Holy Roman Empire – Medieval Germany

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Empress Agnes holding Henry IV

Empress Agnes holding Henry IV

After the death of Henry III in 1056 AD, his widow Agnes ran the Holy Roman Empire. With the help of the king of Poland, the Popes now felt stronger. They tried to break away from the control of the Holy Roman Emperors. The Popes insisted that priests and bishops served only the Pope. The Empress could not appoint bishops. Agnes wanted to appoint her own bishops who would help her rule her empire, but the Pope wanted bishops to work only for the Church. In 1062, the archbishop Anno pushed Agnes out of power. But four years later her son Henry IV took over, and continued the same fight.

Henry kneels before Matilda of Canossa

Henry kneels before Matilda of Canossa and the Pope

In the end the Pope, with the support of the powerful Italian ruler Matilda of Canossaexcommunicated Henry IV. In order to get back into the Church Henry had to do penance (say he was sorry) to the Pope. He ended up kneeling barefoot in the snow at Canossa in northern Italy in 1077 AD.

Near the end of Henry IV’s life, his son Henry V rebelled against him. Henry V wanted to get along better with the Pope. Henry IV had to abdicate (give up being king) and let his son take over. In 1106, right after that, Henry IV died.

Henry IV gives power to his son Henry V.

Henry IV gives power to his son Henry V.

Henry V lost some important battles to King Boleslaw of Poland in 1109, but then he got stronger. Henry V turned out to want to appoint bishops just as much as his father and grandmother had. He started right away appointing whatever bishops he wanted. Of course the Popes objected. In 1111 Henry V actually marched into Italy and took the Pope prisoner. He only let the Pope go when the Pope promised to let Henry do whatever he wanted, but once he got free the Pope went back on his promise. Then in 1118 (after Matilda of Canossa died) a new Pope excommunicated Henry V.

Henry sent his teenage wife Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England, to rule Italy for him now that Matilda of Canossa had died. But mostly Italy’s cities just became independent. Finally in 1122 the Pope and Henry reached a compromise called the Concordat of Worms. (There is a city in Germany called Worms). Henry V and Matilda never had any children. So when Henry died in 1125, the German nobles elected a new emperor from a different family. That’s Lothair II. Matilda (now 23) went home to rule England.

Lothair II carried on the Concordat of Worms. He fought in Italy like other German kings. He built an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor John Comnenus. But Lothair II’s position was stronger, because Poland was divided into many little kingdoms and couldn’t fight him anymore. So Lothair III also fought wars to expand Germany eastward. He made Poland and Denmark agree to do whatever Germany said.

Friedrich Barbarossa

Friedrich Barbarossa

Conrad III was the grandson of Henry IV (through Henry’s daughter Agnes). He became emperor after Lothair II’s death in 1138. Conrad went on the Second Crusade, which was partly successful. But he was unable to get control of Italy. The Italians divided into two groups. The Ghibellines (GIB-el-eens) were on Conrad’s side, and thought it would be a good idea if the German Emperor ruled Italy.  The Guelfs (GELFS) were on the Pope’s side and wanted the Germans to leave Italy alone. Roger II, the Norman king of Sicily, helped the Guelfs, so they mostly won.

But in 1152, Conrad’s nephew, Frederick Barbarossa (Red-beard), became Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick was a strong fighter. He insisted on controlling northern Italy as well as Germany. This idea went well at first, but later on Frederick got involved in civil wars in Germany with Henry Guelf, who had first been his friend. Everybody ended up choosing up sides, both Italians and Germans. Still, Frederick remained emperor a long time, and died an old man. He drowned crossing a river on the Third Crusade in 1190 AD.

After Frederick drowned, his son Henry VI took over as Holy Roman Emperor. Henry VI also got control of southern Italy. He got rich from a huge ransom he got for his hostage, Richard the Lionhearted. Like his father, Henry VI was the most powerful ruler in Europe. He made plans to marry his relatives to Byzantine princesses like the Ottonians before him. He hoped to unite East and West and rebuild the Roman Empire. When Henry died after only seven years (probably of malaria he caught in southern Italy), his son Frederick II was elected Holy Roman Emperor.

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More about the Third Crusade

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Germany:

 

Later Holy Roman Empire
Medieval Europe
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By |2018-04-21T13:20:47+00:00August 2nd, 2017|History, Medieval|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Holy Roman Empire – Medieval Germany. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 2, 2017. Web. November 13, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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