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Germany in the 11th century


Speyer Cathedral
Speyer Cathedral

From 1024 to 1125 German kings were chosen from the Salian line of Franconia, which was related to the Saxons. The Salians brought the empire to its height, both in terms of power and territorial expansion, but also initiated a period of intense religious and political strife. The rulers often faced difficulties with the German princes both in securing election as king and then in maintaining power.

Powerful rival dynasties developed during this period. These included the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria, the Welfs of Saxony, and the Hohenstaufens (sometimes called Staufers) of Swabia. Rivalry between the last two families led to a long international division between their respective allies in both Germany and Italy. In Italy the Welf allies were known as Guelph and the Hohenstaufen allies as Ghibelline.

The first Salian kings consolidated their power in Germany and were able to maintain control over the papacy. Conrad II, who ruled from 1024 to 1039, was clever and ruthless. He asserted royal authority over princely opposition by making the fiefs of lesser nobles hereditary, thus undermining their dependence on the princes, and by appointing ministariales, non-nobles responsible directly to him, as officials and soldiers. He also seized Burgundy, strengthened his hold on northern Italy, and became overlord of Poland.

Conrad’s son (Henry III), who ruled until 1056, was possibly the first undisputed king of Germany. A pious visionary, he tried with little success to introduce to an empire torn by constant civil strife constant civil strife the Truce of God, a weekly respite from warfare lasting from Wednesday night to Monday morning.

His ecclesiastical reforms were somewhat more successful, particularly his efforts to end simony, the practice of buying and selling church offices.

At the same time, he continued to exercise strong control over the church in Germany, appointing key church figures as his vassals as well as deposing three rival popes and creating four new ones, most notably the reform-minded Leo IX.

In 1056 Henry IV, while still a child, succeeded his father. During his mother’s regency, long-restive princes annexed much royal land in Germany, while the Normans seized control of Italy. Henry IV sought to recover lost imperial power, but his efforts to retrieve crown lands aroused the Saxons, who had always resented the Salian kings. He crushed a Saxon rebellion in 1075 and proceeded to confiscate land, thus intensifying their enmity. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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