At the age of six, Henry became sole monarch of the empire. Pope Victor II convinced the German aristocrats to swear fealty to their young king and enthroned him in Aachen. Although Empress Agnes had been planning to enter a nunnery, she was appointed her son’s guardian. She was responsible for her son’s education along with a royal ministerialis (unfree liegeman), Cuno. She secured the most powerful aristocrats’ support through lavish grants. Agnes was reconciled with Godfrey the Bearded and made her late husband’s other opponent, Conrad of the Ezzonid family, duke of Carinthia.
Agnes took full control of state administration as regent after Pope Victor II left Germany early in 1057, but she paid little attention to Burgundy and Italy. Henry had inherited his father’s Roman title of patrician, but the concept of “liberty of the Church” became dominant in Rome during his minority. Pope Victor’s successor, Stephen IX—Godfrey the Bearded’s brother—was elected without royal intervention early in August.
A group of Saxon aristocrats plotted against Henry, fearing he would continue his father’s oppressive policies after reaching the age of majority. They convinced Otto of Nordmark, who had recently returned from exile, to mount a coup. Henry’s two relatives, Bruno II and Egbert I of Brunswick, attacked the conspirators. Bruno killed Otto but was mortally wounded in the skirmish.
In 1057, Agnes appointed a wealthy aristocrat, Rudolf of Rheinfelden, to be Duke of Swabia and also charged him with the administration of Burgundy. Godfrey the Bearded took possession of Spoleto and Fermo, probably through a royal grant. Rumours of Godfrey’s determination to seize the imperial crown with Pope Stephen’s help spread in Italy, but the Pope died unexpectedly on 29 March 1058.
The Roman aristocrats placed one of their number, Giovanni, Cardinal Bishop of Velletri, on the papal throne without consulting with Henry’s representatives. Giovanni took the name Benedict X, but Peter Damian, the Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, refused to consecrate him, although the consecration of a new pope had been the Ostian bishops’ traditional privilege. The cardinals assembled at Florence where Pope Stephen had died to discuss Pope Stephen’s succession. They wanted to elect the local bishop Gerard pope and sent an envoy to Germany to inform Henry about their plan. Henry, “having deliberated with the princes”, designated Gerard as the Pope in Augsburg on 7 June. King Andrew I of Hungary also sent delegates to Germany in September 1058. Andrew wanted to secure his five-year-old son Solomon‘s succession, ignoring his brother’s claim to succeed him. The Hungarian envoys and Henry’s representatives concluded a treaty, and Henry’s sister, Judith, was engaged to Solomon.
The reformist clerics elected Bishop Gerard pope in Florence in December 1058. He took the name Nicholas II. Godfrey the Bearded accompanied him to Rome and forced Antipope Benedict to leave the city. His advisor, the monk Hildebrand, was determined to strengthen the autonomy of the papacy. The Pope held a synod which issued a decree, In nomine Domini, establishing the cardinals‘ right to elect the popes as against election by people and clergy, which had been manipulated by Henry III. Referring to Henry IV as “presently king and with the help of God emperor-to-be”, the decree also confirmed the emperors’ existing prerogatives over papal elections, but without specifying them. As early as 1057–1058, however, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida questioned the monarchs’ right to invest clerics with bishoprics and abbeys in his treatises against simony.
Pope Nicholas invested two Norman rulers, Robert Guiscard and Richard I of Capua, with southern Italian duchies in 1059. In return, the Normans swore fealty to the Pope and promised to support him against his enemies, probably the Roman aristocrats. Although the duchies were imperial fiefs, Nicholas’s action did not necessarily trespass on imperial rights, because the popes had acted as the emperors’ representatives in southern Italy for a decade. However, the Pope’s treaty with the Normans forged their lasting alliance.Henry jumps from Archbishop Anno II of Cologne’s ship into the Rhine at Kaiserswerth in 1062 (engraving by Bernhard Rode, 1781).
Andrew I of Hungary faced a rebellion from his brother, Duke Béla, in 1060. Agnes dispatched Bavarian, Saxon and Bohemian troops to Hungary to fight Béla and his Polish allies, but the three armies did not coordinate their movements. Béla defeated his brother who died of his wounds. Andrew’s family fled to Germany, and Béla was crowned king on 6 December. After Béla’s victory, the command of the German duchies along the Hungarian frontier had to be strengthened. Agnes ceded Bavaria to a wealthy Saxon lord, Otto of Nordheim, and replaced Duke Conrad of Carinthia with Berthold of Zähringen in early 1061.
Relations between Pope Nicholas and the German prelates became tense for unknown reasons in 1061. When Nicholas died on 20 July 1061, the Roman aristocrats dispatched an embassy to Henry asking him to nominate a new pope. Hildebrand and other reformist clerics elected Anselm of Baggio, Bishop of Lucca, pope on 30 September without Henry’s confirmation. Anselm took the name Pope Alexander II. Henry summoned the Italian bishops to a synod in Basel to discuss the situation. He attended the synod, wearing the insignia of his office of patrician of the Romans. The synod elected Cadalus, Bishop of Parma, antipope on 28 October.
The election of two popes divided the German clergy. Some bishops supported Cadalus (now known as Honorius II) and others accepted Alexander II. Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg was Honorius’s most prominent supporter, while Archbishop Anno II of Cologne acknowledged Alexander as the lawful pope. Empress Agnes supported Honorius, for which her advisors were excommunicated by Alexander. Her blatant favouritism for Bishop Henry II of Augsburg and the complete failure of the Hungarian campaign had compromised her prestige; the schism raised more indignation. Archbishop Anno, Egbert of Brunswick, Otto of Nordheim and other discontented aristocrats decided to deprive her of the regency. Archbishop Anno equipped a ship “with admirable workmanship” and sailed down the Rhine to an island near the royal palace at Kaiserswerth in April 1062. The ship fascinated Henry, so Anno could easily talk him into a visit on it. As soon as Henry stepped on board, the ship was cast off. Fearing his captors wanted to murder him, Henry jumped into the river. He almost drowned, but Egbert of Brunswick rescued him.
The “Coup of Kaiserswerth” destroyed the Empress’s self-confidence, and she retired to her estates. Anno replaced her as the head of the government. His new title of magister (master) shows that he also took charge of Henry’s education. Anno was determined to put an end to the schism. In October 1062, the synod of the German bishops appointed his nephew, Burchard II, Bishop of Halberstadt, to begin negotiations with Pope Alexander II. That same month, the theologian Peter Damian completed a treatise defending the legality of Alexander II’s election. He emphasised that Henry’s “right to participate in the papal elections … is subject each time to reconfirmation by the pope”. Damian’s argument implied that Henry only inherited a claim to the imperial prerogatives relating to papal elections, but he could forfeit it. Respect for the monarch also declined in Germany. For example, the retainers of Abbot Widerad of Fulda and Bishop Hezilo of Hildesheim ignored Henry’s commands when an armed conflict broke out between them in his presence at a church in Goslar in June 1063.
Béla I of Hungary wanted to make peace with Henry to secure his throne against his nephew, Solomon, who had taken refuge in Germany. Henry and his advisors, however, insisted on Solomon’s restoration to the Hungarian throne and German troops invaded Hungary in August 1063. Henry gained his first military experience during this campaign. Béla died in an accident unexpectedly and the German army entered Székesfehérvár. Henry installed Solomon on the throne and attended his wedding to Judith before returning to Germany. Adalbert of Bremen accompanied Henry on the Hungarian campaign and struck up a friendship with him. Adalbert was mentioned as Henry’s “protector” in royal diplomas from 1063, indicating a position equal to Anno’s. Anno went to Italy to recognise Alexander II as pope at a synod in Mantua in May 1064, and in his absence Adalbert was able to strengthen his influence with Henry.
First years of majority
Map of the Holy Roman Empire in the 10th and 11th centuries: Germany (blue), Italy (grey), Burgundy (orange to the West), Bohemia (orange to the East), Papal States (purple). Sardinia‘s presentation as part of the Holy Roman Empire is debated.
Henry was girded with a sword as a token of his coming of age in Worms on 29 March 1065. According to the contemporaneous account of Lampert of Hersfeld, Henry attacked Archbishop Anno of Cologne soon after the ceremony and only his mother could calm him down. Lampert’s report is not fully reliable, but it is known that Anno was ousted from Henry’s court. At Worms, Henry accepted Pope Alexander II’s invitation to Rome. Agnes of Poitou recovered her influence, but she left Germany for Italy two months later and Archbishop Adalbert of Bremen took full control of state administration. Henry’s journey to Rome was postponed first until autumn, and then indefinitely, although the Pope needed Henry’s presence to overcome the Italian supporters of Antipope Honorius II. Instead of travelling to Rome, Henry visited Burgundy in June 1065. Burgundian diplomas show the local aristocrats regarded his visit as the starting date of his reign. From Burgundy, Henry went to Lorraine where he granted Lower Lorraine to Godfrey the Bearded in October.
Adalbert of Bremen, in concert with the King’s young friend, Werner, abused royal prerogative to seize church property and took bribes for royal appointments. They persuaded the King to grant monasteries to the most powerful prelates and princes to appease their envy at their aggrandizement. Adalbert’s attempts to take possession of Lorsch Abbey by force caused his fall, because the scandal enabled Archbishops Siegfried of Mainz and Anno of Cologne to stage a plot. They secured the support of Otto of Nordheim, Rudolf of Rheinfelden and Berthold of Zähringen and convinced Henry to dismiss Adalbert on 13 January 1066. Anno regained the King’s favour, but thereafter no royal advisors could take full control of state administration.
Henry fell unexpectedly ill in the middle of May 1066. His sickness was so serious that he was thought to be dying. The aristocrats began to seek his successor, but he recovered in two weeks. He immediately married his betrothed, Bertha, most probably because the uncertainty about the childless monarch’s succession caused widespread anxiety in his realms. Late in 1066, Prince Richard I of Capua rose up against Pope Alexander II and invaded Roman Campagna. Early in 1067, Agnes of Poitou hurried back from Rome to Germany to persuade her son to intervene on the Pope’s behalf. Henry ordered his troops to assemble at Augsburg, but Godfrey the Bearded was faster and launched a successful counter-offensive against Richard in June. Godfrey’s independent act was regarded as an insult to Henry’s authority in Italy.
Adalbert of Bremen’s fall had encouraged the Lutici (a pagan Slavic tribe dwelling over the river Elbe) to invade Germany and plunder Hamburg. In early 1069, Henry crossed the Elbe to punish the invaders. He defeated them, but could not prevent them from launching subsequent plundering raids against Saxony.
Saxon Rebellion and Investiture Controversy
Large parcels of the royal demesne were distributed during Henry’s minority, and he decided to recover them around 1069. The bulk of the royal estates had been in Saxony. Henry sent Swabian ministeriales to the duchy to investigate property rights. The appointment of non-native unfree officials offended the Saxons, especially because the new officials ignored their traditional civil procedures. New castles were built in Saxony and Henry manned them with Swabian soldiers. Like his father, Henry spent more time in Saxony than in other parts of Germany and the accommodation of his retinue was the Saxons’ irksome duty. The Thuringians were also outraged that Henry supported Archbishop Siegfried of Mainz’s claim to collect tithes from them, although most Thuringians had been exempted from the church tax for centuries. The Margrave of Lower Lusatia, Dedi I, was the first Saxon lord to rebel. He claimed benefices that his wife‘s former husband, Otto I, Margrave of Meissen, had held, but Henry refused him in 1069. Dedi approached the Thuringians for help, but after Henry’s promise to confirm their exemption from tithes the Thuringians joined the royal army. Henry invaded Dedi’s domains and forced him to surrender.
Otto of Nordheim held vast estates in Saxony. After a nobleman, Egeno, accused him of plotting against Henry’s life, Otto was summoned to “purge himself of that charge in single combat” early in August 1070. The contemporary historian Bruno the Saxon stated that Henry had paid Egeno to accuse Otto, but his account is biased. Fearing his case would not be judged fairly, Otto disobeyed the summons and fled from Bavaria to Saxony. He was soon outlawed and his benefices were confiscated. Henry invaded Otto’s Saxon domains, but Otto raided the royal estates in Thuringia. Ordulf, Duke of Saxony, and most Saxon aristocrats remained loyal to Henry, but Ordulf’s son and heir, Magnus, joined Otto’s revolt. Henry ceded Bavaria to Otto’s wealthy son-in-law, Welf, at Christmas 1070. Without their peers’ support, Otto and Magnus had to surrender. Henry placed them in the German dukes’ and bishops’ custody on 12 June 1071.
Archbishop Adalbert of Bremen convinced Henry to release Otto of Nordheim in May 1072, but Magnus of Saxony remained imprisoned. Before long, Adalbert died and Henry seized his treasury—an early example of the application of the jus spolii by a German monarch. Henry started appointing low-ranking men to royal offices in the whole kingdom and this practice outraged the German aristocrats. Rudolf of Rheinfelden and Berthold of Zähringen returned to their duchies from the royal court and rumours accusing them of plotting against the King spread in Germany. Rudolf appealed to Agnes of Poitou, asking her to reconcile him with her son. Agnes, who had moved to Rome in 1065, returned to Germany and mediated a reconciliation in July 1072. It proved temporary because Henry did not dismiss his advisors. Agnes shared the dukes’ negative views of Henry’s advisors and persuaded Pope Alexander to excommunicate at least five of them in February 1073, though Henry did not sever ties with them.Henry’s brother-in-law, King Solomon of Hungary, appeals to Henry for help (miniature in the 14th-century Vienna Illuminated Chronicle).
Appointments to the highest church offices remained crucial elements of Henry’s authority: the practice enabled him to demand benefices for his supporters from the wealthy bishops and abbots, but the reformist clergy condemned it as simony. When Henry appointed a Milanese nobleman, Gotofredo, to the Archbishopric of Milan in 1070, Pope Alexander II excommunicated the new archbishop. Henry obtained Gotofredo’s consecration, however, which brought him into a prolonged conflict with the Holy See. The Bishopric of Constance became another source of conflict in 1070 after the local clerics appealed to the Holy See to prevent the installation of Henry’s candidate, Charles of Magdeburg, to the episcopal see. Henry denied Charles had bribed him, but he publicly admitted at a synod that his advisors may have received money from Charles. Pope Alexander II decided to investigate and summoned all German bishops who had been accused of simony or corruption to Rome, but he died in two months. The Romans proclaimed Hildebrand as his successor on 22 April 1073.
Hildebrand, who assumed the name Gregory VII, did not seek confirmation from Henry. He did not challenge Henry’s prerogatives, but he was convinced a monarch who had regular contacts with excommunicated people could not intervene in church affairs. He regarded lay investiture as the principal barrier to completing the reform of the Church and challenged royal appointments, taking advantage of individual complaints against German prelates. Henry’s Italian chancellor, Bishop Gregory of Vercelli, and an assembly of the German bishops, urged the King to declare Gregory’s election invalid, because he had been proclaimed pope by the Romans instead of being elected by the cardinals. The German dukes and Godfrey the Bearded’s influential widow, Beatrice of Tuscany, convinced Henry that he should cooperate with the Pope.
Bolesław II, Duke of Poland, invaded Bohemia in early 1073, and Henry decided to launch a punitive action against him. He ordered the Saxon aristocrats to assemble at Goslar, where on 29 June they asked Henry to redress their grievances. Henry made no concessions and withdrew from Goslar to Harzburg. Otto of Nordheim soon convinced the assembled Saxons to take up arms for their liberties. The Saxons marched to Harzburg, but Henry had fled to Eschwege. The Thuringians and the Saxons concluded an alliance and captured Lüneburg. To save the life of the commander of Lüneburg, Henry released Magnus of Saxony, whom the rebels acknowledged as their lawful duke without seeking royal confirmation. The German dukes and bishops did not come to Henry’s rescue, and the rebels began attacking the royal castles. To prevent the rebellious Saxon bishops from securing the Pope’s support, Henry addressed a letter of penance to the Pope, admitting he had been involved in simony. He claimed his youthful arrogance had been responsible for his sins and blamed his advisors for his acts.
Siegfried of Mainz, Anno of Cologne, Rudolf of Rheinfelden, Berthold of Zähringen and other German aristocrats came to Gerstungen to begin negotiations with the Saxon leaders in October 1073. They tried to persuade Henry to redress the Saxons’ grievances, but he was determined to crush the revolt. A month later, Henry’s servant Regenger informed Rudolf and Berthold that Henry was planning to murder them. Regenger was ready to prove his words in a judicial duel, but he died unexpectedly in January 1074. His statements, however, deepened the conflict between the King and the two dukes. Henry, who had just recovered from an illness, moved to Worms. The local bishop, Adalbert, denied his entry, but the townspeople rose up against the bishop and surrendered Worms to Henry. A grateful Henry exempted the burghers from customs duties, emphasising their loyalty in a time when “all the princes of the realm were raging” against him.
Liemar, Archbishop of Bremen, Udo, Archbishop of Trier, and eight bishops came to visit Henry in Worms in early 1074. Their retainers and the Worms militia joined Henry in a new military campaign against the Saxons and Thuringians, but he soon realised the rebels outnumbered his army and entered into negotiations with them. Henry accepted the rebels’ principal demands in the Treaty of Gerstungen on 2 February. He agreed to destroy his castles and appoint only natives to offices in Saxony in return for the Saxon aristocrats’ promise to raze their newly built fortresses. On hearing the agreement, the Saxon peasants captured and destroyed Harzburg and desecrated the graves of Henry’s younger brother and first-born son. The destruction of the royal graves aroused public indignation, and Henry regarded it as a violation of the treaty.Ruins of Homburg Castle. Henry’s army inflicted a decisive defeat on the Saxons near the castle in 1074.
Pope Gregory appointed the cardinal bishops Gerald of Ostia and Hubert of Palestrina to begin negotiations with Henry. Agnes of Poitou accompanied the two legates to her son’s court. After Henry had done a public penance for simony, the legates absolved him on 27 April 1074. They summoned the German bishops to a synod to hear the case of Bishop Herman I of Bamberg who had been accused of simony, but eight prelates did not obey their summons. In response, the Pope suspended Archbishop Liemar from office, and summoned the disobedient bishops to Rome. Henry did not intervene in the conflict, although the German prelates under investigation were his staunch supporters.
Henry’s brother-in-law, Solomon of Hungary, sent envoys to Henry seeking his assistance against his cousin Géza (who was Béla I’s eldest son). Géza had defeated Solomon on 14 March 1074, forcing him to take refuge in the fortresses of Moson and Pressburg (now Mosonmagyaróvár in Hungary and Bratislava in Slovakia, respectively). Solomon promised to cede six castles to Henry and acknowledge his suzerainty in return for Henry’s support to recover his country. Henry invaded Hungary and marched as far as Vác, but he could not force Géza to surrender. Pope Gregory sharply criticised Solomon for his willingness to accept Henry’s suzerainty, because the Pope regarded Hungary as a fief of the Holy See.
On 7 December 1074, Pope Gregory asked Henry to compel the German prelates who had not obeyed his summons to attend a synod in Rome. The Pope suspended five German bishops for disobedience at the synod of Lent in Rome in February 1075. He blamed Henry’s five advisors, likely those who had been excommunicated by his predecessor, for the conflict over the archbishopric of Milan. Henry and the German bishops wanted to avoid a conflict. Archbishops Siegfied of Mainz and Liemar of Bremen travelled to Rome to begin negotiations with the Pope. They did not protest when the Pope deposed Bishop Herman of Bamberg. The Pope appreciated their obedience and appointed Siegfried to hold a reforming synod in Germany.