Henry I (876-936), or Henry the Fowler, was king of Germany from 919 to 936. The first monarch of the Saxon dynasty, he allowed autonomy to the various German duchies and concentrated his resources on defense against the Danes and the Magyars.
The son of Otto of Erlauchten, Duke of Saxony, Henry I was a great grandson of Louis the Pious. What education he had was from tutors, and he was trained to succeed his father as Duke of Saxony. In 909 Henry married Mathilda, daughter of Count Dietrich, whose possessions in Westphalia helped to increase the power of the Saxon duke in that area.
In 912, upon the death of his father, Henry became Duke of Saxony. His relations with King Conrad I were not always peaceful, but the struggle for control of Thuringia, a territory that lay adjacent to Saxony and Franconia (Conrad's duchy), was settled by the Treaty of Grona in 915.
Shortly before his death in 918, Conrad designated Henry as his successor, and Henry was acclaimed king at Fritzlar in May 919. As king, he ruled a federation of duchies which were recognized as autonomous units. Henry concentrated on building up his own power in Saxony and expanding his control into lower Lorraine. After an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Duke Gilbert (Giselbert) of Lorraine, who was aided by the king of the West Franks, Charles the Simple, Henry was recognized as king of the East Franks at the Treaty of Bonn in 921. In 923 Henry again tried to enter Lorraine, only to be driven back by Rudolf, Duke of Burgundy. In 925 he attempted a third campaign and, besieging Gilbert at Zülpich, forced his submission.
Henry then turned eastward to protect Saxony and Thuringia against the incursions of the Danes, the Wends, and the Magyars. Henry was able to halt the Danes and Wends and, through the capture of a Magyar chieftain, forced peace on the Magyars for 9 years, during which time they paid tribute to the Saxon king.
Henry used this period of peace to consolidate his power in Saxony. He fortified his major cities, Merseburg, Hersfeld, Goslar, Gandersheim, Quedlinburg, and Pöhlde, which were to become centers of trade, justice, and social and military activity. The lands that had been taken from the Wends were distributed in the form of fiefs among his followers and servants.
During the years 928-932 Henry pushed eastward into Slavic lands and set up administrative centers at Brandenburg and Meissen. In 929 he entered Bohemia, where he forced King Wenceslas to recognize German sovereignty and to pay a yearly tribute. In 933 and 934 Henry concentrated on attacking and defeating in turn the Magyars and the Danes.
Sick with paralysis, Henry designated his eldest son, Otto, as king and called the nobles to Erfurt in early 936 to elect him. On July 2, 936, at Memleben, Henry died and was buried in the church of St. Peter, which he had founded at Quedlinburg.
Further Reading on Henry I
An account of the reign of Henry I is in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 3 (8 vols., 1911-1936). A more recent interpretation is G. Barraclough, The Origins of Modern Germany (1946; 2d ed. 1947).