Henry IV

(Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor)


Henry IV, made king at the age of six and ruling for fifty years as leader of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, was known primarily for his many wars with the Saxons and the infamous Investiture Controversy—a battle of wills with the Pope that resulted in his excommunication. While unruly as a young man, he grew into an able diplomat who was largely successful in battle.

Henry at first adhered closely to Catholic Church teachings, if only for want of Papal support, but his apparent weakness led Pope Gregory VII to challenge his authority in selecting church officials, claiming that only the pope could control such appointments and dismissals. Henry, however, refused to regard the power of the Papacy and instead continued to appoint German bishops at his will. Then, on Christmas night, Gregory VII was kidnapped and imprisoned, an assault for which he blamed the king. Henry declared Gregory deposed, and the pope responded by excommunicating him. The next January, Henry stood outside the church of Cassanova, where the Pope had taken refuge, begging that his punishment might be rescinded. The Pope relieved him of his sentence, imposing several conditions on him, but Henry, once again in Church favor, promptly violated them.

While Henry was away with the pope, his brother-in-law Rudolph had meanwhile declared himself anti-king. The population revolted and drove him and other plotters out of the city and to Saxon, where Henry systematically deprived them of territory. After a defeat of Henry’s forces, however, the rebellion returned with the favor of Pope Gregory, who once again excommunicated the king. The rival kings met at Wiesse Elster River, where Rudolph was mortally wounded and died the next day. Another imposter also tried to take Henry’s place, but he was quickly defeated.

In 1084, Gregory was deposed and Henry crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Victor III took over the position of pope, excommunicating both the Emperor. Chaos ensued, as another pretender arose to take the throne and the Lombards rebelled against Henry. His own son sided against him as well, and Henry deposed him in favor of his younger son. The situation worsened when Henry was excommunicated again by Victor’s successor, and, at the direction of his once-loyal son, the Emperor was forced to resign his crown.

Key events during the life of Henry IV:

Crowned king of Germany
Kidnapped by German nobles led by archbishop
Fought Southern Italians at the request of the Pope
  Married Bertha of Maurienne
Tried and failed to divorce his wife
Investiture Controversy
Rudolph crowned himself anti-king and led revolt against Henry
Seiged Rome
Became Holy Roman Emperor
Excommunicated by Victor III
Was cut off from Germany for 4 years
Forced to abdicate the throne

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Henry the Emperor  in  Stories from German History  by   Florence Aston
Emperors and Popes  in  Germany: Peeps at History  by  John Finnemore
Triumph of Papacy over Empire  in  The Story of the Middle Ages  by  Samuel B. Harding
Henry IV  in  The History of Germany  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Holy Roman Empire: Pope and Emperor  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Fortunes of Henry the Fourth  in  Historical Tales: German  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Henry IV at Canossa
 in Stories from German History

Henry IV. at Canossa
 in The Story of the Middle Ages

Henry IV. Vowing to Drag the Pope from his Throne
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Henry IV. at Canossa
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Henry IV. Rewarding the Citizens of Worms for their Support
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Henry IV. Seeking Entrance to Canossa
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Short Biography
Pope Gregory VII Tested wills with Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV over 'investiture' issues.
Roger of Sicily Formed the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, a great sea power of southern Italy for 7 centuries.