King and Bishops, med.illum.ms.

[adapted from Walker 4]


[18.1] The Papacy Breaks With the Empire;  [18.2] Hildebrand and Henry IV;   [18.3] The Struggle Ends in Compromise







Henry III’s dominance was undoubtedly displeasing to the more radical reformers, who had endured it partly of necessity, since it was not apparent how the papacy could otherwise be freed from the control of the Roman nobles, and partly because of Henry’s sympathy with many features of the reform movement. Henry himself had been so firmly entrenched in his control of the German church, and of the papacy itself, that the logical consequences of the reform movement appear not to have been clear to him. Now he was gone. A weak regency had taken his place. The time seemed ripe to the reformers for an advance which should lessen imperial control, or, if possible, end it altogether.






A POWERFUL example of the possibility of a church free from secular control was provided by the Foundation Charter of the Abbey of Cluny.  The founder, Duke William of Aquitaine guaranteed the monks perpetual independence from all secular control in elections and government of the abbey (and later its very numerous foundations), placing the abbey under the sole jurisdiction of the pope.  The Charter included the following provisions:

IT has pleased us also to insert in this document that, from this day, those same monks there congregated shall be subject neither to our yoke, nor to that of our relatives, nor to the sway of the royal might, nor to that of any earthly power. Placuit etiam huic testamento inseri ut ab hac die nec nostro, nec parentum nostrorum, nec fastibus regie magnitudinis, nec cujuslibet terrenę potestatis jugo, subiciantur idem monachi ibi congregati; neque aliquis principum secularium,
And, through God and all his saints, and by the awful day of judgment, I warn and abjure that no one of the secular princes, no count, no bishop whatever, not the pontiff of the aforesaid Roman see, shall invade the property of these servants of God, or alienate it, or diminish it, or exchange it, or give it as a benefice to any one, or constitute any prelate over them against their will. non comes quisquam, nec episcopus quilibet, non pontifex supradicte sedis Romanć, per Deum et in Deum omnibusque sanctis ejus, et tremendi judicii diem contestor, deprecor invadat res ipsorum servorum Dei, non distrahat, non minuat, non procamiet, non beneficiet alicui, non aliquem prelatum super eos contra eorum voluntatem constituat.



  On Victor II’s death the Romans, led by the reform clergy, chose Frederick of Lorraine Pope as Stephen IX (1057-1058) without consulting the German regent. A thoroughgoing reformer, the new Pope was the brother of Duke Godfrey of Lorraine, an enemy of the German imperial house, who by his marriage with the Countess Beatrice of Tuscany had become the strongest noble in northern Italy. Under Stephen, Cardinal Humbert now issued a programme for the reform party in his Three Books Against the Simoniacs, in which he declared all lay appointment invalid and, in especial, attacked lay investiture, that is the gift by the Emperor of a ring and a staff to the elected bishop in token of his induction into office. The victory of these principles would undermine the foundations of the imperial power in Germany. Their strenuous assertion could but lead to a struggle of gigantic proportions. Nevertheless, Stephen did not dare push matters too far. He, therefore, sent Hildebrand and Bishop Anselm of Lucca, who secured the approval of the Empress Agnes for his papacy. Scarcely had this been obtained when Stephen died in Florence.


  Hildebrand’s Leadership


    Stephen’s death provoked a crisis. The Roman nobles reasserted their old authority over the papacy and chose their own partisan, Benedict X, only a week later. The reform cardinals had to flee. Their cause seemed for the moment lost. The situation was saved by the firmness and political skill of Hildebrand. He secured the approval of Godfrey of Tuscany and of a part of the people of Rome for the candidacy of Gerhard, bishop of Florence, a reformer and, like Godfrey, a native of Lorraine. A representative of this Roman minority obtained the consent of the regent, Agnes. Hildebrand now gathered the reform cardinals in Siena, and Gerhard was there chosen as Nicholas II (1058-1061). The military aid of Godfrey of Tuscany soon made the new Pope master of Rome.

Hildebrand (pope Gregory VII) Peter Damian, Cardinal

Under Nicholas II the real power was that of Hildebrand, and in lesser degree of the cardinals Humbert and Peter Damian.

    The problem was to free the papacy from the control of the Roman nobles without coming under the overlordship of the Emperor. Some physical support for the papacy must be found.

The aid of Tuscany could be counted as assured. Beatrice and her daughter, Matilda, were to be indefatigable in assistance. Yet Tuscany was not sufficient.

Under the skilful guidance of Hildebrand, Nicholas II entered into cordial relations with the Normans, who had caused Leo IX so much trouble, recognized their conquests, and received them as vassals of the papacy.

With like ability, intimate connections were now established, largely through the agency of Peter Damian and Bishop Anselm of Lucca, with the democratic party in Lombardy known as the Pataria, opposed to the anti- reformatory and imperialistic higher clergy of that region.

Strengthened by these new alliances, Nicholas II at the Roman synod of 1059 expressly forbad lay investiture under any circumstances.


  Reform in Papal Elections


    The most significant event of the papacy of Nicholas II was the decree of this Roman synod of 1059 regulating choice to the papacy—the oldest written constitution now in force, since, in spite of considerable modification, it governs the selection of Popes to this day. In theory, the choice of the Pope had been, like that of other bishops, by the clergy and people of the city of his see. This was termed a canonical election. In practice, such election had meant control by whatever political power was dominant in Rome. The design of the new constitution was to remove that danger. In form, it put into law the circumstances of Nicholas’s own election.[1] Its chief author seems to have been Cardinal Humbert.

It provided that, on the death of a Pope[:],

[1] the cardinal bishops shall first consider as to his successor

[2] and then advise with the other cardinals.

[3] Only after their selection has been made should the suffrages of the other clergy and people be sought.

[4] In studiously vague language, the document guards “the honor and reverence due to our beloved son Henry”—that is the youthful Henry IV—but does not in the least define the Emperor’s share in the choice.

 The evident purpose was to put the election into the hands of the cardinals, primarily of the cardinal bishops. It was, furthermore, provided that[:]

[1] the Pope might come from anywhere in the church,

[2] that the election could be held elsewhere than in Rome in case of necessity,

[3] and that the Pope chosen should possess the powers of his office immediately on election wherever he might be.

  This was, indeed, a revolution in the method of choice of the Pope, and would give to the office an independence of political control not heretofore possessed.

    Scarcely had these new political and constitutional results been achieved than they were imperilled by the death of Nicholas II in 1061. That of the energetic Cardinal Humbert also occurred the same year. Hildebrand became more than ever the ruling force in the reform party. Within less than three months of Nicholas’s death, Hildebrand had secured the election of his friend Anselm, bishop of Lucca, as Alexander II (1061-1073).

The German bishops were hostile, however, to the new method to papal election,

the Lombard prelates disliked the papal support of the Pataria,

and the Roman nobles resented their loss of control over the papacy.

These hostile elements now united, and at a German assembly held in Basel in 1061 procured from the Empress-regent the appointment as Pope of Cadalus, bishop of Parma, who took the name of Honorius II. In the struggle that followed, Honorius nearly won; but a revolution in Germany in 1062 placed the chief power in that realm and the guardianship of the young Henry IV in the hands of the ambitious Anno, archbishop of Cologne. Anno wished to stand well with the reform party, and threw his influence on the side of Alexander, who was declared the rightful Pope at a synod of German and Italian prelates held in Mantua in 1064. Thus Hildebrand’s bold policy triumphed over a divided Germany.

    Alexander II, with Hildebrand’s guidance, advanced the papal authority markedly[:]

[1] Anno of Cologne and Siegfried of Mainz, two of the most powerful prelates of Germany, were compelled to do penance for simony.

[2] He prevented Henry IV from securing a divorce from Queen Bertha.

[3] He lent his approval to William the Conqueror’s piratical expedition which resulted in the Norman conquest of England in 1066, and further aided William’s plans by the establishment of Norman bishops in the principal English sees.

[4] He gave his sanction to the efforts of the Normans of southern Italy which were to result in the conquest of Sicily.








Meanwhile Henry IV came of age in 1065. Far from being a weak King, he soon showed himself one of the most resourceful of German rulers. It was inevitable that the papal policy regarding ecclesiastical appointments should clash with that historic control by German sovereigns on which their power in the empire so largely rested. The actual dispute came over the archbishopric of Milan—a post of the first importance for the control of northern Italy. Henry had appointed Godfrey of Castiglione, whom Alexander had charged with simony. The Pataria of Milan chose a certain Atto, whom Alexander recognized as rightful archbishop. In spite of that act, Henry now secured Godfrey’s consecration, in 1073, to the disputed post. The struggle was fully on. The contest involved the power of the imperial government and the claims of the radical papal reform party. Alexander looked upon Henry as a well-intentioned young man, misled by bad advice, and he therefore excommunicated not Henry himself, but Henry’s immediate counsellors as guilty of simony. Within a few days thereafter Alexander II died, leaving the great dispute to his successor.


  Hildebrand Elected Pope


    Hildebrand’s election came about in curious disregard of the new constitution established under Nicholas II. During the funeral of Alexander II, in St. John Lateran, the crowd acclaimed Hildebrand Pope, and carried him, almost in a riot, to the church of St. Peter in Chains, where he was enthroned. He took the name of Gregory VII (1073-1085). In his accession the extremest interpretation of the principles of Augustine’s City of God had reached the papal throne. The papacy he viewed as a divinely appointed universal sovereignty, which all must obey, and to which all earthly sovereigns are responsible, not only for their spiritual welfare, but for their temporal good government.

   Though Cardinal Deusdedit, rather than Hildebrand, was probably the author of the famous Dictatus, it well expresses Hildebrand’s principles:

“That the Roman Church was founded by God alone.”

“That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called ‘universal.”

 “That he alone can dispose or reinstate bishops.”

“That he alone may use [i.e.  dispose of the; imperial insignia.”

“That it may be permitted him to depose Emperors.”

“That he himself may be judged of no one.”

“That he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men,”[2]

 It was nothing less than an ideal of world- rulership. In view of later experience it may be called impracticable and even unchristian; but neither Hildebrand nor his age had had that experience. It was a great ideal of a possible regenerated human society, effected by obedience to commanding spiritual power, and as such was deserving of respect in those who held it, and worthy of that trial which alone could reveal its value or worthlessness.

    The opening years of Hildebrand’s pontificate were favorable for the papacy. A rebellion against Henry IV by his Saxon subjects, who had many grievances, and the discontent of the nobles of other regions kept Henry fully occupied. In 1074 he did penance in Nuremberg before the papal legates, and promised obedience. At the Easter synod in Rome in 1075, Hildebrand renewed the decree against lay investiture, denying to Henry any share in creating bishops.

   A few months later Henry’s fortunes changed. In June, 1075, his defeat of the Saxons made him apparently master of Germany, and his attitude toward the papacy speedily altered. Henry once more made an appointment to the archbishopric of Milan. Hildebrand replied, in December, 1075, with a letter calling Henry to severe account.[3] On January 24, 1076, Henry, with his nobles and bishops, held a council in Worms, at which the turncoat cardinal, Hugh the White, was forward with personal charges against Hildebrand. There a large portion of the German bishops joined in a fierce denunciation of Hildebrand and a rejection of his authority as Pope1—an action for which the approval of the Lombard prelates was speedily secured.

    Hildebrand’s reply was the most famous of mediaeval papal decrees. At the Roman synod of February 22, 1076, he excommunicated Henry, forbad him authority over Germany and Italy, and released all Henry’s subjects from their oaths of allegiance. It was the boldest assertion of papal authority that had ever been made. To it Henry replied by a fiery letter addressed to Hildebrand, “now no pope, but a false monk,” in which he called on Hildebrand to “come down” to be damned throughout all eternity.”[4]

    Had Henry IV had a united Germany behind him the result might easily have been Hildebrand’s overthrow. Germany was not united. The Saxons and Henry’s other political enemies used the opportunity to make him trouble. Even the bishops had regard for the authority of a Pope they had nominally rejected. Henry was unable to meet the rising opposition. An assembly of nobles in Tribur, in October, 1076, declared that unless released from excommunication within a year he would be deposed, and the Pope was invited to a new assembly to meet in Augsburg, in February, 1077, at which the whole German political and religious situation should be considered. Henry was in great danger of losing his throne. It became a matter of vital importance to free himself from excommunication. Hildebrand refused all appeals; he would settle the questions at Augsburg.


   Henry at Canossa


    Henry IV now resolved on a step of the utmost dramatic and political significance. He would meet Hildebrand before the Pope could reach the assembly in Augsburg and wring from him the desired absolution. He crossed the Alps in the winter and sought Hildebrand in northern Italy, through which the Pope was passing on his way to Germany. In doubt whether Henry came in peace or war, Hildebrand sought refuge in the strong castle of Canossa, belonging to his ardent supporter, the Countess Matilda of Tuscany, the daughter of Beatrice. Thither Henry went, and there presented himself before the castle gate on three successive days, barefooted as a penitent.

Henry IV pleads for pardon of Pope Gregory VII at Canossa

The Pope’s companions pleaded for him, and on January 28, 1077, Henry IV was released from excommunication.



Henry IV at Canossa Cluniac Abbot, Henry IV, & Matilda King Henry IV

In many ways it was a political triumph for the King.

[1]  He had thrown his German opponents into confusion.

[1]  He had prevented a successful assembly in Augsburg under papal leadership.

[1] The Pope’s plans had been disappointed.

Yet the event has always remained in men’s recollection as the deepest humiliation of the medićval empire before the power of the church.[5]


  Apparent Defeat but Work Continued


   In March, 1077, Henry’s German enemies, without Hildebrand’s instigation, chose Rudolf, duke of Swabia, as counter-King. Civil war ensued, while the Pope balanced one claimant against the other, hoping to gain for himself the ultimate decision. Forced at last to take sides, Hildebrand, at the Roman synod in March, 1080, a second time excommunicated and deposed Henry.[6] The same political weapons can seldom be used twice effectively. Sentiment had crystallized in Germany, and this time the Pope’s action had little effect.

Henry IV has Wibert confirmed as Pope [Antipope] Clement III

Henry answered by a synod in Brixen in June, 1080, deposing Hildebrand,[7] and choosing one of Hildebrand’s bitterest opponents, Archbishop Wibert of Ravenna, as Pope [i,e, Antipope] in his place. Wibert called himself Clement III (1080-1100). The death of Rudolf in battle, in October following, left Henry stronger in Germany than ever before. He determined to be rid of Hildebrand.

In 1081 Henry invaded Italy, but it was three years before he gained possession of Rome. Pressed upon by the overwhelming German and Lombard forces, Hildebrand’s political supporters proved too weak to offer permanently effective resistance. The Roman people, and no less than thirteen of the cardinals, turned to the victorious German ruler and his Pope. In March, 1084, Wibert was enthroned, and crowned Henry Emperor.

Flight from Henry IV and Death of Hildebrand / Gregory VII

Hildebrand, apparently a beaten man, still held the castle of San Angelo, and absolutely refused any compromise. In May a Norman army came to Hildebrand’s relief, but these rough supporters so burned and plundered Rome, that he had to withdraw with them, and after nearly a year of this painful exile, he died in Salerno, on May 25, 1085.

    Hildebrand’s relations to other countries have been passed by in the account of his great struggle with Germany. It may be sufficient to say that his aims were similar, though so engrossed was he in the conflict with Henry IV that he never pushed matters to such an extreme with the Kings of England and France. He attempted to bring the high clergy everywhere under his control. He caused extensive codification of church law to be made. He enforced clerical celibacy as not only the theoretical but the practical rule of the Roman Church. If his methods were worldly and unscrupulous, as they undoubtedly were, no misfortune ever caused him to abate his claims, and even in apparent defeat he won a moral victory. The ideals that he had established for the papacy were to live long after him.







On the death of Hildebrand, the cardinals faithful to him chose as his successor Desiderius, the able and scholarly abbot of Monte Cassino, who took the name of Victor III (1086- 1087). So discouraging was the outlook that he long refused the doubtful honor. When at last he accepted it, he quietly dropped Hildebrand’s extremer efforts at world-rulership, though renewing the prohibition of lay investiture with utmost vigor. He was, however, able to be in Rome but a few days. That city remained in the hands of Wibert, and before the end of 1087 Victor III was no more. The situation of the party of Hildebrand seemed well-nigh hopeless.

After much hesitation, a few of the reform cardinals met in Terracina, and chose a French Cluny monk, who had been appointed a cardinal bishop by Hildebrand, Odo of Lagary, as Pope Urban II (1088- 1099). A man of Hildebrandian convictions, without Hildebrand’s genius, Urban was far more conciliatory and politically skilful. He sought with great success to create a friendly party among the German clergy, aided thereto by the monks of the influential monastery of Hirsau. He stirred up disaffection for Henry IV, often by no worthy means. Yet it was not till the close of 1093 that Urban was able to take effective possession of Rome and drive out Wibert. His rise in power was thence rapid. At a great synod held in Piacenza in March, 1095, he sounded the note of a crusade. At Clermont in November of the same year he brought the Crusade into being. On the flood of the crusading movement Urban rose at once to a position of European leadership. Henry IV and Wibert might oppose him, but the papacy had achieved a popular significance compared with which they had nothing to offer.

    Though men were weary of the long strife, the next Pope, Paschal II (1099-1118), made matters worse rather than better. Henry IV’s last days were disastrous. A successful rebellion, headed by his son, Henry V (1106-1125), forced his abdication in 1105. His death followed the next year. Henry V’s position in Germany was stronger than his father’s ever had been, and he was more unscrupulous. His assertion of his rights of investiture was as insistent as that of his father. In 1110 Henry V marched on Rome in force. Paschal II was powerless and without the courage of a Hildebrand. The Pope and Henry now agreed (1111) that the King should resign his right of investiture, provided the bishops of Germany should relinquish to him all temporal lordships.[8] That would have been a revolution that would have reduced the German church to poverty, and the protest raised on its promulgation in Rome, in February, 1111, showed it impossible of accomplishment.

Henry V then took the Pope and the cardinals prisoners. Paschal weakened. In April, 1111, he resigned to Henry investiture with ring and staff, and crowned him Emperor.[9] The Hildebrandian party stormed in protest. At the Roman synod of March, 1112, Paschal withdrew his agreement, which he could well hold was wrung from him by force. A synod in Vienne in September excommunicated Henry and forbad lay investiture, and this action the Pope approved.


  The Concordat of Worms


    Yet the basis of a compromise was already in sight. Two French church leaders, Ivo, bishop of Chartres, and Hugo of Fleury, in writings between 1099 and 1106, had argued that church and state each had their rights of investiture, the one with spiritual, the other with temporal authority. Anselm, the famous archbishop of Canterbury, a firm supporter of reform principles (1093-1109), had refused investiture from Henry I of England (1100-1135), and led to a contest which ended in the resignation by the King of investiture with ring and staff, while retaining to the crown investiture with temporal possession by the reception of an oath of fealty. These principles and precedents influenced the further course of the controversy.

The compromise came in 1122, in the Concordat of Worms, arranged between Henry V and Pope Calixtus II (1119-1124). By mutual agreement[:]

[1] elections of bishops and abbots in Germany were to be free and in canonical form, yet the presence of the Emperor at the choice was allowed,

[a] and in case of disputed election he should consult with the metropolitan and other bishops of the province.

[b] in other parts of the empire, Burgundy and Italy, no mention was made of the imperial presence.

[2] The Emperor renounced investiture with ring and staff, i.e., with the symbols of spiritual authority.

[3] In turn, the Pope granted him the right of investiture with the temporal possessions of the office by the touch of the royal sceptre, without demand of payment from the candidate.

This imperial recognition was to take place in Germany before consecration, and in the other parts of the empire within six months thereafter.[10] The effect was that in Germany at least a bishop or abbot must be acceptable both to the church and to the Emperor. In Italy the imperial power, which had rested on control of churchly appointments, was greatly broken. It was an outcome of the struggle which would but partially have satisfied Hildebrand. Yet the church had won much. If not superior to the state, it had vindicated its equality with the temporal power.

[1] Text in Henderson, Select Historical Documents, pp. 361-365. The so-called “Papal Version” is in all probability the original.

[2] Henderson, Select Historical Documents, pp. 366, 367; extracts in Robinson, Readings in European History, 1: 274. , Henderson, pp. 367-371; Robinson, 1: 276-279.

[3] Henderson, pp. 373-376.

[4] Henderson, pp. 376, 377; Robinson, 1: 281, 282. 1 Henderson, pp. 372, 373; Robinson, 1: 279-281. The letter seems to belong here, rather than to January, 1076, to which it is often assigned.

[5] The best account is that of Hildebrand himself. Henderson, pp. 385- 387; Robinson, 1; 282-283.

[6] Henderson, pp. 388-391

[7] Ibid., pp. 391-394.

[8] Henderson, pp. 405-407; Robinson, 1: 290-292.

[9] Henderson, pp. 407, 408.

[10] Henderson, pp. 408, 409; Robinson, 1: 292, 293.


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