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Episode 22 - Konrad II, Who Would Have Thought
Episode 228th July 2021 • History of the Germans • Dirk Hoffmann-Becking
00:00:00 00:36:45

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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

Hello and welcome to Season 2 of the History of the Germans – The Salians. I am really excited because this is the big one, the bit of German medieval history you really need to know about.

We start with Episode 22: Konrad II – who would have thought?

It has been a while since we stopped the narrative and so we should best start with a bit of context.

We are in the year:

As the economic boom of the middle-ages gains pace people begin to think beyond their next meal and a roof over their head for the night They call for an end to the constant violence creating the peace movement that emerges in France and encompasses the whole of Europe. That movement is closely intertwined with the crusades, which begin in 1095 not least as a means to channel military restlessness away from the domestic peasants to the foreign lands.

Once the physiological needs of food, water, warmth and rest are covered and some degree of safety is provided, more and more people move up Maslow’s pyramid looking for belonging, love, status, knowledge, aesthetic beauty, self-actualisation and ultimately transcendence. In the 11th century the afterlife becomes the dominating concern of everyone from the mightiest aristocrat to the lowliest peasant. Therefore, priests and clergy are held to ever higher standards to ensure the effectiveness of prayer and worship in providing access to heaven. The idea that even after your death prayers by those still alive could improve your status in Purgatory drives generous donation to monasteries in exchange for their eternal prayers. It kick-starts frantic construction activity during which the great Romanesque cathedrals of Speyer, Mainz, and Worms rise up.

At the same time increased wealth allow the secular powers to expand their military capabilities. Stone castles sitting atop unassailable hills begin to replace manor houses and motte and bailey castles. The size of armies gradually increases, and the armoured riders of the Carolingian and Ottonian period gradually turn into actual knights.

And finally, new political entities emerge that either did not exist before or had been insignificant players on the international stage.

orman England. They invade in:

But that is not the only state the Normans created. In this same period, a small group of pilgrims/mercenaries from Normandy managed to play the three powers in Southern Italy, the Byzantines, the Muslims and the Lombard dukes against each other until they themselves had conquered all the territories of their former employers and forced the pope to accept them as kings of Sicily.

This is also during this time of the first and only really successful crusade that created the Kingdom of Jerusalem and other crusader states. The Crusade movement was however not limited to the Near East. The kingdoms of Portugal, Lean, Castile, Aragon and Navarre conquered more than half of the Iberian Peninsula from the various Muslim kingdoms.

We have already seen the new kingdoms of Poland and Hungary appearing on the map during the 10th century. As we will see in this narrative, these polities will gain coherence and identity distinct from the empire. And another power comes into contact with western Europe, Russia, or more precisely the rulers of Kiev who forge political and marriage alliances with their neighbours.

of their power under Henry I (:

The other key shift is in social order. The rise in economic activity gives birth to a merchant class based in the cities. That trend is most pronounced in Italy, but it also happens everywhere else in Europe. In Italy the city populations continue to clash with the bishops who often rule the city and the magnates who control the countryside. The rise of urban freedoms in Italy provides inspiration for cities north of the alps to chuck out their bishops and seek political self-determination.

If you take the 10,000 feet view of what has happened here, the striking thing is the absence of a central power. A central power that could organise the crusades, conquer Spain, provide law and order in France and clean up Southern Italy.

In:

The question why Henry II’s successors did not consolidate Europe under their rule and why Europe today has this great diversity of languages, culture and history within a territory half the size of Canada is the story of these 100 years between 1024 and 1125, the hundred years of Salian rule.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

th,:

And worse, he did not make any plans for his succession. As a deeply pious man who saw his job in turning the empire into a “House of God”. In that logic, if the House would please the lord, the lord would select a worthy successor, and if he did not, then it is not worth saving in the first place.

and:

The chronicler Wipo described the situation as follows:

Quote: “After the emperor’s passing the state orphaned by the loss of its father began to sway. All well-meaning men were gripped by fear though wicked men were hoping for the destruction of the realm. (and further) Since the emperor had died without offspring the magnates strived to become the first or if that fails the closest to the first, using force rather than wisdom” Unquote

The situation did not tip into civil war for two reasons.

First, a date for an election was set quickly for early September, just six weeks after the Henry II’s death which is about as fast as anyone can organise anything in the 11th century.

And second, control of the empire during that time of transition lay in the hands of empress Kunigunde. Kunigunde had been closely involved in all imperial affairs during her husband’s reign and was well respected. She, together with her extended and powerful family manage the empire during these tense times as smoothly as these things can be done.

th,:

These four stems now proceeded to elect a new king. The question on everyone’s lips was now, how are we to elect a new king? What are the criteria?

e from a previous emperor. In:

It is not even clear whether blood alone would have been enough. The concept of primogeniture was comparatively new and only been introduced by King Henry the Fowler in 935 and not yet widely recognised. Henry II had claimed the throne based on being the closest descendant in the male line of king Henry I, but that was by no means acknowledged by everyone. He ultimately had to capture the throne in a coup, bypassing election.

In terms of blood relations, the closest were the two sons of the Count palatinate Ezzo who had married Otto III sister. Next up from there may be the son of the king of Hungary, whose mother was a sister of Henry II. And then you had the descendants of Konrad the Red who was married to one of Otto the great’s sisters. But given that the ultimate winner of this contest barely mentioned his relation to the Ottonians, we can be confident that this was not the most relevant criteria.

-:

But that does not really answer the question. How do they choose amongst these 500-1000 individuals of great ancestry?

Well, there are some general requirements for kingship like being a religious and moral person willing to defend the church, being willing to uphold the law and in particular the privileges of the elite, being merciful and being successful in battle.

These criteria are far too vague to whittle this down to a more manageable shortlist.

Ultimately it came down to politics. The winner of the contest was the one whose selection would please more than anyone else whilst irritating the smallest possible number. He, and I may have forgotten to mention it, it could only ever be a “he”, had to be powerful enough to be an effective ruler, but not so powerful that he would frustrate the other nobles’ ambitions. He had to have connections into most stems, but not be dominant in any of them.

Hence the election itself was not a voting process as we would recognise it, but a negotiation marathon that ended with one unanimous acclamation at the end. Wipo describes how the magnates camped along both shores of the rhine in tent villages organised by stems. They would then negotiate in secret gatherings and envoys were constantly going from tent to tent.

Over several days of negotiations that list was whittled down to two cousins, both called Konrad.

They were both descendants of Konrad the Red. You may remember him, he was the son-in-law of Otto the Great who became duke of Lothringia, then fell out with the emperor and joined Liudolf’s rebellion and, after bending the knee, fought valiantly in the battle on the Lechfeld where he died.

Konrad the Red’s direct ancestors are a bit of a muddle, but the family claims direct descendance from the great Clovis, king of all the Franks and founder of the Merovingian dynasty (we met him in part 2 of the Prologue). That is pretty much as good a lineage as one could possibly have. Clovis was believed to have been a Salian Frank, i.e., a member of the subtribe of the Franks that originated from the area around Worms. You may recognise the name from the so-called Salic or Salian law, a Frankish law code compiled by Clovis. We know the Salic law today as shorthand for excluding women from the inheritance of titles or monarchic roles. It was a lot more than that, but let’s not deviate too much.

Anyway, Clovis was a Salian and Konrad the Red’s family, being descendants of Clovis and holders of the lands where the Salian Franks had originated became known as “the Salians”.

The Salians had benefitted from the demise of the dukes of Franconia in 938 and created a coherent power base around the city of Worms, about 70 km south of Frankfurt. This was probably one of the first territorial entities where a magnate consolidated the lands and rights around a specific area into one coherent entity. Up until now aristocrats would often have lands and rights spread across the kingdom, they would hold the office of duke or count in one place, whilst their private lands are in a different part of the country. This Salian territory was different and thanks to being geographically connected and its rights and privileges going fairly deep, a lot more powerful than its optical size indicates. The Salians also worked hard to keep the territory together and -other than their peers – did not divide it between male descendants – there was only ever one descendant who would inherit all. The Salians also held the office of the duke of Carinthia from time to time, though they put little effort into this post a long way away from their personal possessions.

The two members of the Salians that made the shortlist, Konrad the Younger and Konrad the Elder were cousins. Konrad the elder’s father had died when he was quite young so that the control of the Salian territory moved from his branch of the family to the father of Konrad the younger and ultimately with Konrad the Younger himself. Konrad the Younger was the rich and powerful one.

Konrad the elder on the other hand was effectively disinherited except for some middling county he had received as a consolation prize. But he was not completely without means. He had rescued his finances by marrying Gisela, daughter of duke Herman of Swabia and widow of Ernst, duke of Swabia. Gisela had the guardianship for her son Ernst II which meant she controlled the duchy of Swabia.

The elder Konrad did hence fit the other two key criteria:

• he was well connected in Franconia where he came from, in Swabia through his wife, in Carinthia through his Grandfather and in Lotharingia through his great grandfather -Tick

• but in none of these duchies did he have a controlling position – another tick in the box.

And then there was the clincher that made Konrad the elder look really attractive to the electors - Konrad was the diametrical opposite of Henry II.

Henry II had been an exceptionally well-read individual who was brought up to become a cleric. He preferred the company of bishops and monks over that of his secular vassals. Moreover, his interest in theology had led him to pursue a rigorous definition of incest that invalidated almost all marriages amongst the upper nobility and cause untold misery for many couples. Konrad II on the other hand had been trained to become a fighter, not a precher, so never learned to read or write and was unlikely to disappear down a doctrinal rabbit hole.

Henry II was a sickly individual suffering from various ailment including rather painful gallstones. Konrad II on the other hand must have been one of the tallest and physically most powerful men of his time. He was nearly 2.0m tall, had broad shoulders and was known to have ridden for 100 miles without stopping. To put that into perspective, at a time when the average height was about 1.69m. Charlemagne who was described as “of lofty stature was a lot shorter at between 1.8 and 1.9m tall.

Henry II could draw on the resources of the well organised and rich duchy of Bavaria when he ascended the throne, making him less dependent upon his lords for vassalage. Konrad II had no material resources in his own right. His access to the resources of Swabia was indirect and temporary until Ernst II reached maturity.

And finally, Henry II had no children, whilst Konrad II already had a son at the time of the election.

For the German lords who regarded Henry II as a tyrant

As it happened, the younger Konrad had no son at the time and would ultimately not sire any male children, though obviously nobody knew that at the time.

Henry II may have been a very effective monarch who consolidated and solidified central power, but from the perspective of the aristocratic elite, he was a tyrant. So being the opposite was a good thing as far as the electors are concerned:

he emperor a few years before:

In a smart move the older Konrad convinced the younger Konrad to agree that if either of them would be elected, the other would not contest the election. That was not the cleverest thing to do for the younger Konrad who had the resources to mount a serious threat in case of an election of the elder Konrad, whilst the elder Konrad could not realistically hope to unseat the younger Konrad. When the two Konrad’s sealed their agreement with a kiss in front of the magnates the election was settled, and the majority went for the elder Konrad as king Konrad II.

Now this is my interpretation based on the fundamental differences in character, resources and political position between Henry II and Konrad II. Many historians have very different views stressing continuity between Henry II and Konrad II. That view is based on the fact that Konrad II received strong support from ecclesiastical lords, first and foremost from archbishop Aribo of Mainz who had been a close associate of Henry II and heavily involved in his policy to prosecute secular lords for marrying close relatives.

We will probably never know exactly what motivated the electors in this, the first free election of a German king. There were likely lots of side-deals and promises, some of which will not be kept as many protagonists will find out shortly.

Once it was clear the pendulum would swing in favour of the elder Konrad, the archbishop of Cologne and the duke of Lothringia left the meeting at Kamba. As I said before, this is not an election that comes out with a 60/40 result. The result had to be 100% as it reflected gods will. Dissenters had to leave the assembly, which is what they did.

They had no hope in electing someone else, since the alternative candidate, Konrad the Younger had voted for his cousin. All they wanted was more privileges from the emperor in exchange for their vote. And that is what they got, thanks to some very odd behaviour of the archbishop of Mainz.

Following the election, the assembly proceeded to crown the new emperor in Mainz. As you all know, you need two things for a viable coronation, the imperial insignia and the correct archbishop. The former was procured quickly as the previous empress Kunigunde recognised the election and handed the insignia, including the Holy Lance over to the archbishop of Mainz. Aribo of Mainz was also the correct archbishop as the pope had awarded the right to crown the German king to the church of Mainz.

In hindsight the election of:

At this point in history most elevations to kingship retained an elective element. That came from the ancient Germanic tradition of raising the most capable warrior to be lead the tribe as its king. That tradition had long been watered down, starting by limiting the set of potential electors from “all sword-carrying men” to the aristocratic elite. In France and England the kings kept designating their sons to become kings and negotiate terms with the electors until such time that elections had become foregone conclusions and were eventually replaced by pure declarations of homage. The fact that both Otto III, Henry II and Henry V died childless requiring a decision about succession by the magnates, the election process remained relevant and over time became the key requirement for the elevation of the monarch. Whether the electoral principle helped or hurt the development of the empire sis another one of these open questions you may want to keep in the back of your mind as we go through the medieval emperors.

who were only excluded after:

Electoral colleges shrank rapidly in the 13th century and elections became more formalised over time until in the Golden Bull of 1348 codified the existing practice. It limited the electors to seven, The archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne, the king of Bohemia, the duke of Saxony, the Count Palatinate and the Margrave of Brandenburg, which with minor additions remained the case until 1806.

The:

So, on September 8th, four days after election Konrad is crowned and anointed in the cathedral at Mainz. Who is not crowned and not anointed at the same time is the new empress, Gisela. There are endless speculation why Aribo refused to crown Gisela. The leading theory is that Aribo had refused it on the grounds that Konrad and Gisela were both descendants of Henry I and hence too closely related. That is a possible reason since Aribo was a fervent adherent of the theory that the bible prohibits marriages between relatives in the 7th degree. However, the archbishop would have known about that issue before the election he had just supported. Supporters of this theory therefore conclude that Konrad must have promised to annul the marriage immediately after the coronation, which he clearly did not do. The other theories assume some issue with one of Gisela’s previous marriages or her mother’s marriage, but run into the same problem.

Bottom line is that Aribo refused. Konrad need to get crowned asap because -as we know – being crowned transforms a human being into a representative of Christ on earth, which makes it a lot less likely to be deposed and killed. However, he would not accept the refusal to crown his wife.

The archbishop of Cologne had a lot less scruples about the imperial marriage and offered to crown Gisela. Konrad jumped at the opportunity and -in exchange- supported the bishops request to the pope to become entrusted with royal coronations from here on out. As Aribo found himself on the wrong side with the pope, the privilege was duly transferred to Cologne, so that from now on the correct archbishop is the archbishop of Cologne. That being said, some kings will be crowned by Mainz claiming the elder privilege, whilst sometime anti-kings have receive the blessing from Cologne and still end up not counting as correctly crowned. It’s complicated.

He may be elected, and he may be crowned, but he is not yet truly king. He may have bought the archbishop of Cologne with the right to crown kings in the future, but the two Lothringian dukes, Gozolo and Frederick remained in opposition. Equally the Saxons have not formally given homage.

rtake after his coronation in:

The initial route is through Lothringia, where he did not encounter actual resistance, but still did not receive homage from the two dukes. They will come around, but not yet.

hering in Minden at Christmas:

Konrad moves on to Regensburg where he confirms his control of Bavaria, a duchy that had supported his election anyway. That does not stop him from moving several monasteries from ducal into direct royal control, in other words, nicking the duke’s assets.

In Spring:

Konrad may have felt re-assured that the Italians did not go into rebellion and elected someone else as their king, but that is not the same as being in control of the Italian kingdom.

d massacred its population in:

When the citizens of Pavia appeared at Konstanz to justify themselves, they argued that they only burned the palace after Henry II was dead and hence did not insult the king or damage any living man’s property. Konrad response is quite remarkable: I know that you have not destroyed the palace of the king, as you had no king at the time. But you cannot deny that you have destroyed a royal palace. Even when the king passes, the kingdom remains like the ship remains even if the helmsman perishes. It was a public building, not a private home. It belonged to someone else, not yourselves. You have hence trespassed on another’s land and are hence subject to royal justice.”

This is a huge shift in perception of kingship. Under the Carolingian rulers, the kingdom was a private property, in the same way as a farm or a horse was a private property. The same Salian inheritance rules that require partition amongst the male heirs applied to it. Henry the Fowler already altered the legal status of the kingdom by making Otto the great his sole heir. But the idea that the sate could be distinct from the person of the ruler had not permeated by 983. Otto II had his cousin Henry the Quarrelsome incarcerated as a traitor. However, when Otto II died, he was immediately released, as he was only a traitor against the person of the king, not against the “state” (in inverted commas).

What Konrad says here is that he sees the kingdom as something that is bigger and separate from the person of the ruler, that it has its own rights that are unaffected by the fate of the person wearing the crown. This more modern notion of the state will be one of the foundations of Salians’ understanding of their role as kings and emperors. They may not always be consistent in this, but the prevailing logic is that they are acting on behalf of the state, the res publica as it is now sometimes called, not on behalf of themselves.

Apart from these exciting constitutional shifts, the discussions in Konstanz yielded a more practical outcomeq. Italy is restless and imperial power is not recognised. Konrad needed to go down to Italy and get crowned emperor in Rome.

aight down to Italy in spring:

In Italy he could rely on support from Aribert, the archbishop of Milan, a small number of friendly bishops and the Margrave Bonifaz of Canossa. Pretty much everyone else was opposed to imperial power. The aristocratic opposition led by the margrave of Tuscany could not build up the courage to elect their own king, they had not even the guts to call in a foreign leader as new king. But they remained in a passive aggressive opposition to Konrad, sitting on their castles sulking. Urban populations were more outspoken as we have seen with Pavia. Konrad besieged but Pavia held out until 1027 thereby slowing the royal progress down considerably.

There were even more urban riots during Konrad’s progress, most violently in Ravenna, another city hosting a major royal palace.

At this point Konrad did nothing much about the situation instead of awarding many a rights and privileges to his allies, namely the archbishop of Milan. The most significant move was transferring Tuscany to his ally Bonifaz of Canossa who now controlled a straight band of lands across central Italy, north of Rome ranging from Ferrara through Mantua, Modena, Reggio, Brescia all the way across through Tuscany.

In March:

Leaving this aside, it was still one of the most glamorous coronations of the Middle Ages. Two crowned kings were in attendance, Rudolf III of Burgundy and -drumroll- king Canute. Yes, this king Canute. You may have come across him in English history as the king who tried to command the waves. This story is about as misleading as King Alfred and the burned bread.canute is a truly astounding character who created a Nordic empire comprising Denmark, Norway, parts of Sweden, the southern side of the Baltic coast and obviously England. He had come down to Rome not for the coronation per se but on pilgrimage. He used to mix business and devotion to meet and honour the brand-new emperor. Apparently the two got on well and forged an alliance that included a marriage between Konrad’s son Henry and Canute’s daughter.

This was quite a journey. Within a mere three years a mid-ranking aristocrat with nothing more than an impressive physique and impeccable lineage managed to rise first to king and now to emperor. And it is not just the titles he collected he also gained a modicum of control over this empire he took over from a very distant cousin.

His trials and tribulations are not over though. Whilst he is trying to get to grips with the bewildering situation in Italy, his stepson, Ernst II of Swabia had returned to his homeland and began a more serious rebellion. A rebellion that would turn into a great legend of friendship, a mother’s broken heart and adventure in foreign lands. At the same time, the Polish ruler Boleslav the Brave had crowned himself king, disregarding Konrad’s prerogatives. When Boleslav died, his son Miesko II did the same, bringing down the wrath of the emperor. And, most importantly there is the acquisition of Burgundy. Burgundy had been associated to the empire and its kings had often given homage to emperors, but it was never formally integrated into the empire. Its king, Rudolf III was now very old and had no male heirs, opening up the route for an almighty inheritance dispute. All this and more in next week’s episode.

I hope to see you then. And if you liked this episode, please tell your friends about it and follow the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from. Note that nothing increases visibility of a show more than growth in followers.