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Henry the Lion

Henry the Lion, 1129–95, duke of Saxony (1142–80) and of Bavaria (1156–80); son of Henry the Proud. His father died (1139) while engaged in a war to regain his duchies, and it was not until 1142 that Henry the Lion became duke of Saxony. Bavaria was restored to him after the accession of his cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, who wished to end the strife in Germany between the rival families of Welfs, or Guelphs, and Hohenstaufen. Henry took part in Frederick's earlier Italian expeditions but devoted his attention chiefly to Saxony and to expansion beyond the Elbe, where he extended his authority with Frederick's support. With Albert the Bear and other Saxon nobles he took part in the crusade against the Wends in 1147. In subsequent years he gradually extended his power over the pagan lands bounded by the Elbe, the Oder, and the Baltic. He encouraged settlement in the conquered regions, which became Christianized; he also fostered commercial activity, especially that of Lübeck. In 1168 he married Matilda, daughter of Henry II of England. Henry pursued an independent foreign policy, intervening in the Danish civil wars (1147–57) in support of Waldemar I, whose protector he became. His greed and ambition brought him into conflict with other German nobles, particularly Albert the Bear. Throughout this period Henry retained the support of the emperor. In 1176, however, a breach occurred when Frederick, engaged in war in Italy, requested Henry's aid. Henry demanded the imperial city of Goslar in exchange for military support, but Frederick refused, was defeated, and was forced to make peace with the pope. As a result of Frederick's reconciliation with the pope, Henry was ordered to restore Saxon church lands that he had seized. He failed to comply immediately, and the bishop of Halberstadt and the Saxon nobles allied against him. The emperor, called in to judge the case, confiscated (1180) Henry's fiefs. The partitioning of the duchies of Bavaria and Saxony marked the change to smaller territorial units in Germany, which from then on was a patchwork of principalities. Henry's armies were defeated. He retained only Brunswick and Lüneburg and was banished (1182) for three years, which he spent in England. While Frederick was on the Third Crusade, Henry sought to occupy Saxony (1189). Temporary peace was made, but Henry continued to intrigue against the Hohenstaufen. Shortly before his death he reached an accord with Frederick's successor Henry VI. Conflict between Guelphs and Hohenstaufen continued after his death. Henry's younger son became emperor in 1209 as Otto IV.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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