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Henry the Lion

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Henry the Lion

Henry the Lion
Statue in Brunswick Cathedral, said to be showing Henry the Lion
Duke of Saxony
Reign 1142–1180
Predecessor Albert the Bear
Successor Bernard III
Duke of Bavaria
Reign 1156–1180
Predecessor Henry XI
Successor Otto I
Spouse Clementia of Zähringen
Matilda of England
Issue Gertrude, Queen of Denmark
Henry V, Count Palatine of the Rhine
Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor
William of Winchester
House House of Welf
Father Henry II, Duke of Saxony
Mother Gertrude of Süpplingenburg
Born c. 1129
Died 6 August 1195(1195-08-06) (aged 65/66)
Burial Brunswick Cathedral

Henry the Lion (German: Heinrich der Löwe; 1129 – 6 August 1195) was a member of the Welf dynasty and Duke of Saxony, as Henry III, from 1142, and Duke of Bavaria, as Henry XII, from 1156, which duchies he held until 1180.

He was one of the most powerful German princes of his time, until the rival Hohenstaufen dynasty succeeded in isolating him and eventually deprived him of his duchies of Bavaria and Saxony during the reign of his cousin Frederick I Barbarossa and of Frederick's son and successor Henry VI.

At the height of his reign, Henry ruled over a vast territory stretching from the coast of the North and Baltic Seas to the Alps, and from Westphalia to Pomerania. Henry achieved this great power in part by his political and military acumen and in part through the legacies of his four grandparents.


Born in Ravensburg, he was the son of Henry the Proud, Duke of Bavaria and Saxony, who was the son of Duke Henry the Black and an heir of the Billungs, former dukes of Saxony. Henry's mother was Gertrude, only daughter of Emperor Lothair III and his wife Richenza of Northeim, heiress of the Saxon territories of Northeim and the properties of the Brunones, counts of Brunswick.

Henry's father died in 1139, aged 32, when Henry was still a child. King Conrad III had dispossessed Henry the Proud, who had been his rival for the crown in 1138, of his duchies in 1138 and 1139, handing Saxony to Albert the Bear and Bavaria to Leopold of Austria. Henry, however, did not relinquish his claims to his inheritance, and Conrad returned Saxony to him in 1142. A participant in the 1147 Wendish Crusade, Henry also reacquired Bavaria by a decision of the new Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1156.

Contemporary depicition of Henry the Lion from the Historia Welforum

Henry is the founder of Munich (1157/58; München) and Lübeck (1159); he also founded and developed numerous other cities in Northern Germany and Bavaria, a.o. Augsburg, Hildesheim, Stade, Kassel, Güstrow, Lüneburg, Salzwedel, Schwerin and Brunswick. In Brunswick, his capital, he had a bronze lion, his heraldic animal, erected in the yard of his castle Dankwarderode in 1166 — the first bronze statue north of the Alps. Later, he had Brunswick Cathedral built close to the statue.

Wedding of Henry the Lion and Matilda of England (1188)

In 1147, Henry married Clementia of Zähringen, thereby gaining her hereditary territories in Swabia. He divorced her in 1162, apparently under pressure from Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who did not cherish Guelphish possessions in his home area and offered Henry several fortresses in Saxony in exchange. In 1168, Henry married Matilda (1156–1189), the daughter of King Henry II of England and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine and sister of King Richard I of England.

Henry faithfully supported his older cousin, Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa), in his attempts to solidify his hold on the Imperial Crown and his repeated wars with the cities of Lombardy and the Popes, several times turning the tide of battle in Frederick's favor with his Saxon knights. During Frederick's first invasion of northern Italy, Henry took part, among the others, in the victorious sieges of Crema and Milan. However, in 1174, Henry refused to aid Frederick in a renewed invasion of Lombardy because he was preoccupied with securing his own borders in the East. He did not consider these Italian adventures worth the effort, unless Barbarossa presented Henry with the Saxon imperial city Goslar: a request Barbarossa refused.

Barbarossa's expedition into Lombardy ultimately ended in failure. He bitterly resented Henry for failing to support him. Taking advantage of the hostility of other German princes to Henry, who had successfully established a powerful and contiguous state comprising Saxony, Bavaria and substantial territories in the north and east of Germany, Frederick had Henry tried in absentia for insubordination by a court of bishops and princes in 1180. Declaring that Imperial law overruled traditional German law, the court had Henry stripped of his lands and declared him an outlaw. Frederick then invaded Saxony with an Imperial army to bring his cousin to his knees. Henry's allies deserted him, and he finally had to submit in November 1181 at a Reichstag in Erfurt. He was exiled from Germany in 1182 for three years, stayed with his father-in-law, in Normandy before being allowed back into Germany in 1185. He was exiled again in 1188. His wife Matilda died in 1189.

When Frederick Barbarossa went on the Crusade of 1189, Henry returned to Saxony, mobilized an army of his faithful, and conquered the rich city of Bardowick as punishment for her disloyalty. Only the churches were left standing. Barbarossa's son, Emperor Henry VI, again defeated the Duke, but in 1194, with his end approaching, he made his peace with the Emperor, and returned to his much diminished lands around Brunswick, where he finished his days as Duke of Braunschweig, peacefully sponsoring arts and architecture. Exhumation in the 1930s revealed that he had been excommunicated.


Henry's duchies Saxony and Bavaria

Henry had the following known children:

Three other children are listed, by some sources, as having belonged to Henry and Matilda:

  • Eleanor (born 1178); died young
  • Ingibiorg (born 1180); died young
  • Infant Son (b. & d. 1182)



The Henry the Lion Bible is preserved in near mint condition from the year 1170; it is located in the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel, a town in Lower Saxony.

Henry the Lion remains a popular figure to this day.[1] During World War I a nail man depicting Henry the Lion, called Eiserner Heinrich, was used in Brunswick to raise funds for the German war effort.

Nazi propaganda later declared Henry an antecessor of the Nazi's Lebensraum policy[2] and turned Brunswick Cathedral and Henry's tomb into a "National Place of Consecration".[3]

Henry the Lion in folklore and fiction

Henry and his lion (title page illustration from Karl Joseph Simrock's retelling of the folktale Geschichte des großen Helden und Herzogen Heinrich des Löwen und seiner wunderbaren höchst gefährlichen Reise (1844)).

Shortly after his death, the Henry the Lion became the subject of a folktale, the so-called Heinrichssage.[4] The tale was later also turned into the opera Enrico Leone by Italian composer Agostino Steffani.[5] The Heinrichssage details a fictional account of Henry's pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A popular part of the tale deals with the Brunswick Lion. According to legend, Henry witnessed the fight between a lion and a dragon while on pilgrimage. He joins the lion in its fight and they slay the dragon. The faithful lion then accompanies Henry on his return home. After its master's death, the lion refuses all food and dies of grief on Henry's grave. The people of Brunswick then erect a statue in the lion's honour.[6][7][8] The legend of Henry the Lion also inspired the Czech tale of the knight Bruncvík, which is depicted on a column on Charles Bridge in Prague.

Henry the Lion appears in Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings in the Barbarossa campaign. He appears in the second and fourth missions initially as an ally to Barbarossa, but betrays him both times, which is historically inaccurate. The first time, he was spared and allowed to serve Barbarossa again. The second time, he was exiled to Britain. It is revealed at the end that he was the narrator of the campaign.


  • Benjamin Arnold, "Henry the Lion and His Time", Journal of Medieval History, vol. 22, pp. 379–393 (1996)
  • Karl Jordan, Henry the Lion. A Biography, ISBN 0-19-821969-5
  • Heinrich der Löwe und seine Zeit. Katalog der Ausstellung. Bd. 2. Braunschweig, 1995.
  • Leila Werthschulte, Heinrich der Löwe in Geschichte und Sage (Heidelberg, Universitätsverlag Winter, 2007).


  1. ^ Matthias Heine. "Barbarossas Staatsfeind Nummer eins" (in German).  
  2. ^ Heinrich der Löwe (in German). Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  3. ^ About the Cathedral. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  4. ^  
  5. ^ Enrico Leone (Heinrich der Löwe). Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  6. ^ Combellack, C. R. B. (1955), "Die Sage von Heinrich dem Löwen. Ihr Ursprung, Ihre Entwicklung und Ihre Überlieferung by Karl Hoppe", Comparative Literature 7 (2): 160–162,  
  7. ^ Jäckel, Dirk (2006), Der Herrscher als Löwe: Ursprung und Gebrauch eines politischen Symbols im Früh- und Hochmittelalter (in German), Cologne / Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, pp. 163–164 
  8. ^ Pollach, Günter (2011), Kaleidoskop der Mächtigen: Randglossen zu überlieferten Mythen und Episoden der Geschichte (in German), pp. 64–67 

External links

  • Henry the Lion on
  • Henry the Lion. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition
  • The fall of Henry the Lion (from Germany) -- Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Deposition of Henry the Lion. (from Frederick I) -- Encyclopædia Britannica
  • MSN Encarta - Multimedia - Henry the Lion (Archived 2009-10-31)
  • Charter given by Henry to monastery Volkenroda, 31.1.1174. Photograph taken from the collections of the Lichtbildarchiv älterer Originalurkunden at Marburg University showing Henry's seal.
Henry the Lion
Born: 1129 Died: 1195
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Albert the Bear
Duke of Saxony
Succeeded by
Bernard III
Preceded by
Henry XI
Duke of Bavaria
Succeeded by
Otto I
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