History Courses / Course / Chapter

Power Struggles of the Holy Roman Empire: Popes vs. Emperors

Lesson Transcript
Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

The High Middles Ages were defined by a constant struggle for power between the Holy Roman Empire and European monarchs, most notably a succession of German kings. Learn about the power struggles of popes versus emperors as Christianity swept across Europe between the 11th and 13th centuries. Updated: 09/19/2021

The New Holy Roman Empire

Before the High Middle Ages, which spanned from the 11th to the 13th centuries, Christianity saw a massive expansion throughout Europe. Nations began to declare Catholicism as the dominant religion, giving the pope increasing power. Nobles fought for control of the papacy while literacy rates among the clerics declined. Church officials became corrupt with their authority.

At this time, the German Empire was under the rule of Otto I the Great. He created a strong alliance with the church by appointing officials who were loyal to him. He also allowed the church to have authority over some German lands.

This was the beginning of the renewal of the Holy Roman Empire. Otto III, who ruled from 983 to 1002, made the capital of his empire Rome and declared himself emperor of the Romans. Otto was attempting to revive the Western Roman Empire, which had deteriorated during the 5th and 6th centuries and became independent cities ruled by Germanic nobles. After declaring himself emperor, Otto appointed non-Italian church officials, which was answered with rebellion. He was eventually forced to flee Rome and died before he could return.

The rulers that held control over the empire from 1024 to 1125 were known as the Salian emperors. They attempted to centralize control and lessen the authority of other powers like nobles and dukes.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: The Daily Life of English Peasants

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:07 Holy Roman Empire
  • 1:33 Battle for Secular Control
  • 2:56 Frederick II
  • 4:23 After Frederick II
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Battle for Secular Control

Henry IV, who ruled from 1056 to 1105, helped the German monarchy reach the height of its power, but he also started a bitter argument with the reigning pope. Like Otto III before him, Henry argued with the reigning pope - this time Gregory VII - over who had the right to authorize the appointment of officials. This action is known as investiture. This fight, known as the Investiture Controversy, led to both the king and the pope renouncing each other's position. Because German nobles were loyal to the pope, the king had to renounce some of his authority by begging the pope to recognize him as king.

After the Investiture Controversy, German nobles defied the king's authority, leaving the German monarchy lacking in power. Italy was also experiencing unrest. Italian city-states were battling for independence and power over each other. Hoping to gain more power, they joined in the ongoing fight between the pope and the German emperors.

Frederick I Barbarossa ruled Germany from 1152 to 1190. He worked to re-centralize control over the German empire by forcing nobles to acknowledge his authority. He was successful in establishing his rule, but he needed Italy's resources to hold his control over Germany. Italy joined with the pope to fight against Frederick's heavy taxes. Italy and the pope dominated their battle with the German monarchy for over two decades.

Frederick II

Frederick's grandson, Frederick II, became king of Germany when he was just a child. He was placed in the care of Pope Innocent III, a very powerful pope. With the pope's support, Frederick was declared emperor in 1220.

Frederick's time with Innocent III did not protect him from conflict with the papacy. Italian city-states continued to fight with the pope against Frederick's authority. In the end, Frederick would fail at maintaining control, just as his grandfather did. However, he had even more conflict with the church during a crusading expedition. The Crusades were holy wars sanctioned by the pope. Frederick had agreed to join in a crusade but never made it to his destination, likely due to illness. That crusade was a failure for the church, and Frederick was excommunicated by the pope. When Frederick joined another crusade despite his excommunication, the pope excommunicated him again. Frederick then successfully gained control of Jerusalem, only to be excommunicated a third time by the pope.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Prompts About Power Struggles of the Holy Roman Empire:

Timeline Prompt:

Create a timeline that covers the major events and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire during the High Middle Ages.

Example: The rulers between 1024 and 1125 were the Salian emperors.

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of approximately three to four paragraphs that explains how the Investiture Controversy led to increased bitterness between the papacy, German emperors, and German nobles.

Example: German nobles were loyal to the Catholic Church, so there was discord between the nobles and the emperor.

Essay Prompt 2:

In approximately three to four paragraphs, write an essay that describes how unrest in Italy created further disharmony between Germany and the papacy.

Example: Italy teamed up with the papacy against Germany, especially after Frederick I Barbarossa began levying high taxes.

Essay Prompt 3:

Write an essay of at least one page that answers the following question: How did the Crusades ultimately undermine the pope's authority in the Holy Roman Empire?

Example: Unleashing violent wars caused many people to think that the pope was not behaving in a holy or spiritual way.

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Make a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that lists the pros and cons of Frederick II's rule.

Example: Frederick II gained control of Jerusalem and Sicily, while losing some power in Germany.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Resources created by teachers for teachers

Over 30,000 video lessons & teaching resources‐all in one place.
Video lessons
Quizzes & Worksheets
Classroom Integration
Lesson Plans

I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.
Jennifer B.
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account