The End of Europe's Middle Ages

Investiture Contest or Controversy

The Investiture Controversy of the eleventh and twelfth centuries sprang from the Church reforms initated by Henry III (1039-1056). As Emperor of the Romans, a title used by early medieaval rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry III believed that his authority extended to the Church clergy and the investiture and deposition of bishops and archbishops, even to the bishop of Rome, the pope. Dismayed by the corruption of the current papacy, Henry III marched on Italy in 1046, deposed Pope Benedict IX and his two rivals and appointed the first in a series of reform-minded German popes. Of these reforming popes was Pope Leo IX (1049-1054) who campaigned vigorously against simony and clerical marriage.

As far as the reforms of Pope Leo IX went, there was even more radical reformers. Of these, Hildebrand became pope under the name Gregory VII (1073-1085). With the death of Henry III in 1056, Hildebrand and other reformers unleashed themselves on Europe, issuing the "Papal Election Decree", which required that only cardinals could elect the pope and that only the pope could elect cardinals. This decree was a declaration of the independence of the papacy from lay authority. The next step was even more immense - the elimination of lay control over the Church.

The contest over lay control of investiture grew intense in 1075 when Pope Gregory VII banned lay investiture. Henry IV (1056-1106) insisted on his authority as a divinely appointed sovereign to involve himself in the Church of his nation. Pope Gregory VII, however, refused to recognize anything divine about the lay rulers and contended that popes alone had the power to appoint and depose not only bishops but kings and emperors also. To underline this, Pope Gregory VII excommunicated and deposed Henry IV.

Henry IV's excommunication allowed rival claimants to his throne to surface and, to retain his crown, Henry IV acceded to Pope Gregory VII at a dramatic encounter at Canossa, Italy in January 1077. Henry IV returned home to re-establish his power but quickly broke the promises he had made at Canossa and, in 1080, he was again excommunicated. Finally, Henry IV's son, Henry V (1106-1125), settled the investiture question with Pope Calixtus II (1119-1124) with the Concordat of Worms in 1122. In the Concordat, Henry V gave up lay investiture and the pope conceded to the emperor the privilege of bestowing the symbols of territorial and administrative jurisdiction. Although the concessions granted by the Church technically precluded ecclesiatical appointment by a monarch, royal influence could still be brought to bear on "election". In the late twelfth century, Henry II (1154-1189) of England instructed the monks of Winchester:"I order you to hold a free election, but nevertheless I forbid you to elect anyone except Richard, my clerk, the archdeacon of Poitiers."

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The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
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