An Unfortunate Emperor
Here is the first of the promised Otto IV posts in honour of the 800 year anniversary of his coronation as Holy German Emperor.
Some pictures of the Harzburg where Otto died in 1218 will illustrate this post - I took them last fall. The Harzburg is a hilltop castle, one of the few that could have competed with the Norman whoppers once. Today not much is left, but a few featuers have been reconstruced to give an impression of its former splendour.
The castle had been built by Heinrich IV, was destroyed during his wars with the Saxon nobles and rebuilt in the 12th century when it was an Imperial possession. Later it fell to the Welfen family.
Harzburg, outer curtain wall
Otto was born in 1175 or 1176 as third son of Henrich the Lion (1133 - 1195) and Mathilda, daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. When Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa exiled Heinrich in 1183, the family spent the time in exile with their English relations, first in Normandy and later in England. Little is known how life among the most dysfunctional family in Europe turned out for them, except that Richard Lionheart took an interest in his nephew Otto and made sure the boy got the best education his time could offer. Otto not only learned the knightly and military ways, but also benefitted from the Plantagenets' interest in literature, arts and music.
Remains of the lower gate of the Ostburg (Eastern Castle)
When Heinrich the Lion got pardoned and his allodial possessions of Braunschweig and Lüneburg were returned to him in 1185, the family went back to Germany, except for Otto who stayed at the English court. Richard, crowned king in 1189 and childless, wanted to make Otto his heir, but his attempts to create him Earl of York came to nothing as did a planned marriage with the Scottish royal heiress Margaretha. Imagine Otto had become king after Richard - in addition to the many Henrys/Heinrichs we'd have to deal with a second bunch of Ottos as well. *grin*
In the end Richard had to be content to give him the Poitou as fief and make Otto Duke of Aquitaine in 1196. Not a bad position for a third son - his oldest brother, another Heinrich, would inherit the Welfen possessions.
View from Otto's Tower across the remains of the Ostburg
When Richard was released from captivity
in 1194, Otto was one of the hostages who stood in for him until the rest of the ransom was paid, and later fought at Richard's side in the war against the King of France.
Emperor Heinrich died in 1197. With Richard's support, Otto got himself elected King of Germany, but so did Barbarossa's youngest son, Philipp of Swabia. Philipp had the regal insignia, but the coronation was done by the wrong bishop in the wrong place. Otto had the right bishop and place (and the support of the pope), but no insignia.
The two men fought for power for the next ten years. Otto's brother Heinrich took example from the dysfunctional Plantagenet relations and changed sides a few times.
View towards the partly reconstruced Otto's Tower in the Westburg (Western Castle)
But when it finally looked like an agreement between both kings could be reached, and Philipp offered Otto his daughter Beatrix in marriage, he was assassinated by the Count of Wittelsbach. The count had been betrothed to Beatrix, so jealousy has been assumed as motiv - though, considering the fact the girl was only ten, it doesn't seem very probable. Offended honour and/or a larger conspiracy is a more likely reason, imho.
After Philipp's death, Otto IV became King of Germany, and in 1209 was anointed Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by pope Innocent III.
Bridge spanning the dike between Ostburg and Westburg
But trouble began anew when Otto turned his attention towards Sicily where Barbarossa's grandson Friedrich II had reached adulthood and faced an opposition of Sicilian nobles against the German House of Staufen. Otto supported those nobles who'd obviously have prefered a mostly absent Welfen ruler to a very present Staufen one. Pope Innocent didn't want to see Sicily and Germany united in one hand again, considered Otto an oathbreaker (Otto had prviously promised to not contest papal supremacy in Italy) and excommunicated him
. Why Innocent then allowed Friedrich to claim the German kingship is beyond me, because a united kingdom of Germany and Sicily is exactly what he got that way.
Friedrich received the support of most of the nobles and the free towns in southern Germany, the traditional Staufen territory. Otto's excommunication may also have played a role. Thus Friedrich was crowned King of Germany in 1212, and we're back to the situation of 1198-1209, only with Otto IV still being emperor.
Westburg, curtain wall
Luck began to abandon Otto. His wife Beatrix died only a few weeks after their wedding in 1212, thus ending his family ties to the House Staufen and any hope of an heir who might have united both lines.
In 1214, the armies of the allies of Philippe August of France and Friedrich II fought against the hosts of the English king John Lackland (aka John Battle Shirker, because he was absent) and Otto IV, and defeated them in the battle of Bouvines. The outcome weakened John's position towards the barons and he had to accept the Magna Charta
, but the situation was worse for Otto. In the years to follow his last allies abandoned him and he died, politically isolated, on the Harzburg in 1218, probably from a digestive disease. His remains are buried in St.Blasius Cathedral in Braunschweig
After the short, unhappy Welfen intermezzo, the Staufen king Friedrich II became Emperor.