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Germany at the end of the 11th century


Speyer Cathedral
Speyer Cathedral

In addition to his struggle with the German princes, Henry also became involved in a controversy with the papacy over who would appoint clergy in Germany. The ensuing struggle was known as the Investiture Controversy.

Pope Gregory VII wanted to free the church from secular control and forbade lay investiture (the appointment of clergy by nonclerical officials). The German kings, however, wanted to appoint major church officials such as bishops, because they were powerful vassals of the king. Henry retaliated by having the pope deposed by an episcopal synod at Worms in 1076. The pope promptly excommunicated Henry, which denied him the benefits and privileges of church membership, and released all of his subjects from their oath of loyalty to him, a move that pleased the princes. To keep his crown, Henry cleverly sought to see the pope at Canossa in the Apennines in January 1077. He waited outside the palace for three days as a barefoot penitent in the snow. Thinking he had succeeded in humiliating a disobedient emperor, Gregory forgave Henry.

The princes, however, felt betrayed and elected a rival king, Rudolf of Swabia, triggering nearly 20 years of civil war. In 1080 Gregory again excommunicated Henry, who had continued to practice lay investiture, and recognized Rudolf as emperor. When Rudolf died later that year, Henry marched on Rome, free from the threat of Rudolf’s forces. He deposed Gregory by force and installed the rival pope Clement III in his place; Clement crowned Henry emperor in 1084. Henry returned to Germany to continue the civil war against a new rival king. Henry’s son, Henry V, betrayed and imprisoned him and forced him to abdicate in 1106. The treacherous and greedy Henry V continued his father’s struggle for supremacy, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Suffering military defeats, he lost control of Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia. Despite the support of churchmen, ministeriales, and the towns, he could not suppress the princes, who forced the weary emperor and Pope Callistus II to compromise on investiture. Pope and emperor accepted the Concordat of Worms in 1122, which stipulated that clerical elections in Germany were to take place in the presence of the emperor without simony and that the emperor was to invest the candidate with the symbols of worldly office before a bishop invested him with the spiritual ones. The pope had the better of the bargain, but the struggle was not resolved and the rivalry between empire and papacy contributed in many ways to the decline of the German monarchy. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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