Henry I of Germany: Henry the Fowler

Henry I of Germany
Statue of Henry at the town hall of Hamburg, Germany. Adapted from a photo by Medvedev, made available through the Creative Commons license.

Henry I of Germany was also known as:

Henry the Fowler; in German, Henrik or Heinrich der Vogler

Henry I of Germany was known for:

Founding the Saxon dynasty of kings and emperors in Germany. Although he never took the title "Emperor" (his son Otto was the first to revive the title centuries after the Carolingians), future emperors would reckon the numbering of "Henrys" from his reign. How he got his nickname is uncertain; one story has it that he was called "fowler" because he was setting bird snares when informed of his election as king, but that is probably a myth.


Military Leader

Places of Residence and Influence:

Europe: Germany

Important Dates:

Born: c. 876
Becomes Duke of Saxony: 912
Designated heir to Conrad I of Franconia: 918
Elected king by the nobles of Saxony and Franconia: 919
Defeats Magyars at Riade: March 15, 933
Died: July 2, 936

About Henry I of Germany (Henry the Fowler):

Henry was the son of Otto the Illustrious. He married Hatheburg, daughter of the count of Merseburg, but the marriage was declared invalid because, after her first husband's death, Hatheburg had become a nun. In 909 he wed Matilda, daughter of the count of Westphalia.

When his father died in 912, Henry became Duke of Saxony. Six years later, Conrad I of Franconia designated Henry as his heir shortly before he died. Henry now controlled two of the four most significant duchies in Germany, the nobles of which elected him king of Germany in May of 919. However, the other two important duchies, Bavaria and Swabia, did not recognize him as their king.

Henry had respect for the autonomy of the various duchies of Germany, but he also wanted them to unite in a confederation. He managed to force Burchard, the duke of Swabia, to submit to him in 919, but he allowed Burchard to retain administrative control over his duchy. In that same year, Bavarian and East Frankish nobles elected Arnulf, duke of Bavaria, as king of Germany, and Henry met the challenge with two military campaigns, forcing Arnulf to submit in 921. Though Arnulf gave up his claim to the throne, he retained control of his duchy of Bavaria. Four years later Henry defeated Giselbert, king of Lotharingia, and brought the region back under German control. Giselbert was allowed to remain in charge of Lotharingia as duke, and in 928 he married Henry's daughter, Gerberga.

In 924 the barbarian Magyar tribe invaded Germany. Henry agreed to pay them tribute and to return a hostage chief in exchange for a nine-year halt to raids on German lands. Henry used the time well; he built fortified towns, trained mounted warriors into a formidable army, and led them in some solid victories against various Slavic tribes. When the nine-year truce ended, Henry refused to pay more tribute, and the Magyars resumed their raids. But Henry crushed them at Riade in March of 933, putting an end to the Magyar threat to the Germans.

Henry's last campaign was an invasion of Denmark through which the territory of Schleswig became part of Germany. The son he had with Matilda, Otto, would succeed him as king and become Holy Roman Emperor Otto I the Great.

More Henry the Fowler Resources:

Henry the Fowler on the Web

Henry I
Concise bio at Infoplease.
Henry the Fowler
Excerpt from Famous Men of the Middle Ages by John H. Haaren

Henry the Fowler in Print

Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800-1056
by Timothy Reuter
by Benjamin Arnold

Medieval Germany

Chronological Index

Geographical Index

Index by Profession, Achievement, or Role in Society

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Snell, Melissa. "Henry I of Germany: Henry the Fowler." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/henry-i-of-germany-1788988. Snell, Melissa. (2023, April 5). Henry I of Germany: Henry the Fowler. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/henry-i-of-germany-1788988 Snell, Melissa. "Henry I of Germany: Henry the Fowler." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/henry-i-of-germany-1788988 (accessed May 29, 2023).