Lothar III (1125-1138)

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Lothar III may almost be forgotten today, but he may well have been the last of the Holy Roman Emperors who had control over the realm – despite having acted as papal groom


Lothar III – History of the Germans
Lothar III – History of the Germans

Emperor Lothar III, an unexpected leaderA 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 43- All Change, All Change
byDirk Hoffmann-Becking

Hello and welcome to Season 3 of the History of the Germans Podcast – The Hohenstaufen 1125-1268.

Between March and June of 1977 675,000 people visited the Alte Schloß in Stuttgart to see an exhibition entitled “Die Zeit der Staufer” (the Time of the Hohenstaufen in English). Over 1,000 items from 17 countries were on display, with the Cappenberger Kopf, the image of emperor Frederick Barbarossa, this episode’s artwork as its star exhibit.

Nobody expected these numbers of visitors for what was just 3,000 square meters of exhibition space. At peak times there was barely a square meter per person. People fainted in the low and badly ventilated rooms. They sold 150,000 copies of the enormous four volume exhibition catalogue, one of which to my father who proudly displayed it in his office for 40 years and is now in a box en route over to mine.

Whilst most other medieval German rulers are all but forgotten, interest in the Hohenstaufen never completely disappeared. Why is that? They were by no means the most successful emperors, that crown has to go the Ottonians nor was their reign the most fateful, that was the reign of the later Salians.

Frederick Barbarossa and his grandson Frederick II have been such fascinating personalities that almost any age could project their own perceptions and expectations onto them, from champion of national unity to modern man before his time. Time to find out what really happened, who they really were. As always a great many things keep happening, some good, some bad.

Episode webpage: Episode 43 – All Change All Change • History of the Germans Podcast

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.

As always:

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Episode 43- All Change, All Change
Episode 44 – A Saxon Emperor
Episode 45 – Triple Division
Episode 46 – A Topsy Turvy World

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

Lothar III sets out as the Salian’s implacable enemy. His election required elaborate playacting and a last minute change of sides. The Salian’s heirs, the Hohenstaufen brothers Frederick and Konrad are left empty handed.

The German princes who elect him hope for a change of policy away from centralising power. The papacy is equally full of hope that this German ruler will be tame like a Frenchman.

And Lothar’s reign initially meets all the expectations. One every request of a Papal legate it is yes, sir, yes sir. The princes are given opportunities to grow their wealth in the east without much interference.

Lothar even debases him so far as to provide the Strator service to the pope, the first king of the Romans to act as papal groom. But soon that harmonious picture changes. As papal weakness does not translate into concessions to the emperor, positions harden.

Meanwhile the church undergoes reform 2.0 led by Bernard of Clairvaux seeking spiritual alignment with the deity whilst exercising more power than any king, emperor or pope.



Episode 43 – All Change, All Change

Hello and welcome back to the Season 3 of the History of the Germans – The Hohenstaufen

I hope you had an enjoyable festive season and feel reinvigorated to dive into another period of German history. I definitely am. I know that six weeks is a long break but I have not been idle.  Books had to be read, podcasts and radio shows needed to be listened to, scripts had to be written. I hope you will find that the wait was worth it.

Halfway between Berlin and Frankfurt stands the Kyffhauser Mountain. In a grotto underneath it, legend says, the emperor Frederick Barbarossa sleeps with his army of knights and their horses ready to strike when the right hour comes. Above him are the ruins of the castle of Kyffhaeuser, one of the largest fortresses built in the high Middle Ages, and over these ruins stands an 81m tall tower, the Kyffhaeuser memorial. It was inaugurated on June 18th, 1896 to commemorate not Barbarossa, the red beard, but Barbablanca, the White Beard, Emperor William I who together with his chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, had unified Germany. On this, the third largest German memorial you find the emperor Barbarossa shown in his grotto, his red beard grown through the table, whilst above him, on his mighty horse, rides the new emperor who fulfilled the dream of national unity of the German people, allowing Barbarossa to finally get his well-deserved eternal rest.

Most historically interested Anglo Saxons have heard the word Barbraossa before, even if they have no interest in medieval history at all, thanks to Operation Barbarossa, the codename of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union.

After the war, the medieval rulers of Germany were too tainted with nationalism and their instrumentalization by the Nazis to feature highly in the national narrative. But not the Hohenstaufen. Between March and June of 1977 675,000 people visited the Alte Schloß in Stuttgart to see an exhibition entitled “Die Zeit der Staufer” (the Time of the Hohenstaufen in English). Over 1,000 items from 17 countries were on display, with the Cappenberger Kopf, the image of emperor Frederick Barbarossa, this episode’s artwork as its star exhibit.

Nobody expected these numbers of visitors for what was just 3,000 square meters of exhibition space. At peak times there was barely a square meter per person. People fainted in the low and badly ventilated rooms. They sold 150,000 copies of the enormous four volume exhibition catalogue, one of which to my father who proudly displayed it in his office for 40 years and is now in a box en route over to mine.

By 1977 the most popular Hohenstaufen was no longer Barbarossa but his grandson Frederick II, the stupor mundi, the wonder of the world. He was the antithesis of nationalist Barbarossa, he lived most of his life at the cosmopolitan court of Palermo, spoke Arabic, tolerated Muslims and Jews, negotiated rather than fought his way into Jerusalem and had a scientific mind that made him a great ornithologist. He foreshadowed modernity and the open and liberal society of Western Germany, now Germany’s destiny.

Frederick II fascinating as he definitely is, may not have been a modern, renaissance man. Barbarossa as a codename for a campaign into Eastern Europe shows once again a total lack of historic knowledge in Nazi circles. Barbarossa had at best a marginal interest in the eastern expansion of the empire.

Well, and then there is the grotto where Barbarossa allegedly slept. That same Barbarossa who drowned in front of his entire army in the small river Saleph in Turkey and whose remains were carried around for months afterwards. That Grotto turned out to be a Bronze age religious site, possibly dedicated to a female fertility goddess. Human remains found on the site suggest human sacrifices if not cannibalism.

All these evocations of the great Hohenstaufen emperors may well be false exaggerations, but they show one thing, the Hohenstaufen have always been fascinating and their great emperors, as well as the not-so-great ones have shaped Germany. Whether they meant to do that or meant to do it in the way later generations believed they did is for you to decide. I stick with my favourite historian Gregory of Tours who said already in the 6th century, “a great many things happen, some good, some bad”.

Before we start 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 Camilo, Hans and Sean  who have already signed up.

Let’s start with Episode 43 – Alll change, all change

We are in the year 1125 and again, things are not going well. Emperor Henry V is dying in the palace of the bishop of Utrecht. With him the Salian dynasty comes to an end. Over the course of the 100 years of Salian rule the empire had taken some serious knocks. The Ottonian/Salian model of Imperial Rule is broken. The Emperor is no longer the Vicar of Christ on Earth who can depose and invest popes at will. Instead, the Pope claims to be the emperor’s overlord. He calls him the rex teutonicorum, the king of the Germans, relegating him from mighty Caesar to being just another king, like the King of France, the King of England or the King of Hungary.

The bishops and abbots who have been given so much of the royal lands and privileges are no longer at the emperor’s back and call. Where will the food, money and troops come from an emperor needs. The Saxon heartland of the Ottonians and its rich silver mines in Goslar are no longer firmly in the royal demesne.

The stem duchies are no longer the main tool to exert power over secular lords. . Saxony is outside imperial control and Bavaria an inheritable possession of the House of Welf. Swabia is split into three, only one part being under control of its duke, the dukes of Lothringia have even less control of their duchy. The main political structures are now the princely territories, which they hold in their own right, not in the name of the emperor.

Moreover, the Princes assert that they collectively represent the kingdom, not the emperor. They demand to be involved in all major decisions and that only they  would sit in judgement over their peers. They, not the emperor brought about the Konkordat of Worms that supposedly ended the Investiture Controversy. The Emperor has become just the representative of the realm, a realm ruled by the princes. And as such, the princes have the right to elect their ruler freely, based on his ability and “humility”, not based on inheritance rights, as they had laid out already in 1077. 

And the country is on its knees. 50 years of almost uninterrupted civil war have depleted food production and trade. The Peace of God that Emperor Henry III had been able to declare and maintain in the early days of Salian rule is no more. It is replaced with lords feuding from their many, many castles that had sprung up as constant reminder of the weakness of the central power.

And new players have joined the game. First the rich merchant cities who were the real winners of the crusades, first ripping off the knights for their passage and then using them to open up trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. And the Kings of France and England, previously of not really on the top table of Western European politics are consolidating their power and ask – “who made the Germans the judges of the nations?”

Therefore, there is a real question,  what is an emperor for? What should his role be going forward? Where will the resources come from to fulfil that role? Do we need one at all, now that the pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth whose feet the kings are to kiss?

There are essentially three strategies the emperor can deploy to re-establish control, all of which will be tried these next few centuries.

Strategy 1 is “back to ancient glories”. That means bring back the old Ottonian/Salian system of a command monarchy. Regain  control over the church by massaging the rules under the Wormser Konkordat to breaking point whilst at the same time subduing the princes by force.

Strategy 2 is management by cooperation. A bit like The first Ottonians long, long ago, the emperor can let the princes take part in government, seek their consent for all major actions. And once you have the on side, you gradually erode their position.  That worked really well under Henry the Fowler as he could rally the princes behind a great objective, the defeat of the Hungarians. In the 12th century the emperors will try new objectives.  The crusades, the eastern expansion of the empire and taking control of the wealth of Italy.

And finally, there is Strategy 3, which I would call the French option. The emperors can use their position to grow their territorial holdings. That means conquering their territory one castle at a time, taking over every vacant fief for themselves and never enfeoff anyone outside the immediate family. That is how the Capetians gained control of France from even less auspicious beginnings.

Alright, this is the game. So, let’s see who will be the first player of this game and what strategies he will deploy..

Emperor Henry V, last of the Salians still lies dying in Utrecht in May 1125. At his bedside were apart from the obligatory bishops, the empress, Matilda, only daughter and heir of Henry I King of England, as well as his oldest nephew Frederick of Hohenstaufen, Duke of Swabia.

Whilst he lay dying, he gave advice on the state of the realm and after taking the last sacrament, entrusted his wife, Matilda, in the care of his nephew who he made the heir of his personal possessions. But he did not designate him as his successor. He ordered the crown regalia to be brought to the secure castle of Trifels, to be handed to whoever the princes would now elect to succeed him.

A few weeks later many important princes and bishops came together for the funeral of Henry V in the enormous cathedral of Speyer, the great symbol of Salian ambitions. Most of those present had been supporters of the dead emperor. In principle they could have elected a new king right there. They were in the Duchy of Franconia, where elections were traditionally held, they had all the necessary archbishops, the archbishop of Mainz, who traditionally manages the elections and the archbishop of Cologne who could perform the coronation. They could even get the imperial regalia from Trifels – it was all there. But they did not. Instead, they sent out an invitation to all the princes of the realm to come to the city of Mainz on St. Bartholomews Day, the 24th of August

That invitation was issued and signed by the bishops and princes who had been present at the funeral including the heir to Henry V’s fortune, Frederick of Hohenstaufen, duke of Swabia. We have one of these invitations, the one for Bishop Otto of Bamberg, a former chancellor of the emperor and great missionary in Pomerania. In the invitation the signatories open by saying they could have indeed elected a new king, but felt it was unseemly to do so without many of the important princes, like himself present. And they go on to say that “mindful of the oppression under which the Church and the kingdom have hitherto suffered”, he should “invoke the help of God so that, when a new king is installed, he may so provide for his Church and the kingdom that the latter may henceforth be freed from the heavy yoke of servitude and may live in peace according to its laws.”

Remember, this is a letter sent from the former allies of the dead emperor to another of his followers. And for that, it sounds pretty damning about the previous regime. Oppression, yoke of servitude are not the terms you would use to describe life under a successful ruler.

We are lucky to have an anonymous eyewitness for the election so that we get a much more detailed report of the actual election process that we ever had previously, even though the writer is clearly biased.

At the end of August 24 bishops including the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Salzburg, in other words half of the imperial  episcopate gather in Mainz. The great princes of the realm arrived with their retinue and camped outside the city along the river Rhine.

On the city shore of the river, we find the camp of Lothar of Supplinburg, duke of Saxony with his nobles, then, further upriver, Margrave Leopold of Austria, head of the House of Babenberg and next Duke Henry of Bavaria Head of the House of Welf. Duke Frederick of Swabia’s camp was on the opposite shore, in part because the citizens of Mainz were not best enamoured of the duke who had besieged the city before.

Before we get into the election proper, I should probably provide a quick rundown who these people are. The last episode was published 6 weeks ago, and names can easily get forgotten.

Amongst the bishops we have Adalbert of Mainz. He used to be the chancellor, closest friend and adviser of emperor Henry V until he was given his reward for loyal service  the seat of the archbishop of Mainz, the most senior of the German bishops. Similar to the more famous Thomas a’ Beckett, Adalbert rapidly changed perspective once he had taken the episcopal throne. He joined the camp of the Gregorian reformers, attacked Henry’s style of government and, tried to expand his territory at the expense of imperial lands. In all he became one of the emperor’s most implacable foes. Other than Thomas a’Beckett nobody rid the emperor of this troublesome priest. Instead Adalbert will die in his bed, safe in the knowledge that the archepiscopal see will go to his nephew.

The most powerful of the secular princes was Lothar of Supplinburg. He had been made Duke of Saxony by Henry V in 1106 as a reward for joining the coup d’etat against Henry IV. Lothar greatly reinvigorated the role of duke of Saxony thanks to his personal charisma and political instinct. He also benefitted from a string of lucky inheritances from his wife. That brought him possession of the extensive lands of our old friend Otto von Northeim as well as another important Saxon clan. In another tale of terrible ingratitude Lothar clashed almost immediately with Henry V and together with Adalbert became the head of the opposition. In 1115 he inflicted a severe defeat upon the emperor at the battle of Westenholz. After that imperial influence in Saxony disappeared. Being free from any form of imperial oversight, Lothar was able to award the important marches of Meissen and Lausitz to the House of Wettin and the House of Ascania respectively. These awards further strengthened his hold over Saxony.

Almost as important and as powerful as Lothar was Henry the Black, Duke of Bavaria. Henry was the head of the House of Welf. Remember that name, you may hear it many more times before this podcast is out. The Welf are one of the oldest families in the realm, tracing themselves back to the court of Charlemagne. They had been kings of Burgundy until that branch died out in 1032. My favourite empress, Adelheid was a Welf. They were a truly pan-European family with major holdings in  Italy and Germany. In Italy they held the March of Este later known as the duchy of Ferrara. Henry the Black’s brother was the 18 year old Welf V who had married the then 44 year-old Countess Matilda of Tuscany. Though he did not inherit a dime from her, the Welf still believed they had a right to the extraordinary wealth of the Canossa family. In Germany they held two areas, one was the family lands on the eastern side of Swabia centred around Ravensburg and they were dukes of Bavaria. Initially the Welf had been enemies of Henry IV who had deposed them as dukes of Bavaria. In 1198 the Salians and the Welf reconciled and as part of the deal Henry IV made Bavaria and inheritable fief of the Welf family. Just as an aside, another great female monarch is a Welf, my sovereign lord, Queen Elisabeth II of England.

The next guy camped along the River Rhine is Count Leopold of Austria from the House of Babenberg. Even though he is only a count and not a duke, he is still on the top table. The Babenbergs were nearly as ancient a family as the Welf. They were given the Eastern Marches in 976, which was the medieval equivalent of a hospital pass. The Eastern Marches were the lands bordering Hungary, which the Hungarian had turned them into their forward defences. For horse archers like the Hungarians, the ideal forward defence is entirely empty steppe without trees, walls or any other impediments to their fast horses. And that is what the Eastern march looked like. Over a century of careful husbandry, the Babenbergers turned this desert into the Garden of Eden that is today’s Austria – o.k. mild exaggeration. But nevertheless, it was a huge success for the family, made them rich and powerful and crucial in all dealings with the Bohemians and Hungarians. The Babenbergers had also sided with Henry V in the struggle between father and son in 1105 and were rewarded with marriage to none other than Agnes, the emperor’s sister, making Leopold one of the closest relatives of the last of the Salians.

Which brings us to Leopold’s older half-brother, and last of the great secular lords camped along the river, Frederick of Hohenstaufen, Duke of Swabia.

Frederick was the oldest son of the aforementioned Agnes. Agnes, often called Agnes of Waiblingen was tough as nails. She had been 14 when she was married to the first Hohenstaufen duke of Swabia, also called Frederick. She gave him 11 children. When she was married to her next husband, the Babenberger, she was 33, but notwithstanding her age, bore him another 11 children or possibly 18. She miraculously survived that and died aged 71 in Klosterneuburg near Vienna.

This marriage had been the making of the House of Hohenstaufen. Until then Frederick had been a count or even maybe just a knight in Swabia with a few possessions in Alsace. Henry IV picked him to fight his civil war against the Welf and another Swabian family, the Zaehringer in the Southwest. To give him the necessary pedigree and presumably necessary resources, he made him Duke of Swabia and gave him his oldest and as it turned out, only surviving daughter in marriage. As an aside, whilst we call the family the Hohenstaufen after their ancestral castle of Stauff near Goeppingen, they would call themselves Waiblingen after the possessions of Agnes. And that is why in Italy the imperial party is called the Ghibellines, the only way an Italian can say Waiblingen.

Frederick turned out to be one of the few appointments of the Salian rulers who actually remained loyal to the end. Having been successful at holding Swabia in the first phase of the civil war, Frederick became the natural choice as commander in chief of the imperial troops in Germany during the long absences of the emperor in Italy. This role as the greatest of the imperial paladins was richly rewarded in land and privileges.

The Hohenstaufen success nearly came unstuck during Henry V’s coup. The elder Frederick would likely have sided with the father against the son and would have lost. But he did something extremely astute, he died. His eldest son, The Frederick of Hohenstaufen who is now camped outside Mainz was only 14 when Henry V took the throne. Henry V had him kidnapped right when the rebellion began so that young Frederick did not have to take sides. After the dust had settled, our Frederick continued the family tradition and became a trusted supporter of the emperor. He and his younger brother Konrad were running military campaigns for Henry V and again held the home front when the emperor was in Italy. These years in the imperial service had been extremely lucrative for this family of the middling aristocracy. Their wealth was further increased when Henry V made them the heirs of the Salian lands around Worms and Speyer. By 1125 Frederick of Hohenstaufen and his brother Konrad held Northern Swabia, most of Alsace as well as lands in Franconia along the Rhine and Main Rivers down to Nuremberg.   

I have put a map on www.historyofthegermans.com which may or may not be useful. What you see looks more like your crazy aunt had made a patchwork quilt from the multicoloured bedsheets your three dogs have torn to shreds. Check for the yellow bits, these are the lands of the Hohenstaufen – significant but not exactly dominating..

These are the people getting together on August 24th, 1125 to elect a new king.

Adalbert, the archbishop of Mainz was in charge of proceedings. When he opened the assembly in the great hall of the episcopal palace, he quickly realised that with such a large number of electors an open debate would go nowhere. So, he ordered to form a committee that should prepare a shortlist or ideally agree on one single candidate. This committee consisted of 40 members, 10 each representing the stem duchies of Saxony, Franconia, Swabia and Bavaria. Interestingly the Lotharingians were not invited, nor was the duke of Bohemia who in the 14th century would become one of the 7 electors.

The committee leaves to debate in a separate chamber. When they come back to the assembly, they present a shortlist of three candidates. The two closest relatives of the deceased emperor, Frederick of Hohenstaufen and Leopold of Austria. And then the great adversary of the previous emperor, Lothar of Supplinburg, Duke of Saxony.

Two of those were in the room, Leopold and Lothar. Frederick of Hohenstaufen had stayed outside the town, allegedly because he feared to be attacked by the citizens of Mainz who he had besieged some years hence. That was his first mistake. You see, as soon as their names were called, both Lothar and Leopold gave some great Oscar speeches insisting on their knees and under tears that they are unworthy of the honour and that they could never, ever accept it.

Frederick is in his camp outside the walls and all he hears is that he is on the list and that the other two have refused the honour. He instantly forgets his fear of the citizens of Mainz and jumps on the next horse riding as fast as he can to the palace of the archbishop.

Upon entering the room he looks around in in vain for the cries of acclamation he was expecting. Instead, he watches archbishop Adalbert rising from his seat and asking each of the candidates in turn whether they would accept whoever the assembly would elect and swear fealty to him. Lothar repeats his request not to be elected and promises to respect the election. Leopold is next and he too swears to respect the selection. Even more, he says that he actually really does not want to be king. Finally, we get to Frederick, who seems to have a blond moment. He clearly does not get what is going on. Why are Lothar and Leopold insisting that they do not want to be elected, when he knows full well that at least Lothar wants to? What is the process by which you get elected after withdrawing from an election. He is confused. And so, Frederick says something like, I first need to check this with my associates, and I get back to you.

What he does not understand is that the princes want their king to be humble. Not wanting the job is the key criteria to getting the job. The princes want someone who is going to leave them alone to do their feuds and grow their territories. Someone who does not have a son to create a new dynasty. Did I mention that Lothar did not have a son? Well, he doesn’t. He is 50 years old, his wife is 38 and will live for another 16 years. Chances are, there will not be a Supplinburg dynasty. The other two are younger, sons of the exceptionally fecund Agnes and have brothers and nephews galore. Choose one of them and their family will sit on every fief that comes free.

Electing someone who consistently claims he does not want to be elected is procedurally difficult, as we will now see.

The next morning the electors meet again, though this time both Frederick of Hohenstaufen and Henry the Black Duke of Bavaria are not at the assembly. Adalbert, archbishop of Mainz asks Leopold and Lothar again whether they were serious that they do not want to be king and are happy to accept whoever is elected. As they do so, they have now effectively renounced their candidacy and join the ranks of the electors. We are back to square one and a new list needs to be drawn up.

As that dawns on the electors, the mood changes. Several of Lothar’s supporters shout “Lothar should be king”. They raise Lothar – who still insists he is not worthy – onto a shield and parade him around the room whilst singing praise the lord. Some bishops and princes, in particular the Bavarians are enraged by this deviation from procedure and threaten to leave the session. Adalbert has the doors barred stopping people from leaving. Everybody is shouting at everybody until the papal legates and some of the more level-headed princes calm everyone down. They point out what would happen if the Bavarians would leave the assembly – no valid election means no emperor and hence anarchy. The Bavarians say that they are not willing to move to an election without their duke, henry the Black from the House of Welf.

Archbishop Adalbert had the Duke of Bavaria called and he enters the assembly to effectively make the decision. It is all down to him.

What are his loyalties, where are his interests? Frederick of Hohenstaufen is sure This is the turning point that will bring him the crown. After all, Henry the Black is his father-in-law. In 1121 Frederick had married Judith, Henry the Black’s daughter. That was part of an ever-tighter alliance within the old emperor Henry V’s camp. Henry and Frederick had fought together, had played together and had become related by marriage. Henry is in the bag.

When Henry the Black entered the assembly our eyewitness reports “the spirit of the holy ghost descended on the assembled princes, and they were in one mind to elevate the – drumroll – most worthy blessed duke of Saxony, Lothar to be their king.

The Hohenstaufen will never forgive the Welf for this betrayal. Hi Welf, Hi Waiblingen will be the war cry resounding throughout the empire, in Germany, in Burgundy and most often in Italy for the next 150 years. Though the two families did occasionally reconcile and not every member followed the family  whip, the name of Welf remained the symbol of anti-imperial, pro-papacy policies. Waiblingen, the possession of the unnaturally fruitful Agnes became the rallying cry of the imperial party. Italian cities in the Middle Ages will fill up with slender fortified towers making them look like giant hedgehogs. Each tower was the fortress of a family who would still identify either as Guelph or as Ghibelline long after the emperors have stopped coming down to Rome and the popes had left for Avignon. By the 14th century these are cultural divisions rather than political ones – does that sound familiar?

Back to 1125, Why did the Welf betray his Hohenstaufen son-in-law? Well, it might have been the Holy Ghost that inspired the Bavarian duke’s change of mind. Or it might be that Lothar despite having declared his reluctance to become king so convincingly had actually smoothed the election by offering his daughter Gertrud, his only child in marriage to Henry’s son, Henry the Proud? We do not know. What we do know is that Henry the Proud married Gertrud, the by far richest heiress in the land, bringing with her the duchy of Saxony, and we know that the Welf voted for Lothar of Supplinburg.

The princes now all acknowledged Lothar and even Frederick recognised him as his king after three days of hesitation. Lothar scheduled his coronation for Christmas 1125 in Aachen and declared a peace for the whole of the empire for a full year.

And so, in 1125 the age of the Hohenstaufen does not start with a Hohenstaufen, but with King, later emperor Lothar III, a Saxon duke and leader of the opposition against the Salians and the Hohenstaufen.

Next week we will find out how the two brothers, Frederick and Konrad take this setback and whether Lothar of Supplinburg can bring the long-desired peace to the empire. I hope to see you there.

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 44 – A Saxon Emperor

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 44 – Lothar III A Saxon Emperor

In today’s episode we look at the aftermath of the turbulent election of Lothar, 3rd of his name. Surely the Hohenstaufen brothers, nephews of the last emperor and heirs to the Salian emperors  are not going to take this lying down.

Before we start 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 Carlos, geregelt and Misty who have already signed up.

Last week you heard how Lothar of Supplinburg, duke of Saxony had been elected king of the Romans. Lothar is counted as Lothar III in the list of medieval kings and emperors. If you have listened to the podcasts since the beginning, you know that there was no Lothar so far. We had Henry I, II, III, IV and V, Otto I,II and III, Konrad I and II, but no Lothar. So who was Lothar I and Lothar II? Lothar I was the grandson of Charlemagne who was given that strip of land between what would later be Germany and France and that is named Lothringia, after him. Lothar I was an emperor, so it makes sense to count him in. Lothar II was the son of Lothar I. Now he was king of Lothringia but not an emperor. So why count him in? Well that goes to the heart of the question where Lothringia belongs. Unsurprisingly the historians of the 19th century who were mostly responsible for fixing the numbering thought Lothringia was German and hence our Lothar became known as Lothar III. There you are, the conflicts that caused so much pain in Europe go deep and pop up in the most unexpected corners.

O.K. let’s go back to the story

On September 13th, 1125, Lothar of Supplinburg was crowned in Aachen by the archbishop of Cologne and with the imperial regalia – all good and proper. He and his forefathers had been fighting his predecessors Henry IV and Henry V in a civil war for 50 years. And now he was sitting where they sat, hoping to bring peace to the empire torn apart by war.

Lothar was a very competent politician and soldier. He had already turned the role of duke of Saxony from a merely ceremonial role as it was under the last Billungs into a king-like position. His duchy was tightly run, and imperial oversight was negligible to non-existent. He had achieved a major military success at the battle of Welfenholz that broke the power of emperor Henry V.

And moreover, he had been elected by a great assembly of all the princes of the realm. His elevation was accepted by all, including the leaders of the imperial party, Henry of Bavaria and Frederick of Swabia.

What a difference to the rise of Henry V who had come to power in a coup and who ended his reign disowned even by his closest friends and heirs. Reasons to be optimistic?

Well, no. Lothar finds out quite quickly that being king is not what it was made out to be. First he begins a military expedition against the duke of Bohemia who had refused to swear him fealty. That fails quite miserably with lots of his supporters captured or dead, including his own candidate for the seat of duke of Bohemia. He has to accept the current duke, invest him in his post and trudge home in shame.

Then he finds himself in a pickle about the position of archbishop of Magdeburg. He had supported a candidate who also happened to be his cousin. That candidate had been elected and was already acting as archbishop when another candidate was proposed by some other clerics. Lothar upon gentle nudging by the papal legate accepts a third candidate, Norbert of Gennup also known as Norbert of Xanten. Norbert was the founder of the Premonstratensian order, one of the reformed orders that appeared now as Cluny was fading into the background. Their rule was tough and their abbot even tougher. Apparently his first three disciples did not survive the rigours of Norbert’s extremely austere supplements to the already tight rule of St. Augustin. The Premonstratensians shared some traits with the Cistercians founded by Bernhard of Clairvaux around the same time, but differed in as much as they were canons, i.e., involved in preaching and general pastoral care in the community. Hence becoming a bishop was a conceivable step for Norbert. As it happens, Norbert would become an important supporter of Lothar III, but still the fact remained that Lothar could not push through his candidate for the important see of Magdeburg.  And this pattern continues. The papal legate removes the abbot of the largest of the German monasteries, Fulda and excommunicates a bishop elect of Wuerzburg. These acts, which may or may not have reflected Lothar’s own policy nevertheless look as if he was under the kybosh of Pope Honorius II.

But the even bigger issue was the inheritance of Henry V. As we mentioned before, Frederick of Hohenstaufen had been made the heir of Henry V. That means he should receive all of Henry V’s personal lands and possessions. What he was not to receive were the crown lands Henry V held ex officio. And that is a problem. After 100 years of Salian rule and a register of deeds that could at best be described as sketchy, stripping out the private from the crown lands was neigh on impossible.

And to be fair, Frederick of Hohenstaufen having been so elegantly outmanoeuvred by Lothar and Adalbert at the election was in no hurry to hand back the crown estate to its rightful owner.. Even before Roman law became again widespread, Possession was 9/10th of the law. In particular when that possessor in question carries a long sword and sits on a stone castle. Lothar’s requests to hand over the royal lands was met with either a) an enthusiastic “of course”, but that particular piece of land come in via a bequest from great, great aunt Margery, or b) just give us a moment, my chancellery is working its way through the documents, we will be done in a jiffy.

According to the chronicler Otto of Freising, the staufer did not see the point in negotiating honestly with the other side as long as they are being advised by the archbishop Adalbert of Mainz. Mainz, he said was a leech who would not stop sucking out the lifeblood of the House of Hohenstaufen before they were bone dry.

Lothar quickly tired of this game and declared the ban on Frederick even before the year 1125 was out. Frederick had by now received reinforcements in the form of his brother Konrad who had spent the last few years on Crusade. With that the civil war resumed, though this time instead of an emperor in the South trying to subdue rebels in the North, it was an emperor in the North trying to subdue rebels in the south. In a time without canon but with stone walls around castles and cities, that subduing business was a difficult one.

An imperial attempt to break the Staufer stronghold of Nuremberg failed miserably. The imperial troops had to flee when the Staufer army arrived to relieve the siege.. Most shamefully the imperial troops had to leave their provisions and equipment behind. The two brothers pursued the imperial army as far as Wuerzburg. And there we have the same thing, though in reverse. The rebel army sits outside the walls but cannot take the city.

To pass the time, the Staufer put on some entertainment. They held a tournament outside the walls which was the first reported tournament in Germany. How old tournaments are is unclear. The German Tournament books of the 16th century claim that the first tournament rules had been drafted by King Henry the Fowler in the 10th century. French tradition traces them back to a certain Godfrey de Preuilly who died in 1066. The first mention of the word tournament in an official charter dates from 1114, so this event before Wuerzburg may well have been one of the first real tournaments in Germany. This tournament was most likely a melee or buhurt, rather than the joust we normally associate with medieval tournament. A melee is basically a free for all where two teams of knights either on horseback or on foot would crash into each other with the objective of capturing opposing fighters and ransom them or take their armour. It is basically a pub brawl with weapons, which may not always have been blunted.

Despite this display of high chivalry, or maybe because the knights were tired from beating up each other instead of the enemy, Wuerzburg did not fall.

Despite the failure to take Wuerzburg, the Hohenstaufen are now riding high. And so, they do what every self-respecting rebel needs to do, they elected an anti-king. Since their party consisted of the Hohenstaufen and nothing but the Hohenstaufen, the anti-king would have to be, obviously, a Hohenstaufen. Frederick as the older brother and as duke of Swabia the most senior should have been the anti-king, right.

Well, he was not. There are two reasons cited why that did not happen. One was that Frederick had suffered a serious injury to his eye at some point during the fighting of the last 2 years. Losing eyesight had historically disqualified even direct heirs from kingship, which is why the Merovingian and Byzantine rulers had a habit of blinding their opponents. Frederick still had the use of one eye, which in this rather weird system of ableist rankings allowed him to remain duke, but apparently not king.

The other reason to go with Konrad was that he had not sworn allegiance to Lothar III. He had left the country after a partial solar eclipse in November 1124 which frightened him so much, he felt the urge to go to Jerusalem and atone for his sins most of which involved stealing property from the bishop of Wuerzburg.

That meant he had not been in Mainz on election day in August 1125 and had not bent the knee to Lothar III. When he finally returned, he joined the war between his brother and the emperor that was already in full swing.

What this elevation to anti king was supposed to achieve is a bit unclear. There were no major dukes or princes present at this election and Konrad could not even find a suitable bishop to crown him. Hence his kingship was only mentioned in an aside by the family chronicler Otto von Freising.

The only immediate reaction was the excommunication of the Staufer brothers, first by the German bishops and then by Pope Honorius II himself. By now being excommunicated had become a natural state of affairs for the supporters of the Salian/Hohenstaufen leadership. This was the second time he was excommunicated and as before, it did not bother him much.

In the new year the Staufer army moved on to Speyer, which they took easily, probably because the population of the city had benefitted from the huge funds spent on building the enormous cathedral and so had always been supportive of the Salians. Frederick of Swabia leaves a strong garrison in the city which proves necessary as Lothar will begin a siege shortly afterwards.

Before Lothar begins this siege however, Konrad implements his most ambitious plan yet. He realises that he has few allies in Germany and his crown is still not a real one. His idea is to go down into the rich lands of Italy where he may find some supporters. He might even get hold of the famous wealth of the great countess Matilda of Tuscany who had bequeathed her enormous holdings to Henry V and hence to him, Konrad.

This, as we will find out, will be a key plank of Hohenstaufen policy. Get rich in Italy to strengthen the position in Germany.

Konrad’s trip was off to a good start. He crosses the alps and finds the Milanese extremely supportive. Milan was not only the largest city in Italy, if not in western Europe, it was also involved in a heavy rivalry with the papacy. Milan’s bishops trace themselves back to Saint Ambrose, the church father who actually brought a Roman emperor to his knees in the 4th century whilst the Roman had to make up a fake document claiming emperor Constantine had handed his crown to the pope after being healed from leprosy or some such nonsense. .In the eyes of the Milanese their archbishop equal to the pope. They felt that the expanding papacy was threatening their traditional rights. Hence taking in the excommunicated Konrad was right up their street.

Not only that, but the Archbishop of Milan also crowned Konrad as king of Italy in June 1128. Konrad  then embarks on a journey across Lombardy where he is gladly received by the people and the nobility – or so they say. Most of his “rule” of Italy seemed to consist in capturing and imprisoning bishops and executing opposing counts.

Konrad even begins a journey to Rome to acquire the imperial crown, which –  it has to be noted – Lothar III has not yet received. As I am writing these words it suddenly strikes me what the point of all this gallivanting around Italy is. There was no chance in hell that Konrad could get hold of the Imperial regalia and the correct Archbishop to be properly crowned in Aachen. If he stayed in Germany he would never become the legitimate king. But, if he could receive a formally correct coronation as emperor, Konrad would outrank Lothar III, a mere king. And then he would be in with a chance.

But the expedition stalls. There is not a lot of detail available, but it seems the Lombards apart from the Milanese may not have been as overjoyed to join the Hohenstaufen Banner as it was initially made out. Konrad also struggles to get the former vassals of the Countess Matilda to recognise him as her heir. There is a story that the Milanese were prepared to pay one of these vassals a large sum of money for the great complex of fortresses around Canossa. That plot only failed because the wife of that vassal was so appalled by the idea, she told the other Tuscan lords who then scuppered the deal.

By the end of 1129 the luck of the Hohenstaufen is turning. This change in fortunes had a lot to do with Lothar hammering out his association with the House of Welf. The head of the house of Welf, Henry the Black had supported the election of Lothar in 1125 maybe because Lothar promised his daughter in marriage or maybe not. In 1127 the marriage finally takes place. Henry the Black’s son, another Henry with the nickname “the Proud” takes home the lovely Gertrud and her even more alluring inheritance. As the older Welf had died in 1126, Henry the Proud was now duke of Bavaria and was either already or would be in the near future duke of Saxony. Moreover, he would consolidate in his hands as private property the rich lands of the Welf in Swabia, the ducal lands in Bavaria, the inheritance of the Billungs around Luneburg and upon Lothar’s demise the vast possessions of Lothar himself. Henry the Proud had a lot to be proud of.

If Lothar and Henry weren’t enough to bring down the Hohenstaufen, Lothar managed to bring many of the important families of Southern Germany into his camp by awarding new innovative titles. The Duke of Zaehringen, an eternal enemies of the Hohenstaufen from the South of Swabia became Rector of Burgundy, a newly invented title of unclear significance. It was valuable to the Zaehringer though as they could use it as a vehicle to expand into what is today French speaking Switzerland. Lothar created a number of Landgraves. This title describes a count who is not subject to ducal authority, but reports directly to the emperor, so called imperial immediacy. These titles were granted, amongst other to the Habsburgs, then a clan of middling counts in Alsace and the Ludowigers in Thuringia.

If the Hohenstaufen had any friends left, it was their half-brothers, the Babenbergers in Austria, but they were far away on the other side of the lands of the Welf.

With Konrad’s Italian expedition stalling and most leading families in his camp, Lothar was able to roll up the Hohenstaufen positions, first in Alsace and then Franconia. They took Speyer at the end of 1129 after a long siege. Frederick of Hohenstaufen’s wife Judith and his eldest son, also Frederick, had been left in Speyer to strengthen the morale of the troops. When Lothar’s troops broke in, Judith and Frederick escaped with their lives only because Judith pleaded with her brother, Henry the Proud. At the same time several Lombard cities declared for Lothar III and the archbishop who had crowned Konrad is excommunicated.

Konrad returned to Germany probably in 1130 having achieved precisely nothing during his stay in Italy. Nuremberg fell to Lothar that same year.. After that the game was basically up. Friedrich and Konrad will however keep going for another 4 years. In 1134 Lothar takes the heavily defended city of Ulm, the true centre of Hohenstaufen territory, it is truly over. First Frederick and then Konrad put on the hair shirt and kneeling barefoot, ask for imperial forgiveness. That they receive on extraordinarily generous terms. Both receiving their family lands in Swabia, Alsace and Franconia back and even some of the harder to detangle imperial fiefs. Konrad is singled out and must serve in Lothar’s army as his bannerman, but that is pretty much it.

By 1134 Lothar is the first German ruler since 1056 who controls the whole of the kingdom, from the Danish border to the alps. That is no mean feat, even with a strong starting position as Lothar had. One of the reasons it worked so well was that Lothar managed to avoid conflict with the church. As we have heard he usually deferred to the papal legates when it came to important decisions and, as we will see next episode, pursues a conciliatory approach towards the papacy.

But before we go down to Italy as we  always have to, we should talk about one important shift in, I am not sure we can call it imperial policy but lets just say policy of the realm.

Since as long ago as 983 the eastern borders of the empire have been fixed. You may remember that Otto the Great had been very ambitious in the east and tried to push the borders from the Elbe to the Oder River. He had founded bishoprics in Brandenburg and Havelberg.  But all that came crashing down under his son Otto II when the Slavic population of the lands east of the Elbe rebelled. The churches were burnt down, and the locals went back to their ancestral pagan beliefs.

From that time onwards the area east of the Elbe was contested between the local princes, the Dukes and Kings of Poland and the Saxon lords. The empire claimed these areas as its own and had declared them Marcher counties, namely Meissen, Lausitz, Northern March and March of the Billungs. The population was however overwhelmingly Slavic and mostly pagan. All the marcher lords did there was pillaging and demanding tribute.

Lothar changed that approach right from his first day as duke of Saxony. Instead of demanding tribute, he encouraged the colonisation of these lands with Christians from the West. In 1108 a Magdeburg clergymen tried to encourage settlers from Flanders and Holland to come to the Northeast. He wrote that “these Slav heathens are terrible men, but their lands are rich in meat, honey, flour, birds, and if properly cultivated would be fruitful like no other”.  This promise of great riches and the opportunity to receive absolution for killing the heathens was extremely compelling. As we talked about before, the 11th to 14th century was a period of great population growth driven by economic expansion. This growth was in part achieved by internal colonisation, i.e., the clearing of the great forests that covered most of western Europe and improvements in agriculture. Some areas like Flanders, Holland and the lower Rhine had made rapid progress early on and internal colonisation was almost complete. With opportunities to set up your own farmstead shrinking at home the second sons and daughters without dowry set off for the new lands in the east. And as an additional benefit the colonist were largely released from the bonds of serfdom

At the same time missionary activity in the east intensifies. The already mentioned archbishops Norbert of Magdeburg and his Premonstratensians are active in the Northern marches. Bishop Otto of Bamberg is focused on Pomerania, which lies east of the Northern marches where he allegedly converted 22,000 heathens in one day. The grunt work however is done by individual clergymen, mostly monks who travel unaccompanied into the heathen lands to preach and to establish churches and monasteries. That was a lot less glamorous than the mass baptisms of the great ecclesiastical lords. One missionary called Vicelin who later founded the monastery of Neumunster described his early days on the road  as “a time of tiring and unsuccessful work, and of continual trials…pillage, arson, imprisonment of his companions, wounds and death”. It seems the Slavs had not forgotten the brutal conversion tactics of Hermann Billung and Margrave Gero.

These more peaceful endeavours were flanked by military expeditions. As duke of Saxony Lothar had led several military excursions into the land of the Abodrites, which is today’s Mecklenburg. Amongst others he conquered the island of Ruegen.

Once he had taken the crown, he took advantage of some family quarrels within the Danish royal house to bring this kingdom into vassalage to the empire. To do that Lothar had to bring his army up to the Danevirk, one of the most astounding military facilities in Europe. It is a 30km long continuous line of fortifications made from earth, timber and increasingly stone that the Danes used as their main line of defence from the 8th century until 1864. Danes thought it unbreakable until taught otherwise by Prussian canon.

Once the Danish king had been subdued despite his great wall, Lothar took his troops into Slav lands. This expedition differs from previous raids where German lords would extract tribute and plunder from the locals. Lothar is looking for permanent control. He builds a castle in Segeberg to establish control over the lands acquired in this raid.

But Lothar’s most lasting impact on the history of the eastern expansion was his HR policy. Even before he had become emperor, he installed the House of Wettin in the March of Meissen and the Ascanier in the Lausitz. The counts of Schauenburg were given Holstein which they began to populate with colonists from Germany and Flanders.

The best known of these early expansionists was Albrecht called the Bear, head of the Ascanier clan. He was a ruthless and impatient man who did not mind accelerating inheritances by the occasional murder. He will appear at times in our narrative, but the important point for you to remember is that Albrecht would found the Margraviate of Brandenburg the state that would later be known as Prussia.  

This colonisation of the east is a major plank of German history for the next 300 years but plays at best a tangential role in the story of the Hohenstaufen and their successors as Holy Roman Emperors. Hence, I will dedicate a separate season to this process which will include the histories of the Teutonic Knights and the Hanse. So, if you miss the North in our narrative, be patient. It is coming.

For Lothar this sponsorship of the eastern expansion and the award of opportunities to the great Saxon families is one of the reasons his domestic position remained largely untroubled after the Hohenstaufen had been subdued. Even the thickest thug realises that expanding territory against a largely defenceless opponent is a lot more rewarding than feuding with your castellated neighbour or your emperor who may retaliate and devastate your own lands. One of Lothar’s most famous successors, Frederick Barbarossa, will draw an important lesson from that.

So far so good. Our friend Lothar III seems to be doing quite well. The realm is under control and the mighty lords have been given something to do that is not fighting each other. That leaves the other key area of medieval politics, the church. Here Lothar’s track record has come in for a lot of criticism. Next week we will look more closely whether he was indeed a Pfaffenkoenig, a papal pet or a smart operator who distinguished between meaningless symbolic acts and hard political advantages. 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 45 – Triple Division

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans, Episode 45 – Triple Division

This week we take a little detour to catch up with our friends in Rome, the popes. Do not worry, the popes are no longer all goody two shoes, we are back to the usual shenanigans of murder, backstabbing, betrayal and the Normans.

Before we start 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 Trevor, Peter and Michael who have already signed up.

Let us just recap where we are. In 1130 Lothar III managed to get the upper hand against the Hohenstaufen brothers Frederick and Konrad. In Germany the city of Speyer and its Hohenstaufen garrison had been besieged for 6 months and surrendered at Christmas 1129. From then on Frederick was on the defensive and gradually lost ground. Meanwhile his brother Konrad had gone to Italy to find new allies, money and possibly even an imperial crown. That endeavour failed utterly, and he was now back home, defending his ever-shrinking lands against Lothar’s troops.

Apart from the much-diminished Hohenstaufen, all secular and ecclesiastical princes recognised Lothar III as their King and future Emperor. The natural next step was to make a journey to Rome to be crowned emperor.

For a coronation you need a pope. When Lothar started considering his coronation in 1130 there was no shortage of popes. In fact, he had two to choose from. Oh no, a schism – again? Yes, but this time it had nothing to do with any imperial policy screwup. No, we are back to old habits. For the first time since 1046 the Romans manage to mess up the papacy all by themselves.

To explain that I probably need to go back to the last time we talked about the papacy, which was in 1122 when Henry V signed the Concordat of Worms.

The pope who had signed the Concordat was Calixtus II. He, as well as his predecessors Gelasius II and Paschalis II had been struggling to keep control over the city of Rome itself. The underlying issue was that the inhabitants of Rome were wondering how useful the pope was to their city.

Before the Gregorian reform the Pope had a very clearly defined purpose for the locals, in particular the local aristocrats. It was a financial purpose obviously, you met these guys, and you know that most of them served no spiritual purpose whatsoever. In financial terms the papacy had three main sources of income that local aristocrats could latch on to.

The first source of funds were the papal states. These are the territories in the centre of Italy around Rome but also extending north as far as Ravenna and the Emilia Romagna. The papacy claimed ownership based on the most impactful fake document in European history, the so-called donation of Constantine, which by the way people in the 12th century knew to be a fake.

The second money spinner were the pilgrims who came to Rome to see the sights of St.Paul and St. Peter’s martyrdom as well as the many churches and their powerful relics.

The third key income stream were large legal fees and even more extravagant bribes plaintiffs and defendants paid to the papal court, the Curia. The Curia was the court of last instance for all disputes within the church as well as issues of canon law like for instance dissolution of marriages.

If we look at these from the perspective of a Roman noble wondering whether having a pope in Rome is a necessity, the picture looks as follows:

As for the papal lands it does not really matter whether the pope is in Rome or not. The holdings the popes actually controlled were by and large enfeoffed  to some Roman aristocrats or other a long time ago and most of the economic value was going to them already.

As for the pilgrims, yes a pope was useful when conducting mass etc. But it was really about the relics and they weren’t going anywhere – unless some Imperial raider stole some.

The court fees are different. For that you need the pope present in Rome. Before the Gregorian reform cases were not particularly frequent, but the judges were predominantly Romans, i.e., a chunk of the fees and bribes went straight into their pockets. The expansion of the role of the pope under Gregory VII and his successors meant the papal curia was now much more involved in church affairs across Europe resulting in a lot more cases coming to be judged in Rome. That sounds like good news for your Roman baron, right. No, not really. The problem is most of the Roman aristocrats were thugs who could extract a bribe at knifepoint but struggled to correctly pronounce the fifth book of Moses. The Gregorian reform was all about improving the standards of the church, so this had to change. Since Leo IX the popes stacked the college of cardinals with well trained and knowledgeable foreigners, i.e., non-Romans. The Papal Curia now reflected the width and breadth of Christendom rather than the city of Rome. And that meant all those bribes bypassed the Roman aristocracy and went to worthier hands. The aristocrats were still attending the papal court, managed the city defences and occasionally tilted elections. But the good times were no more.

If you then take into account the downside of a papal presence in Rome, i.e., regular sieges and sacking by either emperors or Normans, for many of the older families the balance began to tip heavily against being the seat of a reform oriented servant of the servants of the apostles. The only was this could make sense was if they could place their own puppet on the throne of St. Peter.

The most prominent representatives of this group were the members of the Frangipani clan. They had risen within the land-owning elite, replacing the Crescenti and Theophylacts. They held a number of castles in the Campagna. Inside Rome they held the area around the colosseum which they had turned into a heavily fortified town within the town.

Whilst the old aristocracy was in decline and needed to reorient itself, another group had benefitted from the Gregorian reform. A much more powerful, international papacy needed bankers. These bankers were the Pierleoni. The Pierleoni were a Jewish family from Trastevere. Their ancestor Leo de Benedicto had allegedly been baptised by Pope Leo IX himself. They had continuously supported the Gregorian reform papacy and had become the by far richest people in Rome during the process. Their home was inside the city. They owned the Tiber Island and two major fortifications on both shores, one of which was the ancient Theatre of Marcellus hence they controlled one of the two remaining Tiber bridges

Everybody else in Rome who was anybody also lived either in a fortified Roman ruin or a more recent tower house within the walls of the city. The city was basically just an agglomeration of fortifications, not too dissimilar to other Italian cities of the time.

The tensions between Roman aristocrats and papacy had been growing since 1046 when the Gregorian reform began. Until 1111 the local aristocrats had to grin and bear it as impressive popes like Gregory VII and Urban II ruled to roost. But in 1111 Pope Paschalis II made that fateful offer to Henry V to hand back all the church fiefs, which turned out badly for the emperor, but even worse for Paschalis II. In the aftermath of the announcement of the deal Paschalis had been captured by imperial soldiers and tortured until he had given up all the papal rights to the emperor. When Paschalis returned from the ordeal  his reputation was tarnished and he had no authority in Rome which he had to flee regularly. His only support in The city were the Pierleoni, whilst the Frangipani were set dead against him.

When Paschalis died in 1118 the Frangipani made their frustration felt. The cardinals had elected the former pope’s chancellor as pope Gelasius II. On the day of his election, the Frangipani captured him, put him into a windowless cell and tortured him mercilessly. Censius Frangipani allegedly hissed at him like a giant snake, grabbed the pope by the throat, struck him with his fists, kicked him, drew blood with his spurs and dragged him away by his hair. Had he not been rescued by a mob paid for by the Pierleoni, Pope Gelasius would hold the record for the shortest Pontificate. This way he lasted a year and a half. In his last months he could not hold the Vatican and hence celebrated mass at the church of St. Prassende, an amazing and truly ancient but size wise very modest building. If you are in Rome, go there it is a wonderful refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. Anyway, whilst saying mass he was attacked by Censius Frangipani again and only escaped on a swift horse. His attendants found him hours later sitting in a field, muttering incoherently – still wearing his papal vestments. Gelasius had enough. He left Rome to travel to France and died in the safety of the abbey of Cluny.

His successor Calixtus II was much stronger personality and achieved election by unanimous vote of all cardinals. That put him into a position to negotiate and agree the Concordat that formally ended the Investiture Controversy. Calixtus seemed to have even been able to put a temporary seal on the assaults on the papacy, seemingly by making friends with that old snake,  Censius Frangipani.

Things blow up again on the day Calixtus II died in 1124. Both the Pierleoni and the Frangipani elected their respective candidates in two different churches in Rome. Another Frangipani, Roberto,  entered the church where the Pierleoni candidate was about to be consecrated and cut down what would have become Pope Celestine II. Luckily the almost pope survived heavily injured and resigned the papacy immediately afterwards.

That leaves us with the pope the Frangipani had elected just before the attack. He took the name Honorius II.

This sounds as if we are going back to the time before the council of Sutri in 1046. In that time the leading Roman families would put whoever they wanted on the papal throne including debauched adolescents or military thugs unless the Emperor happened to be in the vicinity.

But that is no longer the case. The church as an organisation had become far too big, too complex and too powerful to be managed by a sexually incontinent layman. The Roman aristocrats recognised that if they have a puppet pope, they needed someone who would nevertheless be respected across Christendom, who would bring in the lucrative court cases, rich pilgrims and generous donations. We are entering this very odd period of papal history where on the one hand the crowned heads of Europe are shaking in the boots at the slightest indication of papal displeasure, whilst the pope himself can barely leave his fortified palace in Rome, assuming he is even admitted to the city.

Honorius II was exactly such a man. He was a rags to riches story rising from probably peasant stock to the highest position in Christendom on the back of great learning and exceptional political acumen. He had been a close associate of Calixtus II and had been entrusted with the all-important negotiations for the Concordat of Worms. He was well respected and asked to decide on such crucial matters like the relative position of the archbishop of York versus Canterbury, the formation of the Order of the Knights Templar and the deposition of the abbot of Cluny.

Mentioning the abbot of Cluny brings us to the other key development that changed the church landscape in the decades leading up to 1130, the rise of the reform movement 2.0.

A few episodes ago we looked at whether the Gregorian reform was a revolution, or a world revolution. One thing revolutions have in common is that as time goes by, last year’s radicals become the conservatives and the extremists become the respected left. In the Middle Ages this process was much slower but was still discernible.

The church reform started out with the monastic reform in the 10th and 11th century centred around the Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy as well as some other monasteries, mainly in Lothringia and Germany. The reformers’ objective was to bring back adherence to the rule of St. Benedict. They saw many monks and canons were slacking, which put everyone’s chance to be admitted to heaven in jeopardy. 

Living under the rule of Saint Benedict is hard, I mean really hard. Monks are denied the three most basic human needs, to sleep, to eat and to procreate.  The monk’s day begins with prayers at midnight, and then prayers again at 3 a.m., at 6 a.m., at 9 am, at midday, at 3 p.m. at 6 pm and at 9pm, that is every 3 hours 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it wasn’t just a quick prayer, it was a full liturgy involving chanting and perform mass. The monks slept in their habits so they could quickly get up to attend mass. Between prayers they were expected to work. They had to accept the meanest of tasks as directed by the abbot. Food was restricted to two meals a day with beef and lamb only available to the sick. And then you have to take the three vows of poverty, obedience and celibacy.

The system was designed to eradicate any form of individual opinion, desires or even sense of self. The monk was to do as he was told by the abbot. Any form of disobedience or even a sign of disapproval was ruthlessly punished. If your parents or friends sent you a care packet of food having seen how meagre you have become on the relentless cycle of prayer, work and fasting, the abbot could distribute the goodies amongst the monks or even hand the whole box to another monk. Any reaction other than enthusiastic approval was considered disobedience.

This lifestyle is by definition not sustainable unless it is performed by an ever-replenished pool of religious zealots. But not all new monks were religious zealots. Some monks were the second sons of great patrons of the monastery sent there as children to pray for the family. Some of them bought into the monastic ideal, but not all. Another group of monks were retired aristocrats, too old to sit in the saddle and too worried about all the sins they had committed. They would join the monastery at the end of their  lives, but found it difficult to adapt to the unrelenting lifestyle, austerity and hard work.

As Cluny and its daughter monasteries grew, the list of patrons grew and so did the number of less enthusiastic monks. Furthermore, all these patrons wanted to leave the monastery valuable donations. Individual monks were not allowed to have any personal property, but the monastery itself was able to accept these.

Standards began to slip, some monks were relieved from getting up in the middle of the night, food became plentiful, daily labour was passed on to the serfs.  Within a few generations after the death of the initial great abbots, many a monastery had again become sort of a massively rich frat house. 

As regards Cluny, the focus of its founders had been the elaborate liturgy which in turn required splendid churches. The only church in Western Europe that could rival the Abbey Church of Cluny in size and splendour was great the imperial Cathedral in Speyer. Building the abbey church nearly bankrupted this, probably the richest monastery in the world.

As Cluny and its associate monasteries began to slack, those who still hankered for the true monastic ideal were looking elsewhere. This is monastic reform 2.0. One of the founders of these new communities we have already met, Norbert of Xanten, the founder of the order of the Premonstratensians whose first three disciples did not survive and who was now archbishop of Magdeburg.

But there was one even more impactful than Norbert. The towering ecclesiastical figure of this period was Bernhard of Clairvaux, leader -not founder- of the Cistercian order of the Strict Observance.

Bernhard had joined the reformist monastery of Citeaux near Dijon at the age of 22. When his friends and family tried to dissuade him from his decision, he not only made them agree with him, but convinced 4 of his brothers and another 25 followers to join him.

Bernhard was famous for his eloquence and rhetoric. I have been reliably informed that he was one the greatest Latin stylists since antiquity. He quickly became the most charismatic preachers in the whole of Christendom during the 12th century. His sermons moved common people as well as church councils and even kings to do his bidding. These sermons were also quite odd.

Bernhard was a mystic he looked for divinity in the experience of love. His most famous sermon was on the Song of Salomon, the by far most explicitly sexual part of the bible. For him the Song is about the marriage between the heavenly Bridegroom, himself God, the father, the son and the holy spirit and is human bride. He yearns for “Let him kiss me with the kiss of the mouth”. And he says that what the bride, herself all of humanity including himself, really desires and asks for is “to be filled with the grace of this threefold knowledge [of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit], filled to the utmost capacity of mortal flesh …

This physical mysticism remained a component of the Christian faith. If you want to see what St. Bernhard may have had in mind, check out Bernini’s Ecstasy of Santa Teresa in the church of Santa Maria Vittoria in Rome. Not 12th century but it captures the spirit.

Right, if you think medieval spirituality is a bit difficult to penetrate here is the other thing Bernhard of Clairvaux was famous for, his ascetic lifestyle. His fasting habits were so austere that he ruined his digestive and intestinal system to the point that no food he consumed stayed with him for long. The  monks of his abbey at Clairvaux dug a hole in the floor near where he would be seated during mass since he rarely made it to the bathroom in time. That may sound disgusting, but people admired him for that. The fact that he had broken his body to the point of inflicting constant humiliation was a sign of his sainthood.

You see, as with every revolution, the oddballs everyone laughed at last year are now mainstream.

His order, the Cistercians, benefitted from such a saintly leader and the communities expanded rapidly. Between the papal approval of the Cistercian order in 1119 and the death of St. Bernard in 1153, the number of Cistercian abbeys grew from 9 to 338. Cistercian abbeys were typically built-in remote areas, in forests or difficult to reach valleys where the monks would begin to cultivate the land with their own bare hands. Their churches were very austere and devoid of decoration, deriving their aesthetic appeal from the beauty of their proportions. If you want to get a feel for what they were like, check out the three Monasteries of Senanque, Silvacane and Le Thoronet in Provence. It does not get more Cistercian than that.  

Why am I telling you all these weird stories? It is because St. Bernhard is really, really important. He does influence events in the first half of the 12th century to the point that some historians see him as the true leader of Europe above both the pope and the emperor. It may help if you have an idea what kind of guy we are dealing with.

To complete the picture, Bernhard’s mysticism was not the only brand of Christianity gaining ground in the 12th century.

Its diametrical opposite was the emerging scholastic method. Where mysticism is all about an emotional link to the divinity, scholastics use logic to derive and define their faith.  

If I wanted to, or more accurately, if I could explain Scholasticism the episode would go on for an unbearably long time. There is hardly a topic in medieval history so heavily disputed and complex as scholasticism. It seems many historians prefer to jump the subject entirely to avoid getting into hot water. No such cowardice here at the History of the Germans. But if I get it wrong, which I inevitably will, be gentle. After all scholasticism is all about disputing two sides of an argument and agreeing on a harmonious solution.

In my opinion there are three features that define scholasticism:

The first thing is that scholasticism is a method of resolving problems, not a theological concept. The scholastic method was applied to all bathe medieval sciences,  rhetoric, grammar, and logic as well as theology and law.

Secondly, scholasticism consists of two steps, the definition and the disputation. Definition is the process of determining exactly what specific problem you want to solve. That could range from does god exist to how many angels could dance on the pin of a needle. The definition will usually contain a hypothesis of how the problem is to be resolved.

Once the problem is defined the analysis of the problem, the disputation can begin. For that Analysis, arguments are gathered sic et non, I.e., for and against. In the disputation that follows the scholars weigh the different arguments. The objective is not so much to win the debate but to resolve the differences.

The third feature of the scholastic method was the reliance on what was called authorities. These were texts, like the bible as the ultimate authority for theology, Cicero for rhetoric, Aristotle for logic, the Justinian code for law, etc.

The great contribution of the early scholastics was to gather and organise the knowledge of the time by searching for ancient Greek texts in Muslim Spain, Irish monasteries and the libraries set up by Charlemagne and translating them into Latin.

But it wasn’t just the Greeks they were looking for. Islamic philosophers also played a major role. One of the authorities the Scholastics rated most highly was Abu I Walid Muhammad Ibn Rusd (1126-1198), in Latin referred to as Averroes, an Islamic scholar, jurist and polymath from Cordoba. Averroes commentary on Aristotle’s works was so universally acknowledged that he was often times not even referred to by name, but simply as “the commentator”.

The scholastics believed fundamentally that the ancients and the church fathers knew best. Hence arguments were based on their writings and rarely on actual observable facts. It is that latter issue that has brought scholasticism in for a lot of negative publicity. Medical doctors who would prefer to rely on the books of Galen (2nd century AD) rather than noticing that most of their patients died from their treatments.

Even though Scholasticism is not modern science, it is miles away from the purely spiritually driven faith of the cistercians. What Bernhard of Clairvaux was to the mystics was Peter Abelard amongst the early scholastics.

The driving force of Abelard’s philosophy was logic. He believed he could derive eternal truth by consolidating the truths inherent in authoritative texts. That led him for instance conclude that  the human intent is the yardstick of moral virtue, not the action as such.

He published in a book entitled “Yes and no” where he highlighted obvious contradictions in the bible and laid out arguments how to resolve them. The church did not like it one bit. Abelard was accused of heresy on multiple occasions and some of his books were burned.

St. Bernard attacked Abelard directly. “This Man” he said “presumes to be able to comprehend by human reason the entirety of god” I doubt Abelard would have objected to this characterisation.

Where Bernhard was a great demagogue who could whip up a crowd, Abelard won his debates through wit, intelligence and sharpness of thought.

Abelard is best known today for an event during his early years as a teacher. his relationship with his pupil, Heloise, the super smart niece of Fulbert, Canon of Notre Dame and Abelard’s landlord. The two began an affair, very much on equal terms. Fulbert was none too happy about that and Abelard offered to marry Heloise. Heloise objected as it would mean Abelard would no longer be able to work as teacher at the religious school of Notre Dame. A marriage was conducted in secret but somehow things with Fulbert did not calm down. Abelard had her brought to a nunnery in Argenteuil outside Paris. Fulbert saw some foul play and hired some thugs to find Abelard and castrate him, which they did. Abelard subsequently became a monk. In 1130 he and Heloise published their love letters and the poems they had exchanged. Abelard finally wrote his own autobiography, making it the first in Europe since antiquity.

One thing I like about Abelard is that he invented to concept of Limbo. Limbo is the place  children go  who die before e they can be baptised. Before Abelard the general view was that unbaptised children end up in hell which must heave caused untold grief for their parents who felt forever guilty for not procuring a priest in time. But he was by no means perfect. He and Heloise had a son and they called him astrolabe. Not much is known about him but I guess the poor child must have been bullied mercilessly.

There you have it, the church is split three ways.

Frangipani versus Pierleoni, Old school Gregorians versus Cistercians, Mystics versus Scholastics. Each party had taken a side. The Pierleoni who support the old-school Gregorian reformers and the scholastics. On the other side you have the Frangipani, pushing for reform 2.0 and the mysticism of Bernhard of Clairvaux.

Pope Honorius II had been able to keep a lid on all these tensions thanks to his personality and competence. By 1130, Pope Honorius II is dying.  

Next episode will kick off with the death of Pope Honorius II which let all these differences blow out into the open. Each side will put their pope on the throne. One pope will hold the holy city, the other flees north. And that leaves our friend Lothar in a dilemma. He is no theologian, but he needs something from the pope, the imperial crown. But which of the two popes should he ask for it. The one who is holding the city of Rome or the one Bernhard of Clairvaux is supporting. Going with the first one makes for an easy journey to Rome, but a return to a homeland where the silver-tongued Bernhard whips up the crowds against him. Going with the second pope means you need to first take the eternal city, or at least enough of it to stage a coronation. And then there is the question what concessions Lothar can get from either candidate. Maybe he there is a chance to gain back what had been lost in the Investiture controversy. A return to the glory days of Henry III?

I hope you are going to join us again next week when we find out.

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 46- A Topsy Turvy World

Hello and Welcome to the History of the Germans – Episode 46 –A Topsy Turvy World

We are still in the year 1130 but we are now swiftly moving on. The church is breaking apart into a schism and Lothar III sides with what turns out to be the winning side (clever), but then he mucks up the negotiations (not clever). And then he dies.

Before we start 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 Paul, Nathan and Olly who have already signed up.

Last week we ran through the huge divisions that split the papacy in 1130. Two sides oppose each other. On the one side you have the old Gregorian reform party, represented by the papal bankers, the Pierleoni, the grand old monastery of Cluny and the emerging scholastic method, trying to marry logic and faith. On the other side you have an even less likely alliance of the successors of the old aristocratic thugs and the new monastic reform movement of Bernhard of Clairvaux that is underpinned by its own brand of ecstatic mysticism.

Lothar III had managed to keep himself outside of all these debates as long as Honorius II was alive. He did pretty much whatever Honorius II or his papal legates wanted him to do. Appoint Norbert as archbishop of Magdeburg, make this guy the abbot of Fulda. Yes sir, yes sir. Lothar was at risk of being seen as a Papal minion.

This may have been a disguise since before 1130 Lothar needed the support of the German bishops against Frederick of Hohenstaufen and most importantly needed to prevent a coronation of Konrad as emperor at all costs. And that meant keeping the pope sweet until the Hohenstaufen are defeated. Now that the Hohenstaufen are about to be kneeling in the dust before him, the only thing Lothar needs from the church now is his coronation.

Honorius II had invited him to come down to Rome to be crowned years ago and once Speyer had fallen, it was time to go.

But it was too late. By January 1130 Honorius II was gravely ill.

Another papal election was looming, and the two sides were getting ready.

Though Honorius II was “their pope”, the Frangipani had seen their position eroding these last few years. Many of the cardinals had gradually veered towards the more conservative spectrum and might like to see an old skool Gregorian candidate on the throne of Saint Peter. The Frangipani realise that timing would be of the essence. Seconded by the chancellor of the dying pope Cardinal Aimeric they made preparations.

That conservative candidate to succeed Honorius II the Frangipani were worried about was none other than the head of the opposing Pierleoni family, Cardinal Pietro Pierleoni. I know what you are thinking, but no, Pietro Pierleoni was not a 22 year-old dissolute scoundrel. Au contraire. Pierleoni was a man of great reform zeal and unquestioned piety. His scholarly credentials were impeccable. He had studied in Paris at the feet of the great scholastic Peter Abelard. After that he had been a monk at Cluny before being made papal Legate first in France and then in England. So eminently suitable, but in all and everything a red rag to Cardinal Aimeric and the Frangipani.

And so the Frangipani opened the gambit by seizing the dying Pontiff on FebruRy 11th and dragging him half dead to the Monastery of Sant Andrea. They put him into a nice warm cell and invited the minority of cardinals they could trust to come and elect a new pope. All that before the old pope was even dead, an unprecedented breach of protocol.

Word of their doings got out and the other cardinals threatened anathemas against the Frangipani should they dare to elect a pope before Honorius II was dead and buried.

In the negotiations that followed the parties agreed a new procedure. Given that Honorius was on his last leg and if a schism was to be avoided, the next pope needs to be elected very, very quickly. There was no room for lengthy debates in the full college of cardinals, let alone inviting those currently out on mission. The curia decided that for this particular case a committee of 8 cardinals should elevate a new pope as soon as the funeral of Honorius II had been held.

The Frangipani were not happy about this since only 3 of the 8 cardinals were part of their camp making the whole thing a foregone conclusion. But then any other electoral method would have had the same outcome. The Frangipani had only a minority in the college of cardinals irrespective of the election parameters. But they could make life uncomfortable by blocking access to the major churches of Rome. The electors were made to gather in one of the smaller churches in Rome, San Marco, as all the others had been occupied by the Frangipani.

On February 13th rumours swirled around the city that Honorius II had died. An angry mob surrounded the monastery where he had been brought. The Frangipani somehow managed to prop the dying pope onto the balcony where he waved to the crowd for one last time.  Everyone calmed down and went home. Not yet time. That same night Honorius II died.

Normally a pope would lie in state for 3 days and only after he was buried would the election process begin. Hence the 8 cardinal electors in San Marco waited. Not so the Frangipani. Honorius’ body was not even cold before they threw him into a shallow grave in the courtyard of the monastery, said some hasty prayers and burial done moved on to elect a new pope. They chose Gregory Papareschi, the Cardinal Deacon of St. Angelo to be their new pope. By daybreak they took him to the Lateran where he was hastily installed as Innocent II on the throne of Saint Peter before he was brought to one of the strongest Frangipani fortresses inside the city to see what happens next.

By now a crowd had gathered outside the small church of San Marco where some of the 8 Cardinal-electors were gathered. The 3 frangipani supporters had gone home earlier When news came through of Innocent II’s hasty election and enthronisation, it was uproar. The 5 cardinal-electors present declared the election of Innocent II uncanonical, the Frangipani and their three colleagues whose absence was now explained were excommunicated. And they then proceeded to elect Pietro Pierleoni as Pope Anaclet II.

And there we are again, a schism. But this time a schism without involvement of the emperor.

Over the subsequent days Anaclet II gradually gained the upper hand in Rome. The generous distribution of Pierleoni money to all and sundry ensured they could quickly take the Lateran and after that St. Peter. A week later Anaclet II was formally enthroned in old St. Peter with all the pomp and circumstance that comes with a papal inauguration. Meanwhile Innocent II was still in Rome but his followership began to dwindle. As Pierleoni money found its way into the Frangipani fortress, he feared for his life and fled the Holy city.

Anaclet II was now in control of ROME. But though the Pierleone were rich, they were not rich enough to bribe the whole of Christendom. Innocent II’s journey north turned out to be more of a triumphal progress than a flight. Pisa cheered him on, as did Genoa. From there he travelled to France. When he disembarked in St. Giles,  he was greeted by the abbot of Cluny of all people. This move of his old abbey against Anaclet was a bad start. At the council of Etampes France declared wholeheartedly for Innocent II. King Louis VI, by now an old and enormously fat man, kissed the papal feet. Even King Henry I of England came down to  Chartres to honour the new pope.

The reason for this miraculous rise from a more than dodgy election and subsequent expulsion from Rome can be summarised in one word, or one name, Bernhard of Clairvaux. The silver-tongued preacher had sided with Innocent II, claiming that though fewer cardinals had voted for Innocent II, these cardinals had been the righteous ones. He even pushed the argument that the Pierleoni had only recently converted from Judaism and who could ever let a Jewish convert onto the throne of Saint Peter. I assume that nobody dared to enlighten St. Bernhard about St. Peter’s religious affiliation before he became an apostle?

What surprises here even more than the weakness of his arguments is that it was completely obvious to all and everyone that Bernhard of Clairvaux was utterly biased. The Frangipani faction and their pope, Innocent II were supporters of Bernhard. The Pierleoni and their pope stood for all that Bernhard despised, the old Clunaic style of monasticism, scholastic learning and the church reform style of Gregory VII. But such was the authority of the erudite spiritualist that everyone fell in line. The great churchmen of the time and most importantly the three leaders of the great monastic orders, obviously the Cistercians, but also the Premonstratensians and even the Cluniacs, despite the fact that Anaclet II had been a monk in Cluny.

Everyone was with Innocent II, well not everyone yet. For Lothar III the schism had created both an opportunity and a problem. On the one hand there was a formally correctly elected pope down in Rome whose position was weak and who could be made to do the three things Lothar III wanted, crown him emperor, hand over the lands of Matilda of Tuscany and even revise the concordat of Worms. But, there was Bernhard of Clairvaux. If Lothar sided with Anaclet, St. Bernhard would start preaching against him. If he would contest his election or coronation, could Lothar hold his position against the Hohenstaufen? On the other hand supporting Innocent II meant he would need to fight his way into the city of Rome to gain his crown, something that took Henry IV nearly 5 years. The choice was Anaclet and anarchy or Bernhard and battle.

Lothar hesitated and hesitated and hesitated. Anaclet II sent him letter after letter. He even excommunicated Konrad of Hohenstaufen to show his goodwill. Still no response.

Anaclet II is now starting to panic. Apart from King David of Scotland and the duke of Aquitaine, nobody is on his side. He needs help. And there is always, always an option for a pope in the 12th century who needs help. And that option is called, the Normans but it comes with strings attached.

Roger II, great count of Sicily is their leader now. Roger had  managed to acquire the duchies of Apulia and Calabria from the descendants of his famous uncle, Robert Giuscard. Nearly all of Southern Italy south of Rome is now in the hands of just one man. That man wants something, and he wants it badly. And that is a crown.

Anaclet II is prepared to give him a crown if he is willing to defend him against whoever and whatever is coming down to Rome. And so, on Christmas day 1130 Roger of Hauteville, descendant of a minor but extremely fecund Norman baron was crowned King of Sicily in the Cathedral of Palermo in the presence of Latin and Greek bishops as well as the papal legate.

After that Lothar could no longer sit on the fence. It was decision time. Roger claiming to be king was a terrible affront to Imperial dignity.  Since his Ottonian predecessors had ridden south and Saxon weapons ruled all the way to the deepest south of Italy, all of Italy was part of Empire. Or that at least was what Lothar believed..

Going to Rome had at the same time become more necessary as well as more difficult. Re- establishing imperial rule in Italy and a crown were appealing but not enough to justify the risk. If Innocent II really wanted him to go and recapture Rome for him, he would need to make some concession. The Concordat of Worms should be re-opened. The emperor may get the right of investiture and hence control over the imperial church back. We are dialling the clock back to Henry III. I guess everyone is giddy with excitement.

In 1131 Innocent II travelled to meet Lothar III in Liege to hammer out the terms. As the pope approaches the town, Lothar comes out to greet him. Lothar descends from his horse and takes the reins of the papal white horse leading him into town. Once arrived, he holds the papal stirrups as the pontiff descends. These services, the Strator service and the service of the marshal had never before been performed by a King of the Romans. Only the son of Henry IV did perform strator service to Urban II after he had betrayed his father and was aiming to be crowned king of Italy. But no actual or future emperor had yet humiliated himself so far as to act as papal groom. That is what mere kings may be obliged to do, but not an emperor.

It is hard to believe, but it seems that Lothar thought this was just a sort of curtesy act with no further meaning for the relationship between emperor and pope. Because as soon as the preliminaries were over, Lothar sat down to negotiate. He basically said, o.k., I get you down to Rome and even risk war with Roger of Sicily, but in exchange you let me invest the bishops again. I mean fair dues. Innocent must accept this. No longer can the papacy use the divisions amongst the German nobles to push their position. It is time for the emperor to exploit the divisions within the church, right.

Not right says Bernhard of Clairvaux. He leaps from his chair and subjects the emperor to a merciless castigation before the entire assembly, calling upon him to renounce his pretensions there and then and pay unconditional homage to the rightful pope. A pope he had acted as groom for just now. How dares he challenging his rightful lord.

10 out of 10 for balls. Lothar is so stunned; he does not know what to say. He had not realised that his negotiation position had already been wiped out when he held the papal stirrup. This is the 12th century and images count more than a thousand words. Who needs to negotiate with a mere stable boy?

The great opportunity to get it all back is gone. Lothar agrees to take Innocent II into Rome and all he expects in exchange was the coronation.

And that is exactly what Lothar did, that and no more. He took an army of just 1,500 knights down to Italy. That seemed a ridiculously low number given that Anaclet had an alliance with Roger II who could raise 10 times that in a heartbeat. And even though the Hohenstaufen were much reduced, the situation in Germany was still extremely fragile. One anecdote may illustrate that.

On his way to the Brenner pass Lothar and his army stayed in Augsburg. The king was suspicious of the bishop and the inhabitants of Augsburg believing them to harbour pro-Hohenstaufen sympathies. A few weeks earlier they had attacked and robbed a papal envoy who made the mistake of passing near the city limits.

Nevertheless Lothar was greeted with deference and the bishop was promising to punish the perpetrators of the crime harshly. Whilst king and bishop were still debating the issue some tumult was brewing in the streets. An altercation had occurred between the soldiers and the locals in a shop. The discussion escalated and daggers were drawn. The king joined his soldiers whilst the people and clergy of Augsburg fled into the cathedral. Though the bishop through himself between the parties to stop the carnage praying and pleading, Lothar ordered his soldiers to advance. What ensued was a massacre of the citizens seeking refuge in the church. Throughout the day and well into the night the army sent to serve the pope murdered and raped not showing any mercy for children or nuns

This was not some  hostile foreign stronghold, it was one of the major merchant cities of Germany, it had opened its gates to his king but still terrible violence was meted out. And this is not an unusual occurrence. The long civil war had worn down people’s moral boundaries. Violence had become commonplace.

Leaving the smouldering ruins of Augsburg behind, the army travelled with relative ease down to Rome. It was again St. Bernhard who had made that possible by haranguing and harassing the major Italian cities. He could not get them to support the expedition, except for Pisa, Genoa and Cremona, but the Lombard cities promised not to attack the army.  That meant it became an odd kind of imperial progress. No city was entered, no coronation to king of Italy in Monza or Pavia celebrated. The army sort of snuck down the road, saying please and thank you just trying to get to Rome in one piece. 

With the army still only about 2,000 men, the question arose what they were supposed to do when they get there. Sur they were the great German knights, but still no match for the Normans. And that is when they hit a patch of good fortune. King Roger of Sicily suddenly found himself having to fight off a major rebellion. Coinicidence, maybe, or some well-placed bags of gold coins from the papal purse. To everyone’s surprise, the rebels were successful. They gave Roger a bloody nose and he had to shelter on the island of Sicily. No way that he could help Anaclet II.

Next piece of  good news was that upon arrival in Rome the Frangipani allies opened the city gates. Anaclet II retired to the right bank of the Tiber protected by the Castel Sant Angelo and the Theatre of Marcellus, whilst Innocent II and his Frangipani allies took the left bank. With Anaclet II holding St. Peter, the coronation could only take place in the Basilica of the Lateran. There Lothar III and his wife Richeza were crowned emperor and empress on June 4th, 1133.

Note the date. It is June and Malaria season is kicking off. Anaclet is still sitting pretty, and Roger II is gradually gaining ground in Souther Italy. Lothar thinks there is another opportunity to negotiate. A revision of the Concordat of Worms plus the lands of Matilda for the continuation of the campaign. And again St. Bernard and his friend Norbert the Archbishop of Magdeburg put a spanner in the works. No revision of the Concordat. And as for the lands of Matilda, well you can receive them as a papal vassal against a rent of 100 mark of silver annually, but it remains property of the pope and whoever is count of Tuscany has to do military service for him.

Lothar as so many times before prefers a sparrow in his hand to a dove on the roof, and takes the offer. The position of Margrave of Tuscany and greatest of Italian lords is passed on to the imperial son-in-law,, Henry the Proud, head of the house of Welf.

But it was not enough to make him stay. The ink barely dry on the agreement, Lothar packed his bags and went home. If the pope offers no more than basic service, well, all he gets back in return is basic service.

Lothar’s return was also the end of Innocent II’s stay in Rome. A few weeks later the Pierleoni had regained their positions on the left bank and Innocent had to leave by the same route as 3 years earlier. So, nothing had really changed.

2 years and an avalanche of letters from Bernhard of Clairvaux later, Lothar was finally willing to do it properly. Negotiations had been ongoing despite the initial rebuttal and the two sides found an arrangement that suited both sides.

The pope gave the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen ecclesiastical oversight over all of Scandinavia and the archbishop of Magdeburg the same over Poland. That was new. Hamburg-Bremen had forever dreamt of being the metropolitan church for the whole of the Baltic and Magdeburg never had any oversight over Poland. It can be argued that Lothar saw an imperial endorsement of the Eastern Expansion of the empire as something more valuable than positions in this extremely wealthy but unmanageable snake pit that was Italy.

It is not an unwinding of the Concordat of Worms, but still a pretty good deal.

In August 1136 a massive imperial host set off from Wuerzburg to go after Roger of Sicily and Anaclet II. No longer just an expeditionary force, but a mighty host. Duke Henry the proud alone brought 1,500 knights, there were 5 archbishops and 13 bishops, 3 abbots, the great Saxon nobles, Konrad of Wettin and Albrecht the Bear, the Landgrave of Thüringen and a whole host of counts and barons. And the bannerman of the emperor was none other than the former anti-king, Konrad of Hohenstaufen. Lothar was so convinced of his suppression of the Hohenstaufen ambitions, he allowed Konrad’s brother, Frederick, duke of Swabia to stay behind.

This was a very different proposition than last time around. Lothar had an army that not only could but was very much intent on defeating the upstart Sicilian King Roger II. This time he comes as the leader of a unified empire intent on projecting his power into Italy. It is only a 100 years ago that emperor Henry III could command the southern duchies of Capua, Salerno and Puglia and previous Saxon emperors had taken huge armies all the way to the deepest south of Italy.

Lothar’s position in Northern Italy had also improved. Thanks to St.Bernard relentless travelling and preaching all the Italian cities have now sided with Innocent II and Lothar. The most committed supporters were still the citizens of Pisa.

Pisa had a particular side interest in the defeat of Roger II. At the time Pisa competed with three other maritime republics, Venice, Genoa and Amalfi for the lucrative Mediterranean trade. Amalfi had become part of Roger’s kingdom. Amalfi if you have ever been is one of the most beautiful small town in Italy, just south of Naples. In 977 travellers described Amalfi as the most prosperous, most illustrious and wealthy of cities in the Lombard duchies, much more important than neighbouring Naples. Amalfi maintained trading posts across the Mediterranean, had a presence in Constantinople as well as in Jerusalem and Antioch. The reason it is a small town today and not a thriving metropolis is an attack by the Pisan navy in 1135. The amalfitani insist it was treachery that helped the Pisans to capture and destroy their fleet. They entered the undefended city and burned and looted so comprehensively, Amalfi never came back from this catastrophe.

Now back to Lothar. He held an assembly for the Italian realm and a muster on the fields of Roncaglia outside Piacenza. There the plan for the attack on Roger II is agreed.

To ease its progress the army was split in two, one led by Lothar, the other by Henry the Proud. Lothar would travel along the eastern side of Italy towards Puglia whilst Henry would follow the western shore.

Once Henry had reached Grosseto, Innocent II joined his army.

The two men promptly fell out almost immediately. Not over some issue of compassion for your fellow men, the nature of divinity or even the state of Saxon monasteries. No, it was over money, cold hard cash. The army had passed by the city of Viterbo who had paid 3,000 pounds of silver for not having their land plundered, their peasants killed and their daughters raped. Now the question arises, whose money is it? The duke’s who commands the troops or the pope who, who, I do not know, has the moral high ground? Henry did not know either and without Bernhard of Clairvaux on hand to muddle up the arguments, the pope relented.

After the disagreement the army moved pressed on further south, passing just outside the walls of Rome without entering the holy city. It is not known whether that was part of Innocents plan.

The pope would be even more irritated when they passed the famous ancient abbey of Monte Cassino. Inside the monks had been squabbling over who they should elect as abbot, a supporter of Anaclet or a supporter of Innocent. Henry made a deal with the supporter of Anaclet that he would change sides and pay him 400 mark of silver. Another event occurred at Benevento where again Henry did what he thought best, not taking account of the papal wishes. Innocent II was not happy about that, not happy. Did I mention that Henry’s nickname was the Proud? Well it was a Character trait  that will cost him dearly, very dearly.

At the same rate as Henry the Proud was losing friends an alienating people, another man saw a huge improvement in his standing. Many a city fell to the mighty sword of Konrad of Hohenstaufen, the former archenemy of the emperor. The whole army and even the emperor himself praised him for his prowess and new found loyalty.

The two armies had now made some significant inroads into Rogers Southern Italian Possessions. They reunited in the city of Bari in Puglia, one of the most important harbours on the Adriatic. The citizens who detested Roger’s autocratic regime had opened their gates to the imperial papal army.

The citadel was however still held by the Norman garrison. I say Norman, but in reality most of the soldiers were saracens, Muslim inhabitants of Sicily. The Normans had decided to allow their Muslim and Jewish subjects to retain their religion, in part because mass conversion was simply not enforceable and also because they levied a special tax on the non-Christians. The Saracen guard were amongst the most loyal troops of Roger II. They held out until the besieged had dug out the foundations of the castle walls and brought them to collapse. Once inside the Germans gave no quarter. The 500 men who had not been cut down or had drowned in the sea were hanged.

The fall of Bari was a Disaster for Roger II. His rule was unpopular particularly on the mainland and as news arrived of his defeat many a city was keen to surrender to the emperor.

Roger II opened negotiations, offering to split his kingdom, letting Puglia and Calabria be run by his sons. But Lothar refused, or had to refuse, because there was no agreement between him and pope Innocent II what to do with southern Italy.

As the pope and the emperor surveyed their success the underlying differences came to the fore.  The pope had firmly believed the emperor would help him out of a sense of duty. As Gregory VII had made clear, the emperor like any other king was the pope’s vassal and owed him service. Lothar on the other hand saw himself as the guardian of the church, but that meant he had the secular power over all of Italy. He looked back to the days when emperors last went down to southern Italy, during the days of Henry III and even Otto the Great. Then there was no doubt who was the overlord of these la

The conflict that had been brewing for a while became apparent to the whole army when the two sides fell out over the appointment of a new duke of Puglia. Both sides wanted the same man, but each insisted that it was their right to invest the new duke. In the end they came up with a silly compromise. They would both had over the ducal banner, the pope holding the top of the shaft, the emperor the bottom. A Similar conflict arose over the still unconfirmed appointment of the abbot of Monte Cassino. What we see is that even the most conciliatory approach to imperial papal relationship cannot prevent the fundamental question coming back to the fore, who is more senior, the pope or the emperor?

As the army sheltered from the relentless heat in the hills outside Bari, the German lords became restless. They have been en route for months. Peace was in the air and that means it did not look as if there was any more plunder to be had. There was also little chance that they would receive any counties or duchies in Italy as long as the two principals were unsure about who was boss. That and some not so subtle bribery by Roger II and the army was going on strike. Many a lord upped sticks and headed back home.

As so often before, the great expedition had achieved pretty much nothing. Bari reverted back to Roger II as soon as the last imperial tent had been taken down. The newly appointed duke of Puglia was back in exile within weeks. Anaclet II was still in Rome.

And Innocent II was now very suspicious of the intentions of his allies. Unreliable is what they were and disobedient at every junction. And who was the worst if the lot  – Henry the Proud – of course. That stingy bastard withheld his money and had now turned on his heel to get back home to his cold and foggy hovel.

Lothar III was 71 years old and tired. The Italian climate did not suit him, and he wanted to get home. Against his friends’ advice Lothar dragged himself across the Alps in the midst of winter. He made it to the other side, just. He died on December 3rd 1136 in a peasant’s hut in the tiny village of Breitenschwang in Tirol. On his deathbed he handed the imperial regalia, the crown, the Holy Lance and all the other signs of imperial rule to his son-in-law, Henry the Proud who he designated as his successor asking the nobles of the realm to elect him.

Lothar III was buried in the church of Koenigslutter, which he had ordered to be built. Much more modest than the Salian Family mausoleum in Speyer, it is still a remarkable building.

When they opened his grave in 1618 they found a lead plaque with the following inscription:

“Lothar, by the grace of god emperor and forever Augustus reigned for 12 years, 3 months and 3 days; he was always trusting in the lord, a truthful, steadfast and peace loving man and a fearless warrior. He died on a December 3rd on return from Puglia where he defeated the Saracens.”

The counterpoint to this eulogy is a frieze on the outside of the church showing hunting scenes. The central panel depicts two very aggressive looking hares who have overcome the huntsman and are tying him up. I leave it to you to decide whether this depiction of a topsy turvy world or the standard eulogy is the more suitable comment on Lothar’s reign.

Just one more piece of epilogue. Anaclet II died shortly after Lothar and so Innocent II finally gained control of Rome. Once installed in the Lateran Palace Innocent has a fresco painted on the wall showing Lothar III receiving the imperial crown on his knees from the Pope. Underneath it says “and so the king became a vassal of the pope before receiving his crown”

It  is all a question of perspective I presume..

Next week we will leave Lothar behind and look at the next election contest between a Welf, Henry the Proud and a Hohenstaufen, our friend Konrad on his second attempt. Lots of twists and turns to come.

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