Hildebrand and His Time

Hildebrand and His Time by William Richard Ward Stephens

Hildebrand and His Time by William Richard Ward Stephens

W.R.W. Stephens, the Anglican Dean of Winchester, writes a short, lively biography of the great church reformer, Hildebrand of Sovana (1015-1085), afterwards Pope Gregory VII, setting his life within the larger context of the struggle for dominance between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy during the Middle Ages. The roots of the conflict can be traced to the alliance made between Pope Stephen II and his successors and the Frankish King Pippin and his son Charlemagne to break the power of the Lombard Kingdom in Italy. Later emperors sought first to reform and then to dominate the Papacy, but they finally met their match in Hildebrand, leading to the famous confrontation between Pope and Emperor on the snowy steps of Canossa Castle. Facing an imperial invasion, Pope Gregory took the fatal step of summoning his fierce Norman allies. They sacked and burned Rome and carried Hildebrand off to Salerno where, his body weak but his spirit unbowed, he breathed his last crying, “I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity–therefore I die in exile.” After Hildebrand’s death, his ally Duchess Matilda, the greatest power in northern Italy, continued the struggle with the tragic Emperor, Henry IV, over investiture and reform, a conflict which was only settled under his perfidious son, Henry V.

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