Ottonian and Salian dynasties

Wolkenburg and a scratch of the medieval castle on top (collage)
Wolkenburg and a scratch of the medieval castle on top (collage)

By the early 10th century, the Frankish Empire had long been partitioned between Charlemagne’s heirs. The Rhineland belonged to the Duchy of Lotharingia, which was part of the East Frankish Kingdom. However, it was disputed between the Frankish rulers until 925, when it became East Frankish kingdom for good.

Saxon “Ottonian” Dynasty

At that time ruled the Saxon Duke Henry I, the first non-Frank on the throne. His son Otto I. the Great (936-973) fought the legendary battle on the Lechfield against the Hungarians (955). His imperial coronation in 962 was the birth of Holy Roman Empire.

Otto was a powerful ruler, but nonetheless he had a hard time with the dukes. Therefore, he sought the support of the clergy: bishops were appointed by the King, they did not marry and have children who inherited their title and wealth; so when a bishop died, his bishopric fell back to the King who appointed a new bishop. With time, the Kings depended more on the clergymen and ceded rights to them, most of all the right to own land and build territories. Otto’s brother Bruno became Archbishop of Cologne (953-65), his daughter-in-law, Empress Theophanu (981-991), is buried in the church of St. Pantaleon, Cologne.

Salian Dynasty

Under the following Salian dynasty, the Empire went through major changes. Henry III (1035-1056), appointed bishops, abbots, even popes and did away with anti-popes. Most people considered the King God’s representative on earth. On the other hand, the King, very religious and ascetic himself, supported the religious reform movement coming from the monastery of Cluny in France. The reformers demanded that the Church returned to its true tasks instead of striving for wealth and sumptuousness, and that the clergymen lived according to very strict rules. Moreover, Cluny demanded that the Church was absolutely independent from any worldly power.

This conflict, referred to as the Investiture Controversy, broke out openly between Henry IV (1056-1106), son of Henry III, and the Pope Gregory VII, a radical supporter of the reform. The Pope insisted that the Emperor submitted to his authority. When Henry appointed a bishop, the conflict escalated. The Pope excommunicated the Emperor and banned him. Thus, Henry was excluded from the society of decent people, and his subjects had no longer to obey to a banned king, on the contrary, they were explicitly released of all loyalty owed to the King. Now the Dukes joined forces against the King and a civil war broke out. In this situation, Henry IV saw no other way than to do penance and hope for the Pope to soften, and he made the famous walk to Canossa (1077). Finally, Gregory VII released him from the ban. For the short term, Henry IV had regained freedom of action, but at the same time he had recognized how much power the ban, and by that the Pope, had over the King, his authority was irremediably damaged.

The long reign of Henry IV, even his whole life was marked by conflicts. At the end of his life, his own son Henry V rebelled against him, encouraged by the German Dukes and the Pope. Yet, as soon as Henry V (1106-1125) had ascended the throne, he continued his father’s policy, and the Investiture Controversy continued. He travelled to Rome and, with the sword in his hand, forced the Pope to crown him emperor. But the day that Henry left, the Pope revoked, and the German Dukes rebelled against the king. For the moment, the fight between Emperor and Pope was over. Yet, the true winners were the German Dukes.

During the Salian dynasty, the age of the crusades began (1096-1270), After the Turkish Seldshuks had conquered Syria and Palestine and stopped the Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Pope Urban II called upon the Christian knights to go on crusade. Many knights from the Rhineland left for Palestine, a theme that we find in various legends.

Romanesque churches in Cologne

The Salian Era is associated with the great Romanesque cathedrals in Speyer, Worms and Mainz. But also in Cologne Romanesque churches were built: Maria im Kapitol, St. George and St. Aposteln are outstanding examples of medieval sacral architecture of the 11th century.

Mighty men: the Archbishops Cologne

When in 1025 the Archbishop of Mainz refused to crown the wife of the first Salian King Conrad II., the hour of the Archbishop of Cologne, Pilgrim, had come: he crowned the Queen, and from that day on the privilege of crowning the Kings in Aachen remained with the Archbishops of Cologne. From 1031 onwards, they also were the chancellors of the Holy Roman Empire. To clarify: at that time the Archbishop of Cologne was both, a high clergyman and a worldly duke. In 1059, Archbishop Anno II defeated the other local power, the Ezzonen dynasty and became the mightiest man around. In our region, the Archbishopric of Cologne now owned the mountains Wolkenburg and Drachenfels, the castle on the Wolkenburg as well as the villages Königswinter and Ittenbach.

In 1118, Archbishop Friedrich I. von Schwarzenberg gave orders to build a castle on top of Wolkenburg. He enjoyed being there, and he died there. On the eve of the second crusade, Jews from Cologne found shelter in the castle on the Wolkenburg.

Middle Ages
Europe in the Middle Ages | Ottonian and Salian Dynasties | Hohenstaufen Dynasty | Richard and Otto IV, uncle and nephew | Late Middle Ages

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