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Episode 42 - A World Revolution?
Episode 429th December 2021 • History of the Germans • Dirk Hoffmann-Becking
00:00:00 00:42:13

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In this episode we will come to the end of the Investiture controversy, the end of the Salian dynasty and the end of Season 2  – and ask the question, what was all that about?

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 42 - A World Revolution?

In this episode we will come to the end of the Investiture controversy, the end of the Salian dynasty and the end of Season 2 – and ask the question, what was all that about?

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 Andrew, Martha and David who have already signed up.

Last week we ended with Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II getting within a hairs breadth of an agreement that would have brought the investiture conflict in Germany to an end.

the issue with the papacy in:

The Emperor Henry V was ready to go down a similar route in 1119 and had travelled towards an encounter with pope Calixtus II, only for negotiations to collapse at the last minute. Both sides accused each other of duplicity and last-minute changes. Everything reverted to square 1 and the pope excommunicated Henry V who in turn resumed hostilities against the Gregorian party in Germany.


When the two armies faced each other the princes in both camps decided that for the sake of the realm, battle should be avoided. Without a mandate from the emperor of the archbishop the two sides negotiated a formula for peace: “regalia vel fiscalia regno, ecclesiastica ecclesii”. To the king the king’s rights and possessions, to the church the churches’ rights.

This, all the princes jointly promised, is what they would help the king to negotiate with the papacy. Facing a united front of emperor and all the princes, Calixtus II would have to yield. The princes did not have to say what would happen to Henry V if the emperor had dared to reject their proposal.

Let me just leave this here – we will discuss why this is probably an even more important event than the actual concordat of Worms in a moment.


In the first one, the Henricianum, named after Henry V, the emperor renounces his right to invest bishops with the ring and the staff. He guarantees the churches their right to freely elect their bishops and abbots. He promises to return or help recover whatever land and rights the churches may have lost to secular lords.

In the simultaneous treaty called the Calixtinium, Pope Calixtus II grants the emperor the right to invest the bishop or abbot with his royal fiefs. The symbol for that investiture is now a scepter. In Germany this investiture is to take place before the consecration of the prelate, whilst in Italy and in Burgundy it takes place afterwards. And the pope allows for Henry to be present at the elections of bishops and abbots and grants him some sort of involvement in resolving contentious elections. In all cases the bishop or abbot owes the king the services under the rules of the fief.

In non-legalese this means the role of the German king in the selection and investiture of bishops is very similar to the situation in England and more significant than in France. Hold that thought – we will get back to this in a moment.

The Concordat brought an end to the religious conflict in Germany but did not result in much of an increase in imperial power on the ground. Saxony remained firmly in the hands of Lothar of Supplinburg. How little influence he now has becomes clear when the counties of Meissen and Lausitz became vacant. It was the duke of Saxony, not the emperor who chose the new counts for these extremely wealthy and strategically important counties. Lothar’s choice as count of Meissen was Conrad of Wettin. Conrad’s descendants would rule the lands around Meissen until rising to become the electors of Saxony, later kings of Saxony-Poland and creators of the greatest of german baroque cities, Dresden.

Whilst Henry’s room to maneuver in Germany became tighter and tighter, he was looking for a way out. Anything that would help him gather enough resources to resume the fighting and return to effective power in Germany.

hat opportunity came after in:

The death of King Henry’s only son created an opportunity for our Henry, Emperor Henry V who was married to, yes, the only legitimate daughter of King Henry I, Matilda. It wasn’t clear at this point that Henry I would not have another son, but the optionality was attractive enough for the emperor to invest heavily in the friendship with the ruler of England and Normandy.

The two of them forged a military alliance and Henry V mustered an army to support his father-in-law in his perennial struggles with the French crown. Fighting the French suited Henry V well anyway after their king had been such a strong supporter of the pope in the run-up to the Concordat of Worms.

Henry V thought the puny king Louis VI of France who controlled nit much more than the area around Paris and could call some bishops his vassals would be a pushover. In particular if the two Henrys staged a pincer movement coming simultaneously from the North and the East. And he should have been, had it not been for a sudden emergence of national sentiment amongst the French.

Henry V’s initial target was the city of Reims, the place of royal coronations and place of Clovis’ baptism. Something about the idea of the German emperor lording it over the church of Saint remy stirred up patriotic sentiment amongst the French princes. They joined their king at the Abbey of Saint Denis, outside Paris, and raised the royal battle standard, the Oriflamme, a blood red, pointed banner flown from a golden lance for the very first time. The Oriflamme was the symbol of Saint Denis, everybody’s favorite headless saint, was believed to have been carried by Charlemagne into the Holy land and wielded by the legendary Roland. It would lead the French army into battle for the next couple of hundred years. Where the emperors had their Holy Lance, the Kings of France had their Oriflamme.

his contest of the symbols in:

This defeat is by no means the end of the struggle for the succession of king Henry I, a process that will take decades and pitched Matilda against her cousin Stephen of Blois.


His body was brought to imperial basilica in Speyer where he was buried next to his father, grandfather and great grandfather.

Henry V had no son and with that the Salian dynasty ended. Henry V designated the sons of his daughter Agnes, Frederick and Konrad of Hohenstaufen to be the heirs to his fortune.

the election of Konrad II in:

The chronicler Otto von Freising, a grandson of Henry V who wrote just 25 years after the death of the emperor saw the conflict between the papacy and the emperor as a world-ending calamity. The fragmentation of the unity of the spiritual and the secular was a portent of the end of the Roman Empire, which according to Saint Augustin ushered in the coming of the antichrist and hence the end of the world. It was the bishops and abbots who were to blame for this. They had been made rich by the generosity of the emperors only to turn around and impale their now enfeebled benefactor with his own swords.

d not by catholic Austria. In:

After World War II German historians began to de-emphasize the importance of the conflict between pope and emperor. Focus shifted to the reasons for the tensions between the emperor and the princes. A view emerged that the Investiture Controversy was mainly a German civil war over hegemony where the pope could tilt the balance but was not driving events. The ineptitude of Henry IV and the military success of the princes ended the command monarchy of the early Salians, not Canossa or the Concordat of Worms.

Whilst Germans were looking at the Investiture conflict more as a continuation of broader longer-term trends, English historians like Norman Cantor, Chris Wickham and most recently Tom Holland put the Investiture Conflict in a line with the French and the Russian revolution as one of the great turning points of European, if not world history.

A World Revolution they call it. Well, was it that? What is a “World Revolution”? Mike Duncan is on his 326th episode of Revolutions has not mentioned the Investiture Conflict once.

If I have taken anything away from listening to the Revolutions Podcast it is that all of Revolutions seem to have the same structure. It starts with an existing political and economic order that has some serious structural weaknesses. These weaknesses are getting exposed by a combination of specific events, lost wars, bad harvests, financial collapse etc.. The whole thing blows up because an incompetent or excessively stubborn ruler fails to see the opportunities to avoid disaster and hurtles the creaky wagon of history down the precipice.

Imperial rule being exposed to unreliable bishops and rebellious dukes, I.e., structurally weak – tick;

Untimely death of Henry III, papal schisms and abduction of the king at Kaiserswerth exposing weakness of the regime – tick

Henry IV acting like a bull in a China shop towards Gregory VII and the Saxons -tick, tick, tick

Once a revolution has started, we cycle through the degrees of extremism where last year’s hard left are this year’s conservatives until the process is led at absurdum. After that last spasm of revolutionary energy, the surviving protagonists begin to rebuild society by combining bits of the old and bits of the new.

Again tick, tick, tick. We go from moderate reformer Leo IX to revolutionary Gregory VII, inventive Urban II to extremist Paschalis II, only to end up with Calixtus II who tries to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

In episode 30 I suggested a structure for the narrative across three strains, the rise of the papacy, the conflict between the princes and the emperor and the rise of lay piety. Even now, 12 episodes later, I think this structure is still valid and a great way to look at how this new order differs from the old.

Let’s start with the papacy.


By 1125 the idea that the emperor could legitimately appoint popes was dead as the Dodo. Yes, Henry IV and Henry V had appointed antipopes, and future emperors will do too, but their power didn’t reach much further than the tip of the imperial spears. From now on, the only legitimate pope was the one elected by the College of Cardinals – full stop.

Again, before:

And finally, the papacy began determining secular policy. Even though the Gregorians were focused on the spiritual world, they ended up becoming more and more political. The proposal of pope Paschalis II if we assume it wasn’t a cunning trick to discredit Henry V, would have been the most radical expression of Gregorian thinking. The church giving up its entanglement with the lay world and focusing entirely on the spiritual well-being of their flock would have pleased Peter Damian and Humbert of Silva Candida no end. But it never happened. Rather than severing the links to the world of power politics, the Gregorian reform dragged the papacy deeper into it. Calling the Crusades to Jerusalem might have been high politics but could still be seen as linked to the spiritual role of the church. When it comes to the military conflict between Gregory VII and Henry IV, that line was crossed. Using the Normans in Sicily and Matilda of Tuscany as a counterweight to the imperial armies meant the pope had to get his hands dirty. It is not just the sack of Rome by Robert Guiscard but the absolution of soldiers fighting the emperors that made the spiritual and political objectives of the church becoming indivisible.

And that is why the papacy did not really win in the investiture controversy. Yes, the pope stood now on par or even above the emperor, but he did so on the same playing field, the field of power politics. Being a significant secular player had its advantages, but in the long run undermined the role of the church as an organization, leading ultimately to the faithful searching for salvation outside the established church hierarchy, in ne monastic orders like the Franciscans, in new forms of religious communities like the Albigensians, Waldensians etc., and ultimately in the belief that salvation is to come from the individual itself, a process the culminated in the Reformation. In a way it comes full circle, because the Gregorians objective was to make the church a vehicle that allows the faithful to reach the gates of heaven. Like so many other well-intentioned plans, it failed in the end.

The rise of the papacy displaced the emperor in several of his roles. The Ottonian emperors had been universal sacred rulers. The 10th and early 11th century was the time of the sacred rulers. Saint Stephen in Hungary, Edward the confessor in England, Saint Olaf in Norway. Above these sacred kings was the sacred emperor, anointed to lead all of Christianity. His title was Vicar of Christ and most humble servant of the apostles. This is the time where people believe the king could heal diseases by laying his hand on people – like Aragorn of Gondor.

The transition to this state of sacred ruler was bestowed upon them when they were anointed during their coronation. You may remember that the child king Otto III was rescued from an early death by the mere fast that he had been anointed as king literally hours before news arrived that his father had died. A king, and even more so an emperor anointed by the pope was no mere mortal, he was a being halfway between this world and the next. And some of them, namely Otto III and Henry II live the lives of saints rather than those of worldly rulers.

Breaking an oath to such a sacred king was simply inconceivable. Untold horrors would come down on the oathbreaker, in this world and the next.

to von Nordheim’s speech in:

Otto von Nordheim denies the king sacred status. For him he is just a human in a two-way relationship with his subjects. The king has to provide peace and justice in exchange for obedience. When he fails to do his bit, the oath is no longer binding.

When Gregory VII releases everyone from their oath to Henry IV and the emperor then has to do penance in the snow outside Canossa the idea of sacred, unbreakable oaths vanish. How little tehya re worth becomes so clear when Paschalis II releases Henry V from his solemn, public oath made before innumerable relics to never challenge his father.


And that gets us to the second strain of the narrative, the conflict between the princes and the emperor. If you think back over the last 20-odd episodes, most of the time was spent talking about the wheel of fortune that pulled good old Henry IV up to dizzying heights of military and political success before dropping him deep into the depth of desperation.

All this came about because we are in a period of transition. This is the transition from a time where wealth and power was tied to large agricultural estates to a more martial time where all that mattered was the strength of your stone castle. Encastellation had been held back in Germany until Henry III but went stratospheric during the minority of Henry IV. The king’s mother, Agnes of Poitou was unable to stem the process and the subsequent government of Anno of Cologne had no interest in doing so.

maller number of families. By:

And when the king himself wanted a piece of the action and get his own superweapons in Saxony, the civil war started. And that was a war nobody could win because everybody by now had castles. Presumably some aristocrats did not build castles, but they were never heard from again.

With castles came something else, territorial power. Once you have the castle that overlooks the local town, the bridge and the market, it is only a question of time before the castellan will have gained control of the town, the bridge and the market, even if these rights had been granted to someone else, a bishop, a monastery or another knight.


The same thing had happened in France, only some 50 years earlier. Where the story differs is that the French monarchy over time consolidated into an absolutist regime, whilst central authority in Germany continuously weakened. As always in history there is never just one reason or one event that creates a specific outcome, but during the hundred years of Salian rule decisive steps were taken that facilitated the outcome.

The first one we already talked about, the collapse of the sacred kingship under the battlements of Canossa which was never really recovered. In France the Investiture conflict had the opposite effect. It created an alliance between the pope and the French king that materially enhanced his prestige. Several subsequent rulers could expand on that prestige, recuperating some of the sacred component of kingship, which culminated in the reign of Louis IX, later to become Saint Louis.

the assembly in Forchheim in:

Making the empire an elective monarchy created an incentive for the holder of the position to transfer as much of the royal rights, lands and other assets to his family, rather than expanding central authority. Any subsequent occupant of the throne will then have to dig deep into his own wallet to maintain his authority. At the end of the process the emperors will derive their power not from the fact that they were emperors, but from their personal territorial wealth. Politics are driven by the dynastic interests of the Staufer, Luxemburger and Habsburgs, not by the interest of the empire. This is the second crucial difference with France, where the Capetians were better at producing sons, they usually promoted to co-king during their lifetime until the election process became a pure formality and fell into disuse.

Was the decision in Forchheim irreversible? Surely not. If one of the emperors had been able to expand their personal territory to ultimately comprise all of Germany, surely the Empire would have turned into a hereditary monarchy. But that was made harder thanks to some of the political choices the Salians had made.

st Godfrey the Bearded in the:

Having lost so much of the royal resources to the church the emperors were now dependent upon their own territorial power. And again the Salians came up short. Henry IV tried create a territory under direct royal control outside interference of local dukes or counts around Goslar in Saxony. Henry IV defeat in the Saxon wars meant that the most valuable of the directly held royal territories was lost. Subsequent attempts for instance by Henry V around the family holdings in Worms were kept in check by a united front of the princes. With expansion in Germany blocked, the emperors had to find resources abroad. Henry V tried England, the Staufer looked to Italy, the Luxemburger and Habsburgs to Bohemia and Hungary and finally Prussia occupied lands to the east that were formally outside the empire.

That seemed a viable shortcut at the time but was not sustainable. Ruling Germany based on foreign resources was something even Emperor Charles V in whose empire the sun never set failed. In contrast The kings of France built their territory slowly and methodically, one castle at a time using only their domestic resources and a bit of help from the popes.. Again, the forks in the road the Salians went down or were dragged down were not roads that inevitably led to the fragmentation of the German states that could only be overcome by a militaristic regime. But it was a major contributing factor.

The flipside of imperial weakness is the enhanced role of the princes. Under the Ottonians the role of the dukes, counts and bishops was to support the emperor who was the sacred incorporation of the empire. By the time of Henry V’s death, the princes saw themselves as as guardians of the empire. They had both the right and the obligation to defend it against its foes, to maintain peace and to protect the church. The emperor and the princes were the pillars on which the empire rested. That meant the princes can call royal assemblies, even royal assemblies where the emperor is not present or even NFI. The empire becomes a coordination mechanism that settles disagreements between the princes by consensus, rather than a state that settles it by force.

We have talked about the change in the relationship between emperor and pope and between emperor and princes which leaves the third strain in our narrative, the rise in lay piety.

ut before, the period between:

These demands transformed from specific calls for say celibacy of the cathedral canons to broader claims for participation in city politics. The process started in Milan with the Pataria uprisings in the 1070s and then spread rapidly. Cologne rose up against its Bishop in 1074. That same year Worms sides with the emperor against their bishop. Once independent, the cities themselves became political players. Henry IV allied with Pisa and Lucca against Matilda of Tuscany. Mainz and Cologne were Henry IV’s strongest allies in his fight with his son. By Henry V’s time a city like Mainz would negotiate with its archbishop as equals, demanding freedoms and privileges in exchange for support in war.

lity of the clergy, the years:

For the layman, on the still unpaved street these debates mattered. All they wanted was a priest who could help them into heaven. But that was no longer so easy. Is my vicar properly ordained by the right bishop? If not, what does that mean for the sacraments I have received. If not, how do I get a priest who will be able to pave the road to the final judgement? Can I make sure my town is loyal to whoever I think is the true pope, rue archbishop and bishop.

Mostly they had little ability to determine political outcomes. To mitigate their risk of ending up in purgatory or even hellfire, laymen became ever more pious. They tried to incorporate some of the habits of the apostles into their own life, fasting, regular prayer, good works and the like. In many ways this upped the ante for the priests who had to be even more devout in order to stand out and justify their elevated status. Most bishops saw these developments which is why, on the whole, they were supportive of church reform even when they were not supportive of the Gregorian popes.

This urge to find a way to heaven for oneself found its culmination in the First Crusade. Finally there was one thing any individual, rich or poor could do that was quite obviously in line with God’s wishes, that was outside these debates and civil wars. The first Crusade, though an amazing and unexpected military success must have been a terrible let-down for its participants. Instead of experiencing a period of bliss within the grace of god, the crusaders unleashed unimaginable horrors. We talked about the death and destruction the German participation in the First Crusade caused but even those who made it to Jerusalem must have wondered whether the slaughter of the cities Muslim population, the burning of its Jews inside their Synagoge was synonymous with walking in the footsteps of the apostles.

We asked at the start of this section whether the Investiture Conflict was a “World Revolution”. Sure, the Investiture conflict has all the hallmarks of a revolution, an old order is replaced with a new structure. That makes it a Revolution, but a “World Revolution”. That would be a revolution that fundamentally changed the whole of the humanity. It describes a series of events that stands unique in history as a turning point that, if it had not happened, would have left us with a materially different world.

Of all the things we talked about so far, the rise of the papacy, the loss of a central power in Germany or the emergence of cities and city states is not something that in similar form had happened before in other parts of the world and even in Europe itself. What could make it a “World Revolution” is that last consequence of the Investiture Conflict, bringing people the obligation and the right to choose your spiritualty.

That unleashed the scholastic method, universities, disputations, the Franciscans, the early heretics, the Hussites and the Reformation. Without the Reformation and the plethora of belief systems it seeded, the philosophers of the Enlightenment would not have dared to replace God with reason and modern life would indeed be fundamentally different. The crusades manifested a restlessness of spirit and body that drove European society to expand both their intellectual and their physical horizon until it had consumed the whole world.

So maybe it was a World Revolution. And even if it wasn’t, it was an epic tale, one I hope you enjoyed.

I will take a break now until early January to prepare for the next season, the Hohenstaufen. These ultimate glamour emperors may now have to work in this unwieldy new order, but hey do they make a story out of it. You can look forward to Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa still asleep under the Kyffhauser mountain waiting for the day his people need him to protect them from harm, Henry VI who used the ransom paid for Richard Lionheart to buy himself a kingdom, Frederick II the child of Puglia who allegedly grew up on the streets of Palermo to become one of best educated men in Europe living the lifestyle like his friend Salah ad Din. His son Enzo who was betrayed by his golden locks and his grandson Konradin who was beheaded on the market square in Naples. I can barey wait. 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