History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Henry III the Black

A week after Conrad died his cousin and rival, Conrad the Younger, also died. Of all the great house of Conrad there remained only one—Henry, the young son of Emperor Conrad.

The right of choosing the Emperor lay with the nobles of the Empire. But in his lifetime Conrad had done all he could to make the throne hereditary in his family. During his lifetime Henry had already been chosen and crowned King of Germany and of Burgundy, and he now succeeded to the throne without any trouble.

Henry was only twenty-two, but from a child he had been trained in all the duties of a King, as well as in all the knightly arts and learning of the times. So when he came to the throne he was more fit to rule than many an older man. He was humble and good, yet noble, brave, yet peace-loving, wise, yet willing to listen to the advice of others.

Like his father, Henry was tall—a head and shoulders above his fellows, it is said. But his handsome face was so dark that he is called Henry the Black. He was a gallant soldier and a fervent Christian. Often on the field of battle he was seen to kneel in prayer. Dressed in kingly splendour, surrounded by pomp, he dashed proudly over the battle-field. But when a victory had been won he never failed to give thanks to God. Barefoot, then, and clad in a hair shirt, he went from church to church, giving praise and humble thanks to the Lord of Battles.

In every way Henry seemed fitted to be Emperor, so no one challenged his right to the throne. But although so far as the Emperor was concerned there was peace, the land was not really at rest. For the great nobles were constantly quarrelling among themselves, and the whole kingdom was full of bloodshed and robbery from their private wars.

It was now that in the neighbouring kingdom of France the Truce of God was proclaimed. By this men were forbidden to fight from Wednesday evening until Monday morning, all through the year, and during Lent and Advent they were altogether forbidden to fight. It was not the King of France but the churchmen of France who first instituted this law, and they chose those special days and times for peace because they were the days and times upon which He who had come to bring peace and goodwill on. earth had suffered and died.

Henry saw what good the Truce of God worked in France, and he resolved to command a like peace in his own kingdom. In October of 1048 he called his nobles together in Constance. There upon the fourth day of the assembly, when they were all gathered in the Cathedral, the King, accompanied by a bishop, went to the high altar. Standing there he spoke long and fervently to the people, urging them to forgive their enemies and live in peace together. "I as King," he said, "will show you the example and forgive all those who have done aught against me." This he solemnly did. Then by persuasions and by threats he forced the assembled nobles to follow his example.

After this through all his Empire, on both sides of the Alps, he proclaimed the King's Peace, commanding his subjects everywhere to cease from private feuds and warfare.

And so great had the power of the Emperor become that everywhere he was obeyed. Over the land there spread a peace such as had never been known before, such as was not to be known again for many long years. And in this peace the land prospered. The peasant tilled the fields at ease, and the merchant passed through the land without fear.

But it was not alone in worldly things that Henry showed his power. He showed it too in things of the Church. He was a good and pious man, and he saw with pain and grief the evil ways into which the highest churchmen had fallen. He saw bishoprics and archbishoprics and all the high offices of the Church given, not to men best fitted for them, but sold to the highest bidder. He saw the most hallowed office of all—the office of Pope—sold by one wicked Pope to another for a thousand pounds of silver. He saw three Popes at one time all fighting for the sacred throne. Such things filled him with horror, and he resolved to end them.

Already he had made a law that throughout the whole Empire no priestly office should henceforth be bought or sold, and that any one doing so should henceforth be excommunicated. Now, when he heard of the shameful struggle in Rome, of three Popes all fighting for the sacred throne, he set out for Italy resolved to cleanse the Church from so much wickedness.

At Sutri a great Synod was called together, and all three Popes were deposed, even Gregory VI, who was the best of them. For it was he who had bought the office for a thousand pounds in silver. And although he had meant to use his power well, he had won it sinfully, and was adjudged unworthy to hold it. He was now made to speak his own condemnation. "I, Bishop Gregory," he said, "the servant of the servants of God, declare that, because of the abominable barter and simony which have crept into my election I must be deposed from the bishopric of Rome. Is that your opinion?" he asked, turning to the bishops.

"It is," they replied.

Then Gregory stepped down from the papal throne, and taking his robe strongly in both hands he tore it asunder as a sign that he gave up his office.

All three popes being thus deposed, they were banished from Rome. Gregory sought a refuge in Germany, and with him went a monk named Hildebrand, the son of a poor carpenter. It is well to remember his name, for we shall hear more of him.

Henry now elected a new Pope. He was a German, and a man of holy life, a man as eager as Henry himself to see the Church kept pure. But he did not live long. When he died Henry, however, chose another Pope, also a German. It gives us some idea of Henry's power when we remember that he elected no fewer than four Popes one after the other. Two were relatives of his own, and all were Germans.

In the meantime Clement II, as the new Pope was called, crowned and anointed Henry as Emperor. It was on Christmas Day 1046 that the ceremony took place. And never since Charlemagne had been crowned on the same day nearly 250 years before had a German Emperor been received so joyfully. It was not only the German nobles who acclaimed him, the Roman citizens too joined their voices to the general applause. What Otto I had wrung from them by force they gave to Henry III gladly.

Besides taking the title of Emperor Henry revived the old title of Patrician, and almost always wore a green mantle and a golden band about his brows as signs of his office.

Henry was now at the very height of his power, and he was not yet thirty years of age. He was the most powerful ruler in Europe, and the Pope was his vassal. But his brilliant reign did not pass altogether without war. One bitter enemy he had within the Empire, and that was Duke Gottfried Longbeard.

Gottfried was the son of Gozelo, Duke of Lorraine. Already during his father's lifetime he had received the title of Duke, and never doubted that at his father's death he would receive the whole dukedom as his inheritance. But, it is said, the old Duke wished otherwise, and before his death he begged Henry to divide the duchy, as it had been before, into Upper and Lower Lorraine, giving half to his younger son Gozelo.

Henry was glad of anything which might lessen the power of the great nobles. So he willingly consented, and when the old Duke died in 1044 he divided his duchy, giving Gottfried Upper, and Gozelo the Lazy Lower Lorraine.

But Gottfried had no mind to lose half of his inheritance. He appeared before the King, and with hot and angry words demanded the whole of his father's dukedom. The King would not listen, and Gottfried left the Court in wrath, vowing to regain by the sword what had been taken from him.

But Henry had no mind to leave this unruly vassal unpunished. Gottfried was accused of high treason, and commanded to appear before the Emperor to answer for his misdeeds.

Gottfried came, and was condemned to the loss of his dukedom and to imprisonment. And when in a short time he was set free he was obliged to leave his son as hostage.

This treatment, far from breaking Gottfried's spirit, turned him into the Emperor's bitterest enemy. Soon through all Lorraine he marched slaying the people and burning the towns in vengeance.

But Henry, too, marched into the land, and ere long Gottfried was utterly defeated, and forced to flee for his life. Then, though wrath still burned in his heart, Gottfried, seeing no help for it, yielded to Henry. One day as the young King sat upon his throne the worn and hunted rebel, already a grey-haired man, appeared before him. He demanded justice. He demanded that his cause should be judged by his peers, the princes of the realm.

He had his wish. But once more the sentence went against him, and he was adjudged a rebel, and condemned to be imprisoned. So he was cast into the strong tower of the castle Giebichenstein, the same tower in which once Duke Ernst had been confined.

Next year, however, Gozelo the Lazy died. This softened the King's heart towards Gottfried, and he set him free. Gottfried thought that he would now be given the whole of his dukedom once more. So he bowed his proud head, and with every appearance of sorrow and penitence he threw himself at Henry's feet begging forgiveness.

Henry forgave him, and restored to him his dukedom of Upper Lorraine, but Lower Lorraine he gave to another.

That was too much for Gottfried to bear. Every sign of sorrow vanished from his heart. He resolved on revenge, and he only waited for the right moment to come.

Soon it came. Henry went to Italy, and while he was gone Gottfried plotted with the nobles of Lorraine, with the King of France, and with the Dukes of Flanders and of Holland. Then soon after the Emperor returned a great rebellion burst forth. Through all the land Gottfried marched, fighting and destroying, burning palaces and cathedrals, cottages and farms, till the people fled in terror at his approach.

When Henry heard of it he marched against Gottfried, proclaimed him an outlaw, and once more deposed him from his dukedom. Then fiercer than ever burned Gottfried's wrath against the Emperor, more furiously still he raged through the land.

But he could not long withstand the might of the Emperor. Excommunicated by the Church, outlawed by the State, forsaken by many of his friends, he at last threw himself once more upon the King's mercy. Henry granted him his life, but cast him into prison.

And now, once again in prison, under the curse of the Church, Gottfried's proud spirit seemed to be broken. He gave himself up to penance and good works, and openly declared his sorrow for his rebellion.

Then Henry, willing to believe in his repentance, once more set Gottfried free and, to show his trust, sent him to fight against the Duke of Flanders. But Gottfried had no heart to fight against his old friend, and the war had little success.

Two or three years went past, Gottfried, deposed and neglected, leading a miserable life at the Court of Henry. At length one day he quietly slipped away and sped over the Alps to Italy.

There lived Beatrix, a Princess of Lorraine, the widow of a powerful Italian count who had been lately murdered. She saw herself and her children surrounded by enemies. She wanted a brave man to protect her and them. And so when Gottfried, a noble of her own country, appeared, she gladly married him. For, rebel though he was, he was still one of the bravest soldiers of his day.

Thus the Emperor's great enemy became the most powerful prince in Italy. Among a people always ready to revolt he might with ease stir up rebellion. To the Emperor this was plain. And when in the following year Henry once more journeyed to Italy, Gottfried knew well that it was against him he had come. So he did not wait to meet the Emperor but fled away to Flanders.

Beatrix, however, felt that she had done nothing but what she had a right to do, and so, taking her little daughter with her, she boldly went to meet the Emperor.

But Henry was full of wrath against Gottfried. He bitterly reproached Beatrix with having married, without his knowledge and counsel, an enemy of the Empire. He forbade her to leave the Court, so, a guest in seeming—in truth a prisoner—she was forced to follow the Emperor back to Germany.

And thus a prisoner she remained until Gottfried again made his peace with Henry. And now the Emperor's mood was softened. This time no punishment fell upon the fiery, untamed vassal. He received back his wife and step-daughter, and was allowed to depart in peace.

It was not until after Henry's death, however, that Gottfried received again his dukedom, for which he had fought so hard.

Besides Henry's long strife with Gottfried he had to put down rebellions in Burgundy and in Bohemia. But the great war of his reign was carried on against Hungary.

King Stephen of Hungary, also known as St. Stephen; had made the people Christian, and had done much for the land. But when he died the people drove his nephew, King Peter, from the throne. He in his need fled to Henry begging for help.

Henry granted him the aid he asked for, and set him upon the throne again. But in return he made him give up to Germany all the land as far as the March and the Leithe which had once before belonged to Germany He was also forced to acknowledge the overlordship of the Emperor, and accept his throne as a fief of Germany.

Before all the assembled people King Peter came to Henry with a golden lance in his hand. This he gave to the Emperor, and with it he gave his kingdom. Then with solemn ceremony Henry restored again his kingdom to Peter, but only as a fief of Germany. Thus did Henry add yet another kingdom to his already great Empire.

The wild Hungarians, however, were little minded to be under the rule of mild King Peter, or to be vassals of the Empire. In little more than a year they burst forth in fierce revolt against their King, and against this Christian religion. Churches were destroyed, priests were slain with many horrible cruelties. King Peter was first blinded and then banished from the land, and the pagan Andreas set upon the throne.

But in spite of this wild revolt Andreas soon saw that only a Christian could wear the crown of St. Stephen, and it was not long ere he made his peace with the Church. He found himself forced, too, to bow to the Emperor, and receive his kingdom from his hand. Yet Andreas was no obedient vassal, such as King Peter had been, and again and again during the last years of his reign Henry marched into Hungary, in a vain endeavour to quell Andreas and his unruly people.

Henry's reign had been brilliant and successful, but now troubles gathered thick about him. The princes had grown weary of his stern rule, and many of them rose against him. Revolts and wars beset him on every side, defeat instead of victory followed his armies. In the midst of these troubles he fell ill and died. He was only thirty-eight, and had worn the crown for nearly seventeen years