Henry IV departs from Canossa having been released from the ban. But does that mean all his troubles are over? Far from it. His enemies in Germany gather to elect a new king and the war of words turns into a war of swords.

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When Henry IV was excommunicated by pope Gregory VII in 1076, he was initially confident that his bishops would stick with him and that he could bring an army down to Rome to depose the pope. I mean his father had deposed 3 popes and up until recently the appointment of popes was very much an imperial prerogative.

But within just 8 months the support from the bishops crumbled away. There are many solid political reasons such as the bishops being afraid of their urban populations and cathedral chapters siding with the pope. But one specific event turned the tide decisively.

Bishop William of Utrecht, Henry IV. greatest cheerleader had been hurling insults and accusations of lewd behaviour at pope Gregory VII from the chancel of his church. He declared the King’s excommunication null and void and excommunicated the pope in turn.

That same day the cathedral was struck by lightening and the episcopal palace burnt down. And a few days later William had to take to his bed. He had suddenly become terribly ill and succumbed so quickly he could not even make confession and receive the last rites. The abbot of Cluny reported later that bishop William had appeared to him in a dream and had said that he was now suffering in the deepest recesses of hell.

When the magnates met for a Reichstag in Trebur in October 1076, many of the bishops had gone over to the opposite side giving the king an ultimatum that he would be deposed unless he gets released from the anathema before early February 1077.

Henry had to cross the alps in the midst of the coldest winter in living memory and beg for mercy from Pope Gregory VII at Canossa, one of the most famous events of the European Middle Ages.

If you want to hear the whole story, check out the History of the Germans Podcast available on my website www.historyofthegermans.com or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts (link here:https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen)

It is time – we are finally going to Canossa. Expect imperial power to go up in smoke, greedy mothers-in-laws, frozen passes, hoisted horses and tobogganing empresses.

All that ends with the enduring picture of a king first kneeling before a woman and then before a pope…..

That is the the episode you have to listen to!

Available here as well s on Apple Podcasts, Spotiy, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Overcast, Podbean and anywhere else (link: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen)

Henry had appointed a new archbishop of Milan in direct opposition to the Pope Gregory VII’s candidate (see previous post). As a consequence Gregory had sent a letter to Henry admonishing him and threatening excommunication.

Henry then called a synod of 26 German bishops in Worms for the 24th of January. These mighty prelates were tired of being harassed and harangued by the fanatic on the papal throne. No more did they want to be summoned to Rome to atone for things they believed were perfectly acceptable, like letting their canons get married or accepting financial obligations to the king upon investiture. And even more so if the pope himself failed to adhere to his own standards.

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

“Henry, king not by force, but by the grace of God, to Hildebrand, at present not pope, but false monk. You deserve such greeting for the disorder you created. There is no rank in the Church which you have not made to partake in shame instead of honour, in curse instead of blessing. For, to mention only a few, most important instances out of so many; you have dared to lay hands on the leaders of the holy Church, the Lord’s anointed – the archbishops, the bishops and priests; you have trampled them underfoot like slaves who do not know what their master is doing.; by crushing them have you endeared yourself to the commonest of people; you have regarded them all as ignorant, but yourself as omniscient.

This knowledge, however, you have used not for edification but for destruction, so that we are justified in believing that St. Gregory, whose name you have arrogated to yourself, prophesied about you when he said, “The pride of him who has power becomes the greater the number of those who are subject to him, and he thinks that he himself can do more than all.”

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

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

And you even laid hand on me, who, though unworthy to be among the anointed, yet have been anointed to the kingdom; on me, who, as the tradition of the holy fathers teaches, may not be deposed for any crime unless, God forbid, I have departed from the faith, on me who is subject to the judgment of God alone. The wisdom of the holy fathers even left Julian, the Apostate, not to be tried by themselves, but left it to God alone, to judge and depose him. For even the true pope, Peter, exclaims, “Fear God, honor the King.”

But you, who do not fear God, dishonour Him in me whom He has appointed. Therefore St. Paul, when he spared no angel of heaven if he had preached otherwise, did not exempt even you who teach otherwise on earth. For he says, “If anyone, neither I nor an angel from heaven, preaches any other gospel than that which was preached to you, he will be condemned.

You then, condemned by this curse and by the judgment of all our bishops and by our own, descend and renounce the apostolic chair which you have usurped. Let another ascend the throne of St. Peter, who shall not exercise violence under the guise of religion, but shall teach the sound doctrine of St. Peter.

I, Henry, king by the grace of God, say to you, together with all our bishops, descend, descend or be damned forever.”

Translation by Ernest F. Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1910), adjusted by author

That went down like a lead balloon in Rome. For the follow-up to this story, check out Episode 33 of the History of the Germans Podcast available here or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts from.

Milan was the largest city in Europe and the most economically advanced. Since about 1057 the lower classes in Milan had demanded an improvement in the corrupt and licentious clergy of the city. Street gangs would harass clergymen they suspected of living with women or had acquired their office through the payment of bribes. Rioting became increasingly intense, and the rebels calling themselves the Pataria began to organise under the leadership of a member of the city nobility called Erlembald.

Erlembald received support from the papacy, and even received a papal banner in his fight with the archbishop. This archbishop, Wido who had been captured by the Pataria resigned in 1070, handing over the reigns of the archbishopric to his deputy, Godfrey. Godfrey travelled to the imperial court for his investiture, as had been the tradition with archbishops of Milan for centuries. Whilst Godfrey received ring and staff from King (future emperor) Henry IV (1056-1105), the Pataria raised one of their own, Atto to be archbishop. Atto was recognised by the pope and civil war in the city ensued.

In one of his last acts, pope Alexander II (1061-1073) put pressure on Henry IV by excommunicating his advisors. That excommunication lingered without much effect whilst the situation in Milan changed in favour of the imperial side. The Pataria suffered the loss of its leader, Erlembald in the fighting and after the city had burned down, the imperial party took control. They asked Henry IV for a new archbishop. Henry IV appointed Tedald, one of the members of his chancery to be archbishop of Milan.

This is where the new pope Gregory VII loses it. In December 1075 he writes a letter to Henry IV admonishing him for his decisions in Milan as well as for retaining his advisors who had been excommunicated 2 years before. He threatens to excommunicate the the king unless he reverses his decisions.

More on this story in Episode 32 of the History of the Germans Podcast available here and on Apple, Spotify as well as any other podcasting platform (link: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen)

Hildebrand was born sometime between 1020 and 1025 in Tuscany. We know practically nothing about his family. He himself said that he grew up in the bosom of the Roman church, which suggests he grew up in the Lateran palace and was destined for a church career from his very first years. we do not know for a fact whether he joined a monastery upon reaching maturity though it would fit with his papal name, since Gregory the Great had also been a monk.

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

In 1054 we find Hildebrand as a papal legate in France and Germany, harassing bishops for their licentious lifestyle and heretic convictions. He is still technically only a subdeacon but gets into fights with bishops and archbishops. When Leo IX died, he rushed to Rome to ensure the Roman aristocracy does not usurp the throne of St. Peter. He strongly supports the next pope, Victor II, again an appointment by Henry III. Hildebrand actually meets Henry III and retains a huge amount of respect for the emperor. Victor II makes Hildebrand his chancellor, in charge of finances and documentation. By the time the papacy moved from Victor II to Stephen IX, Hildebrand was already one of, if not the dominating figure in the college of cardinals. Hildebrand star keeps rising during the papacies of Stephen IX (1057-1058), Nicolas II (1059-1061) and Alexander II (1061 – 1073).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, he got to work.

What he does and how he does it would go far beyond the space available here. Check out episodes 32 and following which are all about Gregory VII.

Hildebrand, not Pope but false Monk

The rise of the papacy since 1046 is almost linear. The popes throw off the chokehold of the roman aristocracy, they take over leadership of the church reform movement from the emperors, and by the end of the pontificate of Alexander II the Holy See has become universal with kings hailing the pope and not the emperor as their overlord.

In 1073 Hildebrand, the eminence grise of the last 20 years ascends the throne of St. Peter. His view of the role of the papacy goes even further than his predecessors. We know this because he laid it out in one of the most remarkable documents of the middle ages, the Dictatus Papae.

This ever expanding role of the papacy had to collide at some point with the other universal power, the king and future emperor Henry IV. Letters are exchanged and words are spoken that set events in motion that will destroy them both……

Listen here or on Apple podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting platform. Link: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen

Otto was born into a family of Saxon magnates with possessions in the Harz mountains. He was one of the most accomplished military and political leaders in Germany during the reign of Henry IV. The Empress Agnes made him duke of Bavaria in 1061 to lead a campaign into Hungary. A mere 12 months later he repaid her by becoming one of the leaders in the coup of Kaiserswerth. He and his co-conspirators abducted the 12-year old King Henry IV. Henry IV never forgave him for that.

In 1070 he was accused of having hired thugs to murder king Henry IV. Absent any proof, other than the word of the thug himself, King Henry IV. ordered a trial by combat. When Otto did not show, he was deposed as duke of Bavaria and lost all his possessions. He was captured and imprisoned for 2 years before the king released him. He returned some of his personal property back to him. The Saxon chroniclers claim that all of that was a plot by the king to depose Otto of Northeim.

Northeim’s revenge came when the Saxons had gathered in Hötensleben in 1073 to discuss what to do about the king’s encroachment on to their land and ancient freedoms. The king had built a string of castles, including the famous Harzburg (see previous post) in order to create a new royal territory.

Though the Saxons had been insulted by the king just weeks earlier and had been seething under the Salian rule for decades, outright rebellion is no easy decision. That is when Otto takes a stand and delivers a speech, which must be one of the first political speeches by someone not a king or pope ever recorded in Germany:

“The calamities and disgraces that our king has brought upon each one of you for a long time are great and unbearable, but what he still intends to do, if the Almighty God permits him, is even greater and more severe. Strong castles he has erected, as you know, numerous in places already firm by nature, and has placed in them a great multitude of his vassals, and abundantly provided with weapons of all kinds. These castles are not erected against the heathen, who have completely devastated our land where it borders theirs, but in the midst of our country, where no one ever thought of making war against him; he has fortified them with such great effort, and what they mean for this land some of you have already experienced, and if God’s mercy and your bravery do not intervene, you will soon all experience it.

They take your possessions by force and hide them in their castles; they abuse your wives and daughters for their pleasure when they please; they demand your servants and your cattle, and all that they like, for their service; yes, they even force you yourselves to bear every burden, however odious, on your free shoulders.

But when I imagine in my thoughts what is still waiting for us, then everything that you are now enduring still seems to me to be bearable. For when he will have built his castles in our whole country at his discretion and will have equipped them with armed warriors and all other necessities, then he will no longer plunder your possessions one by one, but he will snatch from you all that you possess with one blow, will give your goods to strangers, and will make you yourselves, you freeborn men, oblige unknown men as servants. And all this, you brave men, will you let it happen to you? Is it not better to fall in brave fight than to live a miserable and ignominious life, being made a shameful mockery by these people?

Even Serfs who are bought for money do not endure the unreasonable commands of their masters, and you, who were born free, should patiently endure servitude? Perhaps you, as Christians, are afraid to violate the oath with which you have paid homage to the king. Indeed, to the king you have sworn. As long as he was a king to me and acted royally, I also kept the oath I swore to him freely and faithfully; but after he ceased to be a king, the one to whom I had to keep loyalty was no longer there. So not against the king, but against the unjust robber of my freedom; not against the fatherland, but for the fatherland, and for freedom, which no good man surrenders other than with his life at the same time, I take up arms, and I demand of you that you also take them up. Awake, therefore, and preserve for your children the inheritance which your fathers have left you; beware lest through your carelessness or slothfulness you yourselves and your children become serfs of strangers”

(Rough translation based on W. Wattenbachs translation of Bruno’s Buch vom Sachsenkrieg)

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

The speech was successful, and the Saxons rebelled, a rebellion that was ultimately crushed in the first of many brutal battles of the ensuing 50 years of civil war. Success in this first battle encouraged young King Henry to take the fight to the papacy and its most formidable leader, Pope Gregory VII, a fight that neither side would win, but would leave Germany on a path towards a weaker centre controlled by the princes, a structure known as the Holy Roman Empire (again see previous post).

Otto was, despite his great oratory, a turncoat. Once the rebellion had failed, he joined the king and became his administrator in Saxony. In a twist of irony, he was put in charge of rebuilding all these castles he had railed against.

He changed sides again in 1078 and joined the anti-king Rudolf of Rheinfelden in his campaign against Henry IV. That was the last time he swapped sides. Even after Rudolf had lost and died, Otto remained in arms against the now emperor Henry IV. Otto of Northeim died in 1083.

Otto is a typical example of a magnate of the 11th century. He was not opposed to the dynasty as such or the king specifically. What he fought against was the rise of territorial kingship that would reduce the senior lords influence on imperial decision making. And in that, despite the regular setbacks, he was successful.

Otto’s speech features heavily in episode 31 of the History of the Germans Podcast that looks more closely at the conflict between Henry IV and his magnates. To listen for free on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcast, Podbean etc., follow this link: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen or go to my website www.historyofthegermans.com where you can also find ways to support the Podcast and Blog.

Picture: From Froissart’s Chronicles, so clearly not a depiction of Otto of Northeim, but the only picture of a medieval speech I could find.

And another protagonist in the Investiture Controversy

Godfrey the Bearded is one of those figures of History who despite his significant influence over crucial events has fallen through the cracks because he did not fit into a national narrative in either Germany, France or Italy.
Godfrey was the son of Gozelo, duke of Upper and Lower Lothringia. Emperor Konrad II had put Gozelo in charge of the two duchies of Lothringia since he needed a strong defender of the French border, particular against the mighty counts of Blois-Champagne. Konrad II died in 1039 and his son Henry III changed the strategic outlook. The threat from France had receded, which removed the rationale to create such a powerful vassal in the west. When Gozolo died in 1044, Henry III split the two duchies up again between Godfrey, who received Upper Lothringia, and his brother.
Godfrey felt wronged by this decision and began feuding against the emperor. Though Godfrey had to concede defeat several times and lost the duchy of Upper Lothringia, he retained huge support amongst the Lothringian nobles. Henry III could never really gain control of Lothringia. The ambitious counts of Flanders were the main beneficiaries of the power vacuum his wars with Godfrey created. The counts of Flanders put together a territory that after many iterations ended up as the country of Belgium.
During his conflict with the emperor Godfrey made a great political move. He married Beatrix, widow of Count Boniface of Tuscany. That gave him control of a broad stretch of land across central Italy, from Mantua to Florence. Sometime later he would also acquire the duchy of Spoleto, giving him control over access to Rome and hence the papacy.
In 1056, Godfrey’s archenemy, emperor Henry III died. The crown went to his 6-year-old son Henry IV and his mother, Agnes of Poitou.
This event was not just significant for Godfrey who would gain the duchy of Lower Lothringia under the new regime, but even more for the papacy.
The elevation of pope Leo IX in 1046 had kickstarted the reform of the papacy, which was part of a broader church reform movement. Church reform focused on ending Simony, the practice of buying and selling holy offices and curbing the licentiousness of priests, including the marriage of clerics. The papacy itself was being reorganised. Leo IX created the college of Cardinals and began to proactively get involved in church policy across western Europe, either personally or through papal legates. This is the beginning of the universal papacy we know today.
The papal reform had initially been sponsored by emperor Henry III. Henry III freed the papacy from the chokehold of the Roman aristocracy. The great Roman families had dominated the papacy until 1046, appointing and dismissing popes at will.
After emperor Henry III had died the reform party was concerned that once the current pope, Victor II, died, the Roman aristocracy would come back. They turned to Godfrey as the only power in Italy that could offer protection during the regency.
It is hence no surprise that the reform-minded bishops elected Godfrey’s brother as pope Stephen IX within two days of receiving note of Pope Victor II’s death. Stephen IX lasted only 8 months, hence the issue came up again in March 1058. This time the Roman Aristocracy were quicker and elected one of their own as Pope Benedict X before the reform-minded party managed to elect someone.
The reform leaders, including the future pope Gregory VII fled to Godfrey’s capital of Florence. There they elected the local bishop as pope Nicolas II. Godfrey provided the muscle that brought Nicolas II into Rome and on to the throne of St. Peter.
Pope Nicholas II presided over the synod of 1059 where the process for papal election was first established. Instead of imperial appointment or acclamation by the people of Rome, the pope was to be elected by the Cardinal Bishops, a process that still takes place today.
Thanks to Godfrey’s support the papacy could hold its own against the Roman aristocracy and, at the same time free itself from the imperial dominance. Two papal elections later, pope Gregory VII will excommunicate Emperor (at the time only king) Henry IV which will lead to the famous scene of the most powerful ruler in Europe kneeling in the snow before the pope in the castle of Canossa. Godfrey will be dead by then, but his stepdaughter, Mathilda of Tuscany, whose castle Canossa was, will play another key role in the story of the Investiture Controversy.
All this is still to come on the History of the Germans Podcast, though we are getting close. If you want to catch up, check out the Episodes 26-30 where we go through the reign of emperor Henry III and the regency of his wife Agnes of Poitou. The podcast is – as always – available on my website www.historyofthegermans.com and links to Apple, Spotify etc. are here: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen