Otto IV of Brunswick









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Short Biography


Otto IV of Brunswick           


*1177 - † 19.05.1218

Count of York and Marche 1190

Duke of Brunswick 1195-1218

Count of Poitou 1196

Regent of Aquitainia 1196-1198

King of Rome 1198 - 1209

Elected Cologne 09.06.1198

Crowned Aachen 12.07.1198

King of Germany 1198 - 1218

Reelected Frankfurt 11.11.1208

1 ¥ Beatrix Hohenstaufen 24.05.1209-†11.08.1212

Roman Emperor 1209 - 1211

Crowned Rome 21.06./04.10.1209

Deposed as an Emperor 09.1211

2 ¥ Mary of Brabant 1214


Otto IV was probably born in Argentan in Normandy in 1177 and was educated at the court of his uncle Richard I Lionheart of England. He was so much of the liking of Richard that he made him a regent in Aquitania. As the youngest of the sons of Henry the Lion Otto was enfeoffed , his brothers inheriting the possessions in Saxony.

After the unexpected death of Henry VI Otto was elected a Roman King in Cologne in July 1198, on recommandation of Richard, as a counter candidate of Philip of Swabia who had been elected in Mühlhausen in March, representing the Staufic party.

After his election Otto took control of Aachen, the place of coronation, and was crowned by Adolf, Archbishop of Cologne, on 12 July 1198. This was of great symbolic importance, since the Archbishop of Cologne alone could crown the King of the Romans. Nevertheless, the coronation was done with fake regalia, because the actual materials were in the hands of the Staufen.

Otto's election pulled the empire into the conflict between England and France. Philip had allied himself with the French king, Philip II, while Otto was supported at first by Richard I, and after his death in 1199 by his brother John.

Innocent III favoured Otto, whose family had always been opposed to the house of Hohenstaufen. In 1201, he announced that he recognized him as the only legitimate king. Otto’s cause was further strengthened by the support of the Danish king, Valdemar II. But Philip achieved a great deal of success in a civil war, allowing him in 1204 to be again crowned king, this time by the archbishop of Cologne.

In the following years, Otto's situation worsened because after England's defeat by France he lost England's financial support. Many of his allies changed sides to Philip, including his brother Henry. Otto was defeated and wounded in battle by Philip on 27 July 1206, and was forced to retire to his possessions near Braunschweig, leaving Philip virtually uncontested as German king.

Innocent III forced the two warring parties into negotiations at Cologne, and in exchange for renouncing his claim to the throne, Philip promised Otto the hand of his daughter Beatrix in marriage, together with the Duchy of Swabia and an enormous dowry. Otto refused, and as the civil war was again about to recommence, Philip was murdered on 8 June 1208.

After Philip's death, Otto made amends with the Staufen party and became engaged to Philip's daughter Beatrix. In an election in Frankfurt on 11 November 1208, he gained the support of all the electoral princes, and as a result, Otto could make preparations to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Travelling down via Verona, Modena, and Bologna, he eventually arrived at Milan where he received the Iron Crown of Lombardy and the title of King of Italy in 1208. In Rome he was taken to St. Peter's Basilica, where he was crowned emperor by Pope Innocent on 21 October  1209, before rioting broke out in Rome, forcing Otto to abandon the city.

After abandoning Rome Otto set on to restore imperial power in Italy. This earned him a prompt excommunication in 1210. Nevertheless he subsequently tried to conquer Sicily. But, as a commander was urgently requested by the German princes in the north, they elected Frederick Hohenstaufen of Sicily as their king instead of him at the Diet of Nuremberg in 1211.

Otto returned to Germany to deal with the situation, hopeful to salvage something from the looming disaster but all to no avail.  Instead on 5 December 1212, Frederick was elected king for a second time by a majority of the princes.

The support that Philip II of France was giving to Frederick forced King John of England to throw his weight behind his nephew Otto. On 27 July 1214, the army of Otto IV and the english army met with the french army at Bouvines but the ensuing battle was lost by Otto and his allies. As a result Otto was forced to withdraw to his private possessions around Brunswick and had to abdicate in 1215. He died there on 19 May 1218.  





1198 Seal of Majesty: The 22-year old king on his throne with crown, sceptre and orb. L: X OTTO DEI GR(ATI)A ROMANOR(UM) REX ET SEMP(ER) AVGVST(US). D.: 1198. (Die Zeit n° 36)



1209 Seal of Majesty: The 32-year old emperor on his throne with crown, sceptre and orb. On his dexter a sun and on his sinister a crescent. L.: X DEI GRACIA : OTTO : ROMANORVM IMPERATOR : ET : SEMPER AVGVST(US) : . Date: 1209. [1]


Soon after his coronation and wedding in 1209 Otto apparently grew a beard. This can be seen on this sculpture of the couple in Magdburg Cathedral representing young Beatrix of Hohenstaufen at the age of about 14, shortly before her death, and Otto IV, in 1211 deposed as an emperor and consequently royally crowned.


Enthroned couple. Magdeburg, about the middle of the 13th. century.


King Otto IV after his deposure as an emperor.



1212ca. Signet ring: Portrait of King Otto IV with beard. L.: X REX ODDO.  3. [2]


1214 Statues on the Adams gate of Bamberg Cathedral.. Bamberg, before 1237.


The statues are usuully said to represent Emperor Henry II and Empres Kunigunde because the diocese of bamberg was founded by the grace of Henry II. The man represented however is not an emperor but a king and resmbles very much some other representations of him. So, most likely the couple represents Otto IV and his second wife Queen Mary of Brabant (*1190-†1260). She is also represented on an other spot as the figure of Eve, and there also as a very young and slender woman.  

Probably the group is donated by Mary calling herself after 1222 “Empress”.


Seal of Empress Mary of Brabant, 1218.


The legend reads: X MARIA . (dei gracia romano)R(um) IMPERA(trix semper) AVGVSTA. [3]


Socalled ‘Crown of Otto II’ from Berge Monastery

Watercolor in the Halleschen Heiltumsbuch.

Aschaffenburg, Hofbibliothek, Ms. 14, fol. 173v.[4]


Representation of a gilded royal bust with crown and necklace.

The crown usually is considered to be of 10th century manufacture but is certainly younger because the leaves are not soldered but sawed out like usual in later times. Also such crowns are very much late 12th century and later. The setting with jewels may be, for the 13th century, old-fashioned german work but generally the things having belonged to Otto IV are of a lesser quality than those of the Hohenstaufen, originating from sicilian workshops.

The portrait very much resembles the portraits of Otto IV presented before and the conclusion must be that the king represented is not Otto II but Otto IV. 

Apart of this Halle is situated in the territory of the Welfs where Otto retired after his deposure.



Statue of Otto IV on the northern façade of Reims Cathedral (France), 13th century

The statue is a part of a series of royal statues


King resembling Otto IV. 13th century

in a series of royal portraits in Straatsburg Cathedral.

Due to war damage many names are reshuffled

After the excommunication and the defeat at Bouvines in 1214, the representations of Otto IV seem to have posed a problem, reason perhaps why they were renamed in some cases, preferably in Henry II or another Otto. This is by no means unique because many other royal statues in Germany and elsewhere have been renamed quite randomly depending on the caprices of history and ignorance.




The first emblem which may have a connection with Otto IV as a german king can be found in the baptistery of St. John in Poitiers. It is a medaillion with a black eagle which is a part of the frescoes which were painted in the baptistery in the 12th-13th century. Maybe this was painted right after the election in June and the coronation of Otto IV in July 1198. At that date Otto was a count of Poitou and a regent in Aquitaine since 1196 and still under the protection of Richard Lionheart.


Baptistère Saint Jean de Poitiers.

Fresco: medallion with black eagle.


After his coronation however, he dimidiated this eagle with the arms of his patron, according to Matthew Paris  [Scutum mutatum] pro amore regis Angliæ (for the love of the king of England). This, indeed, may have happened at his coronation as Philip of Swabia had been elected a German king some three months before and the arms with the black eagle of Germany were no longer vacant. On the other hand this may not have been a reason and the change was probably made after the death of Richard on 6 April 1199 to the memory of him or to demonstrate the regency of the Plantagenet possessions in France (claimed by John Lackland and Arthur of Brittany). In any case only the dimidiated arms are documented by Matthew Paris. They are confirmed by some other documents.



1198 Mattheus Parisiensis H.A. B.L. Ms. Roy. 14.C.VII, fol. 84. Coronation of Otto IV, King of Germany, 1198. Unpainted shield (three lions passant, dimidiating a displayed eagle)  surmounted by a crown. Scutum Ottonis Imperatoris, cujus medietas de scuto est Imperi­i, alia vero de scuto regis Angliae. [5]



1199 Mattheus Parisiensis: Historia Anglorum B.L. Ms Roy. 14.C.VII, fol. 86v. Election of Otto IV as Emperor, 1199. Upper left margin: shield of the kingdom dimidiated by the arms of Richard Lionheart of England surmounted by three closed crowns::  Argentea - Aurea - Ferrea.


The “Ottenton”


In 1208 at the reelection of Otto, Walther von der Vogeweide wrote a poem to praise him. This poem is called the Ottenton and describes the arms of Otto:


Hêr keiser, swenne ir Tiuschen fride

gemacht staete bî der wide,

sô bietent iu die fremeden zungen êre.

Die sult ir nemen ân arbeit

und süenen al die kristenheit:

daz tiuret iuch, und müet die heiden sêre.

Ir tragt zwei keisers ellen,

des aren tugent, des lewen kraft:

die sint des hêren zeichen an dem schilte.

die zwêne hergesellen,

wan woltens and die heidenschaft!

waz widerstüende ir manheit und ir milte?

Lord Emperor when you have

brought peace to the Germans

by threatening with capital punishment

the foreign peoples will honour you

You will win them over without effort

And reconcile all Christianity

That is to your credit and saddens the heathens very much

You possess two imperial qualities

the virtuousness of an eagle and the force of a lion.

That are the symbols of power on your shield;

oh if those two friends in combat

would once march against the heathens!

Who could resist your valiance and generosity then?


These eagle and lion(s) on his shield confirm the arms as documented by Matthew Paris.


1209.05.24 Wedding of Otto IV and the elven-year old Beatrice of Hohenstaufen, daughter of Philip. On a wedding-chest, probably made for the occasion, are the arms of Otto IV and his allies.

The arms of Otto IV are: 

Arms: Per pale: Or, a dimidiated eagle Sable impaling Gules, three lions passant guardant Or.


Wedding chest with the arms of Otto IV 1209 ca

Quedlinburg  [6]

Pommel of the Sword of State

German, about 1200


Pommel of the Sword of State

Vienna, Treasury Nr. 135[7]


When the sword of state had come into the possession of Otto IV, probably at his election in Frankfurt, Otto IV added his own arms to the arms already engraved on the pommel, showing (Or,) and eagle (Sable). His arms are identical with his arms on the wedding chest.

The inscription above both arms reads: BENEDICTVS DOMINVS DEVS QVI DOCET MANVS


Mantle of Otto IV.

Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum Braunschweig. Inv. Nr. MA 1.


The mantle is dated before 1218 and maybe 1209-’14)  Red silk with golden embroidery, strewn with suns, crescents and lions passant guardant. On the back there are three golden eagles.

The program of the mantle is as follows:

  • The red is the color of armed authority
  • The suns are the emblems of the empire
  • The crescents are the embems of state
  • The lions are the emblems of a duke
  • The eagles are the emblems of the Roman King


The suns, crescents and lions are also on the seals and the arms of Otto IV and the golden eagle is also on the earlier royal mantle from Metz and on the later gloves of Frederick II.


ëOf the mantle there exists a counterpart in the Archdiocesan Museum in Ravenna. This mantle is of exactly the same style and manufacture as the mantle from Brunswick. It is blue and strewn with silver crescents and eagles. This suggests that the mantle has been of a royal head of state. For this office Dietrich I von Hengebach (1208-’12), archbishop of Cologne and supporter of Otto IV is a candidate. He may have been the chancelor of Italy which would explain why the mantle is in Ravenna.


1209.10.04 Coronation as an Emperor in Rome.


In about 1216 Thomasin von Zirclaria described his stay in the city and the coat of arms of Otto IV at his coronation in a poem entitled “Wälschen Gast”:


Do der her Otte was ze Lamparten

dem nu ist misselungen harte

und was ouch ze Rôme komen,

als ir wol habt vernomen

dô kom ich zuo den zîten dar

und was in sînem hove, deist wâr

wohl ahte wochen und mêre:

dô misseviel mir harte sêre

daz an sim schilde erschinen gar

drî lewen und ein halber ar

ez was getan unmaezliche

bedenthalben sicherlîche...[8]


which makes the arms: Three lions and an eag dimidiated.


Matthew Paris ascribes a two-headed eagle to him. Its colors suggest papal suzereinty or at least papal military service, the two-headed eagle being an emblem of a caesar, the colors being the papal color Sable, the Or the color of secular authority. The arms seem to have been ignored by Frederick II at his coronation in 1220 but had to be readopted by him in 1230.



1209 Mattheus Parisiensis Chronica Majora. Corpus Christi College MS 16, fol 18. Coronation of Otto IV as Emperor in Rome, 1209: lower right margin: three crowns (corona argentea, corona aurea, cxorona ferrea) above a shiels (or, a double eagle sable): Otto creatur in imperatorem Romanorum; and a second shield (gules, three lions passant gardant or, dimidiating or, an eagle sable): Scutum mutatum pro amore regis Angliæ.


Coin from an unknown mint


Obv.: Bust of a ruler with helmet, a banner of four lappets and cross and lily sceptre. Inscription: BEATRIX VI

Rev.: Two headed eagle. [9]


This coin is ascribed to Poppo VII of Henneberg (1190-1245) and dated ca 1200 which makes the images and inscription quite incomprehensible. Therefore it is suggested that the ruler with banner and sceptre is actually Otto IV and the two-headed eagle his emblem as an Emperor. The inscription should be read BEATRIX VI(rgo) or Lady Beatrice. Accepting this, the coin may have been minted at the occasion of the consummation of the marriage of Otto and Beatrice in Nordhausen on 22.07.1212.

The banner probably is the Imperial banner which was red with a white cross or white with a red cross.


1211 The Italian Campaign


At the Italian Campaign Otto IV seems to have worn a crusaders sign.


In the tomb of Frederick II opened in 1781 and described by Daniele in 1784, an alba was found which according to an inscription has been of Otto IV. Daniele writes:


"... di lino è la prima (of three attires) che discendo insino a tutti i piedi, simile a quella che da' liturgisti alba vien appellata: la stringa a'fianchi un grosso cordone pur di lino aggruppato nel mezzo. Vi si osservo sotto all'omero sinistro a ricamo in seta, che tenea ancor del color rosso, una croce. All'estremità del collo, e delle maniche è quest' alba ornata di diversi fregi; anzi nelle maniche havvi ricamata a oro un' inscrizione in caratteri cufici.


The inscription reads:


"Imperium Alemannicum mite est. Hoc est munus pro Othone amico, liberali, strenuo, inclyto, victorioso, hospitali, sapienti, excellenti, fideli, magno, vigilanti/, inclyto, victorioso, hospitali, protectori, iusto". [10]


About this alba Schramm writes: Probably made for Otto IV after hist conquest of southern Italy  in  1211 and not come into his possession. The cross sewn below the left shoulder a crusader sign? [11]


1214 The Imperial standard of  Otto at the Battle of Bouvines.


Guillaume le Breton has described the standard which was borne at the Battle of Bouvines by the army of Otto IV. The quote reads:


20        Mox Otho, imperii declarans signa, volensque

            Jam quasi promeriti rem prelibare trophei,

            Standardum edificat, miroque insignit honore

            Imperii, ut, fasces tanto illustrante paratu

            Se dominatorem totius disputet orbis.

            Erigitin carro palum, paloque draconem

            implicat, ut possit procul hinc atque inde videri,

            Hauriat et ventos cauda tumefactus at alis,

            Dentibus horrescens, rictusque patentis hiatu;

            Quem super aurata volucer Jovis imminet ala,

30        Tota superficies cujus nitet aurea solis

            Emula, quo jactat plusse splendoris habere.


Liber XII

41        Carrus quo reprobus erexerat Otho draconem,

            Quem super auratis aquilam suspenderat alis,

            Cogitur innumeras in se sentire secures,

            Fragminibusque dolet ignis cibus esse minutis,

            Nec saltem ut susperent fastus vestigia tanti,

            Cumque suis perat damnata superbia pompis.

            Ast aquilam, fractis reparatam protinus alis,

            Rex hora regi Frederico misit eadem,

            Hoc sciat ut dono fasces, Othone repulso,

50        Jam nunc divino translatos munere in ipsum.[12]


So the standard of Otto was mounted on a cart and consisted of a pole with a wind bag of a terrible looking winged dragon. Above it was a golden eagle with spread wings and above the eagle was a golden sun radiant.


On the other side the place of Philip August was marked with a lily-banner (oriflamme).


After his death empress Mary returned to Brabant and married 1220 with count William I of Holland who, however, died in 1222. Later Mary was culturally and politically active, calling herself still Empress Mary. In a way she belonged to the anti-hohenstaufen faction and her brother Henry II was a candidate for the roman kingship after the excommunication of Frederick II. He, however recommeded his and her sisters son William II of Holland who was elected indeed.

All the rest of her life she seems to have used a seal showing the arms of her first husband.


Secret seal of Mary of Brabant, 1258

Showing the arms of Otto IV



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© Hubert de Vries 2014-08-22



[1] Die Zeit der Staufer, Stuttgart, 1977,  n° 39

[2] Nürnberg, Germ. Nationalmuseum, Inv. Nr. Si 437. Die Zeit, Kat. 37. Due to the royal title usually dated between 1200 and 1209

[3] Die Zeit, Kat. 41 Abb. 13.

[4] Lit.: Halm, Ph.M. &R. Berliner: Das Hallesche Heiltum. Berlin 1931, p. 41, Taf. 74a. Rademacher F.: Eine Krone Ottos II. Ein Beitrag zur ottonischen Goldschmiedekunst. In: Zeitschrift des Deutschren Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 1, 1934. pp 79 e.v. Schram, P.E. Herrschaftszeichen II, p. 403. e.v. Biehn, H.: Die Kronen Europas und ihre Schicksale. Wiesbaden 1957. Pp. 91 e.v. Schramm, Percy Ernst & Florentine Mütherich: Denkmale der deutsche Könige und Kaiser. München, 1962. N° 71.

[5] Lewis, Suzanne: The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora. Univ. of California Press. Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1987.

[6] Schwineköper, B.: Eine unbekannte heraldische Quelle zur Geschichte Kaiser Ottos IV. und seine Anhänger. In: Fest­schrift für H. Heimpel zum 70. Geburtstag am 19. Sept. 1971. II. Göttingen 1972, 959-1022. Also: Die Zeit, nr. 525

[7] J. von Schlosser, Schatzkammer des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, S. 63. - H. Fillitz, Insignien und Kleinodien, S. 56f. Ders.,  Kat Schatzkammer Nr. 135.

[8] Cited by: Seyler, Gustav A.: Geschichte der Heraldik. [Wappenwesen, Wappenkunst, Wappenwissen­schaft]. J. Siebmacher's grosses Wappenbuch Band A. Nürnberg 1885-1889.p. 282

[9] Die Zeit der Staufer, Stuttgart 1977 n° 195.15. Abb. 115.12.  [Bl. f. M’fr. Tf. 148,7, 0,77g.] Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Münzkabinett n° 15943

[10] Daniele, F.: I Regali Sepolchri del Duomo di Palermo. Napoli, 1784

[11] Schramm, Percy Ernst & Florentine Mütherich: Denkmale der deutsche Könige und Kaiser. München, 1962. N° 215c

[12] Breton, Guillaume le: Philippidos. Lib. 11, vs. 20-31; Lib. 12 vs. 41-50. (Delaborde, H.F.: Oeuvres de Rigord et de Guillaume le Breton, Historiens de Philippe Auguste. 2 TT. Paris, 1882 & 1885.)