Henry III (1017-1056) was Holy Roman emperor and king of Germany from 1039 to 1056. The medieval empire is generally considered to have attained its greatest power and solidity during his reign.
The only son of Conrad II, the first Salian emperor, Henry was designated by his father to be co-king of Germany in 1028. He was made Duke of Swabia in 1038, and on the death of his father the following year he succeeded as emperor. Within Germany itself Henry III weakened the power of the great nobles by ruling most of the great tribal duchies directly—with Lorraine as the only major exception. He also won effective overlordship of Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary, and in Hungary he actually had his own candidate, Peter, placed on the throne. He intervened in Italy as well, where he not only controlled the north and the region around Rome but in 1046 recognized the Norman Guiscards as dukes of Apulia. Concerned with keeping the peace within his empire, he personally proclaimed the Peace of God from the pulpit of the Cathedral of Constance in 1043.
Henry's most controversial actions involved his dealings with the Church and especially the papacy. He was well educated and pious like his namesake, the emperor Henry II, and a patron of the arts as well. Unlike his father, Conrad II, however, he was actively involved in Church reform, especially in reorganizing monasteries and removing unworthy clerics. It was this interest which led to his intervention in papal affairs.
The papacy had fallen upon evil days, with three popes, each claiming the office and all tainted with scandal. Angered at this, Henry in 1046 entered Italy and at a synod held in Sutri deposed all three popes—Sylvester III, Gregory VI, and Benedict IX—and selected a pope of his own, Clement II. After the death of Clement, Henry appointed still another pope, Leo IX, who was his friend and cousin Bishop Bruno of Toul, a Lorrainer. It was this pope who surrounded himself with northern and Tuscan reformers and started freeing the papacy from secular control and thus began to establish the popes as leaders of the entire Western Church. It was Henry III, therefore, who unwittingly laid the foundations of a papal reform with which his successors had to cope. He also failed to build up in Germany itself any institutions of government or an imperial domain upon which later German emperors could rely for strength.
During his reign Henry III dominated much of eastern Europe, kept Germany peaceful, controlled much of Italy, and intervened almost as head of the Church in papal affairs. Yet his power was more superficial than it appeared, and his policies within both the empire and the Church were to lead to a crisis for his son and successor, Henry IV.
For the era of Henry III see Gerd Tellenbach, Church, State and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest (trans. 1940); Geoffrey Barraclough, Origins of Modern Germany (1946; 2d rev. ed. 1966); Walter Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages (1955; 2d ed. 1962); and Jeffrey Russell, Dissent and Reform in the Early Middle Ages (1965). □