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Gregory VII: Second Banning and Dethronement of Henry IV (March 7, 1080)


After the failed effort at reconciliation at Canossa (mentioned in the text below), Gregory excommunicated Henry a second time in 1080.

St. Peter, chief of the apostles, and thou St. Paul, teacher of the nations, deign, I beg, to incline your ears to me and mercifully to hear me. Do ye who are the disciples and lovers of truth aid me to tell the truth to ye without any of the falsehood which we together detest: to the end that my brothers may better acquiesce with me and may know and learn that, after God and his mother the evervirgin Mary, it is in ye I trust when I resist the wicked and unholy but lend aid to your faithful followers. For ye know that I did not willingly take holy orders. And unwillingly I went with my master Gregory beyond the mountains; but more unwillingly I returned with my master pope Leo to your especial church, in which I served ye as always. Then, greatly against my will, with much grieving and groaning and wailing I was placed upon your throne, although thoroughly unworthy. I say these things thus because I did not choose ye but ye chose me and did place upon me the very heavy burden of your church. And because ye did order me to go up into a high mountain and call out and proclaim to the people of God their crimes and to the sons of the earth their sins, the members of the devil have commenced to rise up against me and have presumed, even unto blood, to lay their hands upon me. For the kings of the earth stood by, and the secular and ecclesiastical princes; the men of the palace, also, and the common herd came together against the Lord and against ye His anointed, saying: "Let us break their chains and cast off their yoke from us." And they have in many ways attempted to rise up against me in order to utterly confound me with death or with exile.

Among them, especially, Henry whom they call king, son of Henry the emperor, did raise his heel against your church and strive, by casting me down, to subjugate it, having made a conspiracy with many ultramontane bishops. But your authority resisted and your power destroyed their pride. He, confounded and humbled, came to me in Lombardy and sought absolution from the bann. I seeing him humiliated, having received many promises from him concerning the bettering of his way of living, restored to him the communion. But only that; I did not reinstate him in his kingdom from which I had deposed him in a Roman synod, nor did I order that the fealty from which, in that synod, I have absolved all those who had sworn it to him, or were about to swear it, should be observed towards him. And my reason for not doing so was that I might do justice in the matter or arrange peace-as Henry himself, by an oath before two bishops, had promised me should be done-between him and the ultramontane bishops or princes who, being commanded to do so y your church, had resisted him. But the said ultramontane bishops and princes, hearing that he had not kept his promise to me, and, as it were, despairing of him, elected for themselves without my advice-ye are my witnesses-duke Rudolf as king. This king Rudolf hastily sent an envoy to intimate to me that he had been compelled to accept the helm of state but that he was ready to obey me in every way. And to make this the more credible, he has continued from that time to send me words to the same effect, adding also that he was ready to confirm what he had promised by giving his own son and the son of his faithful follower duke Bertald as hostages. Meanwhile Henry commenced to implore my aid against the said Rudolf. I answered that I would willingly grant it if I could hear the arguments on both sides so as to know whom justice most favoured. But he, thinking to conquer by his own strength, scorned my reply. But when he found that he could not do as he had hoped he sent to Rome two of his partisans, the bishops, namely, of Verdun and of Osnabruck, who asked me in a synod to do justice to him. This also the envoys of Rudolf pressed me to do. At length, by God's inspiration as I believe, I decreed in that synod that an assembly should take place beyond the mountains, where either peace should be established or it should be made known which side justice the most favoured. For I-as ye, my fathers and masters, can testify-have taken care up to this time to aid no party save the one on whose side justice should be found to be. And, thinking that the weaker side would wish the assembly not to take place, whereas justice would hold its own, I excommunicated and bound with the anathema the person of one-whether king, duke, bishop or ordinary man-who should by any means contrive to prevent the assembly from taking place. But the said Henry with his partisans, not fearing the danger from disobedience, which is the crime of idolatry, incurred the excommunication by impeding the assembly. And he bound himself with the chain of the anathema, causing a great multitude of Christians to be given over to death and of churches to be ruined, and rendering desolate almost the whole realm of the Germans. Therefore, trusting in the judgment and mercy of God and of his most holy mother the ever-virgin Mary, armed with your authority, I lay under excommunication and bind with the chains of the anathema the oft-mentioned Henry-the so-called king-and all his followers. And again, on the part of God Almighty and of yourselves, I deny to him the kingdom of the Germans and of Italy and I take away from him all royal power and dignity. And I forbid any Christian to obey him as king, and absolve from their oath all who have sworn or shall swear to him as ruler of the land. May this same Henry, moreover, as well as his partisans,-be powerless in any war-like encounter and obtain no victory during his life. Whereas I grant and concede in your name that Rudolf, whom, as a mark of fidelity to ye, the Germans have chosen to be their king, may rule and defend the land of the Germans. To all of those who faithfully adhere to him 1, trusting in your support, grant absolution of all their sins and your benediction in this life and the life to come. For as Henry, on account of his pride, disobedience and falseness, is justly cast down from his royal dignity, so to Rudolf, for his humility, obedience and truthfulness, the power and dignity of kingship are granted.

Proceed now, I beg, O fathers and most holy princes, in such way that all the world may learn and know that, if ye can bind and loose in Heaven, so ye can on earth take away empires, kingdoms, principalities, duchies, margravates, counties and all possessions of men, and grant them to any man ye please according to his merits. For often have ye taken away patriarchates, primateships, archbishoprics and bishoprics from the wicked and unworthy and given them to devout men. And if ye judge spiritual offices what are we to believe of your power in secular ones? An-J if ye shall judge angels, who rule over all proud princes, how will it be with those subject to them? Let kings and all secular princes now learn how great ye are and what your power is; and let them dread to disregard the command of your 0 church. And, in the case of the said Henry, exercise such swift judgment that all may know him to fall not by chance but by your power. Let him be confounded;-would it were to repentance, that his soul may be safe at the day of the Lord!

Given at Rome, on the Nones of March, in the third indiction.

translated in Ernest F. Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1910), pp. 388-391


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu