April 14th in German History: Henry III Becomes Holy Roman Emperor

History of the papacy (1048–1257) - Wikipedia
Henry III. Image Credit: Wikipedia

While it is certainly important to remember the more recent events in history, I think that it is just as critical that we attempt to preserve the knowledge of the more distant past that perhaps has less direct bearing on the present. The people of those times, while not as obviously connected to our current situation, often had substantial long term and indirect impacts which are still felt today. One such person was Holy Roman Emperor Henry III. One April 14th, 1028, he was crowned King of Germany. The transfer of power after the death of Henry’s father was uncommonly smooth for monarchs of that time, and he was able to quickly set about ruling his kingdom. This kingdom included most of what is now Germany and also the territories of Carinthia, parts of modern-day Austria and Slovenia, Burgundy, and Italy. Henry began his reign with a tour of his various realms and vassal states and for the most part secured their support. Throughout his reign he strengthened his control over the various lands under his rule through the use of sovereign royal right of disposition. In his first conflict, a series of wars with Hungary and Bohemia, Henry emerged victorious and established the border between Austria and Hungary that would remain the same until 1920. Henry spent much of the rest of his reign fighting wars with rebellious territories, most notably Lorraine, and was victorious most of the time. Henry also chose four German Popes and made various other ecclesiastical and secular appointments. Henry’s most important contribution to history, however, was in his freeing of the Vatican from its dependence on Italian Nobles. In doing so he gave it greater influence over the whole of the Empire that would later allow it to grow into an entity with authority over much of Europe. Further, in 1048 he deposed three rival Popes and installed his candidate instead and so created the great Schism that would set the Holy Roman Empire at odds with the Papacy for two hundred years. Thus, Henry III set the stage for many later conflicts between secular and religious authority that would characterize Medieval and Renaissance history and contribute to the Protestant Reformation and the eventual decline of the Papacy as a political force within Europe. Although Henry III has vanished entirely from popular memory, his influence over European history is still felt today. Thus, he reminds us not to dismiss the past as unimportant, as even obscure figures are crucial to understanding how the present came to be.

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