The German Empire before the Eleventh Century
Germany had no political existence until the time of Charlemagne, when it was formed by him into part of the western empire. Towards the conclusion of the ninth century it became an empire of itself. In the year 887, Arnold, a natural son of Charloman, and nephew of Charles the Fat, was declared emperor by an assembly of bishops and nobles. These assemblies in Germany always retained a voice in the election of their emperors; and though they often made their choice from the line of succession, they never acknowledged any hereditary rights whatever. After the death of Arnold's son, called Louis III, their choice fell upon Conrad, Duke of Franconia (912). Conrad's successor was Henry I, surnamed the Fowler. He was a prince of great abilities, and introduced order and good government into the empire. 'He united the grandees and curbed their usurpations; built, embellished, and fortified cities; and enforced with great rigor the execution of the laws in the repression of all enormities. He had been consecrated by his own bishops, and maintained no correspondence with the see of Rome. His son, Otho the Great, who succeeded him (938), united Italy to the Empire, and kept the popedom in complete subjection. He made Denmark tributary to the imperial crown, annexed the crown of Bohemia to his own dominions, and seemed to aim at a paramount authority over all the sovereigns of Europe.'
In these times the papacy was much disordered. 'Formosus, twice excommunicated by Pope John VIII, had himself arrived at the triple crown. On his death, his rival, Pope Stephen VII, caused his body to be dug out of the grave, and after trial for his crimes, condemned it to be flung into the Tiber. The friends of Formosus fished up the corpse, and had interest to procure the deposition of Stephen, who was strangled in prison. A succeeding pope, Sergius III, again dug up the ill-fated carcase, and once more threw it into the river. Two infamous women, Marosia and Theodora, managed the popedom for many years, and filled the chair of St Peter with their own gallants or their adulterous offspring.' - Tytler. It was amidst this confusion and these disturbances that Otho was induced to turn his arms on Italy. He shortly became master of it all, and had himself declared emperor by the Holy See, with all the pomp that had attended the same ceremony to Charlemagne (962). Pope John XII, whom Otho had been the means of raising to the pontifical chair, rebelled soon after. Otho returned to Rome in fury, had John deposed, hanged one-half of the senate before he left the city, and wrung a solemn acknowledgement from an assembly of reluctant bishops, that the emperor had a right not only to nominate to vacant bishoprics, but also to elect the pope himself. Otho died (972), and was followed in succession by Otho II, Otho III, St. Henry, Conrad II, and Henry III, the history of whose reigns exhibits nothing instructive, or upon which the mind can rest with pleasure. Henry IV (1056) was a distinguished victim of papal tyranny. The celebrated Hildebrand, known as Gregory VII, was in this age the means of raising the power of the church to a height which it had never reached before. During Henry's contest with this daring and ambitious pontiff, he made him twice his prisoner, and twice did the thunders of the Vatican excommunicate and depose him in consequence. As a specimen of the power and insolence of this pope, we may mention that Henry, dispirited by the effect which his excommunication had upon his friends and followers, having resolved to go to Rome and ask absolution from Gregory in person, did so; and presenting himself as a humble penitent at the palace of St Peter, was there stripped of his robes, and obliged to remain in that condition, in an outer court, in the month of January (1077), barefooted, among snow, and fasting, for three successive days, before he was allowed to implore forgiveness for his offences! On the fourth day he was permitted to kiss the toe of his holiness, and then received absolution! Henry died in 1106.