The Salians (1024-1125)

Podcast

The Salian Dynasty – History of the Germans
The Salian Dynasty – History of the Germans

The century of Salian rule from 1024 to 1125 is the crucial turning point not just for German, but for European history more generally. The Investiture Controversy pits Popes against Emperors. The dispute is nominally about the role secular powers play in the selection of bishops and abbots. But in reality, it is about much more than that. It is about whether the monarch acts as the representative of God, or as a mere mortal, subject to Papal authority. It is about whether Europe becomes a coherent political entity ruled by an all-powerful emperor or whether it becomes a system of interlocking states, cities, and lordships under a parallel church infrastructure. It is about whether Europe becomes a uniform society or the diverse structure that will give birth both to endless warfare and misery for common people, as well as to the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment (to name just a few). A German history starting in the Middle Ages when the emperors fought an epic struggle with the papacy to the Reformation, the great 18th century of Kant, Goethe, Gauss, the rise of Prussia and the horrors of the Nazi regime. We will end with the post-war period of moral and physical rebuilding. As Gregory of Tours (539-594) said: “A great many things keep happening, some good, some bad” .

Episode 22 – Konrad II, Who Would Have Thought
byDirk Hoffmann-Becking

On July 13th, 1024 Emperor Henry II died without an heir. not only that, but his family has so comprehensively died out, there is not a single descendant in the male line left. Fear of unrest and civil war grips the inhabitants of the empire.

An election is called for early September, as quickly as such things could be organised in the 11th century. The upper echelons of society debate a long list of candidates before agreeing on a shortlist of just two, both named Konrad, both from the same clan of Salian Franks.

Medieval imperial elections have little in common with today’s elections. there are no set rules about the electors, the purpose is not to determine the will of the people but to unveil the will of God. Decisions are unanimous, mainly because dissenters leave before the votes are cast.

Ultimately Konrad the elder (1024-1039) a giant of a man at 2m tall is elected. He appears in all and everything the opposite of his predecessor. But that may be just appearance…

The music for the show is Flute Sonata in E-flat major, H.545 by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach (or some claim it as BWV 1031 Johann Sebastian Bach) performed and arranged by Michel Rondeau under Common Creative Licence 3.0.

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Episode 22 – Konrad II, Who Would Have Thought
Episode 23 – Duke Ernst, Rebel and Legend
Episode 24 – Konrad II's Acquisition of Burgundy
Episode 25 – Konrad II, the Construction of an Empire
Episode 26 – Henry III Comin' in Smoothly
Episode 27 – Peace in Our Time
Episode 28 – Three Popes with One Stone
Episode 29 – The Last Years of Henry III
Episode 30 – Three Roads to Canossa
Episode 31 – The (second) Saxon War
Episode 32 – Hildebrand, not Pope but false Monk
Episode 33 – Canossa Finally!
Episode 34 – Gaining the Upper Hand
Episode 35 – To Rome! To Rome!
Episode 36 – Henry IV is Coming Home
Episode 37 – The Two Grooms
Episode 38 – The First Crusade
Episode 39 – The End of Emperor Henry IV
Episode 40 – Henry V's Cunning Plan
Episode 41 – The Duke's Rebuke
Episode 42 – A World Revolution?

The music for the show is Flute Sonata in E-flat major, H.545 by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach (or some claim it as BWV 1031 Johann Sebastian Bach) performed and arranged by Michel Rondeau under Common Creative Licence 3.0.

Overview

The century of Salian rule from 1024 to 1125 is the crucial turning point not just for German, but for European history more generally. It is in this period that the Investiture Controversy pits Popes against Emperors. The dispute is nominally about the role secular powers play in the selection of bishops and abbots. But in reality, it is about much more than that. It is about whether the monarch acts as the representative of God, or as mere mortal, subject to Papal authority. It is about whether Europe becomes a coherent political entity ruled by an all-powerful emperor or whether it becomes a fragmented system of interlocking states, cities, and lordships under a parallel church infrastructure. It is about whether Europe becomes a uniform society or the diverse structure that will give birth both to endless warfare and misery as well as the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment (to name just a few). move from the unexpected election of Konrad II to his son Henry III becoming the undisputed senior ruler in Western Europe. The backlash against the emerging command monarchy culminates in Emperor Henry IV kneeling in the snow outside the Castle of Canossa begging Pope Gregor VII to receive him back into the mother church.

KOnrad II (1024-1039)

The founder of the Salian dynasty was an unlikely contender to become king .He had been de facto disinherited by his grandfather who passed the leadership of the family to his uncle and later his cousin. What rescued him was his marriage to the beautiful and ambitious Gisela who brought resources and connections into the marriage. He was elected against the odds in 1024 and managed to establish his rule quickly, achieving an imperial coronation in Rome in 1027. From then on he ruthlessly expanded direct royal control, not only over the imperial church, but also over duchies, counties and abbeys. He developed the concept of the res publica, the state, being separate from and above the person of the king/emperor. He led a successful foreign policy that brought the Kingdom of Burgundy into the empire and broke the threat of a powerful Poland.

Henry III (1039-1056

The second Salian ruler brings the medieval empire to its zenith in 1046. Poland, Bohemia and Hungary have to swear fealty. Internally all five duchies are either directly controlled by the Emperor or brought to submission. At the synod of Sutri he dismisses three popes is one fell swoop and puts a fourth one in place.
It is all downhill from there. The new popes are growing in stature and influence. The Saxons keep grumbling whilst Lothringia remains a source of troubles. The Hungarians throw off their chains….and then he dies leaving a 6-year old son behind

Henry IV (1056-1105)

Finding a more controversial German ruler in the Middle Ages will be difficult. His enemies called him a debauched, spoiled brat who would rape and even murder his enemies. He himself had been subject to assassination plots ever since he was a mere 7 years old.

He became king at the age of 6 and saw the central power crumbling under his mother’s ineffective rule. Age 12 he is being abducted in a coup d’etat and finds that his mother does not fight for him, even sides with his enemies. When he assumes direct rule his magnates still do as they please with the imperial purse.

When he tries to establish a new territorial power base around the silver mines in Goslar he is forced into a bloody and remorseless war against the Saxons.

Meanwhile the papacy in Rome is on the rise. Pope Gregory VII believes the emperor is no different to any other king obliged to kneel and wash the pope’s feet.

A terrible miscalculation leaves Henry IV kneeling in the snow before Pope Gregory VII. The ensuing 50 years of war change the face of Europe

Henry V (1105-1125)

Even though Henry V takes over from his father through treachery, the early years of his reign are a much needed reprieve from the turbulent reign of his father.

Things get out of hand when he accepts a proposal of Pope Paschalis II to forsake any involvement in the management of the church in exchange for receiving all of the church lands and rights back, a good third of all the assets of the empire.

Though the plan cannot be implemented against the staunch opposition of the princes, it has repercussion on the standing of the young emperor. How can the bishops and abbots, and their cousins, the dukes, counts and barons believe the emperor is a guarantor of their ancient rights, when he almost expropriated them.

Henry V finds himself quickly in a situation not dissimilar to his father. He tried to seal this can of creepy-crawlies with the Concordat of Worms…

3 Comments

  1. Great history of these personalities. A historical WHO IS WHO, and their relationships and interactions playing out. So much royal and religious politic playing out.

  2. I just found and binged on everything up to the Salians, and am so excited to keep going! I moved to Germany a year ago snd have been trying to find histories of Germany in English, as I am struggling to learn German. Thanks for an awesome series!

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