Sunday, September 10, 2023

Henry the Pious

Henry II the Pious was born in Poland to Henry the Bearded and Hedwig of Andechs. Henry the Bearded had worked hard to unite several different areas, becoming Duke of Poland as well as Duke of Silesia. Through marriage to Hedwig, he was connected to Germany, Hungary, Bohemia, and France. One curiosity about Henry: he was born with six toes on his left foot.

Henry II was one of three brothers and potential heirs. His older brother, Bolesław, died in 1206, and their father decided to leave all his inheritance to young Henry. There was another son, however, the younger Konrad the Curly. Konrad and young Henry quarreled over the choice, which was ultimately resolved when Konrad fell from his horse and died while hunting (no proof of foul play, although contemporary chroniclers would have considered themselves remiss if they hadn't hinted at it). Konrad was buried at an abbey in Trebnitz where a sister, Gertrude, was abbess.

Henry II became Duke of Poland and Duke of Silesia, but holding together the various territories and their local rulers that his father had united was difficult. For instance, an Upper Silesian Duty of Opole-Racibórz was ruled in succession by two minors for whom Henry acted as regent, Mieszko II the Fat and Bolesław V the Chaste, but once they achieved their majority and he had to resign the regency, he had less influence there.

There was an ongoing dispute with the Church that he had inherited from his father. The Archbishop of Gniezno opposed the Bearded's possession of the Duchy of Opole that had been attacked and conquered by the Bearded's uncle. Henry was traditionally allied with the House of Hohenstaufen, but they were in conflict with Pope Gregory IX. Henry decided it was more advantageous to align himself with the pope and abandon the Hohenstaufen connection. This meant the archbishop's hostility to Henry was called off by the pope.

All his efforts to rule were brought to nought by the invasion of the Mongols, ordered by Batu Khan. A Mongol army of 10,000 met Henry's forces at Legnica on 9 April 1241. Henry felt he could not afford to wait for reinforcements, so marched with an army that was no match for the fierce Mongol cavalry. His body was so hacked up that certain identification was required by taking off the boots and noting the number of toes. An illustration of his decapitated head on a pole can be seen in this post.

Members of the Hohenstaufen dynasty have been mentioned in this blog before, but its origin and importance in European history deserves a little more attention, which it will get tomorrow.

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