote)

O holy Peter, prince of the apostles, mercifully incline your holy ears to us and hear me, your servant, whom you have nurtured from childhood and whom you have delivered to this day from the hand of the wicked, who have hated and hate me because of my fidelity to you.

You are my witness together with my Lady, the Mother of God, and your brother amongst all the saints, St. Paul, that your holy Roman Church has forced me against my will to be its leader; bear witness that I have not thought of ascending your throne by force, and that I would rather have ended my life as a pilgrim than to ascend your throne by worldly means for the sake of earthly glory.

And therefore, I believe that it is by your grace and not by my own deeds that it has pleased you and pleases you that all the Christian people, who are committed to you, obey me, your duly ordained representative on earth. And so to me has been given by your grace the power to bind and to loose in heaven and on earth.

Based on this holy commission, in the name of Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, for the honour and safety of your Church, I deprive, by your power and authority, Henry the King, son of Henry the Emperor, who has risen up against your Church with outrageous insolence, of dominion over the whole realm of the Germans and over Italy.

And I release all Christians from the bonds of the oath they have taken or will take to him; and I forbid anyone to serve him as king. For it is fitting that he who seeks to diminish the honour of your church should himself forfeit the honour that was his due.

And since he has refused to obey us as a Christian, has not returned to the God whom he had forsaken, has consorted with the excommunicated, has committed manifold iniquities, has spurned  my commandments which, as you testify, I gave him for his own salvation, has separated himself from your church and has strived to tear it asunder – I therefore bind him in your stead with the chain of the Anathema. And I bind him in such a way that people of all nations may know and have proof that you are Peter and that the Son of the living God has built his church on your rock, a rock the gates of hell cannot overpower.(end quote)

This is not the first time a ruler has been excommunicated. The first time was in 390 AD when bishop Ambrose of Milan banned the emperor Theodosius for the massacre of Thessaloniki. And after that, kings are being excommunicated in surprising regularity. French rulers tend to have attracted more excommunications than most, usually for sexual misdemeanours, but equally King Harold II of England, of Hastings fame and Duke Boleslav the Bold of Poland have been excommunicated. By 1076 Gregor VII himself had already threatened to excommunicate Phillip I of France and had in fact excommunicated Robert Guiscard.

So that was not a surprise and probably well within the range of outcomes Henry IV had expected.

What is different in this ban are two things. First, Gregory “deprives” Henry of “dominion over The realm of the Germans and Italy” and he follows it up with: “I release all Christians from the bonds of the oath they have taken or will take to him”. That had not happened before, ever. Because so far, the church had stuck to the words of Jesus reported in Matthew, Mark and Luke: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”.

In Gregory’s mind the concept of an all-powerful papacy that is owed obedience by everyone, a pope whose feet are to be kissed by kings and emperors and who can depose bishops, kings and emperors supersedes this quaint new testament notion.

Henry IV had no lofty concepts. He trusted in the language of spears and swords. Given the Roman populace was unwilling to rise up against Gregory, he decided that he would have to come down by himself to sort things out. He announced that he would raise an army and go down to Rome by Pentecost to receive the long overdue imperial coronation, be it from a chastened Gregory or another Pope.

If I had been a betting man in February 1076, I would have given Pope Gregory a maximum of 6 months in office. Pretty much everything was stacked against him.

  1. Just 30 years before, Henry’s father had deposed not just one, but three popes.
  2. Henry is riding high on a major victory against his internal enemies the Saxons.
  3. The German bishops have nothing good to say about Gregory who he had harangued and harassed them for years. And most of these had been members of the Royal chancery under either Henry III or Henry IV.
  4. In Italy the Lombard bishops would provide an imperial army free passage south.
  5. Matilda of Tuscany may be supportive of the papacy, but if the king would travel in the company of Matilda’s husband, Godfrey the Hunchback, some of her vassals may open their castles.
  6. And the Normans were no use right now as the relationship was a bit tense after they had began to nibble away at papal territory.
  7. No chance the French king would come to the pope’s aide since Gregory had been on the verge of excommunicating him as well.
  8. Only the German magnates could sway in their loyalty to the king if the king continued in his authoritarian manner. On the other hand, the magnates were the brothers and cousins of the bishops, so they would take their steer from them.

No chance then? Well, the reason I am not a betting man is because my bets never work, and this one would have also spectacularly failed.

That things may not go as planned became clear quite quickly when Henry received note of the ban in March in Goslar. Enraged he asks the bishop Pibo of Toul who happened to be there to excommunicate Gregory at mass the next morning. In the night Pibo of Toul and another bishop fled the royal palace and disappeared from court.

That is just a foretaste of what happens over the next 8 months. The German bishops change their mind, almost all of them, wholesale. Why that happened has been discussed amongst German historians for centuries, starting with Otto of Freising, the 12th century chronicler.

As ever so often, there is not one reason for such a rapid acceleration of the wheel of fortune.

The first issue was that the line of argument that Henry IV and the bishops had taken was flawed. They basically argued that Gregory had not been pope, because he had not been elected using  the proper process. That “proper process” was established only very recently at the 1059 Lateran Synod which ruled that the pope should be elected by the cardinals, not by the population of Rome.  Moreover this proper process had not been fully observed in the 2 previous elections either. Plus Gregory had been pope for three years already without anyone having made a fuzz about it.

And crucially, when the bishops looked at it in the cold hard light of the day, they realised that this argument could backfire quite badly. You see, Gregory even if his election may have been flawed, he had been properly ordained. And that situation applied to many of the bishops as well who had received their seats by appointment of the king rather than a free election by the cathedral canons. Some may have even given financial compensation to the king in one way or another that could now be seen as Simony. The bishops relied on the fact that they had been correctly ordained, which superseded any election flaws. The fear is that when the bishops establish a precedent that an incorrectly elected pope is no pope, where would they be?

What made this worse was that Henry IV had not been particularly good at choosing bishops who commanded the respect of their congregation. Some he pushed through against significant opposition amongst the cathedral chapter. Furthermore, Cities had grown both in wealth as well as in self-confidence. And as the merchants were getting richer they found the bishop’s haughtiness and lack of commercial dynamism chafing. At the same time the urban population in general demands a reform of the church. They want properly trained and morally upstanding clergymen looking after their souls. I already mentioned the uprising of the merchants of Cologne in 1074 and the Pataria expelling the archbishop of Milan. If you are a German bishop with a restless urban population, the last thing you want is that the pope appoints a new bishop who brings the city population behind him and expels you for good.

And then there is the simple point that o.k. you say Gregory is not pope. So, who is pope then? If this one is not pope, why did you not appoint a new one? Doesn’t that suggest you may want to reconcile with Gregory after all and where will I, the humble bishop of small Rhenish town, be then. I do not want to be the guy Gregory will come down like a ton of bricks later, so better keep a low profile and see where the wind is blowing.

The before last point comes down to Henry IV’s behaviour. After the battle on the Unstrut he had the opportunity to show mercy and get to a lasting arrangement with the Saxons. But Henry did not look for reconciliation. He wanted to continue his policy of territorial consolidation through the construction of castles. Fun fact, his great enemy Otto of Northeim had swapped sides and was now his administrator in Saxony, rebuilding the castles he had railed against just 2 years earlier. That meant the Saxons remained hostile and the other dukes, counts and bishops remained concerned about the kings authoritarian streak.

And finally, there are signs from heaven. Bishop William of Utrecht, Henry IV. greatest cheerleader has been hurling insults and accusations of lewd behaviour at him from the chancel of his church, claiming the excommunication was null and void. Days after he did this at the great easter mass in the presence of the king, William had to take to his bed. He suddenly became terribly ill and succumbed even before he could receive the last rites. The abbot of Cluny reported that bishop William had appeared to him in a dream and had said that he was now suffering in the deepest recesses of hell. Another supporter, the bishop Eppo of Zeits who fell from his horse and drowned in a shallow stream, because Saint Kilian wanted him to drink Water and not always wine.

With the bishops wavering Henry found it impossible to muster an army to push through his claim in Rome. The Reichstag he had scheduled for May took place but many major players like the dukes of Swabia, Bavaria and Carinthia were absent, so were a number of important bishops.

Gregory waded into the debate by sending letters to all and sundry explaining the excommunication and finally putting proper canonical law arguments on the table, presumably developed by his chancery since he himself was no great lawyer. In a smart move he empowered those bishops that had been loyal to the pope to immediately release others from the ban, provided they were repentant and avoided communion with the king henceforth. That allowed the episcopal opposition around the Archbishop of Salzburg to pull in more and more bishops

At the same time the situation in Saxony tensed up.. Some of the bishops, unsure where this would all go did release the Saxon leaders that they had held in prison on behalf of the king. Once released these leaders and some who had managed to escape the wrath of the king gathered together and began a guerrilla war. Otto von Northeim changed sides again and handed the Harzburg over to the rebels, wiping out most of the gains of the previous year.

The bishops who had been firmly on Gregory’s side from the start met up with the Southern German dukes, Rudolf of Rheinfelden, Welf IV of Bavaria and Berthold of Zaehringen. These magnates concluded the king had not changed after the Saxon campaign and was still overbearing and autocratic. Something needed to be done to preserve the ancient rights and privileges.

At the heart of the opposition’s debates was the question whether they still owed the King obedience under the oaths they had sworn. The oath of fealty was the glue that held early medieval society together. The lord would give a fief to his knight in exchange for the oath of fealty. That was a good deal because breaking an oath was an unpardonable sin that would condemn you to hell, no ifs or buts.

Around 1070 this line in the sand began shifting.

We already heard in Otto of Northeim’s speech of 1073, that an oath was no longer sacrosanct. Otto said that he was no longer bound by his the oath to Henry IV, because the king had stopped being a king and had turned into a tyrant.

We have also seen Gregory relieving the congregation of Constance from their oath to the bishop in 1075. And now the pope has released everyone from their oath to the king.

This erosion of the value of oaths will be one of the significant outcomes of the investiture controversy that changed Western Europe for ever.

In October 1076 all the magnates and bishops of Germany came together in Trebur to debate how peace and unity of the kingdom could be maintained. Magnates who had been sworn enemies for a long time such as Otto of Northeim and Welf IV reconciled in the interest of peace.

This meeting was the first Reichstag where the king was absent. Not completely absent, he was across the Rhine in the castle of Oppenheim overlooking the gathering. But, as he was excommunicated, he was not allowed in the debates. That fact says more clearly than anything that Henry IV. had lost the argument. If he was seen as excommunicated, the man who excommunicated him, Gregory VII must be the true pope.

Some magnates wanted to go through with Gregory’s order, formally declare Henry IV. deposed and elect a new king. They even mustered their troops to cross the Rhine and attack the King. But, deposing the king and absolving everyone from their sworn obligations was still a step too far for many. There were also the papal legates who advocated for a more measured approach probably getting cold feet over the fundamental change the letters had unleashed.

Hence the conclusion was a compromise: Henry was ordered to write to Gregory and declare that he would henceforth be obedient to the Lord Pope. Further they decided that they would elect a new king, unless Henry would be able to get released from the papal ban within a year and a day from his excommunication, i.e., before early February.  The magnates invited Gregory to come to a Reichstag in Augsburg on February 2nd to decide whether Henry could remain as king.

Until this decision Henry had to give up his royal insignia and dismiss his remaining supporters and live like a private individual. And that he did. He left the site of his humiliation with a small group of supporters and goes to Speyer where he spends the next few weeks thinking what he can still do.

As you can see, within less than a year did Henry IV. go from undisputed ruler to excommunicated private citizen shunned by everyone.

There was only one way out and that was to get the ban lifted. The only person who could lift the ban was pope Gregory VII. Henry needed to meet Gregory before Gregory reached Augsburg or all will be lost.

A few days before Christmas Henry, his wife Bertha and his little son set off from Speyer for Italy. Not a single one of his nobles is with them. And along the way only few of his closest supporters would provide the travellers with food and horses. He is so ostracised that even his bishops and advisors who had also been excommunicated and who also tried to get to Italy and get relief refused to travel with him.

The dukes of Swabia, Bavaria and Carinthia who controlled the main alpine passes had them closed to the king, which is why he diverted to Besancon and further on the Mont Cenis. Mont Cenis you may remember was the one alpine pass not under control of the German duchies but held by Bertha’s parents, the counts of Savoy. I think I said a few episodes ago that this will matter later, and here it does. Without this alpine pass Henry would never have made it to Italy and his reign would have ended there and then. Son-in-law or not, the passage is however not free. Henry has to grant his mother- in-law the last bits of the kingdom of Burgundy that bore some similarity to imperial overlordship.

Lambert of Hersfeld said that the winter of 1077 was so persistently cold that one could walk across the frozen Rhine River from November to March. And that meant the pass across the alps was frozen too.

But there was no time to waste. Henry hired some locals who knew ways to get across even in the depth of winter. The guides led them up to the top of the pass. But on the other side with the road covered with ice, descend became difficult. They slid down the mountain on the hands and knees, held on by their guides. The horses were at times hoisted down the path or slid down the hill with their legs tied up, many died. The queen and her ladies in waiting were put on oxhides and toboggened down into the valley.

Once the king arrived in the plains of Piemont, the bishops of Italy flogged to his banner and within a short period of time Henry was in command of a serious army. The Italian bishops were keen for Henry to go down to Rome and remove Pope Gregory by force of arms.

Gregory at the same time had begun his trip towards Augsburg when he heard about Henry’s arrival. Given the king was now in command of an army, the pope was unclear what would happen next. His ever-faithful friend Mathilda of Tuscany suggested for him to go into one of her strongest defences, the castle of Canossa. Canossa is by the way not just one castle as it is often described, but a veritable chain of fortifications consisting of 6 or seven major castles that protect the approaches to Canossa itself.

Militarily we are in a stalemate. Canossa is too well defended for the royal army to overcome. On the other hand, the Pope cannot travel to Augsburg when the royal army bocks his path.

Henry first needed a team that could intercede on his behalf. The main interlocutors were the Abbot Hugh of Cluny, one of the most significant representatives of the monastic reform movement and at the same time godfather of Henry IV. And second, the great countess Matilda of Tuscany. Matilda was loosely related to the emperor and -despite her clear allegiance to Gregory – still his vassal. These two were of immeasurable value to Henry IV. because other than everybody else at his court, Gregory trusted these two. Getting their support was not easy. Henry had to beg them to advocate his case, according to the Italian chronicler Donizio, on his knees. The artwork that I use for this season shows that scene, where Henry IV. begs Matilda and Hugh of Cluny to plead on his behalf before the pope.I doubt that there is another medieval image of a crowned ruler kneeling before a woman for political rather than sexual reasons.

Henry kicked off negotiations by asking the pope to release him from the ban on the grounds that the German princes had slandered him out of greed and that the pope should not believe all they say. To that Gregory responded that if his case was true, he could put it to the Reichstag in Augsburg. There the pope would weigh the claims of the princes and the king justly and according to the laws of the church. What Gregory did not say is that he had received a letter in Henry’s own hand that contained enough attacks on the honour of the papacy as laid down on the Dictatus Papae to depose him three times over.

So, Henry had to change his approach. Henry’s intermediaries, Matilda and Hugh explained that Henry would happily submit to the pope’s judgement but that the Reichstag in Augsburg was too late. By then he would have been under the ban for more than a year and a day and so would no longer be king and hence have no standing in the proceedings. All he asks for is to be released from the ban, after which he would obey the pope in all and everything. Even should the pope decide that he was to lose the kingdom for his sins, he would accept that judgement without rancour and vacate the throne.

Gregory responded to Matilda and Hugh that if Henry was indeed prepared to accept the Papal judgement, why doesn’t he hand over the crown and imperial regalia to him right now und declares himself unworthy of kingship.

That is the moment where Matilda of Tuscany and Hugh of Cluny gain their place in the history books. They appeal to the Holy father’s mercy, quoting Isaiha 42 where God tells his servant: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Thanks to the intervention of these two the pope finally allowed Henry to come and atone for his insults to the Holy Apostolic Church by showing obedience to the true Vicar of Christ.

Henry went to the castle of Canossa and I now hand over to Lambert of Hersfeld who describes the scene as follows (quote)

So he came as he was ordered, and since the castle was surrounded by a triple wall, he was taken into the perimeter of the second ring wall, while his entire retinue remained outside; and there he stood, after taking off the royal adornment, without any signs of royal dignity, displaying no pomp, barefoot, fasting from morning to evening, awaiting the pronouncement of the Roman pope. This he did on the second, this on the third day. Only on the fourth day was he let before him, and after many speeches and counter-speeches he was released from the ban. (unquote)

Gregory himself justified his actions by saying that the king’s tears “had moved all of those present there to such pity and compassion” that they wondered “at the unaccustomed hardness of our heart” and some were accusing him of cruelty if not tyrannical ferocity. And finally, he gave in against the constant supplications of those present and the persistency of his compunction.

I think the modern word is social pressure. Having a king kneeling in the front yard is something no 11th century person could ignore. Remember emperor Conrad II kneeling before his son Henry III begging to support him in his case against the duke of Carinthia. And what about emperor Henry II kneeling before his bishops asking for permission to create the bishopric of Bamberg…..it seems that the act of kneeling in the dirt is the sort of safe word in this Game of thrones where all persecution has to stop.

But these acts are very rarely spontaneous. They are -even if all participants claim the contrary – negotiated in the tiniest detail beforehand. The length of the penitence, the amount of crying, the depth of the bow, all that is set. I cannot get my head around the idea that the penitence in Canossa was any different. They had been negotiating for days, and assuming Gregory’s claim that he had exchanged legates since before Henry crossed the alps, probably for weeks before the famous scene took place.

And if that had been negotiated then the second part of the event, the conditions of readmittance had also been negotiated beforehand. Here is how Lambert of Hersfeld describes them (quote)

He (that would be Henry IV.) was to meet in a general assembly on any day and at any place that the pope might determine. After the German princes had been summoned, he was to to answer the charges that were brought against him. The pope, if he thought Ito be right, would sit in the judge’s chair to decide the matter. After the judge’s decision Henry was either to keep the kingdom if he cleared himself of the accusations, or to lose it without resistance should the accusations proved to be true, and he was declared unworthy of the royal dignity according to the laws of the Church. Irrespective of whether he would keep or lose the kingdom, he would not take revenge on any man for the humiliation;

Until the day when his case would be heard in open court, he should not use any adornment of royal splendour, nor carry any signs of royal dignity; he should do nothing in regard to the administration of the state according to the usual custom of law, and nothing he did should have validity; finally, except for the collection of the royal income, which he himself and his family need for their maintenance, none of the royal demesne should be used; also, all who have sworn allegiance to him should be released from the fetters of their oath. Rupert bishop of Bamberg and Ulrich of Godesheim and the others, by whose evil promptings he had ruined himself and the kingdom, he should remove forever from his entourage.

If he again becomes powerful and newly strengthened in the kingdom after the accusations have been refuted, he should nevertheless always be subject to the Roman pope and be obedient to his commandments. (and further) …finally, if he were to act contrary to any of these obligations, the release from the ban now so ardently desired will be null and void,….and the princes of the realm should then, without being required to undertake any further investigation, and freed from all obligation of the oath, choose another king….

Hmm, really. Did Henry really sign over all his rights to the pope, agree to be non-king until his judgement is delivered and accept that he would automatically be excommunicated if he were to fail against any of this long list of obligations?

Not likely. Gregory VII wrote to the German princes from Canossa a few days later justifying the loosening of the ban and there he only mentions two commitments,

  • that Henry swore to stand trial before the pope on the accusations brought by the princes, on a day and time of the Pope’s choosing, and
  • That he gives safe passage to the pope and all his envoys.

That summary by Gregory is a lot more convincing. After all, Henry had an army waiting below Canossa that could besiege and ultimately depose the pope. So, he wasn’t without options. And equally if Lambert was right and Henry had signed up to these kinds of restrictions, why wouldn’t Gregory mention them to the German princes who were pretty upset about Gregory removing the ban?

This peace agreement was than sworn upon, not by the King himself but by his negotiators, Matilda of Tuscany, Adelheid of Savoy, some German bishops and Italian princes and last but not least Abbot Hugh of Cluny, who as a monk would not swear but promises to guarantee Henry’s future adherence to the agreement.

After that the pope celebrated mass to which Henry was admitted and where he was offered holy communion, whereby his ban was lifted. After that the party set down for a meal, a meal where Henry sat glumly at the popes table, scratching his fingernails into the tabletop.

The next day, Henry travelled back to Germany. Henry himself never mentioned what happened in this forbidding castle in Northern Italy. We do not know what he felt or said when he returned into the cold fresh air of this winter’s morning in January 1077. I have a good idea, but this being a family show, there is no way I can share it.

As we said many times before, images matter and even more so in the Middle Ages. The Image of an emperor kneeling in the snow begging the pope to give him his ancestral kingdom back has been reproduced over and over and will stick in people’s minds until today. Whether Canossa was a clever move by Henry IV. to thwart his enemies or whether it was a capitulation does not really matter. What the world saw was that the spiritual power of the papacy had subjected the most powerful of temporal rulers. That puts a wedge into the notion that the church and the world are one and the same, as had been the belief since Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman empire. The separation of church and state will not take place for another 700 plus years, but it is here in the frozen soil of the Emilia Romagna that the seed of modernity is planted.

I will dedicate a whole episode to the repercussions of Canossa and the events that follow when the season comes to an end. But next week we will first travel with Henry IV. back across the alps to Germany where his enemies do not care one iota that he is no longer excommunicated. They elect another king and the war of words turns into a war of swords. I hope to see you then.

Episode 34 – Gaining the Upper Hand

Episode 34 – Gaining the upper Hand

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans – Episode 34 – Gaining the upper Hand

Today we will find out whether the events of Canossa will turn Henry IV. into a faithful son of the church, a universally acknowledge ruler of the empire and ardent supporter of Pope Gregory’s brand of Church reform. Me thinks not.

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Last week we ended with King Henry IV. leaving the castle of Canossa where the pope had just released him from the ban of excommunication after a humiliating three days of standing outside in the snow doing penance for his alleged sins. Again, we do not know what he thought or felt on this journey down from the mountain. It could be elation that he is back in the bosom of the church and his kingdom returned to him, or he may be pondering the enormous price he had to pay for that.

But he did not have much time to ponder. A mere 10 miles down from Canossa he meets his army, led by the Lombard bishops. To put it mildly, these guys were certainly not happy about the reconciliation between the pope and their king. They had been living in a nightmare for years being pressured from below by an uprising of the urban poor and from above by the threat of being deposed by the pope. They had put all their hopes in the king coming down, removing this awful monk Hildebrand who had usurped the throne of Saint Peter and help them suppress the poor. Now this self-same king comes back from the negotiations having bent the knee and de-facto abandoning them to their fate.

The sources are contradictory about these next few weeks, but the most probable scenario is that Gregory and Henry had agreed to hold a joint synod in Mantua to stabilise the situation in Northern Italy and reconcile the bishops with the pope. That synod never happened, most likely because Gregory did not trust Henry’s promise of safe conduct. Not being too keen on getting apprehended by some irate bishops and incarcerated in a remote monastery or worse, Gregory remains on Matilda’s impregnable ring of fortresses around Canossa, watching.

Henry moves on to Piacenza and starts something that is supposed to look like royal rule in Italy. He even meets his mother who had come up from Rome, presumably to plead with him on behalf of the pope. I understand that psychology was an underdeveloped science in the 11th century, but who came up with the idea to think that Agnes could have any positive influence on the 26-year-old King Henry IV? His mother had abandoned him when he had been abducted age 11 in Kaiserswerth, she let him hang when he tried to establish his personal rule after 1066, she forced him to stay in the marriage with Bertha and now, during this low point of his career when he was abandoned by his friends, she had sided with his enemy. Well, she was very pious and prayed a lot.

Piacenza was the seat of bishop Dionysus of Piacenza, who like most of his colleagues had been excommunicated and hated Gregory. When Gregory sent two senior legates to the king to discuss what to do next after the synod of Mantua had failed, the bishop had both the legates thrown into jail. Henry said nothing.

The next day Henry sends a letter to Gregory’s asking for two things, (i) permission to be crowned king of Italy and (ii) who amongst the bishops should perform the ceremony. The latter is a good question since he needs an archbishop of Milan to officiate, of which there are currently a total of 3 roaming Lombardy, and he needs the bishop of Pavia who is at present excommunicated. The former is a stupid question. Since when does a King of the Romans need papal permission to be crowned king of Italy, and why would you think Gregory would allow it given his legates have just been thrown in jail? Suffice to say Gregory’s response was a resounding Njet. Who knows, Henry would have gone through with his coronation anyway, had it not been for some disconcerting news from Germany.

To explain those  talk a bit more about disappointing your followers. Henry IV is not the only one. You remember the German princes who are sitting by their warm winter fires and counting down the days until they are well and truly shot off that troublesome Salian king? Well, they were as surprised and as disappointed about this “reconciliation” as the Lombard bishops.

Gregory had written to the Princes on January 28th, right after the feast in the halls of Canossa. His letter still reads somewhat apologetic since he uses most of the parchment explaining why he could not refuse a king in a hare shirt, fasting and freezing outside his front door.

As for the hard-core anti-Henry faction in Germany, they could not care less if he had turned into a royal icicle. Members of that hard-core faction were first up, the Saxon magnates and bishops who were still in full-on rebellion occupying the Royal castles. Then there were those bishops who had fully bought into the Gregorian model of the papacy, namely Gebhard of Salzburg and Altmann of Passau.  And finally, there were the three Southern German dukes, Rudolf of Rheinfelden, duke of Swabia, Welf IV, duke of Bavaria and Berthold of Zaehringen, Duke of Carinthia.

These guys had expected to see pope Gregory coming across the alps just about now to officially condemn Henry IV. and elect and consecrate a new king. As far as comedowns go, that was a pretty bad one. They must have known that Henry had set out to intercept Gregory, but given time and weather, they could have been confident that Gregory should have made it through.

Just take a look at the timeline, it was really tight for Henry. Gregory was supposed to be in Augsburg by February 2 and he had set off from Rome in early December. Assuming a speed of 20 miles per day even across the alps in winter, the journey from Rome would have taken 30 days. But he only travelled as far as Canossa. From Canossa it was still 400miles or at least 20 days to Augsburg. Gregory should have left Canossa on January 13th if he had wanted to make it. On the other hand It is unlikely that Henry had already managed to get anywhere near Canossa by January 13th. Henry had been in Besancon on December 25th, when he set off for his 500 mile journey to Canossa,, meaning he and his army only arrived there around January 19th. That matches with the date of the reconciliation which happened on January 28th after 4 days of penance in the snow.  

If I was a Saxon noble and would look at these numbers and the letter from Gregory, I would feel a strong whiff of having been cheated. All the guy had to do was to run for Augsburg and they would have got rid of that pesky king.

But that does not mean all is lost. Henry IV. may no longer be excommunicated, but the pope had not explicitly reinstated him as king, at least that was their interpretation. So they decided to call another Reichstag, this time in Forchheim in March 1077 to decide the fate of king Henry IV. They invited all the princes and bishops, as well as the pope and Henry IV. himself.

The pope said he was planning to come and was negotiating safe passage with King Henry IV. Well that does not fill one with confidence. A man who did not dare to travel the 50 miles from Canossa to Mantua on this king’s guarantee is not going to travel 500 miles through enemy territory on a promise. Gregory instead sends his legates.

Henry himself is quite keen to go. However, his enemies, the three Southern German dukes are still blocking the passes. He could have taken the route via Mont Cenis as before but that would be pretty much double the distance and would have made it certain he would be late. So Henry decides to use brute force. He travelled to Aquileia in the Northeast of Italy which was part of the duchy of Carinthia. There he elevates a local magnate to be the new duke of Carinthia and deposes Berthold of Zaehringen. That proves a clever move, because Berthold quickly loses ground in Carinthia and Henry can get through with a new ally in tow.

But he only gets into Germany in April. A month earlier the Reichstag of Forchheim had taken place.

Who went to the Reichstag, well it depends who you ask. According to Lambert and Bruno, our two fully paid-up members of the Saxons fan club, everybody was there. All princes of rank and all the major bishops.  If you ask the chroniclers sympathetic to henry, ahh, there are none. In terms of actual names quoted, the key participants were Otto von Northeim, Rudolph von Rheinfelden, Welf IV, Berthold von Zaehringen, now no longer duke of Carinthia, the Gregorian bishops, and at least one archbishop who used to be loyal to Henry, Siegfried of Mainz, two papal legates and, yeah, that is it.

This assembly then discussed -briefly- the need to depose king Henry, which they did. Well, they would, wouldn’t they. They then proceeded to elect a new king. Lambert said that the delegates had to choose amongst a multitude of noble and competent candidates. Well, not so sure. Welf IV and Otto of Northeim hated each other since both wanted the duchy of Bavaria, so they are both out. Berthold of Zaehringen had just lost Carinthia, which is not exactly the track record they were looking for. All the other senior guys were, well bishops.  That made the choice of Rudolph of Rheinfelden a foregone conclusion. So foregone, Rudolph had actually ordered a crown to be made months earlier.

Rudolph was of noble stock, descending from the kings of Burgundy and had been married to Henry IV’s sister. He was also a strong supporter of the reform movement. His family monastery in St. Blasien in the Black Forest had become a centre of the left wing of the reform movement. He was also a recognised military leader whose bravery and skills were acknowledged by all sides. What further worked in his favour was that he had established a strong rapport with Gregory VII already in 1073. Gregory rated him and his legates saw him as a man of “outstanding humility, suitable for the honour of Kingship in his age and his morals”.

So, the right man for the job, and a job that needs doing? Well not so quick.

There is not just this one party amongst the German magnates and bishops. When Henry IV was excommunicated and had accepted the conditions imposed in Trebur, his followers had to disperse and find ways to get their own excommunications lifted. But in March that had been done and they formed again as a party around the king. They make up the other committed faction opposing the opposition.

But the majority of the German magnates and bishops were in the middle. They were trying to find a way through this mess that allowed them to honour their obligations under the oaths they have made to the king, that addressed the concerns about expanding imperial power, that maintained their relationship with the pope and that kept them on the right side of the church reform movement.

What is happening here is that the three main strains of the narrative diverge again after they had converged at Canossa.  The fight of the princes against the king is no longer on parallel tracks with the expansion of papal power and church reform is no longer identified with one or other party.

That is why you find some ardent reformers supporting the king, whilst some fully paid up members of the Imperial Church system support the rebels.

For those in the middle it was on balance ok to require the king to stand trial at a council in Augsburg when the king was still excommunicated and the pope was presiding. They may even have sided with Rudolph of Rheinfelden had the pope given a good reason why they were no longer bound by their oaths of fealty.

But Gregory did neither get to Forchheim to preside over a trial nor did he decalare that the deposition still stood irrespective of the revocation of the ban. In fact the pope could even have immediately reinstated the ban given that Henry did not provide satisfactory safe conduct to Germany as he had promised in Canossa.

To the rebels irritation Gregory did not explicitly endorse the election of Rudoph of Rheinfelden for another 3 years. He maintained a policy of strict neutrality and had even instructed his legates at Forchheim several times to be neutral. His legates ignored him and he admonished them for that publicly.

Why did he do that? Clearly the frozen feet of Canossa had not turned Henry IV into an obedient son of the church whilst Rudolph von Rheinfelden had immediately sworn allegiance and submission to the pope and was an avowed supporter of the reform movement.

The reason Gregory gives is that he wanted to make a decision by weighing each side’s argument in a public council in Germany. He would decide once he had (quote) “heard the arguments on both sides and learned whom justice most favoured”. As you may have guessed I am not the world’s greatest fan of Gregory VII, so maybe I am biased, but to me it is clear. Gregory did not endorse Rudolph because he had not chosen Rudolph. His notion of what a pope is and what he can do does not have room for royal assemblies where some mere bishops, dukes and counts choose a king. The raising and deposing of king is the pope’s job. And so none of you is king until I say so.

And another part.of his papal doctrine is now biting its tail. Gregory had declared that the pope never errs, has never erred and will never err. Let’s test this. In Canossa Gregory believed that Henry IV would honour his promise and be obedient to the Lord Pope, but within less than 2 weeks he realised that was not the case. Further, he believed that Henry would let him travel to Germany to sit in judgement over him, well he was wrong on that too. Gregory was an intelligent man who must have known that he had been played, but because he could not err, he could not admit that he had been played. That is Hybris on a scale well beyond what Sophocles or Aeschylus had ever come up with.

It is only in 1080 after a lot of toing and froing that Gregory finally endorses Rudolph of Rheinfelden and excommunicates Henry IV for a second time. But by now the lines have become so entrenched, the excommunication had very little effect. The faith in the pope’s omnipotence had evaporated quite quickly after 1077. When Gregory sent a letter declaring neutrality in May of that year, the Saxon chronicler Bruno wrote: “when our countrymen received this letter, they lost the great hope they had placed in the apostolic rock”. So even the so-called Gregorian party was no longer looking to Rome.

With his standing weakened, Gregory felt he needed to up the ante in his excommunication of 1080 and added a curse. Unless Henry would repent and resign by the feast of St. Peter in Chains, i.e., By August 1, he would be struck down by the apostles Peter and Paul.. Spoiler alert, they did not.

With that let’s leave developments in Rome and the actions of Gregory for next episode and let us concentrate on events in Germany.

The assembly in Forchheim did not just elect Rudolph von Rheinfelden to be king, it also changed the constitution of the empire. The king conceded that “royal powers should belong to no one by heredity right, as was formerly the custom” and further that “ the son of the king, even if he was extremely worthy, should succeed as king rather by spontaneous election than by the line of succession”. And that the “people should have it in their power to make king whoever they wished”.

This is a major tilt of the monarchy in Germany  towards the electoral principle, the opposite of developments in France and England where the electoral components are waning away around that same time. In France we end up with the mantra “The king is dead, long live the king” whilst in the Holy Roman Empire the death of the previous ruler leads to the election of a new one. There are other elected monarchs in Europe, most notably the kings of Poland and they do have one thing in common, a weak central authority. The kings of France and England had a strong incentive to strengthen the central authority because they knew that their offspring would automatically inherit this position.  An elected monarch will always be incentivised to strengthen the position of his own family at the expense of central power.  Hence even though there will be dynasties passing the imperial title from father to son, like the Hohenstaufen, the Luxembourgers and the Habsburgs, they will use their position to expand their family’s territories rather than expanding royal power. Some historians, specifically in the 19th and 20th century had drawn a straight line from the events in Canossa and Forchheim to the weakness the Holy Roman Empire, to Prussian militarism, Kaiser Bill’s chip on his shoulder, World War I and World War II.

A bit of a stretch in my view, but I would agree that Forchheim was another fork in the road where the patterns of German history deviated from France and England.

Getting back to more mundane issues, in March 1077 there were now 2 kings. Rudolph of Rheinfelden thought initially he would have the upper hand, with him controlling Swabia himself and his allies controlling Bavaria and Saxony. However, things unravelled somewhat.

Henry had already successfully deposed Berthold von Zaehringen as duke of Carinthia and handed it to one of his followers. He now tried the same with Swabia. He made Frederick Count of Buren duke of Swabia. Frederick held lands in the centre of Swabia and commanded a significant followership amongst the major Swabian nobles. Henry further elevated his status even by marrying him to his daughter Agnes. Frederick then embarked on the construction of a suitable castle befitting his rank near the village of Stuf or Stauf. That castle would be called the Hohenstaufen a name that would be adopted by Frederick’s family, a family that will bring about Frederick Barbarossa, probably the best known of medieval German rulers thanks to a much better PR machine than the one our friend Henry IV. commanded.     

The new duke of Swabia was able to establish himself in part of the duchy, but the Zaehringer family, and their allies  controlled most of the lands on the upper rhine and into German Speaking Switzerland.

Henry was more successful in Bavaria and expelled his enemies from the duchy which he managed directly rather than appointing a new duke. That meant Rudolph of Rheinfelden’s actual power base was Saxony. He controlled most of it, including Goslar and its rich silver mines.

Henry established his main basis of operations in Mainz where the burghers had thrown out their archbishop in another sign that the urban elite is asserting itself in the major trading cities. He could count on the Bavarians, some Swabians, most of the Lotharingians and the duke of Bohemia.

The two armies were equally matched, Henry may have had more resources, but Rheinfelden had the greatest general of the time, Otto von Northeim. The first two major battles followed a simple pattern, where henry would have the upper hand for the first half until Otto von Northeim appeared out of left field and pushed him back.

In the first of these battles, Henry and Rudolph both fled the field of battle, in the second it was just Henry who fled, but the rebels had sustained too severe losses to pursue the royal army.

Despite the military success Rheinfelden never managed to expand the opposition-controlled territory much beyond the Saxony and his exclave in Swabia.

In between negotiations between the parties and with the pope continued but without any conclusions.

On October 15th, 1080, the two armies met again on the Elster river in Saxony, not far from Leipzig. Henry had been retreating from a pursuing Saxon army. He was outnumbered and tried to combine forces with his ally, the duke of Bohemia. His progress came to a halt when he reached the swollen Elster river that he could not cross. He pitched up camp and prepared for battle. That evening he drew up another donation to the cathedral of Speyer, the shrine to the imperial Salian family seeking the help of the Virgin Mary. It had become a habit of Henry’s to make generous donations to the church of Speyer at pivotal moments of his career and as we have already seen, there is no shortage of such moments, making the cathedral church extremely rich. All that money went into making this already enormous church even bigger.

Here is how the historian I.S. Robinson describes the battle (quote):

At daybreak on 15 October Henry drew up his army west of the Elster, along a stream called the Grune, where the marshy ground would impede the enemy’s approach. His forces included the vassals of the sixteen prelates who accompanied him, Swabians under the command of their duke, Bavarians under the command of count Rapoto IV of Cham and Lotharingians commanded by Count Henry of  Laach (future count palatinate of Lotharingia).

There were no Bohemians in the royal army; Henry had failed to make contact with Vratislav’s forces. When the Saxons arrived on the opposite bank of the Grune, they were exhausted by their rapid march and were without most of their foot soldiers., who could not keep up. As they approached the royal lines, the bishops in the Saxon army ordered the clergy to sing Psalm 82, traditionally regarded as a prayer against the enemies of god’s church. The two armies picked their way through the marches on opposite banks of the Grune until they reached a safe crossing , whereupon they immediately engaged in close combat. The royal army fought so fiercely that some Saxon knights fled and the rumour that the whole Saxon army was in retreat was so far believed that the clergy in the royal camp began to sing the Te Deum. They were interrupted by the arrival of men bearing the body of Count Rapato IV of Cham.  This sudden reversal was the work of the resourceful Otto von Northeim. When the Saxon knights fled and royal forces pursued them, otto rallied the footsoldiers and forced back the pursuers. Returning to the battlefield, Otto found the royal contingents commanded by Henry von Laach beginning triumphantly singing the chant of Kyrie Eleyson. Once more the premature celebrations of the royal army were cut short and, the foot soldiers of Otto von Northeim sent the enemy fleeing across the Elster.” (end quote).

But this victory did cost the rebels dearly. When Otto von Northeim returned to the camp he found his king mortally wounded his right hand cut off. Rudolph of Rheinfelden died that night or in the morning of the next day.

That was a major blow to the opposition. The manner of Rudolphs death, losing the hand he had sworn allegiance to Henry IV, seriously undermined the standing of the opposition as the “good ones” in the conflict. For once Henry IV is winning the propaganda war.

The other issue was that the opposition was divided. The two major protagonists after Rudolph were Welf IV and Otto von Northeim. These two men hated each other ever since Henry IV had replaced Otto as duke of Bavaria with Welf IV. Both men had drawn pledges from Rudolph that in case of victory they would get the duchy of Bavaria.

Under these circumstances electing a successor for Rudolph as anti-king proved difficult. Henry IV tried to use the situation by making a peace offering to the Saxons. They could elevate his son Konrad as Saxon king, who would reign as their ruler before finally succeeding his father as Emperor. That would bring back the old Ottonian order where the emperor was a Saxon. Otto von Northeim’s response was “I have often seen a bad calf begotten by a bad steer, so I desire neither the father nor the son”.

The opposition kept debating about who to elect, not helped by Gregory VII urging them to wait with the election until he could come down to Germany. The two parties agreed a truce until June 1081. Some fighting resumed and at some point a much diminished assembly of opposition leaders elected Hermann von Salm, a previously unknown count to be king. Gregory did not endorse the new king and his name was never mentioned by the pope. More importantly, Otto von Northeim took his sweet time acknowledging that he would never be king and finally recognised Hermann. Fighting continued but it was for now on a level that allowed Henry to go down to Rome and go after his other great enemy, Gregory VII.

Rudolph von Rheinfelden was buried in the cathedral of Merseburg in under one of the first full length funerary monuments showing him as a living man with all the royal insignia. The inscription celebrates his kingship and his death as “the sacred victim of war” and who died for the church.

All part of the ongoing propaganda war. Rudolph von Rheinfelden is portrayed as a martyr for the cause of church reform, whilst Henry goes back to Gregory’s curse that the king would die if he had not relented by the day St. Peters Chains – well it did happen, just that the false king died from the false pope’s curse losing his right hand. This hand is still kept at the cathedral of Merseburg – or so they claim.

In 1082 Henry sets off for Rome to follow the propaganda war up with a real war. He can count on the Lombard bishops to help him, but will that be enough to subdue Matilda of Tuscany and get into the city of Rome to impose a new pope and finally be crowned emperor. All that in the next episode. I hope to see you next week. 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 35 – To Rome, To Rome

Episode 35 – To Rome, to Rome

Hello and Welcome to the History of the Germans, Episode 35 – To Rome to Rome

Today we will look at what went on with Gregory VII after Henry had left to fight his rivals in Germany. Spoiler alert, things will not turn out the way he had hoped.

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When Henry IV left Pope Gregory in Canossa in January 1078, Gregory thought he had won the ultimate victory and Henry would from now on be an obedient son of the church. And that should give him room to look after his other ambitions, namely, to bring the King of France to heel and to cash in on the support he had given to William the Conqueror, you know the guy who invaded England whilst Henry was fighting to establish his personal rule in 1066.

Let,s start with the  conqueror, Gregory had ensured he had the full support of the papacy and even received a papal banner to be carried into battle. His objective was to gain control over the English church. And William it seemed delivered, at least initially. He removed the existing Anglo-Saxon bishops wholesale and replaced them with reform-minded Norman clergymen. His new archbishop of Canterbury, Llanfranc was a man of international standing, originally from Italy. And though Lanfranc did all the right things and collected his Pallium in person in Rome and swore to be obedient to the pope, relations soured. When it came to Gregory’s claim to be the overlord of all secular rulers, Lanfranc was not falling in line. His allegiance was first and foremost to the man who put him in his post, William the Conqueror. He sided with his lord when Gregory insisted on the appointment of the bishop of Dol and even more importantly when Gregory insisted on splitting the country between the archbishops of York and Canterbury. Gregory wrote a string of angry letters to William and Lanfranc, but England being a country far, far away and his ruler well established, all he could do is write and be angry.

Geography matters – like a lot. And on that score, France looked like an easier place to assert papal authority. And Gregory had good reason to castigate the King of France for the way he selected his bishops. In the second half of the 11th century the kings of France were by all accounts the poor relations of the European rulers. Their land barely extended beyond the Ile de France. One of the few sources of income to the king was the right to invest his bishops and charge handsomely for that. Gregory’s man for French affairs was Hugh bishop of Die and later archbis.

Gregory’s letters were a lot more effective in France then they were in England as the powerful magnates used it to further constrain the power of the king.

It was mostly with an eye to France rather than Germany that Gregory VII declared in 1080 (quote):

Following the statutes of the holy fathers, [] now we decree and confirm: that, if any one henceforth shall receive a bishopric or abbey from the hand of any lay person, he shall by no means be considered as among the number of the bishops or abbots; nor shall any hearing be granted him as bishop or abbot.

Moreover, do we further deny to him the favour of St. Peter and the entry to the Church until, coming to his senses, he shall desert the place that he has taken by the crime of ambition as well as by that of disobedience – which is the sin of idolatry. []

Likewise, if any emperor, king, duke, margrave, count or any one at all of the secular powers or persons shall presume to perform the investiture with bishoprics or with any ecclesiastical dignity, – he shall be bound by the bonds of the same condemnation” (unquote).

This is the famous ban on lay investiture. And what it says is quite simple. If any bishop, abbot or priest has been put into his role by a layman he is automatically excommunicated and so is the layman who had put him there.

There were bans on lay investiture before, but they were rarely as clear and uncompromising as this.

The real investiture conflict starts here, in 1080. Sure, the struggle between Gregory and Henry had its beginnings in the conflict over the investiture of the bishop of Milan. But the heart of the conflict had not been over the investiture of bishops but over whether the pope ranks above the emperor.

This ban turns it from a struggle for supremacy into a fight over the institutional integrity of the empire. The. An emperor who cannot appoint his bishops means the imperial church system collapses, and without the bishops the emperor has no soldiers. And that does just apply to the empire. As we saw some episodes ago, the power of the Norman dukes and later the kings of England was as well dependent on their control over the bishops. The. Inflict has become a fundamental question over the respective responsibilities o, the ecclesia, the church and the mind us, the world

Initially ban on investiture as well as the second excommunication of Henry IV on the same synod went nowhere. Gregory’s excommunications have been raining down on people in such frequency that people stopped caring. Practically all Lombard bishops had been excommunicated for years already. Many of Henry’s supporters in Germany are now excommunicated for the second time. And now the king of France and even the king of England were on the verge of being banned. But it wasn’t just the die-hard supporters of Gregory’s direct adversaries, neutral bishops were required to come to Rome and receive the Pallium or were refused consecration. Their reform efforts were criticized and constant demands to do this or that issued. And if one takes the wording of the ban on lay investiture literally, more or less everybody was excommunicated, because pretty much every bishop, abbot and priest had received at least his worldly fiefs from a secular lord. And these secular lords were now also technically under the ban. And as they say, if everybody is excommunicated, nobody is. Never will a ruler kneel in the snow before a pope again. The greatest weapon of the papacy had been utterly spent in just 3 years.

Henry’s reaction to this Synod of 1080 was his own synod of Brixen. Having first gathered his support amongst the bishops in Germany he brought his Italian and German support together, a total of 30 senior clergy. This synod did something the Synod of Worms did not dare to do, it “canonically deposed and expelled Gregory and condemned in perpetuity, if, having heard this [decree], he does not step down.”.

The synod accused Gregory of various misdeeds including of simony, violence, false oaths, the support of heresy, murder, watching pornographic floor shows and even of having a demon, all based on testimony of Hugo the White, cardinal bishop of San Clemente and sworn enemy of Gregory VII. So far so traditional. These kinds of arguments had been made as far back as the deposition of John XII by Otto the great who was accused of congress with all sorts of occult spectres.

But as time went on, the arguments for a deposition of Gregory changed in quality. It is right around this time that Roman law, specifically the Justinian Code was being studied again for the first time in centuries. Until now, most secular law had been Germanic law codes that had very limited internal coherence and some argue have actually rarely been applied. Royal judgements tended to be a bit ad hoc and often political. The church had raced ahead, and Canon Law had gained a lot of internal coherence during the 11th century. By the time of Gregory, most bishops would have a collection of Canon Law in their possession and would base their decision who to support in the ongoing conflict on these compilations. There are conflicting sources who ordered the codification of canon law and who actually produces the first approved version, but by the end of the century Canon law had a solid structure and coherence.

If the church has a coherent system of law, then secular lords needed one too. And that law was the Roman law compiled during the reign of the emperor Justinian in the early 6t century. If in canon law the pope was the source of all justice ad truth, under the Justinian code, that role fell to the emperor. Secular ruler really fell in love with the Justinian code once they could interpret it such that Emperor does not mean Henry IV, but any king, prince, count or baron.

One of the key provisions of the Justinian Code was the Lese Majeste – disrespecting the crown, a crime punishable by death. And that is what Gregory was accused of. He had offended the dignity of the ruler by claiming his excommunication.

For now, these arguments did not carry much weight, nor did other legal constructs from the Justinian code used in the case of Henry IV. But as we will see, the Roman law and its notion of the role of kings will become a key justification for the expansion of royal power, culminating in absolute monarchies almost everywhere in Europe, except for outliers like Britain, Poland and Venice.

This split of law into church law and secular law rare outside Europe is just another result of the events we describe here and call the Investiture Conflict or just Canossa.

The synod of Brixen did not just depose Gregory, it also elected Wibold archbishop of Ravenna as successor to Gregory VII. Clement III was of the same age as Gregor but different in background. Wibert was an old-school prelate in the mould of Leo IX. Of aristocratic stock he had pursued his career in the wind shadow of Emperor Henry III and rose to be Imperial chancellor for Italy. Empress Agnes made him Archbishop of Ravenna and despite his initial support for the antipope Cadulus was given his pallium by Pope Alexander II. Gregory thought him insufficiently fervent in his support for reform and excommunicated him – another one.

He took the name of Clement III but declared that he would not act as pope until he had been properly enthroned on the seat of Saint Peter. That might have been Clement’s own choice or a move by Henry IV to leave a way open for reconciliation with Gregory is not clear.  What is clear is that for the policy to work, Henry will have to bring Clement down to Rome, remove Gregor and affect a proper coronation of his pope. To get that done proved time consuming.

By 1081 Henry had suppressed the rebellion in Germany sufficiently to mount an attack on Italy and took a small army across the alps. The Lombard bishops swelled the ranks of his army and he was thinking that he would be back into Germany within a mere 4 months.

Gregory had not only lost a lot of ground within the church, he had also excommunicated Robert Giuscard the Norman lord the church had been relying on for the last decade. Gregory and Robert did patch up things in 1080, but the Norman was anything but an obedient vassal. His main focus was Constantinople which had fallen into complete disarray after a terrible defeat against the Seldjuk Turks at Manzikart. Robert, freebooter to the last instead of defending Christendom against the Muslim onslaught thought of benefitting from the chaos and pick up as much of the Byzantine empire as possible. So, not uch help to be expected from that side.

Matilda was forever loyal, but powerful as she may be, could she hold out against the combined forces of the Empire and the Lombard bishops.

The last part of Henry’s calculation was that the population of Rome should be on his side. The former praefect Censius had already tried to abduct Gregory in 1075 and now assured the king of the support he should encounter in the city.

Henry marched gingerly through Italy which had become a lot more supportive of the Imperial party since his last visits.

Henry arrived in Rome at Pentecost expecting to be greeted by a procession of the senate and people of Rome accompanying him into the city under the singing of hymns and prayers. He was sorely disappointed. The people of Rome stuck by their pope. The church reform movement was a movement of the people and that is why they supported Pope Gregory as a representative of reform versus the conservative backlash.

Rome’s defenses, built by the emperor Aurelian in the 3rd century were still strong and well maintained. And Gregory had created the Papal militia as his own military force that now manned the fortifications. Henry’s supporters came dressed for a party, not for war. They had no siege equipment, and their army was small.

But most importantly, it is already Pentecost, i.e., early May and Rome’s greatest defense mechanism, Malaria is getting into gear. There is nothing Henry can do but retreat with his tail between his legs. This is the first time an imperial progress towards a coronation had failed. The embarrassment of the failed coronation was almost as detrimental to his standing as the kneeling in the snow of Canossa.

As things stood, Henry now needed to get crowned, cost it what it may. If he did go back to Germany without a crown his enemies would feel vindicated, and the wavering middle would believe that God had made it clear that Henry should not be king.

The next 2 years Henry roamed around Italy, fighting Matilda od Tuscany and gathering armies he brought before Rome to besiege the city.

His army consisted initially mostly of the contingents of the Lombard bishops. But over time he gathered ore supporters. Amongst them were the Tuscan cities of Lucca and Pisa. Lucca had been the pre-eminent city of Matilda’s lands. Lucca was most famous for its silk weavers who initially imported their raw materials from the near East via Genoa before producing it themselves. Their silks replicated and improved Byzantine designs that proved extremely popular. Lucca was also home to prominent members of the Kalonymos family, which must count as one of the most creatively productive families in history. They can trace their lineage back to the 8th century and numerous rabbis, preachers, poets, teachers, authors, moralists, and theologians, and many prominent leaders of Jewish communities up to the 15th century came from its ranks. The family had branches in both Italy and Germany where they had been invited to settle by Charlemagne or one of his successors. They played a major role in the great Jewish communities of Speyer and Mainz.

Sorry, I digress. I simply cannot help myself looking at histo frankly did not know anything about before researching this episode but clearly features heavily in the history of other communities.

Back to Lucca. Henry IV offered the city more or less total freedom from oversight by either the margrave of Tuscany or the emperor himself. The city was allowed to build and maintain its own defenses, was no longer obliged to build or maintain the imperial Pfalz, could no longer be billeted with soldiers, received market rights, customs privileges, and jurisdiction over everything but the most severe crimes. Lucca became thereby the first city in the empire to be officially granted the full rights of an imperial free city.

But Lucca was not the first free city in Italy. Seafaring cities like Vencie, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and Naples had been de facto free cities for a long time already. But even these saw value in being granted rights and privileges by the empire. Pisa valued the confirmation of its rights sufficiently to side with Henry IV.

Whilst Henry was gathering troops in Italy, the situation in Germany oscillated. At times the new anti king Hermann managed to gain control of Saxony and the bits of Swabia and even at some point contemplated a march on Rome to support the pope. That effort collapsed when Otto von Northeim finally died, and Herrmann had to focus on holding Saxony.

For Henry that meant he had to rush back and forth between Rome, the lands of Matilda of Tuscany and the Alpine passes, never able to fully deploy his forces for a lengthy siege.

He showed up in Rome in February of 1082 with an army. But that siege failed again at the staunch defense of the Roman population.

Despite Henry’s efforts going nowhere, Gregory’s position also became desperate. He was simply running out of funds. He had called a synod for Lent in Rome, but hardly any bishops made it through and when Gregory asked for approval to pawn church property to fund the ongoing war, the few bishops who had gathered refused. Matilda, herself under enormous pressure had the great gold crosses and liturgical objects held at Canossa melted down and sent to the pope as bullion. 

By 1083 Henry found a new ally, Jordan of Aversa, the other Norman. You may remember that Pope Nicolas II had elevated two Norman warlords to become dukes, Robert Giuscard and Rainulf of Aversa. The idea was to split the Norman power in the South to ensure the papacy does not get too dependent on just one ruler. Robert Giuscard was a lot more successful than his countrymen, but the Aversa Normans were still around. These now joined Henry’s side in an attempt to push back Robert Guiscard. Giuscard himself was at the time fighting in Greece and what is now Albania, having upgraded his ambition from just taking over chunks of it to making the whole lot a Norman kingdom.

In the year 1083 Henry showed up before the gates of Rome again. As before he set up camp on the Vatican side of the Tiber. His troops made two attempts to overrun the Leonine walls that protect Saint Peter but were rebuffed. At the third attempt, the Romans attempted a sortie to break the siege. Fighting ferociously driven by the pangs of hunger and desperation, they pushed Henry’s forces all the way back into their camp. Henry, seeing that his rule may come to an end in this skirmish joined the fray and his soldiers followed him with renewed vigor driving the Romans back behind the walls of the city.

This fight had broken the resilience of the Romans who found themselves bereft of food, supplies and any hope of relief. Matilda was unable to help, the Normans were overseas. Morale deteriorated and discipline became slack. A few days later Henry’s soldiers noticed that a stretch of wall had no guards on them. In the dark they brought the ladders and climbed in without encountering any resistance. They opened the gates and the Imperial soldiers flooded in.  Gregory and his closest associates rushed for the safety of the Castello di Sant Angelo whilst resistance on the Vatican side of the city was quickly overcome. The papal militia was however able to hold the bridge over the Tiber and the main city of Rome remained in Gregory’s hands.

After that, negotiations started again. From Henry’s perspective the best solution would be if Gregory could be made to crown him. That would remove the stain of excommunication and end the conflict. Hence he and his pope-elect Clemet III left Rome. He kept a garrison there and tore down the walls of the Vatican city.

Thigs looked good for a while as Gregory, pressured by the Roman people, called a synod and promised to subject himself to whatever that synod decides about how the conflict could be resolved.  How sincere this promise was soon became quite clear. His invitation to the synod included clear instructions to the bishops attending. They were told to defend the church against the king a king he had once again excommunicated  from the walls of the Castello di Sant’Angelo. Gregory really did not care for compromise. Henry had no option than to sabotage the synod by apprehending the Gregorian bishops travelling to Rome.

In the meantime, he had received some financial support from the emperor in Constantinople who had come under pressure from Robert Giuscard. The Byzantine emperor wanted Henry to invade Robert Giuscard’s lands in Southern Italy and thereby forcing him to abandon his attacks against the Eastern Empire.

Henry used these funds to bribe the Romans who were now seriously tired of the stubborn Holy Father. They may support church reform, but they were even more keen on bringing these endless sieges to an end. And even in his college of Cardinals dissent was rising. His autocratic style had already irritated some of these eminent churchmen, but his insistence on fighting to the death was the last straw.

In 1084 16 cardinals went over to Henry’s camp and finally Rome opened its doors. Henry and the archbishop of Ravenna moved into the palace of the Lateran. A synod was called which deposed and excommunicated Gregory VII. Clement III was elected (again) and consecrated by the cardinal bishop of Ostia as was right and proper.

And then, finally, finally Henry IV. King of the Romans since 1056 was crowned emperor in St. Peter in the 28th year of his reign by Pope Clement and in the presence of many bishops, cardinals dukes, counts and the Roman people. If it wasn’t for the previous pope still holding out in the Castello di Sant’Angelo, it would have appeared as if finally, the good years of Emperor Henry III were back.

Are they? Well, we will see next week. Gregory is still around, and there is Robert Giuscard whose adventure in Byzantium is going pear-shaped. When he returns to defend his lands now under threat from henry in Rome, the rollercoaster that is Henry Iv’s reign will take another turn, a turn the brunt of which will be borne not by Henry but by the people of Rome who will see their worst fears realised. I hope you will join us again next week.

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 36 – Henry IV is Coming Home

Episode 36 – Henry IV is coming home

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 36 – Henry IV is Coming Home

Today we will talk about the return of Henry IV to Germany and how he brings the civil war to at least a more than temporary halt.

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 Tom and Michael who have already signed up.

Last week we left Henry IV celebrating his coronation in Rome. The ceremonies of emperor making had become ever more elaborate since pope Leo had surprised Charlemagne by putting a crown on his head on Christmas Day 800.  Ian Richardson describes the festivities as follows: The ceremonies lasted 4 days, during which the emperor entered five churches, St. Peter, St. John Lateran, Saint Paul outside the Walls, Santa Maria Maggiore and the church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. For the main events, the consecration on March 31st and the Coronation on April 1st, the emperor wore linen tunic embroidered with gold and precious jewels, the imperial mantle, golden spurs and the imperial sword. On his hands he wore linen gloves and the episcopal ring, and on his head the imperial diadem. He went in procession to St. Peter’s, carrying in his left the golden orb, which signifies the government of all the kingdoms and in his right the scepter of empire, in the manner of Julius, Octavian and Tiberius. He was preceded by the empire’s greatest treasures: the double relic of the holy lance of the leader of the theban legion, ST. Maurice, which had been refashioned so as to contain a nail of the holy cross. These relcis were followed by the venerable order of bishops, abbots, priests and innumerable clergy, followed by the emperor accompanied by the pope and the archbishop of Milan and they were again followed by the dukes, margraves, counts and orders of the various princes.

It was almost like in the good old days of his father, Henry III.

The only fly in the ointment was that the previous and to many, only legitimate Pope, shouted bans of excommunication down on the procession as it crossed the Tiber bridge below the Castello di Sant’Angelo.

Unbeknownst to Gregory in his futile rage, help was on its way. Robert Giuscard, Duke of Apulia and most senior of the Norman leaders in the South of Italy had mustered an army of allegedly 30,000 men to bring relief to Rome. This army had been put together in a rush as Robert wanted to prevent Henry from invading his territory as Henry had promised the Basileus in Constantinople. With time being of the essence, he took all comers and promised them the earth. Normans for sure formed the core, but he also hired Southern Italians, Greeks, Albanians, allegedly even some of King Harolds men who had fought against the Normans at Hastings. But most shocking of all, a large part of his army consisted of the Saracen militia from Sicily, who were not only allowed but encouraged to retain their Muslim faith. These were the men who came to free the Vicar of Christ.

When Robert approached Rome from the South by the end of May, Henry, his Pope Victor III and his army left for the North of Italy. Without a single arrow shot, a single stroke of the sword and not a single lance thrown, Robert Guiscard entered Rome and freed Pope Gregory from his refuge on the Castello di Sant Angelo.

German historians have often wondered why Henry gave up Rome, a city he had besieged for four years and that had cost him gargantuan amounts of blood, treasure time. Why did he give up a city that was the symbol of his empire and that still held a pope he needed to have removed? I find the answer is fairly obvious.

Rome in 1084 was an odd-shaped city. Its ancient Aurelian Walls encircled an area that held almost a million people when they were built in the 3rd century. By 1084 at best 50,000 people lived in the city. Defending these walls required either an extremely large army or a militia of volunteers who could stand watch. The Romans may have been exhausted enough to fall for Henry’s bribery and let him in. But that is not at all the same as being willing to fight to the death for a German emperor against the allies of the pope they had raised themselves to the Throne of St. Peter.

Without the full support of the Roman population and given the size of his army, Henry could not hold Rome even at the best of times. No medieval emperor had tried it since Otto III. And it wasn’t the best of times. The largest of Rome’s fortresses, the Castelle de Sant Angelo was still in the hands of Gregory VII, and so were two others, the Capitol held by the Corsi family and parts of the palace of the ancient emperor Septimus Severus held by a nephew of Gregory VII.

But the main reason to leave Rome is the one, listeners of this podcast are very familiar with, Malaria. It is May, and in May is when the Germans die in Rome.

3 days before Robert Guiscard’s arrival, Pope Clement III retires to Tivoli and Henry leaves for Northern Italy. Again, German historians have described that as being a flight. But if you look at the timeline of the imperial charters granted along the way, it is clear this was a typical slow imperial progress, not a flight. The leaders of Northern Italy paid him Hommage along the way and congratulated him to his success. Henry could take it easy because he had nothing to fear from Robert Guiscard. All Guiscard wanted was to protect his lands and once the emperor had handed Rome back to the Gregorians, he could no longer attack the South of Italy.   

The people who had to fear Robert Guiscard were the Romans. Guiscard’s army had not come to fight for church reform and the freedom of Gregory VII, its great advocate. They had come for plunder. When they arrived and realized that both the papal and the imperial treasury had left or were out of reach, Guiscards soldiers began to go from door to door taking all that was left from a population that had just endured four years of consecutive sieges. With nothing to be had to satisfy their demands, they turned to violence. They flattened a considerable part of the city between the churches of San Lorenzo and S SIlvestro in the North and between the Colosseum and the Lateran Palace.  Finally, they set fire to what was left of the imperial palaces on the Palatin and many churches. They even raided the Vatican. This Sack of Rome stands in a line with the more famous Sack of Rome by the Goths in 408 and the Sacco di Roma by the troops of emperor Charles V in 1527. The chronicler Ildebrand of Tours described Rome 20 years later as a “desert, strewn with ruins”.

The sack also led to the demise of the previously all-powerful clans of the Crescenti and the Theophylacts. Their power had been fading ever since the church reformers had taken control of the papacy. But after 1084 they are being replaced by an emerging “new aristocracy” of Rome. These new families will ultimately be known as the Colonna and the Orsini. These families will rise within the papal administration and dominate Roman politics from now on.

A more immediate effect of the Sack of Rome was that Gregory VII’s position in Rome had become untenable. The population who had suffered four sieges on his behalf, endured his stubborn refusal to compromise lost it completely when the Papal relief troops stole their meagre remaining possessions and raped their wives and daughters.

Gregory VII had to leave in the baggage train of Robert Guiscard’s troops. Robert installed him in the town of Salerno where he kept writing letters to all and sundry asking to support the one true pope or be excommunicated for not doing so. Nobody came and in 1085 Gregory VII died in Salerno. His last words were: “I have loved justice and hated iniquity, that is why I die in exile”

We will do a whole episode on the significance of these fifty years between 1070 and 1120. But it is still worth reflecting on Gregory for a moment. Even though he ends his life in defeat, he was one of the most important Popes in the history of the church. He had dominated the papacy long before he took the Holy See himself. Over these 40 years he relentlessly pursued his aim of making the papacy independent and superior to secular rulers and improve its moral standards. Even if I personally think that some of his reforms like the celibacy of the clergy had brought untold pain to both the members of the church and their adherents, I do admire Gregory’s unwavering commitment. He did not care about his own life or the life of his supporters when he resisted Henry IV alone in the Castello di Sant’ Angelo for nearly 2 years.

His genius was less in theology, in fact most would argue that Peter Damian and Hubert of Silva Candida were much deeper thinker and the true intellectual powerhouse of church reform. Gregory just copied what he liked from there and stubbornly stuck with it.

His genius was public relations. With very few exceptions all chroniclers have sided with Gregory against Henry. For some this was simply a function of their role, like Bruno and Lambert of Hersfeld. But for most it was a choice. Gregory managed to portray his acts not as acts he undertook as an individual but as a channel of the apostles or of God himself. And that allowed him to portray his ultimate defeat not as a failure of his policies, but as martyrdom for the cause. That is why his vision of the role of the papacy and the standards of moral rectitude survived his demise. 10 years after his death, Pope Urban II his direct successor will call Christendom to its most ambitious and most ill-fated endeavor, the Crusades.  Without Gregory no pope would have dared to call a crusade nor would have any secular ruler understood why he should follow this call.

When Henry IV hears about the demise of his archenemy he is back in Germany. After leaving Rome he had spent some time arranging the affairs of Northern Italy. He placed his 11-year-old son Konrad into the care of the Italian bishops as a focal point for imperial power in Italy.

Henry returns to a country devastated by more than a decade of relentless war. Saxony and parts of Swabia are still in the hands of the rebels. Henry’s main support base is Bavaria, the Rhineland, namely the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier and the lands of Frederick of Hohenstaufen. On the outside it seems not much has changed.

But stripping away the outer layers, a lot has changed. Henry seems to have realised that his previous policies have failed. Acting as an autocratic ruler towards either the princes or the Imperial Church system was no longer possible. He would not even be able to carve out his own territorial lordship as he had tried around the Harzburg. His new policy could be best described as a back-to-basics approach.

After 1085 he would be very careful with the appointment of bishops. Rather than running roughshod over the cathedral canon’s right to election, Henry would make sure that any of his bishops would be elected in line with canon law. He would choose candidates who had impeccable credentials both as scholars and as pastoral leaders. He supported candidates who were recognized for their efforts in implementing church reform. All he asked for is for them to be loyal to him and his Pope, Clement III.

He would be particularly careful in choosing bishops for the episcopal sees of his enemies. Pope Clement III had excommunicated and deposed all the bishops who supported the rebels, in particular the archbishops of Salzburg and Magdeburg, the bishops of Wuerzburg, Halberstadt, Hildesheim and many other Saxon sees. Henry could now go and appoint new bishops for these bishoprics. Apart from the above credentials he also made sure that the new bishops had strong support in their diocese, usually because they were members of a local aristocratic clan. That way he gradually dragged more and more parts of the country to his side.

His approach to secular princes also changed. When before he would just order them around and rarely listen to their advice, he now included them in his inner circle. Henry still relied on his ministeriales, but these themselves gradually turned into aristocrats, building castles and marrying into the great families of the realm.

It is not just the inner workings of the regime that made it more attractive, the opposition also weakened.  The two towering figures of the early years of the rebellion, Rudolf von Rheinfelden and Otto von Northeim are both dead. The new anti-king, Hermann von Salm never really managed to get a foothold, largely because he was not as rich and as powerful in his own right as his predecessor.

The death of Otto von Northeim created a power vacuum in Saxony where various magnates competed for the leadership, the Archbishop of Magdeburg, the Margrave of Meissen, various sons of Otto von Northeim and the actual duke of Saxony. The struggle for leadership was often brutal and did not refrain from murdering of opponents.

Henry IV tried to take advantage of the disarray and invaded Saxony on multiple occasions. Bruno’s History of the Saxon Wars count a total of 15 invasions overall in the 17 years the war lasted. But none of these invasions was successful. Every time Henry manages to bring his troops into Saxony, the warring factions united against the external enemy, whilst Henry’s own army fell apart under the friction between its warlords.

I am not going to take you through the back a fourth of these 4 years of fighting. It ended around 1089 after some of the most stubborn opponents of Henry IV had died and Henry offered a compromise acceptable to all. He promised not to go back to Saxony, neither in peace nor in war, to respect the ancient rights of the Saxons that went back to Charlemagne and allowed the Saxons to rule themselves as they liked. He embraced Hartwig, archbishop of Magdeburg and one of the leaders of the Saxon rebellion since the very beginning as a member of his court and his inner circle of advisors. I like Ian Robinson description of this solution as a vice-regal system of government. The leader of the Saxons allowed them to do more or less as they liked, as long as they formally profess allegiance to the emperor and refrain from military action.

As for the other main opposition group around Welf IV, former duke of Bavaria and Berthold von Zaehringen, former duke of Carinthia, a solution was harder to find. By now the two lords have turned their fortified keeps on the tops of the mountains on the upper Rhine and in Switzerland into an impregnable string of fortresses. They enjoyed the support from some of the most revered bishops of the realm, including Gebhard von Salzburg, Altmann von Passau and Adalbert of Wuerzburg. Though these guys had all lost their diocese to Henry’s appointees they carried moral authority, further underpinned by the Gregorian papal legate, Odo Cardinal Bishop of Ostia.

They offered peace on condition that Henry would recognize Gregory’s successor, Victor III as the true pope and accept the excommunication of his pope Clement III. That was impossible since that would invalidate Henry’s coronation as emperor.

The only possible strategy for Henry was to keep the pressure on and wait for the old bishops to die. That they did, though slowly. But by 1089 the contingent of truly Gregorian bishops in Germany was down to 6 only one of them holding his own diocese.

By 1089 the kingdom was hence largely at peace for the first time since 1073. But this peace is very different to the peace under Henry III in the 1040s.

Henry III had ensured his peace through regular reconciliation assemblies where he would forgive his enemies and his enemies would forgive him, before everybody present would reconcile with everyone else. These events were followed up with imperial edicts banning feuds and these bans would be enforced by the imperial troops.

His son, Henry IV was no longer able to mandate peace in his realm. His aristocrats had used the preceding decades to build castles on their lands, increasingly in stone, that provided shelter from even the largest of armies. These castellans would settle their differences by raiding and pillaging their opponents’ lands, very much as has been the case in Capetian France. Central power had deteriorated so much that the bishops had to step in and declare a Peace of God for their diocese banning fighting during certain periods of the year. In 1082 Henry IV himself declared a Peace of God, together with his bishops. This time there was no edict of the king. Sanctions of the breach of the peace of God were spiritual, not secular. No imperial army would attack the castle of a castellan who breached the Peace. Henry had no military or political capacity to stop the feuding between his vassals. Where he intervened such as in the case of a feud between the archbishop of Salzburg and a local count, it was by bribing both sides with royal lands.

Whilst his rule stabilised, Henry also had been able to improve the position on the eastern border. Hungary had been lost the empire for a long time already despite the occasional marriage alliance. But the threat of Hungarian power meant that the Duke of Bohemia was looking for a closer association with the empire. Vratislav II, duke of Bohemia had been one of the most reliable of Henry’s allies all the way since 1075. In recognition of this loyalty, he raised him to be King of Bohemia. This royal title however came with a kink. It was a personal title, I.e., the sons of Vratislav would not be kings, unless the title was personally conferred on them by the emperor. To soften this blow he had Prague raised to be an archbishopric directly reporting to Rome, a privilege the dukes of Poland and Kings of Hungary had been enjoying for a long time and the Bohemians really, really wanted.

Even Poland came gradually back into the fold. The Polish rulers had used the weakness of imperial rule during the 1070s to distance themselves from the empire. That was made easier by the fact that the Saxons, Polands neighbors were busy fighting the royal armies rather than attacking Poland. When the Henry returned from Rome, the equation changed again, and Poland saw a benefit in supporting the emperor as a counterweight to the Saxons.

On the Western border of the empire the situation had remained challenging. You remember the endless wars between Henry III and Godfrey the Bearded. There was a period in the 1070s where the situation had improved for the imperial side. Empress Agnes had arranged a peace arrangement with the Counts of Flanders and Counts of Holland that held, at least for a while. When Godfrey the Bearded’s son. Godfrey the Hunchback became duke of Lower Lothringia, things improved even further. Godfrey the Hunchback had been one of Henry’s great supporters and potential trump card when he first contemplated a journey to Italy. I mentioned Godfrey some episodes ago because he had been married to none other than the great Countess Matilda of Tuscany. That marriage did not go well, and the couple separated. That may have been a reason for Godfrey to seek the support of Henry IV. It also could have facilitated Henry’s progress through the lands of Matilda of Tuscany. But none of that happened. Godfrey the Hunchback was run through by a spear in 1076 whilst answering a call of nature on campaign. His early death initiated a long and drawn war. Godfrey had appointed his nephew, also Godfrey to be his successor. Henry IV disagreed and appointed his own son, Konrad to be duke. After 11 years of war Godfrey ultimately won the conflict and was appointed duke of Lower Lothringia. This Godfrey was known as Godfrey of Bouillon after one of his possessions. And if you have some interest in the Middle Ages, this name might strike you as familiar. Maybe the first one you hear on this podcast. Godfrey of Bouillon will rise to prominence as the leader of the first crusade, which will kick off in less than a decade from where we are now.

The pope who will start the Crusades, Urban II had been elected pope in 1088 by those cardinals loyal to Gregory VII. The Gregorian reformers had gradually recovered from the loss of their great leader. Their main military supporter Matilda of Tuscany had regained her lands after winning a battle against the Northern Italian bishops.  The  Normans had provided the new pope with access to at least parts of the city of Rome with others held by Clement III. And Urban II was a dynamic and competent pope very much like a Gregory VII bringing bishops in his native France, in England and even some Cardinals back to the Gregorian side.

For Henry and his supporters, it had become clear that true and lasting peace could only be achieved by ending the schism. Only once Clement III was recognised across the whole of Christendom would the Swabians relent. And for that he had to go back down to Italy and end these Gregorians once and for all. Whether he will achieve that you will hear 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 37 – The two Grooms

Episode 37 – The two Grooms

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 37 – The Two Grooms

This week the wheel of fortune will turn 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.

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We should probably quickly recap where we are in the year 1090.

Things aren’t looking too bad for Henry IV. He has a modicum of control over most of Germany. The 17 year long war with the Saxons had been brought to an end, largely by giving them what they wanted, but peace is peace. In Italy his bishops were in charge of the northern part of the country and his anti-pope Clement III was on and off in control of Rome.

As for his enemies, there were essentially three centres.

In Swabia the deposed dukes of Bavaria and Carinthia, Welf IV and Berthold of Zaehringen kept fighting. Henry had entered peace negotiations with both, but their demands were unacceptable. They required the anti-pope Clement III to be removed and they themselves re-instated as dukes.

The second key enemy was the great countess Matilda of Tuscany, one of, if not the most formidable woman in 11th century Europe. Matilda had been reigning an area of Northern Italy, ranging from near Verona down to the papal states, including important cities like Mantua, Lucca, Pisa, Modena, Reggio and Florence. Matilda had been at war with her imperial kinsman and overlord since at least 1082, though the conflict dates back to the marriage of her mother to Godfrey the Bearded in 1054. She had stood loyally with her friend Pope Gregory VII until his very end at great personal expense.  At times she had been reduced to her indomitable mountain fortresses around Canossa and even needed to melt down her gold and silver treasures. Once Henry had left Italy, Matilda could free herself from the encirclement and won a great victory against the Lombard Bishops at Sorbara. That brought her back into her previous position as the most powerful secular ruler in Italy.

And finally, there was the Gregorian papacy. After Gregory VII had died in 1075 his remaining cardinals refused to recognise Pope Clement III, the man Henry had elevated to the seat of Saint Peter. Instead, they elected one of their own as Pope Victor III. Barely ever had anyone been so reluctant to become pope as Pope Victor III. He had been the abbot of the great monastery of Monte Cassino, founded by Saint Benedict and under his leadership the foremost seat of learning, literature, arts and monastic life in Italy. He had not just been an outstanding abbot but also a great negotiator on behalf of the church. He had good relations with his neighbours, the Normans. It was thanks to his efforts the initial agreement between the papacy and the Normans came about in 1059 and he also helped bringing Robert Guiscard to Rome in 1084.

And Victor III was a realist, not a fanatic like Gregory VII. He knew too well that after what Guiscard had done to Rome, the Romans would not voluntarily accept a Gregorian pope. Ad that meant getting into Rome was only possible in the train of a Norman army. What is a pope whose authority comes from the bloodied swords of Northmen and their Saracen soldiers? Well, not one Victor III aspired to be.

Having resisted the election for a year he was finally coerced into accepting the election in Rome. But just 4 days later, before he could be consecrated, he had to leave the Holy City as riots broke out. He returned to Monte Cassino and put the papal regalia into the bottom drawer. He remained as an elected but not consecrated pope for another year before The normans again smashed into the Holy city. Victor III was finally consecrated. The Romans were still unconvinced of the benevolence of the Papal allies and so Victor III ran away after 10 days and hid in Monte Cassino, before the Normans dragged him back into Rome in June. He stayed a month before claiming he needed to go home for health reasons. He died in Monte Cassino in September 1087.

That should have been that. By now the Gregorian papacy had proven to be nothing more than a Norman plaything. The Antipope Clement III could hold at least parts of Rome and enjoyed the support of the local population. Clement III was also not against church reform so that the urban population saw some of their demands to get a better sort of vicar for their churches fulfilled.

The reason the Gregorian ethos survived owed a lot to Victor III’s successor, pope Urban II. He became pope in 1088 and – since Rome was in the hands of Clement III – was elected and consecrated in the stunningly beautiful, but tiny city of Terracina, halfway between Rome and Naples.

Urban II had grown up in France, son of a local aristocrat in Champagne and had joined the fabled monastery of Cluny. He rose through the ranks and was made prior of the abbey. In 1080 Pope Gregory invited him to become Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, the highest-ranking member of the college of cardinals.

Urban II shared Gregory VII’s view of the role of the papacy as the preeminent institution of Christendom, superior to kings and emperors. Where he differed was in his methods.

Where Gregory was rigid and doctrinal to the very end, Urban II had the polish and diplomatic finesse needed to get the papacy out of the hole Gregory had dumped it in.

The first order of service was to get out of the dependency on the Normans without irritating them. On that front he was lucky as Robert Guiscard died in 1085. His successor as duke of Apulia was Roger Borsa. Borsa means “Moneybags” in English suggesting he had less ambitious goals than his father more interested in“counting and recounting his money”.

Leadership of the Normans fell to Roger I, count of Sicily, the youngest of the 12 brothers of Robert Guiscard. Roger had been busy conquering the island of Sicily since 1063. Sicily had been an Arab emirate since the 9th century but had broken apart in the 11th century into small warring factions which created the opportunity for Roger. By 1090 he had removed the last of these mini emirs and set out to conquer Malta. What I am saying is that Roger was busy consolidating his rule over Sicily and less in need of a pet pope.

Urban then applied the old rule that my enemy’s enemy is my friend and concluded that in order to get rid of Clement III he needed to remove Henry IV. And that means he needed to forge a coalition of Henry’s enemies.

And that coalition came about in the form of a marriage, a marriage that even today would be seen as scandalous. Urban II’s proposal was simple, Matilda of Tuscany should marry the son of Welf IV, leader of the German opposition. That would give the anti-henry forces control over a coherent area stretching from the border of the Papal State all the way north, across the alps into Switzerland and Southern Germany. Henry IV and his pet pope, Clement III could be shut out from Rome.

Sounds great. Only issue was that Matilda of Tuscany was no spring chicken anymore. At 43 years of age she had little chance of further offspring, which was according to the doctrine of the church, the main purpose of marriage. And Matilda’s track record as a wife had not been quite in line with the expectations of the time.

She had separated from her first husband, Godfrey the Hunchback after a short marriage. The marital differences had come less from the lack of mutual attraction but from her reluctance to grant him political control over her rich lands. Matilda very much took the view that these lands were hers and hers alone and that no man, husband or otherwise were to command them. To put that into context, it took until 1963 before Italian women were allowed to hold a public office contested by a man.

For an 11th century red-blooded nobleman Matilda as a wife was a nightmare.  

And now let’s talk about the groom. His name was Welf V, son of -guess it – yes Welf IV. Not only was his name unimaginative in the extreme, but he was also no more than 18 years’ old.

The logic of the union was so blatantly obvious, it barely needs explaining. The lands of Matilda were to fall into the hands of the Welf family upon her soon to be expected demise, making the deposed dukes of Bavaria the most powerful princes in the empire.

Matilda was not keen, but a silver tongued Urban II convinced her that she had to make this last great sacrifice for the cause of god and the papacy. Young Welf V presumably was told to grin and bear it for a few years.

The betrothal of this unlikely couple took place in 1089.

With this announcement all peace negotiations between Henry IV and the Southern German opposition ended. War was to resume; the question was where? Henry IV could either continue his operations in Southern Germany and subdue the Welf and their allies, leaving Matilda well alone until that was resolved. Or, he could go down to Italy, knock out Matilda and end the schism once and for all by capturing Urban II.

Option 2 was bolder and – we know our Henry – for him bolder is better.

He appears in Italy in May 1090 at the head of a sizeable army. This time he brought along some of his German followers including Frederick von Hohenstaufen, his son in law and closes ally. That suggests he was looking to make Italy the place where the final battle was to be fought. Equally Welf V joined his new wife in Tuscany, together with a contingent of his German allies.  

As before Henry can count on the support from the Lombard bishops though their numbers are somewhat depleted as the archbishop of Milan had changed sides. Henry also no longer commanded the cities of Pisa and Lucca who returned into the fold of Matilda, having received all they needed from the emperor.

Hostilities in the first year are taken up by the siege of Mantua, forever one of the military linchpins of Italy.  Mantua barred the way to the heart of Matilda possessions south of the Po river. After 12 months of siege the city yielded and Henry entered th Edith I;triumph. Two further strongholds nearby fell too opening the road towards the Po river and the heart of Matilda’s possessions.

This success was significant enough for Welf IV, father of Matilda’s husband to resume peace negotiations. It seems the marriage alliance has failed to yield the desired benefits. And with some of his supporters amongst the bishopric having passed this last year, it was time to look for a compromise.

As before Welf’s demands were twofold, return the duchy of Bavaria to me and abandon your antipope Clement III. With henry now in an even better position that two years before, he saw no reason to accept these demands and by summer 1091 hostilities resumed.

The year ended with another success for Henry. Matilda had sent out 1,000 of her knights to capture the emperor she had been informed had travelled with a small contingent close to her lands. Well it was a trap and her soldiers were routed by a much superior imperial force.  

At that point Matilda did what she had done previously when things had turned against her, she returned to her string of fortresses around Canossa and employed a defensive strategy.  In spring 1092 Henry began to systematically besiege and break these fortresses. First Montemorello, then Montalfredo. When he proceeded to Monteveglio, progress slowed. He wasted the whole of the summer before the walls of that castle.

There were around nine strongholds around her heartland of Canossa. Having lost two and one on the verge of going, Matilda’s vassals became concerned and wanted to bring this process to an end. Matilda was initially reluctant, but negotiations began in October 1092. But they went nowhere. A hermit, named John showed up and declared a vision that Matilda would prevail, and salvation was close at hand.

I usually do not set much store by hermits, but this one was right.

After the failure of the peace negotiations, Henry feigned a retreat towards Parma, but doubled back to attack her home and the heart of her defensive system, Canossa itself. Matilda left the castle with most of its garrison and moved a few miles down the road to another of her castles, Bianello. Bianleeo was by the way where most of the initial negotiations over the lifting of the excommunication had taken place 14 years earlier. This time the roles were reversed. Henry was at Canossa and Matilda in Bianello. But as before, Henry was not inside Canossa but besieged the castle from below.

It might well be that Henry thought that Matilda and most of her soldiers were inside the castle of Canossa or thought she had left for somewhere far away. In any event, on one foggy afternoon Matilda’s garrison came down from Bianello whilst the troops inside Canossa attempted a sortie. In the dark and foggy chaos henry’s troops had a hard time distinguishing friend from foe. The most dispiriting moment came when Matilda’s soldiers captured the royal banner, creating panic in the royal army.

Henry fled the site of his now second humiliation and took his remaining army north. News of his defeat travelled fast and two of the fortresses he only just had captured were returned to Matilda. One of them held the imperial train with supplies and  the campaign funds.

Christmas was a difficult feast for Henry who had lost most of the progress he had made that previous year. At the same time his German enemies smelled the morning air.  Berthold von Zaehringen had himself elected duke of Swabia though there was already a duke of Swabia, Frederick von Hohenstaufen. And so, Frederick von Hohenstaufen who had been with Henry these last 2 years has to go back home and take his remaining troops with him.

Another member of Henry’s entourage had also left, his eldest son Konrad. Konrad had lived in Italy for neigh on 10 years by now after his father had left him in the care of the Lombard bishops when he returned to Germany in 1084. He was now 20 years of age and his father entrusted him with an important mission.

Henry’s mother-in-law and Konrad’s grandmother, Adelheid countess of Savoy had died at the end of 1091. She was, like Matilda, one of these exceptional women who ran a state against all the laws and customs of the time. Her state was the margraviate of Turin and the county of Savoy, in essence what is today the Italian province of Piemonte and the French region of Savoie. And most importantly she controlled a number of Alpine passes, including Mont Cenis which you may remember her daughter Bertha tobogganed down.

Adelheid had no heir in the male line and had designated one of her grandson’s to inherit her lands. To Henry’s annoyance this grandson was not Konrad. But as emperor he could determine the succession of his vassals should they die without direct male heirs. That was the law of the land, but to enforce it, an army needed to be deployed against the obstinate new count of Savoy. Konrad was put in charge of that army and dispatched west.

So far so good. Konrad campaigned gingerly around Asti and Turin until in the summer of 1093. But then disconcerting news reached Henry at his camp in Verona. His own son had joined up with Matilda and pope Urban II.

What brought this treachery about has long been debated. Some later writers point out that Konrad was a bookish man who preferred reading over riding into battle. Some suggested that he had a falling out with his father over points of canon law and the claims of papal supremacy. The imperial propagandists describe him as a feckless boy who had lent his ear to bad councillors.

Modern historians like I.S. Robinson and Egon Boshof attribute him with more political intelligence. Konrad saw his father’s position deteriorating rapidly after the rout before Canossa. His army shrunk and the ranks of his enemies were swelled by formerly loyal Lombard bishops and  emerging independent cities. And there was no way this could be resolved as long as Henry clung to his anti-pope Clement III. And Henry could not let go of Clement III, because that would invalidate his Imperial Coronation.

Konrad may well have come to the conclusion that the only way the Salian house can remain in possession of power was if he would be crowned emperor by the right pope, i.e., Urban II. If that happened, he could fulfil the two conditions Welf IV had set for a lasting peace, setting aside Clement III and giving him the duchy of Bavaria. Peace with Welf IV and an arrangement with urban II would end all conflicts and bring Konrad on the throne of a now united empire.

That sounds like a plan. A plan Konrad went into without reservation. He met pope Urban II in Cremona. When the pope approached, Konrad went out to meet him and there performed what is called “the office of the groom”. Konrad would get off his horse and he would take the papal bridle, guiding the  vicar of Christ into the city.

This act of imperial submission to the papal authority had not been performed since the emperor Louis II, who was in fact no more than an Italian warlord. Allegedly it had been introduced by the emperor Constantine who performed it for Pope Sylvester after he had cured his leprosy by bathing him in the blood of young boys or some such nonsense.

By performing the office of the Groom or Stratordienst Konrad accepts the Dictatus Papae of Gregory VII and becomes a vassal of the Pope. And from now the popes will demand the office of the Groom at every Imperial coronation

For Henry this must have been a stab through the heart. All he fought for was the preservation of the Salian rule he had inherited from his father and grandfather. His son joining the papal camp makes all that worthless.

And this is not all. The next attack comes from his new wife. Empress Bertha who had faithfully followed her husband to Canossa had died 5 years earlier and Henry had married Eupraxia, a Russian princess. This marriage seemed to have been quite unsuccessful. Eupraxia does appear in only one charter during their marriage, which is a very low number compared to other Salian empresses and Henry’s first wife who appeared very regularly. That suggest she had little if any influence at court.

Early in 1094 Eupiaraxia sent a plea for help to Matilda of Tuscany.  Matilda then sent a small elite force who extracted Eupraxiafrom the imperial court at Verona and brought her to Canossa. There she quote  “complained that she had suffered so many and so unheard-of filthy acts of fornication with so many men as would cause even her enemies to excuse her flight”.  End quote.   eupraxia will repeat these allegations of gang rape by her husbands me. in public at a Papal Synod in 1095 and they have been recounted again and again ever since. There is no way to determine the veracity of these statements since propaganda in the 11th century generally pays no regard to facts.

And it does not matter, Henry had been betrayed by his son and accused of infernal crimes by his wife. His military position is now absolutely dire. His empire has shrunk to a couple of counties in Northern Italy held by his ally, the duke of Carinthia. He cannot return to Germany because his enemies control the Alpine passes. He cannot overcome his Italian enemies whose numerical superiority is now overwhelming. It may well be that he contemplated suicide or its 11th century equivalent, riding your horse into the middle of a melee.

As Henry’s star had sunk, Urban II is heading to the crowning moment of his papacy. On November 27th, 1095 in a field outside the French city of Clermont Urban II had gathered not just the bishops and magnates of the council, but also the local landowners, the castellans, their knights and the common people, the peasants, the artisans of the city and even the urban poor

 “A barbaric fury has deplorably afflicted and laid waste the churches of God in the regions of the Orient” Urban declares and this barbaric fury has “even grasped in intolerable servitude its churches and the Holy City of Christ, glorified by His passion and resurrection”. He calls upon all to “free the churches of the East”, and promises that “If any man sets out from pure devotion, not for reputation or monetary gain, to liberate the Church of God at Jerusalem, his journey shall be reckoned in place of all penance” “Deus vult, God wills it” is the crowds response, not just in Clermont but all across Europe. The crusades have begun.

Whilst Urban is making world history up in France, the wheel of fortune turns again, unexpectedly. It is not just Henry’s marriage that is on the rocks, the match made in heaven between Matilda and Welf V had also run its course. The marriage that brought all this misery about in the first place is now over.

We do not know who left who, but the bottom line is the same as in Matilda’s first marriage. The Lady is not for turning. Welf V may be a strapping young lad, but that does not mean Matilda will leave him her lands or take his political advice. Matilda’s life and work is bringing about her friend Gregory VII vision of an all encompassing and all controlling papacy. And hence the heir to Matilda will be the one who had been her master all along, The Lord and his representative on earth, the Pope. Little Welf will get nothing.

When this notion trickles through to the older Welf IV, deposed duke of Bavaria, he realised that everyone was in it for themselves, surprise. Time for Welf to finally get something for himself.

He opens negotiations with Henry and the two men quickly reach an agreement. Welf IV offers fealty to the emperor in exchange for the duchy of Bavaria. There is no mention of Pope Clement III or the schism or church reform. Let’s just bring this nonsense to an end.

In spring 1097 Henry IV returns to Germany after 7 years, most of which spent in despair and inactivity. He was so inactive that there is not a single imperial charter for the year 1094. None, nada, silch.

Next week we will leave Henry to his own devices and talk a bit about the next great achievement of the Gregorian papacy, the First Crusade. We will talk about the horrors it unleashed for the Jewish communities in Germany and the misery it brought to the children and adults who walked all the way to Turkey only to be mercilessly slaughtered. And the men who in the main went, not for pure devotion but for reputation and monetary gain. 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.

Episode 38 – The first Crusade

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 38 – The First Crusade

Today we will leave Henry IV to fend for himself. Instead, we will be looking at the First crusade and most specifically the role of Germans in that First crusade. A word of warning. In this episode we will have to discuss extreme violence, racially motivated crimes and suicide. I will give a specific warning when we get there. Feel free to skip from that point onwards. I will make sure that you can pick up seamlessly at episode 39.

Last week we talked briefly about Pope Urban’s famous speech in the field outside the city of Clermond in France that kicker off the crusades. I must confess that I took a bit of artistic licence there and put words into Urban’s mouth that reflect only one of the five different versions of that speech. I felt that was ok given that by and large the gist of the speech is the same in all five versions. Urban calls upon the Christian faithful to free the holy land from the infidels.

I will not give you a full rundown of the whole of the First Crusade. There are a number of excellent indie podcasts on the topic, namely my old colleague from a different world Nick Holmes who has a great show called Byzantium and the Crusades and obviously Sharyn Eastaugh’s epic History of the Crusades. And if you want to read about the crusades, check out Steven Runciman 3 books on the crusades. Brilliantly written and for me still the “go to” source.

Though we are not going to go through the Crusades in detail, there are some elements that had a bearing on German history.

The first of those is the question Why Urban asks for a crusade at this exact point in time, and even more importantly, why was his call successful now? He was not the first to call for Christian knights to aid in the fight against the infidels. There might have been a call for a crusade as far back as 1010 under pope Sergius IV. Pope Alexander II supported the recruitment of Christian knights in the fight against the Muslims in Span and Sicily. And in 1074 Gregory VII proposed a march on Jerusalem to none other than the emperor Henry IV, the man he would excommunicate just a year later. So what are the reasons it worked this time when it had not worked before?

Reason #1 was the rise and rise in lay piety that lay behind the church reform movement.  As their economic conditions improved people began seeking self-actualisation, which in 11th century society meant finding a way to get to heaven. The crusades offered a nearly perfect deal. If you do something, i.e., travel to the holy land to free the sites of Christ’s birth. Life and passion, you will be automatically cleansed of your sins and have a free ticket to heaven. It is the same logic that is behind gym memberships and Yoga classes. The difference is that if halfway through your Yoga class you realise the Tripod Handstand with Lots legs is not for you, you simply stay home numbing your bad conscience with a cup of cocoa. If you go on crusade, halfway through means you are somewhere in Hungary with no food, no horse and under attack from hostile locals.

Reason #2 was more short term. The same economic growth that drove piety had also resulted in a surge in population, leaving the world with an excess of younger sons and daughters. These young people had no chance of an inheritance. There was little chance of gaining land by force after the expansion of the realm of the Christian faith into the east and north had stalled a 100 years ago. The population pressure was brought to bursting in the last 10 years thanks to a series of draughts, freezing cold winters and other freak weather events that had destroyed the crops.

Reason #3 was the weakness of the Truce of God movements. As central authority had almost vanished in France and deteriorated in the empire, the church attempted to maintain some semblance of security by making the feuding lord and castellans swear on powerful relics that they would refrain from fighting on certain days of the week and holy days. That was a suboptimal system to start with since on the free days, feuding, i.e., killing of each their peasants and burning of their fields was perfectly ok. Moreover, these arrangements tended to be forgotten after a few years and normal service resumed until the bishop called another truce. The crusades offered a way to reduce the feuding, since the most aggressive armoured horsemen would join the crusade in search of riches or just sport, whilst those who stayed behind swore not to attack the lands of the absent crusaders.

Reason #4 was the one officially given, i.e., that Jerusalem needed to be freed. It is also the least compelling.

By the time Urban II made his stirring speech, Jerusalem had been in Muslim hands for 460 years. Jerusalem had been captured in 636 by an army of the Caliph Umar, the father-in-law of Mohammed.

As had been the case in most conquests during the caliphate, the Arabs did not force the locals to convert to Islam. That did not mean they could live as they pleased. They did have to pay special taxes, could only maintain their old places of worship but not build new ones, and were generally treated as second class citizens though. But there was little persecution, and the Arabs did not mind in the slightest if Christian tourists came and generously spent their gold and silver. As long as the pilgrims behaved and paid for services, they were welcome.

In the early 11th century travel to Jerusalem had become relatively easy. The Byzantine empire had recovered from the initial dual assault by the Arabs and the Bulgars. It ruled over a coherent landmass from the Hungarian border to Syria. Hence pilgrims could either travel through Germany and Hungary and enter the eastern Roman empire in Belgrade or get there by crossing the Adriatic from Bari to what is today Durazzeo in Albania. Once inside the Eastern Roman empire, the excellent roads would bring them via Constantinople and Anatolia to Antioch. Another 200 km on, the pilgrims would enter the Caliphate in Tartus in Syria from where it was just 500 km to Jerusalem.

The journey would take a whole year but was not much more dangerous or strenuous than travel in the Middle Ages was anyway. The comparative ease of the journey meant that pilgrim numbers surged. There were pilgrim hospices run by monks along the way, including the famed hospice of Saint John in Jerusalem had been set up in the 7th century well before the crusades.

For instance, in 1064/65 a large pilgrimage set off from Germany. It was led by the archbishop Siegfried of Mainz and comprised amongst others the bishops William of Utrecht, Otto of Regensburg, and Gunther of Bamberg. This pilgrim group numbered somewhere between 7,000 and 12,000 including women and children looking to see the holy sites.

After 1064 the journey had become more dangerous. The Caliphate had begun to crumble under its own internal problems and attacks from Seldjuk Turks. The Turks had been around for a long time controlling the lands between the caliphate and India. In the 11th century they began exploring the opportunities arising from the weakness of the Caliphs. A long conflict between Arabs and Turks ensued during which warlords carved out smallish territories that regularly changed hands whilst the two major Islamic powers, the Fatimids and the Turkish sultans tried to gain control.

At the same time the Turks had begun attacking first Armenia and then the Byzantine empire itself. The Byzantine empire had its own problems as the Macedonian dynasty had failed to produce a male heir. The empresses Zoe and Theodora held things together for 30 years after the death of the great emperor Basil II.  But when Empress Theodora died in 1056, the state fell into civil war as a succession of civil and military potentate vied for the throne. In this midst of this infighting the Turks advanced. In 1071 they won their great victory at Manzikart. Though they did not immediately take advantage of the defeat of the emperor, Seldjuk warlords would capture most of Anatolia during the 20 years that followed.

Bottom line was that by 1095 the Byzantine empire no longer controlled the route across Anatolia. Not could the caliphs offer safe passage across Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.  Pilgrims were molested and occasionally relieved of their possessions. There were even selected cases where travellers were provided with accelerated entry into heaven.

In other words, the route to Jerusalem had become dangerous because of the absence of a central authority. What wasn’t the case was that a central authority blocked the route to Jerusalem, as Pope urban and his preachers had claimed. Realistically, without the crusades, the situation in the levant would probably have stabilised after some time and whoever one the contest would have reopened the lucrative pilgrim route again. Instead, we ended up with a conflict that in some ways is still continuing today.

And Reason #5 is purely political. It all kicked off with Alexios Komnenos, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire asking the pope whether he would be allowed to recruit some mercenaries in the west to fight against the Muslims. Well, that may well be what he meant, but what Urban understood is that Alexios asked him for help fighting the Muslims.

Pope Urban received the appeal early in 1095 and pondered it on his journey to Clermont. Clermont had initially been scheduled to be an important council, but no one expected a call to free the holy sites of Christendom. The great plan must have formed in his head as he travelled up the Rhone River. His Eureka moment might even have come when he stopped at his former home, the abbey of Cluny to consecrate the (second) largest church in Christendom.

Urban II realised that a successful expedition to Jerusalem under the leadership of the church could resolve all the conflicts of the last decades in one fell swoop.

Just think back and ask yourself why the emperors had such a stronghold over the church for so long? Where does their claim to lead Christianity come from?

It starts with Charlemagne who could claim that he had expanded the reach of the word of Christ into the pagan lands of the Saxons and that he had defended Christianity against the Saracens in Spain.

When Otto the Great came to Rome in 962, he could claim the conversion of the Poles and the defeat of the Hungarians as the Lord’s work. Under Otto II the eastward expansion stopped following the Slav uprising. Otto III reinvigorated the idea of the emperor as the bringer of Christian faith to the east through his pilgrimage to Gniezno.

But after that progress stalled. The Kievan Rus went to the Orthodox church, the Lithuanians remained pagan until 1387 and the emperors failed to control the pagan lands between Poland and Saxony. Expansion of the Christian faith was now the job of the Christian Spanish kingdoms and the Normans in Sicily. What these had in common were two things. One, they were fighting Muslims, not pagans and secondly they were both vassals of the pope, not of the emperor.

The logical conclusion from here is that if the Gregorian Reformers could scale up this effort, the leadership of Christendom would permanently shift from the emperors to the papacy. Henry IV or whoever was his successor would have to submit to the pope and the antipope Clemet III would lose all his remaining support.

The cherry on the cake was that if the expedition was successful, the emperor in Constantinople would be compelled to acknowledge the pope as the spiritual lead, ending the schism between latin and orthodox Christianity.

And then, finally, all the princes will kiss the feet of the pope, as Gregory VII had set out in his Dictatus Papae of 1075.

All of this made overwhelming sense to the men and women standing in the November mud outside the walls of Clermont, as it made sense to congregations all across France, England and Italy.

Whilst still at Clermont, Urban II received the first major pledge to go on crusade by Count Raymond of Toulouse. Soon the offers to take the cross came in hard and fast. The brother of the King of France, Hugh of Vermandois signed up, as did the count of Flanders and the duke of Normandy. The Normans in Sicily quickly realised that this effort was an easier way to gather some lands in the east than going it alone as they had before. Hence Bohemond, son of Robert Guiscard and his nephew Tancred joined up as well. These high aristocrats began pawning their lands to raise funds to equip and feed an army for a campaign much longer than anyone had undertaken before in medieval Europe. There was however one subsegment of the European nobility who could not see the point of this at all, the German bishops and high aristocrats.

Obviously, Henry IV would rather be hung beneath a beehive covered in honey than join any of Urban II’s schemes. And that would go for most of his allies as well. If Henry and his mates are not going, then the rebel dukes and counts had to stay as well. They could hardly expect Henry IV to respect the Crusader’s immunity issued by Urban II.

There we go. A great war is on, and the Germans stay home – who would have guessed? All the Germans? No.

One of the great vassals of the empire would go on crusade, Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lower Lothringia. Godfrey was free to do what he wanted as he had made his peace with the emperor back in 1087 but was not close enough to him to be a target of the rebels. Godfrey raised one of the largest crusader armies, became the Crusades unacknowledged leader and was ultimately crowned the first king of Jerusalem. Godfrey’s leadership eclipsed the official leadership established by Urban II, that of bishop Adhemar de Puy. And with the crusade ultimately under secular, not papal leadership, the big political bet of Urban II did not come through.

The loss of church leadership in the crusade was not the only thing that did not go according to plan. Whilst Urban II organised his professional crusader army, the idea of a crusade went viral. Several preachers, usually monks began calling the common people to go to the holy land. Not next year when all the preparation is done, but right now. Salvation and eternal life is waiting for you. Go now. Drop everything and come along. The most famous of these preachers was Peter, an itinerant monk. Steven Runciman describes him as follows: Peter was an oldish man, born somewhere near amiens. His contemporaries knew him as “little peter” -chtou or kiokio in the Picard dialect. – but late the hermit’s cape that he habitually wore brought him the surname “the hermit”, by which he is better known to history. He was a man of short stature, swarthy and with a long, lean face, horribly like the donkey he always rode, and which was revered almost as much as he was. He went barefoot and his clothes were filthy. He ate neither bread not meat, but fish and drank wine.

Despite his unassuming physique he clearly inspired people. Guibert of Nogent tells us the “Whatever he said or did, it seemed like something half divine”

Peter started preaching almost immediately after the council of Clermont and he gathered supporters amongst the poor, the townsfolk and the younger sons of knightly families of Northern France, Flanders and the Rhineland, so that when he appeared in Cologne in April 1096, his peasant army had grown to 15,000 people. There was no way such a mass of people could be fed and watered anywhere in 11th century Europe. They were condemned to keep moving. An initial contingent of about 7,000 set off right after easter. This group travelled through Hungary and entered Byzantine territory at Belgrade. There were some hiccups along the way as nobody was expecting the crusaders to arrive that early, but they managed to get to Constantinople in the end.

Peter stayed behind in Germany for a few weeks preaching. That refilled his ranks and he soon had 20,000 followers, mostly men but also women and children hungry for salvation. They as well set off on the land route to Constantinople. Everything went well until they reached the border between Hungary and Byzantium. It seemed the Hungarian governor of the border fortress of Semlin was trying to instil some discipline in the huge horde. Things went out of control over the sale of a pair of shoes in the bazaar. An altercation turned into a brawl, which turned into a riot which turned into a pitched battle, at the end of which the Hungarian city burned down and its garrison was slaughtered. The Byzantine governor watched this in horror from the other side of the Danube. His Petchenegg soldiers tried to establish order, but they quickly realised they had no chance against that huge press of humanity. The garrison fled to Nish with the inhabitants of Belgrade in tow. The pilgrims storm Belgrade but finding little of value burn it down.

As I said at the beginning there are scenes of extreme violence and racially motivated crimes in the sections that follow. If you are concerned about the impact these could have on you or on other people around you, please close the episode here. You should be able to follow the narrative from the next episode, Episode 39.

After that the emperor sends what must have been a regular army as an escort to lead them to Constantinople. Still too large to stay anywhere for long, the horde is packed off across the Bosporus towards the frontier. Though they were told to wait for the whole army to assemble, they kept moving slowly towards Nicea, the capital of the Turkish sultan. As they moved, they made no difference between Muslims and Greek Christians, either was robbed of their possessions, their wives and daughters raped, and the men tortured. Months on the road had ripped the last bit of Christian charity out of them.

What this army now often called the Tafurs looked like is best described by Norman Cohn in his book Millennium: “barefoot, shaggy, clad in ragged sackcloth, covered in sores and filth , living on roots and grass and also at times of the roasted corpses of their enemies, the Tafurs were a ferocious band that any country they passed through was utterly devastated. Too poor to afford swords and lances, they yielded clubs weighted with lead, pointed sticks, knives, hatchets, shovels, hoes and catapults. When they charged into battle they gnashed their teeth as though they meant to eat their enemies alive as well as dead”, end quote.

As this army came up against the Sultan’s capital at Nicea, they believed they could take the city with the help of the lord. Against the disciplined Turkish troops that had defeated the greatest powers of the east, the peasants stood no chance. They were ambushed and within minutes their undisciplined march turned into a chaotic rout. They were back in their camp even before the older folk who were left behind had even woken up. There was no real resistance. Soldiers, women and priests were killed before they even moved. The prisoners were killed except for the boys and girls that were of pleasant enough appearance to be sold as slaves. No more than 3,000 of the 25,000 who set off from Cologne survived. They joined the main crusade and some of them even entered Jerusalem, creating a bloodbath amongst the Muslims whereby the city was covered knee deep in blood and gore.

Peter the hermit had left some of his disciples behind in Cologne to gather even more followers for his doomed adventure. Three leaders emerged, Volkmar, Gottschalk and Count Emich of Leiningen. Volkmar sets off first, followed a few weeks later by Gottschalk.

Emich, count of Leiningen’s army was somewhat different. Though equally driven by lay piety, his followers tended to include more knights and counts and less peasants. And he had better access to information. One piece of information he found particularly useful. Godfrey of Bouillon, great noble and future king of Jerusalem had found it hard to raise funds for his expedition. Relief came from an unexpected source. Kalonymos, the chief rabbi of the great Jewish community of Mainz had offered Godfrey 500 pieces of silver. The equally famed Jewish community of Cologne paid the same. That generosity was prompted by rumours that Godfrey had vowed to avenge the death of Christ with the blood of the Jews before he set off on crusade. I mean, I would be the last to suggest that Godfrey may have spread the rumour himself or actually made such a vow. A man who supervised the valiant slaughter of the civil population of Jerusalem and the burning of its Jewish congregation in their synagogue is beyond reproach.

Let’s talk briefly about the status of Jews in the empire. I am relying here on Peter Wilson’s great book, The Holy Roman Empire”. According to him, Charlemagne had revived the late imperial patronage of the Jews. They played an important role in the economy as they were able to sell slaves from the Eastern pagan lands to Spain where they would become slave soldiers. He estimates that around the year 1000 there were about 20,000 Ashkenazi Jews in the empire north of the Alps. Under the Ottonians the imperial protection was inconsistent. Otto II allocated the protection of the Jewish communities to the bishops, whilst Henry II expelled 2000 Jews from Mainz in 1012 but had to revoke this decree the following year.

In 1090 our friend Henry IV implemented a wide-ranging reform. He issued a general privilege to the Jews and made himself the Advocatus Imperatoris Judaica, or general protector of the Jews in the Empire. This arrangement persisted until the end of the empire in 1806. The safeguarding of legal, economic and religious rights became a prerogative of the emperor. Implementation of that varied throughout time and we will certainly talk about the successes and failure of this construct as we go along. But is should be note that the general rule stood for over 700 years and, as it was woven into the fabric of the law, granted what Wilson calls a surprising level of autonomy to the Jewish population, notwithstanding their status as second-class citizens.

But we are in the year 1096 and Henry IV is bottled up in Verona and his protection is not worth much.

All that gave count Emich of Leiningen an idea. Maybe the Jewish communities along the route could be made to support the cause. He started in Speyer on May 9th but struggled to get past the bishop’s troops who protected their Jewish community, probably in exchange of a generous donation to the still ongoing building works of the great cathedral. Or maybe for once a prelate was doing his job. Note that the German Bishops had been ordered by Henry IV to protect the Jewish communities after he had heard about persecutions in Northern France.

After the failure in Speyer, Emich and his rabble moved a bit further to Worms. There he spread the rumour that the Jews had drowned a Christian and use the water he had died in to poison the wells. That brought the townsfolk onto the side of the crusaders. They broke into Jewish homes and killed everyone who was not willing to convert. Many Jews had fled into the bishop’s palace. Emich and his men broke down the doors and despite the bishop’s pleading killed all of them, men, women and children, a total of 500 dead.

From Worms he then travelled to Mainz. If you have any notion of geography, you might realise that Emich and his followers are travelling North, not exactly the direction of Jerusalem. Archbishop Rothard did close the gates against the crusaders. But Emich’s arrival triggered riots within the city during which a Christian was killed. The rioters opened the gates and Emich’s forces enter. Again, the Jews seek shelter in the bishop’s palace, and again it is overrun. As resistance against the overwhelming numbers was futile the Jews prepared themselves to die.

Here is the report by Salomon bin Simson of what happened then (quote):

“As soon as the enemy came into the courtyard, they found some of the very pious there with our brilliant master, Isaac ben Moses. He stretched out his neck, and his head they cut off first. The others, wrapped by their fringed praying­ shawls, sat by themselves in the courtyard, eager to do the will of their Creator. They did not care to flee into the chamber to save themselves for this temporal life, but out of love they received upon themselves the sentence of God. […]

The women there girded their loins with strength and slew their sons and their daughters and then themselves. Many men, too, plucked up courage and killed their wives, their sons, their infants. The tender and delicate mother slaughtered the babe she had played with, all of them, men and women arose and slaughtered one another. The maidens and the young brides and grooms looked out of the Windows and in a loud voice cried: “Look and see, O our God, what we do for the sanctification of Thy great name in order not to exchange you for a hanged and crucified one….”

Then the crusaders began to give thanks in the name of “the hanged one” because they had done what they wanted with all those in the room of the bishop so that not a soul escaped.” (unquote)

This slaughter cost another possibly more than 800 lives.

Emich then tried his luck in Cologne but was less successful as the news had arrived before him and Jews had left the city or hid with their Christian neighbours. Some of his troops separated from the main army and diverted even further away from Jerusalem and attacked the Jewish communities in Trier and Metz. This group then looked for their valiant leader near Cologne killing Jews in Neuss, Wevelinghofen, Eller and Xanten. Not finding him they returned home, their holy work done.

Meanwhile the two other groups under Volkmar and Gottschalk heard about Emich’s pursuits and emulated their efforts by murdering Jews in Magdeburg, Prague, Regensburg, to name a few.  

None of these three groups made it to Jerusalem. By now the king of Hungary had become wary of these peasant crusaders. They were held up at the border and when they began raiding and pillaging, the king deployed his armoured cavalry who killed and dispersed them.

Emich’s unit was the last to arrive. They fought a veritable battle with the Hungarians and even besieged the border fortress of Weissenburg. The arrival of a royal army and a sortie of the garrison brought that to an end. Emich’s troops fled in panic.

Emich himself returned to his possessions in Leiningen, forever disgraced. Disgraced not for his crimes, but for not fulfilling his vow to go to Jerusalem.

I leave it to you to decide whether the First Crusade was a glorious moment in European history. As for German history, I can only look at it as a moment of shame and horror. It was the first large scale persecution of the Jews in the Middle Ages, containing all the hallmarks of what was to come. The blood libel, the poisoning of wells and the inability of the authorities to protect them.

Next week we will return to the rollercoaster that is the life of Henry IV. He is back in Germany, reconciled with the southern German dukes and all could now go smoothly. But history still has one last humiliation in store for him, the longest ruling, or not really ruling medieval emperor. I hope to see you then.

And remember, 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 Steven and Jay who have already signed up.

Episode 39 – The end of 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.

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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