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Henry the Lion

Image:hnrylion.JPG Henry the Lion (face of statue on his tomb in Brunswick Cathedral)

Henry the Lion (1129/1131 - August 6 1195; in German, Heinrich der Löwe) was Duke of Saxony as Henry III since 1142, and Duke of Bavaria as Henry XII since 1156, both until 1180. He was the most powerful of the German princes of his time, until the rival Hohenstaufen dynasty succeeded in isolating him and eventually depriving him of his duchies of Bavaria and Saxony during the reign of his cousin Frederick I and of Frederick's son and successor Henry VI.

Henry achieved this great power in part by his political and military acumen, in part through the combined legacies of his four grandparents. He was the son of Henry the Proud, duke of Bavaria and Saxony, who was the son of duke Welf IV and an heiress of the Billungs, former dukes of Saxony. Henry's mother was Gertude, only daughter of Emperor Lothar II and his wife Richenza of Nordheim, heiress to the Saxon territories of Nordheim and Brunswick-Lüneburg.

Henry's father died in 1139 when Henry was still a child, and King Conrad III did not immediately give the two duchies to Henry. He acquired Saxony in 1142 and Bavaria in 1156.

He is the founder of Munich (1157/58; München) and Lübeck (1159); he also founded and developed the cities of Stade, Lüneburg and Braunschweig (city) (Brunswick), where he had a bronze Lion, his heraldic animal, erected in the yard of his castle Dankwarderode, next to the Brunswick cathedral, in 1166 -- the first bronze statue north of the Alps still existing today (see "Brunswick cathedral" for a photo). He made Brunswick the capital of his principality.

In 1175, Henry refused to aid his cousin Emperor Frederick I in a renewed invasion of Lombardy, because he did not consider this Italian adventure worth the effort, even when Frederick offered him the rich city of Goslar as a reward. Barbarossa's war in Lombardy ended in failure and he bitterly resented Henry for failing to support him. Henry had to face a feudal lawsuit for insubordination and was condemned by the Empire's princes, who resented his enormous power and vast realm, in 1180, losing most of his principality. He was exiled from Germany in 1182 for three years and stayed with his father-in-law, Henry II.

During the last years of his life Henry tried to regain what he had lost, but he mostly failed.

The picture at the top right, taken from his tomb in Brunswick cathedral constructed between 1230 and 1240, shows an idealized image. When the Nazis exhumed his corpse, they were disappointed finding a comparatively small man with black hair.

In 1158 he married as his second wife Matilda (1156 -1189) the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine and sister of Richard Lionheart. Henry had the following issue:


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 0198219695

Preceded by:
Albert the Bear

Duke of Saxony

Succeeded by:
Bernard III

Preceded by:
Henry XI

Duke of Bavaria

Succeeded by:
Otto I

Last updated: 02-25-2005 21:13:14