Skip to main content
Select Source:

Henry VII

Henry VII

Henry VII (c. 1274-1313) was Holy Roman emperor and king of Germany from 1308 to 1313. He is often called the last medieval emperor, since his vision of the grandeur of the imperial office resembled that of his much more powerful predecessors.

When he was elected Holy Roman emperor in November 1308, Henry, Count of Luxemburg, was the ruler of a modest territory between Germany, France, and Flanders. The German ecclesiastical and lay princes to whom fell the lot of electing the emperor had established the policy since 1273 of electing a comparatively obscure candidate to the imperial throne in order to avoid the creation of too powerful an imperial monarchy. In that year they had elected Rudolf I of Hapsburg, and in 1291 Adolf of Nassau. Henry was elected precisely because of his meager personal resources, and, like his predecessors, he used some of the imperial resources to increase the wealth and power of his dynasty.

Not only Henry's relative obscurity, however, but his personal character and ability also appealed to the electors. Educated in France, he was a fair, slim man with intelligent features, courtly behavior, and considerable kindness. He was pious and temperate in his life-style, but he was also an excellent administrator who had succeeded in increasing his power and intelligently using his modest wealth even before his election. His reign as emperor was occupied with two major concerns: the extension of the Luxemburg family influence and the pacification of Italy.

In 1310 Henry took an oath to the Pope, promising to fulfill his imperial duties properly but also demanding a quick coronation in Rome. In the same year Henry raised Luxemburg to the status of a duchy and named his son John its duke. He then married John to Elizabeth of Bohemia. He backed a military expedition that placed Elizabeth and John on the Bohemian throne and began the aggrandizement of the Luxemburg house, whose Bohemian kingdom would provide three more emperors in the next century: Henry's grandson Charles IV and Charles's sons Wenceslaus and Sigismund.

In 1310 Henry also began his journey to Italy to pacify the faction-ridden cities and receive the Lombard crown at Milan and the imperial crown at Rome. Henry's arrival was hailed by many Italians, including the great poet Dante, as the coming of the "King of Peace." Indeed, something of Henry's character may be inferred from the tributes which Dante paid him, ranging from the poet's letters, to his political tract On Monarchy, to the moving lines in the Paradiso which depict the glorious throne and crown which await the Emperor in Heaven.

Henry was not, however, to bring the peace he wanted to Italy. As soon as he arrived in Milan, the political rivalries which tore the city involved the Emperor, and Henry found himself forced to take sides in political quarrels and successfully led his army against the cities of Cremona and Brescia. By 1312 he arrived in Rome, by then opposed by many cities, the King of Naples, and even the Pope himself. On June 29, 1312, Henry was crowned emperor by the cardinal bishop of Ostia, the papal legate, in the church of St. John Lateran, his enemies having occupied St. Peter's.

Faced with papal opposition to his continued presence in Italy and furious with the King of Naples for opposing his imperial mission to Rome, Henry called an imperial Diet at Pisa in 1313, assembled another army, and marched again toward Rome, determined to free the city from Neapolitan occupation. On his way, Henry, who was recovering from malaria, unwisely exerted himself, caught fever, and died on Aug. 24, 1313. His body was returned to Pisa, where it was buried in a magnificent tomb in the Cathedral.

Henry's sincere idealism, his respect for the imperial office and its duties, and his promise of justice attracted many men to him, including some of the most astute minds of Italy. Dante was not alone in his praises of the Emperor. But Italian political rivalries, traditional suspicion of a German emperor in the Italian cities, and the concerted opposition of Pope Clement V and King Robert of Naples destroyed any hope that Henry had of being able to accomplish his mission as imperial peacemaker. His frustrated Italian campaign weakened his diplomatic arrangements in Germany. His glorious concept of the imperial ideal was not sufficiently realistic to deal with the complex diplomatic forces which opposed the notion of a universal political authority—the power of France, the Avignon papacy, and the rising signorial power of city rulers and city alliances. For Italy as well as for Germany, Henry was indeed the last medieval emperor.

Further Reading

The most important work in English on Henry VII is William M. Bowsky, Henry VII in Italy: The Conflict of Empire and City-state, 1310-1313 (1960). Useful information is in J. R. Tanner and others, eds., The Cambridge Medieval History (8 vols., 1913-1936), and in a number of studies of Dante's work and thought, such as Charles T. Davis, Dante and the Idea of Rome (1957). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Henry VII." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Henry VII." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-vii-0

"Henry VII." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-vii-0

Henry VII (Holy Roman emperor and German king)

Henry VII, c.1275–1313, Holy Roman emperor (1312–13) and German king (1308–13). A minor count of the house of Luxembourg, Henry was elected German king on the death of King Albert I after the electors had set aside the two main contenders, Albert's eldest son, Frederick of Austria, and the French prince Charles of Valois. By accepting Elizabeth of Bohemia's offer (1310) to marry his son, John of Luxembourg, he gained Bohemia for his house and made it the main rival to the house of Hapsburg. He secured the German princes' approval for the acquisition by lavishly distributing the imperial domain. Henry's chief concern, however, was to renew the Hohenstaufen policy of making Italy the main source of imperial power. Pope Clement V and, among others, Dante welcomed his rule as a means of ending the by now almost meaningless strife of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Entering the peninsula in 1310, Henry proclaimed himself above all parties and received the homage of leaders of both of the chief factions; in Jan., 1311, he was crowned king of the Lombards at Milan, a Guelph city. A revolt occurred in Milan, however, when Henry levied taxes on the city to support his army; although the revolt was suppressed, it drove Henry into the Ghibelline camp and precipitated war with the Guelph cities. Henry did not reach Rome until the following year, where on June 29, 1312, he was crowned Holy Roman emperor. Leaving Rome, he besieged Florence, but without success; in 1313, having allied himself with King Frederick II of Sicily, he pronounced the ban of the empire against King Robert of Naples, who opposed Henry's policy in Italy. While preparing to attack Robert, Henry died of fever. Henry VII's abortive Italian campaign only served to prove the futility of any attempt to revive the ancient imperial policy at a time when the papacy and S Italy were controlled by France and the N Italian towns were autonomous. Henry was succeeded by Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV.

See W. M. Bowsky, Henry VII in Italy (1960).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Henry VII (Holy Roman emperor and German king)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Henry VII (Holy Roman emperor and German king)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-vii-holy-roman-emperor-and-german-king

"Henry VII (Holy Roman emperor and German king)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-vii-holy-roman-emperor-and-german-king