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Canossa: 1077

Gregory's excommunication of Henry IV in February 1076 gives a welcome opportunity to the emperor's enemies among the German princes. In October 1076 they declare that he will be deposed unless he is absolved by the pope within a year and a day of his excommunication.

Henry is not in a strong enough position to take this risk. So he makes a surprise journey, south through the Alps in midwinter, to where the pope is staying - in a castle at Canossa, in northern Italy. When he arrives there, he indulges in a highly theatrical gesture.


For three successive days, in January 1077, Henry IV stands in the garb of a penitent outside the pope's castle. Eventually, after simultaneous and discreet diplomacy indoors, Gregory is persuaded to compromise. The penitent emperor is granted absolution. The pope later recalls the event in tones of Quiet satisfaction.

Subsequent events reveal that his satisfaction at this victory for the papacy is premature.


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