Bavaria ~ Detailed History ~ The Luitpolding Dukes and their successors, 907-976
For twenty years and more crises such as the one that faced Bavaria in 907 had faced various parts of the Frankish lands both west and east. One solution at a time when Kings were enfeebled by youth, sickness, lack of ability or dubious legitimacy and when, even if they were vigorous, so many problems required attention that there were not the resources to cope, was to rely on regional leadership. So it was in Bavaria after the catastrophe of Luitpold’s death. His son Arnulf took control and either took the title of or was recognised by the Bavarians as Duke. In the Roman Empire, the dux was a military commander, a necessity in Bavaria after 907, but in the Frankish Kingdoms it had taken on the meaning of a Viceroy or sub-King, with authority to rule and to exercise justice.
Precisely when Arnulf became Duke is not sure; some place it in 911 when Louis the Child died without ever really reigning. The new King was Conrad, the Duke of the Franconians. To make himself more secure in southern Germany he married Luitpold’s widow, which had the disadvantage that he was unlikely to acquire that asset of kingship, a living heir of his own body. It also failed in its object. Conrad was forced to dismiss his stepson but could not make the decision effective. He also found it necessary to execute his wife’s Swabian brothers.
As Conrad lay dying in 918 he ordered his brother to take the royal insignia to Henry the Fowler, the Duke of the Saxons. Neither the Bavarians nor the Swabians attended the assembly that recognised Henry as King in May 919. Another assembly sometime that year recognised Arnulf as King, though whether as King of the whole East Frankish realm or just of Bavaria and its immediate neighbours is not known. Whichever it was, had Arnulf become established as King the East Frankish Kingdom would have been split as Henry was too formidable a man to be driven out of those parts of the Kingdom that accepted him as King. In the event Henry acted, immediately against Swabia, and in 921 against Bavaria.
In that year Arnulf submitted, but Henry was prepared to follow a policy of live and let live. Arnulf retained a considerable degree of independence, including the control of episcopal appointments, normally a royal right.
In 936 Henry died and his eldest son, Otto, succeeded him. In 937 Arnulf died and his eldest son Eberhard succeeded him, without as much as a by your leave from Otto: it proved a serious error of judgment. By the end of 938 Eberhard had disappeared from history and Arnulf’s brother, Berthold, reigned in Bavaria as Duke by royal intervention. When Berthold died in 947 his son was young. Otto turned, not to Arnulf’s surviving sons but to the husband of Arnulf’s daughter Judith. This was Henry, Otto’s brother, who had been disappointed that Otto had become by their father’s direction the sole King, and who had proved a frequent nuisance since Otto’s enthronement. If Otto was taking a risk in his gift of Bavaria to Henry, Henry was entering a den of Luitpoldings. One of them, Arnulf, son of Duke Arnulf, Otto made Count Palatine of Bavaria, an office which, whatever its duties, was clearly intended to act as a counter-weight to Henry.
Henry’s troublesomeness was to bring Otto to the last great domestic crisis of his reign though it was not, this time, a case of Henry challenging Otto. Henry deflected his ambitions to neighbouring Italy, where there was confusion and infighting among the various factions. Thereby he helped precipitate Otto’s own intervention in Italy. After Otto’s return, Henry and Liudolf, Otto’s son, whom he had made Duke of Swabia in 949, each pursued his own policy in Italy, their interests frequently clashing. Otto backed his brother in the showdown that took place in 953 Henry retained control over the March of Verona in northeastern Italy and was thus in control of the entire southeastern defensive system of the East Frankish realm.
Among the casualties of this crisis was the Count Palatine Arnulf, killed in 954. Although the office of Count Palatine of Bavaria was not to grow into an important office like that of Count Palatine of the Rhine it nevertheless was usually filled by some member of a prominent Bavarian family until the office fizzled out in the middle of the 13th century. It served to remind successive dukes that there were powerful men within Bavaria, whose power was enhanced by royal appointment to look after royal interests.
Duke Henry was dying when his brother defeated the Magyars in the Battle of the Lechfeld in 955. His son was very young, but he had reached manhood by the time of Otto’s death in 973. He quickly proved a thorn in the flesh of Otto’s son and heir, the Emperor Otto II. He is known as Heinrich der Zänker, usually rendered in English as Henry the Wrangler, which for an older generation of English speakers might suggest that he took high honours in the Cambridge mathematics tripos. To avoid this inference it should be rendered Henry the Quarrelsome, which is duller.
In 976 Otto II deposed Henry. In his place as Duke of Bavaria he appointed his half-nephew, Otto, Duke of Swabia, son of the Liudolf whose career had been blighted by Henry’s father. Nor was it simply a matter of replacement. Bavaria was also reduced. The southeastern marchland, including northeastern Italy, was removed altogether from the Duchy and turned into the Duchy of Carinthia, with Henry the Younger, the son of the Duke Berthold who had died in 947, as Duke. The eastern March in the Danube region was made into a largely independent Margraviate, and so was the Bavarian Nordgau, the land north of the Danube. To these offices were appointed two men, who it used to be thought were brothers, though there is less assurance of that now. Whether brothers or not they were quite likely Luitpoldings, descendants of Arnulf of Bavaria.
In 983 Otto II died, and Henry the Wrangler tried to get the regency for Otto’s infant son, but failed. In 985 Henry was restored to Bavaria, with Henry the Younger, who had become Duke of Bavaria in 983, returning to Carinthia, where he died in 989. Carinthia then rejoined Bavaria (for the last time), under the Wrangler’s rule. By then he had mellowed into an elder statesman and was succeeded in Bavaria in 995 by his son, Henry IV, from 1002 the Emperor Henry II.