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Henry the Lion
Henry the Lion (face of statue on his tomb in Brunswick Cathedral)
Henry the Lion (1129 - August 6 1195; in German, Heinrich der Löwe) was a member of the Welf dynasty and Duke of Saxony as Henry III since 1142, and Duke of Bavaria as Henry XII since 1156, both until 1180. He was the most powerful of the German princes of his time, until the rival Hohenstaufen dynasty succeeded in isolating him and eventually depriving him of his duchies of Bavaria and Saxony during the reign of his cousin Frederick I and of Frederick's son and successor Henry VI.
At the height of his reign, Henry ruled over a vast territory stretching from the coasts of the North and Baltic Seas to the Alps, and from Westfalia to Pommerania. Henry achieved this great power in part by his political and military acumen, in part through the legacies of his four grandparents. He was the son of Henry the Proud, duke of Bavaria and Saxony, who was the son of duke Welf IV and an heiress of the Billungs, former dukes of Saxony. Henry's mother was Gertude, only daughter of Emperor Lothar II and his wife Richenza of Nordheim, heiress to the Saxon territories of Nordheim and Brunswick-Lüneburg.
Henry's father died in 1139, aged 32, when Henry was still a child. King Conrad III had dispossessed Henry the Proud, who had been his rival for the crown in 1138, of his duchies in 1138 and 1139, handing Saxony to Albert the Bear and Bavaria to Leopold of Austria. Henry, however, did not relinquish his claims to his inheritance, and Conrad returned Saxony to him in 1142. In 1156 Henry also reacquired Bavaria by a decision of the new Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
Henry is the founder of Munich (1157/58; München) and Lübeck (1159); he also founded and developed the cities of Stade, Lüneburg and Braunschweig (city) (Brunswick), his capital, where he had a bronze Lion, his heraldic animal, erected in the yard of his castle Dankwarderode, next to the Brunswick cathedral, in 1166 -- the first bronze statue north of the Alps and still standing there today (see "Brunswick cathedral" for a photo).
In 1147 Henry married Clementia of Zähringen, thereby inheriting territories in Swabia. He divorced her in 1162, apparently under pressure from Emperor Frederick Barbarossa who did not cherish Welfish possessions in his home area and offered Henry several fortresses in Saxony in exchange. In 1158 Henry married Matilda (1156 -1189), the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine and sister of Richard Lionheart.
Henry long and faithfully supported his older cousin, Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) in the latter's attempts to solidify his hold on the Imperial Crown and his repeated wars with the cities of Lombardy and the Popes, several times turning the tide of battle in Frederick's favor with his fierce Saxon knights. But in 1174, Henry refused to aid Frederick in a renewed invasion of Lombardy, because he was preoccupied with securing his own borders in the East and did not consider these Italian adventures worth the effort, even when Frederick offered him the rich Imperial city of Goslar in southern Saxony as a reward, a prize Henry had long coveted.
Barbarossa's expedition into Lombardy ended in utter failure, and he bitterly resented Henry for failing to support him. Taking advantage of the hostility of other German princes to Henry, who had successfully established a powerful and contiguous state comprising Saxony, Bavaria and substantial territories in the north and east of Germany, Frederick had Henry tried in absentia for insubordination by a court of bishops and princes in 1180, declared that Imperial law overruled traditional German law, and had Henry stripped of his lands and declared an outlaw. Frederick then invaded Saxony with an Imperial army to bring his cousin to his knees. Henry's allies deserted him, and he finally had to submit in November 1181 at a Reichstag in Erfurt. He was exiled from Germany in 1182 for three years, stayed with his father-in-law, Henry II of England, in Normandy before being allowed back into Germany in 1185. He was exiled again in 1188, and his wife Matilda died in 1189.
When Frederick Barbarossa went on the Crusade of 1189, Henry returned to Saxony where he mobilized an army of his faithful and conquered and ravaged the rich city of Bardowick as punishment for her illoyalty. Only the churches were left standing. Barbarossa's son, Emperor Henry VI, again defeated the Duke, but in 1194, his end approaching, he made his peace with the Emperor, returned to his much diminished lands around Brunswick, where he finished his days as duke of Brunswick, peacefully sponsoring arts and architecture, and died on 6 August 1195.
The picture at the top right, taken from his tomb in Brunswick cathedral constructed between 1230 and 1240, shows an idealized image. When the Nazis exhumed his corpse, they were disappointed finding a comparatively small man with black hair.
Henry had the following issue:
- by his first wife
- Gertrude of Bavaria (1155-1197), married first Frederick IV, Duke of Swabia and then king Canute IV of Denmark
- by his second wife
- Henry I, Palatine Count of the Rhein (1173-1227)
- Lothar of Bavaria (1174-1190)
- Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor and Duke of Swabia (1175-1218)
- William, Duke of Lüneburg (1184-1213)
Benjamin Arnold, "Henry the Lion and His Time", Journal of Medieval History, vol. 22, pp. 379-393 (1996)
Karl Jordan, Henry the Lion. A Biography ISBN 0198219695
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