History of Germany and Austria

The Empire of the West, which Charlemagne had constructed at so much cost of blood and treasure, fell to pieces after he had gone to the grave; and the crown of Germany, being separated from that of the Frankish monarchy, was worn by one branch of the Carlovingian race, while the members of another were enacting the part, without exercising the authority, of kings on the banks of the Seine. But in 911, the various princes of Germany, assuming an attitude of independence, elected Conrad of Franconia to the Imperial throne; and he, after a reign rendered troublous by the inroads of the Hungarians, was succeeded by Henry of Saxony, surnamed the Fowler.

Previous to the time of Charlemagne, the Germans considered it indicative of servitude to live in cities, and argued that even the fiercest animals lost their courage when confined. The prejudice had gradually worn away; and Henry, in order to resist the Hungarian horsemen, induced his subjects to build towns, surrounded them with ramparts, fortified them with towers, and enjoined a certain number of his nobles, albeit their favorite occupation was hunting, to reside within the walls.

Otho the Great, son of Henry, becoming emperor in 938, checked the indefatigable Hungarians, rendered Bohemia tributary to the Imperial crown, forced the Danes to receive baptism, and, on the invitation of the pope, marched to settle the affairs of Italy. At Rome he was crowned emperor, dignified with the title of Caesar Augustus, and invested with the right of nominating the pope.

The son and grandson of Otho having successively enjoyed the Imperial dignity, it was, on the decease of the latter, conferred on his nephew, Henry of Bavaria, who asserted by arms his claim to the sovereignty of Italy.

Conrad II, duke of Bavaria, or the Salic, next enjoyed the crown, and rendered fiefs hereditary. By his wife, Gisella of Swabia, he had a son, who succeeded him, in the person of Henry III, surnamed the Black; and he, being a prince of spirit and ability, vindicated his right to create popes, nominated three in succession, and departing this life in 1056, left an infant son of his own name, under the care of his widow, Agnes of Guienne.

Henry IV succeeded to the Imperial throne on the eve of a great and momentous struggle, to which he was sacrificed from his youth upward. Being carried off from his widowed mother and intrusted to intriguing prelates, his young mind was deliberately corrupted; and he was encouraged to indulge in vicious courses. He was then commanded by pope Alexander to appear before the tribunal of the Holy See, and answer for his debaucheries. Henry treated this mandate with contempt; but soon after, Alexander died, and the papal throne was ascended by Hildebrand, one of the most remarkable men Europe ever saw.

Hildebrand, the son of a carpenter in a little town of Tuscany, had risen to be prior of Clugny, and in that capacity had become conspicuous for austerity and self-denial. On the nomination of Leo IX to the papal chair, he had pursuaded that pious prelate that an emperor had no right to create a pope, and even prevailed on Leo's successor to confer on the College of cardinals the exclusive right of voting at papal elections. For his ser vices to the church, Hildebrand had successively been appointed cardinal and chancellor of the Holy See; and in 1073, he was elected as pope by the Sacred College. But before assuming the tiara, he obtained the youthful emperor's assent, and then assuming the title of Gregory VII, he prepared to throw off his mask, and execute his mission of 'pulling down the pride of kings.'

Meantime the Saxon subjects of the emperor, on the verge of revolt, sent deputies to demand an audience of him, and explain their grievances.

The deputies found Henry engaged with a game of hazard, and he contemptuously bade them to wait till it was finished. The Saxons indignantly rose in arms under Otho of Nordhim, and in a few hours the emperor was a fugitive. A Diet, or Assembly of the States, was held to depose him, and bestow the crown on Rodolph of Swabia; but a display of excessive loyalty on the part of the citizens of Worms caused the dissolution of the Diet, and Henry, panting for vengeance, led, in the depth of a severe winter, his gallant army to the Saxon frontier,. There, however, he found the insurgent forces of Otho so much superior to his own, that he was tinder the necessity of capitulating; but at this point, the great feudatories of the empire taking up his quarrel, Henry, with the whole strength of Germany, encountered the rebellious Saxons on the banks of the Unstrut, and, at a fearful cost of life, gained a bloody victory.

Meanwhile, Gregory, having enacted a law forbidding priests to g marry, and another precluding kings from the right of investing spiritual dignitaries, sent two legates to cite Henry to appear before him for his delinquencies, in continuing to bestow and sell investitures. This brought the dispute between the pope and the emperor to a crisis, for the legates being unceremoniously dismissed, and a Diet held at Worms having deposed Hildebrand, he, in retaliation, excommunicated the emperor, and released all that prince's subjects from their oath of allegiance.