Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor
Otto I (b. 23 November 912 in Wallhausen, East Francia; d. 7 May 973 Memleben, Holy Roman Empire), surnamed the Great (Duke of Saxony and King of East Francia from 936, King of Italy from 951, Holy Roman Emperor from 962 until 973), was the eldest son of Henry I the Fowler (Heinrich der Vogler), Duke of Saxony from 912 and the King of East Francia from 919 until his death in 936, by Henry's second wife Matilda, said to be a descendant of the Saxon hero Widukind. The House of Otto carries his name.
Little is known of his early years in the Frankish Empire, but he probably shared in some of his father's campaigns. In 930, he married Eadgyth/Ædgyth (Edgitha), daughter of Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo-Saxons from 899 until his death in 924, and half-sister of the reigning sovereign Æthelstan, King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and King of the English from 927 to his death in 939. At the request of the East Frankish King Henry the Fowler, who wished to stake a claim to equality and to seal the alliance between the two Saxon kingdoms, her half-brother King Æthelstan sent his sisters Ædgyth and Ælfgifu to Germany. Henry's eldest son and heir to the throne Otto was instructed to choose whichever one pleased him best. Otto chose Eadgyth/Ædgyth, according to Hrotsvitha (Hrotsvit von Gandersheim, also known as the "first German female poet") a woman "of pure noble countenance, graceful character and truly royal appearance", and married her in 930. Two of her full sisters had also married Continental rulers, Ēadgifu married Charles the Simple, King of the West Franks, Eadhild married Hugh the Great, duke of the Franks.
It is said that Matilda wished her second son Henry to succeed his father, as this prince, unlike his elder brother, was born the son of a king. However this may be, Henry named Otto his successor, and after his death in July 936 Otto was chosen German king and crowned by Hildebert, archbishop of Mainz. This ceremony, according to the historian Widukind, was followed by a banquet at which the new king was waited upon by the dukes of Lorraine, Bavaria, Franconia and Swabia. Otto soon showed his intention of breaking with the policy of his father, who had been content with a nominal superiority over the duchies; in 937 he punished Eberhard, duke of Franconia, for an alleged infringement of the royal authority; and in 938 deposed Eberhard, who had recently become duke of Bavaria.
During these years the Bohemians and other Slavonic tribes ravaged the eastern frontier of Germany, but although one expedition against them was led by the king in person, the defence of this district was left principally to agents. Trouble soon arose in Saxony, probably owing to Otto's refusal to give certain lands to his half-brother, Thankmar, who, although the king's senior, had been passed over in the succession as illegitimate. Thankmar, aided by an influential Saxon noble named Wichmann, and by Eberhard of Franconia, seized the fortress of Eresburg and took Otto's brother Henry prisoner; but soon afterwards he was defeated by the king and killed whilst taking sanctuary. The other conspirators were pardoned, but in 939 a fresh revolt broke out under the leadership of Henry, and Giselbert, duke, of Lorraine. Otto gained a victory near Xanten, which was followed by the surrender of the fortresses held by his brother's adherents in Saxony, but the rebels, joined by Eberhard of Franconia and Archbishop Frederick of Mainz continued the struggle, and Giselbert of Lorraine transferred his allegiance to Louis IV, king of France. Otto's precarious position was saved by a victory near Andernach when Eberhard was killed, and Giselbert drowned in the subsequent flight. Henry took refuge with Louis of France, but was soon restored to favour and entrusted with the duchy of Lorraine, where, however, he was unable to restore order. Otto therefore crossed the Rhine and deprived his brother of authority.
Henry then became involved in a plot to murder the king, which was discovered in time, and the good offices of his mother secured for him a pardon at Christmas 941. The deaths of Giselbert of Lorraine and of Eberhard of Franconia, quickly followed by those of two other dukes, enabled Otto to unite the stem-duchies more closely with the royal house. In 944 Lorraine was given to Conrad, surnamed the Red, who in 947 married the king's daughter Liutgard; Franconia was retained by Otto in his own hands; Henry married a daughter of Arnulf, duke of Bavaria, and received that duchy in 947; and Swabia came in 949 to the king's son Ludolf, who had married Ida, a daughter of the late duke, Hermann. During these years the tribes living between the Elbe and the Oder were made tributary, bishoprics were founded in this district, and in 950 the king himself marched against the Bohemians and reduced them to dependence. Strife between Otto and Louis IV. of France had arisen when the French king sought to obtain authority over Lorraine and aided the German rebels in 939; but after the German king had undertaken an expedition into France, peace was made in 942. Afterwards, when Louis became a prisoner in the hands of his powerful vassal Hugh the Great, duke of France, Otto attacked the duke, who, like the king, was his brother-in-law, captured Reims, and negotiated a peace between the two princes; and in subsequent struggles between them his authority was several times invoked.
In 945 Berengar I., margrave of Ivrea, left the court of Otto and returned to Italy, where he soon obtained a mastery over the country. After the death in 950 of Lothair, king of Italy, Berengar sought the hand of his widow Adelaide for his son Adalbert; and Henry of Bavaria and Ludolf of Swabia had already been meddling independently of each other in the affairs of northern Italy. In response to an appeal from Adelaide, Otto crossed the Alps in 951. He assumed the title of king of the Lombards, and having been a widower since 946, married Adelaide (Adelheid) and negotiated with Pope Agapetus II. about his reception in Rome.
The influence of Alberic, prince and senator of the Romans, prevented the pope returning a favourable answer to the king's request. But when Otto returned to Germany in 952 he was followed by Berengar, who did homage for Italy at Augsburg. The chief advisers of Otto at this time were his wife and his brother Henry. Henry's influence seems to have been resented by Ludolf, who in 946 had been formally designated as his father's successor. When Adelaide bore a son, and a report gained currency that Otto intended to make this child his heir, Ludolf rose in revolt and was joined by Conrad of Lorraine and Frederick of Mainz. Otto fell into the power of the rebels at Mainz and was compelled to agree to demands made by them, which, however, he promptly revoked on his return to Saxony. Ludolf and Conrad were declared deposed, and in 953 war broke out in Lorraine and Swabia, and afterwards in Saxony and Bavaria. Otto failed to take Mainz and Augsburg; but an attempt on the part of Conrad and Ludolf to gain support from the Magyars, who had seized the opportunity to invade Bavaria, alienated many of their supporters.
Otto's brother Bruno, archbishop of Cologne, was successful in restoring the royal authority in Lorraine, so that when Conrad and Frederick soon afterwards submitted to Otto, the struggle was confined to Bavaria. Ludolf was not long in following the example of Conrad; and with the capture of Regensburg in 955 the rising ended. Conrad and Ludolf retained their estates, but their duchies were not restored to them. Meanwhile the Magyars had renewed their ravages and were attacking Augsburg. Otto marched against them, and in a battle fought on the Lechfeld on the 10th of August 955 the king's troops gained a brilliant victory which completely freed Germany from these invaders; while in the same year Otto also defeated the Sla y s who had been ravaging the Saxon frontier.
About this time the king seems to have perceived the necessity of living and ruling in closer union with the church, a change of policy due perhaps to the influence of his brother Bruno, or forced upon him when his plans for uniting the duchies with the royal house brought rebellion in their train. Lands and privileges were granted to prelates, additional bishoprics were founded, and some years later Magdeburg was made the seat of an archbishop. In 960 Otto was invited to come to Italy by Pope John XII., who was hard pressed by Berengar, and he began to make preparations for the journey. As Ludolf had died in 957 and Otto, his only son by Adelaide, had been chosen king at Worms, the government was entrusted to Bruno of Cologne, and Archbishop William of Mainz, a natural son of the king. Reaching Pavia at Christmas 961, the king promised to defend and respect the church. He then proceeded to Rome, where he was crowned emperor on the 2nd of February 962. After the ceremony he confirmed the rights and privileges which had been conferred on the papacy, while the Romans promised obedience, and Pope John took an oath of fidelity to the emperor. But as he did not long observe his oath he was deposed at a synod held in St Peter's, after Otto had compelled the Romans to swear they would elect no pope without the imperial consent; and a nominee of the emperor, who took the name of Leo VIII., was chosen in his stead.
A pestilence drove Otto to Germany in 965, and finding the Romans again in arms on his return in 966, he allowed his soldiers to sack the city, and severely punished the leaders of the rebellion. His next move was against the Greeks and Saracens of southern Italy, but seeking to attain his objects by negotiation, sent Liudprand, bishop of Cremona, to the eastern emperor Nicephorus II. to arrange for a marriage treaty between the two empires. Nicephorus refused to admit the validity of Otto's title, and the bishop was roughly repulsed; but the succeeding emperor, John Zimisces, was more reasonable, and Theophano, daughter of the emperor Romanus II., was married to the younger Otto in 972. The same year witnessed the restoration of peace in Italy and the return of the emperor to Germany, where he received the homage of the rulers of Poland, Bohemia and Denmark; but he died suddenly at Memleben on the 7th of May 973, and was buried at Magdeburg.
Otto was a man of untiring perseverance and relentless energy, with a high idea of his position. His policy was to crush all tendencies to independence in Germany, and this led him to grant the stem-duchies to his relatives, and afterwards to ally himself with the church. Indeed the necessity for obtaining complete control over the church was one reason which induced him to obtain the imperial crown. By this step the pope became his vassal, and a divided allegiance was rendered impossible for the German clergy.
The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was indeed less universal and less theocratic under Otto, its restorer, than under Charlemagne, but what it lacked in splendour, if at all, it gained in stability. His object was not to make the state religious but the church political, and the clergy must first be officials of the king, and secondly members of an ecclesiastical order. He shared the piety and superstition of the age, and did much for the spread of Christianity. Although himself a stranger to letters he welcomed scholars to his court and eagerly seconded the efforts of his brother Bruno to encourage learning; and while he neither feared nor shirked battle, he was always ready to secure his ends by peaceable means. Otto was of tall and commanding presence, and although subject to violent bursts of passion, was liberal to his friends and just to his enemies.