Henry V

Henry V (1081-1125) was Holy Roman emperor and king of Germany from 1106 to 1125. The last of the Salian line of emperors, he continued the struggle with the papacy over lay investiture that had been carried on by Henry IV.

In 1106 Henry V succeeded his father, Emperor Henry IV, against whom he had rebelled the previous year. He was, like his father, a man of great ability who had to spend most of his reign in a struggle against the papacy over investitures and in attempts to keep his unruly German nobles under some form of control.

Henry began his reign by restoring a measure of order in Germany. Then, in 1110, he crossed the Alps into Italy; he marched on Rome with a large army and forced Pope Paschal II, whom he held prisoner for a time, to crown him emperor and to accept his terms for settling the Investiture Controversy. Circumstances soon forced him, however, to release the Pope and leave Italy. As soon as he had done so, Paschal proceeded to repudiate his agreement with his imperial opponent. From this time on, though Henry did invade Italy again, he was never able to exert much authority in the Italian portion of his empire, which became increasingly independent.

As for the Investiture Controversy itself, it dragged on until 1122, when a new pope, Calixtus I, negotiated a compromise settlement of the dispute with Henry called the Concordat of Worms. By this compromise the Emperor lost effective control over the appointment of churchmen in Italy and Burgundy, while still maintaining a good deal of power over their choice in Germany itself. In all cases churchmen were now to receive the spiritual symbols of their authority, the ring and the staff, directly from the pope. So ended this controversy, which had caused trouble between pope and emperor for almost 5 decades, with a settlement which represented in essence a victory for the papacy.

Though Henry was concerned during most of his reign with the struggle over investitures, he seems to have been particularly busy attempting to reassert his imperial authority in Germany itself. Here the problem he faced was that of a new nobility which was arising and which competed with him for authority. Perhaps the best examples of this new nobility are to be found in examining the rise of two powerful families, the Hofenstaufens in Swabia and the neighboring Rhinelands regions and the Welfs in Bavaria. Both made use of new feudal concepts and loyalties, previously largely unknown in Germany, as a basis for consolidating their authority over wide areas. To them, and others like them, the future of Germany was to belong.

Finally, once the Investiture Controversy had ended, Henry in his last days became interested in increasing his authority in the Low Countries along the borders of France. In 1114 he had married Matilda, the daughter of King Henry I of England and the future mother of the English king Henry II by another husband. In alliance with his English father-in-law, he attempted to increase his power in Flanders, but their actions led to friction with the French king Louis VI, who had an interest in the region as well. Finally, in 1124, he attempted an invasion of northern France itself. This provoked strong opposition and so rallied the northern French to their Capetian king that the imperial troops were forced to retreat without gaining any success. A year later, still childless, Henry V died. He left an Italy where imperial power had all but ceased to exist and a Germany ready for that long struggle between Welf and Hofenstaufen which was to disturb it for many decades.

Further Reading on Henry V

Geoffrey Barraclough's Medieval Germany (2 vols., 1938) and his Origins of Modern Germany (1946; 2d rev. ed. 1966) cover this period well. See also James W. Thompson, Feudal Germany (1928), and Gerd Tellenbach, Church, State and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest (trans. 1940).

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