1902 Encyclopedia > Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor

Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor
(1050-1106)




HENRY IV. (1050-1106), Holy Roman emperor, son of Henry III., was born in 1050, and crowned German king at the age of four during his father's lifetime. After the death of Henry III. in 1056, the government was undertaken by the empress Agnes, the young king's mother. Henry III.'s vigorous rule, while it had secured the prosperity of the nation as a whole, had excited bitter discontent among the great nobles, and immediately after his death they began to make attempts to recover some portion of the independence he had taken from them. Agnes, who was of too refined a temperament to contend with them, sought to win their support by important con-cessions ; and the evil effects of a feeble central authority were soon felt in every part of Germany. At last, in 1062, Anno, archbishop of Cologne, succeeded in gaining possession of the king by enticing him on board a boat? on the Bhine. Agnes then resigned her position, and Anno ruled in her stead. He was a harsh, bigoted, and despotic prelate, and excited Henry's bitter hatred by the sternness of his discipline. In Adalbert, archbishop of Bremen, who was of an exactly opposite disposition,—gay, worldly, and good-humoured,—Anno had an influential rival. This prelate was at first entrusted with some share in the training of Henry, but ultimately completely gained his affections and became his sole guardian. In his fifteenth year Henry was declared, in accordance with the Bipuarian Code, to have reached his majority, but the royal authority was really exercised by Adalbert, who aroused the jealousy of the princes both by his splendid style of living and by his opposition to their usurped powers. | At a diet held in Tribur he was compelled to yield the first place once more to Anno. Trained under these diverse influences Henry became passionate and wilful; but he was endowed with considerable intellectual gifts, and when thoroughly aroused could pursue an object with unquench-able ardour. In order, if possible, to check the excesses [ of his private life Anno caused him to marry Bertha, the daughter of the margrave of Susa, to whom he had for i some time been betrothed. At first he regarded her with strong dislike ; but after she had borne him a son in 1071 she succeeded in gaining his affections, and was afterwards his most trusted friend and companion.

Henry's reign was one of the most troubled in German history. His chief anxieties began in consequence of Otto of Nordheim, duke of Bavaria, being charged with an intention of murdering him. Otto was declared to have forfeited his titles, and his lands were seized and overrun. Supported by Duke Magnus of Saxony he rebelled, but both princes were quickly subdued. A new rebellion was organized by Otto of Nordheim, who suddenly, at the head of 60,000 men, appeared before the Harzburg, a strong Saxon fortress in which Henry resided. He escaped, but ! he was looked upon so coldly by the princes that he found it expedient to yield nearly all the demands of his enemies.

An opportunity of revenge was, however, created for him by the violence of a body of peasants, who destroyed a chapel connected with the Harzburg and violated the graves of the king's brother and infant son. He had then no difficulty in obtaining an imperial army, and after defeating the rebels at Hohenburg in 1075, he imposed on them his own terms, and seemed to be on the point of asserting the ascendency which had been exercised by Henry III.





Meanwhile Hildebrand had become pope as Gregory VII., and had already indicated his design of making the papacy supreme over all earthly authorities. Henry appealed to him to degrade those prelates who had associated themselves with the rebels, Instead of responding favourably to the appeal, Gregory called upon the king to answer to certain charges preferred against him by his subjects. Failing to realize how much power the papacy had acquired through the reforms effected by his father, Henry summoned a council of German prelates at Worms in 1076, and declared the pope deposed. The reply was a sentence of excom-munication. Henry's adherents so rapidly fell away that a reconciliation with the pope was soon perceived to be absolutely necessary. Escaping from his enemies he crossed the Alps in the depth of winter, accompanied only by his wife and child and by a few faithful attend-ants. The nobles of Lombardy were not unwilling to take up his cause, but he preferred to hurry forward to the castle of Canossa, where Gregory was residing with his friend the Countess Matilda. There occurred the famous scene in which Henry, the highest of secular potentates, stood for three days in the courtyard of the castle, clad in the shirt of a penitent, and entreating to be admitted to the pope's presence. No historical incident has more pro-foundly impressed the imagination of the Western world. It marked the highest point reached by papal authority, and presents a vivid picture of the awe inspired during the Middle Ages by the supernatural powers supposed to be wielded by the church.

The ban was removed ; nevertheless the German princes elected Duke Rudolf of Swabia as their king, and they were soon openly supported by the pope, who resented Henry's persistent opposition to his great scheme for the deliverance of the clergy from the system of feudal investi-ture. Henry renewed his sentence of deposition against Gregory, and raised Guibert, archbishop of Ravenna, to the papacy as Clement III. After the death of the anti-king Rudolf in 1080 he went to uphold his rights in Italy, and in 1084 he gained possession of Rome, where Clement III. crowned him emperor. In Germany Count Hermann of Luxembourg had been chosen as successor to Rudolf, and in 1085 he defeated Henry near Wurzburg; but in 1087 he voluntarily resigned his position, and soon after-wards died. A third anti-king, Margrave Eckbert of Meissen, also died in 1089; and had Henry had no enemies outside his native kingdom there would then have been peace. But Victor III. and Urban II., the successors of Gregory VII. (who died in 1085), con-tinued to oppose him, and in 1090 he was obliged to proceed to Italy for the third time to support Clement III., his own antipope. Whilst engaged in this struggle he learned that his son Conrad had been induced by the papal party to rebel against him. Stunned by this unexpected blow, the tired emperor withdrew in disgust to a remote fortress, where he remained inactive for several years. In 1096 he recovered his energy, returned to Germany, and by timely concessions managed to overcome the opposition of his leading enemies. A diet at Mainz decided that Conrad had forfeited his right to the throne, and his brother Henry was proclaimed the emperor's successor. Pope Urban II., the antipope Clement III., and Conrad, all died within two years, and Henry had reason to hope that he would be able to end his life in quiet. But Paschal II., pursuing the policy of his predecessors, once more excom-municated the emperor, who was driven to despair by the fact of his son Henry putting himself at the head of the pope's supporters. The aged monarch, deceived by false promises, fell into his hands, and was detained as a prisoner. He ultimately fled to Liege, where he might still have been able to bring an army together; but in 1106 he was relieved from his heavy cares by death. The bishop of Lie'ge buried him with a splendour becoming his position; but his enemies carried the body to Spires, where it was laid in an unconsecrated chapel; and it was not properly interred until, after a delay of five years, he was delivered from the ban of excommunication.

Henry holds an honourable position in history because, notwithstanding many personal faults, he resisted the excessive pretensions both of the papacy and of the ambitious feudal lords of Germany. He was unable, how-ever, to make good his claims. Centuries passed before the secular power of the Romish see was seriously weakened, and amid the confused struggles of the time the princes obtained secure possession of rights which they had formerly held by an uncertain tenure.

See Giesebreeht, Geschichte der Deutschen Kaiserzeit (3d ed., vol. iii., part 1, Brunswick, 1869); Ffoto, Heinrich IV. mid sein Zeitalter (2 vols., Stuttgart, 1855): Minckwitz, Die Busse Kaiser Heinrichs IV. zu Canossa vor dem Papste Gregor VII. (2d ed., Leipsic, 1875). (J. SI.)







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