The Saxon Kings of the German Kingdom II

German heavy cavalry. 10th century

In the meantime a revolt had broken out in Bavaria, where the son of Duke Arnulf, who had died at this time (937), refused to do homage to the sorely oppressed king. But here too Otto was soon master of the situation. The young duke was banished, and Bavaria was given to a brother of Arnulf. Otto now took occasion to suppress some of the almost kingly privileges which the former duke had enjoyed. A new official, the palgrave, or count palatine — in this case a younger son of Arnulf — was to see that the royal rights were regarded, and the bishops were henceforth to be nominated by the king. Otto’s final move in the pacification of Bavaria was the arrangement of a marriage between his brother Henry and Judith, the sister of the duke who had just been dispossessed.

That same brother Henry, nevertheless, who, as we have seen, had been taken prisoner by Thankmar, and who had been handed over by the latter to Eberhard of Franconia, by whom he had been released, was plotting with his recent jailor against the king. Eberhard, indeed, on Thankmar’s death, had made an outward submission and profession of obedience, but it was not long before he was at the head of a new and more formidable rebellion. Duke Gilbert of Lorraine was soon won for the movement, and joined his troops to those of Henry. This combined army was met and defeated by Otto at Birten on the Rhine, and the result was that many strong places that had been in Henry’s hands at once surrendered. Henry himself, after retreating to Merseburg, which fell after a two months’ siege, escaped to Lorraine, where he and Gilbert began to negotiate with the French king, Louis.

Otto hurried from one scene of war to another; he was struggling with a hydra. After vainly besieging Gilbert in Chevremont he tried to negotiate with Eberhard of Franconia, sending to him Frederick, the Archbishop of Mayence. Frederick overstepped his authority, and made a peace which Otto was forced to repudiate. The archbishop, accompanied by a number of bishops, thereupon joined the rebels, quitting the royal camp at Breisach in such haste that their belongings were left behind. The deserters were welcomed by Eberhard and Gilbert, who by this time had joined forces and taken up their position at Andemach on the Rhine.

Otto never showed himself greater than in this emergency. He is related to have remarked to an avaricious noble who wished to make capital out of his king’s misfortunes, and to secure for himself the revenues of the abbey of Lauresheim: “It is written ‘thou shalt not throw a sanctuary to the dogs.’ If you, like the others, are going to desert me, the sooner the better!”

Soon enough the tables turned. One morning as Otto was mounting his horse to repair to church for matins, a messenger ran to meet him whose news changed the whole aspect of affairs. The counts Udo and Conrad Kurzbold, better known as Conrad the Red, had surprised Gilbert and Eberhard, who had remained with a few attendants on one bank of the Rhine, while the bulk of their army had crossed over to the other. Eberhard had attempted to defend himself but had at last fallen in the fray. Gilbert, and some of his followers, had thrown themselves into a boat which, being overloaded, had sunk in the rushing river.

After this crushing blow the rebellion languished, and soon all concerned returned to their allegiance and submitted to the light punishments which Otto decreed against them. The victory of Andernach secured the unity of Germany, for Gilbert had undoubtedly intended to make Lorraine into a separate kingdom, while Eberhard seems to have aimed at undoing the work he had once furthered, at wresting the crown from the Saxon house, and restoring it to the Franks.

Otto was now more powerful than any ruler over Germany had yet been. Bavaria had been subjected, Saxony was in his own hands, and Franconia and Lorraine were at his disposal. Over Lorraine Conrad the Bed, the hero of Andernach was made duke in 944, and four years later was united in marriage to the king’s own daughter. Franconia remained attached to the crown and, for the time, no new duke was appointed. Henry, the brother of Otto, was treated with the greatest leniency. He seems for a short time, previously to 944, to have been duke of Lorraine, but to have shown himself unworthy of the office. He entered into a new conspiracy, and actually plotted to take the king’s life.

The plan was betrayed and several persons who had been concerned in it were executed. Henry fled, but afterwards returned of his own accord and threw himself upon Otto’s mercy. He was sent to Ingelheim and kept in close confinement. After a while his prison became unbearable to him, and he escaped by the aid of a priest to Frankfort, where Otto was holding the Christmas festival. The scene that followed is famous.

Early on Christmas Day while Otto was in the Cathedral and the Christmas music was being sung, a barefooted pilgrim clad in hair-cloth fell on the ground before the king and begged from his inmost soul for pardon. It was Henry who thus humbled himself before his brother. He was taken back into favour in spite of all his sins, and this time the reconciliation was final. The brothers lived together henceforth in perfect harmony, and Henry performed many and great services. In 947 he was made Duke of Bavaria. He made a victorious expedition against the Hungarians and penetrated to the heart of the enemy’s country.

It had been the custom under the Carolingians for kings to associate their sons with them in the cares of government. Otto induced his nobles to declare his son, Liudolf, co-regent, and the young prince was wedded to Ida, daughter of Duke Hermann, of Swabia. In 948 Hermann died and Liudolf succeeded to Swabia. All of the duchies were now in the hands of Otto or of his immediate family.

Otto had raised the German Kingdom to an unknown pinnacle of greatness, and his influence began to be felt far out over Germany’s borders. In France he was the acknowledged arbiter between the king and a restless party of the nobles. A synod at Ingelheim, at which by Otto’s request a papal legate was present, threatened Count Hugo of Francia with the ban should he not return to his allegiance. It was to German interference that the French king, in 950, finally had to thank his crown.

The condition of Italy at this time was one of indescribable demoralization. Since the general downfall of the Carolingian Empire, in 888, there had been no less than twelve shadowy kings, almost all of whom had been arbitrarily deposed by one or another faction. Four of them were Burgundians, four Italians, three Germans, and one French.

About 930 King Hugo, a Burgundian, possessed the Italian throne, and even ventured to cast lusting eyes upon Rome. In order to strengthen his influence he wedded the most notorious, but also the most powerful, woman in Italy, a certain Masozia. She had been the concubine of Pope Sergius III., and had caused the fall and death of John X. Her favour had gained the papal throne for Leo VI. and for Stephen VIII. At last she had ventured to raise her own son by Sergius III., a youth of twenty, upon the chair of Peter. He took the name of John XI. But out of Marozia’s own womb an avenger arose in the person of Alberic, whose father had been a margrave of that name. He threw his mother and his half-brother, the Pope, into prison, and drove his stepfather away from Rome.

King Hugo’s son, Lothar, who was obliged to leave the lion’s share of the Italian Kingdom to Margrave Berengar of Ivrea, was wedded to a princess of Upper Burgundy, Adelaide, daughter of Rudolf II. Her brother, Conrad, had stood in close connection to Otto, and had spent years at his court. No wonder that the German King was interested in Adelaide’s fate, which, on the death of her husband, Lothar, in 950, promised to become tragic enough. Berengar, although acknowledged as their king by the majority of the Italian nobles, saw in her a possible rival, the more so as she had already gained the affections of the people. He strove to win her by fair means or by foul. He proposed a marriage with his own son, Adalbert, but, on Adelaide’s refusal, began against her a course of persecutions. She was finally made prisoner and kept in confinement first at Como and then in a dungeon at Garda.

The sufferings of the young queen aroused universal sympathy, especially in Germany, and it was a golden opportunity for Otto’s interference. He soon determined to go to war with Berengar, to free Adelaide, to win her hand, to take possession of the kingdom of Italy, and thus to pave the way to the imperial throne. The idea of this Italian expedition won favour with the nobles, and the summer of 951 witnessed eager preparations in every part of Germany. Liudolf of Swabia, Otto’s son, at this time committed the first of that series of offences against his father which were finally to lead to an open rupture. His army was first in the field, but he did not, as was fitting, await Otto’s commands before descending upon Italy. His expedition was a failure, and he was obliged to withdraw.

Otto himself soon after crossed the Brenner with an army well equipped and of rare material. His brothers Henry and Bruno went with him, also Duke Conrad of Lorraine and Frederick, Archbishop of Mayence, besides a grand array of followers. His chief aim and object, as Bishop rather of Verona expressly signified in a letter to Pope Agapetus, was to gain the imperial crown.

All Lombardy soon submitted to the Germans, and Berengar took to flight. Otto assumed the titles of King of the Lombards and King of the Italians. Election and coronation were indifferent to him; he considered it his inborn right to rule beyond the Alps.

Adelaide meanwhile had escaped from confinement by the aid of a priest and a waiting- woman, who had excavated a way out beneath the walls of her prison tower on the Garda Lake. She had taken refuge in the Castle of Canossa, whither Otto sent to beg her hand. Shortly afterwards Pavia witnessed the celebration of their nuptials.

So far Otto had known no check in his victorious career in Italy. But now Frederick of Mayence, who had been sent to Rome to come to terms about the imperial coronation, returned with news of evil omen. The Pope, wholly in Alberic’s power, refused to open the gates to the Teuton.

Otto seems to have chidden Frederick for not having better performed his mission. At any rate the archbishop, accompanied by Liudolf, who was jealous of favours shown to his uncle, Duke Henry of Bavaria, and who also chafed under the influence wielded by his new stepmother, Adelaide, left Pavia and hastened to spread disaffection in Saxony.

The two conspirators soon gained a powerful and unexpected ally. Otto had quitted Italy, leaving behind him his son-in-law, Conrad the Red, who had done such services in the former rebellion, to checkmate Berengar. Conrad, instead of crushing the ex-king of Italy, made peace with him on his own responsibility, a peace which Otto refused to ratify, although he later did of his own accord reinstate Berengar in Italy, making him do homage for the land, however, as for a fief of the German crown.

Conrad was deeply offended at the small regard paid for his mediation, and went over to the rebels. Liudolf by this time had thrown all restraints to the wind, for Adelaide had given birth to a son, and a rumour had reached him that his own rights as eldest born would be disregarded.

The rebellion began with a deep humiliation for Otto. He found himself in Mayence in the spring of 963 almost completely in the power of Liudolf, Conrad, and Frederick. They forced him to sign an agreement which was shameful and disadvantageous in the extreme. On regaining his liberty he declared it null and void.

Otto was most ably aided at this crisis by his repentant brother Henry. For two months they besieged Mayence together, but in the meantime a revolt had broken out in Henry’s own duchy of Bavaria. A scion of the old dynasty still lived — that Arnulf whom Otto had made Count Palatine. Around him a large party collected which had always regarded Henry as a usurper. Liudolf fled from Mayence to Bavaria, where he succeeded in making himself master of many strongholds and in driving Henry’s wife and children from the land. Otto hastened to oppose him.

The year was fraught with hardships. For three months Otto besieged Ratisbon without success, and at last withdrew to Saxony. The old baneful struggle of the parts against the whole, of local interests against the crown, had broken out anew. Southern Germany seemed already lost, and the royal ascendancy was fast sinking.

At this moment relief came in a manner least expected. The Hungarians took advantage of the civil war to pour their hordes once more across the borders. The rebel German princes tried to use this invasion for their own ends, and began treating with their country’s enemies. But by so doing they ruined their own cause. Enough national enthusiasm was left to enable Otto to raise a large army. Bavaria and Swabia soon returned to their allegiance, and it was not long before Conrad of Lorraine, and Frederick of Mayence made their submission. Liudolf, too, was subjected after a few more conflicts. As usual, the rebels were mildly treated. Swabia and Lorraine, indeed, were placed in other hands, but the deposed dukes were allowed to retain their liberty and their own personal estates.

The rebellion of the duchies was but the forerunner of other struggles. The Wends made an inroad into Saxony, and, although Hermann Billung drove them back for the moment, a stronger arm than his was needed to bring them into subjection. Otto was preparing fresh forces against them when a peremptory call came to him from the south. The Hungarians had overrun Bavaria, and single hordes were devastating Swabia. Never before had this plague infested the land in such numbers.

The Hungarians had formed a camp of huge proportions in the plain of the Lech near Augsburg. Ulrich, Augsburg’s bishop, was bravely holding the town against them when Otto and his army approached. With the king was the repentant Conrad, ex-duke of Lorraine, leading a force of Franks.

The battle on the Lech plains was bravely fought. Otto himself headed the charge with irresistible effect, while an unexpected attack on the German rear-guard was brilliantly repulsed by Conrad. The enemy was scattered like chaff before the wind, and their camp fell into Otto’s hands.

It was as victors that the Germans mustered their forces at evening, but their own losses had been severe, and many of their noblest had sunk to earth. Conrad, apparently desirous to atone for the past, had fought with a lion’s courage, but as he paused for rest and loosed his helmet an arrow struck him and pierced him through the neck. “A great hero, and the world was full of his fame,” says Widukind the chronicler.

The fleeing hordes of the enemy found death at every turn. Many were drowned in crossing rivers, others were slain by the inhabitants of the Bavarian villages.

Never was a more decisive battle fought. Never again did this fearful enemy ravage Western Europe. In course of time the Germans were able to push their boundary lines further and further towards the east, and the peace and security of the Bavarian East March, as it was called, laid the foundation for the power and influence of the later Austria.

The Hungarians soon gave up their nomad life. By the year 1000 they had founded their kingdom in the present Hungary, and they gradually became a settled and civilized people.

Otto left the Lech plains to hasten to Saxony, where his margraves were holding back the Wends. Before the year was ended he gained a brilliant though not thoroughly decisive victory. Not till five years later, not till three new expeditions had been sent against them, was the German rule re-established in these Slavic lands.