Henry the Fowler
|Henry the Fowler|
Henry's seal from a document of 30 March 925. He is portrayed as a warrior, with a spear and shield. The words are HEINRICUS REX (King Henry).
|King of Germany
(formally King of East Francia)
|Reign||24 May 919 – 2 July 936|
|Predecessor||Conrad the Younger|
|Successor||Otto the Great|
|Duke of Saxony|
|Reign||30 November 912 – 2 July 936|
|Predecessor||Otto the Illustrious|
|Successor||Otto the Great|
|Died||2 July 936
|Father||Otto the Illustrious|
Henry the Fowler (German: Heinrich der Finkler or Heinrich der Vogler; Latin: Henricius Auceps) (876 – 2 July 936) was the Duke of Saxony from 912 and the King of Germany from 919 until his death. First of the Ottonian Dynasty of German kings and emperors, he is generally considered to be the founder and first king of the medieval German state, known until then as East Francia. An avid hunter, he obtained the epithet "the Fowler" because he was allegedly fixing his birding nets when messengers arrived to inform him that he was to be king.
Born in Memleben, in what is now Saxony-Anhalt, Henry was the son of Otto the Illustrious, Duke of Saxony, and his wife Hedwiga, daughter of Henry of Franconia and Ingeltrude and a great-great-granddaughter of Charlemagne, or Charles I. In 906 he married Hatheburg von Merseburg, daughter of the Saxon count Erwin. She had previously been a nun. The marriage was annulled in 909 because her vows as a nun were deemed by the church to remain valid. She had already given birth to Henry's son Thankmar. The annulment placed a question mark over Thankmar's legitimacy. Later that year he married Matilda, daughter of Dietrich, Count in Westphalia. Matilda bore him three sons, one called Otto, and two daughters, Hedwig and Gerberga, and founded many religious institutions, including the abbey of Quedlinburg where Henry is buried. She was later canonized.
Henry became Duke of Saxony upon his father's death in 912. An able ruler, he continued to strengthen the position of his duchy within the developing Kingdom of Germany, frequently in conflict with his neighbors to the South, the dukes of Franconia.
On 23 December 918 Conrad I, King of East Francia and Franconian duke, died. Although they had been at odds with each other from 912–15 over the title to lands in Thuringia, before he died Conrad recommended Henry as his successor. Conrad's choice was conveyed by Duke Eberhard of Franconia, Conrad's brother and heir, at the Imperial Diet of Fritzlar in 919. The assembled Franconian and Saxon nobles duly elected Henry to be king. Archbishop Heriger of Mainz offered to anoint Henry according to the usual ceremony, but he refused to be anointed by a high church official — the only King of his time not to undergo that rite — allegedly because he wished to be king not by the church's but by the people's acclaim. Duke Burchard II of Swabia soon swore fealty to the new King, but Duke Arnulf of Bavaria did not submit until Henry defeated him in two campaigns in 921. Henry besieged his residence at Ratisbon (Regensburg) and forced Arnulf into submission.
In 920, the West Frankish king Charles the Simple invaded Germany and marched as far as Pfeddersheim near Worms, but he retired when he learned Henry was arming against him. On 7 November 921, Henry and Charles met and concluded a treaty of friendship. Henry then saw an opportunity to wrest the Duchy of Lorraine from France when the French civil war began with the coronation of King Robert I. In 923 Henry crossed the Rhine twice. Later in the year he entered Lorraine with an army, capturing a large part of the duchy. The eastern part of Lorraine was left in Henry's possession until October 924.
Henry regarded the German kingdom as a confederation of stem duchies rather than as a feudal monarchy and saw himself as primus inter pares (first among equals). Instead of seeking to administer the empire through counts, as Charlemagne had done and as his successors had attempted, Henry allowed the dukes of Franconia, Swabia, and Bavaria to maintain complete internal control of their holdings. In 925, Duke Gilbert of Lorraine again rebelled. Henry invaded the duchy and besieged Gilbert at Zülpich (Tolbiac), captured the town, and became master of a large portion of his lands. Thus he brought that realm, which had been lost in 910, back into the German kingdom as the fifth stem duchy. Allowing Gilbert to remain in power as duke, Henry arranged the marriage of his daughter Gerberga to his new vassal in 928.
Henry was an able military leader. In 921 Hungarians (Magyars) invaded Germany and Italy. Although a sizable force was routed near Bleiburg in the Bavarian March of Carinthia by Eberhard and the Count of Meran and another group was routed by Liutfried, count of Elsass (French reading: Alsace), the Magyars repeatedly raided Germany. Nevertheless, Henry, having captured a Hungarian prince, managed to arrange a ten-year-truce in 926, though he was forced to pay tributes. By doing so he and the German dukes gained time to fortify towns and train a new elite cavalry force.
During the truce with the Magyars, Henry subdued the Polabian Slavs, settling on the eastern border of his realm. In the winter of 928, he marched against the Slavic Hevelli tribes and seized their capital, Brandenburg. He then invaded the Glomacze lands on the middle Elbe river, conquering the capital Gana (Jahna) after a siege, and had a fortress (the later Albrechtsburg) built at Meissen. In 929, with the help of Arnulf of Bavaria, Henry entered Bohemia and forced Duke Wenceslaus I to resume the yearly payment of tribute to the king. Meanwhile, the Slavic Redarii had driven away their chief, captured the town of Walsleben, and massacred the inhabitants. Counts Bernard and Thietmar marched against the fortress of Lenzen beyond the Elbe, and, after fierce fighting, completely routed the enemy on 4 September 929. The Lusatians and the Ukrani on the lower Oder were subdued and made tributary in 932 and 934, respectively. Henry left no consistent march administration, which was implemented by his successor Otto I.
In 932 Henry finally refused to pay the regular tribute to the Magyars. When they began raiding again, he led a unified army of all German duchies to victory at the Battle of Riade in 933 near the river Unstrut, thus stopping the Magyar advance into Germany. He also pacified territories to the north, where the Danes had been harrying the Frisians by sea. The monk and chronicler Widukind of Corvey in his Res gestae Saxonicae reports that the Danes were subjects of Henry the Fowler. Henry incorporated into his kingdom territories held by the Wends, who together with the Danes had attacked Germany, and also conquered Schleswig in 934.
Family and children
|German royal dynasties|
|Henry I||919 – 936|
|Otto I||936 – 973|
|Otto II||973 – 983|
|Otto III||983 – 1002|
|Henry II||1002 – 1024|
|Family tree of the German monarchs
As the first Saxon ruler of Germany, Henry was the founder of the Ottonian dynasty of German rulers. He and his descendants ruled Germany, and later the Holy Roman Empire, from 919 until 1024. In relation to the other members of his dynasty, Henry I was the father of Otto I, grandfather of Otto II, great-grandfather of Otto III, and great-grandfather of Henry II. Henry had two wives and at least six children.
- With Hatheburg:
- Thankmar (908 – 938)
- With Matilda:
- Hedwig (910 – 965) - wife of the West Frankish Duke Hugh the Great, mother of King Hugh Capet of France
- Otto I (912 – 973) - Duke of Saxony, King of Germany, and Holy Roman Emperor
- Gerberga (913 – 984) - wife of (1) Duke Giselbert of Lorraine and (2) King Louis IV of France
- Henry I (919 – 955) - Duke of Bavaria
- Bruno (925 – 965) - Archbishop of Cologne and Duke of Lorraine
Henry died on 2 July 936 in his palatium in Memleben, one of his favourite places. By then all German peoples were united in a single kingdom. He was buried at Quedlinburg Abbey, established by his wife Matilda in his honor.
His son Otto succeeded him as king, and was crowned Emperor in 962. His second son, Henry, became Duke of Bavaria. A third son, Brun (or Bruno), became archbishop of Cologne. His son from his first marriage, Thankmar, rebelled against his half-brother Otto and was killed in battle in 936. After the death of her husband Duke Giselbert of Lotharingia, Henry's daughter Gerberga of Saxony married King Louis IV of France. His youngest daughter, Hedwige of Saxony, married Duke Hugh the Great of France and was the mother of Hugh Capet, the first Capetian king of France.
Henry returned to public attention as a character in Richard Wagner's opera, Lohengrin (1850), trying to gain the support of the Brabantian nobles against the Magyars. After the attempts to achieve German national unity failed with the Revolutions of 1848, Wagner strongly relied on the picture of Henry as the actual ruler of all German tribes as advocated by pan-Germanist activists like Friedrich Ludwig Jahn.
There are indications that Heinrich Himmler saw himself as the reincarnation of the first king of Germany. Nazi ideology referred to Henry as a founding father of the German nation, fighting both the Latin Western Franks and the Slavic tribes of the East, thereby a precursor of the German Drang nach Osten.
In the arts
- Henry the Fowler is a main character of Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin.
- Henry is featured in the prologue of Return to Castle Wolfenstein in 943 A.D. (in actuality he had died in 936), being confronted by a wizard who imprisons him in a runestone, then flash forwards one millennium later, playing on Heinrich Himmler's legend of reincarnation. In the game, Henry (who is renamed as Heinrich I) is portrayed as an immortal undead Anglo-Saxon prince bent on world domination until the wizard had imprisoned him and one thousand years later, the SS High Priestess Marianna Blavatsky frees him by anointing his Dark Knights, to which he thanks her by turning her into his undead slave before being confronted by Agent Blazkowicz, who has to kill Heinrich in a final boss battle.
- The novel Black Camelot by Duncan Kyle mentions Himmler's belief that he was the incarnation of Henry the Fowler.
|Ancestors of Henry the Fowler|
- A fowler is one who hunts wildfowl.
- Gwatkin ,The Cambridge Medieval History: Volume III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926.p 180
- Menzel, W. Germany from the Earliest Period
- Leyser, Karl (1982). Medieval Germany and Its Neighbours 900-1250 (1st ed.). London: The Hambledon Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0907628088.
- >Bohemia to the Extinction of the Premyslids, Kamil Krofta, The Cambridge Medieval History: Victory of the Papacy, Vol. VI, ed. J.R. Tanner, C.W. Previt-Orton and Z.N. Brook, (Cambridge University Press, 1957), 426.
- Gwatkin, The Cambridge Medieval History: Volume III.
- Muller-Mertens, Eckhard (1999). Reuter, Timothy, ed. The New Cambridge Medieval History III: c. 900-1024. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 246.
- Frischauer, Willi. Himmler, the Evil Genius of the Third Reich. London: Odhams, 1953, pages 85-88; Kersten, Felix. The Kersten Memoirs: 1940-1945. New York: Macmillan, 1957, page 238.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Henry I the Fowler.|
- Bachrach. David S. "Restructuring the Eastern Frontier: Henry I of Germany, 924-936," Journal of Military History (Jan 2014) 78#1 pp 9–36
- Gwatkin, H. M., Whitney, J. P. (ed) et al. The Cambridge Medieval History: Volume III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926.
- Leyser, Karl, Medieval Germany and Its Neighbours 900-1250 (London: The Hambledon Press, 1982)
- Menzel, W. Germany from the Earliest Period. Vol I
- Arnold, Benjamin, Medieval Germany, 500-1300: A Political Interpretation (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997)
- Bachrach, David S., ‘The Military Organization of Ottonian German, c. 900-1018: The Views of Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg’, The Journal of Military History, 72 (2008), 1061-1088
- Bachrach, David S., ‘Exercise of Royal Power in Early Medieval Europe: the Case of Otto the Great 936-73’, Early Medieval Europe, 17 (2009), 89-419
- Bachrach, David S., ‘Henry I of Germany’s 929 Military Campaign in Archaeological Perspective’, Early Medieval Europe, 21 (2013), 307-337
- Bachrach. David S., 'Restructuring the Eastern Frontier: Henry I of Germany, 924-936', Journal of Military History, 78 (2014), 9-36
- Gillingham, John, The Kingdom of Germany in the High Middle Ages (900-1200) (London: The Historical Association, 1971)
- Leyser, Karl, Rule and Conflict in Early Medieval Society: Ottonian Saxony (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1979)
- Leyser, Karl, Medieval Germany and Its Neighbours 900-1250 (London: The Hambledon Press, 1982)
- Müller-Mertens, Eckhard, ‘The Ottonians as Kings and Emperors’, in The New Cambridge Medieval History III: c. 900-1024, ed. by Timothy Reuter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 233–266
- Nicholas, David M., The Evolution of the Medieval World: Society, Government & Thought in Europe, 312-1500 (London: Routledge, 1992)
- Peden, Alison ‘Unity, Order and Ottonian Kingship in the Thought of Abbo of Fleury’, in Belief and Culture in the Middle Ages: Studies Presented to Henry Mayr-Harting, ed. Richard Gameson and Henrietta Leyser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 158–168
- Reuter, Timothy, Germany in the Early Middle Ages, C. 800-1056 (London: Longman Group, 1991)
- Reuter, Timothy ‘The ‘Imperial Church System’ of the Ottonian and Salian Rulers: a Reconsideration’, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 33 (2011), 347-375
Henry the FowlerBorn: 876 Died: 2 July 936
Conrad the Younger
|King of the Germans
Otto the Great
Otto the Illustrious
|Duke of Saxony