Bishop of Hildesheim (1195-1199) and Würzburg (11981202) and executive leader of the Crusade of Emperor Henry VI (1197-1198).
Conrad was a son of Burchard II, burgrave of Magdeburg. He became a canon of the cathedral chapter of Hildesheim in 1182 and studied in Paris before being appointed to various ecclesiastical offices in Germany: royal chaplain (1188), provost of Goslar (1188) and Aachen (1194), and bishop of Hildesheim (1194). At some point after this, he was made chancellor to Emperor Henry VI, since he is named as occupying this office when he witnessed the taking of the cross by Henry at Bari on Good Friday (30 March) 1195.
Conrad took the cross himself at Gelnhausen on 28 October 1195, and subsequently traveled south of the Alps, having been named as imperial legate for Italy and the kingdom of Sicily. Much of his time in Sicily and Apulia was spent in making preparations for the emperor’s planned crusade to the Holy Land, even after his legatine powers lapsed with the arrival of Henry VI in his southern kingdom in summer 1196. The following year the emperor appointed Conrad as leader of the crusade, with responsibility for the overall direction of the expedition and the keeping of its treasury, although military command was given to the imperial marshal Henry of Kalden. By 22 June 1197 Conrad was at Bari, where he performed the dedication of the Church of St. Nicholas in the company of numerous crusaders.
Conrad, accompanied by his brothers Gerhard and Gebhard, set sail with the main crusade fleet from Messina on 1 September 1197. While most of the fleet sailed directly to Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel), Conrad made a detour to Cyprus, where he carried out a royal coronation for the ruler of the island, Aimery of Lusignan; Henry VI had previously agreed to bestow a crown on Aimery in return for the new king’s acknowledgement of imperial overlordship. After his arrival in Palestine, Conrad was one of those who successfully brought about the election of Aimery as king of Jerusalem in succession to Henry of Champagne, who had died as the result of an accident.
In the course of campaigning whose main aim was to secure the coast of Palestine for the Christians, Conrad sailed with the fleet via Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon) to the ports of Sidon (mod. Saïda,Lebanon) and Beirut, which were abandoned by the Ayyûbids without fighting (Octo- ber-November). During the siege of the inland castle of Toron, however, Conrad left the army for Tyre on 2 February 1198 after having heard news of the death of Henry VI, with the intention of taking ship for Germany. Conrad’s decision to retire may have been correct, in the sense that the emperor’s death meant that he no longer had the authority to lead the crusade as imperial chancellor; he may have been motivated by concerns about the succession in Germany; it is also possible that he had heard of his own election as bishop by the cathedral chapter of Würzburg, a richer and more important diocese than Hildesheim. Nevertheless, it is clear that the departure of its executive leader and his entourage effectively brought the crusade to an end, as other magnates followed Conrad’s example and deserted the siege ofToron, which was finally abandoned on 24 February 1198.
Conrad was present at the gathering in March that decided on the conversion of the small German hospitaller confraternity in Acre into a new military religious order, the Teutonic Knights. However, he was one of the first of the crusaders to leave Palestine, and was back in the bishopric of Hildesheim by 21 May 1198. In the struggle for the German throne that had broken out on the death of Henry VI, Conrad initially supported the late emperor’s brother, Philip of Swabia, who confirmed him in the office of chancellor; as a result he was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III, who supported the rival German king, Otto IV. In 1201 Innocent lifted the sentence of excommunication and confirmed Conrad as bishop of Würzburg; shortly afterward he abandoned Philip and changed to the side of Otto. On 3 December 1202, Conrad was murdered by Bodo and Henry of Ravensburg, leaders of a faction among the knights of Würzburg, which was opposed to the new bishop’s policies.