HENRY (1129–1195), surnamed the “Lion,” duke of Saxony and Bavaria, only son of Henry the Proud, duke of Saxony and Bavaria, and Gertrude, daughter of the emperor Lothair the Saxon, was born at Ravensburg, and was a member of the family of Welf. In 1138 the German king Conrad III. had sought to deprive Henry the Proud of his duchies, and when the duke died in the following year the interests of his young son were maintained in Saxony by his mother, and his grandmother Richenza, widow of Lothair, and in Bavaria by his uncle, Count Welf VI. This struggle ended in May 1142 when Henry was invested as duke of Saxony at Frankfort, and Bavaria was given to Henry II., Jasomirgott, margrave of Austria, who married his mother Gertrude. In 1147 he married Clementia, daughter of Conrad, duke of Zähringen (d. 1152), and began to take an active part in administering his dukedom and extending its area. He engaged in a successful expedition against the Abotrites, or Obotrites, in 1147, and won a considerable tract of land beyond the Elbe, in which were re-established the bishoprics of Mecklenburg, Oldenburg and Ratzeburg. Hartwig, archbishop of Bremen, wished these sees to be under his authority, but Henry contested this claim, and won the right to invest these bishops himself, a privilege afterwards confirmed by the emperor Frederick I. Henry, meanwhile, had not forgotten Bavaria. In 1147 he made a formal claim on this duchy, and in 1151 sought to take possession, but failing to obtain the aid of his uncle Welf, did not effect his purpose. The situation was changed in his favour when Frederick I., who was anxious to count the duke among his supporters, succeeded Conrad as German king in February 1152. Frederick was unable at first to persuade Henry Jasomirgott to abandon Bavaria, but in June 1154 he recognized the claim of Henry the Lion, who accompanied him on his first Italian campaign and distinguished himself in suppressing a rising at Rome, Henry’s formal investiture as duke of Bavaria taking place in September 1156 on the emperor’s return to Germany. Henry soon returned to Saxony, where he found full scope for his untiring energy. Adolph II., count of Holstein, was compelled to cede Lübeck to him in 1158; campaigns in 1163 and 1164 beat down further resistance of the Abotrites; and Saxon garrisons were established in the conquered lands. The duke was aided in this work by the alliance of Valdemar I., king of Denmark, and, it is said, by engines of war brought from Italy. During these years he had also helped Frederick I. in his expedition of 1157 against the Poles, and in July 1159 had gone to his assistance in Italy, where he remained for about two years.
The vigorous measures taken by Henry to increase his power aroused considerable opposition. In 1166 a coalition was formed against him at Merseburg under the leadership of Albert the Bear, margrave of Brandenburg, and Archbishop Hartwig. Neither side met with much success in the desultory warfare that ensued, and Frederick made peace between the combatants at Würzburg in June 1168. Having obtained a divorce from his first wife in 1162, Henry was married at Minden in February 1168 to Matilda (1156–1189), daughter of Henry II., king of England, and was soon afterwards sent by the emperor Frederick I. on an embassy to the kings of England and France. A war with Valdemar of Denmark, caused by a quarrel over the booty obtained from the conquest of Rügen, engaged Henry’s activity until June 1171, when, in pursuance of a treaty which restored peace, Henry’s daughter, Gertrude, married the Danish prince, Canute. Henry, whose position was now very strong, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1172, was received with great respect by the eastern emperor Manuel Comnenus at Constantinople, and returned to Saxony in 1173.
A variety of reasons were leading to a rupture in the harmonious relations between Frederick and Henry, whose increasing power could not escape the emperor’s notice, and who showed little inclination to sacrifice his interests in Germany in order to help the imperial cause in Italy. He was not pleased when he heard that his uncle, Welf, had bequeathed his Italian and Swabian lands to the emperor, and the crisis came after Frederick’s check before Alessandria in 1175. The emperor appealed personally to Henry for help in February, or March 1176, but Henry made no move in response, and his defection contributed in some measure to the emperor’s defeat at Legnano. The peace of Venice provided for the restoration of Ulalrich to his see of Halberstadt. Henry, however, refused to give up the lands which he had seized belonging to the bishopric, and this conduct provoked a war in which Ulalrich was soon joined by Philip, archbishop of Cologne. No attack on Henry appears to have been contemplated by Frederick to whom both parties carried their complaints, and a day was fixed for the settlement of the dispute at Worms. But neither then, nor on two further occasions, did Henry appear to answer the charges preferred against him; accordingly in January 1180 he was placed under the imperial ban at Würzburg, and was declared deprived of all his lands.
Meanwhile the war with Ulalrich continued, but after his victory at Weissensee Henry’s allies began to fall away, and his cause to decline. When Frederick took the field in June 1181 the struggle was soon over. Henry sought for peace, and the conditions were settled at Erfurt in November 1181, when he was granted the counties of Lüneburg and Brunswick, but was banished under oath not to return without the emperor’s permission. In July 1182 he went to his father-in-law’s court in Normandy, and afterwards to England, returning to Germany with Frederick’s permission in 1185. He was soon regarded once more as a menace to the peace of Germany, and of the three alternatives presented to him by the emperor in 1188 he rejected the idea of making a formal renunciation of his claim, or of participating in the crusade, and chose exile, going again to England in 1189. In October of the same year, however, he returned to Saxony, excusing himself by asserting that his lands had not been defended according to the emperor’s promise. He found many allies, took Lübeck, and soon almost the whole of Saxony was in his power. King Henry VI. was obliged to take the field against him, after which the duke’s cause declined, and in July 1190 a peace was arranged at Fulda, by which he retained Brunswick and Lüneburg, received half the revenues of Lübeck, and gave two of his sons as hostages. Still hoping to regain his former position, he took advantage of a league against Henry VI. in 1193 to engage in a further revolt; but the captivity of his brother-in-law Richard I., king of England, led to a reconciliation. Henry passed his later years mainly at his castle of Brunswick, where he died on the 6th of August 1195, and was buried in the church of St Blasius which he had founded in the town. He had by his first wife a son and a daughter, and by his second wife five sons and a daughter. One of his sons was Otto, afterwards the emperor Otto IV., and another was Henry (d. 1227) count palatine of the Rhine.
Henry was a man of great ambition, and won his surname of “Lion” by his personal bravery. His influence on the fortunes of Saxony and northern Germany was very considerable. He planted Flemish and Dutch settlers in the land between the Elbe and the Oder, fostered the growth and trade of Lübeck, and in other ways encouraged trade and agriculture. He sought to spread Christianity by introducing the Cistercians, founding bishoprics, and building churches and monasteries. In 1874 a colossal statue was erected to his memory at Brunswick.
The authorities for the life of Henry the Lion are those dealing with the reign of the emperor Frederick I., and the early years of his son King Henry VI. The chief modern works are H. Prutz, Heinrich der Löwe (Leipzig, 1865); M. Philippson, Geschichte Heinrichs des Löwen (Leipzig, 1867); and L. Weiland, Das sächsische Herzogthum unter Lothar und Heinrich dem Löwen (Greifswald, 1866).
- The see was transferred to Schwerin by Henry in 1167.
- Transferred to Lübeck in 1163.