History of Germany and Austria

It was about the opening of the year 1076, that Henry, returning to Utrecht from a campaign against the revolted Saxons, became aware that he was under the papal ban; and in autumn a Diet held at Tribur decided that, in the event of the emperor not being received into the bosom of the Church by the following February, a Diet should be held at Augsburg, and his crown given to another. Henry, thereupon, took up his residence at Spire, where, deserted by his courtiers, he was consoled by his injured but forgiving wife the pure and faithful Bertha. When months had worn away, and the pope still refused to receive him in Italy as a penitent, the proud emperor, assuming the garb of a pilgrim, and accompanied by Bertha, with their infant child in her arms, undertook, in the midst of a singularly severe winter, to cross the Alps, which, after the utmost danger and fatigue, they almost miraculously accomplished.

About the end of January the emperor appeared as a humble suppliant at the gate of the castle of Canossa, in whose feudal halls the pope was enjoying the hospitality of his faithful adherent, Matilda, countess of Tuscany. In the trenches of that Italian fortress, while the Aphenines were covered with snow, and the mountain streams with ice, Henry, cold, fasting, barefoot, and unclad, save with a scanty woolen garment, stood for three whole days, imploring, with tears of agony and cries for mercy, the pity of Hildebrand. As the third day was drawing to a close, the pope relaxed, admitted the humiliated emperor to his presence, and after subjecting the royal victim to the depth of debasement, revoked the papal anathema.

The degradation to which the emperor had been exposed so galled his subjects, that they meditated a removal of the imperial crown to the head of his infant son, Conrad; the Saxons having elected Rodolph as their sovereign, defeated Henry in two battles; and Hildebrand once more pronounced against him the sentence of excommunication. But the emperor had his revenge; for his rival, Rodolph, having fallen in battle by the hand of Godfrey of Bouillon, and the pope's Norman allies being absent in the East, the banners of Germany were suddenly displayed before the walls of Rome. In the spring of 1084 the besiegers entered the Eternal City. Gregory took refuge in the castle of St. Angelo, and Clement III, a rival pontiff, placed the Imperial crown on Henry's brow. But the return of the warlike Normans caused the Imperial troops to retreat with precipitation; while the Roman citizens rising against his allies compelled Hildebrand to fly for shelter to Salerno. There, broken with time and trouble, he expired; and his last words were, 'I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.'

Henry returned to Germany, where he reigned for a while undisturbed by civil war; but Pope Pascal, aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Hildebrand, incited Henry, the Emperor's eldest son, to rebellion; and the youth declaring that he could not acknowledge as king or father a man who was excommunicated, treacherously imprisoned his sire, and assembling a Diet was proclaimed in his stead. Two prelates were sent to demand the regalia from the deposed Emperor; he, receiving them in his symbols of sovereignty, refused; but, laying violent hands on him, they dragged him from his chair, and forcibly divested him of the regal robes. Poor and distressed, Henry escaped from prison, and raised a considerable force to assert his rights; but he died at Liege in 1106, before active operations commenced. His body, denied a resting-place in consecrated ground, was interred in a cave near Spire.