Coup of Kaiserswerth

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Ruins of the imperial palace in Kaiserswerth

The Coup of Kaiserswerth (German: Staatsstreich von Kaiserswerth) in 1062 was a hitherto unprecedented action of a group of Imperial Princes under the leadership of Archbishop Anno II of Cologne against Empress Agnes, who as reigning on behalf of her under-age son, King Henry IV, and against her chosen sub-regent, Bishop Henry of Augsburg. By kidnapping the young king and successfully demanding the handover of the Imperial Regalia, the group gained control over the reins of power in the Holy Roman Empire.

The kidnapping of the king[edit]

Emperor Henry Jumps from the Boat of his Kidnappers, acquaforte Bernhard Rode (1781)

In early April 1062, Henry IV and his mother were staying in the palace of Kaiserswerth (today a quarter in Düsseldorf). There they both met with Archbishop Anno II of Cologne. After banqueting together, Anno invited the eleven-year-old boy to visit a magnificent ship that he had moored in the River Rhine nearby. What Henry experienced when he boarded the ship, is related by the chronicler, Lampert of Hersfeld as follows:

But no sooner had he entered the ship when he was surrounded by the archbishop's hired accomplices, the rowers quickly gathered themselves up, threw themselves behind their oars with all their might and propelled the ship rapidly into the middle of the stream. The king, stunned by these unexpected events and unsure what was happening, could only think that they wanted to attack and murder him, and so plunged headlong into the river, and he would have drowned in the raging waters had not Count Egbert, despite the great danger in which he put himself, dived in after him, and rescued the endangered king from drowning with great difficulty and returned to the ship.

Lampert von Hersfeld, Annalen, p. 75[1]

Anno then took the king to Cologne and blackmailed Empress Agnes to hand over the Imperial Regalia. As a consequence the power of the state fell into the hands of the rebels, who, in addition to Anno and Count Egbert of Brunswick, mentioned by Lampert, also included Otto of Northeim and the Archbishops Adalbert of Bremen and Siegfried I of Mainz.

The motives of the kidnappers[edit]

The motives for the attack are still not entirely clear, especially as the source material for this event is extremely contradictory. The opinion of the contemporary commentators is divided.

Lampert's report still seems to be relatively objective when he writes that the kidnappers and Anno, in particular, sought to "rescue the son from the influence of his mother and to seize the administration of the empire for themselves." Lampert did not risk speculating on the motives of the conspirators. He did point out the possibility that Anno had "acted out of political ambition", but admits that he may have also acted for the good of the Empire.[2]

The assessment of Vita Heinrici appears subjective and may be better understood if one assumes that the author was very close to the royal family. Here, it suggests, inter alia, that the motive for the killing was fear of Agnes' "maturity, wisdom and strict morals". The official reason, that it was not proper for the kingdom to be ruled by a woman, is rejected by the author, Adalbold of Utrecht. Here, he even claims that they had kidnapped the young king only to have unrestricted freedom to expand their own power.[3]

Bruno even more or less states that Henry himself was blame for his own kidnapping: young Henry "full of royal arrogance hardly [heeded] his mother's admonitions". Anno had him educated "with great care" after his kidnapping. Bruno not only entirely denies that Agnes was so assertive, i.e. he considered her to be too weak (whether in terms of ensuring the proper education of the young king or in terms of her regency, is not clear), but he even praised Anno for his actions.[4] His criticism of Henry IV himself is probably explained by the fact that Bruno did not subsequently agree with Henry's politics and saw negative traits in the king from an early age. That he was, politically, not on Agnes' side, is obvious.

Although the sources apparently fail to report anything reliably about the motives of the kidnappers, current research now believes that both the pursuit of power (especially for Anno of Cologne), as well as concern for the neglect and the education of Henry IV were crucial to the case. The rebellion was also directed against Empress Agnes' subregent, Henry of Augsburg, who was accused of having an "unskillful and pretentious way of handling the business of government".[5] In addition, according to the chronicler, Lampert of Hersfeld, "the Empress and the bishop could not escape the suspicion of an affair, because there was a general rumour that such a confidential relationship could not develop without an illicit relationship".[6]

The consequences of the coup[edit]

Although Anno of Cologne had to provide a justification for his actions in summer 1062 at a Hoftag, he initially contain to retain the reins of government in his hands. Even when the young king finally sat on the throne, Anno controlled, from that moment on, the fate of the empire. Politically, he felt himself primarily bound to church reform party, and, in probably his most significant political act, he reached a resolution of the papal schism between Alexander II and Honorius II in favour of the former. Anno found he had no access to Henry, however, unlike Archbishop Adalbert of Bremen. The two archbishops soon became bitter enemies, but the Archbishop of Bremen had quickly built up a close relationship with the Prince, and Anno's position became increasingly undermined. Adalbert also ultimately had personal interests primarily in mind and strictly pursued a policy that resulted in "dividends" for his archdiocese.

Henry of Augsburg was robbed of the power of government after the coup, as was Empress Agnes. Nevertheless, her presence in the kingdom continued to be required, until Henry IV reached his majority, she was still head of Salian house. Only through her remaining in the kingdom could she claim the throne for her son. Against this background, Lampert's report that Agnes, on the advice of her counsellors, abandoned her intention to enter a nunnery, is given a firm, legal footing and thus gains in authenticity. It was not until Henry IV came of age and a ceremony was held on 29 March 1065, that Agnes could achieve her long-held desire for life in the monastery. But first, she was able to dissuade her son from killing the hated Anno, after he had presented him with his sword.[7]

At the beknighting of the king, imperial power returned to the hands of the rightful ruler. The nearly three-year-long period of transitional reign came to an end, though Adalbert of Bremen remained the principal adviser to Henry until January 1066 at a Hoftag in Trebur, when, at the bidding of the princes, he had to dismiss Adalbert as an advisor.

References and footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Original text: Kaum aber hatte er das Schiff betreten, da umringten ihn die vom Erzbischof angestellten Helfershelfer, rasch stemmen sich die Ruderer hoch, werfen sich mit aller Kraft in die Riemen und treiben das Schiff blitzschnell in die Mitte des Stroms. Der König, fassungslos über diese unerwarteten Vorgänge und unentschlossen, dachte nichts anderes, als dass man ihm Gewalt antun und ihn ermorden wolle, und stürzte sich kopfüber in den Fluss, und er wäre in den reißenden Fluten ertrunken, wäre dem Gefährdeten nicht Graf Ekbert trotz der großen Gefahr, in die er sich begab, nachgesprungen und hätte er ihn nicht mit Mühe und Not vor dem Untergang gerettet und aufs Schiff zurückgebracht.
  2. ^ Lampert von Hersfeld, Annalen, p. 75
  3. ^ Das Leben Kaiser Heinrichs IV., pp. 415 ff.
  4. ^ Bruno, Sachsenkrieg, p. 195ff
  5. ^ Mechthild Black-Veldtrup, Kaiserin Agnes, p. 360
  6. ^ Lampert of Hersfeld, Annalen, p. 73
  7. ^ Empress Agnes of Poitou (1043-1077). Reflections on the Legal Basis of Her Regency by Eva-Maria Butz, p. 8. Accessed on 16 Mar 2013.


  • Bruno von Merseburg: Brunonis Saxonicum bellum. Brunos Sachsenkrieg. translated by Franz-Josef Schmale. In: Quellen zur Geschichte Kaiser Heinrichs IV. Darmstadt, 1968. (= selected sources from the German History of the Middle Ages (Deutsche Geschichte des Mittelalters), Freiherr vom Stein memorial edition; 12). pp. 191–405.
  • Das Leben Kaiser Heinrichs IV. Übers. v. Irene Schmale-Ott. Darmstadt, 1963. (= selected sources from the German History of the Middle Ages (Deutsche Geschichte des Mittelalters), Freiherr vom Stein memorial edition; 12)
  • Lampert von Hersfeld: Annalen. Darmstadt, 1957. (= selected sources from the German History of the Middle Ages (Deutsche Geschichte des Mittelalters), Freiherr vom Stein memorial edition; 13)


  • Egon Boshof: Die Salier. Kohlhammer Verlag, 5th current edition, Stuttgart, 2008, ISBN 3-17-020183-2.
  • Mechthild Black-Veldtrup: Kaiserin Agnes (1043–1077). Quellenkritische Studien. Böhlau Verlag, Cologne, 1995, ISBN 3-412-02695-6.
  • (Dieter Herion): Warum Kaiser Heinrich IV. "nach Canossa" ging und dennoch den Kölner Ratsturm zieren darf; in: Als über Köln noch Hexen flogen..., BoD Verlag Norderstedt, 2008, ISBN 978-3-8334-8775-0
  • Hans K. Schulze: Hegemoniales Kaisertum. Siedler, Berlin, 1991, ISBN 3-88680-307-4
  • Tilman Struve: Lampert von Hersfeld, der Königsraub von Kaiserswerth im Jahre 1062 und die Erinnerungskultur des 19. Jahrhunderts. In: Archiv für Kulturgeschichte, Vol. 88 (2006), 2, pp. 251–278.