The Salian (German, Salier) dynasty, which produced four kings or emperors in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, traced its roots back to at least the seventh century to a kinship group (Adelssippe) known as the Widonen that held high administrative positions and occasionally occupied the episcopal chair in Trier. At an early date they established a proprietary monastery (Hauskloster) at Mettlach on the Saar River, and by 742 or shortly before, they had founded a second such institution at Hornbach in the Bliesgau (Blies District, now in Rheinland-Pfalz). In about 760 a small monastery, that of St. Philip at Zell, west of Worms on the Pfrimm, belonged to the Widonen as well. The main center of Widonen power lay more or less in the area between Metz, Trier, Idar-Oberstein, and Pirmasens.

The Widonen appear as important helpers of the Carolingians. They and other noble families played a major role in building up the Frankish government as the Carolingians once again began to renew lordship rights east of the Rhine. At the end of the eighth century, the Widonen kinship split into various branches that established bases of power in Britanny, in the area of the lower Loire, and above all in the duchy of Spoleto. Duke Wido of Spoleto was ambitious and powerful enough that in 888 he laid claim to the throne of Burgundy. Though this lofty plan failed, he did manage to acquire the imperial crown in 891.

One branch of the family remained in the original homeland, and in the course of the ninth century their lordship spread outward from the Bliesgau (centered at Hornbach, since Mettlach was lost early on to the archbishop of Trier) into the Wormsgau and Speyergau. At the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth centuries, we encounter a Count Werner in the Wormsgau (891), Nahegau (891), and Speyergau (906), who was most probably a member of the Widonen kinship and from whom the line of Salian ancestors continues without interruption. Werner appears in the narrative sources as a violent man who gave his support to the Conradian monarchy; he even married one, probably a sister of Conrad I (911–919), which placed his family in the direct vicinity of the king.

Although the German crown passed to Henry I, duke of Saxony, in 919 and, upon his death, to his son Otto I, the Conradings struggled to create a Rhine-Frankish duchy for themselves; their defeat in the rebellion of 939 made way for the rise of the Salians as the dominant family on the Middle Rhine. Count Werner’s son Conrad, surnamed “the Red,” appears as count in the Nahegau, Wormsgau, and Speyergau, but also in the Niddagau, north of Frankfurt. As early as 941 he appears in the closest proximity of Otto I, and his ties to the Ottonian house were solidified by marriage in 947 to the daughter of Otto I, Liudgard. In 944 (or 945) he obtained the duchy of Lorraine from the king, i.e., the region from Alsace to the mouth of the Rhine, between the Meuse and the Rhine, with the tasks of defending the realm on the west and of subduing the Lotharingian nobility.

But Conrad the Red was perhaps too ambitious, and in 953 he joined a rebellion of Otto the Great’s oldest son, Liudolf, against the king. Otto retaliated by stripping Conrad of his duchy in 953/4 and transferring important comital, or ducal, rights in the city of Mainz and in the area of Bingen to the archbishop. Conrad shortly thereafter made peace with the king, and in 955 he led the Frankish forces at the battle of Lechfeld; he died during the conflict and was buried at Worms Cathedral, in a fashion normally reserved for kings and bishops.

By now, Worms had become an important family center. It was the site of a Salian Grafenburg, an old Carolingian royal pfalz, or fortification, and it was also the center of family property and of important lands held by them. In 956, Conrad’s son, Otto II, appears as count in the Nahegau, which he inherited from his father, and in the following years he united the Wormsgau, Speyergau, Niddagau, and other countships between the Neckar and the Rhine (Elsenzgau, Kraichgau, Enzgau, Pfinzgau, perhaps Uffgau)—an almost solid countships-complex in the Middle and Upper Rhine. This accumulation of power caused concern for Emperor Otto II, who, in an effort to remove him from his power base, appointed him duke of Carinthia and margrave of Verona in 978.

Deprived of his dukedom in 985, Otto II returned to his power base on the Rhine. Contemporary sources of the late tenth/early eleventh century refer to him as der Wormser (he of Worms) as a means of distinguishing him from a similarly named duke of Swabia and Bavaria who, like him, was a grandson of Otto the Great. Otto Wormatiensis also appears with the appellation Wormatiensis dux Francorum, a somewhat idiosyncratic term since he in fact had no duchy: he was simply put a “Frankish duke of Worms,” and the royal court seems to have accepted this earliest instance of a “titular dukedom” in German history, a dukedom that rested on the ever increasing nobility and comital lordship with its center at Worms.

The prestige of Duke Otto of Worms helps account for the nomination of his son Bruno, now imperial chaplain (Hofkaplan), to be the successor of Pope John XV. He took the name Gregory V, and it was from him that Otto III, his kinsman, received the imperial crown on May 21, 996. His pontificate was painful, however; there was great resistance from Rome and he was driven out. An antipope (John XVI) was installed briefly, and although Gregory V was restored in February 998, he died in February 999. Sylvester II (Gerbert of Aurillac) succeeded him.

The family position also came under attack closer to home. The concentration of power in the area of Worms inevitably brought about a struggle with the bishop for temporal control. Following the election of Henry II in 1002, the new king heaped favors on the church at Worms that had supported him. With the full backing of Bishop Burchard, King Henry II forced Otto to renounce claims over Worms in October 1002. The decreasing importance of the Salians can also be seen in the fact that, although Otto’s son Conrad briefly held the duchy of Carinthia, when Conrad died in 1011, King Henry passed over Conrad Jr. in favor of Adalbero of Eppstein.

The fortunes of the Salians were dramatically altered by the death of Henry II in July 1024, which left the empire in shambles. Seeking a quick solution, the German princes selected Conrad the Elder, cousin to Conrad Jr., as king. He was consecrated at Mainz on September 24, 1024. He had previously married Gisela, daughter of Duke Hermann II of Swabia, to whom he was closely related. Their son, Henry III, succeeded virtually unopposed to the German throne in 1039, but his early death in 1056 left a small boy as heir. Born in 1050, Henry IV had received consecration as future king on July 17, 1054, and assumed personal rule on March 29, 1065, at Worms. His reign was characterized by the rising opposition of the German nobles to Salian policies and by the prolonged struggle with the papacy (particularly with Gregory VII) over the issue of lay investiture of high church offices. The conflict called forth the most bitter exchange of letters, bulls of excommunication, and depositions. For its shear dramatic value, nothing exceeded the picture of the emperor standing outside the walls of Countess Mathilda of Tuscany’s fortress at Canossa in early 1077, seeking forgiveness from the pontiff, who was determined to travel to Germany, where he planned to preside over Henry’s formal deposition. Canossa prevented that from occurring, and it clearly led to Henry’s gaining the upper hand over Gregory. Henry died in August 1106, just weeks after he himself had escaped from confinement.

His son and the last Salian, Henry V, inherited a very different world than the one his grandfather had known. By 1100 the self-awareness of the nobles as representatives of the interests of the empire was on the rise. This required a new set of relationships between the king and the princes. For the ecclesiastical princes this was the Concordat of Worms of 1122; for the lay princes, it meant incorporating them into a new system during the twelfth century, the Heerschildordnung (order of the coat of arms). Henry V’s death on May 23, 1125, without male heirs gave the German princes the opportunity for a free election: ignoring the blood-right claims of Duke Frederick I of Swabia, who had married Agnes, the daughter of Henry IV, they selected instead Conrad II of Franconia.

The Salian age was one of great building activity in Germany; hardly any Carolingian buildings survived past the mid-eleventh century. Recent scholarship has shown that Conrad II intended from the very beginning that Speyer and not the abbey of Limburg-on-the-Haardt become the family burial place. Speyer appears circa 1000 as a dilapidated bishopric and city, and he breathed new life into it. Construction began in 1025, and by the time Conrad II died in 1039, the crypt was sufficiently completed for his remains to be buried there; his wife, Gisela (d. 1043), and Henry III were buried alongside him. The cathedral was completed and consecrated Oct 4, 1061, by Bishop Gundekar II of Eichstätt. During the reign of his son Henry IV (1080s), however, it was expanded once again, under the direction of the Bauleiter Bishop Benno II of Osnabrück (1068–1088), who also built his own cathedral.

Investiture Controversy

The Investiture Controversy refers to a late phase of eleventh-century Church reform, lasting from ca. 1078–1122. Sometimes, however, the term is used incorrectly to cover the entire period of reform from the 1050s to 1122, the date of the Concordat of Worms. The term describes the struggle between the papacy (sacerdotium) and the European monarchies (regnum) over the participation of the ruler in the making of bishops and abbots through the handing over of the ring and crosier (bishop’s staff) with the words “receive the church.” The wording of this phrase shows that an investiture referred to the bishopric or abbey in general and did not distinguish between the office and the rights and property that came with it.

The term “investiture” did not occur before the second half of the eleventh century, but the custom reached back to the tenth. The investiture ceremony differed according to place and time, but the handing over of the symbols of ring and staff—they had been sent to the royal court after the death of the previous bishop—often occurred in conjunction with the commendation of the candidate to the king and a promise of fealty. Both ceremonies had been described as homage (hominium or homagium) since the late eleventh century. In many sources these terms are implicitly included when only investiture is mentioned.

Investiture should not be confused with election or consecration, although investiture was the single most important factor in the success of a candidate. For many years popes did not object to investiture, which was seen as the natural and customary expression of secular influence and power. The ceremony assured rulers of the loyalty of the wealthy and politically powerful bishops and abbots who were required to fulfill the servitium regis, or obligations to royalty, consisting of property fees, hospitality, military support, and court attendance. In the Empire, the Ottonian and early Salian rulers at times added to those obligations the rights and properties of counties.

Pope Gregory VII pronounced the first general legally binding prohibition of investiture by any lay person at the Roman Council of November 1078. No cleric was allowed to obtain the investiture of a bishopric, abbey, or church from the hands of the emperor or king, or any layman or lay woman. The prohibition was strengthened at the Lenten synod of 1080. Gregory’s successors continued to uphold these decrees, which Pope Urban II expanded to include homage at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Under Pope Paschal II the reference to homage was omitted in the case of England, but, apart from a short period in 1111/1112, when his hands were tied by the privilege Henry V had extorted from him, Paschal, too, insisted on strict prohibition of investiture. He succeeded in obtaining the acceptance of these principles in France (1107) as well as England (1105/1106). The settlement of the dispute for the Empire had to wait until 1122.

When Gregory VII deposed and excommunicated King Henry IV for the first time in February 1076, the investiture prohibition had not yet been fully formalized, but Henry’s investiture of bishops in Milan, Fermo, and Spoleto doubtless was the provocation behind his excommunication. Beginning in the tenth century, German kings and emperors had relied to such an extent on the collaboration with ecclesiastics (Ottonian-Salian Church system) that the prohibition of investiture, which had assured them of the control of bishoprics and abbeys, threatened to undermine the monarchy entirely. At the assembly of Worms in January 1076, the German and Italian episcopate, with a few exceptions, had remained united behind the king. However, the investiture prohibitions, the election of the anti-king Rudolf of Swabia (March 15, 1077), and the final condemnation of Henry IV by Gregory VII (March 7, 1080) forged a powerful coalition between the noble opponents of the monarchy and papal adherents among bishops and abbots. Negotiations and battles between the two parties, which varied only temporarily in composition, followed upon one another for nearly thirty years. Not until 1109 (Tractatus de investitura) were there any signs of compromise. Henry’s nomination of Archbishop Wibert of Ravenna at the synod of Brixen (June 25, 1080; consecration in St. Peter’s Basilica as Clement III, March 24, 1084) transformed the Investiture Controversy into a struggle between regnum and sacerdotium, as evidenced by the numerous polemical writings edited in the Libelli de Lite.

The Investiture Controversy in France was much less dogmatic than in the Empire. The French kings Philip I (1059–1108) and Louis VI (1098–1137), as well as the nobility, also used the wealth, power, and property of bishoprics and abbeys in order to strengthen their own positions, but their situation was very different than either Germany or England. The kings and nobles of France divided among themselves the secular influence over the French church. Only about twenty-five French dioceses out of a total of about seventy-seven were open to royal influence. The tensions between Rome and Philip I were acute, but the issues in this case were the introduction of ecclesiastical reform and Philip’s marital problems. Philips excommunication and the interdict pronounced against him were purely pastoral punishments and had nothing to do with investiture. In France the investiture prohibitions of 1077/1078, first pronounced by the legate Hugh of Die, were only a minor additional irritant in the exercise of royal influence in those dioceses where the Capetians had always had to anticipate difficulties. Both popes and kings were always willing to compromise on investiture when absolutely necessary.

As exemplified in writings of the canonist Ivo of Chartres at the turn of the century, the argument for a differentiation between the temporalities and spiritualities connected to bishoprics and abbeys slowly gained ground. This differentiation would allow a king to invest an ecclesiastic with the temporalities (secular rights and property) of a see not by the ring and crosier, but by using some other symbol. Ring and staff had come to be understood as spiritual symbols that were not to be touched by the hands of laymen. It appears that, at the meeting between Pope Paschal II and the French kings at St. Denis (April 30–May 3, 1107), an agreement was reached on this basis. If a candidate were elected canonically, the king could invest him with the temporalities of his see. The king renounced the use of investiture, but in the case of a bishop, the bishop would promise fealty.

William I (1066–1087) brought to an end the English isolation from continental developments. However, papal willingness to compromise postponed a struggle over investiture till the time of Henry I (1100–1135) and Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury. As an exile, Anselm had been present at the Roman synod of 1099 where Urban II had repeated the prohibition of investiture and homage. Anselm considered himself bound to obey the papal decrees and, therefore, refused to accept investiture from Henry I. After negotiations beginning in Normandy in July 1105, Henry I declared that he would no longer insist on investiture but would continue to require the homage of prelates. Relying on the papal right to grant dispensation, Paschal II allowed Anselm of Canturbury in March 1106 to consecrate bishops who had done homage to the king but had not been invested by him. This compromise was criticized at an assembly in August 1107.


Böhn, Georg Friedrich. “Salier, Emichonen und das Weistum des Pfalzgräflichen Hofes Alzey.” Veröffent-lichungen des Instituts für Geschichtliche Landeskunde an der Universität Mainz 10 (1974): 12–96.

Boshof, Egon. Die Salier. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1987.

Blumenthal, Uta-Renate. The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

Büttner, Heinrich. “Das Bistum Worms und der Neckarraum während des früh- und Hochmittelalters.” Archiv für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte 10 (1958): 9–38.

Das Reich der Salier 1024–1125: Katalog zur Ausstellung des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz. Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1992.

Weinfurter, Stefan. Herrschaft und Reich der Salier: Grundlinien einer Umbruchzeit. Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1992.

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