Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor
Birthday: November 23, 912
Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 60
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Otto I, Otto the Great
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Wallhausen, Germany
Famous as: Emperor
Spouse/Ex-: Adelaide of Italy (m. 951), Eadgyth of England (m. 930 – 946)
father: Henry the Fowler
mother: Matilda of Ringelheim
Died on: May 7, 973
place of death: Memleben, Kaiserpfalz, Germany
Otto I was the Holy Roman Emperor from 962 until his death in 973. He was the eldest son of Henry I the Fowler. He was also the German king from 936. After inheriting the kingdom after his father’s death in 936, he began uniting the German tribes into a single kingdom. He installed his family members in his kingdom’s prominent regions through personal appointments and strategic marriages. Born in 912, Otto initially served as a commander when the German kingdom battled Wendish tribes under his father’s rule. He married Eadgyth, daughter of English King Edward the Elder in 930. His coronation took place six years later, in August 936. During his reign, Otto transformed the Catholic Church to enhance his royal authority. In 955, he defeated the Hungarians at the Battle of Lechfeld and later occupied the Kingdom of Italy. His later years were marked by struggles to stabilize his dominance over Italy and conflicts with the papacy. The king finally returned to his nation in 972 and died the following year. He was succeeded by his son Otto II.
Childhood & Early Life
Otto I was born on 23 November 912, to the Duke of Saxony, Henry the Fowler and Matilda, his second wife and the daughter of a Saxon count in Westphalia. He had four full siblings.
His first military experience was as a commander during a German-Wendish battle in 929. During this time, he also became a father for the first time when a captive Wendish noblewoman gave birth to his illegitimate son, William.
In 930, Otto I was married to Eadgyth, King Æthelstan of England’s half-sister and Edward the Elder’s daughter.
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Accession & Reign
In 936, after the death of his father, Otto I became the Duke of Saxony and King of Germany. After becoming the king, he chose Hermann Billung as Margrave, and this angered Billung’s brother, Count Wichmann the Elder.
Otto selected Gero as the count of a territory around Merseburg. He also fought against Eberhard, son of Arnulf, Duke of Bavaria. After defeating him, the king made Eberhard's uncle Berthold the new Duke of Bavaria.
Angered, Eberhard joined Archbishop Frederick of Mainz and Otto’s half-brother Thankmar, all of whom planned a revolt against Otto in 938. The revolt ended after Thankmar was killed, and Eberhard, Frederick, and Wichmann reconciled with the king.
Shortly after the reconciliation, Eberhard collaborated with Gilbert, Duke of Lorraine, and Otto’s younger brother Henry to again plan a rebellion against the king. Otto exiled Henry who fled to King Louis IV.
This led to a war between Otto and the opposing group of Louis, Henry, Eberhard, and Gilbert. Otto allied with Louis' antagonist Hugh the Great and defeated the opposition army.
On 2 October 939, he killed Eberhard at the Battle of Andernach, and Gilbert eventually drowned in a river while trying to escape. The end of the battle resulted in the reconciliation of Otto and his brother Henry.
Between 941 and 951, Otto became the undisputed master of his kingdom. During this time, he also briefly exiled his mother who disapproved of his policy. The other family members who rebelled against him were also forced to surrender to him and beg for mercy.
During his reign, the king managed to strengthen his foreign relations. He helped Louis IV reconcile with Hugh the Great through marriage bonds within his family. He developed a peaceful relationship with the Kingdom of Burgundy and also with Boleslaus I, Duke of Bohemia.
Rule in Italy
The death of Emperor Charles the Fat in 888 led to the partition of Charlemagne into many regions, including Lower and Upper Burgundy, East and West Francia, and the Kingdom of Italy.
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After the assassination of Berengar I of Italy in 924, the imperial title was left unclaimed. This led to Hugh, ruler of Lower Burgundy and King Rudolf II of Upper Burgundy battle against each other to acquire the throne.
In 926, Hugh became the King of Italy after defeating Rudolf. His son Lothair joined the kingdom as the co-ruler.
In 940, King Berengar I’s grandson Berengar II fought against Hugh who exiled him from Italy. Berengar II, who initially fled to Otto's court, later returned to Italy where he defeated Hugh. After Hugh’s death, Berengar II continued to serve as mayor of the palace ruled by Hugh’s son Lothair.
On 22 November 950, Berengar II became the new king of Italy after Lothair’s death. His son Adalbert of Italy became the co-ruler.
In 951, Otto’s son Liudolf invaded Lombardy in northern Italy without informing his father. To save him from the opposition, Otto arrived in Italy and was eventually crowned as the king of Italy after Berengar II fled from his capital.
Soon after becoming the king of Italy, Otto faced opposition from Archbishop Frederick of Mainz, his long-time domestic rival. The king returned to Germany in 952 and appointed Conrad, his son-in-law, as his regent in Italy.
Otto then entered into a peace agreement with Berengar II according to which he would give him the title of king of Italy and would himself reign as his overlord.
Dominance Over the Catholic Church
In the late 940s, Otto started to use the Roman Catholic Church to expand his dominance over the kingdom. He became the protector of the church and invested many bishops with the symbols of office.
The implementation of this new internal policy began with his own brother Bruno the Great who was chosen as Archbishop of Cologne in 953. His illegitimate son William of Mainz was made Archbishop Adaldag of Bremen. The king’s personal appointments in the church strengthened his central authority.
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The Father-Son Rebellion
The embarrassing aftermath of his Italian campaign made Liudolf turn against his father. He joined hands with Conrad and planned a rebellion against him.
After the birth of his son Henry from his second wife, Otto quickly drew criticism from German nobles who thought the king’s policy has become Italian-centered.
Otto eventually decided to battle Liudolf and Conrad and managed to defeat them. He, however, struggled to seize their territories. Thus, the king opened peace negotiations with them.
Conrad and Liudolf initially continued the civil war but were later forced to give up after the death of Conrad’s wife and Otto's only daughter, Liutgarde.
After Liudolf surrendered to the king, a peace agreement was signed between the two parties that restored Liudolf’s regency over Italy. These measures finally concluded the civil war.
Reign As Emperor
After the death of his son Liudolf and his brother Henry I, Duke of Bavaria, Otto I faced rebellion from Berengar II who attacked the March of Verona as well as the Papal States and the city of Rome under Pope John XII. The pope then sought the king’s help to fight against Berengar II. Otto agreed to lend aid in return of the title of the emperor.
Otto reached northern Italy in 961 and moved towards Pavia where he proclaimed himself the king of Italy. The following year, he reached Rome and was crowned as the emperor by the pope.
Otto eventually defeated Berengar II in 963 and re-conquered Italy. Seeing his successful campaign, the pope started to fear his rising power in Italy. He planned a plot against the king but was eventually captured by the latter.
After Pope John XII’s death in 964, the Romans elected Pope Benedict V as the new pope. Otto later fought against Berengar II’s son Adalbert and defeated him, once against restoring his dominance over Italy.
Personal Life & Legacy
Otto had two wives. His first wife was Eadgyth of England with whom he had two sons, Liudolf and Liutgarde. After Eadgyth’s death, the king married Adelaide of Italy with whom he had Henry, Bruno, Matilda, and Otto II.
He also had an illegitimate son named William.
On 7 May 973, the king died after receiving his last sacraments, at the age of 60. After his death, Otto II became the new king of Germany.