One thousand years ago today…
…Henry II, King of Germany and Italy, former Duke of Bavaria, was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Benedict VIII. The HRE had gone 12 years without an emperor following a power struggle to fill the void created by the untimely death of Emperor Otto III in 1002 at the age of 21.
Henry II had a rather remarkable run to power after a troubled upbringing, which saw him moved about by his father, exiled after a succession dispute over the Duchy of Swabia. Young Henry was given an ecclesiastical education at Hildesheim Cathedral and he would become known for his inclusion of many church officials in his administration.
Following the death of his father in 995, Henry assumed the title of Duke of Bavaria. When Emperor Otto III died without an heir in 1002 in Italy, Henry claimed both the Kingdom of Germany and the Kingdom of Italy, as well as the Holy Roman Empire. All three were in dispute, as the succession of the titles were muddled amongst the many claimants.
It would take a master stroke of conniving from Henry to secure the crown of Germany, something from the pages of Game of Thrones. As the funeral procession of the recently deceased emperor passed through his lands in Bavaria en route to Aachen, Henry seized the Archbishop of Cologne and his brother in an attempt to wrestle the imperial regalia from the procession. He thought this would legitimize his claim to the empire. Following a lack of support, Henry would release the captives, only to later appeal to the nobles of the kingdom at the funeral in Aachen, again to no avail.
With the Archbishop of Cologne failing to recognize him, Henry had the Archbishop of Mainz crown him king, becoming the first monarch to not be crowned in Aachen in nearly 100 years. Without having been elected by the nobility, his hold on power was weak. It was only cemented after making a deal with the Duke of Saxony in which greater autonomy was granted to their ruler.
His title of King of Italy was a little easier to come by, being wrangled the old-fashioned way, through violent subjugation. After initial success against his rival, most of the nobility were quick to support his claim. He returned to Germany to work on the prize he sought most, that of emperor.
Being crowned Holy Roman Emperor was no easy task for Henry. You had to be crowned by the Pope and a certain John Crescentius held the reigns of power in Rome, though not the papacy itself. He refused to set up meetings between Henry and the various Popes. Upon Benedict VIII’s ascension to the Holy See in 2012, Crescentius had an antipope, Gregory the VI installed, forcing the rightfully elected Benedict to flee.
This worked to Henry’s favor. Benedict had been elected and most of Christendom would support his claim. Henry agreed to install him on the throne in exchange for his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor and Benedict agreed. Henry invaded Italy once again to secure a crown. Little fighting was needed and Henry made his way to Rome, where on February 14th, 1014, he finally saw his dream realized and the imperial crown was placed on his head.
Henry would go on to rule for another ten years. He would fight the Poles, butt heads with the Byzantines and expand the role of the clergy in the administration of the empire. He died of a urinary tract infection in 1024. He had no heirs, leaving the empire in a precarious situation for the second time in just the first few decades of the new millennium. Conrad II, a Frankish noble was elected the new emperor, ending the Ottonian Dynasty founded by Otto the Great and ushering in the Salian Dynasty.
Henry’s life and reign is a good one to examine, not just because he was crowned in our featured year of 1014, but because his story features some of the more fascinating elements of the era in question. Intrigue and scheming to secure a crown, plenty of fighting, a succession crisis to usher him in and a dynastic change following his passing, not to mention an antipope, and conflict with the clergy and the nobility. These were all par for the course for a ruler in medieval Europe, but you wouldn’t necessarily see them during one man’s reign.
Happy Anniversary Henry.
Check out more of my 1014 Series. It will include 1,000 year anniversaries as well as posts illuminating the general feel of the life and times.