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The History of Germany by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

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HENRY IV

[177] HENRY was now master in his own kingdom. But almost at once he was plunged into a struggle still fiercer than that against the Saxons.

You remember that when Henry III had deposed the three rival Popes, one had come to Germany bringing with him a monk named Hildebrand. That monk had grown to great power, and in 1078 he was chosen Pope, and took the title of Gregory VII.

You remember, too, that Henry III had asserted his right as Emperor to choose the Pope, and had indeed chosen and placed on the papal throne four Popes one after the other. Henry III had done much for the Church. He had found the holy office cast down in the mud of all things evil, and had cleansed it, and set it high again.

But that the Emperor should choose the Pope seemed to Gregory VII a humiliation. This grey little man had an unbounded sense of his own greatness. He looked upon the Pope as the viceroy of God, the vicar of Christ upon earth, and therefore far above any earthly ruler, were he King or Emperor.

So in 1075 Gregory issued a decree declaring that henceforward bishops should not be chosen by the Emperor; that no longer should the ring and crozier, the badges of their office, be given them by the Emperor or by any other prince.

[178] This giving of ring and crozier is called the investiture of bishops, and Gregory VII declared that henceforth all investitures should be in the hands of the bishops and cardinals, with the Pope at their head. He also decreed that no gifts or money should be given or taken by either side, and that if such were given or received by any bishop, then such an one was guilty of simony, and was no longer a bishop.

Now these decrees were aimed directly at the Emperor and his authority, and hit him hard. The law against simony especially hit him hard. For, when in need of money, Henry had time and again sold the office of Bishop. Now with one stroke of the pen the Pope had made these appointments unlawful. He declared these Sees to be empty, and appointed to them, not Henry's followers, but his own.

Besides this, Emperor after Emperor had tried to strengthen the clergy, in order the better to curb the nobles, and to do this Emperor after Emperor had given them land, until at length a great part of the soil of Germany was in their possession. Now if the Pope alone had the power of appointing bishops, he would appoint only such men as would do his bidding. All these lands, then, would pass into the control of the Pope, which would greatly strengthen his power, and lessen that of the Emperor.

All this Henry well knew, and he was by no means ready meekly to submit to the Pope. So he called all the German bishops together to a meeting, or Synod, at Worms, and there he deposed the Pope. He bade the bishops write and tell the Pope what he had done. And the bishops wrote, addressing their letter, not to Pope Gregory VII but to Brother Hildebrand. They [179] wrote accusing him of many things evil, and declared that he was no true Pope. "And for that you have openly declared," they said, "that you no longer regard us as bishops, we hereby declare that none of us will henceforth look upon you as Pope."

Henry too wrote: "I, Henry," he began, "not through usurpation but through God's holy institution, King, to Hildebrand, not Pope but false Monk." Henry repeated all that the bishops had said, and added more besides. "St. Peter," he wrote, "a Pope in truth, said, 'Fear God, and honour the King.' But you, because you do not fear God, dishonour Him in me." Many hard and bitter words he wrote. At length he ended, "I, Henry, King by God's grace, cry to you with all my bishops, 'Abdicate! Abdicate!'"

The Pope's reply was both proud and unexpected. He replied by excommunicating Henry. Never before had such a weapon been used against an Emperor, and the world was startled at the Pope's daring.

Henry cared little for Gregory's anger. He remained impenitent and haughty, he flung defiance in the face of the Pope. But he did not realise how times had changed. He did not realise that in his hands the power of the Empire was far, far less than in the hands of his father. He did not realise that in the hands of Gregory VII the power of the Pope was far, far greater.

Soon, however, he learned the terrible power of the Pope. His act had set free every vassal of the Empire from his oath of fealty. No man was longer required to obey his King, he was indeed encouraged to fight against him, and all the great unruly princes joined with the Pope. Saxony, but newly subdued, rose again in rebellion; other States followed. One by one [180] Henry's friends melted away like snow before sunshine, until once again he found himself forsaken and helpless.

Thus forsaken Henry made up his mind to submit, and to submit at once. He had learned the astonishing power of the Pope when joined to that of his own rebellious princes, and he saw that he could not fight both together. He saw that he could only break the power of the princes by making friends once more with the Pope, and he determined to go to him and humbly beg forgiveness.

It was now mid-winter. Ice and snow made the crossing of the Alps both difficult and dangerous. Yet Henry resolved to cross. He did not go as a conqueror with a great army of knights and soldiers behind him, but as a penitent with a humble following. With him went his brave wife, Queen Bertha, and his little three-year-old son.

The winter was unusually hard. The roads were almost blocked with snow, so that the Alpine villagers who guided the little party had to clear a path with great difficulty and labour.

The climb up to the top of the pass was terrible. But it was as nothing to the descent. Then the real danger began. For the frost had made the paths down the steep mountain-side as slippery as glass. It needed all the cleverness of the hardy mountaineers who acted as guides to overcome the difficulties.

The Queen and her ladies sat upon oxhides for sleighs, and were thus dragged over the snow and ice. Sometimes the men were carried on the shoulders of the sure-footed mountaineers. Sometimes they crept down on hands and knees, once and again missing their foothold and sliding and rolling for many yards. [181] But at length they reached the plain in safety, and joyfully continued their journey.

And now no sooner did Henry appear in Lombardy than many people flocked to him. Both bishops and nobles, who were angry at the Pope's new decrees, gathered round him with their vassals and men-at-arms, until he had a great army. These nobles now urged Henry to fight the Pope, but Henry would not be turned from his purpose, and hastened on to Canossa, where the Pope awaited him.

At last the town was reached. Barefoot, clad in a hair shirt, Henry, accompanied by the bishops who had been excommunicated with him, appeared before the gates, begging for admission. But the gates remained shut. In spite of prayers and tears, in spite of frost and snow, no man took pity on the shivering penitents. All day the King waited, and still the Pope made no sign.

Again next morning Henry appeared before the gates barefoot and clad only in a hair shirt. Again he prayed in vain for admission. Again he was refused. Darkness fell and the mighty Emperor still lay under the wrath of the Pope.

A third day still Henry stood without the gates begging for grace. A third time he was refused. Worn with fasting and with tears, he went back to his lodging. He had failed, and he resolved no longer to wait on the Pope's pleasure, but to return homeward.

Then the Pope gave way. The gates were opened, and the penitent King threw himself weeping at the feet of Gregory. Loud sobs burst from the watching crowd, and even the eyes of the stern Pope were dimmed with tears.

[182] The ban was removed. But the Empire had received a blow from which it never again recovered. In standing as a penitent before the closed gates of Canossa Henry had acknowledged the Pope's right over him, he had acknowledged that the Pope was greater than the Emperor. It was an acknowledgment which startled the world. And from that day at Canossa the glory of the Empire faded, the glory of the Pope increased. That day at Canossa is one of the turning-points in the world's history.


[Illustration]

BAREFOOT, CLAD IN A HAIR SHIRT, HENRY APPEARED BEFORE THE GATES, BEGGING FOR ADMISSION.

The ban was removed, but not the evil that it had already done to Henry. For meanwhile the discontented princes had grown more rebellious than ever, and had met together and chosen a new King. This new King was Rudolph of Swabia, Henry's own brother-in-law.

As soon as Henry heard of it he hastily left Italy, and hurried back over the Alps. This time he crossed them as a King, with a great army behind him.

The Pope demanded that the rival Kings should leave their quarrel to him to settle. But Henry, in making his submission to the Pope, had never meant to put his Empire under his control. The Pope, he said, had no right of judgment between him and his rebel subjects. So he went to war against them.

For a time the Pope took neither side, for a time victory was uncertain. It swayed now this way, now that. Many battles were fought, much blood was shed on either side, and all the land was filled with misery and wrath. Rudolph at length appealed to the Pope, and the Pope took his side. Once more the thunders of his wrath were directed against Henry, once more he was excommunicated. [183] But this time the bolt fell harmless. Henry paid no heed to it except to call his bishops together and choose a new Pope, who was called Clement III. That same year Rudolph was killed in battle, and once more Henry triumphed.

One of Henry's most faithful followers was Frederick of Hohenstaufen. He was now married to Henry's daughter, and leaving his son-in-law to carry on the war in Germany, Henry marched again into Italy against Gregory VII.

Entering Rome, he enthroned there his chosen Pope and received from his hands the Emperor's crown.

Gregory VII had hoped against hope that the Christian world would rise and save him from the ruthless Emperor. His hope was vain. No help came to him, save from a Norman adventurer named Robert of Guiscard. Under his protection Gregory fled from Rome, and took refuge in Salerno. And there a year later he died.

He died leaving Henry still under the curse of the Church. "Henry I will not absolve," he said, "unless he does penance as the Church demands. If he humbles himself, I will free him from the ban, for this, as the vicar of St. Peter, I have power to do."

But Henry did no penance, so there could be no reconciliation between the foes. Henry remained under the curse, and Gregory, as unyielding as his rival, died in exile. "I have loved righteousness and hated evil," he said with his last breath, "therefore I die in exile."

The death of this great Pope did not bring peace to the Empire. For meanwhile the Germans had chosen another King, and when Henry returned to Germany he had once more to fight for his crown. Once more the [184] land was filled with civil war, until after some years the rival King was killed.

Even then Henry's troubles were not over, for his son Conrad rebelled against him, and tried to take Italy from him. When Henry heard of it his grief was so great that he wished to die.

Conrad had already been chosen to succeed his father as King. But now Henry disinherited him, and persuaded the nobles to choose and crown his younger son Henry as his successor. This they did, young Henry, with solemn oaths, swearing never to rebel against his father.

Soon after this Conrad died in Italy. It is thought by some that he was poisoned by the great Countess Mathilda, who had encouraged him to rebel against his father.

Now, having lost his eldest son, Henry turned all his love towards his younger son, Henry. But he too was led away by his father's enemies, and, forgetting his oath, rebelled against him. With sorrow in his heart Henry took up arms against his son, and once more the land was plunged in civil war.

But the Emperor was anxious for peace, and when young Henry begged for a meeting he granted it.

It was near Coblenz that father and son met. Henry threw himself at his father's feet, begging for forgiveness, and promising from henceforth to be a faithful vassal, if only his father would make peace with the Church.

The Emperor at once promised all that he asked. Henry then begged his father to go with him to Mainz. And, believing in his son's repentance, the Emperor sent away nearly all his own followers and set out with him. But young Henry's repentance was not real. [185] It was merely a trick to get his father into his power. Yet, suspecting no evil, the Emperor followed where he led.

Then one day as they entered a strong castle the heavy iron gates clanged behind them with a fatal sound. Too late the Emperor knew himself betrayed. In vain he begged for mercy. He was flung into a dark and noisesome cell, and there he was kept without a bed to lie on, without water to wash in, without food enough to eat.

Treated thus treacherously by the son he loved, the Emperor sank into deepest despair. And when at length young Henry demanded that he should abdicate, he yielded, too utterly crushed to resist.

But by yielding the Emperor gained nothing; he was still kept a prisoner, and still treated so cruelly that he lived in daily fear of death. Yet, prisoner though he was, he was not utterly without friends, and at length with their help he escaped.

Once more the Emperor's faithful subjects gathered to him, and the war was renewed. But Henry was already old, he was worn out by all his many sufferings. Now he fell ill, and in a few days he died quietly. Before he died he confessed his sins and received the Sacrament. He also sent his forgiveness to his rebellious son, and to the Pope. To his son too he sent his sword and his ring, praying him to deal mercifully towards those who had been faithful to his father. Then, having made his peace with God and the world, he fell asleep, and after his restless life at length found rest.

Henry in dying had made his own peace with God, but even after his death the Pope's curse followed him. His coffin was refused burial in any place blessed by [186] the Church. So without chant or prayer, or service of any kind, it was secretly buried in unhallowed ground. But even there it was not allowed to rest. It was torn from the ground again; not until five years had passed was the wrath of the Church overcome, and the bones of Henry IV laid to rest with the solemn pomp and rites of Christian burial.


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