And another protagonist in the Investiture Controversy

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

Another Key Protagonist in the Investiture Controversy
Anno was a bit of a new man, coming from a more modest background than his peers amongst the great archbishoprics of the realm. And that meant he was out to get even bigger.

His main target was the land held by the descendants of count Ezzo north of Cologne. The Ezzonen/Ezzonids as they were called were one of the great magnate families regularly being elevated to dukes of Bavaria or Carinthia and were hereditary Counts Palatinate with possessions along the Rhine and Ruhr valley. When Anno comes on the stage, tensions were already running high between bishops and counts.

God knows who provoked who, but in 1060 the Count Palatinate Henry plundered the episcopal lands and besieged Cologne itself. Anno seems to have set up his defences well and the count had to retreat. Anno followed him and locked him into his castle at Cochem.

Count Henry, scion of one of the most powerful families in the land and a man who not too long ago was seen as a potential king should the Salian house die out, could not get his head round being beaten by some country parson with a fancy hat. He went mad, like completely mad and decapitated his wife. Before he could go after his son, the castle guards opened the gate and let Anno’s troops in. Count Henry’s little son survived and became a vassal of the church of Cologne. With that the archbishop of Cologne took over from one of the richest and most powerful magnates in the land. The archbishopric of Cologne is to this day one of the richest dioceses in the world.

Anno’s main role was however in imperial politics. In 1061 the empress Agnes had created a papal schism that threatened the reputation of the empire as a champion of church reform. The magnates led b Anno believed that she needed to be neutralised before any more damage could be done.
In April 1062 the court stayed at the imperial palace of Kaiserswerth, today a part of Duesseldorf. The palace stands right by the Rhine River and at the end of the feast Archbishop Anno of Cologne invited the 12-year-old king Henry IV to check out his new luxury boat that was moored in the centre of the stream. As soon as young Henry came on board, Archbishop Anno of Cologne gave the order to raise the anchor, Anno’s soldiers surrounded the young king, and the rowers began pulling away towards the city of Cologne 20 miles upstream. Henry IV realised he was being abducted and jumped overboard. Unlike his ancestor Otto II, Henry could not swim. He would have almost certainly have drowned in the cold and fast flowing river that day, had not count Ekbert jumped after him and dragged him out.

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

And Kaiserswerth had another effect. The young Henry IV will never forget how he was betrayed by his magnates. He would not believe that the dukes, counts and bishops of his realm would ever give him advice that was anything but driven by self-interest.

And Henry IV retained a deep hatred for the hijacking Archbishop Anno of Cologne. On March 29,1065 Henry IV celebrated his Schwertleite at the cathedral of Worms, a ceremony that declared him formally an adult. As soon as he had been girded with a sword, he pulled it to go after Anno of Cologne. Only his mother’s quick intervention saved the archbishop’s life.
There is a lot more to say about Anno of Cologne, namely his role as regent between 1062 and ~1068 and the rebellion of the citizens of Cologne in 1074. We will get there on the History of the Germans Podcast, probably in the next episode.

The podcast is – as always – available on my website and links to Apple, Spotify etc. are here:

In this series of posts I will highlight some key protagonists in the Investiture Controversy, in part to make it easier to follow the podcast where we run into a bewildering array of personalities, locations and events. The bios will also be placed on a specific page on the website once I get to grips with the recent updates in WordPress.

Agnes was the daughter of duke William V of Aquitaine and Agnes of Burgundy. She married emperor Henry III in 1043. The marriage was entirely political, giving Henry III links to the powerful Angevin counts and solidified his position in Burgundy.
The couple had five children, three daughters and two sons, one of whom survived and became emperor Henry IV.
Henry IV was born in 1050 and was hence just 6 years old when Henry III died. Agnes assumed the regency for her son. To say it right away, Agnes of Poitou was no Theophanu and certainly no Adelheid. That is not to say she was terribly incompetent; she just was not absolutely brilliant. And given the situation, absolutely brilliant was the baseline for a successful reign.
After decades of centralisation of power under the previous three emperors time was ripe for a backlash by the mighty barons. Tensions had been mounting in the last years of Henry III, but now the magnates openly demanded a return to the previous system where the king/emperor was more of a “First amongst Equals”. Agnes was unable to hold back the tide, had to enfeoff major nobles with strategically important duchies and was unable to stop feuding amongst the castellans, counts and even bishops. Central power was quickly dissipating.
Her downfall came when the cardinals in Rome elected Pope Alexander II without requesting imperial permission before. Insisting on the ancestral right of the emperors to appoint or at least confirm the pope, Agnes supported an antipope, Honorius III. Honorius was the candidate of the anti-reform party, which comprised the Roman aristocracy and Northern Italian bishops. This party wanted to dial back the clock to a time when the pope was just the bishop of Rome that the city’s rulers literally used as a footstool. And they hoped for a reversal of the tighter rules on clerical marriage and simony, the buying and selling of holy offices.
This was a terrible PR move. Creating a papal schism was bad enough, but the imperial government was backing the bad guys. They pushed against the drive to clean the church from corruption and licentiousness.
And in this one fell swoop Agnes destroyed the reputation of the empire as champion of reform that Henry III and his predecessors worked so hard for.
When Agnes realised what she had done, she froze. Her entire background was in the church reform movement. Her grandfather had founded the abbey of Cluny after all. She took to her bed, pulled the duvet over her face and left all government activity to her advisers.
Her situation had become completely untenable. In 1062 the German magnates, led by archbishop Anno of Cologne staged a coup, abducting the young King Henry IV at Kaiserswerth (check out tomorrow’s post).
Agnes conceded after Kaiserswerth. She no longer led the regency and in 1065 moved to Rome to atone for her sins and in particular her role in creating the schism. She died in 1077 and is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

The podcast is – as always – available on my website. Links to Apple, Spotify etc. are here:

The Three Roads to Canossa

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

The medieval Dukes of Swabia make regular appearances on the History of the Germans Podcast. It is time then to introduce you to their home, Hohentwiel castle.

Hohentwiel sits atop an extinct volcano and dominates the plain around it. It has been used as a refuge since at least the first Millenium BC. A castle there is first mentioned in the 8th century making it one of the oldest castles in Germany. In 915 king Konrad I besieges the Hohentwiel without success – part of his general failure to exert effective control. (see episode 1)

The castle was expanded significantly when it became the seat of the duchess Hadwig (~940-994), wife of duke Burchart III and sister of Henry the Quarrelsome, duke of Bavaria. Hadwig maintained a sophisticated court on the Hohentwiel even after her husband had died.

After her husbands death, her brother claimed the duchy of Swabia for himself or at a minimum for whoever Hadwig would choose to marry. Emperor Otto II refused for fear of his rival Henry the Quarrelsome gaining control of all of Southern Germany, cutting him off from the riches of Italy. Otto II appointed another of their relatives to be duke.

Hadwig did not recognise the new duke and remained on the Hohentwiel effectively controlling a major part of Swabia. She joined her brother in his rebellion of 974/976 and again in his attempt to gain the crown in 983. (check out episode 9 ” A Matter of Habit” and Episode 11 “Woe the Land..”)

Since the castle was impregnable the emperor(s) chose to ignore her even after Henry the Quarrelsome’s rebellions had been squashed. Hadwig had a close relationship the the monastery of St. Gallen and particularly to one monk, Eckehard. She called him to the Hohentwiel to teach her Latin and theology. She later sponsored him to join the imperial court and embark on a great career in the church.

Victor von Scheffel took the story and made it into a love affair where the monk turns from a religious bigot into a liberated poet under the guidance of a well educated and still enticing older woman. The book, published in 1855 became a massive bestseller.

In the later Middle Ages the castles moves through multiple hands before the Dukes of Württemberg make it their main fortress. 18th century defence systems are installed, returning it to its historic impregnability.

The Hohentwiel served as one of the state prisons for the notoriously oppressive principality. The most famous inmate was the father of German constitutional theory Johann Jakob Moser.

In 1801 Napoleon orders the fortress to be destroyed.

If you want to hear more History of the Germans check out the Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google etc. Links are here: or on this website

On this day, September 5th, 1304 Rüdiger Manesse, Alderman of Zurich and collector of German medieval Minnelieder died at home. Manesse was a senior figure in the city of Zurich and acted as judge and member of the city council.

He is most famous for collecting the texts of medieval German Minnelieder (literally “songs of courtly love”), the romances sung in high German at the courts of the high Middle Ages.

Though some of the Minnesaenger may have been professional musicians and poets, the majority were members of the lower nobility, and some works are attributed to dukes, counts, kings and even to emperor Henry VI.

Manesse’s collection was the basis for the most comprehensive and most beautiful collection of Minnesong, the Heidelberger or Manesse Codex, created around 1340. It contains lyrical works of 140 different poets, Each poet is introduced with a miniature depicting courtly life. These are some of the most beautiful medieval illustrations – full stop.

The exact link between the Codex Manesse and Rüdiger Manesse is not recorded. The University Library in Heidelberg, where the Codex is kept, asserts that it was made in Zurich in around 1340. It may well be that it had been produced for the Manesse family, though Rudiger himself was long dead when it was made.

It first came to Heidelberg in the 16th century but when the Elector Palatinate had to flee in 1622 after the battle of White Mountain, they took the Codex with them and sold them for cash. It returned in 1888 after long and difficult negotiations with the Bibliotheque Nationale. Under the deal Heidelberg handed over 166 manuscripts, including 23 Carolingian ones plus 400,000 Gold Mark in exchange for just this one book, the Codex Manesse.

For more stories check out the History of the Germans podcast and blog on my website or Spotify, Apple podcast etc. (link )

On this day September 4th, 1024 a mere 6 weeks after the death of Emperor Henry II, the German magnates elect Konrad “the Elder” from the noble family of the Salian Franks to be king.

His election was more than a surprise given his relative modest personal wealth and at best tangential relationship to the previous imperial family. However, Konrad II turned out to be a very effective ruler who managed to rapidly consolidate his reign.

If you like to hear more about Konrad II and the time of the Salians, check out Season 2 of the History of the Germans Podcast, available on Spotify, Apple podcasts and wherever you get your Podcasts from.

On this day, September 3, 1736 Matthias “Hiasl” Klostermayr, a Bavarian poacher and highwayman was born in Kissing/Bavaria.

He had to leave his hometown after an affair with a yeoman’s daughter and began a life as a poacher. His skill as a shot made him famous across the region. Though poaching was forbidden, the local farmers much appreciated the culling of the deer which caused damage to agriculture.

Being an outlaw already, he diversified into robbing travellers on the roads between Augsburg, Munich and Ulm and raiding tax offices. He was known to (occasionally) share his gains with the poor, making him extremely popular. At the height of his fame his band of brothers comprised nearly 30 men.

The authorities were slow to respond as his theatre of operations stretched over multiple jurisdictions, the lands of the elector of Bavaria, the bishop of Augsburg, the prince-abbot of Kempten, the counts Fugger, Waldburg-Zell, and Stadion, to name a few. And then there were the free imperial cities of Augsburg and Ulm.

The Holy Roman Empire had been organised into administrative entities, the Kreise, to coordinate action between these smaller entities. But it took nearly 5 years before a military expedition set off to capture the Hiasl.

They lured the gang into trap and captured them in January 1771. Hiasl was captured. He was brutally executed on the bridge of Dillingen and his body mutilated.

Hiasl became a folk hero in Southern Germany and may have been one of the models for Friedrich Schiller’s play “Die Räuber”. He inspired Robin Hood style legends all across Southern Germany and became a symbol of revolt against the absolutist micro-monarchs that controlled most of Germany.

For more such stories check out the History of the Germans Podcast and blog on or Spotify, Apple Podcast etc. link here

Eadgith (910-946), daughter of King Edward the Elder of England and first wife of Emperor Otto the Great (912-973). According to the chronicler Widukind they had a very close relationship and Otto was devastated when she died in 946. Eadgith had been a major political operator within the future Holy Roman Empire, and like many royal consorts in this period was “sharing in the burden of rule”.

Otto remarried in 952, a decision that destroyed the relationship with Liudolf, his son with Eadgith. Liudolf gathered many disaffected nobles and his rebellion brought the regime of Otto the Great close to collapse. The Magyars invaded in the wake of Liudolf’s rebellion which culminated in the battle on the Lechfeld in 955, one of those important forks in the road in medieval Europe.

Eadgith was buried in the cathedral of Magdeburg, next to her husband, another sign of their close relationship. Her burial place was moved several times. A rather impressive funeral monument was created in the early 16th century, though it was generally believed that the actual bones had been lost. The grave was opened in 2008 and found to contain a lead box with an inscription stating that these were the actual remains of Eadgith. Further detailed analysis revealed that the body found had likely grown up in the South of England, had lived a life of relative luxury, eating well and riding a lot. From that was concluded that these were indeed the remains of Eadgith.

More on Eadgith in the History of the Germans Podcast, specifically episode 5 “The Father, the Son and the Uncle” Links are here: