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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German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

Politicians will gather in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon for an urgent session on Germany's planned changes to citizenship law.

German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

According to information on the Bundestag website, the urgent discussion was scheduled on the request of the opposition CDU party, who have been fiercely critical of the planned reforms in recent days.

The debate, which is scheduled to start at 2:50pm and last an hour, will see MPs air their views on the government’s planned changes to citizenship law.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) is currently in the process of drafting a bill that will simplify and speed up the naturalisation process in Germany, which she said this week is “as good as done”.  

The law will end a ban on dual nationality for non-EU citizens, meaning people from places like India, the USA and the UK can naturalise as Germans without losing their current citizenship – or citizenships. 

It also foresees a dramatic reduction in the amount of time it takes to become eligible for German citizenship.

In future, people would be able to naturalise after five years of residence in the country rather than the current eight, while people who speak good German or fulfil other integration criteria could naturalise after three years rather than six.

Additionally, the Interior Ministry wants to grant automatic German citizenship to the children of foreign parents – provided their parents have been in the country at least five years – and remove language requirements for members of the guest-worker generation who want to become German. 


‘We don’t need reform’

High-profile politicians from the CDU have slammed the government’s plans to ease citizenship rules, with parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei describing the move as an attempt to “sell-off” German passports as a “junk commodity”.

“We don’t need reform,” Frei told public broadcaster ZDF. “There would no majority whatsoever in any party’s supporters for this change.”

Earlier this week, CDU leader Friedrich Merz had argued that expediting the naturalisation process would damage integration and allow people to immigrate into the benefits system more easily. 

“The CDU will not close its mind to a further modernisation of immigration law and the citizenship law of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Merz told a meeting of CDU and CSU MPs in Berlin on Tuesday.

“However, we also attach importance to the fact that the granting of citizenship takes place at the end of an integration process and not at the beginning of it.” 

The CDU and CSU have previously been vocal opponents of permitting dual nationality, arguing that holding more than one citizenship would prevent people from fully integrating into German life. 

Nevertheless, it remains unclear if the opposition will be able to block the legislation in any meaningful way.

If there aren’t any substantial changes to the core of the citizenship bill when the amendments are made, the Interior Ministry believes it won’t need to be put to a vote in the Bundesrat – the upper house where the CDU and CSU hold a majority.

Instead, the parties of the traffic-light coalition – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) – would simply be able to vote it through in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany’s conservatives block dual citizenship?