The Three Roads to Canossa

Emperor Henry III is dead. The realm is now in the hands of his widow, Agnes of Poitou who rules on behalf of the six-year-old king Henry IV. Agnes is no Theophanu and no Adelheid. Not that she is incompetent, she just isn’t absolutely brilliant, and absolutely brilliant is the baseline necessary to manage this fragile situation.
The relationship between the central imperial power and the magnates has flipped, and instead of all-powerful emperors, the dukes, counts and bishops do what they like. And Henry III’s bête noire, Godfrey the Bearded is more powerful than ever.
The laity calls for a church that is more like the church of the apostles, pious and dedicated to the poor. They demand an end to simony and the licentiousness of priests.
And the papacy asserts its independence. Not that they necessarily intend to throw off the imperial yoke, but the reformers need protectors against the Roman aristocracy that literally used popes as footstools and ATMs.
All this culminates in a situation where the young king Henry IV sees no other way to escape from his opponents than by jumping into the cold and fast flowing River Rhine, choosing death over captivity…

In today’s episode we meet some of the key protagonists who will move the narrative towards the great turning point of the Middle Ages, the Road to Canossa. One of them is Godfrey the Bearded, Duke of Lower Lothringia and red rag to emperor Henry III. Initially he may just have been a bit too powerful for the future emperor’s liking. But after Henry III falls ill in 1045, he becomes more driven by personal animosities. Things become personal.

Other key protagonists make their first appearance, including Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen, Duke Bernhard of Saxony, Empress Agnes of Poitou and the great abbot Hugh of Cluny.

Things are hotting up, so tune in now!

History of the Germans is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Podbean or wherever you get your podcasts from. And also on this site.

Picture: Gottfried I., der Bärtige, Graf von Löwen, Herzog von Niederlothringen – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek – Austrian National Library, Austria – Public Domain.