Early Conditions. Hungarian Invasions. Creation of Burgs. Knighthood. Pope and Emperor Become Rivals. Henry IV.. Canossa. First Hohenstaufen. Welf and Waiblingen. The Crusaders. Conrad. Frederick Barbarossa.


One century after Charlemagne, the kingship of Germany ceased to be hereditary. The great nobles, or vassals as they were called, elected the King, who was crowned at Aix. And then, after the Pope had crowned him at Rome (but not until then), he was also King of Italy and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

The condition of Germany was at this time very disordered. There were jealousies and conflicts between the various states composing it and incessant incursions from those troublesome neighbors, the Magyars or Hungarians, the Turanian people on their southeast border. This latter led to an important phase in the development of Germany. Henry I., father of King Otto the Great, in 924 offered these Hungarians a large yearly tribute if they would cease to annoy his country. For nine years the tribute was paid. The Germans in the meantime were busily engaged in building fortresses on their frontier, and walled cities throughout the land. These were called burgs, and were placed under the command of counts, who were called Burgraves.

So, in the tenth year, when the Hungarians insolently demanded their tribute, Henry threw a dead dog at their messengers' feet, and told them that was his tribute in the future.

The Hungarians in a fury poured into Germany. But--lo! instead of collections of helpless villages lying at their mercy, there were walled towns which defied all their efforts to capture, and after some futile attempts the Hungarians troubled Germany no more.

Another important development of this period was an eventful one for Europe. There was a large class of young men, younger sons of nobles, for whom there was no suitable classification. They were proud and by necessity were idle.

This same Saxon King Henry invited these young men to serve the empire in a new and peculiar way. They must be men of honor and truth; they must be devoted and loyal to the Holy Roman Empire; never have injured a weak woman nor run away in battle; they must be gentle and courteous and brave, and faithful to the Church.

The men who could take these oaths and make these pledges were called knights, or Knechts, servants of the King. Thus was created the order of knighthood, which quickly spread over Europe.

The great Charlemagne, in accepting the crown of the Holy Roman Empire in 800, unconsciously inflicted a deep injury upon the future Germany. That glittering bauble, the crown of the Caesars, was very costly, and retarded the development of Germany for centuries.

That country needed all her resources and energies at home, to solidify and develop a great nation during its formative period.

Instead of that, for seven hundred years the ambitions of the Kings of Germany were diverted from what should have been their first care--the unity and prosperity of their own nation; and were chasing a phantom--the re-establishment of the great old empire, with Rome as its heart and center.

Another mistake made by Charlemagne was far-reaching in its consequences.

He little suspected the nature and the latent power existing in that spiritual kingdom with which he formed so close an alliance. He feared not the Church, but the ambitious and scheming nobles. So, in order to create a friendly bulwark about the throne, he made some of the archbishops and bishops secular princes, and bestowed upon them dominions over which they might reign as sovereigns.

The Church, which had not been growing any too spiritual since it was adopted by Rome, was more and more secularized when it had Primates ravenous for wealth and power.

The Pope and Emperor, instead of close allies as Charlemagne had intended, had finally become jealous and angry rivals. In the open warfare which in time developed two political parties came into being--the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, which represented the adherents of the Pope and the Emperor.

It was a part of the settled policy of the Popes to stir up strife in Italy, and thus, by compelling the Emperor to pour his revenues and his energies into that land, to weaken and undermine him at home.

For the first five hundred years of its existence the Church had been governed by the bishops of Rome. In the next five hundred years these bishops had grown into Popes, who were the spiritual heads of Christendom. As the Church was entering upon its third five-hundred-year lease in the year 1073, the miter was worn by the fiery monk, Hildebrand, who had become Gregory VII. This man resolved to establish the supremacy of the Church over the secular arm of the government. As a weak Emperor wore the Imperial crown, the time was favorable for claiming a religious empire existing by divine right, and superior to the will of kings and emperors.

In the conflict which followed Henry IV. deposed the Pope--this creature of his own appointing, who would override the authority of the power which had created him! And as a counter-move the Pope excommunicated the Emperor.

Had Henry stood his ground as he might, for he would have had ample support from his people, it would have been a gain of centuries for Europe. But the ban of excommunication, with its attendant horrors here, and still worse hereafter--it was more than he could bear. Affrighted, trembling, penitent, he crossed the Alps in dead of winter, crept to the castle of Canossa, near Parma, where Hildebrand had taken refuge; and there this successor to Charlemagne, this ruler of all Christendom, standing barefoot and clad in sackcloth shirt, humbly begged admittance. The Pope's triumph was complete. So he let him shiver for three days in cold and rain before he opened the gates and gave him forgiveness and the kiss of peace.

The Church had never scored so tremendous a victory. She was supreme over every earthly authority, and the hands on the face of time were set back for centuries. Let Guelph and Ghibelline storm and struggle as they might, there was no question of supremacy now between temporal and spiritual heads. All the lines of power, all the threads of human destiny led to Rome, and were found at last in the papal hand.

In the three centuries of its existence the empire had been ruled first by Frank, and then by Saxon emperors. But the eventful visit to Canossa led to a new dynasty, the Swabian. When that humiliated monarch, Henry IV., crossed the Alps in midwinter, when Europe's mightiest prince stood woolen-frocked and barefoot upon the snow for three days, humbly entreating forgiveness, there was one knight who attended him with marked fidelity. This was Frederick of Bueren, and verily he had his reward! The Emperor created him Duke of Swabia, and bestowed upon him his daughter Agnes as his wife.

The Duke of Swabia then built himself a castle on a high plateau of land called Hohenstaufen. But this fortunate duke had also another great estate called Waiblingen. So he was Frederick of Hohenstaufen, and of Waiblingen as well. The last name had a very conspicuous destiny awaiting it.

The dukes of Bavaria had been a great power in Germany, ever since that first stormy Welf, who tried to put down the new-fangled system of land-tenure which we know as feudalism!

These Welfs were evidently not progressive; they seem in fact to have been the Tories of ancient Germany. And when Conrad, grandson of Frederick, the first Hohenstaufen, was elected King of Germany, there was a very stormy time. The people divided into two factions: the adherents of the new dynasty and the Emperor in the one, and the malcontents who were led by Welf, Duke of Bavaria, in the other. As hostility to the Emperor meant friendship with the Pope, this party of the Welfs was also that of the papal faction.

The tongue of the Italian could not master the two words Welf and Waiblingen; which, as they became fastened upon the two political factions in Italy, were changed to Guelph and Ghibelline.

The Waiblingen family long ago disappeared. But the ancient name of Welf is represented to-day by the gracious Queen of England.

The party of the Guelphs in Germany was that of disaffected dukes and nobles, who from personal or other reasons desired to embarrass the Emperor, even to the extent of an alliance with his enemy the Pope.

The Ghibellines expressed the anti-papal sentiment of the people, among whom there was a growing dread and hatred of Romish power, and the time was approaching when Teutonic patriotism would mean resistance to Italian priestcraft.

While this antagonism was developing, the most stupendous event in all history was taking place in Europe. The Christian conscience--more sensitive than it is to-day--had been roused to a frenzy of indignation by Mahomedan outrages in the Holy Land. That first "European Concert" had been formed to drive the Mahomedan out of the land, where a concert of Europe is striving to keep him undisturbed to-day!

This time of a great religious war was not favorable for an anti-papal policy in Germany. Conrad allowed himself to be swept into the current. He headed a great Crusade in the year 1147.

Not one tithe of his vast host ever reached the Holy Land. They melted like the dew before disease, starvation, and the sword of the Moslems in Asia Minor.

When the despondent Conrad returned to Germany he brought back one lasting memorial of his ill-fated Crusade. He had seen at Constantinople, on the Imperial standard of the Byzantine Emperor, a double-headed eagle. This representation of a double empire he determined to adopt for the emblem of his own, and hence it is that it exists to-day on the Austrian standard, and upon the coins of Germany and Austria.

It was well for Germany that, while she was thus torn and distracted by contending political factions, and while her life blood was being drained into Italy, Frederick I., or Barbarossa (1152), came to hold the reins of government as they had not been held since Charlemagne.

This great Hohenstaufen threw his lion-like weight into the controversy concerning Papal and Imperial supremacy. He spurned the pretensions of the Pope and his encroachments upon secular authority.

He claimed that his office was from God--not from the Pope; and that it was not a whit less sacred than his rival's. To which the Pope replied: "Who was the Frank before Pope Zacharias befriended Pepin? and what is the Teutonic King now, till consecrated by papal hands? What he gives, can he not withdraw?"

But the Imperial power never reached such height as under this imperious, commanding Teuton; who exists now as a half-mythic hero, honored in picture, statue, song, and legend throughout Germany. His reign was a splendid fight against the two antagonists which were finally to be fatal to the Empire--Italian nationality and the Papacy.

The knighthood established by his Saxon predecessor, in 930, had during the Crusades expanded into great orders of chivalry throughout Europe. Frederick Barbarossa fostered and brought the chivalry of Germany to great splendor.

He also brought to an end the long and destructive feud between the Welfs and the Waiblingers, pacifying the former by bestowing upon them the territory of Brunswick; to which fact England owes her present Queen, who is a daughter of the house of Brunswick.

For many centuries the people believed the legend that their hero had not died in Palestine; but they pointed to the mouth of a great cavern on the frowning heights of the Kyfhaeuser mountain, where he was said to be surrounded by his knights in an enchanted sleep; waiting the hour when he should awaken and descend with his Crusaders, to bring back a golden age of peace and unity to Germany!