Henry V Biography

Emperor, King (1086–1125)
Henry V served as joint king of Germany with Henry IV until he forced his father to abdicate the throne. Holy Roman emperor from 1111 to 1125, he was the last of the Salian line.


Henry V was born on August 11, 1086. In 1099, he was crowned joint king of Germany alongside his father, Henry IV. In 1105, Henry V took full control of the throne after forcing his father to abdicate, but he then took up his father's battles with the papacy over investiture, and lost. He reigned as Holy Roman emperor from 1111 to 1125, dying on May 23, 1125, in Utrecht, Friesland (or Frisia), Netherlands, as the last of the Salian line.

Early Life

Born on August 11, 1086, Henry V was the fourth son of Henry IV and Bertha of Turin. His two eldest brothers died young. His father was so incensed when Saxon rebels desecrated the tomb of one of his sons that he broke the peace treaty he'd established with them—a move that actually won Henry IV wider support throughout the empire, enabling him to secure a promise for his third son, Conrad's succession to the throne.

But when Conrad came of age, he betrayed his father in Henry IV's struggles with the papacy, instead joining them in Italy and becoming king of Milan.

So Henry IV turned to his next son, elevating him to joint king of Germany as Henry V in 1099, while he retained the title of Holy Roman emperor. But when Henry IV was planning a crusade to smooth over relations with the pope, Henry V became antsy about the security of his rule and allied with his father's enemies. He secured a dispensation from Pope Paschal II and forced his father's abdication at the end of 1105. Though Henry IV's army beat his son's in the ensuing months, he died in the summer of 1106. Henry V subsequently became sole ruler.

Holy Roman Emperor

Despite his rebellion, Henry V took up the same battles his father had fought in the Investiture Controversy, trying to retain control of appointments by imperial rule rather than the Church choosing who would be pope and local bishops. But he was fighting a battle that was already lost. He went back and forth with Pope Paschal II, between meetings and battles, in an effort to at least win appointment of the bishops, if not the papacy itself.

Though Henry V was able to stabilize his empire in Germany, if not Hungary and Poland, the pope proved to be a slippery character. If the bishops were ruled by Rome, that meant imperial rulers were not in charge of much of their own lands. Pope Paschal II offered a bargain: He would have all of the German churches return their lands and rights to the Crown if Henry would allow investiture—appointment by the Church. Henry agreed, but of course the German bishops and princes did not.

So Henry imprisoned the pope and demanded the right of investiture. Pope Paschal II crowned Henry Holy Roman emperor on April 13, 1111, in St. Peter's.

Henry V was so pleased with his victory that he decided to celebrate by moving his father, Henry IV, from his unconsecrated spot to the family vault at Speyer cathedral in August 1111.

Not everything was settled, however. There were more skirmishes with German princes and attempted dethronement and excommunication, with Henry V following in his father's footsteps in setting up an antipope, Gregory VIII, when Pope Gelasius II was elected in 1118.

It all came to a head at the Concordat of Worms in 1122, where Henry won the pyrrhic victory of getting a vote on canonical appointments if there was disagreement, but that only applied to Germany.

Death and Legacy

In the later years of his reign, Henry V turned his attention to English and French conflicts, perhaps due to being weary from struggling with all of the German princes, or because his marriage to Matilda, daughter of England's King Henry I, offered the prospect of a German-English empire.

Henry V died on May 23, 1125, in Utrecht, Friesland (or Frisia), Netherlands. He and Matilda died childless, making him the last of the Salic kings.

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