Authors: Tom Holland
Tags: #Non Fiction
Historian Tom Holland has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for BBC Radio.
was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History in 2004, and
won the Anglo-Hellenic League's Runciman Award in 2006. Tom Holland's latest book,
is also available as an Abacus paperback. All three are available as audiobooks from Hachette Audio.
is a superb, fascinating and erudite medieval banquet of slaughter, sanctity and sex, filled with emperors, whores and monks' Simon Sebag Montefiore
ranges far in both time and space yet always returns to its central theme: the right ordering of Christendom ... it is a narrative history in the grand manner, written with panache and confidence ... A marvellous, enthralling read'
'Holland excels at narration, never jogging when he can gallop .. . His highly individual road map to the hitherto "dark ages" is written with forceful - and convincing—panache' Christina Hardyment,
'Enjoyable and exuberantly argued ... storytelling on a magisterial scale'
Tom Holland is a gifted narrator who covers the field with panache and a rich fund of adjectives' Jonathan Sumption,
'Holland's book ... is big in every sense; and at its heart is a big idea that some may well deem heretical, others - myself included — profoundly imaginative ... Holland's brilliantly written account of the Canossa incident, and its far-reaching consequences, is typical of the eloquence and historical imagination of the entire book ... A remarkable book that prompts many reflections on our own day ...
is both a vastly entertaining read... as well as deeply intelligent: it constitutes a major contribution to some of the most crucial issues of our time' John Cornell,
'Holland has written an original and elegant book' Andrew Lynch,
Sunday Business Post
'Holland has a mightily readable style, in which powerful Latinate rhetoric jostles with cheery colloquialism ... Far more than the stories of Greeks and Romans, this is your history' James Delingpole,
Mail on Sunday
Also by Tom Holland
The Triumph and Tragedy of the Reman Republic
The First World Empire and the Battle for the West
The End of the World and the
Forging of Christendom
First published in Great Britain in 2008 by Little, Brown This paperback edition published in 2009 by Abacus Reprinted 2009 (twice)
Copyright © Tom Holland 2008
The right of Tom Holland to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
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Since pilgrimage is one of the major themes of this book, perhaps it is only fitting that the writing of it should often have seemed a long and winding road. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to everyone who helped me finally to arrive at my journey's end. To Richard Beswick and Iain Hunt, my editors, and miracle-workers both. To Susan de Soissons, Roger Cazalet, and everyone else at Little, Brown, for all their unswerving support. To Jake Smith-Bosanquet, for his doughty batting as well as for his suave negotiating technique, and to Patrick Walsh, the best of agents, and the dedicatee of this book. To Gerry Howard, for his encouragement at a key moment of despondency, and to Frits van der Meij, for all his trained medievalist's guidance. To James Palmer and Magnus Ryan, for giving the manuscript an exactingly - indeed, intimidatingly - close reading, and for being so incredibly generous with their time, scholarship and advice. To Robert Irwin, the
of contemporary orientalists, for reading the chapters on Christendom's engagement with Islam. To Ben Yates, who bodes well to be the future of Norse studies in this country, for reading the final draft through despite all the other demands on his time — and to invaluable effect. To David Crouch, for opening my eyes fully to the challenges that lay ahead. To Michael Wood, for confirming me in my opinion that there is no period more fascinating and under-studied than the tenth century. To Andrea Wulf and Maike Bohn, who more than made up for my deplorable lack of German - and yes, Andrea, Holy Lances
more interesting than plants. To Jamie Muir, for reading the chapters through as they were written with all his customary acuity and good humour, and for accompanying me around the housing estate that now occupies the site where Harald Hardrada fell. To Caroline Muir, for running round and round the local park with me whenever I felt the need to escape the first Millennium - or, indeed, to reflect upon it away from my desk. To Father Dunstan Adams OSB, for enabling me to share, if only briefly, in the daily rhythms that once animated Cluny. To Marianna Albini, for accompanying me to Canossa. To my brother, james Holland, for buying me a Norman helmet. To my parents, Jans and Martin Holland, for bringing me up in the very heartlands of Wessex. Above all, to my beloved family, Sadie, Katy and Eliza, for putting up with my lengthy bouts of hermitlike seclusion, for accompanying me uncomplainingly around Danish tumuli and Auvergnat churches alike, and for allowing me to name our cats Harold and Edith.
qui implevit faretram suam.
Europe in the year 1000 xxx
The Roman Empire in
The Empire of the Franks under Charlemagne and his successors 33
Italy in the reign of Otto II 78
The Byzantine Empire 88
France in the year 1000 130
The British Isles in the year 1000 190
The world of the Northmen 209
The Italy of Leo IX and his successors 270
The eastern frontier of Christendom 296
Just the worst time of the year for a journey - and the worst of years as well. Everyone was talking, that late December, about how there had never been a winter like it. Snow had been falling for weeks, and in the mountains, across the Alps, the drifts lay especially thick. No surprise, then, that as a small party of some fifty travellers toiled and switchbacked their way up the steep slopes of Mount Cenis, they should have been urged by locals to turn round, to delay their mission, to await the coming of spring. 'For so covered with snow and ice were the gradients ahead,' they were warned, 'that neither hoof nor foot could safely take step on them.'
Even the guides, men seasoned by years of Alpine storms, confessed themselves alarmed by the savage conditions. Dangerous though the ascent was, they muttered, yet the descent would prove even worse. And sure enough, so it did. Blizzards and freezing temperatures had transformed the road that led down towards Italy into one lethal flume of tightly packed ice. As the women of the party gingerly took their places on sledges fashioned out of ox hides, so the men were left to slip and slither onwards on foot, sometimes clutching the shoulders of their guides, sometimes scrabbling about on all fours. An undignified way for anyone to travel — but especially so for a Caesar and his entourage.
One thousand and seventy-six years had passed since the birth of Christ. Much had changed over the course of that time: strange peoples had risen to greatness, famous kingdoms had crumbled away, and even Rome herself, that most celebrated of cities, the one-time mistress of the world, had been left a wilderness of toppled monuments and weeds. Yet she had never been forgotten. Although the dominion of the ancient Caesars might be long vanished, the lustre of its fame still illumined the imaginings of its inheritors. Even to peoples who had never submitted to its rule, and in realms that had lain far beyond the reach of its legions, the person of an emperor, his cloak adorned with suns and stars, appeared an awesome but natural complement to the one celestial emperor who ruled in heaven. This was why, unlike his pagan forebears, a Christian Caesar did not require taxes and bureaucrats and standing armies to uphold the mystique of his power. Nor did he need a capital - nor even to be a Roman. His true authority derived from a higher source. 'Next after Christ he rules across the earth.'
What, then, and in the very dead of winter too, was God's deputy up to, collecting bruises on a mountainside! Such a prince, at Christmas time, should properly have been seated upon his throne within a fire-lit hall, presiding over a laden table, entertaining dukes and bishops. Henry, the fourth king of that name to have ascended to the rule of the German people, was lord of the greatest of all the realms of Christendom. Both his father and his grandfather before him had been crowned emperor. Henry himself, though he was yet to be graced formally with the imperial title, had always taken for granted that it was his by right.
Recently, however, this presumption had been dealt a series of crushing blows. For years, Henry's enemies among the German princes had been manoeuvring to bring him down. Nothing particularly exceptional there: for it was the nature of German princes, by and large, to manoeuvre against their king. Utterly exceptional, however, was the sudden emergence of an adversary who held no great network of castles, commanded no great train of warriors, nor even wore a sword. An adversary who nevertheless, in the course of only a few months, and in alliance with the German princes, had succeeded in bringing Christendom's mightiest king to his knees.
Gregory, this formidable opponent called himself: a name suited not to a warlord but to the guardian of a
a flock of sheep. Bishops, following the example of their Saviour, were much given to casting themselves as shepherds - and Gregory, by virtue of his office, was owner of the most imposing crook of all. Bishop of Rome, he was also very much more than that: for just as Henry liked to pose as the heir of the Caesars, so did Gregory, from his throne in Christendom's capital, lay claim to being the 'Father', the 'Pope', of the universal Church. A sure-fire recipe for conflict? Not necessarily. For centuries now, a long succession of emperors and popes had been rubbing along together well enough, not in competition, but in partnership. 'There are two principles which chiefly serve to order this world: the hallowed authority of pontiffs and the power of kings.' So it had been put by one pope, Gelasius, way back in
Admittedly, the temptation to blow his own trumpet had then led Gelasius to the grand assertion that it was he, and not the emperor, who bore the graver responsibility: 'for it is priests, at the hour of judgement, who have to render an account for the souls ofkings'.
But that had been just so much theory. The reality had been very different. The world was a cruel and violent place, after all, and a pope might easily find himself hemmed in around by any number of menacing neighbours. A shepherd's crook, no matter how serviceable, was hardly proof against a mail-clad predator. As a result, over the centuries, while no emperor had ever clung for protection to a pope, many a pope had clung to an emperor. Partners they might have been — but there had never been any question, in brute practice, of who was the junior.
And everyone knew it. No matter the fine arguments of a Gelasius, it had long been taken for granted by the Christian people that kings — and emperors especially—were men quite as implicated in the mysterious dimensions of the heavenly as any priest. They were regarded as having not merely a right to intrude upon the business of the Church, but a positive duty. On occasion, indeed, at a moment of particular crisis, an emperor might go so far as to take the ultimate sanction, and force the abdication of an unworthy pope. This was precisely what
Henry IV, convinced that Gregory was a standing menace to Christendom, had sought to bring about in the early weeks of 1076: a regrettable necessity, to be sure, but nothing that his own father had not successfully done before him.
Gregory, however, far from submitting to the imperial displeasure, and tamely stepping down, had taken an utterly unprecedented step: he had responded in ferocious kind. Henry's subjects, the Pope had pronounced, were absolved from all their loyalty and obedience to their earthly lord - even as Henry himself, that very image of God on earth, was 'bound with the chain of anathema',
and excommunicated from the Church. A gambit that had revealed itself, after only a few months, to be an utterly devastating one. Henry's enemies had been lethally emboldened. His friends had all melted away. By the end of the year, his entire realm had been rendered, quite simply, ungovernable. And so it was that, braving the winter gales, the by now desperate king had set himself to cross the Alps. He was resolved to meet with the Pope, to show due penitence, to beg forgiveness. Caesar though he might be, he had been left with no alternative.A race against time, then — and one made all the more pressing by Henry's awareness of an uncomfortable detail. Reports had it that Gregory, despite his venerable age of fifty-five, was out and about on the roads that winter as well. Indeed, that he was planning to make his own journey across the snow-bound Alps, and hold Henry to account that very February within the borders of the German kingdom itself. Naturally, as the weary royal party debouched into Lombardy, and 1076 turned to 1077, there was a frantic effort to pinpoint the papal whereabouts. Fortunately for Henry, fine though he had cut it, so too, it turned out, had his quarry. Gregory, despite having made it so far north that he could see the foothills of the Alps ahead of him, had no sooner been brought the news of the king's approach than he was turning tail in high alarm, and beating a retreat to the stronghold of a local supporter.
Henry, dispatching a blizzard of letters ahead of him to assure the Pope of his peaceable intentions, duly set off in pursuit. Late that January, and accompanied by only a few companions, he began the ascent of yet another upland road. Ahead of him, jagged like the spume of great waves frozen to ice by the cold of that terrible winter, there stretched the frontier of the Apennines. A bare six miles from the plain he had left behind him, but many hours' twisting and turning, Henry arrived at last before a valley, gouged out, it seemed, from the wild mountainscape, and spanned by a single ridge. Beyond it, surmounting a crag so sheer and desolate that it appeared utterly impregnable, the king could see the ramparts of the bolt hole where the Pope had taken refuge. The name of the fortress: Canossa.
On Henry pressed, into the castle's shadow. As he did so, the outer gates swung open to admit him, and then, halfway up the rock, the gates of a second wall. It would have been evident enough, even to the suspicious sentries, that their visitor intended no harm, nor presented any conceivable threat. 'Barefoot, and clad in wool, he had cast aside all the splendour proper to a king.' Although Henry was proud and combustible by nature, his head on this occasion was bowed. Tears streamed down his face. Humbly, joining a crowd of other penitents, he took up position before the gates of the castle's innermost wall. There the Caesar waited, the deputy of Christ, shivering in the snow. Nor, in all that time, did he neglect to continue with his lamentations - 'until', as the watching Gregory put it, 'he had provoked all who were there or who had been brought news of what was happening to such great mercy, and such pitying compassion, that they began to intercede for him with prayers and tears of their own'.
A truly awesome show. Ultimately, not even the stern and indomitable Pope himself was proof against it.
By the morning of Saturday 28 January, the third day of the royal penance, Gregory had seen enough. He ordered the inner set of gates unbarred at last. Negotiations were opened and soon concluded. Pope and king, for the first time, perhaps, since Henry had been a small child, met each other face to face.
The pinch-faced penitent was absolved with a papal kiss. And so was set the seal on an episode as fateful as any in Europe's history.
Like the crossing of the Rubicon, like the storming of the Bastille, the events at Canossa had served to crystallise a truly epochal crisis. Far more had been at stake than merely the egos of two domineering men. The Pope, locked into a desperate power struggle though he certainly was, had ambitions as well that were breathtakingly global in their scope. His goal? Nothing less than to establish the 'right order in the world'.
What had once, back in the time of Gelasius, appeared merely a pipedream was now, during Gregory's papacy, transformed into a manifesto. By its terms, the whole of Christendom, from its summit to its meanest village, was to be divided into two. One realm for the spiritual, one for the secular. No longer were kings to be permitted to poke their noses into the business of the Church. It was a plan of action as incendiary as it was sweeping: for it required a full-out assault upon presumptions that were ultimately millennia old.
However, even had Gregory appreciated the full scale of his task, he would surely not have shrunk from it. What lay at stake, so he believed, was the very future of mankind: for unless the Church were kept sacrosanct, what hope for a sinful world? No wonder, then, presented with the opportunity, that the Pope had dared to make an example of his most formidable opponent. 'The King of Rome, rather than being honoured as a universal monarch, had been treated instead as merely a human being - a creature moulded out of clay.'
Contemporaries, struggling to make sense of the whole extraordinary business, perfectly appreciated that they were living through a convulsion in the affairs of the Christian people that had ho precedent, nor even any parallel. 'Our whole Roman world was shaken.'
What, then, could this earthquake betoken, many wondered, if not the end of days? That the affairs of men were drawing to a close, and the earth itself growing decrepit, had long been a widespread presumption. As the years slipped by, however, and the world did not end, so people found themselves obliged to grope about for different explanations. A formidable task indeed. The three decades that preceded the showdown at Canossa, and the four that followed it, were, in the judgement of one celebrated medievalist, a period when the ideals of Christendom, its forms of government and even its very social and economic fabric 'changed in almost every respect'. Here, argued Sir Richard Southern, was the true making of the West. 'The expansion of Europe had begun in earnest. That all this should have happened in so short a time is the most remarkable fact in medieval history.'
And, if remarkable to us, then how much more so to those who actually lived through it. We in the twenty-first century are habituated to the notion of progress: the faith that human society, rather than inevitably decaying, can be improved. The men and women of the eleventh century were not. Gregory, by presuming to challenge Henry IV, and the fabulously ancient nimbus of tradition that hedged emperors and empires about, was the harbinger of something awesome. He and his supporters might not have realised it - but they were introducing to the modern West its first experience of revolution.
It was a claim that many of those who subsequently set Europe to shake would no doubt have viewed as preposterous. To Martin Luther, the one-time monk who saw it as his lifetime's mission to reverse everything that Gregory had stood for, the great Pope appeared a literally infernal figure:
or 'Hellfire'. In the wake of the Enlightenment too, as dreams of building a new Jerusalem took on an ever more secular hue, and world revolution was consciously enshrined as an ideal, so it appeared to many enthusiasts for change that there existed no greater roadblock to their progress than the Roman Catholic Church.