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The Investiture Controversy was about the question who was to have the final say in the appointment of bishops, a country's ruler or the Pope. Even in the times before Gregory VII this had been an almost continuous bone of contention. In principle there was no argument that a bishop was first of all an officer of the church and as such he and his appointment fell under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

But there was another side of the matter, the feudal system which was a matter that fell under the king. Many bishops had come to rule large dominions within the king's realm, and very often bisshops had actually been appointed by the king to rule whole counties and cities instead of a count or prince that the king otherwise might have appointed. The reason: the fact that once for instance a count or other "temporal" lord had been appointed, his position almost always became hereditary and it proved hard and most often impossible to remove an unruly or incompetent son. A bishop however had no son to take over, so the king could every time a bishop died choose the best or most loyal (to him) candidate for the job. So basically bishops were at the same time "officers" of the pope and of the king. Most kings felt that they should have the final say in who was next to hold the job, even if the formal appointment was the prerogative of the Pope.

Usually the issue was solved peacefully (and the matter of principle left in the middle) by the king 'proposing' a candidate and the Pope accepting the proposal and formally appointing the king's candidate. In the many instances of a relatively weak Pope the candidate would already be on the job before the Pope had accepted the proposal for a candidate. If there was a strong Pope, it might take a bit of wrangling, but the Pope - being a feudal lord himself in the Papal States in Italy - in the end usually saw the king's legitimate point of view.

In the case of German Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory things came to a head when the Pope denied the Emperor any right to make a 'binding' proposal and by doing so threatened to take away a major part of Germany from the Emperor's authority. Henry's going to Canossa seemed like Henry admitting defeat. Instead it was an astute political move, forcing the Pope to 'forgive' Henry and reinstate his authority in Germany, which Henry used to fight another day. In the end things returned to what they always had been: the Pope making the appointment, the king proposing - or agreeing with - the candidate.

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Q: Before the investiture controversy what did most kings believe about their rights as king What role did most kings believe they should play in the church What did Pope Gregory VII believe the role of?
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What was the significance of the conflict between Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII?

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