The imperial coronation of the German King Otto I by Pope John XII in Rome in 962 is traditionally viewed as the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire but the term came in use several centuries after Otto’s coronation. The Kingdom of Germany was afterwards still ruled by the German kings who were at the same time Holy Roman Emperors. However, not all German kings were crowned emperors. Some scholars date the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire in year 800 when Charlemagne was crowned emperor although the continuous line of emperors began with imperial coronation of Otto I in 962, while the basis of the Holy Roman Empire formed the German lands, Lotharingia and Italy. West Francia emerged as an independent kingdom which came to be known as France about the same time.
Otto I was succeeded by his son Otto II (973-983) who was crowned German King as well as Holy Roman Emperor and continued his father’s policy. He defeated Henry II, Duke of Bavaria called the Wrangler or the Quarrelsome and captured the Duchy of Carinthia in 978. Otto II also achieved a settlement with King Lothair of France in 980 and afterwards launched a campaign against the Saracens in Southern Italy. He conquered Taranto and led several successful military campaigns in Calabria but he was severely defeated near Stilo in 982. Otto’s campaigns in Italy enabled the Slavic peoples on the eastern frontier of Germany to recapture the territories between the Rivers Oder and Elbe. Otto II had his son Otto III confirmed as King of Germany in 983 and prepared a new campaign against the Saracens but he died suddenly in the same year leaving the throne to his three year old son.
The regency was assumed by mother of Otto III, the Byzantine princess Theophanu who turned out to be a successful ruler. Otto III was still a minor at the time of her death in 991 and the regency passed to his grandmother Adelaide. She was less active than Theophanu and left over the regency to Archbishop of Mainz until Otto III reached majority in 994. In 996, he went to Rome, suppressed the rebellion of the Roman nobleman Crescentius II and had his cousin Bruno of Carinthia elected as Pope Gregory V who crowned him emperor. Otto III spent most of his time in Italy and retuned to Germany only occasionally to suppress several revolts. He permanently moved to Rome in 999 and planned to revive the glory and power of ancient Rome. Gerbert of Aurillac, Archbishop of Reims supported Otto’s plans and the latter had him elected as Pope Sylvester II. The election of Gerbert of Aurillac as Pope provoked a revolt of the German dukes and population of Rome. They rebelled and expelled both emperor and pope. Otto III died in the middle of his preparations against the rebells without a male heir in 1002 resulting in bitter rivalry over the throne.
The German throne was won by Henry II with support of the clergy, in first place of the Archbishop of Mainz. Henry II was son of Henry II, Duke of Bavaria and the last Holy Emperor of the Saxon (or Ottonian) dynasty. He (1002-1024) strengthened his position in Germany and asserted his authority in Northern Italy after launching two military campaigns. Henry II also launched several military campaigns against Boleslaus I of Poland but one of his greatest achievements was gaining the inheritance of the Kingdom of Burgundy which was an important gain for his successor Conrad II (1024-1039) from the Salian Dynasty.
Conrad II had his son Henry III elected as King of Germany during his lifetime and left him a strong position on his death. Henry III launched several military campaigns and extended the borders of the Holy Roman Empire but his primal concern were religious matters and support to the monastic reform movements. His involvement in papal affairs and restoration of papal power caused severe difficulties to his successor Henry IV (1056-1102). The latter came into conflict with the Papacy over the question of lay investiture of clerics. Pope Gregory VII threatened him with excommunication because of his interference in Italian and German episcopal life in 1075 but Henry IV convoked a synod of bishops and princes in Worms which deposed Gregory VII in 1076. Pope Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV and all the bishops named by him. Mutual excommunication provoked a bitter conflict between the secular and religious powers which came to be known as the Investiture Controversy. In addition, Henry also had to face an opposition of the bishops and German princes who turned against him and elected Rudolf of Rheinfeld, Duke of Swabia as anti-king. Henry IV went to Canossa and submitted to the Pope who lifted the excommunication and afterwards dealt with the supporters of the rival king.
Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV for the second time in 1080 but Henry captured Rome, deposed Gregory and installed antipope Clement III who crowned him emperor in 1084. Henry achieved recognition of his son Conrad as king and as his legal heir in n 1087 but Conrad turned against his father shortly afterwards. Henry IV defeated his rebellious son in 1097 and designated his younger son Henry (future Henry V) as his successor. He had sworn that he would never follow his brother’s example but he deposed his father in 1106.
Henry V (1106-1125) settled the Investiture Controversy with the Concordat of Worms in 1122. However, the Investiture Controversy greatly strengthened position of the German princes which became obvious on the death of Henry V in 1125. The electors refused Henry’s candidate, Frederick II of Swabia as his heir and elected Lothair III of Supplinburg, Duke of Saxony. The German princes also refused the candidate of of Lothair III, Henry the Proud and elected Conrad III of the Hohenstaufen dynasty on Lothair’s death in 1137. Henry the Proud denounced his claims to the throne but he refused to swear loyalty to the new German King because the latter demanded from him to give up one of his duchies. Conrad III conquered Saxony and Bavaria but he provoked a serious rivalry between the Welfs and Hohenstaufen families in southern Germany, Bavaria and Swabia which escalated into armed conflicts, similar to a civil war.
Serious situation in the Kingdom of Germany and the Second Crusade prevented Conrad III to go to Rome and thus he became the first German King not to be crowned emperor after Henry I. Conrad III designated his nephew Frederick, Duke of Swabia as his heir. Frederick was a descendant of Germany’s leading families – the Welf and Hohenstaufen and the German princes accepted Conrad’s choice with an aim to end the conflict between the Welfs and Hohenstaufens. Frederic I Barbarossa (for his red beard he was given nick-name Barbarossa) was elected as German King in 1152 and ended the conflict between the Welfs and Hohenstaufens by 1056. Afterwards he intervened in Italy, suppressed the Commune of Rome (established in 1143-44) and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1155. However, his military campaigns against the Italian cities failed. The Peace of Constance signed in 1183 resulted in a triumph of the Pope and the Lombard League (since 1167 the center of the opposition against the emperor). The Italian cities retained their independence under formal imperial overlordship, while Pope Alexander III achieved Frederic’s recognition. Following the Italian campaigns Frederic I concentrated on internal affairs and revenged to Henry the Lion who refused providing him military assistance in Italy. German court stripped Henry of his lands (Duchy of Saxony and Bavaria) and declared him an outlaw. The event completed the process of disintegration of stem duchies as well as the process of development of a new college, the Prince-Electors of the Holy Roman Empire who became the imperial vassals.
Frederic I Barbarossa was succeeded by his second born son Henry VI who was elected King of the Romans or “Emperor to-be” already in 1169. Henry VI took over the rule in 1189 when his father went on the Third Crusade. Henry VI (1190-1197) gained the Kingdom of Sicily through marriage with Constance of Sicily, the sole legitimate heir of William II of Sicily who died in 1189. With aim to grant his descendants the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Sicily he wanted to make the imperial crown hereditary. However, his attempts caused a bitter opposition of the German Princes as well as of the Pope who fell threatened by an eventual union of the Kingdom of Germany and the Kingdom of Sicily.
The question of the succession remained unsolved until Henry’s death in 1197 and lead to serious conflicts over the throne. Frederic who was elected King of Germany was at the time of Henry’s death in Sicily and could not return to Germany because of the rebellion of the Lombard League. Thus Frederic returned to Sicily where he was crowned King of Sicily. The adherents of the Hohenstaufen family in Germany elected his uncle Philip of Swabia as German king in 1198. Few months later, Archbishop of Cologne who was supported by the English elected the son of Henry the Lion, Otto IV of Brunswick as King of Germany and crowned him in Aachen. Non of the rival German kings was not regarded as fully legitimate (because Frederic was elected king earlier) but the rivalry for the German throne continued. Otto had the support of Richard the Lionheart and later of John of England, while King Philip II of France supported Philip of Swabia. Eventually both sides turned to Pope Innocent III with aim to solve the question. Innocent III decided in Otto’s favor and excommunicated Philip in 1200/1201. However, Philip became increasingly popular in Germany, while Otto lost financial support from England after John of England lost Normandy, Anjou and Poitou. Pope Innocent III started to negotiate with Philip of Swabia but the latter was murdered in 1208. His adherents renounced the election of a new candidate and recognized Otto IV as King of Germany. In 1209, Otto IV was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Innocent III in Rome.
Otto IV tried to capture the Kingdom of Sicily from Frederic after his imperial coronation. His attempts disturbed the Pope who feared for his lands in central Italy and thus he gave his support to Frederic who went to Germany and gained recognition as German King. The conflict over the German throne finally ended with the Battle of Bouvines that was fought between the supporters of the rival kings, England and France in 1214. Philip II of France decisively defeated Otto IV who fought on the English side, while Frederic II who did not participate in the battle was crowned King of Germany in 1215. Otto IV did not give his claims to the throne until his death in 1218 but he lost all the support in Germany after the defeat in the Battle of Bouvines.