Kathleen G. Cushing

title.none: Robinson, Henry IV of Germany (Cushing)

identifier.other: baj9928.0107.020 01.07.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kathleen G. Cushing, Keele University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Robinson, I. S. Henry IV of Germany. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 408. $69.95. ISBN: 0-512-65113-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.07.20

Robinson, I. S. Henry IV of Germany. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 408. $69.95. ISBN: 0-512-65113-1.

Reviewed by:

Kathleen G. Cushing
Keele University

The mere mention of Henry IV, king of Germany in his own right from 1065 and emperor from 1084, is enough to conjure up images of almost legendary proportions: a boy-king seized from the care of his mother, the empress Agnes, by the formidable Archbishop Anno of Cologne in a coup at Kaiserwerth in 1062; a young king fleeing his Harzburg fortress in August 1073 in the face of the Saxon nobility and guided ignominiously by a single huntsman through dense forest for three days; a penitent, barefoot king in the snow stripped of his royal dignity awaiting mercy and restoration to communion from an impassive Pope Gregory VII outside the gates of Canossa in January 1077; a military leader bested in all of the major battles of his reign fought on German soil apart from the battle of Homburg in 1075 (a victory over the Saxons, however, that contemporaries ascribed to Rudolf of Rheinfelden, who would later withdraw his allegiance and become the anti-king); an emperor who lived to witness the rebellion and apostasy of both his surviving sons, Conrad and Henry V; an emperor ultimately outmaneuvered and imprisoned by his more politically astute, or at least opportunistic, son and successor, Henry V.

At the same time, the mention of his name can provoke radically different assessments and characterizations, often as much in modern scholarship as among his eleventh- and early twelfth- century contemporaries. More than any other individual apart perhaps from his most dogged opponent, Gregory VII, Henry IV of Germany simultaneously elicited lavish praise and strident condemnation. "[He] received from his ancestors a most peaceful kingdom, in every way flourishing, and had rendered it filthy, despicable, bloodstained, a prey to internal conflicts", observed that most gifted, if idiosyncratic, of eleventh-century historians, Lampert of Hersfeld. [1] This hostile assessment was echoed elsewhere among the Gregorian and anti-Henrician polemicists, no where more forcefully than by Bruno of Merseburg, who accused the king of appalling, unjust and scurrilous behavior: "He committed so many abominable murders that it is uncertain which was the greater infamy, that of his incestuous lust or that of his boundless cruelty." [2] The king, however, had more than his own share of fervent propagandists. These included the author of the Song of the Saxon War, his amanuensis Gottschalk of Aachen, the tireless Liemar of Bremen, as well as the anonymous author of the Vita Henrici IV. imperatoris, who extolled the emperor's virtues in customary rhetoric and complained that Gregory VII and his supporters were motivated not by love of religion but by hatred for the prince. [3] Henry IV was such as to command loyalty even against conscience as the example of Bishop Benno of Osnabruck tellingly underlines. Present at the Council of Brixen by the King's command, Benno, however, avoided forswearing Gregory VII by hiding behind the altar during the election of the anti-pope Clement III. Henry IV as simultaneously "wicked tyrant" and "pious king" in many ways epitomizes the transformations and fluctuations of fortune that characterize eleventh-century European kingship.

Given such a contentious figure, it may come as a surprise to many that Ian S. Robinson's Henry IV of Germany is the first book in English devoted to the king. This alone makes the book a valuable one, though there is much else to commend it. By covering the entirety of Henry's fifty-one year reign, the book affords a much broader perspective of Henry's many conflicts and varied resolutions with the south German princes, the Saxon nobility, the Italian and Burgundian kingdoms and especially the papacy; clashes that all too often lose their cumulative significance when considered in isolation. In a reign marked by almost continuous rebellions and conflicts that he could seldom definitively resolve, and by the alternating success and failure of his attempts to reassert traditional royal rights especially in Saxony and to restore the royal dignity so compromised during his minority, Henry's sheer lasting power is nothing short of phenomenal. As Robinson repeatedly and convincingly illustrates, Henry's survival of the many crises of his long reign, saving only the last, owed much to his ability to make expedient compromises and to conciliate opponents in order to gain time to regroup.

Adopting a chronological approach, the book is divided into three major sections along with an introduction and conclusion. Robinson initially sets the stage by discussing the various secular and ecclesiastical officials (e.g. duke, margrave, count) whose independent lordships and jurisdictions, along with those of the king, effectively constituted the "political order" of the German, Italian and Burgundian kingdoms, and whose support and acquiescence in royal and episcopal assemblies the king needed in order to maintain effective rule. The first section deals with the early part of Henry's reign from 1056-1075. Here, in Chapters 1 and 2, Robinson deals with the tumultuous events of Henry's minority, and then turns to the crisis of Saxony for which Henry acquired a tyrannical reputation that could never wholly be erased. The second section focuses on the conflict with Pope Gregory VII. Chapter 3 addresses the relationship of Henry IV and the imperial church with the reform papacy from his majority to 1075, while in Chapter 4, Robinson moves on to assess the pivotal years of 1076-77 and the significance of Worms, Canossa and the election of Rudolf as anti-king at Forchheim in 1077. Chapter 5 focuses on the ensuing civil war that gripped the German kingdom from 1077 to 1081. The last chapter of this section deals with the aftermath of the Council of Brixen and Henry's expedition to Italy to install his anti-pope and secure the imperial crown. The final section focuses on Henry as Emperor from 1084 to his imprisonment and death in 1106. In Chapter 7, Robinson addresses the pacification of the German kingdom. Chapter 8 focuses on the renewed difficulties encountered by Henry with the election of Pope Urban II and the third expedition to Italy against Matilda of Tuscany, Welf of Bavaria and their allies. Chapter 9 addresses the reconciliation with Welf that subsequently allowed Henry to consolidate royal authority in Germany in the period 1097-1103. The final chapter focuses on the defection of his son Henry V and the end of the reign, when ecclesiastical matters, and especially investiture, once again proved to be too difficult to resolve. An interesting conclusion rounds out the volume in which Robinson looks to evaluate Henry's kingship in the light of medieval political theory by comparing the characterization of the king by various polemicists with charter evidence. The volume also includes a detailed bibliography of primary and secondary material.

The importance of this book cannot be underestimated. The careful attention to detail, the masterful command of the sources, of which the various chronicles and Henry's royal diplomas must be signaled out, set a high standard of historical research that has long characterized Robinson's work, justice to which cannot adequately be paid here. That said, the overall chronological approach and structure is not without its problems. Robinson rightly devotes meticulous attention to the very important iter regis per regnum and the solemn crown-wearings at the important feasts of the liturgical year, those most important 'institutions' of eleventh-century Salian kingship that provided cohesion to German political society. But there is a sense that the entire book is in some ways an iter written large. The detailed recreation of each of Henry's fifty-one years of kingship along with the unceasing factual details of places, individuals and dates becomes increasingly wearisome, and inescapably invites comparison with Meyer von Knonau's magisterial Jahrbücher des Deutschen Reiches unter Heinrich IV. und Heinrich V. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Yet, there is a sense in Robinson's determination to leave no chronicle, diploma, letter or treatise uncovered, that the proverbial forest is somewhat lost for the trees. On the one hand, the book in some ways assumes too much; in others it assumes too little. One does begin to wonder at which audience it is aimed.

Most disappointing in the present reviewer's opinion are the missed opportunities for analysis, commentary and reflection on some of the broader issues that the sources themselves and Henry's long reign invariably invite. For instance, while there is considerable discussion of the long-term and shifting inner circle of royal advisers, the problem of the ministeriales, the reformers within the imperial Church, and, very interestingly, the relations between Henry and Clement III, other important topics seem to get short-shrift. The nature of and claims of the princes to have a role in the kingship, the role of familial strategies, the rapid shifting of alliances (though these two are well illustrated with Otto of Northeim and Ekbert II of Brunswick), the significance of dual allegiances (e.g. after Worms, though somewhat developed with Hartwig of Magdeburg), the pattern in Ottonian and Salian kingship for the need for a disaffected relative around whom support for rebellion crystallized, and most especially church reform, at least from the point of view of the reformers themselves: all of these might have been developed further. Gregory VII himself seems particularly dismissed; and while some historians might agree that his aim was to "destroy Henry IV" (196), more time might have been devoted to the papal perspective of what was at stake. Often as well, in the press of chronology, individuals seem to get lost: Siegfried of Mainz, Rudolf of Rheinfelden, Matilda of Tuscany, and occasionally even Henry himself often seem to be wooden figures perambulating on their respective itinera with little attention to their interactions, motivations, and the ramifications of their actions for the German empire. Even in the very interesting conclusion where Robinson compares the polemicists' assessment of the king with charter evidence, the reader is left hoping for a bit more. In particular, some discussion of the purpose of the propaganda (which Robinson has discussed elsewhere with tremendous nuance) would have underlined the ways in which the proliferation of these polemical works contributed to the hardening of attitudes and thereby made compromise increasingly impossible. Surely the statement that these treatises are not 'objective commentary' is a somewhat moot point.

As Frederick Barbarossa and Henry II of England would later do, Henry IV came to the throne in his own right with a sense of a lost past that needed regaining. [4] It was this conviction that shaped and underlay his actions in Saxony in the early 1070s, his relations with the southern German princes, his dealings with the imperial Church, his devotion to the cult of his ancestors with all the attendant benefactions, and especially his relations with the reform papacy. Prepared to bend and compromise when and where it was unavoidable, and above all to delay when no immediate resolution was available, Henry IV survived every crisis but the last; a crisis that would have entailed denying the essence of what he had sought to reassert and restore. It is to Robinson's credit and tremendous skill as a historian that this book presents the reader with the opportunity to have the deepest possible knowledge of the events of Henry's reign. This may, in the end, also be its chief weakness.


1. Lampert of Hersfeld, Annales a. 1076, ed. O. Holder-Egger (MGH, SRG, 38; Hannover, 1894), 277-9; cited by Robinson, 346, n. 5.

2. Bruno of Merseburg, Saxonicum bellum, c.10 (MGH, Deutsches Mittelalter, 2), 18; cited by Robinson, 346, n. 6.

3. Vita Heinrici IV. imperatoris, c.4 (MGH, SRG, 58: Hannover, 1899).

4. See K. J. Leyser, "Frederick Barbarossa, Henry II and the Hand of St. James", in Medieval Germany and Its Neighbours, 900-1250 (London, 1982), 215-40.