The Roman-German King and Emperor Henry IV, who ruled from 1056 to 1105, has always had bad press.

With him began the decline in power of the central authority, the rise of particular powers in the empire and with it its creeping decline, it is said.

Heinrich's whole tragedy culminates in a catchy scene.

Weeping and scantily clad, he pleaded with the Pope in front of the northern Italian castle Canossa to accept him back into the Christian community and thus to restitute his offices.

On January 28, 1077, Gregory VII (in office 1073-1085) descended to it.

The third ruler from the Salian dynasty certainly did not have it easy.

He was five years old when, after the death of his father Heinrich III.

came to the throne.

His mother Agnes took over the reign rather than badly, under which numerous greats seized the opportunity to acquire royal privileges and goods.

In return, some did not shy away from kidnapping the child king.

The jump into the water did not save him: in 1062 the young Heinrich was kidnapped by some princes near Kaiserswerth

Source: picture alliance / akg-images

This shaped Heinrich's character.

He was suspicious, quick-tempered, withdrawn, allowed himself to be ensnared with flattery and easily followed bad advice.

Although he had several concubines at the same time, he regularly raped young women, which he passed on to his servants.


His quest to regain the lost royal rights with the help of servants increased the number of his aristocratic opponents, who were ultimately overwhelmed by the pope's accession to their informal coalition.

Like the kings before him, Henry claimed the right to occupy bishoprics throughout the empire, including Italy.

However, this contradicted canon law, with which several popes sought to reform the dilapidated church system.

Gregory VII did this most zealously. He simply forbade the German king to assign bishoprics.

When Heinrich then got the majority of the German episcopate in Worms in 1076 to depose “the wrong monk”, Gregor made his threat: He imposed the church ban on Heinrich and released his subjects from the oath of allegiance.

Gregory was not concerned with the overthrow of Heinrich, but with evidence of the superior papal power.

Therefore, the Pope opposed a new election, but gave Henry the opportunity to return to the bosom of the Church through penance.

Pope Gregory VII (approx. 1020-1085) excommunicated the king

Source: picture alliance / imageBROKER


Heinrich responded to this faster than expected.

In the middle of winter he crossed the Col du Mont Cenis with a small entourage, "at the greatest risk to his life", as one chronicler reported, "because the steep slope of the mountain had become so smooth due to the icy cold".

Unexpectedly, Heinrich appeared before Canossa, who belonged to the Countess von Mathilde von Tuszien, who had offered to mediate.

“For three days the king waited at the gates of the castle, without any royal pomp in a pathetic manner, barefoot and in woolen clothing, and did not cease to plead for help and consolation of apostolic mercy with copious tears until all who were there ... overwhelmed with compassion and mercy ”.

"Without any royal pomp in a compassionate way": Henry IV. In Canossa

Source: picture alliance / akg-images

In order to obtain papal absolution, Heinrich had to throw himself to the ground in front of Gregor with arms outstretched in a cross shape.

In addition, the king had previously had to promise to grant him safe conduct on a visit to Germany.

But then he received his offices and rights back with the blessing.


Heinrich defeated Gregor as a politician because he forced the priest to accept his penance, as the legal historian Heinrich Mitteis put it.

In return, the Pope had set an example of who in the power hierarchy of the Middle Ages would in future belong to.

The humiliated Heinrich achieved the imperial crown in 1084, but had to experience his dwindling power in the fight against opposing kings and his son, who deposed him in 1105.

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