Famous Men of the Middle Ages
Henry the Fowler
King from 919-936 A.D.
About a hundred years had passed since the death of Charlemagne, and his great empire
had fallen to pieces. Seven kings ruled where he had once been sole emperor.
West of the Rhine, where the Germans lived, the last descendant of Charlemagne died
when he was a mere boy. The German nobles were not willing for any foreign prince to
govern them, and yet they saw that they must unite to defend their country against the
invasions of the barbarians called Magyars (ma-jarz'). So they met and elected Conrad,
duke of Franconia, to be their king.
However, although he became king in name, Conrad never had much power over his
nobles. Some of them refused to recognize him as king and his reign was disturbed by
quarrels and wars. He died in 919, and on his death-bed he said to his brother, "Henry,
Duke of Saxony, is the ablest ruler in the empire. Elect him king, and Germany will have
A few months after Conrad's death, the nobles met at Aix-la-Chapelle and elected Henry
to be their king.
At this time it was the custom in Europe to hunt various birds, such as the wild duck and
partridge, with falcons. The falcons were long-winged birds of prey, resembling hawks.
They were trained to perch on their master's wrist and wait patiently until they were told
to fly. Then they would swiftly dart at their prey and bear it to the ground. Henry was
very fond of falconry and hence was known as Henry the Fowler, or Falconer.
As soon as the other dukes had elected him king a messenger was sent to Saxony to
inform him of the honor done him. After a search of some days he was at last found, far
up in the Hartz Mountains, hunting with his falcons. Kneeling at his feet, the messenger
"God save you, Henry of Saxony. I come to announce the death of King Conrad and to
tell you that the nobles have elected you to succeed him as king of the Germans."
For a moment the duke was speechless with amazement. Then he exclaimed:
"Elected me king? I cannot believe it. I am a Saxon, and King Conrad was a Frank and a
bitter enemy to me."
"It is true," replied the messenger. "Conrad, when dying, advised that the nobles should
choose you as his successor."