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Henry I the Fowler ( or Heinrich der Vogler; ) (8762 July 936) was the duke of Saxony from 912 and king of the Germans from 919 until his death. First of the Ottonian Dynasty of German kings and emperors, he is generally considered to be the founder and first king of the medieval German state, known until then as East Francia. An avid hunter, he obtained the epithet "the Fowler" because he was allegedly fixing his birding nets when messengers arrived to inform him that he was to be king.


Born in Memlebenmarker, in what is now Saxony-Anhaltmarker, Henry was the son of Otto the Illustrious, duke of Saxony, and his wife Hedwiga, daughter of Henry of Franconia and Ingeltrude and a great-great-granddaughter of Charlemagne. In 906 he married Hatheburg, daughter of the Saxon count Erwin, but divorced her in 909, after she had given birth to his son Thankmar. Later that year he married St Matilda of Ringelheim, daughter of Dietrich, count in Westphalia. St Matilda bore him one son called Otto and two daughters, Hedwige and Gerberga and founded many religious institutions, including the abbey of Quedlinburgmarker where Henry is buried, and was later canonized.


Henry became duke of Saxony upon his father's death in 912. An able ruler, he continued to strengthen Saxony, frequently in conflict with his neighbors to the South, the dukes of Franconia.

In 918 Conrad I, king of East Francia and duke of Franconia, died. Although they had been at odds with each other from 912–15 over the title to lands in Thuringiamarker, before he died Conrad recommended Henry as his successor. Conrad's choice was conveyed by Duke Eberhard of Franconia, Conrad's brother and heir, at the Reichstag of Fritzlarmarker in 919. The assembled Franconian and Saxon nobles duly elected Henry to be king. Archbishop Heriger of Mayence offered to anoint Henry according to the usual ceremony, but he refused to be anointed by a high church official — the only king of his time not to undergo that rite — allegedly because he wished to be king not by the church's but by the people's acclaim. Duke Burchard II of Swabia soon swore fealty to the new king, but duke Arnulf of Bavaria did not submit until Henry Henry defeated him in two campaigns in 921 . Last, Henry besieged Ratisbon (Regensburg) and forced Arnulf of Bavaria into submission .

In 920, Charles the Simple invaded Germany and marched as far as Pfeddersheimmarker near Worms, but retired on hearing that Henry was arming against him.

On November 7th, 921 Henry and Charles the Simple met each other and concluded a treaty between them. However, with the beginning of civil war in France, Henry sought to wrest Lorraine from the Western Kingdom. In the year of 923 Henry crossed the Rhine twice. Later in the year he entered Lorraine with an army, capturing a large part of the country. Until October of 924 the eastern part of Lorraine was left in Henry's possession.


Henry regarded the kingdom as a confederation of stem duchies rather than as a feudal kingdom and saw himself as primus inter pares. Instead of seeking to administer the empire through counts, as Charlemagne had done and as his successors had attempted, Henry allowed the dukes of Franconia, Swabia and Bavaria to maintain complete internal control of their holdings.In 925, Giselbert again rebelled. Henry invaded Lorrain and besieged Giselbert at Zillpich, captured the town, and became master of a large portion of Lotharingia (Lorraine). Thus he brought that realm, which had been lost in 910, back into the German kingdom as the fifth stem duchy (the others being Saxonymarker, Franconia, Swabia, and Bavaria). Allowing Giselbert to remain in power as duke of Lotharingia, Henry arranged the marriage of his daughter Gerberga of Saxony to his new vassal in 928.

Henry was an able military leader. In 921 Hungarians invaded Germany and Italy. Although a sizable force was routed near Bleiburgmarker in Carinthia by Eberhard and the Count of Meran and another group was routed by Liutfried, count of Elsace, Henry was forced to pay a tribute to the Magyars, (Hungarians), who had repeatedly raided Germany. By doing so he secured a ten-year truce so that he could fortify towns and train a new elite cavalry force.

During the truce with the Magyars, Henry subdued the Northern Slavic Tribes. In the winter of 928, he marched against the Havelli and seized their capital, Brandenburg. He then invaded Dalemintzi on the lower Elbe, and conquered Jahna, the capital after a siege. In 929, with the help of Duke Arnulf, Henry entered Bohemia. Wenceslas surrendered his lands, but received them back as a fief of the German crown, agreeing to pay a yearly tribute to the German emperor. Meanwhile, the Redarii had driven away their chief and captured the town of Walsleben and massacred the inhabitants. Counts Bernard and Thietmar marched against the fortress of Lenzen on the right bank of the Elbe, and, after fierce fighting, completely routed the enemy on 4 September 929. The Lusatians and the Ukrani on the lower Oder were subdued and made tributary in 932 and 934, respectively.

In 933 Henry, with the end of his truce with the Magyars, refused to pay the regular tribute. When the Magyars began raiding again, he led an army of all the German tribes to victory at the Battle of Riade in 933 near the river Unstrut, thus stopping the Magyar advance into Germany. He also pacified territories to the north, where the Danesmarker had been harrying the Frisians by sea. The monk and historian Widukind of Corvey in his Res gestae Saxonicae reports that the Danes were subjects of Henry the Fowler. Henry incorporated into his kingdom territories held by the Wends, who together with the Danes had attacked Germany, and also conquered Schleswig in 934.

Death and aftermath

Henry died of a cerebral stroke on 2 July 936 in his palatium in Memlebenmarker, one of his favourite places. By then all German tribes were united in a single kingdom. Henry I is therefore considered the first German king and the founder of the eventual Holy Roman Empire. He has sometimes been considered to be Henry I, Holy Roman Emperor.

His son Otto succeeded him as Emperor. His second son, Henry, became duke of Bavaria. A third son, Brun (or Bruno), became archbishop of Cologne. His son from his first marriage, Thankmar, rebelled against his half-brother Otto and was killed in battle in 936. After the death of her husband Duke Giselbert of Lotharingia, Henry's daughter Gerberga of Saxony married King Louis IV of France. His youngest daughter, Hedwige of Saxony, married Duke Hugh the Great of Francemarker and was the mother of Hugh Capet, the first Capetian king of France.

Henry returned to public attention as a character in Richard Wagner's opera, Lohengrin (1850). There are indications that Heinrich Himmler imagined himself the reincarnation of the first king of Germany.


See also


  1. A fowler is one who hunts wildfowl.
  2. Gwatkin ,The Cambridge Medieval History: Volume III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926.p 180
  3. Menzel, W. Germany from the Earliest Period
  4. Gwatkin ,The Cambridge Medieval History: Volume III.
  5. Frischauer, Willi. Himmler, the Evil Genius of the Third Reich. London: Odhams, 1953, pages 85-88; Kersten, Felix. The Kersten Memoirs: 1940-1945. New York: Macmillan, 1957, page 238.


  1. Gwatkin, H. M., Whitney, J. P. (ed) et al. The Cambridge Medieval History: Volume III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926.
  2. Menzel , W. Germany from the Earliest Period . Vol I

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