In this week’s episode the last of the Salians will find that despite all his efforts, the tide of history cannot be stemmed, leaving him in exactly the same place his father ended up in 1076.

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Episode 41 – the Duke’s Rebuke

Hello and Welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 41 – The Duke’s Rebuke

In this week’s episode the last of the Salians will find that despite all his efforts, the tide of history cannot be stemmed, almost leaving him in exactly the same place his father ended up in 1076.

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 or on my website You find all the links in the show notes. And thanks a lot to Andrew, Martha and David who have already signed up.

Last episode we left Emperor Henry V in May 1111 returning from his journey to Rome in triumph. The pope had confirmed the full ancient rights of investiture of the emperors. Not just that but the pope also promised not to bother the emperor ever again about investiture and had renounced any possibility of ever excommunicating him again. And, to top it all off, Henry V had secured the unimaginably rich inheritance of Great Countess Matilda of Tuscany upon her soon to be expected demise.

With more than anything anyone could have hoped to achieve, why the long faces, even amongst Henry’s entourage?

Henry’s close supporters, many of them bishops and abbots were still reeling from the events in Rome that happened before the pope’s hand was dragged over the signature box of the agreement by a rough looking imperial retainer.

You see, before all this heavy handed ness The pope had made a deal with the Emperor whereby the church would hand back all the counties, estates, market rights, mills and mints they had been awarded by the crown in exchange for the emperor renouncing any involvement in the selection and investiture of prelates.

Even though the deal collapsed as soon as it had been made public, for the bishops it was the ultimate betrayal. Their king had been willing to strip them of all their ancient rights and privileges. After all these centuries of service to the king, he was happy to drop them.

It is not just that. If Henry V had indeed taken back all the church’s lands and rights into his direct ownership and control, he would have been able to establish an all-powerful central authority. Something his father, with much less resources had tried to do in Saxony. Imagine what the son could have done with more than a third of all the assets of the country. A tyranny is what the bishops, abbots and their cousins, the dukes, counts, lords and knights would have called it.

It did not happen, but from this moment onwards all these bishops, abbots, dukes, counts, lords and knights no longer believed the king was the guarantor of their rights and freedoms. They now had to protect these rights by joining up together, against the king. It is from now that the documents begin to call all of these potentates, be they secular lords or bishops and abbots as princes. And these princes began to see themselves as the mutual guarantors of each other’s status against royal overreach. The Imperial Church, if it ever was under orders of the king, no longer sees itself as the instrument of the crown. These men, and very few women were Princes now, focused on expanding their territorial power and supporting their brethren.

How sudden this shift happens becomes visible in the person of Adalbert, chancellor of Henry V. He was a member of the inner circle of Henry’s government. He was one of the handful of people involved in  the initial negotiations with Pope Paschalis II that had led to that infamous deal in February 1111. In recognition of his services, Adalbert was made archbishop of Mainz that same year.

When Adalbert arrived at Mainz, he decided that his archdiocese could not rely on the protection from the emperor. What was needed was a strong, coherent territorial power base that would allow him in extremis to give the “dos fingos” to the emperor.

Mainz being a mere 30 miles from the Salian heartlands around Worms the archbishop quickly found himself in a direct conflict with his former boss. The ultimate point of contention was the castle of Trifels, at this point still a modest fortification on a very promising location in the Palatinate. The two former friends came to blows and after alleging Adalbert was about to attack, Henry V had the archbishop arrested in 1112. That resulted in an outcry not just in Germany, but even in Rome where Pope Paschalis II intervened on behalf of his former adversary.

Henry took the Trifels and turned it into an imperial fortress, and probably one of the most famous ones. For a hundred years it will the place where the imperial regalia would be held for safekeeping, and it was also where King Richard Lionheart will be imprisoned.

The conflict with Adalbert was not the only indication that things weren’t right. Whilst Henry V maintained the outright façade of a ruler who acted always in concert with his magnates, backstage he was gradually building a royal territory in the Rhineland, sort of what his father had tried to do in Saxony. For that he relied on his Ministeriales who he supported across the whole of the realm. When he was called to adjudicate conflicts between nobles and Ministeriales, it seemed to the magnates that their Emperor would always side with the Ministeriales.

One of these disputes escalated and the Duke of Saxony with some of his magnates decided to abduct one of these litigious ministeriales who had appealed to the imperial court. That was a direct challenge to imperial authority. Henry V deposed the Duke of Soxony, who was, you may remember a certain Lothar of Supplinburg. Remember the name. He will be important. In this initial effort Henry V was very successful. He apprehended the duke as well as a number of Saxon Magnates. One of them had also been the Count Palatinate holding lands along the river adjacent to the Salian lands. Henry V removed the title and lands and granted them to one of his closest followers. This was again another move to create a coherent power base around his family lands.

In 1113 Henry V looks as if he is on top of the world. His adversaries in Germany have not been able to foil his plans and he calls a royal assembly in Mainz. It is a splendid occasion where Henry V formally marries Matilda of England, now 11 years old. The duke of Saxony, Lothar of Supplinburg submits and is received back into the imperial grace. Some of his co-conspirators are not so lucky and remain in jail.

All that leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth of many a mighty lord. The attempt to strip the church of its lands, the expansion of royal territory, the support of the Ministeriales and the incarceration of Adalbert and the conspirators makes Henry V look very much like his dad.

The rebellion starts in Cologne where the archbishop and the now very powerful city reject imperial rule. When Henry V’s attempt to besiege and subdue Cologne fails, the rebels are joined by various Lotharingian nobles, always willing to push back imperial control.

When Henry fights these combined forces and loses the whole of Northern Germany is encouraged to refute imperial authority.

Henry V changes tack and calls a royal assembly in Goslar to debate the issues and maybe find a compromise. When nobody who matters shows up, the severity of the situation is becoming clear.

A major military conflict is now inevitable.

On February 11th, 1115 in a place called Welfenholze the armies of Lothar of Supplinburg, mostly Saxons and people from the lower Rhine face up against the imperial army under Henry’s general, Count Hoyer von Mansfeld.

Not much detail is known about the battle. It seems that at some point the Saxons were under severe pressure and Hoyer von Mansfeld set out to bring the Duke Lothar of Supplinburg down himself. In that attack the imperial general was felled by a Saxon nobleman. After that the imperial army lost cohesion and the Saxons prevailed.

Lothar uses his advantage and  quickly consolidates his position in the North occupying the Harz mountains including the silver mines in Goslar as well as Westphalia. From this point onwards Henry V will no longer have any power in Northern Germany. The citizens of Mainz even force him to release Adalbert their archbishop, who immediately joins Lothar’s army.

The excommunications that had been raining down on henry since 1111 not from the pope himself but from various bishops and archbishops. He could initially ignore them but now the bans are  taking effect. Kicking a guy when he is down. Bishops are leaving the imperial camp as are many of the lay lords. The rebels hold an assembly in Cologne 1115 where they endorse the excommunication.

Henry’s saving grace were the southern lords, the Staufer, the Welfs and the Zaehringer who remained loyal. In that respect he was luckier than his dad who had to fight both the North and the South West. The lack of support in the south may have been the reason his opponents did not proceed to elect an anti-king as they had done in 1077..

From now on there is this odd situation that the country is split in half. The north is run by Lothar of Supplinburg, whilst the south is held by Henry V and his allies. The two sides kept fighting along the faultline, which was more or less along the Rhine and Main rivers. But neither side was able to mount an invasion of their enemy’s territory.

In this gridlock the news break that Matilda of Tuscany has died at the ripe old age of 69. Henry V sees this inheritance as crucial to tilt the overall balance in his favor. With the wealth of Northern Italy behind him he may be able to break his opponent’s stranglehold and establish true imperial control of the Reich. This logic will become the mainstay of imperial policy for the next century. Henry V’s ultimate successors, the Staufer will pursue a strategy of gaining resources in Italy as a means to defeat their enemies in the north.

In this, the first time the plan was implemented, it went surprisingly well. Even though Henry V had arrived without an army, he could take possession of most of Matilda’s assets and awarded her imperial fiefs to loyal men.

Whilst he was in Italy, opportunity came knocking. Pope Paschalis II had been expelled from the city of Rome. You may remember that old aristocracy of the Crescenti and the Tuscolani had become casualties of the Gregorian reform and the subsequent destruction of Rome by Robert Guiscard. By now a new set of families were taking control. The two leading clans now were the Pierleoni and the Frangipani. The Frangipani had risen within the old system of city government and one of their ancestors had been the prefect of the city. They converted the Colosseum into their private fortress. The Pierleoni were of a different sort. They were merchants and financiers who had most probably converted from Judaism in the late 11th century. They operated mainly as an urban family with their headquarters in the former Roman Theatre of Marcellus, that they had converted into their fortress.

At this time several of the ancient Roman monuments served as family strongholds. The Capitoline Hill was the seat of the  Corsi family and the Palatine was held by a other clan. The Mausoleum of Hadrian had been Rome’s most formidable fortification, the Castello Sant Angelo for centuries. As in many Italian cities the ruling families lived in heavily fortified compounds to protect themselves against their rivals.

It was one of these conflicts between the major aristocratic families that led to the expulsion of the Pope. Paschalis II had supported a Pierleoni to become City prefect. That annoyed the Frangipani who started rioting.  The rioters gained the upper hand and the pope, as well as their Pierleoni. Followers had to leave the city.

That meant the city was open for Henry V who entered in early 1117. There was not much for him to do in rome other than demonstrate to Paschalis that he should call back his excommunicating prelates if he wants his city back. But since he was there why not celebrate a coronation.

Maybe a quick word on coronations. There are generally two types. There is the “real coronation where an individual is elevated to a new status as king, queen, emperor or empress. And there are the festive coronations. These are sort of re-enactments of the actual coronation performed quite regularly at major gatherings like royal assemblies or on important church holidays. These were festivals meant to show off the magnificence and holiness of the monarch.

The coronation in Rome in 1117 was probably a bit of both. Henry was already emperor, so for him it was just a reenactment. But his new bride had not yet been crowned empress, so it may have been intended as an elevation of her to imperial status. Henry’s party planners quickly ran up against an obstacle. None of the cardinals still resident in Rome were willing to crown the young lady. Finally, a bishop, Maurice of Braga could be convinced to put a crown on the head of the wife of the emperor. This ceremony, even in the widest definition of the word coronation, could not be regarded as a valid elevation of Matilda to Empress. For that you need a pope actual or antipope, or at least someone authorised by a pope. Maurice of a Braga was neither on the day of Matilda’s coronation. Hence when English history talks about the Empress Matilda, she wasn’t really an empress.

The proceedings were still irritating enough for the actual pope Paschalis II to excommunicate the hapless bishop Maurice of Braga. This did not facilitate any further rapprochement between emperor and pope.

In the summer of 1117 Henry left Rome, as he had to if he wanted to avoid dying from malaria. As we all know, come the summer the Germans die in Rome.  That allowed Paschalis II to get back in, thinking he was made of sterner stuff. Paschalis and his team stayed until January, when Paschalis suddenly died.

The cardinals elected Paschalis chancellor as pope Gelasius II, a man widely seen to be willing to compromise. Henry came down to Rome again in March 1118, which frightened the brand-new pope no end. Gelasius disappeared down south to Gaeta when Henry entered the Holy City.

And then Henry V did something odd, so odd that I simply have no explanation. He made his pet bishop, Maurice of Braga pope who took the papal name Gregory VIII. Why Henry decided to create a schism, something that had so badly hampered his father’s room to maneuver is simply inexplicable. Gregory VIII had no material support in Rome or elsewhere in Europe. It might be that Henry V followed demands of his Roman allies, the Frangipani, but their loyalty should not be worth a full-blown schism. It seems Henry realized his mistake almost immediately. He made no efforts to push his new antipope even in Germany and by June the emperor left Rome to leave Gregory the not really VIII to his fate. That fate would be to be captured by the true pope 4 years later and made to ride through the streets of Rome sitting naked backwards on a donkey. This punishment was not unknown and had been meted out to Roman prefects and popes but in this case was particularly apt as Gregory VIII’s nickname was “Spanish Ass”.

The pointless creation of a schism did not just blight the life of a poor Spaniard, but also meant that the new pope Gelasius II finally came off the fence and publicly excommunicated Henry V. With that the temperature in Germany was rising and the opposition was preparing for a royal assembly in Wuerzburg where the emperor was invited to defend his track record. That sounds far too much like a rerun of the Assembly at Tribur where Henry IV had been threatened with deposition. And that led immediately to Henry IV kneeling in the snow outside the castle of Canossa.

Henry V had no desire for frostbite and returned to Germany in haste. When he arrived the idea of a royal assemby dissipated quickly since the Southern dukes stuck with the emperor.  On the face of it the situation looked almost unchanged from when he had left. The North was held by Lothar, whilst his governors, Duke Frederick of Hohenstaufen and the Count Palatinate Gottfried did a good job at preventing him moving south.

But underneath the surface things have changed. The princes no longer just fought for status, tributes or honor. They were beginning to build what we would later call principalities. They built castles to force their will upon those within their territory, constraining their respective rights and privileges. Lothar did a great job of it in Saxony, making himself the most powerful Saxon Duke since Hermann Billung. And the same goes for his counterpart, Frederick von Hohenstaufen. Frederick did indeed defend the position of his imperial overlord, but at the same time began acquiring lands and castles for his own private estate. The chronicler Otto von Freising will describe this period as the time when the Staufer began building their private power base, their Hausmacht as it will be known from now on. They said of him that he would always pull a castle along the tail of his horse. The princes are on the rise.

By 1119 the war between Henry and Lothar had been going on for 4 years and both sides began to get exhausted. All in the country had been in civil war for more than 40 years since the conflict first started with the Saxon uprising 1073. Occasional periods of peace notwithstanding, the constant devastation had badly hurt the economy and let Germany fall behind France and England in cultural and intellectual leadership.

Even amongst his supporters the pressure to bring this endless conflict to an end was rising. Another opportunity emerged after the Pope Gelasius II had died after less than 2 years in office. His successor was Calixtus II, a Burgundian lord and distantly related to the emperor. He had initially been a harsh opponent of Henry V, but once he had ascended to the papacy had mellowed a bit. Calixtus indicated a willingness to negotiate and invited the German bishops to a council at Reims, close to the Franco-Imperial border.

Discussions between Henry V and the papal negotiators focused on a solution not dissimilar to the solution found in France. Henry offered that the bishops and abbots would be freely elected but had to swear a full oath of fealty to the emperor. And most crucially, that the churchmen were obliged to provide financial and military support to the emperor. 

 This solution seemed to have met with positive noises from the other side and Pope Calixtus was prepared to meet the emperor in person at the border town of Mouzon.

The parties exchanged draft contracts as both the Papal court and the Imperial entourage travelled to the agreed meeting point. The German side specifically believed that all was agreed and all they would do in Mouzon was put pen to paper, crack open the champagne and peace would be upon them.

This may or may not have been the same on the Papal side. But just before the two sides were to meet, the clerks on both sides began to stumble over a formulation in the draft contract. The wording in the papal draft suggests that the obligation of the bishops to support the emperor had a voluntary element to it. That was not acceptable to Henry V. The emperor even though taken aback by what he believed was a last-minute change of terms, he offered to discuss it with the princes.  but in the end, there was no rescuing the negotiations.

Afraid of papal duplicity Henry returned home. Meanwhile the Pope’s negotiators made up a story that Henry had appeared with a large retinue of armored men intend on apprehending the pope. That was followed by a full excommunication and a re-iteration of the total ban on investiture. 

All back to square 1.

But three years later the two sides will finally agree what has become known as the Concordat of Worms. What it says is not earthshattering and certainly not worth 50 years of war and destruction. But then it was never really about investiture in the first place. What it really was about we should explore 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

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…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to hear the whole story, check out the History of the Germans Podcast available on my website or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts (link here:

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

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

That is the the episode you have to listen to!

Available here as well s on Apple Podcasts, Spotiy, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Overcast, Podbean and anywhere else (link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on this story in Episode 32 of the History of the Germans Podcast available here and on Apple, Spotify as well as any other podcasting platform (link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, he got to work.

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

Hildebrand, not Pope but false Monk

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

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

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

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