Henry IV (1050-1106) was Holy Roman emperor and king of Germany from 1056 to 1106. An able, ruthless, and secretive monarch, he led the empire into a disastrous confrontation with Pope Gregory VII in the Investiture Controversy.
Born in Goslar, Saxony, Henry IV was the only son of Emperor Henry III and Agnes of Poitou. His father died when he was only 6, and he had a long and difficult minority as king, since early in 1062 he was taken from his mother and raised by a bevy of quarreling, scheming bishops. In 1066 he came of age and began governing on his own. He was married twice, first to Bertha of Savoy and late in his reign, after her death, to Praxedis of Russia.
Henry attempted, initially, to reassert his father's old imperial rights throughout the empire and also to build up a new, strong imperial domain in Saxony. This led to serious uprisings in 1073 in which Saxons and southern German nobles combined against him. By 1075 he had suppressed these revolts, only to begin a quarrel with Pope Gregory VII over the imperial right to appoint or invest churchmen with their offices. Gregory and Church reformers claimed that neither rulers nor any other laymen could exercise this right—despite long precedent. Angry at Gregory's opposition to his appointing an archbishop of Milan, in 1076 Henry hastily summoned a council of German bishops who declared Pope Gregory deposed. Gregory answered by declaring Emperor Henry excommunicated and suspended from office.
This encouraged German nobles again to rebel and to summon the Pope to come to Augsburg and sit in judgment on their ruler. Fearing the results of such collaboration between the Pope and German magnates, Henry slipped through the Alpine passes and met Pope Gregory at Canossa in northern Italy in 1077, where, as a penitent, he prevailed upon the Pope to forgive him. This prevented Gregory, much against his will, from continuing to work with the German nobles against Henry, which, of course, was Henry's objective.
Despite lack of papal support, Henry's German opponents chose an antiking, Rudolf of Swabia. But Henry returned across the Alps and defeated him. Rudolf died soon thereafter, in 1080, and Henry reopened hostilities with Pope Gregory. Despite a renewal of his excommunication, he led another army into Italy and by 1084 had marched on Rome and set up an antipope there who crowned him emperor. Gregory was saved from capture only by a large Norman force, which rescued him at the cost of a severe plundering of the city of Rome itself. The Pope had to retire with the Normans south toward Naples and died in exile the following year.
After Gregory's death, Henry IV continued to resist the popes who were chosen as his successors and to set up antipopes of his own against them. In this he was relatively unsuccessful, since his papal opponents were men like Urban II, capable of rallying all Europe behind them in the First Crusade and similar enterprises. Henry also had much trouble due to opposition to his rule in both Germany and Italy, especially from his eldest son, Conrad, and from Duke Welf of Bavaria and Countess Matilda of Tuscany. Not until 1098 did the revolts they encouraged collapse, and soon afterward Conrad died. But Emperor Henry had to pay a heavy price to Saxon rebels and others to secure peace. Finally, in 1105, his second son and heir, later Henry V, joined his father's enemies, imprisoned him, and forced him to abdicate. Escaping in 1106, he had just defeated this ungrateful son when he died, leaving a weakened imperial power in Germany and the struggle with the papacy over investitures still unresolved.
There is an immense literature dealing with Henry IV. Among the more important accounts are those found in 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); and Walter Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages (1955; 2d ed. 1962). See also shorter accounts in Ralph H. C. Davis, A History of Medieval Europe (1957), and Christopher Brooke, Europe in the Central Middle Ages, 962-1154 (1964). □