History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Conrad IV and the Great Interregnum

Death did not put an end to the quarrel between Pope end Emperor, for the Pope at once turned his anger against Conrad IV, who succeeded his father.

Conrad IV was excommunicated; his kingdom was full of revolt and bloodshed. William of Holland disputed the throne with him, and he could hardly be said to rule, and after four years he died. He was the last of the Hohenstaufens to rule in Germany. After Conrad's death in 1254 began what is known as the Great Interregnum. Interregnum means, as you know, "between reigns," and for nineteen years there was no real emperor, although there were many who claimed the throne.

The first was William of Holland. Now that his rival was dead, he felt sure of the crown. He spent huge sums of money to win the great trading cities to his side, he bribed and flattered the princes. But he was too much a Pope's man, his power in Germany was small, and in 1256 he died in battle.

The great princes would now have been pleased to have the throne empty, and have no Emperor, so that they themselves might do as they liked. But the lesser nobles, and the cities, knowing the tyranny of the great princes, demanded an Emperor. The great princes were therefore forced to choose a new ruler. But they were determined that he should be a King only in name, so instead of choosing one from among themselves, they decided to choose a foreign prince, who would not be likely to live in Germany.

The choice fell upon two. One was Richard, Duke of Cornwall, the brother of our own Henry III. The other was King Alfonso of Castile. Both were anxious for the crown, and both scattered money broadcast among the people, and so it came about that both were chosen. But of the seven princes who now alone held the right of choosing, four voted for Richard, and three for Alfonso.

When at length messengers came to Richard telling him that he was chosen Emperor of Germany, he pretended at first to be unwilling to go to take possession of the throne. But after a little persuasion he yielded, and, bursting into tears, he swore to rule the kingdom well and justly.

Then in great state he set out with his wife and children and many followers for his new kingdom. Across the North Sea they sailed in fifty great ships, richly laden with gifts and money.

On May 17, 1257, Richard of Cornwall was crowned at Aachen, with the splendid new crown which he had brought with him from England. Then for nearly two years Richard stayed in Germany. He travelled here and there, scattering money and promises wherever he went, until all the Rhineland owned his sway, and many of the cities of Italy acknowledged him. But he won obedience only by his gold, and at length he had no more to give, and speedily many who had promised to support him fell away from him.

Richard wanted very much to go to Rome to be crowned, but that too required money. So he decided to return to England in order to get more.

But Richard found it impossible to get all the money he wanted, and after this he only paid short visits to his kingdom, and in April 1272 he died. He was the only Englishman who ever tried to rule the Holy Roman Empire.

As to Alfonso, the rival King, he had never visited his kingdom at all. So when Richard died the people became anxious to have a real Emperor once more. The great nobles, it is true, did not want one, for now they did much as they liked. They obeyed no will but their own; the only right in the land was might. The great castles were little more than the dens of thieves, and bands of robbers haunted the highways, a terror to the peaceful and law-abiding.

But the Pope had found that while Germany was in such a state of disorder, he got little money from the people there. He therefore sternly told the electors that they must choose an Emperor, for if they did not, he would choose one for them. So at length Count Rudolph of Hapsburg was chosen.