Bavaria ~ Detailed History ~ The Duchy, 995-1180


Bavaria ~ Detailed History ~ The Duchy, 995-1180

Frederic I Barbarossa and his sons King Henry ...

Frederic I Barbarossa and his sons King Henry VI and Duke Frederick VI. Medieval illumination from the Chronic of the Guelphs (Weingarten Abbey, 1179-1191). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only Henry the Younger of the Dukes in the second half of the 10th century was a Bavarian, though the Wrangler and his son were descended from the Luitpoldings.  In appointing the first Henry Otto I had chosen a royal and an outsider and in the next two centuries the Kings sought to keep control of what remained potentially a very powerful Duchy by appointing either princes or outsiders.

Henry II continued as Duke until 1004 and was Duke again, 1009-18.   Each of his successors as King/Emperor, Conrad II, Henry III and Henry IV, held the Duchy for a period during their reigns.  Henry III himself was already Duke when he became King in 1039, having been first appointed in 1027.  Henry IV, who was Duke 1077-96 while Emperor, had been nominal Duke, 1053-4, while still a child during his father’s reign.   His successor then had been a younger brother who soon died, whereupon Henry III appointed his wife, the Empress Agnes, soon to be Regent for Henry IV.   King Conrad III also held Bavaria for a year, 1141-2.   Between the year 1002, when Henry of Bavaria was elected King, and 1096, when Henry IV gave up the Duchy and restored Duke Welf, Bavaria was held by the Emperor or a very close relative for 56 years.

The alternative adopted by the Emperors was to appoint someone from outside the Duchy.   In 1004 Henry II gave up the Duchy to Henry, Count of Luxemburg, his wife’s brother.  He took it back in 1009 but restored it to Count Henry in 1018, who then held it until his childless death in 1026.   When the Emperor Henry III gave up Bavaria in 1042 it was to Henry of Luxemburg, nephew of the earlier Duke.   He too died childless, in 1047.  In 1049 Henry III, having temporarily resumed the Duchy, appointed a relative, Conrad of Zutphen, whose grandmother was Otto II’s daughter.   Two of his uncles had been closely involved with Henry, but Conrad’s appointment failed and ended in rebellion and dismissal.  The next outsider was one of the most powerful of Saxon nobles, Otto of Northeim, appointed in 1061 by the Empress Agnes, who was struggling to keep control as Regent.  After Henry IV came of age he asserted royal authority in Saxony and in the struggle that began then he dismissed Otto from the Duchy in 1070.

The new Duke, Welf IV, came from much nearer Bavaria.   He held lands in southeastern Swabia, to the north of Lake Constance, lands he had inherited from his maternal uncle, who belonged to a family of ancient connections with the Frankish Kings, and he also held lands on both sides of the River Lech, some of them Bavarian land.  Welf was also Otto of Northeim’s son-in-law.   Offered the main chance he repudiated his wife.  But he too fell foul of Henry IV, taking the side of the opposition in the mid-1070s, and was dismissed in 1077.

The advantage of appointing outsiders was that their physical power within the Duchy, dependent on the ducal lands and on fiefs granted by the King, did not match the almost royal powers which were the Dukes by rights –  a command over military forces more total than in the other duchies and a considerable judicial right.   (These were a leftover of the powerful Luitpolding Dukes and also of the fact that the Duchy was for so long in royal hands.   Kings in charge of Duchies wanted royal not lesser power).   The outsiders were unable to grow so strong within the Duchy that they could utilise the quasi-royal powers of the Dukes to the full.   They had to use their income from outside to maintain themselves in their ducal dignity.   The disadvantage of appointing such outsiders was that they found the limitations on what had appeared to be enormous power frustrating.   This led to disputes with the Emperor, and often to rebellion.   So a Welf IV would be dismissed, and the Emperor take over again, thus enhancing the monarchical power and dignity of the office.   But the Emperor had too many problems spread far and wide to be able to concentrate on the difficulties of a duchy like Bavaria.   So sooner or later he would look for a way to transfer the burden.

This Henry IV did in 1096, restoring an ageing Welf IV, who died not too long afterwards in the Holy Land.   Welf V cooperated with the Emperor Henry V.   His brother, Henry the Black, who succeeded him in 1120 took the opportunity that came in 1125 to back one of the candidates for the Crown.   The obvious candidate to vote for was Duke Frederick II of Swabia, nephew of the dead Henry V and Henry the Black’s son-in-law.   But the Duke opted for the opposition, Duke Lothar of Saxony, who won.   In 1127, the year after Henry’s death, his son, Henry the Proud, married Lothar’s only child.   In 1136 his father-in-law handed over the Duchy of Saxony to him and when Lothar III died late in 1137 Henry the Proud was as obvious a successor as Frederick of Swabia had been in 1125.   As in 1125 the leaders of the German polity decided to favour the weaker candidate, Conrad of Hohenstaufen, Frederick of Swabia’s younger brother.

He dismissed Henry from his Duchies.   In Bavaria he placed a half-outsider, Leopold IV, Margrave of Austria, a son of Conrad’s mother’s second marriage.   Austria was legally part of Bavaria, but in practice largely detached.   Leopold died, still quite young, in 1141.   King Conrad III held Bavaria for several months but then appointed Henry Jasomirgott, Leopold’s brother and successor as Margrave.

In 1152 Conrad III was succeeded as King by his nephew, Frederick, known as Barbarossa, Red-Beard.   He was the son of Frederick of Swabia’s Welf wife.   One of his objects was reconciliation with his Welf cousin, Henry the Lion, already restored to Saxony but wanting Bavaria as well.   In 1156 Frederick at last persuaded his half-uncle, Henry Jasomirgott, to step down as Bavarian Duke, in exchange for the semi-detachment of Austria from the Empire and its complete detachment, as a Duchy, from Bavaria.

Frederick’s search for reconciliation with his cousin was genuine.   Both were able, forceful men, but both were wilful.   The disaster that destroyed their relationship began with Frederick’s need for military help in northern Italy in the autumn of 1175.   The Lion refused.   By 1180 the Emperor was ready to act and Henry the Lion was dismissed from both Duchies.

Who then would be Duke in Bavaria:  the Emperor or some very close relative once more or another outsider?   Frederick broke the pattern of the years and chose a Bavarian Count.   Some important Bavarian families like the Aribonen had died out;  others like the Margraves of Cham or the Counts of Sulzbach, both in the Nordgau, were on the way out; but there were two Bavarian Counts of considerable power and territory, both probably descended from the Luitpolding Dukes and both suitable for the office.  One was the Count Palatine of Bavaria, of the family of the Counts of Scheyern, or as they had more recently become known, the Counts of Wittelsbach.   His lands, which were fairly compact, lay in the west of the Duchy, between the Rivers Lech and Isar.   The castle of Wittelsbach was northeast of, and not very far from, Augsburg;  Scheyern lay further east.

The Count Palatine’s office had come to the Counts of Scheyern around the beginnning of the 12th century, certainly by 1116.   The second was the Count of Andechs, who held widely scattered lands.   Andechs itself was near Ammersee (southwest of Munich), and the Count held some land near Passau, more in the Inntal, including Innsbrück, and yet more across the Alps in the Pustertal.    Far away to the north the Count held lands on the upper reaches of the Main in Franconia and in the far south he had been Margrave of Istria since 1173.

The Emperor chose the more concentrated power of  the Wittelsbach Otto II, Count Palatine of Bavaria.   His family were to reign in Bavaria as Dukes, Electors and Kings until 1918.   At the same time the Duchy of Bavaria was further diminished.   The Margrave of the Carinthian Mark, which had become known as Styria (Steiermark) from Steyr, the town on the River Enns, whose lords had held the Mark since the 1050s, was promoted to the rank of Duke.  The Carinthian Mark itself was subservient to the Duchy of Carinthia, but the district of the Traungau, to which Steyr belonged and in which the Margrave had inherited much property, belonged to eastern Bavaria but was made completely independent of it by the creation of the Duchy.   To compensate the Count of Andechs, he too was raised to the rank of Duke, perhaps in 1180, certainly by 1183.   His title of Duke of Meran referred to the Adriatic Sea that washed the shores of Istria and so did not affect Bavaria directly, but it raised the prestige of Andechs and reduced the advantage given to Wittelsbach.

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