Our history of the Hanse has come to an end, not with a bang but with a whimper. Of the things that have remained we have already talked a lot, the ideal of the honourable Hanseatic merchant, the cultural and political links to Scandinavia and the stories. The stories of the famous pirates, Klaus Störtebecker and Hans Benecke, the heroics of the wars fought with Denmark and the antics of Jurgen Wullenwever.

But there is something that reminds us of the days when traders speaking low German fed Europe fish, beer and grain. And that are the cultural achievements, the town halls, weighing houses and stores that became symbols of civic pride, the artists whose works adorn churches and palaces across the Baltic sea and last but not least the brick churches that shaped the way these cities still appear..…let’s have a look.


Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 127: The Art and Culture of the Hanse.

Our history of the Hanse has come to an end, not with a bang but with a whimper. Of the things that have remained we have already talked a lot, the ideal of the honourable Hanseatic merchant, the cultural and political links to Scandinavia and the stories. The stories of the famous pirates, Klaus Störtebecker and Hans Benecke, the heroics of the wars fought with Denmark and the antics of Jurgen Wullenwever.

But there is something that reminds us of the days when traders speaking low German fed Europe fish, beer and grain. And that are the cultural achievements, the town halls, weighing houses and stores that became symbols of civic pride, the artists whose works adorn churches and palaces across the Baltic sea and last but not least the brick churches that shaped the way these cities still appear..…let’s have a look.

And since podcasting is a most unsuitable medium to talk about visual art, I have added a few images to the episode webpage which you can find at historyofthegermans.com/127-2

But before we start it is my privilege to thank all the patrons who have signed up on patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website, historyofthegermans.com. Your help is much appreciated. And for those of you who are still on the sidelines, come and join. You can become a knight of the realm for the price of a cappuccino per month, equally stimulating, less calorific and much more prestigious. And here are the names of four amongst your number who have already taken the plunge: John C., Ole S., Luis-Felipe M. and Edward B. Thanks you guys so much.

Now back to the show. The Hanse ended officially in 1669 with the last Hanseatic diet. But for centuries afterwards the cities of Hamburg, Lubeck and Bremen were the caretakers of the remaining tangible possessions of the institutions, specifically the Kontor Buildings in London, Bruges and Antwerp. The three cities would also maintain joint embassies and consulates abroad and after the unification of Germany in 1871 maintain a Hanseatic representation in Berlin that lasted until 1933.

Thanks not only to this cooperation but multiple other factors, the three cities weren’t integrated into territorial states until the 20th century when Lubeck became part of Schleswig-Holstein. Hamburg and Bremen are still city states with their own state government and a seat in the Bundesrat, something the other great free imperial cities, Frankfurt, Nurnberg, Augsburg and Cologne to name just a few, did not achieve.

So, in a way one of the legacies of the Hanse is the existence of the city states of Hamburg and Bremen. But beyond the political, what is left today?

Let’s start with the language. One of the defining factors and some of the glue that kept the Hanse network together was the common language spoken by merchants from Novgorod to Bergen, Low German. As you may have noticed by now, I am no linguist and every time I comment on this topic, I find myself in hot water. So, I will not go into a detailed analysis of Low Middle German, Low Saxon and Low Franconian. There were clear differences between these languages/dialects but one important point was that they could understand each other easily, much more easily than they could understand people living south of a line from Cologne to Frankfurt an der Oder who spoke a version of High German. Whether this linguistic gap was a function or a cause for the great rift between the Emperors and the Saxons that dominated the 11th to 13th century, I am not qualified to comment on.

Low German-speaking area before the expulsion of almost all German-speakers from east of the Oder–Neisse line in 1945. Low German-speaking provinces of Germany east of the Oder, before 1945, were Pomerania with its capital Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland), where east of the Oder East Pomeranian dialects were spoken, and East Prussia with its capital Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), where Low Prussian dialects were spoken. Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) was also a Low German-speaking city before 1945. The dialect of Danzig (Danzig German) was also Low Prussian.

Low German was not only the language of the common people, but also the language of business and of law. Since most of the Hanse cities on the Baltic had adopted the law of the city of Lubeck, the court cases were held in the dialect of that city. Likewise, the cities who had adopted Magdeburg Law often adopted that dialect for their legal procedures.

In the 14th century Low German, in particular the version spoken in Lubeck, replaced Latin not only in the local courts but also as the language of diplomacy and politics. The records of the Hanseatic diets had originally been kept in Latin. But from 1369 onwards, i.e., from the time of the victory over the Danish king Waldemar Atterdag, the Hanse kept their records in Low German. Not only that, the Hanse was in such a powerful position, it could insist on the use of Low German even in correspondence with the Scandinavian rulers and the Flemish cities. This transition to the common tongue instead of Latin happened somewhat earlier in the Hanse than for instance in France, where Francois 1 declared French the official language only in 1539. Why that is we can only speculate. One reason may be that many city officials who had spent their life trading, simply never learned enough Latin. Equally, some of the smaller Hanse cities could not or did not want to pay for a scribe proficient in Latin. And finally, the church and its Latin-speaking clergy played a much smaller role in the world these men and women inhabited than they did in the rest of Europe.

Low German may have become the language of business, law and politics, but did not gain much traction as a literary language. Most of the literature of the time, like the Minnelieder and chivalric Romances were written and read in Middle High German. The one literary works that gained national significance was Reineke Fuchs, the story of the wily fox who escapes from an ever-mounting pile of evidence of his wrongdoings by framing his archenemy, Isegrim the wolf. The story of the clever fox is just one iteration of a well-known tale that goes back the Aesop and the Roman de Renart in the 13th century and continued well into the Fantastic Mr. Fox. But Reinecke Fuchs was the most successful version in the German lands and after translation into High German was even picked up much later by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Reynke de vos: Incipit der Lübecker Inkunabel von 1498

Really great literature from the Hanse cities came in the 20th century, to name just the giants, there is the Mann family, Thomas, Heinrich, Erika, Klaus and Golo probably the most gifted literary family in the German language. Gunther Grass you already met. Wolfgang Borchert is another one of my favourites. I could go on. They all wrote in High German.

Though the belletristic literature wasn’t exactly the late medieval Hansards cup of tea, history was. From very early on the cities or the patrician societies sponsored writers to record the past of their cities, which is why we have a fairly uninterrupted record of historic events all throughout the Middle Ages.

The use of Low German in commercial and political communications declined almost exactly in line with the decline in the influence of the Hanse. In part that was due to the Lutheran church that emphasised Luther’s translation of the bible into high German and from 1530 published all church communications in high German. At the same time the southern German traders like the Fugger took an ever-larger role as counterparts to the Hanse merchants and they insisted on High German. The reforms of the imperial administration and legal system by Maximilian I and Charles V shifted the legal language to High German. Finally, the Renaissance led to a revival in the use of Latin.

By 1631 even Lubeck had changed the language of its announcements to the general population from Low German to High German. Low German became the language of the lower classes whilst the patricians and university educated professionals spoke High German. The same process took place in the Hanse cities along the Baltic Coast, in Gdansk, Riga, Tallin and East Prussia. Since the late 19th century efforts have been made to rehabilitate Low German. Authors write in the language and one of Hamburg’s largest parks is called Planten un Blomen, a forthright description so characteristic for Northern Germany.  Today Low German or Plattdeutsch is recognised as a regional language and submissions in low Germans have to be accepted by courts and authorities.

Plamnten un Blomen – Hamburg

A rather unexpected element of Hanseatic culture was a love for chivalric romances and their heroes. As we mentioned before a couple of times, the patricians despite most of them being in trade, saw themselves the equals of the knights and lower aristocracy. They did engage in aristocratic pastimes like hunts and tournaments. Moreover, they did get very fond of the nine great heroes or nine worthies. This is rather motley crew comprising three heroes of antiquity, Hector, Alexander and Julius Caesar, three chivalric heroes of the Old Testament, Joshua, David and Judas Maccabaeus, and finally three Christian heroes, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon. Nobody can explain what drove this choice, but we find them most beautifully depicted in the Hansa hall of the Rathaus of Cologne and the Beautiful Fountain in Nurnberg.

9 gute Helden im Hansasaal des Rathauses Köln

One of those, King Arthur seemed to have struck a particular chord with the citizens of Prussia. The cities of Danzig, Elbing, Riga and Stralsund all had Artus Courts where the patricians met and pretended they were the knights of the round table. Chivalric heroes were pressed into service as defenders of citizens’ freedoms. Reinold of Montauban, one of the four sons of count Aymon became the patron saint and defender of Dortmund whilst statues of the mighty Roland proliferated from Bremen across the Hanse world.

Chivalric heroes were pressed into service as defenders of citizens’ freedoms. Reinold of Montauban, one of the four sons of count Aymon became the patron saint and defender of Dortmund whilst statues of the mighty Roland proliferated from Bremen across the Hanse world.

Reinoldus – patron saint of Dortmund

Painting and sculpture is something that rarely comes to mind when talking about the Hanse. Many great museums in Germany are today in the cities that had once been the capitals of powerful princes with huge budgets for representation, rather than in places dominated by sober merchants. Berlin, Munich, Dresden inherited and then expanded these princely collections. Others like Cologne and Nurnberg had been made centres for the great national collections in archaeology and art. But Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck do not often feature on the bucket list of art lovers. A bit unfairly I have to say since for instance the Kunsthalle in Hamburg houses very interesting exhibitions.

That does not mean that there weren’t some astounding artist active during the heyday of the Hanse. Like everywhere in Europe the congregations in the Hanse cities did their utmost to fill their churches with great pieces of art. Wooden sculptures and monumental altarpieces were their preferred donations. There are a few names of artist we know, like Bertram of Minden and Master Francke from Hamburg. If you want to see works by the latter, there are some in Hamburg, but the largest, most complete work is in the Finnish National Museum. It got there because it was in a small church in a place called Kalanti, today part of modern town of 14,000 people that I cannot pronounce. Seemingly Kalanti was a large enough trading post in the 14th century to order a piece of art from a Hamburg master.

The greatest of these Hanse artists was probably Bernt Notke (1440 to 1509). He had travelled extensively, learning his craft in the Netherlands and in Italy, where he got heavily influenced by Mantegna. He set up shop in Lubeck stayed in Sweden for 15 years where he became the master of the royal mint before returning back to Lubeck. His works can be found in many Hanse cities, including in the church of St. Mary in Lubeck. But again, if you want to see his masterpieces you need to take a ship or plane. Though he was a renaissance artist he remained in many ways wedded to medieval themes and imagery. That is most visible in the Totentanz or Dance Macabre. A Totentanz is a motif that had emerged after the Black death and shows the whole of society from the emperor down to the lowly peasant dancing with grinning skeletons, reminding the viewer that the worldly joys of beauty, health and wealth are temporary and that the grim reaper is waiting for us all. Exceedingly cheerful I know. But Notke manages to depict the skeletons with so much verve and joy, one is almost compelled to join them in their pogo. There used to be two versions, a short one with 13 figures in Tallin and a 30 metre long and 1.9m high high freeze in the Marienkirche in Lubeck.

The Lubeck version had already deteriorated badly by 1701 and was replaced with a faithful copy that was much admired. In 1942 the authorities had a wooden cover built to protect the image against bomb damage. The Royal Air Force attack on Lubeck was the very first of the WWII bombing raids and the city was ill prepared. In particular the use of firebombs was unexpected. As the firestorm raged through the Marienkirche, the wooden cover caught fire and the Danse Macabre came to its long prophesised end.

Fortunately Notke’s greatest work survived World War II and it isn’t in Germany either. It is the altar of St. George in the church if St. Nikolai in Stockholm, the Storkyrkan. I have only seen pictures of it and if I ever get a chance to go to Stockholm this is #1 on the list. Commissioned by the Swedish regent Sten Sture who had made a solemn promise to honour St. George before the battle of Brunkeberg. That was the battle that threw out king Christian I of Denmark and led to the collapse of the Kalmar Union. Episode 123 if anyone wants to refresh your memory.

The battle of Brunkeberg was a hugely important event, but hey did Notke do it justice. Depictions of St. George are one a penny in European art, but I have not seen one before where St. George is sculpted in Wood, and including horse and Plinth is 20 feet tall, his sword raised, his horse rearing up in fear before the dragon. And what a dragon it is, not one of those cute little salamanders you normally see cowering at the feet of the saint, ready to be pierced by some dainty lance. No, this is a real dragon, a terrifying monster whose gargantuan mouth could easily swallow a horse’s head in one gulp. The animal has captured the lance and only a well-placed hit with the sword raised high can save St. George and the damsel in distress who praying nearby.

This was made at the same time as the much more famous early equestrian statues of Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice and Gattamalata in Padova but as Wilhelm Pinder said, it stands up to them as their Nordic counterpoint.

As amazing the St. George is, or seems to be, given I have never seen it in the flesh, painting and sculpture isn’t the most important legacy of the Hanse.

When we think of the great artistic achievements of the Hanse, we think of the humble brick and what could be created with it.

Now before we go into the whole topic of brick gothic, let us not forget that the Hanse comprised more than the towns on the Baltic and North Sea. The inland cities of the Hanse, Cologne, Dortmund, Muenster, Soest, Braunschweig did not build in brick, but in stone and boy did they create some amazing things. The city of Cologne is proud of its history as a free city and conveyed that pride in its town hall and the Gurzenich, a sort of party house with the largest dance floor in the Empire. And since the citizens of Cologne are a sensible bunch, they put a market hall on the ground floor. Muenster too has an impressive Rathaus dating back in parts to the 13th century and famous as the place where the peace of Westphalia was negotiated.  Dortmund has one of the oldest town halls amongst the stone-built cities, and Brunswick one of the most beautiful.

The cities in what art historians called the Hausteinzone or quarried stone area differed not just in terms of material from the brick-built cities from Riga to Bremen. The inland cities were much older than the Hanse cities east of the Elbe River. Not all have roots as deep as Cologne, but Brunswick, Muenster, Soest and Dortmund date back to the conquest of Saxony and featured Romanesque cathedrals and palaces that had already shaped their structure when the Hanse got going.

The cities of the brick-zone, with the exception of Bremen, did not have much if any stone buildings in the 12th century. Some were entirely new settlements like Riga and Tallin or grew up alongside Slavic settlements like in Danzig or Stettin. That left the merchant elite with carte blanche to build cities that reflected their idea of beauty and functionality. And by coincidence, just as they got going, a new architectural style was created back at the Abbaye of St. Denis in France, Gothic. And what added to the sense of consistency in the Hanse cities was that the Gothic style largely persisted well into the 16th century, after which many of these places declined in wealth and importance precluding major rebuilding projects.

The Hanse cities were often planned as rectangles with a market square in the middle. And that market square was to be fronted by a town hall, offering a place to trade, to meet your fellow citizens and to engage in politics. Most often the actual city hall was built on the first floor above the cloth hall whilst the cellar held the wine stores.

The Rathaus in Lubeck became the blueprint for many other brick-built town halls. It initially consisted of two separate comparatively modest buildings, one was the cloth hall and the other a place for social and political gatherings. These two buildings were connected and given a new joint facade. In the 14th century a new wing was added on the eastern side of the market square. And then in the 15th century a further extension was built, and all of that was built in brick.

One of the important things to know about brick is that it is a terrible material if you set your heart on decorating your brand-new town hall with statues, capitals and gargoyles. Brick just cannot really do that.

But still they did want some decoration and came up with a unique way to impress the importance and wealth of their city upon its visitors. They created monumental facades before the actual buildings that also reached well above the level of the roof line behind, serving no other purpose than decoration. The architects designed large round or pointed gothic openings that they then decorated with quatrefoils, rosettes or more intricate designs. They added finely chiselled gables and columns to add even more decoration. Stralsund is probably the most successful of these designs.

Beyond the town hall, we find similar features on other public buildings like the weighing houses, exchanges and city stores for salt, grain etc. And then the city’s merchants and artisans would compete to have the most impressive guildhall on the best spot on the market square.

But overlooking all of these were the churches. And that is another way in which the Hanse in the north differs from most cities. With the exception of Bremen there is no mighty cathedral that exceeds all other churches in size and splendour of decoration. Even in the cities that had their own bishop like Lubeck, Riga or Tallin, it was the parish church funded by the merchants that was the largest, the most sumptuously decorated and the one featuring the tallest tower.

The Hansards had a thing about having very tall towers. 125 metres seems to have been the standard to beat which keeps Lubeck, Riga and Tallin in the top 20 of highest churches in the world to this day, all taller than Salisbury Cathedral.  Allegedly St. Mary in Stralsund was even 151m high, which would have made it the highest building in the world until it was hit by lightening in 1549. These towers had a specific Hanse-related purpose. They could be seen from miles out at sea or downriver and as sailors returned from long journeys, they are cheered by this first glimpse of their hometown.

Brick architecture remained a key identifier of Hanse architecture, even though many masterpieces of brick gothic like Chorin monastery or the Teutonic Knights castle in Malbrok had little or no connection to the Hanse. When Hamburg reconnected culturally and architecturally with its Hanse roots, they chose visible brick to build the Speicherstadt and then in the 1920s developed an architectural style called Brick expressionism that gave us the Chile Haus, that rises like a curved red ocean liner out of the mass of houses near the Elbe.

It is this reconnecting to the Hanseatic traditions in the 1880s that did not only materialise in the architecture of Hamburg.

When Georg Sartorius sat down in 1802 to write the very first modern history of the Hanse, he did so because he sought refuge from the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, believing that nothing could be further from contemporary politics that this “half-forgotten antiquity”.

But he was quite thoroughly wrong. As a faithful listener to the History of the Germans you know that right around this time historians and pseudo historians began combing through Europe’s past in the hope of finding some German hero stories that could be woven into a new national narrative.

And what could be better than a story of a maritime empire that once controlled the Baltic Sea, beat the Kings of Denmark and England in war and left behind magnificently romantic cities. Quickly the Hanse, that famously had nor organisation, no army and, crucially, no desire to go to war when it could be avoided, was painted as an expansionist united maritime power that rivalled the English and French and was only prevented from conquering the new world by the lack of a strong German state.

Now I initially wanted to go into this in a lot more detail. But as it happened, I may have secured an interview with the person who has literally written the book about the perception of the Hanse in the 19th, 20th and now the 21st century. So, I do not want to forerun this interview, which may come out in mid-December.

And that gets me to the plan for the next Season, the Teutonic Knights. I will probably need as usual 2 to 3 weeks of preparation for that. That might mean no episodes until the end of November, except for maybe some short pieces on little gems I came across along the way.

And just to keep you guys excited about coming back, let me tell you what comes after the Teutonic Knights. We will get back to the chronological narrative. We will resume the story of the Holy Roman empire where we left off, at the death of Konradin. We will wade through the blood-soaked decades of the interregnum that brings one Rudolf von Habsburg to the throne, just in time for him to gain his family the duchy of Austria with well-known consequences. But before the Habsburgs get to settle on the imperial throne for good, history has granted us the Luxemburgers, Henry VII, Charles IV and Sigismund, fascinating figures who shaped Europe from their capital in Prague. I hope you will come along for the journey.

Bremen was geographically and politically quite different from the other cities, ploughing its own furrow. In response the other Hansards did not trust the citizens of Bremen. There is also the minor issue that Bremen sheltered a lot of pirates. Still as the Hanse declined politically, Bremen took on an ever-larger role until becoming one of the last three Hanseatic Cities that kept that long-dead medieval relic plodding along until the late 19th century. A story of rebellion, stubbornness, piracy and emigration to America, I thought worth telling.

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 126 – A brief History of Bremen

The initial idea for this episode was to draw this season to a close with a talk about the art and culture of the Hanse. But then, when I started drafting, I realised that I have almost entirely omitted one of the great Hanseatic cities from our narrative, Bremen. And that isn’t right. One cannot have a 20 episode podcast series on the Hanseatic League and not talk about Bremen. But it wasn’t that I skipped Bremen on purpose. The reason Bremen barely featured in our narrative is that Bremen had a very ambivalent relationship with the Hanse.

Bremen was geographically and politically quite different from the other cities, ploughing its own furrow. In response the other Hansards did not trust the citizens of Bremen. There is also the minor issue that Bremen sheltered a lot of pirates. Still as the Hanse declined politically, Bremen took on an ever-larger role until becoming one of the last three Hanseatic Cities that kept that long-dead medieval relic plodding along until the late 19th century. A story of rebellion, stubbornness, piracy and emigration to America, I thought worth telling.

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Back to the show. When I said Bremen hadn’t featured much in the History of the Germans, what I meant was the city of Bremen, not its archbishops. Those we have met many times. In Episode 96 we talked about Ansgar, the 9th century archbishop of Hamburg who had to retreat to Bremen in the face of Viking raids.

From the 10th century onwards the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen kept clashing with the great Saxon nobles over the treatment of the Slavs on the other side of the Elbe. The archbishops wanted to convert them so that their bishopric could expand into Scandinavia and the Baltic States. The dukes and counts mostly just wanted to plunder. You may remember the story of Adalbert, one of Bremen’s most formidable archbishops and Gottschalk, the prince of the Abodrites in episode 101.

The reign of Adalbert in the 11th century was the highpoint of archepiscopal influence. He had been the almighty chief minister of Henry III and later the young emperor Henry IV. Adalbert had been offered the papacy by Henry III but turned it down, preferring to build out his archepiscopal see in Bremen and Hamburg. That ended in 1066 when the emperor had to dismiss Adalbert under pressure from his court, an event that led ultimately to a hardening of the imperial position, which led to the Saxon revolt which contributed to the Investiture controversy and Canossa, basically most of Season 2 of the Podcast.

After Adalbert it went sharply downhill with the archbishops of hamburg-Bremen. They kept faith with the imperial side during the wars between the Saxon nobles and the emperor and supported him in his conflict with Pope Gregory VII. That put them straight into the crosshairs of the dukes of Saxony. The dukes, supported by their friends amongst the Saxon nobles and even emperor Henry V constantly degraded the power of the archbishops. The archbishopric was at one point the metropolitan see for all of Scandinavia from the Faroer islands to Uppsala, but that ended when the pope elevated the bishop of Lund to archbishop. At which point the archbishopric had only three subordinate bishoprics, Oldenburg, Ratzeburg and Schwerin.

One last moment of hope came when Hartwig, the heir of the wealthy county of Stade became archbishop and proposed to make the archbishopric the heir to his fortune a story we looked at in episode 108. That could have made a huge difference to this archdiocese which was now by far the poorest and least significant archbishopric in the empire. But that was not to be. Henry the Lion coveted the lands of Stade and being best mates with the emperor Barbarossa, managed to expel Hartwig from his ancestral lands. And as a final nail in the coffin, the emperor also removed the three remaining suffragan bishoprics from Bremish control, handing them over to Henry the Lion.

That is the situation in the 12th century when the Hanse is getting going. Bremen, an ancient city is the seat and only possession of the poorest archbishop imaginable.

The archbishop may have become poorer and poorer in the 300 years from 900 to 1200, but the city and its burghers had prospered in the medieval economic boom.

Bremen is in a very attractive geographical position. It sits near the mouth of the Weser River, roughly 50 km from the North Sea. That sounds like a long way, but the river is still tidal down to the city which allowed even larger ships to come up all the way. Moreover, the city sits on the highest point of a 23km long ancient sand dune that gives it a mighty elevation of 15.2m above sea level. Not exactly alpine but given the vast marches between Bremen and the sea averaging an elevation of just 3.3m, the significance of this dune becomes clear. Bremen was one of the few places for miles around where your feet remained dry even in High Water.

The Weser is one of the three main German rivers going into the North Sea. The largest and commercially most important is the Rhine, which gave rise to the wealth of Cologne. The next significant is the Elbe which comes all the way from beyond Prague and through its various tributaries connects Dresden, Leipzig, Erfurt, Halle, Magdeburg, Berlin and Luneburg to Hamburg.

The Weser is the shortest of these three, less than half the length of Elbe and Rhine. But still the river connects some important medieval trading centres with the North Sea, namely Hannoversch Munden, Eisenach, Hameln, Minden, Hannover, Celle and foremost of all, Brunswick.

Being able to collect products from such a large hinterland, Bremen embarked on fruitful trading relationships with England, the Low Countries, Norway and Scotland well before the Hanse and Lubeck in particular got going.

Bremen traded in many of the wares other Hanse cities traded in. Grain, Wood and most importantly Beer were great exports going North. One of Bremen’s beer specialities was Grut-beer made without hops but with a variety of herbs, which made it stronger and more aromatic. Bremen was the first of the German cities that exported beer into the Low Countries. But that position did only last until the early 14th century when Hamburg took over. The difference was that the council in Hamburg maintained strict quality controls in beermaking, whilst Bremen did not. Unscrupulous makers of cheap beer eroded the Bremen beer brand. For the avoidance of angry mail, let me assure you that this problem has been resolved by now and Bremen hosts Becks, one of Germany’s most famous and most delicious brands of beer.

The Wine trade seems to have been of huge importance too. The Bremer Ratskeller, technically a restaurant in the vaults under the Rathaus but in reality one of the preeminent distributors of quality wine in Germany was first mentioned in 1342. One key export market for wine from Bremen was Scotland, a rather unexpected pairing.

In the other direction Bremen merchants brought fish from Norway and Denmark as well as cloth from England and Flanders up the Weser River into what is today Lower Saxony, Thuringia and Hesse.

One trade that would start much later in the 17th century was Coffee. Bremen had the first coffee house in Germany and still today some of Germany’s best known coffee brands like Jacobs, HAG and Eduscho come from Bremen.

So, in many ways Bremen was a perfect fit for the Hanse. Similar products and similar target markets in Flanders, England and Norway.

But in many other ways it wasn’t. Bremen was oriented on a North-South direction, similar to Cologne. The Hanse’s focus on the Baltic and the trade between East and West had little interest for Bremen. In fact, many of the Hansards provided unwelcome competition to the traders in Bremen.

Beyond the differences in economic conditions, the city of Bremen was also politically in a very different position. Bremen lay at the outer edge of the Hanse territory. The closest Hanse cities were Stade and Buxtehude, both more than 80km away. Instead, their neighbours were to the south the powerful dukes of Brunswick, the descendants of Henry the Lion. To the West and North were the Frisian chieftains and the counts of Oldenburg, powers who played little role in imperial politics but had a habit of devastating each other’s lands with a sheer incessant set of feuds.

The major flashpoint between Bremen and its neighbours was the control of the Weser River all the way to the sea. The city tried to reduce attacks on shipping in the river by first building castles along its banks. When that failed, they tried to wrestle the whole territory from their rulers, which made Bremen one of the few, if not the only Hanse city with serious territorial ambitions.

And the social structure is different too. The ruling families, at least until the mid 14th century were landowners and rentiers who had become rich in the service of the archbishops, not the successful merchants. In 1304/5 a first crisis was caused by the murder of a member of that city aristocracy. The subsequent feud ended with the creation of a new statute for the city that reduced the power of some of the Geschlechter, the great aristocratic houses. The story repeated itself in 1349 when an aristocrat accidentally murdered a merchant member of the council, creating another armed conflict that ended with the expulsion of another batch of aristocrats. The council is reorganised in 1308 and 1330 and now recruits from three separate groups, the first are members of the 30 patrician families, the second, the Meenheit, are representatives of the upper middle classes, the artisans and smaller merchants  and finally the Wittheit, a sort of assembly of experts.

And finally, there was still the archbishop, technically the overlord of the city.

These differences may explain why Bremen had been expelled from the Hanse on multiple occasions. The first time in 1285 when the Hanse was forcing the king of Norway to accept the privileges for the Kontor in Bergen. Bremen had been trading with Norway and exporting stockfish from before Lubeck was even re-founded by Henry the Lion. They hence saw no reason to support the Hanse interlopers in their embargo. Their calculation was that if they would support the Norwegians, they would gain all the privileges the other Hansards were trying to gain by force. Let’s just say it did not work out and Bremen took a long time to get back into the Stockfish trade.

One of the problems with a history of Bremen is that material and secondary sources are much thinner on the ground than elsewhere. Why that is I have no idea, but even the simple question of whether Bremen was involved with the Hanse after the expulsion of 1285 seems hard to answer.

If they were, they were at best a junior partner. But maybe they were just ploughing their own furrow for the next 70 years. Because the next confirmed interaction with the Hanse in in 1358 when Bremen is begging to be admitted back in.

In 1358 Bremen is on its knees. A whole host of night soil men had decanted their commodities over the heads of its unsuspecting citizens. 

It started with what should have been a routine affair. The old archbishop, Otto I was gravely ill and had left the administration of the archbishopric to his nephew, Maurice of Oldenburg. When Otto died in 1348, Maurice was duly elected by the cathedral chapter to get the title for the job he was already doing. But he wasn’t the only candidate.

Godfrey of Arnsberg, the bishop of Osnabruck also wanted to be archbishop and so he bribed the pope Clement VI in Avignon to make him archbishop, which he duly did. The city council initially supported Maurice of Oldenburg. But when Maurice was out of town on business, Godfrey came in and managed to get the city council to accept him.

As was entirely predictable Maurice returned with his supporters and besieged the city. The walls were strong, but the attackers were many. As the battle was waving back and forth, people started to complain about unusual symptoms. Many reported fever, abdominal pain and bleeding. Their skin and tissue had turned black and shortly after the first symptoms appeared, most fell over dead.

The Black Death had arrived. It raged much more ferociously on the Weser than in any other Hanse city. Somewhere between half and two-thirds of its 15,000 inhabitants perished. Warfare had to stop, and the two combatants decided that Godfrey would get the title and Maurice would get the job.

Once the plague had subsided the city needed to rebuild its population. The council therefore opened its gates to anyone, including serfs to come and live in Bremen as free men and women.

That sat increasingly awkward with the count of Hoya who had become archbishop Godfrey’s strongest supporter. The count whose lands lay south of Bremen was losing tenants and serfs by the busload, something he could ill afford since half of his labourers had died as well and the land lay fallow. So, he demanded, in the name of the archbishop, that the serfs and tenants were to be sent back to him. In an unusual act of mercy and compassion, or out of fear the city could simply empty out, the city council refused.

At which point the parties decide to resolve the problem of depopulation by resuming hostilities. Things do not go well for the city and Bremen loses a battle in which several members of the council are taken hostage. The cost of the war and the ransom for the captured councillors ruin the already fragile finances of the city.

In an attempt to restore their fortunes, the citizens of Bremen beg the Hanse for admission after having tried to go it alone for so long. They are admitted and the burghers are preparing to get ready for some much-needed uptick in trade activity.

But no, bad timing. Just as Bremen was joining up things in Bruges had hit boiling point. 1358 was the year the Hanse issued one of its embargoes against Flanders. Trade with one of Bremen’s most important markets had to stop.

The desperate Bremer merchants say sod this for a game of soldiers. So, they break the embargo. At which point the Hanse comes down on them like a ton of bricks. Stick with the embargo or you are expelled and blocked from all Hanse ports. So, they go along, join the embargo taking even more pain.

Meanwhile on the enemy’s side things aren’t going well either. The count of Hoya also spends a lot of cash on war and weapons, cash he does not have. So, he looks for help and finds it in the form of the duke of Brunswick. But the duke’s help has a price. You guessed it, that price is the archbishopric of Bremen.

The count had to get his ally Godfrey to surrender the archbishopric and pass it on to the son of the duke of Brunswick, Albrecht II. A deal is made, Albrecht is confirmed by another bribeable pope and hey presto, we now have three archbishops. Maurice, Godfrey and Albrecht. But thanks to the superior weapons of the duke of Brunswick we find ourselves in 1362 in a situation where there is only one archbishop left, Albrecht II. Albrecht II brokers a peace agreement between the count of Hoya and Bremen. The embargo against Flanders had ended in 1360. Everything should now be fine.

It should, but it wasn’t. The city was still broke from paying the ransom for the captured councillors. Hence a special tax was introduced to repay the debt.

I guess we all know about what happens when special taxes are levied on the artisans and middle classes for projects that provide them with few or no benefits. If paying for the Stecknitz canal caused a large rebellion in Lubeck, guess what happened in Bremen when they asked the little people to pay the ransom for the moneybags on the City Council.  

The lower classes gathered together in what they called the Grande Cumpanien first to vent their grievances about the tax but that soon turned into demands to overthrow the 30 families, to have elected council members and just generally freedom!. On the morning of September 16, 1365 a large crowd assembled for a demonstration that quickly got out of hand. Leaders of the Grande Cumpanie raised the city banner and armed their followers. They broke into the homes of prominent council members, pushed and shoved them around and said very rude things about their mothers. But they did not apprehend or seriously harm anyone.

The retaliation of the patricians came swiftly. Remember that a wealthy city councillor lived a lifestyle not very different to a knight in the countryside. Most of them were trained in all the knightly arts, namely in the art of killing. These guys put on their armour, closed the gates and rode out to slaughter the insurrectionists – successfully as you would imagine. By the evening 18 leaders of the rebellion have been captured, convicted and executed.  The surviving insurrectionists fled in the night. Their possessions are seized and used to repay the city’s debt.

Ok, that was painful, but now things should be ok, right?

Ah, no, still not. There is our archbishop, Albrecht II, who turns out to be a bit of a bad egg. Albrecht’s biggest problem was that he liked to spend money, including money he did not have. Well, mostly money he did not have.

And the need for money made him do some odd things, including becoming a pirate. The archbishop had an accomplice, Johann Hollemann, the black sheep of family of Bremen patricians. Hollemann had been a successful pirate since the 1350s causing no end of problems for his hometown. But they couldn’t really do much about him since he lived in a fortified castle inside the city of Bremen and had lots of money and connections. Archbishop and noble pirate kept plundering ships that had taken the ground at low tide, claiming they were subject to salvage.

Given this level of financial urgency, archbishop Albrecht was very excited when the surviving insurrectionists from Bremen knocked on his door, a group that included his pirate buddy, Johann Hollemann. Together they came up with a plan to get hold of the city of Bremen and seize the wealth of its great patricians. The archbishop was to hire some mercenaries and Hollemann and the others would organise another uprising.

In the night of 28th to 29th of May the conspirators opened the gates to the archbishop’s soldiers. They quickly take the strategic positions inside the city. The Patricians had erected a wooden statue of Roland, the paladin of Charlemagne and by some warped logic the representation of the city’s independence. That statue was burned. And the usual murdering and settling of scores occurred. Now it was the turn of the patrician members of the Council to flee the city.

A new constitution was introduced that granted the artisans and their guilds the deciding vote in the selection of the members of the council. Bremen was to become a city ruled by the Middle classes under the benign overlordship of the archbishop-pirate Albrecht II.

That experiment in church-sponsored democracy was cut short. The exiled old council, much like their opponents had done only a few months earlier looked round for support. The Hanse immediately expelled the rebellious city. But Konrad of Oldenburg was the man to bring the old order back. After just 4 weeks, the regime of the lower classes, led by the pirate Johannes Hollemann collapsed. The Oldenburger’s army entered Bremen with the help of those who did not want to return under archepiscopal control. The insurrectionists were caught and killed on the spot. Johannes Hollemann was besieged in his castle in the city and once the soldiers had entered, they hanged him and his men in front of the house, or according to other accounts had him broken on the wheel.

Only after that does calm return to Bremen. The patricians accept that to avoid future rebellions the artisans and their guilds need to get better representation on the council. The archbishop Albrecht II is forced to give up most of his rights in the city, apart from a small district around the cathedral.

The role of the bishop in the city’s affairs diminishes even further when Albrecht II’s money problems compound after his capitulation. He offers rights like coinage and market rights as security for loans from the city. When he cannot pay back the city seizes these rights and mints coins until 1862.

And there is a final humiliation left for Albrecht II. In 1376 a member of his cathedral chapter claimed the archbishop was a Hermaphrodite. Albrecht II had to counter these claims by submitting to a public examination of his private parts, not something that increased his standing much.

The subsequent period of peace and independence from the archbishop brings about a huge improvement in the prosperity of the city. Bremen conquered the lands on the left and right bank of the Weser going down to the mouth of the River.

Its most famous monuments date from that time. The City Hall was built in 1405 to 1410. And obviously the mighty Roland, symbol of the city is rebuilt in stone. He looks straight at the front gate of the cathedral on the other side of the market square as a sign of defiance of the independent city from the archbishop. The merchants erect their guildhall, the Schutting on the market square. The current splendid building dates from the 16th century but there was a great assembly hall there since 1444.

Despite the economic improvement social tensions remain. Bremen’s history in the 15th and 16th century is punctuated with regular uprisings. In 1427 they kill their patrician Burgomaster which results in a renewed expulsion from the Hanse and even an imperial ban  that lasted until 1438.

The reformation came in 1524 and the city quickly converted. In 1532 Bremen saw a populist uprising similar to the Wullenwever episode in Lubeck but without the foreign policy lunacy that followed there. Bremen oscillated between Lutheranism and Calvinism for nearly 120 years. In 1563 Bremen declared for Calvinism and was expelled from the Hanse for it, but just 13 years later was re-admitted without having changed its religious position.

In 1599 Bremen begins the construction of extensive fortifications. The change in military technology required a fundamental rethinking of the way a city could withstand attacks. The works lasted all in until 1664 but by the time the 30-years war comes around, Bremen is one of the best defended cities in the German lands. In fact, the same is true for Hamburg and Lübeck. Thanks to these enormous walls and bastions the three Hanseatic cities survived the catastrophe largely unscathed. In fact even the inland members of the Hanse did manage comparatively well with the exception of Magdeburg that suffered one of the most famous atrocities of this brutal conflict.

But their survival wasn’t enough to revive the Hanse. Sweden and Denmark have become the dominant territorial states in what used to the naval monopoly of the Hanse. Many once great Hanse cities have accepted Swedish control, like Riga, Visby and Tallin. Wismar and Stralsund too were taken over by the Swedes, whilst Rostock was incorporated into Mecklenburg. The archbishopric of Bremen had become a duchy that was held by the king of Sweden, surrounding the city and incorporating Stade. Denmark stretched to Altona once a town outside the gates of Hamburg and now a part of the city. Many of the inland cities too have finally succumbed to the constant pressure from their territorial overlords, with Cologne and Brunswick the notable exceptions.

In 1629 the Hanseatic diet proposed that only three cities, Bremen, Hamburg and Lubeck were to represent the Hanse from now on. There were more Hanseatic Diets in the 40 years thereafter. In 1669 the last gathering took place.  At that diet no major decisions were taken. It is likely that most participants despite the gloomy atmosphere and meagre attendance realised this was the last time.

There was never a formal decision to dissolve the Hanse. It simply vanished from the political scene. The three cities, Bremen, Hamburg and Lubeck remained legally in charge of the Hanse assets, namely to Kontor buildings most if which were barely used and no longer held any privileges. Weird traditions continued. Lubeck would for example send an emissary to the now entirely empty beach where once the great herring market of Scania had taken place and declared the privileges of the Hanse of the Merchants of the Holy Roman Empire. Only the gulls were listening.

As for Bremen, the city found a new trading destination, the United States. From 1783 Bremen became the #1 port for ships going from Germany to North America. The main export goods were people. Between 1832 and 1960 about 7 million Germans emigrated to the US via Bremerhaven, the port Bremen had built on the mouth of the Weser. 

Bremen and Hamburg survived the tides of history as independent city states until today. That status changed only twice. During the time of the Napoleonic Bremen became part of the French department of the Bouches de Weser and Hamburg of the Bouches d’Elbe. And during the Nazi Regime Bremen and Bremerhafen were incorporated into the Reichsgau Weser-Ems whilst Hamburg was extended to become Gross-Hamburg.

Bremen the smallest of the German Länder maintains many of its historic traditions. The Haus Seefahrt is one of Europe’s oldest charities looking after retired captains and their wives and widows since 1545. They will hold the annual Schaffermahlzeit a splendid dinner for up to 500 people in the great hall of the Rathaus for the 480th time in February 2024. Standing at the windows the guests can see the mighty Roland that still staring defiantly at the gates of the Cathedral from where a higher authority once unsuccessfully tried to suppress the city’s independence. On the right they see the Schutting with the merchant guild’s motto embossed in gold – Buten un Binnen, Wagen un Winnen, away and at home we risk and we win.

We may have reached the end of the Hanse’s history, but that is not yet the end of the series. You have been here long enough to know that the History of the Germans does not close a series with the demise of its subject. Everything in German history has an afterlife, and the Hanse is no exception. So next week we will take a look at the tangible and intangible remains of the Hanse. I hope you will join us again.

And as always let me thank all the patrons who have signed up on patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website, historyofthegermans.com. Your support is what has kept this show going for 2 and a half years and should keep us moving forward for many years to come.

It is hard to believe, but the last years of Henry IV’s tumultuous reign still held one final humiliation that capped the pain this man had already endured.

And that despite a period of relative stability which began after his return to Germany in 1097. Henry IV had accepted that his rule could not be one more than a First amongst Equals. He reconciled with his enemies in Swabia and Bavaria, largely by bribing them with valuable crown lands and settled into his new favourite residence in Mainz. The only one he did take issue with was the archbishop of Mainz for his involvement in the murder of the Jewish community under his protection.

He even attempted a lasting reconciliation with the Gregorian papacy admitting to having broken the unity of the holy mother church. But the new Pope, Paschalis II was not playing ball, leaving this issue as an open wound…long after the antipope Clement III had died.

The internal weakness of his regime became apparent when one of the guests at his imperial assembly in Regensburg ends up murdered by Ministeriales…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of the year 1105 was spent in military walkabout whereby Henry V failed to successfully challenge his father but gradually gains control of Southern Germany. One great coup was to get hold of the 15 year old Frederick II of Swabia, the son of Henry IV’s great ally Frederick of Hohenstaufen who had died the year before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1095 Pope Urban II launches the First Crusade. Emperor Henry IV and his allies would rather be strung up below a beehive covered in honey than join a scheme devised by the Gregorian Pope.

Does that mean no Germans take part? No, the lack of support by their high aristocrats did not stop the common people. While most of them perish before the crusade had even really begun, some turn their religious fervour into a very different endeavour, bringing untold pain to the Jewish communities of Worms, Mainz, Trier, Metz, Prague and elsewhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Worms he then travelled to Mainz. If you have any notion of geography, you might realise that Emich and his followers are travelling North, not exactly the direction of Jerusalem. Archbishop Rothard did close the gates against the crusaders. But Emich’s arrival triggered riots within the city during which a Christian was killed. The rioters opened the gates and Emich’s forces enter. Again, the Jews seek shelter in the bishop’s palace, and again it is overrun. Resistance against the overwhelming numbers was futile. Some may have been prepared to convert, or at least pretend to convert, but many preferred to die for their faith, either from the enemy’s sords or by suicide.

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

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

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

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

This slaughter cost another possibly more than 800 lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His coronation barely two months hence, Henry IV leaves Rome without being able to capture Pope Gregory VII. The Pope’s powerful vassal, Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and greatest of Norman warlords was approaching with an army of 36,000.

Henry does not fancy a long siege in a malaria infested swamp with a hostile city population. He no longer needs Rome, what he needs to do is get back to Germany and bring peace to the war-ravaged country.

A U-turn in his policies helps to gain support amongst bishops and magnates so that by 1089, the country is largely pacified for the first time in 17 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before we start a just a reminder. The History of the Germans Podcast is advertising free thanks to the generous support from patrons. And you can become a patron too and enjoy exclusive bonus episodes, regular blogposts and many other privileges. All that for 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 Connie and Jolana who have already signed up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregory’s response was swift and unflinching.

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

As for Henry IV Gregory declares the following: (quote)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around 1070 this line in the sand began shifting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.