In Game of Thrones, an interesting thing happens - mild spoiler alert - a royal figure gives a very honest, humble, devout religious leader the ability to act sort of as a military leader for "the gods". This figure then turns this power immediately onto the most powerful figures in government, locks them up, and puts them trough terrible punishment until they admit to sins (that they were guilty of). It's just very interesting how extremely fast this happens. The religious figure is given permission to physically punish those who sin, and the very person who gave the religious leader power is the one its being used on, with severity. Suddenly this religious figure is nearly as powerful as the king himself.

Has this phenomenon ever happened in medieval times? I know about the Crusades, but I dont know specifically if they could be compared to this particular situation, as this happens locally, not where a religious leader sends crusaders to attack some distant land.

I'm looking for an answer detailing a particular royal figure being brutally punished for sins by a religious leader.

  • 1
    Check wikipedia for Excommunication, or the Inquisition or Savaronola, or dozens of other examples.
    – MCW
    May 16 '16 at 17:17
  • 3
    Or the penance imposed on Henry for who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?, Westeros is a bit different because it never had an investiture controversy and the church never claimed primacy.
    – MCW
    May 16 '16 at 17:30
  • Might be irrelevant but while The faith in Westeros never had investiture issues, they did fight against Maegor the Cruel because they were against incest practiced by Targaryen dynasty. It wasn't until King Jaehaerys I made peace with the Faith after disbanding their militant wing that the hostilities between crown and faith ended (Until Cersei reinstated faith militant)
    – NSNoob
    May 20 '16 at 6:28

The best example I know of is what happened to Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.

He got into a dispute with the Pope over appointment rights, which culminated in the Pope excommunicating Henry (and Henry in turn declaring the pope deposed).

Since Emperors were crowned by the Pope, this opened up a path for Henry's political rivals to claim he was no longer rightful Emperor. Henry's political position in the HRE was weak enough that he felt like compromise would be best, so he performed the proscribed penance. This included, as the story goes, waiting on his knees in the snow for 3 days for the Pope.

The impending revolt by the German nobles happened anyway, but this bought Henry enough popular support that he was able to defeat it. When the Pope then excommunicated Henry again, it was such a transparently personal attack that it did Henry little political harm. He simply marched on Rome and installed his own Pope.


The best example I can think of in modern times was when the Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran called for the Shah to "reform" the country in the 1960s, and successfully called for the overthrow of the Shah in the late 1970s, because the Shah was too "pro-foreign" (U.S.).


Religious figures and leaders have often publicly called for the overthrow of political leaders and/or been involved in secret plots against them.

for example, in the old testament King Saul committed genocide against a neighboring nation and the prophet Samuel criticized Saul for not killing enough of them, and anointed David as king, leading to David's revolt against Saul.

It is often said that the priests of the main Babylonian god Bel plotted against the last Babylonian King, Nabonidus, who was a devote of the moon god Sin, and helped the Persians conquer Babylonia.

IMHO the whole crusading movement was a plot by the successors of Hildeband to usurp military power to use against their political enemies. At first they launched crusades against Muslims in the near east and Spain and pagans in Europe, and when crusades became more customary they then preached crusades against heretics and their political opponents (anyone who didn't accept their power grabs without question).

Norman Housely wrote a book, The Italian Crusades: The Papal-Angevin alliance and the crusades against Christian lay powers about aggressive clerical crusades against Christian nobles, kings and emperors.


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