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Episode 35 - To Rome! To Rome!
Episode 3521st October 2021 • History of the Germans • Dirk Hoffmann-Becking
00:00:00 00:24:07

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The Rebellion in Germany under control Henry can finally go after his true nemesis, Pope Gregory VII. He sets out for Rome on a journey he thought may just take four months but ended up taking four 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.

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Hello and Welcome to the History of the Germans, Episode 35 – To Rome to Rome

Today we will look at what went on with Gregory VII after Henry had left to fight his rivals in Germany. Spoiler alert, things will not turn out the way he had hoped.

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Gregory in Canossa in January:

Let,s start with the conqueror, Gregory had ensured he had the full support of the papacy and even received a papal banner to be carried into battle. His objective was to gain control over the English church. And William it seemed delivered, at least initially. He removed the existing Anglo-Saxon bishops wholesale and replaced them with reform-minded Norman clergymen. His new archbishop of Canterbury, Llanfranc was a man of international standing, originally from Italy. And though Lanfranc did all the right things and collected his Pallium in person in Rome and swore to be obedient to the pope, relations soured. When it came to Gregory’s claim to be the overlord of all secular rulers, Lanfranc was not falling in line. His allegiance was first and foremost to the man who put him in his post, William the Conqueror. He sided with his lord when Gregory insisted on the appointment of the bishop of Dol and even more importantly when Gregory insisted on splitting the country between the archbishops of York and Canterbury. Gregory wrote a string of angry letters to William and Lanfranc, but England being a country far, far away and his ruler well established, all he could do is write and be angry.

Geography matters – like a lot. And on that score, France looked like an easier place to assert papal authority. And Gregory had good reason to castigate the King of France for the way he selected his bishops. In the second half of the 11th century the kings of France were by all accounts the poor relations of the European rulers. Their land barely extended beyond the Ile de France. One of the few sources of income to the king was the right to invest his bishops and charge handsomely for that. Gregory’s man for French affairs was Hugh bishop of Die and later archbis.

Gregory’s letters were a lot more effective in France then they were in England as the powerful magnates used it to further constrain the power of the king.

that Gregory VII declared in:

Following the statutes of the holy fathers, [] now we decree and confirm: that, if any one henceforth shall receive a bishopric or abbey from the hand of any lay person, he shall by no means be considered as among the number of the bishops or abbots; nor shall any hearing be granted him as bishop or abbot.

Moreover, do we further deny to him the favour of St. Peter and the entry to the Church until, coming to his senses, he shall desert the place that he has taken by the crime of ambition as well as by that of disobedience - which is the sin of idolatry. []

Likewise, if any emperor, king, duke, margrave, count or any one at all of the secular powers or persons shall presume to perform the investiture with bishoprics or with any ecclesiastical dignity, - he shall be bound by the bonds of the same condemnation” (unquote).

This is the famous ban on lay investiture. And what it says is quite simple. If any bishop, abbot or priest has been put into his role by a layman he is automatically excommunicated and so is the layman who had put him there.

There were bans on lay investiture before, but they were rarely as clear and uncompromising as this.

ture conflict starts here, in:

This ban turns it from a struggle for supremacy into a fight over the institutional integrity of the empire. The. An emperor who cannot appoint his bishops means the imperial church system collapses, and without the bishops the emperor has no soldiers. And that does just apply to the empire. As we saw some episodes ago, the power of the Norman dukes and later the kings of England was as well dependent on their control over the bishops. The. Inflict has become a fundamental question over the respective responsibilities o, the ecclesia, the church and the mind us, the world

Initially ban on investiture as well as the second excommunication of Henry IV on the same synod went nowhere. Gregory’s excommunications have been raining down on people in such frequency that people stopped caring. Practically all Lombard bishops had been excommunicated for years already. Many of Henry’s supporters in Germany are now excommunicated for the second time. And now the king of France and even the king of England were on the verge of being banned. But it wasn’t just the die-hard supporters of Gregory’s direct adversaries, neutral bishops were required to come to Rome and receive the Pallium or were refused consecration. Their reform efforts were criticized and constant demands to do this or that issued. And if one takes the wording of the ban on lay investiture literally, more or less everybody was excommunicated, because pretty much every bishop, abbot and priest had received at least his worldly fiefs from a secular lord. And these secular lords were now also technically under the ban. And as they say, if everybody is excommunicated, nobody is. Never will a ruler kneel in the snow before a pope again. The greatest weapon of the papacy had been utterly spent in just 3 years.

s reaction to this Synod of:

The synod accused Gregory of various misdeeds including of simony, violence, false oaths, the support of heresy, murder, watching pornographic floor shows and even of having a demon, all based on testimony of Hugo the White, cardinal bishop of San Clemente and sworn enemy of Gregory VII. So far so traditional. These kinds of arguments had been made as far back as the deposition of John XII by Otto the great who was accused of congress with all sorts of occult spectres.

But as time went on, the arguments for a deposition of Gregory changed in quality. It is right around this time that Roman law, specifically the Justinian Code was being studied again for the first time in centuries. Until now, most secular law had been Germanic law codes that had very limited internal coherence and some argue have actually rarely been applied. Royal judgements tended to be a bit ad hoc and often political. The church had raced ahead, and Canon Law had gained a lot of internal coherence during the 11th century. By the time of Gregory, most bishops would have a collection of Canon Law in their possession and would base their decision who to support in the ongoing conflict on these compilations. There are conflicting sources who ordered the codification of canon law and who actually produces the first approved version, but by the end of the century Canon law had a solid structure and coherence.

If the church has a coherent system of law, then secular lords needed one too. And that law was the Roman law compiled during the reign of the emperor Justinian in the early 6t century. If in canon law the pope was the source of all justice ad truth, under the Justinian code, that role fell to the emperor. Secular ruler really fell in love with the Justinian code once they could interpret it such that Emperor does not mean Henry IV, but any king, prince, count or baron.

One of the key provisions of the Justinian Code was the Lese Majeste – disrespecting the crown, a crime punishable by death. And that is what Gregory was accused of. He had offended the dignity of the ruler by claiming his excommunication.

For now, these arguments did not carry much weight, nor did other legal constructs from the Justinian code used in the case of Henry IV. But as we will see, the Roman law and its notion of the role of kings will become a key justification for the expansion of royal power, culminating in absolute monarchies almost everywhere in Europe, except for outliers like Britain, Poland and Venice.

This split of law into church law and secular law rare outside Europe is just another result of the events we describe here and call the Investiture Conflict or just Canossa.

The synod of Brixen did not just depose Gregory, it also elected Wibold archbishop of Ravenna as successor to Gregory VII. Clement III was of the same age as Gregor but different in background. Wibert was an old-school prelate in the mould of Leo IX. Of aristocratic stock he had pursued his career in the wind shadow of Emperor Henry III and rose to be Imperial chancellor for Italy. Empress Agnes made him Archbishop of Ravenna and despite his initial support for the antipope Cadulus was given his pallium by Pope Alexander II. Gregory thought him insufficiently fervent in his support for reform and excommunicated him - another one.

He took the name of Clement III but declared that he would not act as pope until he had been properly enthroned on the seat of Saint Peter. That might have been Clement’s own choice or a move by Henry IV to leave a way open for reconciliation with Gregory is not clear. What is clear is that for the policy to work, Henry will have to bring Clement down to Rome, remove Gregor and affect a proper coronation of his pope. To get that done proved time consuming.


Gregory had not only lost a lot of ground within the church, he had also excommunicated Robert Giuscard the Norman lord the church had been relying on for the last decade. Gregory and Robert did patch up things in 1080, but the Norman was anything but an obedient vassal. His main focus was Constantinople which had fallen into complete disarray after a terrible defeat against the Seldjuk Turks at Manzikart. Robert, freebooter to the last instead of defending Christendom against the Muslim onslaught thought of benefitting from the chaos and pick up as much of the Byzantine empire as possible. So, not uch help to be expected from that side.

Matilda was forever loyal, but powerful as she may be, could she hold out against the combined forces of the Empire and the Lombard bishops.

dy tried to abduct Gregory in:

Henry marched gingerly through Italy which had become a lot more supportive of the Imperial party since his last visits.

Henry arrived in Rome at Pentecost expecting to be greeted by a procession of the senate and people of Rome accompanying him into the city under the singing of hymns and prayers. He was sorely disappointed. The people of Rome stuck by their pope. The church reform movement was a movement of the people and that is why they supported Pope Gregory as a representative of reform versus the conservative backlash.

Rome’s defenses, built by the emperor Aurelian in the 3rd century were still strong and well maintained. And Gregory had created the Papal militia as his own military force that now manned the fortifications. Henry's supporters came dressed for a party, not for war. They had no siege equipment, and their army was small.

But most importantly, it is already Pentecost, i.e., early May and Rome’s greatest defense mechanism, Malaria is getting into gear. There is nothing Henry can do but retreat with his tail between his legs. This is the first time an imperial progress towards a coronation had failed. The embarrassment of the failed coronation was almost as detrimental to his standing as the kneeling in the snow of Canossa.

As things stood, Henry now needed to get crowned, cost it what it may. If he did go back to Germany without a crown his enemies would feel vindicated, and the wavering middle would believe that God had made it clear that Henry should not be king.

The next 2 years Henry roamed around Italy, fighting Matilda od Tuscany and gathering armies he brought before Rome to besiege the city.

His army consisted initially mostly of the contingents of the Lombard bishops. But over time he gathered ore supporters. Amongst them were the Tuscan cities of Lucca and Pisa. Lucca had been the pre-eminent city of Matilda’s lands. Lucca was most famous for its silk weavers who initially imported their raw materials from the near East via Genoa before producing it themselves. Their silks replicated and improved Byzantine designs that proved extremely popular. Lucca was also home to prominent members of the Kalonymos family, which must count as one of the most creatively productive families in history. They can trace their lineage back to the 8th century and numerous rabbis, preachers, poets, teachers, authors, moralists, and theologians, and many prominent leaders of Jewish communities up to the 15th century came from its ranks. The family had branches in both Italy and Germany where they had been invited to settle by Charlemagne or one of his successors. They played a major role in the great Jewish communities of Speyer and Mainz.

Sorry, I digress. I simply cannot help myself looking at histo frankly did not know anything about before researching this episode but clearly features heavily in the history of other communities.

Back to Lucca. Henry IV offered the city more or less total freedom from oversight by either the margrave of Tuscany or the emperor himself. The city was allowed to build and maintain its own defenses, was no longer obliged to build or maintain the imperial Pfalz, could no longer be billeted with soldiers, received market rights, customs privileges, and jurisdiction over everything but the most severe crimes. Lucca became thereby the first city in the empire to be officially granted the full rights of an imperial free city.

But Lucca was not the first free city in Italy. Seafaring cities like Vencie, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and Naples had been de facto free cities for a long time already. But even these saw value in being granted rights and privileges by the empire. Pisa valued the confirmation of its rights sufficiently to side with Henry IV.

Whilst Henry was gathering troops in Italy, the situation in Germany oscillated. At times the new anti king Hermann managed to gain control of Saxony and the bits of Swabia and even at some point contemplated a march on Rome to support the pope. That effort collapsed when Otto von Northeim finally died, and Herrmann had to focus on holding Saxony.

For Henry that meant he had to rush back and forth between Rome, the lands of Matilda of Tuscany and the Alpine passes, never able to fully deploy his forces for a lengthy siege.

wed up in Rome in February of:

Despite Henry’s efforts going nowhere, Gregory’s position also became desperate. He was simply running out of funds. He had called a synod for Lent in Rome, but hardly any bishops made it through and when Gregory asked for approval to pawn church property to fund the ongoing war, the few bishops who had gathered refused. Matilda, herself under enormous pressure had the great gold crosses and liturgical objects held at Canossa melted down and sent to the pope as bullion.


In the year 1083 Henry showed up before the gates of Rome again. As before he set up camp on the Vatican side of the Tiber. His troops made two attempts to overrun the Leonine walls that protect Saint Peter but were rebuffed. At the third attempt, the Romans attempted a sortie to break the siege. Fighting ferociously driven by the pangs of hunger and desperation, they pushed Henry’s forces all the way back into their camp. Henry, seeing that his rule may come to an end in this skirmish joined the fray and his soldiers followed him with renewed vigor driving the Romans back behind the walls of the city.

This fight had broken the resilience of the Romans who found themselves bereft of food, supplies and any hope of relief. Matilda was unable to help, the Normans were overseas. Morale deteriorated and discipline became slack. A few days later Henry’s soldiers noticed that a stretch of wall had no guards on them. In the dark they brought the ladders and climbed in without encountering any resistance. They opened the gates and the Imperial soldiers flooded in. Gregory and his closest associates rushed for the safety of the Castello di Sant Angelo whilst resistance on the Vatican side of the city was quickly overcome. The papal militia was however able to hold the bridge over the Tiber and the main city of Rome remained in Gregory's hands.

After that, negotiations started again. From Henry's perspective the best solution would be if Gregory could be made to crown him. That would remove the stain of excommunication and end the conflict. Hence he and his pope-elect Clemet III left Rome. He kept a garrison there and tore down the walls of the Vatican city.

Thigs looked good for a while as Gregory, pressured by the Roman people, called a synod and promised to subject himself to whatever that synod decides about how the conflict could be resolved. How sincere this promise was soon became quite clear. His invitation to the synod included clear instructions to the bishops attending. They were told to defend the church against the king a king he had once again excommunicated from the walls of the Castello di Sant’Angelo. Gregory really did not care for compromise. Henry had no option than to sabotage the synod by apprehending the Gregorian bishops travelling to Rome.

In the meantime, he had received some financial support from the emperor in Constantinople who had come under pressure from Robert Giuscard. The Byzantine emperor wanted Henry to invade Robert Giuscard’s lands in Southern Italy and thereby forcing him to abandon his attacks against the Eastern Empire.

Henry used these funds to bribe the Romans who were now seriously tired of the stubborn Holy Father. They may support church reform, but they were even more keen on bringing these endless sieges to an end. And even in his college of Cardinals dissent was rising. His autocratic style had already irritated some of these eminent churchmen, but his insistence on fighting to the death was the last straw.


And then, finally, finally Henry IV. King of the Romans since 1056 was crowned emperor in St. Peter in the 28th year of his reign by Pope Clement and in the presence of many bishops, cardinals dukes, counts and the Roman people. If it wasn’t for the previous pope still holding out in the Castello di Sant’Angelo, it would have appeared as if finally, the good years of Emperor Henry III were back.

Are they? Well, we will see next week. Gregory is still around, and there is Robert Giuscard whose adventure in Byzantium is going pear-shaped. When he returns to defend his lands now under threat from henry in Rome, the rollercoaster that is Henry Iv’s reign will take another turn, a turn the brunt of which will be borne not by Henry but by the people of Rome who will see their worst fears realised. I hope you will join us again next week.

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