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Seal of Lothair III on a deed from 1131

Lothair III of Supplinburg (1075, Unterlüß – 4 December 1137), was Duke of Saxony (1106), King of Germany (1125), and Holy Roman Emperor from 1133 to 1137. He was the son of Count Gebhard of Supplinburg.


A note on the ordinal

The numbering of German rulers generally follows a sequence that leads back to the Carolingian empire and the East Frankish kingdom that emerged from it. Lothair III is thus seen as a successor of Emperor Lothair I (ruled 843-855) and King Lothair II of Lotharingia (ruled 855-869), most of whose kingdom was eventually absorbed into Germany. However, because Lothair II was not Emperor and did not rule Germany proper, some historians do not count him in the German sequence and thus call Lothair of Supplinburg Lothair II rather than Lothair III.

Rise to power

Little is known of Lothair's youth. He was a posthumous child, born in June 1075 shortly after his father, Gebhard of Supplinburg, died in battle against the Emperor Henry IV.

After years of purchasing lands or gaining them via inheritance or marriage alliances throughout Saxony, Lothair gained the domains of the Billung, Nordheim and Brunswick families and became one of the dominant landowners in the northern duchy. He was made Duke of Saxony in 1106 by Emperor Henry V in exchange for his help against Henry's father, Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor. Emboldened by the promotion, and incensed over the imposition of a new tax on ducal lords, Lothair subsequently revolted against Henry's rule and denied Henry's ability to rule Saxony during the Investiture Controversy. In 1115 his forces defeated those of the Emperor in the Battle of Welfesholz.

When Henry died in 1125, Lothair was viewed by the imperial chancellor, the Archbishop of Mainz, as a perfect candidate. As an extensive landowner, he brought power to the table, but he was old (slightly over fifty years of age) and had no male issue, potentially making him malleable for the nobility. He was therefore elected king of Germany after a contentious power struggle with Frederick II, Duke of Swabia, head of the Hohenstaufen. His election was notable in that it marked a departure from the concept of hereditary succession. Somewhat naive concerning the complex power struggle between the papacy and the empire, Lothair also consented to several symbolic acts that were subsequently interpreted by Rome as signaling acceptance of papal confirmation of his position.

A campaign undertaken in the same year against Bohemia ended in defeat, making for a less than great start by Lothair. Among those imprisoned by the Bohemians was Albert of Ascania, future Margrave of Brandenburg.

Dispute with the Staufens

During his reign, a succession dispute broke out between the houses of Welf and Staufen, the latter which was led by Frederick II and his brother Duke Conrad of Franconia. The Staufens, in addition to claiming the private Salian lands which clearly fell to them, also claimed all of the crown lands gained under Henry IV and Henry V. Lothair's attempts to seize the crown lands following approval from a group of nobles meeting in Regensburg provoked Staufen reaction. Frederick of Swabia was placed under the imperial ban, Conrad was deprived of Franconia, and the rectorate of Burgundy passed to Conrad of Zähringen.

The Staufens, who had the support of their own lands plus support in many imperial cities, Austria and the Duchy of Swabia, raised Conrad as anti-king Conrad III. In 1128 he was crowned King of Italy by the Anselm V, Archbishop of Milan. Lothair took advantage of Conrad's expedition into Italy and his lack of resources by attacking the Staufens in Germany. Nürnberg and Speyer, two strong cities in support of the opposition, fell in 1129. Conrad's failure to make anything of his position in Italy, causing him to return in 1130 without anything to show for it, assured at least a partial victory for the king.

Relations with the Papacy

In the double papal election of 1130, both sides campaigned for Lothair's support. The king had an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and reassert imperial control over the papacy, but choosing instead to deal with the Staufen resistance, he let his inferiors make the decision. Anacletus II offered Lothair the Imperial crown, but in the end Innocent II gained his support, and he promised to escort the new pope back to Rome. In 1131 the two met at Liège, where the king demonstrated subservience to the pope, and his request that investiture be restored to him was ignored. He also agreed to assist Innocent against King Roger II of Sicily, an ally of Anacletus.

The force Lothair took with him into Italy in 1132 was not strong, due to his leaving troops in Germany to prevent the Hohenstaufen from revolting. Carefully avoiding the cities, which were hostile, he reached Rome in 1133, which was mostly held by Anacletus. As St. Peter's Basilica was closed to them, Innocent instead crowned Lothair as emperor in the Lateran on June 4, 1133. The emperor continued giving little or no resistance against papal interference with his power; he even ignored a bull by Innocent which stated that the emperor's authority derived from him. He also recognized papal claims to the Matildine lands (formerly owned by Countess Matilda), in exchange receiving those lands as fiefs.

Campaign against Sicily

Returning to Germany, he set out to create peace. The Staufen brothers, falling short on resources, were compelled to submit. The Reichstag in Bamberg in 1135 pardoned the two brothers and restored them to their lands. In return, they recognized Lothair as emperor and promised to assist him in another Italian campaign, and a ten-year Landpeace was declared.

In 1136, at the insistence of Innocent and Byzantine Emperor John II Comnenus, the campaign began, directed against Roger of Sicily. Two main armies, one led by Lothair, the other by Henry the Proud of Bavaria, entered Italy. On the river Tronto, Count William of Loritello did homage to Lothair and opened the gates of Termoli to him. This was followed by Count Hugh II of Molise. Advancing deep into the southern part of the peninsula, the two armies met at Bari, and continued further south in 1137. Roger offered to give Apulia as a fief of the Empire to one of his sons and give another son as a hostage—terms which Lothair refused after being pressured by Innocent.

The German troops, however, were adamant against campaigning during the hot summer and revolted. The emperor, who had hoped for the complete conquest of Sicily, instead separated Capua and Apulia from Roger's kingdom and gave them to Roger's enemies. Innocent, however, protested, claiming that Apulia fell under papal claims; the two eventually jointly enfeoffed the duchy to Rainulf of Alife. Lothair turned north, but died while crossing the Alps on December 4, 1137. Shortly beforehand, he gave his Tuscan Matildine lands to his son-in-law, Henry the Proud of Bavaria, and his last acts were to give him also the Duchy of Saxony and the imperial regalia. However, the kingship subsequently ended up in the hands of the Staufens, destroying Lothair's hopes for a powerful Welf hereditary monarchy. He is entombed in the monastery church of Saints Peter and Paul at Königslutter, which he endowed as his burial church and for which he lay the cornerstone in 1135.

Actions in the North and East

The emperor's most long-lasting contribution to Germany came from his actions in the north and east. Being a Saxon, he gave more attention to the region than previous emperors. Even before becoming German king, he had given control of Holstein and Stormarn to Adolf I of Schauenburg. In 1134 he appointed the Ascanian Albert as margrave of Brandenburg. In 1136 he appointed Conrad the Great of Wettin, already margrave of Meissen, to the position of margrave of Lausitz, uniting the two marches. In addition, he petitioned the pope to expand the rights of the Archbishops of Bremen and Magdeburg in the area. King Eric II of Denmark was made a vassal of the emperor in 1135, becoming a member of the Reichstag. Successful diplomatic intervention by Lothair in ending war between Poland and Bohemia resulted in the Polish Duke's Bolesław III Wrymouth submission and his payment of tribute that was long overdue. In addition, the Polish Duke had to accept Pomerania and Rügen as fiefs of the Empire.


By his wife, Richenza of Northeim, Lothair had only one surviving child, a daughter Gertrude, born April 18, 1115. In order to secure Welf support for his election, Lothair married Gertrude to Henry the Proud, the duke of Bavaria, in May 29, 1127. Their son was Henry the Lion.

See also


  • Karl Hampe (1973). Germany Under the Salian and Hohenstaufen Emperors. ISBN 0-631-14180-4
  • Encyclopædia Britannica: Lothair III

External links

Lothair III, Holy Roman Emperor
House of Supplinburg
German royalty
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Henry V
German King
(formally King of the Romans)

Succeeded by
Conrad III
King of Arles
King of Italy
Succeeded by
Frederick I Barbarossa
Holy Roman Emperor
Preceded by
Duke of Saxony
Succeeded by
Henry II the Proud


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