Saxon War (Heinrich IV.)

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As Saxon war is called the clashes between the Salian royal family and the rebelling Saxony . This partially armed conflict reached its climax under King Henry IV in the period from summer 1073 to the end of 1075 . It is to be distinguished from the Saxon Wars of Charlemagne in the years 772 to 804.


Discord between the Salian royal house and the Saxons already existed under Heinrich's father Heinrich III. latent. This may have been primarily due to his southern German origin and his numerous stays in the Goslar imperial palace , which were associated with disproportionately high economic burdens for the surrounding population. When Henry IV took office in 1065, this conflict intensified, as Heinrich reclaimed numerous crown property in the middle of the Saxon heartland on the Harz . To secure this royal property, he launched a castle building program and built numerous castles around the mountains, the most prominent of which was the Harzburg . Other castles were the Wigantenstein, the Moseburg, the Sassenstein , the Spatenburg , the Heimburg and the Asenburg .

This was perceived as a threat by the Saxons. In addition, these castles were occupied by ministerials of Swabian origin who, due to a lack of pay, allowed themselves to be carried away into numerous attacks on the Saxon population.

Motives of those involved

In order to understand the reason for the outbreak of the uprising, it is important to deal with the people and parties involved. In this case it is Henry IV , the Saxon nobility and the other imperial princes.

Henry IV.

The king had his own reasons, which were also justified with the coup d'état at Kaiserswerth and had far-reaching consequences. The time after the coup d'état was used by the imperial princes to further expand their power base within the empire, since there was, in fact, no ruler who could have prevented them. Empress Agnes herself was too weak and fallen out of favor and the young king was in the hands of Anno of Cologne . When Heinrich received his sword leadership in 1065 , he was able to counteract these momentous developments. However, the process is not to be understood as a recuperation policy, because the loss of royal lands in the Harz region is to be regarded as minor and therefore not an essential motive. These areas were already under Heinrich III. a bone of contention between the Salians and Saxons . Rather, the castles are to be seen as an expression of royal power, because Heinrich relied primarily on ministerials who were dependent on his goodwill in order to break away from the imperial princes. With this he again incurred the displeasure of the princes.

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The Saxon nobility

The motives of the Saxon nobles are now obvious, as they were massively affected by Heinrich's actions. As a result, they were outraged and did not want to give up the influence they had built up during the ruler's abstinence so easily. This independence, which the king himself now tried to achieve, led to a rivalry with the king, which led to dissatisfaction among the Saxon princes. Heinrich's efforts led to the fact that the desire for a more easily controlled ruler arose and he was accused of abuse of office on the part of the Saxons. There was also a conflict due to the so-called "closeness to the king", a regular presence of the king in the parts of the empire, whereby this circumstance is a dramatization of the conditions, because the king stayed just as long in other parts of the empire without any similar complications. Among the Saxon princes, Otto von Northeim should be mentioned in particular , who was a particular thorn in the king's side due to his participation in the coup d'état of Kaiserswerth and his expansion of property in the Harz Mountains. Due to this dispute and the later loss of his property in the course of the alleged plot to murder the king, he takes a leading role during the uprising.

The imperial princes

The quarrels about the ministerials continued and did not stop at those who did not rebel. The resulting fear of loss of power made the greats of the empire passively support the uprising. Thus said Rudolf of Rheinfelden (Rudolf of Swabia) , Berthold of Carinthia and Welf of Bavaria by the king going on.

"Duke Rudolf of Swabia, Duke Berthold of Carinthia and Duke Welf of Bavaria broke up because they clearly saw that their advice from the king was no longer worth anything because other advisers found him."

Rudolf of Rheinfelden

The later anti-king Rudolf von Rheinfelden had had a dispute with the king for a long time, which was based on the monastic reform of the imperial monasticism, which provided for a reduction in royal powers. The Duke was charged with high treason in 1072, just like Otto von Northeim in 1070. However, he was able to pull himself out of the affair far better than his fellow sufferer by securing the support of Empress Agnes , Annos of Cologne and Siegfried of Mainz . This significantly strained the relationship with the king.

Welf IV of Bavaria

After Otto von Northeim had been deprived of the Duchy of Bavaria in 1070 , Heinrich, on the advice of Rudolfs Welf IV, appointed him as Duke. Usually foreigners were placed in such duchies among the Salians , but the fact that Welf owned Bavarian lands made it easier for him to come to terms with the local nobility. He always stood loyally on Rudolf's side, which is also shown by the fact that he chose him as the opposing king in 1077 . Lampert von Hersfeld, however, portrays him as a person who put power over loyalty and decency. This was also evident during the war, because his loyalty depended on how the relationship between Heinrich IV and Otto von Northeim continued. It should be mentioned here that Welf was married to the Northeimer's daughter, which he disregarded after his ostracism.

Berthold of Carinthia

Berthold of Carinthia played a somewhat subordinate role. Lampert only reports that Berthold felt disadvantaged compared to the king. He was expropriated from his fiefdom and blamed Heinrich for his lack of assertiveness in his lands. Like Welf IV, he stood by Rudolf von Rheinfelden's side.

The course of the war

The beginning of the uprising

According to chronicler Lampert von Hersfeld , on June 29, 1073 the Saxon greats moved to the imperial palace of Goslar to point out these grievances and to demand improvement. Heinrich IV refused to enter into dialogue and fled from the Saxons, who were then advancing with a large army, to the nearby Harzburg , where the Saxon rebels under the leadership of Otto von Northeim and Bishop Burchard von Halberstadt besieged him. However, he managed to escape on the night of August 10, 1073. Heinrich first went to Eschwege and moved from there via Hersfeld to southern Germany. However, he found hardly any support from the princes of the empire who were not ready to go to the field with him against the Saxons.

The peace of Gerstungen

Therefore, on January 27, 1074, Heinrich faced the much larger Saxon at Hersfeld with only a small army. However, both sides avoided battle for different reasons. Heinrich probably because of the obvious inferiority. The Saxon leaders, on the other hand, knew that a victory for their army, consisting mainly of peasants, would have strengthened their position, which was not what they wanted. So there were peace negotiations in Gerstungen on February 2, 1074 , during which an agreement could be reached between the divided parties. The most important result was that Heinrich IV agreed to the razing of the castles on the edge of the Harz.

The looting of the Harzburg

This also included the Harzburg , which, however, had a collegiate church and a burial place with Heinrich's deceased son and brother. In order to protect them, Heinrich ordered that only the towers and walls of the Harzburg be put down. This in turn outraged the surrounding rural population, who then tore down the castle and collegiate church to the foundations in March 1074 and desecrated the royal graves. As much as Heinrich may have been personally affected by this event, politically it played all the trumps in his hand: the plundering of the church and the desecration of the royal tomb caused the greatest outrage in the empire, and numerous princes turned back on Heinrich's side. The Saxon princes rejected any guilt for the actions of the rural population and immediately offered to restore the castle and church at their own expense.

The battle of Homburg an der Unstrut

Heinrich, however, was clearly looking for a confrontation again and this time gathered a much larger army, which he could not lead to Saxony until 1075. In the Battle of Homburg an der Unstrut (former Homburg monastery near Bad Langensalza ) on June 9, 1075, he inflicted a devastating defeat on the Saxon army, again consisting mainly of simple farmers, and then wreaked havoc through Saxony and Thuringia. As followers of King Henry fought u. a. Rudolf von Rheinfelden , the Bohemian Duke Vratislav II. , Margrave Ernst of Austria (fallen), the Lorraine Duke Dietrich II. , The Bishop of Bamberg and Count Hermann II. Von Gleiberg . On the side of the Saxon greats stood next to Otto von Northeim and Burchard II. Von Halberstadt: the Billungian Duke of Saxony Magnus , the Margrave of the Nordmark Lothar Udo II , Gebhard von Süpplingenburg (fallen), the Saxon Count Palatine Friedrich II. Von Goseck and Count Dietrich II of Katlenburg .

One of the two leaders, Bishop Burchard II of Halberstadt , was arrested by royal troops near Homburg and finally handed over to the Bishop of Bamberg as a prisoner on June 13th .

The chronicler Lampert von Hersfeld reports in his "Annales":

“The battle had dragged on from noon to the ninth hour, and it was already close to the fact that two armies from two countries, Swabia and Bavaria, turned to flee, and messengers repeatedly reported to the king that their people were in great danger Suddenly Count Hermann von Gleiberg on the one hand and the Bamberg men on the other approached to attack. Now the Duke of Bohemia, now the Duke Gozelo of Lorraine, throws their riders into battle with the reins in place. The Saxons could no longer withstand this enormous onslaught and slowly backed away. "

On October 27th at Spier ( Sondershausen ) the Saxon leaders finally submitted to the king, publicly, i. H. in front of the whole army. Heinrich showed no leniency, but savored his triumph. According to Lampert, the submission happened barefoot, without exception and unconditionally. Heinrich then held numerous Saxon greats in custody in various places and gave their fiefs elsewhere.

The further course

Beginning almost at the same time as the capitulation, the investiture controversy drew Heinrich's full attention for the following years. The unrest in Saxony flared up again and again, especially in its course, but no longer reached the political dimensions of the years 1073 to 1075.

On the Prince's Day of Trebur in October 1076, Otto von Northeim again sided with the opposition. Although a potential candidate himself at any time, the princes did not elect him, but in 1077 in Forchheim Rudolf von Rheinfelden and later Hermann von Salm as the opposing kings. Nevertheless, Otto's influence on opposition politics remained great. He also continued to excel militarily, in the battles near Mellrichstadt , Flarchheim and on the Elster he fought on the front lines.

Even Heinrich's son, Heinrich V , still had to fight with the Saxons. He lost, for example, the battle of the Welfesholz (1115) against the one led by the later Emperor Lothar III. fighting Saxons.


Although the wars of the Roman-German emperor against the Saxons were among the “most extensive and toughest military conflicts” on Saxon soil up to the Thirty Years' War, they were systematically pushed out of the German historical consciousness in the 19th century. In the Middle Ages as a projection screen for the nation state of all Germans longed for in the 19th century, there was no place for a civil war in which German peoples slaughtered each other.


  • Brunonis Saxonicum bellum *. Bruno's Sachsenkrieg, translated by Franz-Josef Schmale . In: Sources on the history of Kaiser Heinrich IV, Darmstadt, 1968. (= Selected sources on German history in the Middle Ages. Freiherr vom Stein memorial edition; 12), pp. 191–405.
  • Carmen de bello saxonico. The song from the Saxon War, translated by Franz-Josef Schmale. In: Sources on the history of Kaiser Heinrich IV, Darmstadt, 1968. (= Selected sources on German history in the Middle Ages. Freiherr vom Stein memorial edition; 12), pp. 142–189.
  • Lampert von Hersfeld *: Annalen, Darmstadt 1957. (= Selected sources on German history in the Middle Ages. Freiherr vom Stein memorial edition; 13)
  • Bertholdchronik (Second Version), ed Ian Stuart Robinson and Helga Robinson-Hammerstein.
  • Johannes Laudage , Matthias Schrör: The investiture dispute. Sources and materials (= UTB. Vol. 2769). 2nd, completely revised and greatly expanded edition. Böhlau, Cologne et al. 2006, ISBN 3-8252-2769-3 .

* Note: The two well-known authors, Bruno and Lampert von Hersfeld, describe the dispute from the perspective of the Saxons, while the unknown author of “Carmen” was a partisan of Heinrich.


  • Gerd Althoff : Heinrich IV. Darmstadt 2006, p. 86ff., ISBN 3-534-11273-3 . ( Review )
  • Matthias Becher : The dispute between Heinrich IV and the Saxons. Struggle for freedom or aristocratic revolt? In: Jörg Jarnut , Matthias Wemhoff (eds.): From upheaval to renewal? The 11th and early 12th centuries - positions of research. Historical accompanying volume for the exhibition “Canossa 1077, Shaking the World. History, Art and Culture at the Rise of the Romanesque ” (= Medieval Studies of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research into the Middle Ages and its aftermath, Paderborn. 13). Fink, Paderborn et al. 2006, ISBN 3-7705-4282-7 , pp. 357-378.
  • Sabine Borchert: Duke Otto von Northeim (around 1025-1083). Reich policy and personal environment (= publications of the historical commission for Lower Saxony and Bremen. Vol. 227). Hahn, Hannover 2005, ISBN 3-7752-6027-7 .
  • Lutz Fenske: Nobility opposition and church reform movement in eastern Saxony. Origin and effect of the Saxon resistance against the Salian kingship during the investiture dispute (= publications of the Max Planck Institute for History. Vol. 47). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1977, ISBN 3-525-35356-1 .
  • Wolfgang Giese : Imperial structural problems among the Salians - the nobility in East Saxony. In: Stefan Weinfurter (Ed.), The Salians and the Empire. Volume 1: Salier, Adel and Reichsverfassungs, Sigmaringen 1991, pp. 273–308.
  • Johannes Laudage : The Salians. The first German royal family (= Beck series. C.-H.-Beck-Wissen 2397). Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-53597-6 (4th, revised and updated edition, Munich 2017).
  • Johannes Laudage: Welf IV. And the church reform of the 11th century. In: Dieter R. Bauer , Matthias Becher (ed.): Welf IV. Key figure in a turning point. Regional and European perspectives (= magazine for Bavarian national history, supplement, series B. Volume 24). Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-10665-X , pp. 280-313.
  • Stefan Weinfurter : Canossa. The disenchantment of the world. Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-53590-9 .


  1. ^ LF Hesse and W. Wattenbach: The year books of Lambert von Hersfeld. Leipzig 1893, p. 138
  2. Johannes Laudage, Matthias Schrör (ed.): The Investiture Controversy - Sources and Materials , 2nd edition Cologne 2006, p. 87.
  3. ^ Lambert von Hersfeld, Annalen 1063.
  4. Stefan Weinfurter: Canossa - Die Entzauberung der Welt , Munich 2006, p. 59.
  5. Gerhard Baaken: Kings, castles and royalty free. Studies on their history in East Saxony. In: Theodor Mayer (ed.): Lectures and Research, Vol. VI, Stuttgart 1961, pp. 9–95, here: p. 83.
  6. ^ Karl Bosl: The Reichsministerialität the Salier and Staufer. A contribution to the history of the high medieval German people, state and empire. Stuttgart 1950, p. 621.
  7. ^ Lutz Fenske: Nobility Opposition and Church Reform Movement in Eastern Saxony Origin and Effect of the Saxon Resistance to the Salian Monarchy during the Investiture Controversy. Göttingen 1977, p. 34.
  8. Ernst Schubert: Depositions of kings in the German Middle Ages, A study on the development of the Imperial Constitution. Göttingen 2005, p. 117.
  9. Michael Borgolte: Europe discovers its diversity, 1050–1250 AD Stuttgart 2002, p. 45.
  10. Matthias Becher: “The dispute between Henry IV and the Saxons. Freedom struggle or aristocratic revolt? ”In: Jörg Jarnut, Matthias Wemhoff (eds.), From upheaval to renewal? The 11th and early 12th centuries. Positions der Forschung, Munich 2006, pp. 357–378, here: p. 359.
  11. ^ Lampert von Hersfeld, Annalen 1070.
  12. Berthold, 1073.
  13. Jörgen Vogel: Rudolf von Rheinfelden, the prince opposition to Heinrich IV. In 1072 and the reform of the St. Blasien monastery. In: Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins (ZGO), 132 (1984), pp. 1–30, here: p. 30.
  14. Johannes Laudage: Welf IV. And the church reform of the 11th century. In: Welf IV. - Key figure of a turning point Regional and European perspective, ed. Dieter Bauer and Matthias Becher Munich 2004, pp. 280–313, here: p. 300.
  15. ^ Lampert von Hersfeld, Annalen 1071.
  16. Matthias Becher: “The dispute between Henry IV and the Saxons. Freedom struggle or aristocratic revolt? ”In: Jörg Jarnut, Matthias Wemhoff (eds.), From upheaval to renewal? The 11th and early 12th centuries. Positions der Forschung, Munich 2006, pp. 357–378, here: p. 377.
  17. Malte Prietzel: Bury the dead, plunder enemies, claim the field. Perception and representation of the battles of Henry IV against the Saxons. In: Christian von Boetticher, Christine von der Have: (Ed.): Lower Saxony Yearbook for Regional History. (Vol. 79) Hahn, Hannover 2007, pp. 207–222, here p. 209.