1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Henry IV. (Roman emperor)
HENRY IV. (1050–1106), Roman emperor, son of the emperor Henry III. and Agnes, daughter of William V., duke of Guienne, was born on the 11th of November 1050, chosen German king at Tribur in 1053, and crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 17th of July 1054. In 1055 he was appointed duke of Bavaria, and on his father’s death in October 1056 inherited the kingdoms of Germany, Italy and Burgundy. These territories were governed in his name by his mother, who was unable to repress the internal disorder or to take adequate measures for their defence. Some opposition was soon aroused, and in 1062 Anno, archbishop of Cologne, and others planned to seize the person of the young king and to deprive Agnes of power. This plot met with complete success. Henry, who was at Kaiserwerth, was persuaded to board a boat lying in the Rhine; it was immediately unmoored and the king sprang into the stream, but was rescued by one of the conspirators and carried to Cologne. Agnes made no serious effort to regain her control, and the chief authority was exercised for a time by Anno; but his rule proved unpopular, and he was soon compelled to share his power with Adalbert, archbishop of Bremen. The education and training of Henry were supervised by Anno, who was called his magister, while Adalbert was styled patronus; but Anno was disliked by Henry, and during his absence in Italy the chief power passed into the hands of Adalbert. Henry’s education seems to have been neglected, and his wilful and headstrong nature was developed by the conditions under which his early years were passed. In March 1065 he was declared of age, and in the following year a powerful coalition of ecclesiastical and lay nobles brought about the banishment of Adalbert from court and the return of Anno to power. In 1066 Henry was persuaded to marry Bertha, daughter of Otto, count of Savoy, to whom he had been betrothed since 1055. For some time he regarded his wife with strong dislike and sought in vain for a divorce, but after she had borne him a son in 1071 she gained his affections, and became his most trusted friend and companion.
In 1069 the king took the reins of government into his own hands. He recalled Adalbert to court; led expeditions against the Liutici, and against Dedo or Dedi II., margrave of a district east of Saxony; and soon afterwards quarrelled with Rudolph, duke of Swabia, and Berthold, duke of Carinthia. Much more serious was Henry’s struggle with Otto of Nordheim, duke of Bavaria. This prince, who occupied an influential position in Germany, was accused in 1070 by a certain Egino of being privy to a plot to murder the king. It was decided that a trial by battle should take place at Goslar, but when the demand of Otto for a safe conduct for himself and his followers, to and from the place of meeting, was refused, he declined to appear. He was thereupon declared deposed in Bavaria, and his Saxon estates were plundered. He obtained sufficient support, however, to carry on a struggle with the king in Saxony and Thuringia until 1071, when he submitted at Halberstadt. Henry aroused the hostility of the Thuringians by supporting Siegfried, archbishop of Mainz, in his efforts to exact tithes from them; but still more formidable was the enmity of the Saxons, who had several causes of complaint against the king. He was the son of one enemy, Henry III., and the friend of another, Adalbert of Bremen. He had ordered a restoration of all crown lands in Saxony and had built forts among this people, while the country was ravaged to supply the needs of his courtiers, and its duke Magnus was a prisoner in his hands. All classes were united against him, and when the struggle broke out in 1073 the Thuringians joined the Saxons; and the war, which lasted with slight intermissions until 1088, exercised a most potent influence upon Henry’s fortunes elsewhere (see Saxony).
Henry soon found himself confronted by an abler and more stubborn antagonist than either Thuringian or Saxon. In 1073 Hildebrand became pope as Gregory VII. Two years later this great ecclesiastic issued his memorable prohibition of lay investiture, and the blow then struck at the secular power by the papacy threatened seriously to undermine the imperial authority. Spurred on by his advisers, Henry did not refuse the challenge. Threatened with the papal ban, he summoned a synod of German bishops which met at Worms in January 1076 and declared Gregory deposed; and he wrote his famous letter to the pope, in which he referred to him as “not pope, but false monk.” The king was at once excommunicated. His adherents gradually fell away, the Saxons were again in arms, and Otto of Nordheim succeeded in uniting the malcontents of north and south Germany. In October 1076 an important diet met at Tribur, and after discussing the deposition of the king, decided that he should be judged by an assembly to be held at Augsburg in the following February under the presidency of the pope. This union of the temporal and spiritual forces was too strong for the king, and he decided to submit.
Crossing the Alps, Henry appeared in January 1077 as a penitent before the castle of Canossa, where Gregory had taken refuge. The story of this famous occurrence, which represents the king as standing in the courtyard of the castle for three days in the snow, clad as a penitent, and entreating to be admitted to the pope’s presence, is now regarded as mythical in its details; but there is no doubt that the king visited the castle at intervals, and prayed for admission for three days until the 28th of January, when he was received by Gregory and absolved, after promising to submit to the pope’s authority and to secure for him a safe journey to Germany. No historical incident has more profoundly 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.
Scorned by his Lombard allies, Henry left Italy to find that in his absence Rudolph, duke of Swabia, had been chosen German king; and although Gregory had taken no part in this election, Henry sought to prevent the pope’s journey to Germany, and regaining courage, tried to recover his former position. Supported by most of the German bishops and by the Lombards, now reconciled to him, and recognized in Burgundy, Bavaria and Franconia, Henry (who at this time is referred to by Bruno, the author of De bello Saxonico, as exrex) appeared stronger than his rival Rudolph; but the ensuing war was waged with varying success. He was beaten at Mellrichstadt in 1078, and at Flarchheim in 1080, but these defeats were due rather to the fierce hostility of the Saxons, and the military skill of Otto of Nordheim, than to any general sympathy with Rudolph. Gregory’s attitude remained neutral, in spite of appeals from both sides, until March 1080, when he again excommunicated Henry, but without any serious effect on the fortunes of the king. At Henry’s initiative, Gregory was declared deposed on three occasions, and an anti-pope was elected in the person of Wibert, archbishop of Ravenna, who took the name of Clement III.
The death of Rudolph in October 1080, and a consequent lull in the war, enabled the king to go to Italy early in 1081. He found considerable support in Lombardy; placed Matilda, marchioness of Tuscany, the faithful friend of Gregory, under the imperial ban; took the Lombard crown at Pavia; and secured the recognition of Clement by a council. Marching to Rome, he undertook the siege of the city, but was soon compelled to retire to Tuscany, where he granted privileges to various cities, and obtained monetary assistance from a new ally, the eastern emperor, Alexius I. A second and equally unsuccessful attack on Rome was followed by a war of devastation in northern Italy with the adherents of Matilda; and towards the end of 1082 the king made a third attack on Rome. After a siege of seven months the Leonine city fell into his hands. A treaty was concluded with the Romans, who agreed that the quarrel between king and pope should be decided by a synod, and secretly bound themselves to induce Gregory to crown Henry as emperor, or to choose another pope. Gregory, however, shut up in the castle of St Angelo, would hear of no compromise; the synod was a failure, as Henry prevented the attendance of many of the pope’s supporters; and the king, in pursuance of his treaty with Alexius, marched against the Normans. The Romans soon fell away from their allegiance to the pope; and, recalled to the city, Henry entered Rome in March 1084, after which Gregory was declared deposed and Clement was recognized by the Romans. On the 31st of March 1084 Henry was crowned emperor by Clement, and received the patrician authority. His next step was to attack the fortresses still in the hands of Gregory. The pope was saved by the advance of Robert Guiscard, duke of Apulia, with a large force, which compelled Henry to return to Germany.
Meanwhile the German rebels had chosen a fresh anti-king, Hermann, count of Luxemburg, whom Henry’s supporters had already driven to his last line of defence in Saxony. During the campaign of 1086 Henry was defeated near Würzburg, but in 1088 Hermann abandoned the struggle and the emperor was generally recognized in Saxony, to which country he showed considerable clemency. Although Henry’s power was in the ascendent, a few powerful nobles adhered to the cause of Gregory’s successor, Urban II. Among them was Welf, son of Welf I., the deposed duke of Bavaria, whose marriage with Matilda of Tuscany rendered him too formidable to be neglected. The emperor accordingly returned to Italy in 1090, where Mantua and Milan were taken, and Pope Clement was restored to Rome. Henry’s communications with Germany were, however, threatened by a league of the Lombard cities, and his anxieties were soon augmented by domestic troubles.
Henry’s first wife had died in 1087, and in 1089 he had married a Russian princess, Praxedis, afterwards called Adelaide. Her conduct soon aroused his suspicions, and his own eldest son, Conrad, who had been crowned German king in 1087, was thought to be a partner in her guilt. Escaping from prison, Adelaide fled to Henry’s enemies and brought grave charges against her husband; while the papal party induced Conrad to desert his father and to be crowned king of Italy at Monza in 1093. Crushed by this blow, Henry remained almost helpless and inactive in northern Italy for five years, until 1097, when having lost every shred of authority in that country, he returned to Germany, where his position was stronger than ever. Welf had submitted, had forsaken the cause of Matilda and had been restored to Bavaria, and in 1098 the diet assembled at Mainz declared Conrad deposed, and chose the emperor’s second son, Henry, afterwards the emperor Henry V., as German king. The crusade of 1096 had freed Germany from many turbulent spirits, and the emperor, meeting with some success in his efforts to restore order, could afford to ignore his repeated excommunication. A successful campaign in Flanders was followed in 1103 by a diet at Mainz, where serious efforts were made to restore peace, and Henry himself promised to go on crusade. But this plan was shattered by the revolt of the younger Henry in 1104, who, encouraged by the adherents of the pope, declared he owed no allegiance to an excommunicated father. Saxony and Thuringia were soon in arms, the bishops held mainly to the younger Henry, while the emperor was supported by the towns. A desultory warfare was unfavourable, however, to the emperor, who, deceived by false promises, became a prisoner in the hands of his son in 1105. The diet met at Mainz in December, when he was compelled to abdicate; but contrary to the conditions, he was detained at Ingelheim and denied his freedom. Escaping to Cologne, he found considerable support in the lower Rhineland; he entered into negotiations with England, France and Denmark, and was engaged in collecting an army when he died at Liége on the 7th of August 1106. His body was buried by the bishop of Liége with suitable ceremony, but by command of the papal legate it was unearthed, taken to Spires, and placed in an unconsecrated chapel. After being released from the sentence of excommunication the remains were buried in the cathedral of Spires in August 1111.
Henry IV. was very licentious and in his early years was careless and self-willed, but better qualities were developed in his later life. He displayed much diplomatic ability, and his abasement at Canossa may fairly be regarded as a move of policy to weaken the pope’s position at the cost of a personal humiliation to himself. He was always regarded as a friend of the lower orders, was capable of generosity and gratitude, and showed considerable military skill. Unfortunate in the time in which he lived, and in the troubles with which he had to contend, he holds an honourable position in history as a monarch who resisted the excessive pretensions both of the papacy and of the ambitious feudal lords of Germany.