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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

The Countess Matilda of Tuscany


the news of his arrival in Lombardy, the Bishops and nobles from all the cities flocked to his support, and demanded only that he should lead them against the Pope. The movement was so threatening that Gregory himself, already on his way to Germany, halted, and retired for a time to the Castle of Canossa (in the Apennines, not far from Parma), which belonged to his devoted friend, the Countess Matilda of Tuscany. Victory was assured to Henry, if he had but grasped it; but he seems to have possessed no courage except when inspired by hate. He neglected the offered help, went to Canossa, and, presenting himself before the gate barefoot and clad only in a shirt of sackcloth, he asked to be admitted and pardoned as a repentant sinner. Gregory, so unexpectedly triumphant, prolonged for three whole days the satisfaction which he enjoyed in the king's humiliation: for three days the latter waited at the gate in snow and rain, before he was received. Then, after promising to obey the Pope, he received the kiss of peace, and the two took communion together in the castle-chapel! This was the first great victory of the Papal power: Gregory VII. paid dearly for it, but it was an event which could not be erased from History. It has fed the pride and supported the claims of the Roman Church, from that day to this.

Gregory had dared to excommunicate Henry, because of the political conspirators against the latter; but he had not considered that his pardon would

change those conspirators into enemies. The indignant Lombards turned their backs on Henry, the Bishops rejected the Pope's offer to release them from the ban, and the strife became more fierce and relentless than ever. In the meantime the German princes, encouraged by the Pope, proclaimed Rudolf of Suabia King in Henry's place. The latter, now at last supported by the Lombards, hastened back to Germany. A terrible war ensued, which lasted for more than two years, and was characterized by the most shocking barbarities on both sides. Gregory a second time excommunicated the king, but without the slightest political effect. The war terminated in 1080 by the death of Rudolf in battle, and Henry's authority became gradually established throughout the land.

[Sidenote: 1084.]

His first movement, now, was against the Pope. He crossed the Alps with a large army, was crowned King of Lombardy, and then marched towards Rome. Gregory's only friend was the Countess Matilda of Tuscany, who resisted Henry's advance until the cities of Pisa and Lucca espoused his cause. Then he laid siege to Rome, and a long war began, during which the ancient city suffered more than it had endured for centuries. The end of the struggle was a devastation worse than that inflicted by Geiserich. When Henry finally gained possession of the city, and the Pope was besieged in the castle of St. Angelo, the latter released Robert Guiscard, chief of the Normans in Southern Italy, from the ban of excommunication which he had pronounced against him, and called him to his aid. A Norman army, numbering 36,000 men, mostly Saracens, approached Rome, and Henry was compelled to retreat. The Pope was released, but his allies burned all the city between the Lateran and the Coliseum, slaughtered thousands of the inhabitants, carried away thousands as slaves, and left a desert of blood and ruin behind them. Gregory VII. did not dare to remain in Rome after their departure: he accompanied them to Salerno, and there died in exile, in 1085.

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