Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Henry IV, rock star

Emperor Henry IV (1050-1106)

There was a fair amount of discussion on my last post (with great contributions from Crystal, Gabriele, and Guillaume le Fou) about an accusation that Henry IV performed a black mass on his wife's unclothed body as well as whether or not one should trust Wikipedia on this issue. The Wikipedia article containing the salacious detail on Henry is here. I think Guillaume made a very good defense of Wikipedia, but I have to admit that I wish the anonymous editors would footnote their contributions, so one could get to the bottom of all this black mass stuff. The article did have listed as a source a book on Henry by a respected scholar of the period, I. S. Robinson.

Unfortunately the hard copy of the book in the Columbia library was checked out, so I had to rely on an irritating ebook version. Robinson does tell how Henry's Kievan wife Eupraxia (who took the name Adelheid upon her coronation as empress) broke with him and made common cause with the papal forces who were resisting him and his antipope Clement III. He does not mention the black mass accusation, but does say
According to the earliest account, that of Bernold’s chronicle, Eupraxia ‘complained that she had suffered so many and such unheard-of filthy acts of fornication with so many men as would cause even her enemies to excuse her flight [from her husband] and move all catholics to compassion for her great injuries’. The wrongs of Eupraxia continued to be recalled in Gregorian polemics for half a century.
So was it true? Probably not. As I said in the comments section of my last post, Henry IV was a good Christian, just one that believed the pope should have less power than the emperor. Gabriele mentioned that many of our sources are written by Henry's enemies. Robinson:
Her public statements at the synod of Constance and the council of Piacenza have never been taken seriously by modern scholarship, not because scholars could accurately judge the empress’s mentality or the emperor’s conduct, but because of their knowledge of the nature of eleventh-century propaganda. Polemicists were accustomed to ‘pay no heed to what was done or not done' but to use fictions in order to convince their audience.
The eleventh-century struggles between papal and imperial power that we call "the investiture conflict" was brutal and some of the fiercest battles were fought with letters and treatises. Robinson cites a number of letters and chronicles written by pro-papal writers, and if I look them up, I would not be surprised if I found the accusation that Crystal mentioned. In general, public denunciations were exaggerated and made particularly sordid in order to make a greater impression. Accusations such as Eupraxia-Adelheid's were sure to travel across Christendom, sapping Henry's power -- especially sapping him of the religious power that settled like an aura over liturgically anointed Christian kings and emperors.

Wikipedia's article on Eupraxia has another interesting tidbit:
According to the chroniclers, Henry became involved in the Nicolaitan sect, and hosted the sect's orgies and obscene rituals in his palaces. Eupraxia-Adelheid was forced to participate in these orgies, and on one occasion Henry allegedly offered her to his son, Conrad. Conrad refused indignantly, and then revolted against his father.
The fact that Henry might be accused of belonging to the second-century gnostic Nicolaitan sect rings true. Most certainly he didn't and there were probably no Nicolaitans around in the eleventh century, but that was par for the course in these type of polemics. You accuse your enemy of belonging to a long-vanished heresy. Such a crime would make a Christian prince no longer a Christian prince. Also, since Nicolaitans were thought to be antinomian -- that is, believers who are "beyond the law" and able to practice any kind of depravity without sin, the accusation would summon thoughts and images that would both horrify and titillate hearers. You can imagine how they would dwell on the subject.

As Crystal noted, politics have not changed that much in nine hundred years.


cowboyangel said...

Uh . . . Wikipedia, Wonkette, Eupraxia, black masses, Nicolaitan orgies, Mark Foley, Henry IV, Bush II, Mets Game 7, depravity, polemics, El Papa, antinomianism . . . I can see the Dissertation's getting to you.

You didn't even mention the black Prince Hall Masons versus the white Grand Lodge Masons.

Or Madonna's adoption.

How am I supposed to take you seriously?

cowboyangel said...

After mulling this over more:

1) Why are you taking the guy's word over the woman's word? Even if Henry was a "good Christian" (according to whom? from what evidence?) he still could have participated in orgies. Two words: Clarence Thomas.

This and your obvious lack of compassion for Madonna's adoption makes me think you're a sexist prig.

2) The source listed for the Eupraxia article is Kievan Russia by George Vernadsky. It was originally published in 1948. The review in American Historical Review at the time said: "Professor Vernadsky suffers somewhat from an excess of cautiousness and objectivity. [What, black masses celebrated on an empress' stomach aren't enough?] History is something more than a collection of ascertainable facts however cautiously scrutinized. . . . If Professor Vernadsky has not written the definitive work on Kievan Russia, no such book could be written without being indebted to Professor Vernadsy's encyclopedic erudition."

But, as you point out, there's no way of knowing if the black mass tidbit actually comes from Vernadsky's book, though it's listed as the only source. One must verify.

3) Two more words come to mind: Jimmy Page. [In the nightmare version of life, everything ultimately comes back round to Led Zeppelin.]

crystal said...

Poor Henry, a vistim of bad press :-)

Gabriele C. said...

Fine, now I'll have to get that Henry IV biography by Gerd Althoff out of its hiding place in my shelves and look that whole black mass mess up. Besides researching the German tribes for my Nano novel which I should start writing Nov. 1st, figuring out how Roman lawsuits worked, and trying to find out if the Provencalian version of the Song of Roland can have been known in Norway. *grin*

crystal said...

Gabriele, you're doing Nano? I'm thinking about it - haven't ever tried it before.

Liam said...

What is Nano?

Gabriele C. said...

National Novel Writing Month, an addictive fun where people all over the world try to write 50K words in 30 days in November.
I participate since 2003, fail every time, tell myself every year after Nano that I'm not going to do it again, and join the following year in October. :)

The problem is that you have to write on a new project, and I really have enough ongoing projects as it is.