Sunday, September 9, 2018


…Henry now proceeded to make a number of strategic errors, not least of which was his failure to show clementia (mercy and forgiveness) to two Saxon nobles who requested it.  In other words, he demonstrated a lack of magnanimity, one of the most important marks of a true king in the medieval mind.

Henry the Quarreler was released from prison upon the death of Otto II in December 983.  Being a personal prisoner of the emperor, the law required his release.  As the closest male relative to Otto’s son, he claimed a role in managing the affairs of this very young Otto III.  Lady Theophano, the Greek-Byzantine wife of the deceased emperor and mother of the new emperor, had little immediate recourse.

But Henry was solving her problem on his own.  His failure to grant the requested clemency was only adding to a long list of self-inflicted political damage.  Knowing it would take war to wrest power from Otto III, he determined he did not have enough noble support for victory.  But now he had a problem – it was his turn to beg mercy, from Otto’s mother and grandmother.

He brought the young Otto to Frankfurt.  According to the Annals of Quedlinburg

…he humbled himself according to custom… Humble in demeanor and action, hands clasped, he did not blush to swear his faith under the eyes of the assembled people and in the presence of the imperial ladies who cared for the kingdom…. In true faith he promised furthermore to serve [Otto III], asking nothing but his life and begging only for mercy.

The women responded…magnanimously, pardoning him and restoring his title.  This was in accordance with Saxon law and custom, and the antithesis of the behavior of the Italian clans or the Byzantine ruling class in such situations.  Had Henry committed such deeds in those lands, death would have been his only return.

This whole incident shows that an ability to compromise and work through conflict resolution to reconciliation was very much part of the Saxon way of doing things.

This was just a few generations removed from the Saxon conversion (by the sword) to Christianity.  Certainly the Christian faith influenced such behavior, but no doubt Saxon custom played a large – if not the major – part.

The episode also demonstrates the value of ritual – the entire process of Henry coming to the court to humble himself, how he acted, what he said, throwing himself to their mercy.  The entire scene had to be acted out in front of an audience, and acted out in a certain way.  This had to be demonstrated, and it had to be witnessed.

What of Theophano?  While Otto was still young, she was the power behind the throne.  For ten years, there was a general peace in the land – really unprecedented.  How was this managed?  An example is offered regarding Lotharingia – the lands adjacent to the West Franks.

…Theophano had spent a lot of energy trying to maintain peace as well as possession of Lotharingia.  She used her relationships with other noblewomen to achieve these aims through mediation.

In 985, she held a meeting in Metz, alongside Queen Emma (wife of Lothar IV), Duchess Beatrice (Hugh Capet’s sister), Adelheid (Hugh Capet’s wife), Queen Mathilda of Burgundy, Gerberga (sister of Henry the Quarreler).  Other such meetings were held – not always successful, but a true effort at diplomacy.

Theophano died young, thirty-two years old at most.  She was buried in Cologne. The site is currently administered by the priests of Opus Dei.


Just a small example of the behavior expected of a king.  And a large example of the liberal society that was hidden in the so-called Dark Ages.

1 comment:

  1. Tim Carney is finishing a book on intermediate institutions, culture, ritual, etc.

    It’s very helpful you getting into the meat of culture as the framework to liberty.