HSF: A King, A Priest, and A Countess Walk Into A Castle

In the dead of winter, Pope Gregory VII was far from the comforts of his palace in Rome.  In Gregory_VIIfact, he was high in the Apennine Mountains in Northern Italy on his way to Augsburg, Bavaria to attend a gathering of dignitaries of the Church meant to solve a dispute with the King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV.  Gregory and his entourage stopped to recover from their arduous journey thus far at the Castle of Canossa.  This fortress was one of the strongest mountain keeps held by Countess Matilda of Tuscany, nominal vassal of Henry and ally of Gregory in the ongoing dispute.  But we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves.  Who are these people and what is this dispute?  Let’s go to know each of them a little better.

Pope Gregory VII was born Hildebrand of Sovana who became a monk in medieval Tuscany.  As his career progressed, Hildebrand rose quickly through the ranks of the Church and soon played a key role in the election of Pope Alexander II.  Hildebrand and Pope Alexander were both members of a movement meant to reform the Church, looking to get rid of practices such as clerical marriage and simony, which is the purchase of religious office.  Upon Alexander’s death, as the people and clergy of Rome gathered at the St. John Lateran Basilica to mourn their leader, a great cry went up, “Let Hildebrand be Pope!” even though he had not yet even been ordained a priest, let alone a bishop.  The Church leaders in Rome recognized in Hildebrand an incredibly popular figure and recognized the people’s proclamation – making Gregory VII one of seven Popes elected by acclamation (out of 266 recognized Popes in history).  In the weeks before he donned the papal tiara, Gregory was ordained as a priest and elevated to the bishopric.  His zeal for Church reform was only just beginning and now he had the power to really do something!

Henry IV was the third member of his family to become King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, after his grandfather, Conrad II, and his father, Henry III.  His family had traditional been the Dukes of Franconia – a region of modern Germany just north of Bavaria.  Henry’s Heinrich_4_g.jpgfather died when he was young boy just shy of six years old.  As such, he was raised to the title of Holy Roman Emperor at a very tender age.  Now, the Holy Roman Emperor was certainly a significant power, but the authority was not at all absolute.  As soon as he was old enough to assert personal power, Henry IV made it his life’s goal to consolidate the power of his position and his family.  The German provinces were a loose confederation of duchies, counties, princedoms, baronies, etc. held together primarily by religion – the “holy” of the Holy Roman Empire.  Much of the Holy Roman Emperor’s power came from the influence he held over the bishops of his territory and Henry only wanted to extend that influence!

Matilda of Tuscany was the youngest of three children of the powerful House of Canossa who ruled much of what is now Northern Italy as vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor.  Upon the death of her father and two older siblings, Matilda became the last member of her family and, as such, her husband, Godfrey the Hunchback, Duke of Lorraine also became the Margrave of Tuscany.  Matilda and Godfrey’s marriage was a rocky one.  Their only child died in infancy and Godfrey spent most of his time in Lorraine (in northern Germany) while Matilda was home in Italy.  Godfrey was assassinated while on campaign against the Duke of Saxony on behalf of his liege, Henry IV in one of the most embarrassing ways possible.  He was run through while “answering the call of nature.”  This left Matilda the last remaining option to rule over Northern Italy and she did so brilliantly, becoming La Gran Contessa – the Great Countess. Now a power in her own right, Matilda declared her support, not for Henry, but rather for Pope Gregory, whose reforms struck a chord with the Countess.  The stage was now set for one of the great conflicts of the early Middle Ages.

Reggio_Emilia_posizione.pngAmong Gregory’s first actions once elevated to the papacy was to confirm his predecessor’s edict banning a widespread practice called “lay investiture.”  Now, I know that at this point your eyes are probably rolling into the back of your head if you’ve ever heard this term before.  It is up there with eye-glazing topics from history such as paradigm shifts and tariffs, but trust me – some people get really excited about these boring concepts and do ridiculous things to support their positions and that is what we have going on here.  Lay investiture is the practice in which officials in the Catholic Church were given their position (“invested”) by the ruler of the state in which their diocese was located.  While, theoretically, this could be done for any Church official from the lowly parish priest to the most influential bishop, European rulers tended to only focus their time investing men (and it was always men) into the most powerful positions – bishops of important towns and cities, abbots of wealthy monasteries, etc.  By filling these positions with men the king or local lord could trust, they ensured the cooperation of the vast majority of Christian leadership within their domain, since all lower members of the clergy reported to this appointee.  It’s not a big stretch to see what the Pope, supposedly the head of the Catholic religion across all political lines, would find this to be problematic, a challenge to his authority.

Gregory’s confirmation and enforcement of the ban of lay investiture infuriated the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, who relied on the loyalty of his bishops to run his empire.  Things came to a head when Gregory sent Henry a letter protesting the Emperor’s attempt to influence the installation of a new bishop for the ever-influential city of Milan.  The Pope meant to remind Henry that, even though he was an emperor, he was still subject to papal decrees.  Henry, of course, disagreed.  Gregory wrote, “We marvel exceedingly that you have sent us so many devoted letters…calling yourself a son of our Holy Mother Church and subject to us in faith…and yet in action showing yourself most bitterly hostile to the canons and apostolic decrees in those duties…It would have been becoming to you, since you confess yourself to be a son of the Church, to give more respectful attention to the master of the Church, that is, to Peter, the prince of the Apostles.”  If Henry had been cowed by such a letter, this would not be much of a story, and his response struck right at the issue in the salutation in which he said, “Henry, king not by usurpation, but by the pious ordination of God, to Hildebrand, now not Pope, but false monk.”  The Emperor clearly states that he does not recognize Gregory’s papacy – in face he even refused to use the Pope’s papal name.  Henry argues that, due to Gregory’s unusual election, the Pope is not legitimate and that, therefore, his word carries no weight.

As you can probably imagine, this was not the response Gregory was looking for – so he sent yet another letter to Henry declaring him excommunicated and unfit to receive the Sacraments, which, removed him from the grace of the Church that was integral to salvation.  Simultaneously, Gregory called on all good Christians in Henry’s realm to seek to depose such an evil ruler.  Henry’s response only escalated the tension further writing to the German bishops urging them to use their influence to unseat “Hildebrand (a monk indeed in habit), so-called pope who…presides in the Apostolic See not with the care of a pastor but with the violence of a usurper and from the throne of peace dissolves the bond of the one catholic peace.”  So to summarize, we now have, after a fury of ever escalating letters, the most powerful Church leader and the most powerful temporal leader in Europe having deposed one another.  The stage was now set to see who would blink first.

As the year progressed, Henry IV began to feel more and more pressure from his nobles and bishops to give in to the Pope for the sake of his realm.  His subjects were being born 800px-Canossa_ruins.jpgunbaptized and dying without Last Rites.  The Emperor’s intransigence was consigning his people to Hell.  So Henry sent off yet another letter (the last one for this story, I promise!) inviting the pontiff to a council in the city of Augsburg over which Gregory would preside and the bishops of Germany would decide the conditions of the Emperor’s surrender.  The Pope accepted this offer with glee and set off for the Bavarian city from Rome.  It is on this journey that we started our story.  Pope Gregory is staying for a short time in a fortress of one of his most faithful supporters, Matilda of Tuscany.  It was here at the Canossa Castle deep in the Apennine winter that a fateful, and unplanned (for Gregory, at least) showdown occurred.

Henry slipped away from his realms with a very small group of loyal retainers and made his way across the snow-covered Alps to make his way to Canossa.  He hoped to see Gregory and to throw himself upon the Pope’s mercy in the hopes of getting a better outcome at the coming council.  It was a classic move of negotiating before the official negotiations so as to have more control over the results.  Gregory, however, was not going to make it easy on the Henry.

Canossa-gate.jpgOn January 25, Henry and his attendants arrived at the gates of Canossa Castle in the midst of a raging alpine blizzard.  They were shoeless and dressed in the clothes of a penitent, wearing a hair-shirt as a sign of their unworthiness.  Pope Gregory learned of their arrival immediately, comfortably ensconced in the Castle and was put into a quite awkward diplomatic situation.  He was clearly in a position of power and had his adversary in a very weak spot.  He could have sent Henry packing back to Germany with a reminder that they already had an agreement to determine his fate at the coming council.  However, Gregory was not just a world leader; he was also the lead pastor of Christendom and one of his charges had taken on the guise of a penitent and was asked forgiveness.  As Christ’s representative on Earth, Gregory had more than politics to consider; he also had souls to worry about.

Gregory was not going to bend quickly to this unexpectedly humble move from Henry.  For Hugo-v-cluny_heinrich-iv_mathilde-v-tuszien_cod-vat-lat-4922_1115ad.jpgthree long days, the pontiff pondered what to do, regularly conferring with his ally, Matilda, who had no love for her nominal overlord, Henry.  As the Pope, Countess, and their attendants sat debating in front of the roaring fireplaces and feasted in Canossa, Henry and his few men stayed knelt in prayer in the driving snow wearing only their wretchedly uncomfortable hair shirts and without shoes.  For three days and nights, they fasted and unmistakable sign of their penitence.  After the three days had passed, Gregory sensibilities as a spiritual leader and shepherd of souls overcame his political nature – Henry was granted entrance to Canossa.  Upon entering the fortress, he was treated to full diplomatic niceties – dressed in fine clothing, fed well, and warmed by the welcoming fires.  After a series of discussion between Gregory and Henry, in which Henry pronounced his deepest regrets for undermining papal authority, the two men, along with their hostess, celebrated Mass and received Communion – lifting Henry’s excommunication and that of the entire Holy Roman Empire.  Gregory, however, refrained from lifting Henry’s deposition.  In the eyes of the Church, Henry was no longer damned, but neither was he an emperor.

However, in doing his duty and bringing Henry back into the Christian fold, Gregory encountered some unintended consequences.  By lifting the excommunication, Gregory removed the largest (and in most cases the only) issue the nobility of the Holy Roman Empire had with Henry.  They returned to him in droves, professing their loyalty and only asking that he be careful not to risk their souls again in unnecessary conflict with the Holy See.  One of Henry’s most powerful nobles, however, used the opportunity to declare that he was seeking the throne and, in so doing, sparked civil war within the Empire.  This man, Rudolf of Rheinfelden, was the Duke of Swabia and brother-in-law to the Holy Roman Emperor – both men being married to sisters from the House of Savoy.  Rudolf used his influence throughout Germany and a history of dissatisfaction with Henry’s rule in Saxony to launch a rebellion against his erstwhile lord.  As the war dragged on, Gregory decided to once again enter the fray and, siding with the rebel Rudolf, excommunicated Henry yet again, expecting similar results.  This time, however, the nobility loyal to Henry were not prepared to abandon their king.  Henry was their legitimate ruler and this excommunication due to fighting a rebellious vassal smacked of insincere politics, not religious necessity.  Gregory’s excommunication was viewed as invalid across Germany.

Once Henry had dealt with Rudolf and the troubles at home, he once again turned on the Pope, but this time, from a position of much greater power.  Henry marched on Rome.  Matilda of 800px-Chateau-saint-ange-tibre.jpgTuscany stayed loyal to Pope and, despite being massively outnumbered, her troops harried Henry’s forces as he marched south.  But despite Matilda’s attempts, Henry reached Rome and took the Lateran Palace, Gregory’s official residence.  The Pope was forced to make an ignoble retreat to the Castel Sant’Angelo on the shores of the Tiber.  Now in almost full control of Rome, Henry IV called a council of bishops who were loyal to him and had them name a new pope – Clement III.  So, now, we had two popes.  The ever-devout Matilda continued to work for Gregory and succeeded in finding him allies among the Normans, a large force of whom made their way to the first city of Christendom and forced Henry to withdraw back to Germany.

So, it seems like Gregory won, despite numerous setbacks, however, one final twist remained.  The ever-fickle people of Rome despised the Pope’s Norman allies and forced them to leave the city and, at the same time, exiled Gregory – who fled to the monastery at Monte Casino, south of Rome.  It was here that Gregory died less than a year later.  On his deathbed, Gregory withdrew all excommunications he had ever made – except those upon Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor and his puppet pope, Clement III.

Featured Image: “Countryside Outside of Canossa.” By Hm8011 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Image 1. “Pope Saint Gregory VII.” By user:GDK – Own work: unknown 11th century manuscript, Public Domain.
Image 2. “Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.” Public Domain.
Image 3. “Location of Canossa Within Modern Italy.” CC BY-SA 3.0.
Image 4. “Ruins of Canossa Castle.” By Paolo da Reggio – Own work, CC BY 2.5.
Image 5. “Henry IV at the Gates of Canossa Castle.” Public Domain.
Image 6. “Matilda of Tuscany and Henry IV.” Public Domain.
Image 7. “Modern Picture of Castel Sant’Angelo.” By 0x010C – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Morrison, Karl F, ed. The Investiture Controversy: Issues, Ideals, and Results. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971
Tierney, Brian. The Crisis of Chruch & State: 1050 – 1300. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964.
Wood, Susan. The Proprietary Church  In the Medieval West. Oxford University Press, 2006.

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“A King, A Priest, and A Countess Walk Into A Castle.” by Andy Smyser is licensed under CC By 4.0. https://historyisstrange.com/2016/07/22/hsf-a-king-a-priest-and-a-countess-walk-into-a-castle.


TDISH: A Terrible Case of Mistaken Identity

From late August into early September, 1972, the world gathered as it does every four years to celebrate peace and sport.  This time the gathering was to be held in Munich, West Germany.  Ap_munich905_t.jpgUnfortunately, these Olympics were to be marred by one of the greatest tragedies ever to strike the games.  On the evening of September 5, 1972, eight members of the Palestinian terrorism group, Black September, attacked the dormitories in which the Israeli delegation was staying.  By the time the horror was over, 11 athletes and coaches lay dead along with 5 of the terrorists.

In retaliation for this horrific attack, the Israeli national intelligence agency, Mossad, struck out at the culprits and those who supported them in a series of assassinations that have been dramatized in movies such as Steven Spielberg’s Munich. However, not all of the victims of the so-called Operation Wrath of God were terrorists.  On July 21, 1973, a team of Israeli assassins gunned down a man who was on his way home with his pregnant wife in Lillehammer, Norway.  This man was Ahmed Bouchikhi, a Moroccan writer living in Norway.  Bouchikhi had no affiliation with Black September or any other Palestinian organization.  His only crime was looking somewhat like Hassan Salameh, an intelligence agent for the Palestinian Liberation Organization.  This attack caused strained relations between Israel and Norway since Mossad had no authorization to conduct such an operation on Norwegian soil.  To this day, Israel denies any wrong-doing in this event, but they did pay Bouchikhi’s wife a settlement.  Six Mossad agents were captured by Norwegian officials and were found culpable for the death.  A Norwegian court has issued a warrant for former Mossad agent, Michael Harari, whom they suspect of having masterminded the attack.  Norway, however, does not expect Harari to ever be turned over to their custody.

Source: Mellgren, Dylan. “Norway Solves Riddle of Mossad Killing.” The Guardian. 1 March 2000.
Featured Image. “Mossad Logo.” By Source, Fair use.
Munich Massacre.” By Source, Fair Use.

TDISH: Fighting for Working Women

July 5, 1857 marked the birth of a very influential woman in the messy political world of the early twentieth century, Clara Zetkin. She was a Socialist and Women’s Rights Activist in Germany during the last years of the Second Reich. During the period of the Weimar Republic, she served in the Reichstag as a member of the German Communist Party shortly after women gained suffrage in Germany in 1919.

Zetkin is perhaps best known for calling and organizing the first International Women’s C_Zetkin_1Day along with Rosa Luxemburg. The IWD was celebrated on March 19, 1911 and was meant to call attention to the difficulties facing working women from around the world. The need for such a rally was punctuated less than a week after the celebration by the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan. The IWD held in Russia in 1917 was a key event in the revolutions that shook Russia that year – leading to the rise of Lenin’s Soviet Union.

When Hitler came to power in Germany and outlawed the Communist Party, Zetkin moved to the outskirts of Moscow where she had honors heaped upon her by Lenin’s government in recognition for all she did for the Communist cause. She died there in 1933, was cremated, and her ashes were buried within the walls of the Kremlin.

Featured Image: “International Women’s Day Poster – Germany, 1914.” By Karl Maria Stadler (1888 – nach 1943) – Scan from an old book, Public Domain.
Image 1. “Clara Zetkin.” By Unknown – http://www.wdr.de/themen/kultur/literatur/boell/boell_90_geburtstag/infobox/data/boell/akg_zetkin_400h.jpg, Public Domain.
Sources: Schulte, Elizabeth. “A Women’s Place is in the Revolution.” Socialist Worker. 8 March 2011.

Mists of History: Henry the Fowler

On this date, in 943, the King of Germany died.  This man was known as King Henry the Fowler.  He had been Duke of Saxony under his predecessor, Konrad the Younger, a Frankish lord.  Upon Konrad’s death, Henry was elected King by the lords of the realm.  Henry had not Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-H08447,_Quedlinburg,_Heinrichs-Feier,_Heinrich_Himmler.jpgexpected this honor and was away in the forest pursuing his greatest love – hunting.  It took several days for the messengers to find him and when they did he was mending his bird-catching nets, thus his nickname, the Fowler.  Henry’s reign was marked by invasions and raids from the Magyars (Hungarians) to the East.  Henry successfully repelled many of these invasions and found a peace with his eastern neighbors.  His family would hold the King of Germany title for the next century as the Ottonian Dynasty.  Much later in history, Henry’s name was taken up by Nazi Germany as the first German king of Germany.

Featured Image: “Henry the Fowler.” By Zigarettenbildchen., Public Domain.
Image 1. “Himler Visiting Henry’s Grave.” By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H08447 / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Source. Haaren, John Henry. “Henry the Fowler.” Famous Men of the Middle Ages. 1904.

TDISH: A Tragic Duchess

June 14, 1894 was the birthday of Marie-Adélaïde, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg – a very interesting figure in the history of the Duchy.  She became ruler of the small country in 1912 – the first female ruler since Maria Theresa in 1740.  Marie-Adélaïde’s life was to be tragically short and complicated.  Her country was invaded by German forces in the early days of the Great War in 1914.  Her people became quite upset with her rule during her country’s occupation. The common perception was that she was too close to the Germans.  In 1919 she was overthrown by her people and replaced by her younger sister, Charlotte.  Marie-Adélaïde left the Duchy and joined a convent in Italy, but her stay was to be short-lived.  She died on pneumonia at 29 years old in 1924.

Featured Image: “Marie-Adélaïde.” By Bain News Service, publisher – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ggbain.13940. Public Domain.
Donovan, Henry. Chicago Eagle. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.

TDISH: Founding of a Secret Society

When you hear about conspiracy theories and secret societies from around the world, one name comes up almost all the time – the Illuminati.  On May 1, 1776, a professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria, Adam Weishaupt founded the organization in an Johann_Adam_Weishauptattempt to pursue the humanist and scientific ideals of the Enlightenment.  The first meeting of the Illuminati consisted of Weishaupt and four students.  In an attempt to disguise their identities, the five men used code names.  They did this to keep themselves safe from the Roman Catholic authorities in Bavaria, who, at the time equated Enlightenment ideals with revolution and Protestantism and, thus, a threat to the Catholic state.

In an attempt to spread his new organization, Weishaupt arranged to join the most well-known humanist society of the late eighteenth century – the Freemasons.  His actions within the Lodge, however, went against the standard practices of the Freemasons and Weishaupt was eventually expelled from the group.  He did succeed in recruiting several prominent masons to his ideas of human perfection.  With its secrecy and attempts to infiltrate other groups to gain membership, the groundwork had been set for the boogeyman Illuminati so prevalent in 21st century conspiracy theories.

Featured Image. Minveral Decree of Illuminati. By Okänt – http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/texts/illuminati.html, Public Domain.
Image 1. Adam Weishaupt. By Kupferstich nach C. K. Mansinger von 1799. Punktierstich von Johann Friedrich Rossmässler (ca. 1775 – 1858). – Unknown, Public Domain.
Gruber, H. (1910). Illuminati. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07661b.htm.