Otto I was born on November 23, 912, to Duke Henry of Saxony and his wife, Matilda. In 919, his father became the king of Germany. While in his late teens, Otto married the English king’s daughter, Edith, in 930. As Henry lay dying in 936, he chose his first-born son as his successor. After his death, Otto became the king of Germany on August 7.
King of Germany
Upon his accession, the young king set out to assert his dominance over the German nobility. In response, the nobles revolted. Led by Otto’s half-brother Thankmar, the rebel army clashed against the king’s forces. Eventually, Thankmar died in battle, which caused the other nobles to submit to Otto.
After the war concluded, the king faced another rebellion in 939. This time it involved his younger brother, Henry. Envious of his brother’s kingship, Henry desired it for himself. Once more, the nobility threatened to revolt. However, Otto again emerged victoriously. In response, Henry quickly submitted to his brother.
Despite being granted mercy, the treacherous Henry continued to conspire against his brother. In 941, Henry and other German nobles sought to have otto murdered. When the king discovered the plot, Henry again escaped punishment. However, the other conspirators didn’t receive any leniency. Having finally learned his lesson, Henry remained loyal to Otto and became the duke of Bavaria in 947.
After successfully asserting his authority, Otto began to focus on external matters. The king wanted to expand his borders through conquest. As a result, the German army invaded Bohemia. Although his Bohemian campaign initially went poorly, its king ultimately surrendered to Otto in 950. This success helped strengthened Otto’s position as Germany’s king.
In 951, the widowed Queen of Italy, Adelaide, had been imprisoned by Berengar of Ivrea. Berengar desired both the Italian throne and the queen. To this end, he had poisoned Adelaide’s husband, King Lothair II, in 950. After pleading for Otto’s help, the German king promptly traveled to Italy to assist her. Subsequently, the king’s army crushed Berengar’s forces, and he became a German vassal. Since Edith had died in 946, he married Adelaide and took the title of king of the Lombards.
While in Italy, Otto’s son by Edith, Liudolf, rebelled against his father. Initially, the king considered retreating to Saxony. However, in 954, Hungarians invaded Germany, which caused the rebellion to lose support. By 955, Liudolf submitted, and Otto returned to fight the invaders. In August, the German army soundly defeated the Hungarians. As a result, they never invaded Germany again during Otto’s reign.
Holy Roman Emperor
In 961, a vengeful Berengar of Ivrea began to threaten Pope John XII. Similarly to Pope Adrian I’s appeal to Charlemagne, John requested Otto’s aid. By early 962, the German king promptly arrived in Rome and imprisoned Berengar. As a show of gratitude, the pope formally crowned the king Holy Roman Emperor. After the coronation, John and Otto I signed a treaty. Known as the Privilegium Ottonianium, the agreement served as a way to regulate the relationship between church and empire.
Pope John XII
Known as one of the worst popes to ever be elected, John embodied the seven deadly sins. Having no interest in being a spiritual leader, the pope instead used his position to engage in depraved acts. John turned the papal palace into a whore house, committed many rapes, and brutally killed anyone who opposed him. Despite allying with Otto I, John XII began to conspire against him. Resenting the emperor’s criticisms, the pope secretly allied with Berengar’s son, Adalbert.
Otto I eventually discovered John XII’s treachery. In response to the pope’s betrayal, the emperor marched back to Rome. Otto swiftly deposed John and replaced him with Leo VIII. Although there would be an uprising against the new pope in 964, the emperor crushed it. Furthermore, John was later murdered by an angry husband after having an affair with his wife.
Stay in Rome
In 965, Pope Leo VIII died. Following his death, Otto I chose John XIII as Leo’s successor. Once again, the emperor’s candidate proved unpopular. Roman citizens revolted against John, and he fled. Hoping to regain control, Otto returned to Italy for the third time.
After re-establishing control over Rome, Otto I stayed in Italy from 966 to 972. During this time, the emperor ensured peace and stability, which earned him widespread praise. Eventually, he traveled to southern Italy to meet with Byzantine ambassadors. Seeking to create an alliance with the Byzantine Empire, Otto opened negotiations for a marriage. Although the negotiations were prolonged, the emperor succeeded in gaining a Byzantine bride for his son.
In 972, Otto I returned to Germany with Princess Theophano. As promised, the emperor’s heir, Otto, married her. In 973, the old emperor’s health began to decline. On May 7, the 60-year-old ruler passed away. Per Otto’s wishes, his only son became the next Holy Roman Emperor as Otto II.
During his long reign, Otto I created a secure and prosperous German kingdom. His wise leadership and success in maintaining his authority gained him widespread respect throughout Europe. Otto’s efforts culminated in being crowned the Holy Roman Emperor and creating an alliance with the Byzantine Empire. After his death, the Ottonian dynasty continued to reign until Emperor Henry II’s death in 1024.
Cavendish, R. (2012, February 2). Otto the Great is crowned Emperor of the Romans. Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.historytoday.com/archive/otto-great-crowned-emperor-romans
Reindel, K. (2019, November 19). Otto I. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Otto-I
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).