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Episode 36 - Henry IV is Coming Home
Episode 3628th October 2021 • History of the Germans • Dirk Hoffmann-Becking
00:00:00 00:25:11

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His coronation barely two months hence, Henry IV leaves Rome without capturing Gregory VII. The Pope's powerful vassal, Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and greatest of Norman warlords was approaching with an army of 36,000. Henry no longer needs Rome, what he needs to do is get back to Germany and bring peace to the war-ravaged country. A u-turn in his policies helps to gain support amongst bishops and magnates so that by 1089, the country is largely pacified for the first time in 17 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 36 - Henry IV is Coming Home

Today we will talk about the return of Henry IV to Germany and how he brings the civil war to at least a more than temporary halt.

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Last week we left Henry IV celebrating his coronation in Rome. The ceremonies of emperor making had become ever more elaborate since pope Leo had surprised Charlemagne by putting a crown on his head on Christmas Day 800. Ian Richardson describes the festivities as follows: The ceremonies lasted 4 days, during which the emperor entered five churches, St. Peter, St. John Lateran, Saint Paul outside the Walls, Santa Maria Maggiore and the church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. For the main events, the consecration on March 31st and the Coronation on April 1st, the emperor wore linen tunic embroidered with gold and precious jewels, the imperial mantle, golden spurs and the imperial sword. On his hands he wore linen gloves and the episcopal ring, and on his head the imperial diadem. He went in procession to St. Peter’s, carrying in his left the golden orb, which signifies the government of all the kingdoms and in his right the scepter of empire, in the manner of Julius, Octavian and Tiberius. He was preceded by the empire’s greatest treasures: the double relic of the holy lance of the leader of the theban legion, ST. Maurice, which had been refashioned so as to contain a nail of the holy cross. These relcis were followed by the venerable order of bishops, abbots, priests and innumerable clergy, followed by the emperor accompanied by the pope and the archbishop of Milan and they were again followed by the dukes, margraves, counts and orders of the various princes.

It was almost like in the good old days of his father, Henry III.

The only fly in the ointment was that the previous and to many, only legitimate Pope, shouted bans of excommunication down on the procession as it crossed the Tiber bridge below the Castello di Sant’Angelo.

Unbeknownst to Gregory in his futile rage, help was on its way. Robert Giuscard, Duke of Apulia and most senior of the Norman leaders in the South of Italy had mustered an army of allegedly 30,000 men to bring relief to Rome. This army had been put together in a rush as Robert wanted to prevent Henry from invading his territory as Henry had promised the Basileus in Constantinople. With time being of the essence, he took all comers and promised them the earth. Normans for sure formed the core, but he also hired Southern Italians, Greeks, Albanians, allegedly even some of King Harolds men who had fought against the Normans at Hastings. But most shocking of all, a large part of his army consisted of the Saracen militia from Sicily, who were not only allowed but encouraged to retain their Muslim faith. These were the men who came to free the Vicar of Christ.

When Robert approached Rome from the South by the end of May, Henry, his Pope Victor III and his army left for the North of Italy. Without a single arrow shot, a single stroke of the sword and not a single lance thrown, Robert Guiscard entered Rome and freed Pope Gregory from his refuge on the Castello di Sant Angelo.

German historians have often wondered why Henry gave up Rome, a city he had besieged for four years and that had cost him gargantuan amounts of blood, treasure time. Why did he give up a city that was the symbol of his empire and that still held a pope he needed to have removed? I find the answer is fairly obvious.

Rome in:

Without the full support of the Roman population and given the size of his army, Henry could not hold Rome even at the best of times. No medieval emperor had tried it since Otto III. And it wasn’t the best of times. The largest of Rome’s fortresses, the Castelle de Sant Angelo was still in the hands of Gregory VII, and so were two others, the Capitol held by the Corsi family and parts of the palace of the ancient emperor Septimus Severus held by a nephew of Gregory VII.

But the main reason to leave Rome is the one, listeners of this podcast are very familiar with, Malaria. It is May, and in May is when the Germans die in Rome.

3 days before Robert Guiscard’s arrival, Pope Clement III retires to Tivoli and Henry leaves for Northern Italy. Again, German historians have described that as being a flight. But if you look at the timeline of the imperial charters granted along the way, it is clear this was a typical slow imperial progress, not a flight. The leaders of Northern Italy paid him Hommage along the way and congratulated him to his success. Henry could take it easy because he had nothing to fear from Robert Guiscard. All Guiscard wanted was to protect his lands and once the emperor had handed Rome back to the Gregorians, he could no longer attack the South of Italy.

roops of emperor Charles V in:

The sack also led to the demise of the previously all-powerful clans of the Crescenti and the Theophylacts. Their power had been fading ever since the church reformers had taken control of the papacy. But after 1084 they are being replaced by an emerging “new aristocracy” of Rome. These new families will ultimately be known as the Colonna and the Orsini. These families will rise within the papal administration and dominate Roman politics from now on.

A more immediate effect of the Sack of Rome was that Gregory VII’s position in Rome had become untenable. The population who had suffered four sieges on his behalf, endured his stubborn refusal to compromise lost it completely when the Papal relief troops stole their meagre remaining possessions and raped their wives and daughters.

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We will do a whole episode on the significance of these fifty years between 1070 and 1120. But it is still worth reflecting on Gregory for a moment. Even though he ends his life in defeat, he was one of the most important Popes in the history of the church. He had dominated the papacy long before he took the Holy See himself. Over these 40 years he relentlessly pursued his aim of making the papacy independent and superior to secular rulers and improve its moral standards. Even if I personally think that some of his reforms like the celibacy of the clergy had brought untold pain to both the members of the church and their adherents, I do admire Gregory’s unwavering commitment. He did not care about his own life or the life of his supporters when he resisted Henry IV alone in the Castello di Sant’ Angelo for nearly 2 years.

His genius was less in theology, in fact most would argue that Peter Damian and Hubert of Silva Candida were much deeper thinker and the true intellectual powerhouse of church reform. Gregory just copied what he liked from there and stubbornly stuck with it.

His genius was public relations. With very few exceptions all chroniclers have sided with Gregory against Henry. For some this was simply a function of their role, like Bruno and Lambert of Hersfeld. But for most it was a choice. Gregory managed to portray his acts not as acts he undertook as an individual but as a channel of the apostles or of God himself. And that allowed him to portray his ultimate defeat not as a failure of his policies, but as martyrdom for the cause. That is why his vision of the role of the papacy and the standards of moral rectitude survived his demise. 10 years after his death, Pope Urban II his direct successor will call Christendom to its most ambitious and most ill-fated endeavor, the Crusades. Without Gregory no pope would have dared to call a crusade nor would have any secular ruler understood why he should follow this call.

When Henry IV hears about the demise of his archenemy he is back in Germany. After leaving Rome he had spent some time arranging the affairs of Northern Italy. He placed his 11-year-old son Konrad into the care of the Italian bishops as a focal point for imperial power in Italy.

Henry returns to a country devastated by more than a decade of relentless war. Saxony and parts of Swabia are still in the hands of the rebels. Henry’s main support base is Bavaria, the Rhineland, namely the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier and the lands of Frederick of Hohenstaufen. On the outside it seems not much has changed.

But stripping away the outer layers, a lot has changed. Henry seems to have realised that his previous policies have failed. Acting as an autocratic ruler towards either the princes or the Imperial Church system was no longer possible. He would not even be able to carve out his own territorial lordship as he had tried around the Harzburg. His new policy could be best described as a back-to-basics approach.


He would be particularly careful in choosing bishops for the episcopal sees of his enemies. Pope Clement III had excommunicated and deposed all the bishops who supported the rebels, in particular the archbishops of Salzburg and Magdeburg, the bishops of Wuerzburg, Halberstadt, Hildesheim and many other Saxon sees. Henry could now go and appoint new bishops for these bishoprics. Apart from the above credentials he also made sure that the new bishops had strong support in their diocese, usually because they were members of a local aristocratic clan. That way he gradually dragged more and more parts of the country to his side.

His approach to secular princes also changed. When before he would just order them around and rarely listen to their advice, he now included them in his inner circle. Henry still relied on his ministeriales, but these themselves gradually turned into aristocrats, building castles and marrying into the great families of the realm.

It is not just the inner workings of the regime that made it more attractive, the opposition also weakened. The two towering figures of the early years of the rebellion, Rudolf von Rheinfelden and Otto von Northeim are both dead. The new anti-king, Hermann von Salm never really managed to get a foothold, largely because he was not as rich and as powerful in his own right as his predecessor.

The death of Otto von Northeim created a power vacuum in Saxony where various magnates competed for the leadership, the Archbishop of Magdeburg, the Margrave of Meissen, various sons of Otto von Northeim and the actual duke of Saxony. The struggle for leadership was often brutal and did not refrain from murdering of opponents.

Henry IV tried to take advantage of the disarray and invaded Saxony on multiple occasions. Bruno’s History of the Saxon Wars count a total of 15 invasions overall in the 17 years the war lasted. But none of these invasions was successful. Every time Henry manages to bring his troops into Saxony, the warring factions united against the external enemy, whilst Henry’s own army fell apart under the friction between its warlords.

of fighting. It ended around:

As for the other main opposition group around Welf IV, former duke of Bavaria and Berthold von Zaehringen, former duke of Carinthia, a solution was harder to find. By now the two lords have turned their fortified keeps on the tops of the mountains on the upper Rhine and in Switzerland into an impregnable string of fortresses. They enjoyed the support from some of the most revered bishops of the realm, including Gebhard von Salzburg, Altmann von Passau and Adalbert of Wuerzburg. Though these guys had all lost their diocese to Henry's appointees they carried moral authority, further underpinned by the Gregorian papal legate, Odo Cardinal Bishop of Ostia.

They offered peace on condition that Henry would recognize Gregory’s successor, Victor III as the true pope and accept the excommunication of his pope Clement III. That was impossible since that would invalidate Henry’s coronation as emperor.

ey did, though slowly. But by:

By 1089 the kingdom was hence largely at peace for the first time since 1073. But this peace is very different to the peace under Henry III in the 1040s.

Henry III had ensured his peace through regular reconciliation assemblies where he would forgive his enemies and his enemies would forgive him, before everybody present would reconcile with everyone else. These events were followed up with imperial edicts banning feuds and these bans would be enforced by the imperial troops.

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Whilst his rule stabilised, Henry also had been able to improve the position on the eastern border. Hungary had been lost the empire for a long time already despite the occasional marriage alliance. But the threat of Hungarian power meant that the Duke of Bohemia was looking for a closer association with the empire. Vratislav II, duke of Bohemia had been one of the most reliable of Henry's allies all the way since 1075. In recognition of this loyalty, he raised him to be King of Bohemia. This royal title however came with a kink. It was a personal title, I.e., the sons of Vratislav would not be kings, unless the title was personally conferred on them by the emperor. To soften this blow he had Prague raised to be an archbishopric directly reporting to Rome, a privilege the dukes of Poland and Kings of Hungary had been enjoying for a long time and the Bohemians really, really wanted.

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On the Western border of the empire the situation had remained challenging. You remember the endless wars between Henry III and Godfrey the Bearded. There was a period in the 1070s where the situation had improved for the imperial side. Empress Agnes had arranged a peace arrangement with the Counts of Flanders and Counts of Holland that held, at least for a while. When Godfrey the Bearded’s son. Godfrey the Hunchback became duke of Lower Lothringia, things improved even further. Godfrey the Hunchback had been one of Henry's great supporters and potential trump card when he first contemplated a journey to Italy. I mentioned Godfrey some episodes ago because he had been married to none other than the great Countess Matilda of Tuscany. That marriage did not go well, and the couple separated. That may have been a reason for Godfrey to seek the support of Henry IV. It also could have facilitated Henry’s progress through the lands of Matilda of Tuscany. But none of that happened. Godfrey the Hunchback was run through by a spear in 1076 whilst answering a call of nature on campaign. His early death initiated a long and drawn war. Godfrey had appointed his nephew, also Godfrey to be his successor. Henry IV disagreed and appointed his own son, Konrad to be duke. After 11 years of war Godfrey ultimately won the conflict and was appointed duke of Lower Lothringia. This Godfrey was known as Godfrey of Bouillon after one of his possessions. And if you have some interest in the Middle Ages, this name might strike you as familiar. Maybe the first one you hear on this podcast. Godfrey of Bouillon will rise to prominence as the leader of the first crusade, which will kick off in less than a decade from where we are now.

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For Henry and his supporters, it had become clear that true and lasting peace could only be achieved by ending the schism. Only once Clement III was recognised across the whole of Christendom would the Swabians relent. And for that he had to go back down to Italy and end these Gregorians once and for all. Whether he will achieve that you will hear next week. I hope to see you then.

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