§ 17. Renewal of the Conflict. Two Kings and Two Popes.
The result of Canossa was civil war in Germany and Italy king against king, pope against pope, nobles against nobles, bishops against bishops, father against son, and son against father. It lasted several years. Gregory and Henry died in exile. Gregory was defeated by Henry, Henry by his own rebellious son. The long wars of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines originated in that period. The Duke Guelph IV. of Bavaria was present at Forchheim when Henry was deposed, and took up arms against him. The popes sided with the Guelphs against the Hohenstaufen emperors and the Ghibellines.
The friends and supporters of Henry in Lombardy and Germany were dissatisfied, and regarded his humiliation as an act of cowardice, and the pope’s conduct as an insult to the German nation and the royal crown. His enemies, a small number of Saxon and Swabian nobles and bishops, assembled at Forchheim, March 13, 1077, and, in the presence of two legates of the pope, but without his express authority, offered the crown of Germany to Rudolf, Duke of Swabia, Henry’s brother-in-law, but on two important conditions (which may be traced to the influence of the pope’s legates), namely, that he should denounce a hereditary claim to the throne, and guarantee the freedom of ecclesiastical appointments. He was crowned March 26, at Mainz, by Archbishop Siegfried, but under bad omens: the consecrated oil rail short, the Gospel was read by a simoniacal deacon, the citizens raised a tumult, and Rudolf had to make his escape by night with Siegfried, who never returned. He found little support in Southern Germany, and went to Henry’s enemies in Saxony.
Henry demanded from the pope the ban over the robber of his crown, but in vain. He refused him the promised safe-conduct to Germany, acted as king, crossed the Alps, and defeated Rudolf in a battle at Melrichstadt in Franconia, Aug. 7, 1078, but was defeated by him near Mühlheim in Thuringia, Jan. 27, 1080, in a decisive battle, which Rudolf regarded as a divine decision, and which inclined the pope in his favor.
After long hesitation, Gregory, in a Synod of Rome, March 7, 1080, ventured upon the most extraordinary act even for a man in the highest position. Invoking the aid of St. Peter and St. Paul, he fulminated a second and severer ban against Henry and all his adherents, deprived him again of his kingdoms of Germany and Italy, forbade all the faithful to obey him, and bestowed the crown of Germany (not of Italy) on Rudolf. The address was at once a prayer, a narrative, and a judgment, and combined cool reflection with religious fervor. It rests on the conviction that the pope, as the representative of Peter and Paul, was clothed with supreme authority over the world as well as the Church.79
Gregory hazarded a prophecy, which was falsified by history, that before the day of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29), Henry would either lose his life or his throne. After the close of the synod, he sent to Rudolf (instead of the iron crown of Charlemagne, which was in possession of Henry) a diadem with the characteristic inscription: —
"Petra dedit Petro, Petrus diadema Rudolpho."80
A reconciliation was now impossible. Henry replied to the papal ban by the election of an anti-pope. A council of about thirty German and Italian bishops met at Brixen in the Tyrol, June 26, 1080, and deposed Gregory on the frivolous charges of ambition, avarice, simony, sorcery, and the Berengarian heresy. Cardinal Hugo Candidus and twenty-seven bishops (of Brixen, Bamberg, Coire, Freisingen, Lausanne, etc.) signed the document. At the same time they elected the excommunicated Archbishop Wibert of Ravenna pope, under the name of Clement III. He was a man of talent, dignity, and unblemished character, but fell into the hands of simonists and the enemies of reform. Henry acknowledged him by the usual genuflexion, and promised to visit Rome in the following spring, that he might receive from him the imperial crown. Wibert returned to Ravenna with the papal insignia and great pomp.
This was the beginning of a double civil war between rival popes and rival kings, with all its horrors. Gregory counted on the Saxons in Germany, Countess Matilda in Northern Italy, and the Normans in Southern Italy.
Henry was defeated Oct. 15, 1080, on the banks of the Elster, near Naumburg; but Rudolf was mortally wounded by Godfrey of Bouillon, the hero of Jerusalem,81 and lost his right hand by another enemy. He died the same evening, exclaiming, as the story goes: "This is the hand with which I swore fidelity to my lord, King Henry." But, according to another report, he said, when he heard of the victory of his troops: "Now I suffer willingly what the Lord has decreed for me." His body with the severed hand was deposited in the cathedral at Merseburg.82
Rudolf’s death turned his victory into a defeat. It was regarded in that age as a judgment of God against him and the anti-pope. His friends could not agree upon a successor till the following summer, when they elected Count Hermann of Luxemburg, who proved incompetent. In the spring of 1081 Henry crossed the Alps with a small army to depose Gregory, whose absolution he had sought a few years before as a penitent at Canossa. He was welcomed in Lombardy, defeated the troops of Matilda, and appeared at the gates of Rome before Pentecost, May 21. Gregory, surrounded by danger, stood firm as a rock and refused every compromise. At his last Lenten synod (end of February, 1081) he had renewed his anathemas, and suspended those bishops who disobeyed the summons. Nothing else is known of this synod but sentences of punishment. In his letter of March 15, 1081, to Hermann, bishop of Metz, he justified his conduct towards Henry, and on April 8 he warned the Venetians against any communication with him and his adherents. "I am not afraid," he said, "of the threats of the wicked, and would rather sacrifice my life than consent to evil."
Henry, not being permitted by the Romans to enter their city, as he had hoped, and not being prepared for a siege, spent the summer in Upper Italy, but returned to Rome in Lent, 1082, and again with a larger force at Easter, 1083, and conquered the city and the Church of St. Peter in June. Gregory was intrenched in the Castle of St. Angelo, and fulminated anew his anathema upon Henry and his followers (June 24). Henry answered by causing Wibert to be enthroned in St. Peter’s (June 28), but soon left Rome with Wibert (July 1), promising to return. He had probably come to a secret understanding with the Roman nobility to effect a peaceful compromise with Gregory; but the pope was inexorable. In the spring of 1084 Henry returned and called a synod, which deposed and excommunicated Gregory. Wibert was consecrated on Palm Sunday as Pope Clement III., in the Lateran, by two excommunicated bishops of Modena and Arezzo (instead of the bishops of Ostia, Albano, and Porto). Henry and his wife, Bertha, received from him the imperial crown in St. Peter’s at Easter, March 31, 1084. He left Rome with Wibert (May 21), leaving the defense of the city in the hands of the Romans. He never returned.
In the meantime Gregory called to his aid the Norman chief, Robert Guiscard, or Wiscard. This bold adventurer approached from the south with a motley force of Normans, Lombards, Apulians, and Saracens, amounting to thirty thousand foot and six thousand horse, arrived in Rome, May 27, 1084, liberated the pope, and entered with him the Lateran. He now began such a pillage and slaughter as even the barbarians had not committed. Half the city was reduced to ruins; many churches were demolished, others turned into forts; women and maidens, even nuns, were outraged, and several thousand citizens sold into slavery. The survivors cursed the pope and his deliverer. In the words of a contemporary, the cruelty of the Normans gained more hearts for the emperor than a hundred thousand pieces of gold. Rome was a ghost of her former self. When Hildebert of Tours visited her more than ten years later, he saw only ruins of her greatness.83 This was, indeed, a fearful judgment, but very different from the one which Gregory a few years before had invoked upon Henry.
Many confused reports were circulated about the fate of Gregory VII. His faithful friend, the Countess of Tuscany, assembled troops, sent emissaries in all directions, and stirred up distrust and hatred against Henry in Germany. The following letter remains as evidence of her zeal for Gregory: —
"Matilda, such as she is by the grace of God, if she be anything, to all the faithful residing in the Teutonic kingdom, greeting.
"We would have you know that Henry, the false king, has stolen the seal of the Lord Pope Gregory. Wherefore, if ye are told anything contrary to the words of our envoys, hold it false, and believe not Henry’s lies. Further, he has carried away with him the Bishop of Porto, because that man was once familiar with the Lord Pope. If by his help he should attempt anything with you or against you, be sure this bishop is a false witness, and give no credit to those who shall tell you to the contrary. Know that the Lord Pope has already conquered Sutri and Nepi; Barabbas the robber, that is to say, Henry’s pope, has fled like himself. Farewell. Beware of the snares of Henry."