Artwork for podcast History of the Germans
Episode 44 - A Saxon Emperor
Episode 4428th January 2022 • History of the Germans • Dirk Hoffmann-Becking
00:00:00 00:28:00

Share Episode


With just a 24h delay here is Episode 44.

Lothar III being duly elected and crowned declares a 12 month peace for the whole realm., only to break it himself a few months later.

Frederick of Hohenstaufen, his rival for the crown is unwilling to hand over the crown lands he is still holding. And after gentle insistence did not achieve much, cold hard steel need to be put to work.

In the first 5 years, Lothar is beset with a spot of bad luck. Sieges fail and he even gets beaten by the duke of Bohemia. The Hohenstaufen elect Frederick's younger brother Konrad to be king. Konrad rushes off to Italy to be crowned King of Italy and even makes a bid for the imperial crown..

Being king isn't what it was made out to be. Follow us as Lothar extracts himself from the malaise and even kicks off a new policy arena that will drive Eastern European history for 300 years..

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).

As always:

Homepage with maps, photos, transcripts and blog:

Facebook: @HOTGPod

Twitter: @germanshistory

Instagram: history_of_the_germans

Reddit: u/historyofthegermans



Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 44 – Lothar III A Saxon Emperor

In today’s episode we look at the aftermath of the turbulent election of Lothar, 3rd of his name. Surely the Hohenstaufen brothers, nephews of the last emperor and heirs to the Salian emperors are not going to take this lying down.

Before we start 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 Carlos, geregelt and Misty who have already signed up.

Last week you heard how Lothar of Supplinburg, duke of Saxony had been elected king of the Romans. Lothar is counted as Lothar III in the list of medieval kings and emperors. If you have listened to the podcasts since the beginning, you know that there was no Lothar so far. We had Henry I, II, III, IV and V, Otto I,II and III, Konrad I and II, but no Lothar. So who was Lothar I and Lothar II? Lothar I was the grandson of Charlemagne who was given that strip of land between what would later be Germany and France and that is named Lothringia, after him. Lothar I was an emperor, so it makes sense to count him in. Lothar II was the son of Lothar I. Now he was king of Lothringia but not an emperor. So why count him in? Well that goes to the heart of the question where Lothringia belongs. Unsurprisingly the historians of the 19th century who were mostly responsible for fixing the numbering thought Lothringia was German and hence our Lothar became known as Lothar III. There you are, the conflicts that caused so much pain in Europe go deep and pop up in the most unexpected corners.

O.K. let’s go back to the story


Lothar was a very competent politician and soldier. He had already turned the role of duke of Saxony from a merely ceremonial role as it was under the last Billungs into a king-like position. His duchy was tightly run, and imperial oversight was negligible to non-existent. He had achieved a major military success at the battle of Welfenholz that broke the power of emperor Henry V.

And moreover, he had been elected by a great assembly of all the princes of the realm. His elevation was accepted by all, including the leaders of the imperial party, Henry of Bavaria and Frederick of Swabia.

What a difference to the rise of Henry V who had come to power in a coup and who ended his reign disowned even by his closest friends and heirs. Reasons to be optimistic?

Well, no. Lothar finds out quite quickly that being king is not what it was made out to be. First he begins a military expedition against the duke of Bohemia who had refused to swear him fealty. That fails quite miserably with lots of his supporters captured or dead, including his own candidate for the seat of duke of Bohemia. He has to accept the current duke, invest him in his post and trudge home in shame.

Then he finds himself in a pickle about the position of archbishop of Magdeburg. He had supported a candidate who also happened to be his cousin. That candidate had been elected and was already acting as archbishop when another candidate was proposed by some other clerics. Lothar upon gentle nudging by the papal legate accepts a third candidate, Norbert of Gennup also known as Norbert of Xanten. Norbert was the founder of the Premonstratensian order, one of the reformed orders that appeared now as Cluny was fading into the background. Their rule was tough and their abbot even tougher. Apparently his first three disciples did not survive the rigours of Norbert’s extremely austere supplements to the already tight rule of St. Augustin. The Premonstratensians shared some traits with the Cistercians founded by Bernhard of Clairvaux around the same time, but differed in as much as they were canons, i.e., involved in preaching and general pastoral care in the community. Hence becoming a bishop was a conceivable step for Norbert. As it happens, Norbert would become an important supporter of Lothar III, but still the fact remained that Lothar could not push through his candidate for the important see of Magdeburg. And this pattern continues. The papal legate removes the abbot of the largest of the German monasteries, Fulda and excommunicates a bishop elect of Wuerzburg. These acts, which may or may not have reflected Lothar’s own policy nevertheless look as if he was under the kybosh of Pope Honorius II.

But the even bigger issue was the inheritance of Henry V. As we mentioned before, Frederick of Hohenstaufen had been made the heir of Henry V. That means he should receive all of Henry V’s personal lands and possessions. What he was not to receive were the crown lands Henry V held ex officio. And that is a problem. After 100 years of Salian rule and a register of deeds that could at best be described as sketchy, stripping out the private from the crown lands was neigh on impossible.

And to be fair, Frederick of Hohenstaufen having been so elegantly outmanoeuvred by Lothar and Adalbert at the election was in no hurry to hand back the crown estate to its rightful owner.. Even before Roman law became again widespread, Possession was 9/10th of the law. In particular when that possessor in question carries a long sword and sits on a stone castle. Lothar’s requests to hand over the royal lands was met with either a) an enthusiastic “of course”, but that particular piece of land come in via a bequest from great, great aunt Margery, or b) just give us a moment, my chancellery is working its way through the documents, we will be done in a jiffy.

According to the chronicler Otto of Freising, the staufer did not see the point in negotiating honestly with the other side as long as they are being advised by the archbishop Adalbert of Mainz. Mainz, he said was a leech who would not stop sucking out the lifeblood of the House of Hohenstaufen before they were bone dry.

rederick even before the year:

An imperial attempt to break the Staufer stronghold of Nuremberg failed miserably. The imperial troops had to flee when the Staufer army arrived to relieve the siege.. Most shamefully the imperial troops had to leave their provisions and equipment behind. The two brothers pursued the imperial army as far as Wuerzburg. And there we have the same thing, though in reverse. The rebel army sits outside the walls but cannot take the city.

dfrey de Preuilly who died in:

Despite this display of high chivalry, or maybe because the knights were tired from beating up each other instead of the enemy, Wuerzburg did not fall.

Despite the failure to take Wuerzburg, the Hohenstaufen are now riding high. And so, they do what every self-respecting rebel needs to do, they elected an anti-king. Since their party consisted of the Hohenstaufen and nothing but the Hohenstaufen, the anti-king would have to be, obviously, a Hohenstaufen. Frederick as the older brother and as duke of Swabia the most senior should have been the anti-king, right.

Well, he was not. There are two reasons cited why that did not happen. One was that Frederick had suffered a serious injury to his eye at some point during the fighting of the last 2 years. Losing eyesight had historically disqualified even direct heirs from kingship, which is why the Merovingian and Byzantine rulers had a habit of blinding their opponents. Frederick still had the use of one eye, which in this rather weird system of ableist rankings allowed him to remain duke, but apparently not king.

ial solar eclipse in November:

That meant he had not been in Mainz on election day in August 1125 and had not bent the knee to Lothar III. When he finally returned, he joined the war between his brother and the emperor that was already in full swing.

What this elevation to anti king was supposed to achieve is a bit unclear. There were no major dukes or princes present at this election and Konrad could not even find a suitable bishop to crown him. Hence his kingship was only mentioned in an aside by the family chronicler Otto von Freising.

The only immediate reaction was the excommunication of the Staufer brothers, first by the German bishops and then by Pope Honorius II himself. By now being excommunicated had become a natural state of affairs for the supporters of the Salian/Hohenstaufen leadership. This was the second time he was excommunicated and as before, it did not bother him much.

In the new year the Staufer army moved on to Speyer, which they took easily, probably because the population of the city had benefitted from the huge funds spent on building the enormous cathedral and so had always been supportive of the Salians. Frederick of Swabia leaves a strong garrison in the city which proves necessary as Lothar will begin a siege shortly afterwards.

Before Lothar begins this siege however, Konrad implements his most ambitious plan yet. He realises that he has few allies in Germany and his crown is still not a real one. His idea is to go down into the rich lands of Italy where he may find some supporters. He might even get hold of the famous wealth of the great countess Matilda of Tuscany who had bequeathed her enormous holdings to Henry V and hence to him, Konrad.

This, as we will find out, will be a key plank of Hohenstaufen policy. Get rich in Italy to strengthen the position in Germany.

Konrad’s trip was off to a good start. He crosses the alps and finds the Milanese extremely supportive. Milan was not only the largest city in Italy, if not in western Europe, it was also involved in a heavy rivalry with the papacy. Milan’s bishops trace themselves back to Saint Ambrose, the church father who actually brought a Roman emperor to his knees in the 4th century whilst the Roman had to make up a fake document claiming emperor Constantine had handed his crown to the pope after being healed from leprosy or some such nonsense. .In the eyes of the Milanese their archbishop equal to the pope. They felt that the expanding papacy was threatening their traditional rights. Hence taking in the excommunicated Konrad was right up their street.

nrad as king of Italy in June:

Konrad even begins a journey to Rome to acquire the imperial crown, which - it has to be noted - Lothar III has not yet received. As I am writing these words it suddenly strikes me what the point of all this gallivanting around Italy is. There was no chance in hell that Konrad could get hold of the Imperial regalia and the correct Archbishop to be properly crowned in Aachen. If he stayed in Germany he would never become the legitimate king. But, if he could receive a formally correct coronation as emperor, Konrad would outrank Lothar III, a mere king. And then he would be in with a chance.

But the expedition stalls. There is not a lot of detail available, but it seems the Lombards apart from the Milanese may not have been as overjoyed to join the Hohenstaufen Banner as it was initially made out. Konrad also struggles to get the former vassals of the Countess Matilda to recognise him as her heir. There is a story that the Milanese were prepared to pay one of these vassals a large sum of money for the great complex of fortresses around Canossa. That plot only failed because the wife of that vassal was so appalled by the idea, she told the other Tuscan lords who then scuppered the deal.

By the end of:

If Lothar and Henry weren’t enough to bring down the Hohenstaufen, Lothar managed to bring many of the important families of Southern Germany into his camp by awarding new innovative titles. The Duke of Zaehringen, an eternal enemies of the Hohenstaufen from the South of Swabia became Rector of Burgundy, a newly invented title of unclear significance. It was valuable to the Zaehringer though as they could use it as a vehicle to expand into what is today French speaking Switzerland. Lothar created a number of Landgraves. This title describes a count who is not subject to ducal authority, but reports directly to the emperor, so called imperial immediacy. These titles were granted, amongst other to the Habsburgs, then a clan of middling counts in Alsace and the Ludowigers in Thuringia.

If the Hohenstaufen had any friends left, it was their half-brothers, the Babenbergers in Austria, but they were far away on the other side of the lands of the Welf.

hey took Speyer at the end of:

Konrad returned to Germany probably in 1130 having achieved precisely nothing during his stay in Italy. Nuremberg fell to Lothar that same year.. After that the game was basically up. Friedrich and Konrad will however keep going for another 4 years. In 1134 Lothar takes the heavily defended city of Ulm, the true centre of Hohenstaufen territory, it is truly over. First Frederick and then Konrad put on the hair shirt and kneeling barefoot, ask for imperial forgiveness. That they receive on extraordinarily generous terms. Both receiving their family lands in Swabia, Alsace and Franconia back and even some of the harder to detangle imperial fiefs. Konrad is singled out and must serve in Lothar’s army as his bannerman, but that is pretty much it.


But before we go down to Italy as we always have to, we should talk about one important shift in, I am not sure we can call it imperial policy but lets just say policy of the realm.

Since as long ago as 983 the eastern borders of the empire have been fixed. You may remember that Otto the Great had been very ambitious in the east and tried to push the borders from the Elbe to the Oder River. He had founded bishoprics in Brandenburg and Havelberg. But all that came crashing down under his son Otto II when the Slavic population of the lands east of the Elbe rebelled. The churches were burnt down, and the locals went back to their ancestral pagan beliefs.

From that time onwards the area east of the Elbe was contested between the local princes, the Dukes and Kings of Poland and the Saxon lords. The empire claimed these areas as its own and had declared them Marcher counties, namely Meissen, Lausitz, Northern March and March of the Billungs. The population was however overwhelmingly Slavic and mostly pagan. All the marcher lords did there was pillaging and demanding tribute.

Christians from the West. In:

At the same time missionary activity in the east intensifies. The already mentioned archbishops Norbert of Magdeburg and his Premonstratensians are active in the Northern marches. Bishop Otto of Bamberg is focused on Pomerania, which lies east of the Northern marches where he allegedly converted 22,000 heathens in one day. The grunt work however is done by individual clergymen, mostly monks who travel unaccompanied into the heathen lands to preach and to establish churches and monasteries. That was a lot less glamorous than the mass baptisms of the great ecclesiastical lords. One missionary called Vicelin who later founded the monastery of Neumunster described his early days on the road as “a time of tiring and unsuccessful work, and of continual trials…pillage, arson, imprisonment of his companions, wounds and death”. It seems the Slavs had not forgotten the brutal conversion tactics of Hermann Billung and Margrave Gero.

These more peaceful endeavours were flanked by military expeditions. As duke of Saxony Lothar had led several military excursions into the land of the Abodrites, which is today’s Mecklenburg. Amongst others he conquered the island of Ruegen.

th century until:

Once the Danish king had been subdued despite his great wall, Lothar took his troops into Slav lands. This expedition differs from previous raids where German lords would extract tribute and plunder from the locals. Lothar is looking for permanent control. He builds a castle in Segeberg to establish control over the lands acquired in this raid.

But Lothar’s most lasting impact on the history of the eastern expansion was his HR policy. Even before he had become emperor, he installed the House of Wettin in the March of Meissen and the Ascanier in the Lausitz. The counts of Schauenburg were given Holstein which they began to populate with colonists from Germany and Flanders.

The best known of these early expansionists was Albrecht called the Bear, head of the Ascanier clan. He was a ruthless and impatient man who did not mind accelerating inheritances by the occasional murder. He will appear at times in our narrative, but the important point for you to remember is that Albrecht would found the Margraviate of Brandenburg the state that would later be known as Prussia.

This colonisation of the east is a major plank of German history for the next 300 years but plays at best a tangential role in the story of the Hohenstaufen and their successors as Holy Roman Emperors. Hence, I will dedicate a separate season to this process which will include the histories of the Teutonic Knights and the Hanse. So, if you miss the North in our narrative, be patient. It is coming.

For Lothar this sponsorship of the eastern expansion and the award of opportunities to the great Saxon families is one of the reasons his domestic position remained largely untroubled after the Hohenstaufen had been subdued. Even the thickest thug realises that expanding territory against a largely defenceless opponent is a lot more rewarding than feuding with your castellated neighbour or your emperor who may retaliate and devastate your own lands. One of Lothar’s most famous successors, Frederick Barbarossa, will draw an important lesson from that.

So far so good. Our friend Lothar III seems to be doing quite well. The realm is under control and the mighty lords have been given something to do that is not fighting each other. That leaves the other key area of medieval politics, the church. Here Lothar’s track record has come in for a lot of criticism. Next week we will look more closely whether he was indeed a Pfaffenkoenig, a papal pet or a smart operator who distinguished between meaningless symbolic acts and hard political advantages. 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