Henry V: The Ineffective Emperor

Holy Roman Emperor Henry V
August 11, 1086 – May 23, 1125

Early Life

Emperor Henry V was born on August 11, 1086. The second son of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, Prince Henry’s elder brother, Conrad, initially served as their father’s heir. However, when Conrad revolted against the emperor, Henry became the new heir. On January 6, 1099, Henry succeeded Conrad as the King of Germany.

During Henry IV’s reign, the emperor continually came into conflict with the church. Beginning in 1078, Henry believed himself to have more authority than the pope. As a result, the emperor started to appoint bishops, which violated the church’s right to do so. In response to Henry’s actions, Pope Gregory VII excommunicated him. This began a prolonged conflict known as the Investiture Controversy.

By the early 1100s, Henry IV continued to ignore the pope, while Bavarians and Saxons started to oppose him. The faction disagreed with the emperor’s assertion and supported church reform. In 1104, King Henry turned against his father and joined the reformists. By late 1105, the king captured the emperor and forced him to abdicate. On August 7, 1106, the former emperor died in prison.

Holy Roman Emperor

After his father’s death, Henry V succeeded him as Holy Roman Emperor. Henry began his reign by consolidating his power and contacting Pope Paschal II. The emperor attempted to end the Investiture Controversy, but only if the pope granted him the right to appoint bishops. However, Paschal refused this condition, and the Controversy continued.

Conflict with Rome

Unsatisfied with Paschal’s response, Emperor Henry V traveled to Rome in 1110. Once more, Henry demanded the right to appoint bishops. Paschal countered by offering to return all lands and rights the German clergy had previously received. Although the emperor liked this offer, it proved unpopular with the German nobility and clergy. Instead, a frustrated Henry resorted to imprisoning the pope. Despite the circumstances, Paschal formally crowned Henry emperor on April 13, 1111.

Unrest in Germany

Matilda
Empress Matilda

In 1114, Emperor Henry V married Henry I of England’s daughter, Matilda. The English king viewed Henry as a suitable ally and sought to establish closer ties. Despite this view, the emperor still faced unrest in Germany. Besides the opposition from the church, German princes began to turn against Henry. Since the emperor promoted lower-class citizens to positions of power, the princes believed their authority was being threatened. In response, revolts broke out across Germany.

As Emperor Henry V suffered military defeats, Rome announced his excommunication in 1115. Due to this, Henry lost the support of the German clergy. During 1116, the emperor returned to Italy to finally resolve the controversy. However, the negotiations failed. Upon Paschal II’s death in 1118, Henry supported an anti-pope, Gregory VIII, to get what he wanted. After failing to gain support for Gregory VIII, the emperor returned to Germany.

Concordat of Worms

Fed up with the empire’s domestic issues, German princes sought to end the Investiture Controversy. In 1122, the princes began to negotiate the Concordat of Worms with the church. The agreement allowed Emperor Henry V to oversee bishop elections but prohibited him from appointing them. The emperor reluctantly agreed, and the Controversy finally ended.

Although the Controversy had been resolved, Emperor Henry V continued to experience issues with his German princes. To add to his difficulties, Henry’s father-in-law, Henry I, was engaged in a war against Louis VI of France. After losing his only male heir, William, in November 1120, Henry’s remaining legitimate heir was Matilda. To secure the creation of an Anglo-German empire, the emperor agreed to aid the English king.

Final Years

Emperor Henry V initially planned to invade France from the east in 1123. Meanwhile, Henry I would fight Louis VI in western France. Despite this arrangement, the emperor’s support never materialized. By 1125, Henry started suffering from illness. On May 23, the ailing emperor died at age 38. His marriage to Matilda remained childless, and the Salian dynasty ended with him.

Conclusion

During his reign, Emperor Henry V had ambition but proved incapable of accomplishing his goals. As emperor, he alienated the German nobility and clergy with his actions. Although the Investiture Controversy ended, Henry couldn’t take credit for it. The emperor even failed to get what he wanted from the agreement. Upon his death, the childless Henry’s Salian dynasty ended.

Sources

Schmale, F. (2020, August 07). Henry V. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-V-Holy-Roman-emperor

The Holy Roman Empire: A Captivating Guide to the Union of Smaller Kingdoms that Started During the Early Middle Ages and Dissolved During the Napleonic Wars. (2019).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Andy Tree

I'm a European history enthusiast who seeks to share his passion with others. I hope to inform and inspire readers with my posts!

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