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Episode 37 - The Two Grooms
Episode 374th November 2021 • History of the Germans • Dirk Hoffmann-Becking
00:00:00 00:25:58

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The wheel of fortune turns again, tumbling our antihero Henry IV down from the heights he had so recently scaled. We will see him sink to the point of utter despair. And all that because a 43 year old woman marries an 18 year old.

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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Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 37 – The Two Grooms

This week the wheel of fortune will turn again, tumbling our antihero Henry IV down from the heights he had so recently scaled. We will see him sink to the point of utter despair. And all that because a 43 year old woman marries an 18 year old.

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 Steven and Jay who have already signed up.

ecap where we are in the year:

Things aren’t looking too bad for Henry IV. He has a modicum of control over most of Germany. The 17 year long war with the Saxons had been brought to an end, largely by giving them what they wanted, but peace is peace. In Italy his bishops were in charge of the northern part of the country and his anti-pope Clement III was on and off in control of Rome.

As for his enemies, there were essentially three centres.

In Swabia the deposed dukes of Bavaria and Carinthia, Welf IV and Berthold of Zaehringen kept fighting. Henry had entered peace negotiations with both, but their demands were unacceptable. They required the anti-pope Clement III to be removed and they themselves re-instated as dukes.

n and overlord since at least:

And finally, there was the Gregorian papacy. After Gregory VII had died in 1075 his remaining cardinals refused to recognise Pope Clement III, the man Henry had elevated to the seat of Saint Peter. Instead, they elected one of their own as Pope Victor III. Barely ever had anyone been so reluctant to become pope as Pope Victor III. He had been the abbot of the great monastery of Monte Cassino, founded by Saint Benedict and under his leadership the foremost seat of learning, literature, arts and monastic life in Italy. He had not just been an outstanding abbot but also a great negotiator on behalf of the church. He had good relations with his neighbours, the Normans. It was thanks to his efforts the initial agreement between the papacy and the Normans came about in 1059 and he also helped bringing Robert Guiscard to Rome in 1084.

And Victor III was a realist, not a fanatic like Gregory VII. He knew too well that after what Guiscard had done to Rome, the Romans would not voluntarily accept a Gregorian pope. Ad that meant getting into Rome was only possible in the train of a Norman army. What is a pope whose authority comes from the bloodied swords of Northmen and their Saracen soldiers? Well, not one Victor III aspired to be.

in Monte Cassino in September:

That should have been that. By now the Gregorian papacy had proven to be nothing more than a Norman plaything. The Antipope Clement III could hold at least parts of Rome and enjoyed the support of the local population. Clement III was also not against church reform so that the urban population saw some of their demands to get a better sort of vicar for their churches fulfilled.

e Urban II. He became pope in:

Urban II had grown up in France, son of a local aristocrat in Champagne and had joined the fabled monastery of Cluny. He rose through the ranks and was made prior of the abbey. In 1080 Pope Gregory invited him to become Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, the highest-ranking member of the college of cardinals.

Urban II shared Gregory VII’s view of the role of the papacy as the preeminent institution of Christendom, superior to kings and emperors. Where he differed was in his methods.

Where Gregory was rigid and doctrinal to the very end, Urban II had the polish and diplomatic finesse needed to get the papacy out of the hole Gregory had dumped it in.

ky as Robert Guiscard died in:

Leadership of the Normans fell to Roger I, count of Sicily, the youngest of the 12 brothers of Robert Guiscard. Roger had been busy conquering the island of Sicily since 1063. Sicily had been an Arab emirate since the 9th century but had broken apart in the 11th century into small warring factions which created the opportunity for Roger. By 1090 he had removed the last of these mini emirs and set out to conquer Malta. What I am saying is that Roger was busy consolidating his rule over Sicily and less in need of a pet pope.

Urban then applied the old rule that my enemy’s enemy is my friend and concluded that in order to get rid of Clement III he needed to remove Henry IV. And that means he needed to forge a coalition of Henry’s enemies.

And that coalition came about in the form of a marriage, a marriage that even today would be seen as scandalous. Urban II’s proposal was simple, Matilda of Tuscany should marry the son of Welf IV, leader of the German opposition. That would give the anti-henry forces control over a coherent area stretching from the border of the Papal State all the way north, across the alps into Switzerland and Southern Germany. Henry IV and his pet pope, Clement III could be shut out from Rome.

Sounds great. Only issue was that Matilda of Tuscany was no spring chicken anymore. At 43 years of age she had little chance of further offspring, which was according to the doctrine of the church, the main purpose of marriage. And Matilda’s track record as a wife had not been quite in line with the expectations of the time.

t into context, it took until:

For an 11th century red-blooded nobleman Matilda as a wife was a nightmare.

And now let’s talk about the groom. His name was Welf V, son of -guess it – yes Welf IV. Not only was his name unimaginative in the extreme, but he was also no more than 18 years’ old.

The logic of the union was so blatantly obvious, it barely needs explaining. The lands of Matilda were to fall into the hands of the Welf family upon her soon to be expected demise, making the deposed dukes of Bavaria the most powerful princes in the empire.

Matilda was not keen, but a silver tongued Urban II convinced her that she had to make this last great sacrifice for the cause of god and the papacy. Young Welf V presumably was told to grin and bear it for a few years.

unlikely couple took place in:

With this announcement all peace negotiations between Henry IV and the Southern German opposition ended. War was to resume; the question was where? Henry IV could either continue his operations in Southern Germany and subdue the Welf and their allies, leaving Matilda well alone until that was resolved. Or, he could go down to Italy, knock out Matilda and end the schism once and for all by capturing Urban II.

Option 2 was bolder and – we know our Henry – for him bolder is better.

He appears in Italy in May:

As before Henry can count on the support from the Lombard bishops though their numbers are somewhat depleted as the archbishop of Milan had changed sides. Henry also no longer commanded the cities of Pisa and Lucca who returned into the fold of Matilda, having received all they needed from the emperor.

Hostilities in the first year are taken up by the siege of Mantua, forever one of the military linchpins of Italy. Mantua barred the way to the heart of Matilda possessions south of the Po river. After 12 months of siege the city yielded and Henry entered th Edith I;triumph. Two further strongholds nearby fell too opening the road towards the Po river and the heart of Matilda’s possessions.

This success was significant enough for Welf IV, father of Matilda’s husband to resume peace negotiations. It seems the marriage alliance has failed to yield the desired benefits. And with some of his supporters amongst the bishopric having passed this last year, it was time to look for a compromise.

t these demands and by summer:

The year ended with another success for Henry. Matilda had sent out 1,000 of her knights to capture the emperor she had been informed had travelled with a small contingent close to her lands. Well it was a trap and her soldiers were routed by a much superior imperial force.

efensive strategy. In spring:

There were around nine strongholds around her heartland of Canossa. Having lost two and one on the verge of going, Matilda’s vassals became concerned and wanted to bring this process to an end. Matilda was initially reluctant, but negotiations began in October 1092. But they went nowhere. A hermit, named John showed up and declared a vision that Matilda would prevail, and salvation was close at hand.

I usually do not set much store by hermits, but this one was right.

After the failure of the peace negotiations, Henry feigned a retreat towards Parma, but doubled back to attack her home and the heart of her defensive system, Canossa itself. Matilda left the castle with most of its garrison and moved a few miles down the road to another of her castles, Bianello. Bianleeo was by the way where most of the initial negotiations over the lifting of the excommunication had taken place 14 years earlier. This time the roles were reversed. Henry was at Canossa and Matilda in Bianello. But as before, Henry was not inside Canossa but besieged the castle from below.

It might well be that Henry thought that Matilda and most of her soldiers were inside the castle of Canossa or thought she had left for somewhere far away. In any event, on one foggy afternoon Matilda’s garrison came down from Bianello whilst the troops inside Canossa attempted a sortie. In the dark and foggy chaos henry’s troops had a hard time distinguishing friend from foe. The most dispiriting moment came when Matilda’s soldiers captured the royal banner, creating panic in the royal army.

Henry fled the site of his now second humiliation and took his remaining army north. News of his defeat travelled fast and two of the fortresses he only just had captured were returned to Matilda. One of them held the imperial train with supplies and the campaign funds.

Christmas was a difficult feast for Henry who had lost most of the progress he had made that previous year. At the same time his German enemies smelled the morning air. Berthold von Zaehringen had himself elected duke of Swabia though there was already a duke of Swabia, Frederick von Hohenstaufen. And so, Frederick von Hohenstaufen who had been with Henry these last 2 years has to go back home and take his remaining troops with him.

hen he returned to Germany in:

Henry’s mother-in-law and Konrad’s grandmother, Adelheid countess of Savoy had died at the end of 1091. She was, like Matilda, one of these exceptional women who ran a state against all the laws and customs of the time. Her state was the margraviate of Turin and the county of Savoy, in essence what is today the Italian province of Piemonte and the French region of Savoie. And most importantly she controlled a number of Alpine passes, including Mont Cenis which you may remember her daughter Bertha tobogganed down.

Adelheid had no heir in the male line and had designated one of her grandson’s to inherit her lands. To Henry’s annoyance this grandson was not Konrad. But as emperor he could determine the succession of his vassals should they die without direct male heirs. That was the law of the land, but to enforce it, an army needed to be deployed against the obstinate new count of Savoy. Konrad was put in charge of that army and dispatched west.

Turin until in the summer of:

What brought this treachery about has long been debated. Some later writers point out that Konrad was a bookish man who preferred reading over riding into battle. Some suggested that he had a falling out with his father over points of canon law and the claims of papal supremacy. The imperial propagandists describe him as a feckless boy who had lent his ear to bad councillors.

Modern historians like I.S. Robinson and Egon Boshof attribute him with more political intelligence. Konrad saw his father’s position deteriorating rapidly after the rout before Canossa. His army shrunk and the ranks of his enemies were swelled by formerly loyal Lombard bishops and emerging independent cities. And there was no way this could be resolved as long as Henry clung to his anti-pope Clement III. And Henry could not let go of Clement III, because that would invalidate his Imperial Coronation.

Konrad may well have come to the conclusion that the only way the Salian house can remain in possession of power was if he would be crowned emperor by the right pope, i.e., Urban II. If that happened, he could fulfil the two conditions Welf IV had set for a lasting peace, setting aside Clement III and giving him the duchy of Bavaria. Peace with Welf IV and an arrangement with urban II would end all conflicts and bring Konrad on the throne of a now united empire.

That sounds like a plan. A plan Konrad went into without reservation. He met pope Urban II in Cremona. When the pope approached, Konrad went out to meet him and there performed what is called “the office of the groom”. Konrad would get off his horse and he would take the papal bridle, guiding the vicar of Christ into the city.

This act of imperial submission to the papal authority had not been performed since the emperor Louis II, who was in fact no more than an Italian warlord. Allegedly it had been introduced by the emperor Constantine who performed it for Pope Sylvester after he had cured his leprosy by bathing him in the blood of young boys or some such nonsense.

By performing the office of the Groom or Stratordienst Konrad accepts the Dictatus Papae of Gregory VII and becomes a vassal of the Pope. And from now the popes will demand the office of the Groom at every Imperial coronation

For Henry this must have been a stab through the heart. All he fought for was the preservation of the Salian rule he had inherited from his father and grandfather. His son joining the papal camp makes all that worthless.

And this is not all. The next attack comes from his new wife. Empress Bertha who had faithfully followed her husband to Canossa had died 5 years earlier and Henry had married Eupraxia, a Russian princess. This marriage seemed to have been quite unsuccessful. Eupraxia does appear in only one charter during their marriage, which is a very low number compared to other Salian empresses and Henry’s first wife who appeared very regularly. That suggest she had little if any influence at court.

Early in:

And it does not matter, Henry had been betrayed by his son and accused of infernal crimes by his wife. His military position is now absolutely dire. His empire has shrunk to a couple of counties in Northern Italy held by his ally, the duke of Carinthia. He cannot return to Germany because his enemies control the Alpine passes. He cannot overcome his Italian enemies whose numerical superiority is now overwhelming. It may well be that he contemplated suicide or its 11th century equivalent, riding your horse into the middle of a melee.


“A barbaric fury has deplorably afflicted and laid waste the churches of God in the regions of the Orient" Urban declares and this barbaric fury has "even grasped in intolerable servitude its churches and the Holy City of Christ, glorified by His passion and resurrection". He calls upon all to "free the churches of the East", and promises that “If any man sets out from pure devotion, not for reputation or monetary gain, to liberate the Church of God at Jerusalem, his journey shall be reckoned in place of all penance” “Deus vult, God wills it” is the crowds response, not just in Clermont but all across Europe. The crusades have begun.

Whilst Urban is making world history up in France, the wheel of fortune turns again, unexpectedly. It is not just Henry’s marriage that is on the rocks, the match made in heaven between Matilda and Welf V had also run its course. The marriage that brought all this misery about in the first place is now over.

We do not know who left who, but the bottom line is the same as in Matilda’s first marriage. The Lady is not for turning. Welf V may be a strapping young lad, but that does not mean Matilda will leave him her lands or take his political advice. Matilda’s life and work is bringing about her friend Gregory VII vision of an all encompassing and all controlling papacy. And hence the heir to Matilda will be the one who had been her master all along, The Lord and his representative on earth, the Pope. Little Welf will get nothing.

When this notion trickles through to the older Welf IV, deposed duke of Bavaria, he realised that everyone was in it for themselves, surprise. Time for Welf to finally get something for himself.

He opens negotiations with Henry and the two men quickly reach an agreement. Welf IV offers fealty to the emperor in exchange for the duchy of Bavaria. There is no mention of Pope Clement III or the schism or church reform. Let’s just bring this nonsense to an end.

In spring:

Next week we will leave Henry to his own devices and talk a bit about the next great achievement of the Gregorian papacy, the First Crusade. We will talk about the horrors it unleashed for the Jewish communities in Germany and the misery it brought to the children and adults who walked all the way to Turkey only to be mercilessly slaughtered. And the men who in the main went, not for pure devotion but for reputation and monetary gain. I hope you will join us again.

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