Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Normans in Southern Italy: The Normans and the Papacy

The Imperial Dimension under Henry IV

The Emperor Henry IV was born November 11th 1050 in Saxony; died August 7th 1106, Liege; duke of Bavaria (as Henry VIII, 1055-61), German king (from 1054), and Holy Roman emperor (1084-1105/06)[1].  Henry’s father, Henry III, had retained a firm hold on the church and had resolved a schism in Rome in 1046, opening new activities for the reformers. At Easter 1051, the boy was baptised after the German princes had taken an oath of fidelity and obedience at Christmas 1050. On July 17th 1053, he was elected king on condition that he would be a just king. In 1054 he was crowned king in Aix-la-Chapelle and the following year he became engaged to Bertha, daughter of the Margrave of Turin. When the Emperor died in October 1056, at the age of 39 the succession to the throne and survival of the dynasty were assured. The princes of the realm raised no objection when nominal government was handed over to the six-year-old boy, for whom his pious and unworldly mother became regent.

Yet the early death of Henry III led to important changes. In his will, the late emperor had appointed Pope Victor II as counsellor to the Empress, and the Pope solved some of the conflicts between the princes and the imperial court that had threatened peace in the empire. After Victor’s early death (1057), however, the politically inept empress committed a number of decisive mistakes. On her own, and without the benefit of the advice of a permanent group of counsellors, she readily yielded to various influences.  She turned over the duchy of Bavaria, which Henry III had given to his son in 1055 to the Saxon count Otto of Nordheim, thus depriving the king of an important foundation of his power.  She gave the duchy of Swabia to Count Rudolf of Rheinfelden, who married her daughter and the duchy of Carinthia to Count Berthold of Zähringen; both of them eventually became opponents of Henry IV.   The death of the Emperor also marked an interval in German influence in Italy and of the close relationship between the king and the reform popes. Their independence soon became apparent in the elections of Stephen IX and Nicholas II, which were not influenced (as under Henry III) by the German court; in the new procedure for the election of the popes in 1059; and in the defensive alliance with the Normans in southern Italy. This alliance was necessary for the popes as an effective protection against the Romans and was not directed against the German king. Yet the Normans were considered enemies of the Holy Roman Empire; the pact thus resulted in strained relations between the Pope and the German court, and these strains were aggravated by papal claims and disciplinary action taken by Nicholas II against German bishops.

While the German king had so far been known as a supporter of the reformers, the Empress now imprudently entered into an alliance with Italian opponents of church reform and brought about the election of Cadalus, bishop of Parma, as antipope (Honorius II) against the reigning pope, Alexander II, who had been elected by the reformers. But since she did not give effective support to Honorius, Alexander was able to prevail. Her unwise church policy was matched by an obscurely motivated submissive policy at home, which, by unwarranted cession of holdings of the crown, weakened the material foundations of the king’s power and, in addition, encouraged the rapacity of the nobles. Increasing discontent reached a climax in a conspiracy of the princes led by Anno, archbishop of Cologne, in April 1062. During a court assembly in Kaiserswerth he kidnapped the young king and had him brought to Cologne by ship. Henry’s attempt to escape by jumping into the Rhine failed. Agnes resigned as regent and the government was taken over by Anno, who settled the conflict with the church by recognising Alexander II (1064). Anno was, however, too dominating and inflexible a man to win Henry’s confidence, so that Adalbert, archbishop of Bremen, granting more freedom to the lascivious young king, gained increasing and finally sole influence. But he used it for such unscrupulous personal enrichment that Henry, who was declared of age in 1065, had to ban him from court early in 1066. This incident marks the beginning of the King’s own rule, for which he was badly prepared. Repeated changes in the government of the empire had an unsettling effect on the boy king and had, moreover, prevented him from being given a regular education. The selfishness of his tutors, the dissolute character of his companions, and the traumatic experience of his kidnapping had produced a lack of moral stability during his years of puberty. In addition, his love of power, typical of all the rulers of his dynasty, contributed to conduct often characterised by recklessness and indiscretion.

In 1069, after three years of marriage he suddenly announced his intention of divorcing his wife, Bertha. Following protests by high church dignitaries, he dropped his plan, but his mercurial behaviour incurred the displeasure of the reformers. At the same time he was faced with domestic difficulties that were to harass him throughout his reign. After his mother had freely dispensed of lands during her regency, he began to increase the royal possessions in the Harz Mountains and to protect them by castles, which he handed over to Swabian ministerials (higher civil servants directly responsible to the crown). Peasants and nobles in Saxony were stirred up by the ruthless repossession of former royal rights that had long ago been appropriated by nobility or had become obsolete and by the high-handed and severe measures of the foreign ministerials. Henry tried to stop the unrest by imprisoning Magnus, the duke of Saxony, and by depriving the widely respected Otto of Bavaria of his duchy, after having unjustly accused him of plotting the murder of the King in 1070. Then a rebellion broke out among the Saxons, which in 1073 spread so rapidly that Henry had to escape to Worms. After negotiations with Welf IV, the new duke (as Welf I) of Bavaria, and with Rudolf, the duke of Swabia, Henry was forced to grant immunity to the rebels in 1073 and had to agree to the razing of the royal Harz Castle in the final peace treaty in February 1074. When the peasants, destroying the castle, also desecrated the church and the tomb of one of the King’s sons, Henry declared the peace broken. This incident assured him of support from all over the empire, and in June 1075 he won an overwhelming victory that resulted in the surrender of the Saxons. It also forced the princes at Christmas to confirm on oath the succession of his one-year-old son, Conrad.

This rebellion affected relations between Henry and the Pope. In Milan a popular party, the Patarines, dedicated to reforming the city’s corrupt higher clergy, elected its own archbishop, who was recognised by the Pope. When Henry countered by having his own nominee consecrated by the Lombard bishops, Alexander II excommunicated the bishops. Henry did not yield, and it was not until the Saxon rebellion that he was ready to negotiate. In 1073 he humbly asked the new pope, Gregory VII, to settle the Milan problem. The King having thus renounced his right of investiture, a Roman synod, called to strengthen the Patarine movement, forbade any lay investiture in Milan. After this Gregory regarded Henry as his ally in questions of church reform. When planning a crusade, he even put the defence of the Roman Church into the King’s hands. But after defeating the Saxons, Henry considered himself strong enough to cancel his agreements with the Pope and to nominate his court chaplain as archbishop of Milan. The violation of the agreement on investiture called into question the King’s trustworthiness, and the Pope sent him a letter warning him of the fate of King Saul (after breaking with his church in the person of the prophet Samuel) but offering negotiations on the investiture problem. Instead of accepting the offer, which arrived at his court on January 1st 1076, Henry, on the same day, deposed the Pope and persuaded an assembly of 26 bishops, hastily called to Worms, to refuse obedience to the Pope. By this impulsive reaction he turned the problem of investiture in Milan, which could have been solved by negotiations, into a fundamental dispute on the relations between church and state. Gregory replied by excommunicating Henry and absolving the King’s subjects from their oaths of allegiance. Such action equalled dethronement. Many bishops who had taken part in the Worms’ assembly and had subsequently been excommunicated now surrendered to the Pope, and immediately the King was also faced with the newly aroused opposition of the nobility.

In October 1076 the princes discussed the election of a new king in Tribur. It was only by promising to seek absolution from the ban within a year that Henry could reach a postponement of the election. The final decision was to be taken at an assembly to be called at Augsburg to which the Pope was also invited. But Henry secretly travelled to northern Italy and in Canossa did penance before Gregory VII, whereupon he was readmitted to the church. For the moment it was a political success for the King because the opposition had been deprived of all canonical arguments. Yet, Canossa meant a change. By doing penance Henry had admitted the legality of the Pope’s measures and had given up the king’s traditional position of authority equal or even superior to that of the church. The relations between church and state were permanently changed. The princes, however, considered Canossa a breach of the original agreement providing for an assembly at Augsburg and declared Henry dethroned. In his stead, they elected Rudolf, duke of Swabia, in March 1077, whereupon Henry confiscated the duchies of Bavaria and Swabia on behalf of the crown. He received support from the peasants and citizens of these duchies, whereas Rudolf relied mainly on the Saxons. Gregory watched the indecisive struggle between Henry and Rudolf for almost three years until he resolved to bring about a decision for the sake of continued church reform in Germany. At a synod in March 1080, he prohibited investiture, excommunicated and dethroned Henry again, and recognized Rudolf. The reasons for this act of excommunication were not as valid as those advanced in 1077, and many nobles who had so far favoured the Pope turned against him because they thought the prohibition of investiture infringed upon their rights as patrons of churches and monasteries. Henry now succeeded in deposing Gregory and in nominating Guibert, archbishop of Ravenna, as pope at a synod in Brixen. When the opposition of the princes was crippled by the death of Rudolf in October 1080, Henry, freed of the threat of enemies to the rear, went to Italy to seek a military decision in his struggle with the church. After attacking Rome in vain in 1081 and 1082, he conquered the city in March 1084. Guibert was enthroned as Clement III and crowned Henry emperor on March 31st 1084. Gregory VII fled to Salerno, where he died on May 25th 1085. A number of cardinals joined Clement, and, feeling that he had won a complete victory, the Emperor returned to Germany. In May 1087 he had his son Conrad crowned king. The Saxons now made peace with him. Further, Henry replaced bishops who did not join Clement with others loyal to the King.

The escape and death of Gregory VII and the presence of Clement III in Rome caused a crisis in the reform movement of the church, from which, however, it quickly recovered under the pontificate of Urban II (1088-1099). The marriage, arranged by Urban in 1089, of the 17-year-old Welf V of Bavaria with the 43-year-old countess Matilda of Tuscany[2], a zealous adherent of the cause of reform in the church, allied Henry’s opponents in southern Germany and Italy. Henry was forced to invade Italy once more in 1090, but, after initial success, his defeat in 1092 resulted in the uprisings in Lombardy; and the rebellion of his son Conrad, who was crowned king of Italy by the Lombards, led to general rebellion. The Emperor found himself cut off from Germany and besieged in a corner of north-eastern Italy. In addition, his second wife, Praxedis of Kiev, whom he had married in 1089 after the death of Bertha in 1087, left him, bringing serious charges against him. It was not until Welf V separated from Matilda, in 1095, and his father, the deposed Welf IV, was once more granted Bavaria as a fief, in 1096, that Henry was able to return to Germany (1097). In Germany sympathy for reform and the papacy no longer excluded loyalty to the Emperor. Gradually Henry was able to consolidate his authority so that in May 1098 the princes elected his second son, Henry V, king in place of the disloyal Conrad. But peace with the Pope, which was necessary for a complete consolidation of authority, was a goal that remained unattainable. At first a settlement was impossible because of Henry’s support for Clement III, who had died in 1100. Paschal II (1099-1118), a follower of the reformist policies of Gregory VII, was unwilling to conclude an agreement with Henry. Finally, the Emperor declared that he would go on a crusade if his excommunication were removed. To prepare for the crusade, he forbade all feuds among the great nobles of the empire for four years (1103). But unrest started again when reconciliation with the church did not materialize and the nobles thought the Emperor was restricting their rights in favour of his son. Henry V feared a controversy with the princes. In alliance with Bavarian nobles he revolted against the Emperor in 1104 to secure his throne by sacrificing his father. The Emperor escaped to Cologne, but when he went to Mainz his son imprisoned him and on December 31st 1105, extorted his apparently voluntary abdication. Henry IV, however, was not yet prepared to give up. He fled to Liege and with the Lotharingians defeated Henry V’s army near VisĂ© on March 22rd 1106. Henry IV suddenly died in Liege on August 7th. His body was transferred to Speyer but remained there in an unconsecrated chapel before being buried in the family vault in 1111.

The judgement of Henry by his contemporaries differed according to the parties to which they belonged. His opponents considered the tall, handsome king a tyrant, whose death they cheered because it seemed to usher in a new age. His friends praised him as a pious, gentle, and intelligent ruler, a patron of the arts and sciences, who surrounded himself with religious scholars and who, in his sense of law and justice, was the embodiment of the ideal king. In his attempt to preserve the traditional rights of the crown, Henry IV was only partially successful, for while he strengthened the king’s position against the nobles by gaining the support of the peasants, the citizens, and the ministerials, his continuing battles with the reforming church over investiture ultimately weakened royal influence over the papacy.


[1] I.S. Robinson Henry IV of Germany 1056-1106, Cambridge University Press, 1999 is the best work available in English.

[2]  Matilda of Canossa 1046-1115 Countess of Tuscany was the daughter of Marquis Boniface II of Tuscany, head of the family based on the Apennine Fortress of Canosssa and invested as Margrave by Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II, King of Germany in 1027. Boniface held lands in feudal tenure from Emperor Conrad II. Mother was Beatrice, second wife of Boniface, and daughter of Duke of Upper Lorraine. She was aged six when father killed in 1052. Any brothers predeceased her in early life and thus she was sole heiress of her father’s vast estates. The Emperor Henry III claimed the right to invest a male with the Tuscan territories and the Canossa heartlands she was heiress to.  Her mother married, as her second husband, her cousin Duke Godfrey of Upper Lorraine in 1053, a year after the death of Boniface. Godfrey came out in open revolt against the Emperor, and Beatrice and Matilda were taken hostage. Godfrey and Beatrice governed Matilda’s vast estates during her minority - Tuscany, parts of Emilia-Romagna and Umbria, she controlled the most powerful feudal state in central Italy. It was during this time that she learned martial skills, embroidery, language (she was fluent in French, German, Italian, and Latin). She married as her first husband her half-brother, the son of Duke Godfrey from his first marriage (her mother Beatrice was his second wife). Her husband was deformed and known as Godfrey “the Hunchback”. She had two children from this marriage but both died in infancy. The marriage was considered a failure and she was extremely unhappy.

Aged thirteen, she attended the Council of Sutri for the election of a new Pope in 1059 as the previous Pope Stephen XI, Godfrey’s brother, had died (March 1058). She became a supporter of the new Pope Alexander II. She took to the battlefield with her mother, defending the interests of the pope against the schismatics after his election. Most likely present when her step-father Godfrey put an end to the Roman-Norman support for the antipope Honorius II (1066) at the battle of Aquino. It was said that she shared the command of the archers with General Arduino.  In the 11th century, at the time of Matilda, Canossa was the ‘new Rome’, the stronghold against heresy; it represented Italy against Germanism and imperial power. Matilda transferred several castles to Anselm II, Bishop of Lucca (1077-79). They were positioned to support the episcopal castle at Moriana that later became Anselm’s refuge and the center of resistance to Henry IV. Anselm II was a strong supporter of Pope Gregory VII, and was driven from Lucca, also the seat of the marquises of Tuscany, (late 1080), after the defeat of Matilda of Tuscany at the battle of Volta. He fled first to the shelter of Moriana, a castle only a few miles upriver from Lucca, and then took refuge with Matilda.

Henry ravaged northern Italy in 1080 and the Tuscan cities deserted Matilda, wanting their independence. Matilda was judged guilty of high treason by Henry for refusing feudal allegiance to him and placed her under the ‘ban of the empire’ in 1081. Henry had removed Matilda from all her imperial offices besides the marquisate of Tuscany (she held the counties of Reggio, Modena, Mantua, Brescia and Ferrara) and confiscated all her goods and property. It was in his interest to enforce his judgement, but because he was dependent on his Italian allies, and they expected to be rewarded from the same territory, he had to refrain from the kind of destructive warfare that he could have waged under other circumstances. Matilda raided the possessions of Henry’s supporters in order to draw him from Rome while needed supplies of hard cash were sent to the pope. The key to Matilda of Tuscany’s military power was her large landed possessions. She controlled the Apennine routes during the campaigns between 1081 and 1084 and Henry IV did not have use of the trans-Apennine routes.   Due to her ceaseless campaigns against the Emperor and for the papacy, she was facing financial ruin in 1082, but still kept on, winning a military victory at Sorbara in July 1084. In Rome, anti-pope Clement III crowned Henry but Pope Gregrory still held Holy City. The Norman Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and Calabria, abandoned his Byzantine campaigns to return to Italy when summoned and liberated Gregory and took him to Salerno. Exiled, the Pope died the following year. Matilda was continually harassed by Emperor Henry and his allies. She tried to persuade the new Pope Victor to take up residence in Rome without much success. Victor’s death was followed by the succession of Pope Urban II in 1088.

With her health now failing, Matilda spent much of her time at Polirone, a Benedictine monastery near Mantua, which was founded by her grandfather. However, she found strength to rally an army against an uprising of townsfolk in 1114. Matilda died at Polirone on 15th July 1115 in her 70th year. After her death, Canossa rapidly declined in importance. Matilda left no direct heir for her family had died out with her death. In two wills (1077 and 1102) she transferred her Canossa inheritance to the papacy. The dispute over the ownership of Matilda’s lands played a large part in the conflicts after 1116 between the popes and the emperors, particularly the Hohenstaufens. The cities of Tuscany emerged as independent communes from the struggle; the other lands left by Matilda eventually fell under papal rule.

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