Meet the medieval German warlord with a message for modern politicians

In an age of uncertainty and upheaval, it pays to have strong leaders. Perhaps Germany could draw from history for inspiration, says Michael Stuchbery.

Meet the medieval German warlord with a message for modern politicians
The statue of a lion outside Braunschweig cathedral. Photo: DPA

Of course, Henry the Lion (Heinrich der Löwe) who died 824 years ago this week, was a medieval warlord with a penchant for a good scrap, but that doesn't mean he didn't have his good points.

Truth be told, he did have a leg up in life – born around 1129, he inherited both the Duchies of Saxony and Bavaria, a vast expanse of territory encompassing some of the richest land and resources in Europe. 

As a young nobleman in 12th century Europe, Henry was born to a life of fairly constant warfare. Much of his young manhood – indeed, a considerable portion of his adult life – was spent supporting Frederick Barbarossa in his attempts to consolidate and stabilize the Holy Roman Empire. 

This fighting was expensive business, and Henry ended up establishing toll bridges and other revenues to fund his campaigns. In fact one of his projects was established in 1157, in a poky little backwater, that would grow to become Munich.

READ ALSO: Weekend Wanderlust – An ancient seat of wealth and power in Braunschweig

Map showing the areas ruled by Henry the Lion. Photo: Wikicommons

Power couple

In between forays to the frontier of his holdings, and giving the Italian states a good kicking, Henry managed to marry well. After a rather disastrous first marriage to a Swabian noblewoman, Henry married Mathilda, daughter of the English king Henry II, and Richard the Lionheart's sister, in 1168. 

The pair could be called an early version of a power couple. In their capital, today's Braunschweig, they were big sponsors of the arts, education and the development of the city. They had the magnificent Dom, or cathedral built, as well as several other churches, hospitals and other buildings.

To this day, a bronze statue of a lion stands outside the cathedral – the original erected by the man himself.

When Mathilda died young, aged only 33, Henry was heartbroken. Henry eventually withdrew his support for Frederick Barbarossa in 1174 because he wanted to concentrate on defending his own borders. This resulted in him losing most of his lands to the Emperor. Indeed, he was declared an outlaw and had to leave the German lands for a while. 

Picture of Henry the Lion. Photo: Wikicommons

Nonetheless, he did manage to retain some lands and held onto them until he was able to make peace with Frederick. Braunschweig remained his capital throughout the remainder of his life, and centuries after his death in 1195, it remains a powerful centre of education, trade and diplomacy. 

SEE ALSO: Braunschweig: The German city that deserves to be put on the map

Struggling to see what relevance any of this might have to a modern leader? Well, it's like this: Henry's continual investment in his lands, and his balance between military conquest and encouraging the cultural life of his subjects left his realms – even the ones he lost – more developed and stable than when he inherited them. 

21st century leaders need more than a single point vision to create and maintain a thriving environment. One simply can't hope for everything else to fall in to place. Henry, in a similarly fractious age, knew this. 

In the nineties, a beautifully illuminated copy of the Gospel Henry had made in 1170 sold for over eight million pounds, and remains to this day one of Germany's historic treasures – paid for by the descendants of many of his former subjects.

I like to think this shows that over 800 years after his death, Henry's legacy as a leader is very much alive. Can our current crop of politicians hope for anything similar?

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‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

Scholz also called for other ways to help Ukraine in the short term, saying the priority was to “concentrate on supporting Ukraine quickly and pragmatically”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.