Henry IV was the only son of Duke Henry III the White of Silesia-Wroclaw by his first wife Judith, daughter of Duke Konrad I of Masovia.
A minor upon the early death of his father in 1266, Henry IV was placed under the guardianship of his paternal uncle, Archbishop Wladyslaw of Salzburg. The Archbishop decided that the constant travels between Wroclaw and Salzburg were inappropriate for a child, and, in 1267, sent Henry to Prague to be raised at the court of King Ottokar II of Bohemia. Ottokar after Wladyslaw's death in 1270 also took over Wroclaw.
Shortly after the death of his uncle (who left him as his universal heir), Henry IV returned to Wroclaw, where he found himself under the direct care of one of the closest advisers of his late father, Simon Gallicusa. Henry IV received a careful education, which may explain his subsequent interest in culture and poetry (there are reasonable suspicions that the Duke wrote some poems in old Polish). The cooperation between Henry IV and King Ottokar II was exemplary. In 1271 Henry IV participated in an armed expedition against Hungary, which brought an attack on Wroclaw by the Arpad princes and their allies, the Dukes of Greater and Lesser Poland.
In 1273 Henry IV was formally proclaimed an adult and by himself assumed the government of his Silesian Duchy of Wroclaw, which however, after the split between Opole, Legnica and Glogow only comprised the eastern part of the Lower Silesian lands. He began to follow a policy which was more independent from Bohemia, including in respect to friendly relations with his Upper Silesian cousin Duke Wladyslaw of Opole and also with duke Przemysl II of Greater Poland.
Henry supported King Ottokar II in his fierce conflict with King Rudolph I of Germany in 1276, giving food and refuge to the Bohemian troops. When Ottokar was placed under the Imperial ban, Duke Boleslaw II the Bald of Legnica took the occasion, had his nephew Henry seized at Jelcz and imprisoned him in 1277.
Fortunately for Henry IV, the reaction to his imprisonment was indignation. Ottokar's Polish allies, Duke Henry III of Glogow and Duke Przemysl II of Greater Poland, attempted to enforce Henry IV's liberation. The Bohemian king however only sent febrile appeals and request for release. Henry IV's allies were defeated by Duke Boleslaw II 's son Henry V the Fat in the bloody Battle of Stolec (24 April 1277), where both Dukes Przemysl II and Henry III were captured.
Henry IV could obtain his freedom only at the end of the year, when he finally decided to capitulate after hearing the defeat of his main ally King Ottokar II against the Imperial and Hungarian troops at the 1278 Battle on the Marchfeld. Henry IV was forced to give Boleslaw II one third of his duchy including the towns of Sroda Slaska and Strzegom and forced to pledge Krosno Odrzanskie, which he had obtained from the Dukes of Glogow in 1273–1274, in order to obtain the money for his ransom.
While Henry himself did not take part in the Battle on the Marchfeld, he had sent reinforcements to King Ottokar II, whose death was a serious blow to the Wroclaw duke. After hearing the news of Ottokar's death, Henry IV went to Prague and attempted to gain the guardianship of the king's son Wenceslaus II, as one of his closest relatives (Henry IV's paternal grandmother was Anna of Bohemia, a daughter of late King Ottokar I) and ally.
He was however not successful due to the actions of King Rudolph I of Germany, who in his capacity as King of the Romans had given the regency over Bohemia to the Ascanian margrave Otto V of Brandenburg. As compensation, the German king gave Henry IV the Bohemian County of Kladsko as a fief.
Upon the death of his Bohemian ally, Henry IV reconciled with King Rudolph I and in 1280 went to his Austrian court in Vienna, where Henry tried to obtain for himself the Polish royal crown.
Some historians believed that the Duke of Wroclaw took the opportunity from his homage to King Rudolph I to expose him the possibility of becoming King of Poland. At that time, he also made an alliance with Duke Wladyslaw of Opole, who promised to help Henry IV with the condition that his daughter (perhaps called Constance), who had recently married Henry IV, was crowned with him as Polish queen if he would obtain the royal investiture.
Attempts to obtain supreme authority over Silesia and all Poland
The relation of Henry IV with his Silesian relatives in general was not good. In 1280 he again suffered the invasion of the Duke Henry V the Fat of Legnica, who was supported by the Margrave of Brandenburg, who could resist with unusual difficulty.
In order to normalize the situation in February of the next year Henry IV organized a meeting in Sadowel, a village located in the Duchy of Wroclaw, for the purpose to find ways of mutual cooperation between the Silesian dukes. Henry IV, however, had other plans: immediately he captured his long-time enemy, Duke Henry V the Fat of Legnica, as well as his own allies, Dukes Henry III of Glogow and Przemysl II of Greater Poland, in order to obtain political concessions from them.
Przemysl II was forced to give the strategic Lesser Polish land of Wielun (also known as Ruda) and to acknowledge Henry IV's overlordship, paying homage to him. In subsequent years, the good politics of Henry IV were reflected in the voluntary submission of the Silesian dukes Przemko of Scinawa and Bolko I of Opole; the re-unification of Silesia seemed within reach.
However, not all the Silesian dukes accepted his authority: Dukes Bolko I the Strict, Konrad II the Hunchback and three of the four sons of Wladyslaw of Opole: Casimir of Bytom, Mieszko I of Cieszyn and Przemyslaw of Raciborz were completely against Henry's politics. With the Opole Dukes the situation was more delicate: in 1287, Henry IV obtained the annulment of his marriage with their sister, who was sent back to her homeland. The fourth of Wladyslaw's sons, Bolko I, remained faithful to Henry IV's politics.
The first attempt of Henry IV to take the Seniorate Province at Krakow was during 1280–1281, as a response to the invasion which the Polish High Duke Leszek II the Black had made against Wroclaw before. However, this trip ended unsuccessfully.
In the years 1282–1287 Henry IV was involved in a long-lasting dispute with the Bishop of Wroclaw Tomas II Zaremba. The first phase of the conflict was already noted in the years 1274–1276, concluded with an arbitration which wasn't satisfied any of the parts. The disputes erupted again in 1282; this time, the conflict was for the lands and properties seized by the church in a difficult period that followed after the Battle of Legnica, and for the violation of the immunity of the Church hierarchy in trials.
At the beginning of 1282 the Bishop sent their complaint to the Papal Legate Philip of Ferno, which was to address the settlement of the dispute. His ruling was favorable to the Church hierarchy, and Henry IV appealed. In 1283 Henry IV organized a big Episcopal convention in Nysa, whose main attraction was a knight's tournament. However, the tensions continued and Thomas II, using the support of the Papal Legate, and wanting to break the rebelliousness of Henry IV he excommunicated him and the whole Duchy in March 1284. However, the Duke of Wroclaw refused to subject to the Bishop's will and in the same year appealed to Pope Martin IV. It soon became clear, of course, that he couldn't expect a positive message from Rome. Despite Thomas II's efforts to subordinated the local clergy under his rule, several religious Orders remained faithful to Henry IV, among others, the Franciscans. The conflict continued, even after the unsuccessful attempts for mediation by the Archbishop of Gniezno, Jakub Swinka.
In 1285 Henry IV took advantage of his power over the clergy and confiscated some lands which belonged to the bishopric Duchy of Nysa-Otmuchow. The humiliated Bishop Thomas II was forced to emigrate to the Duchy of Raciborz. The last act of the dispute took place in 1287 when Henry IV entered Raciborz. Thomas II was no longer able to escape and finally decided to subordinate to the Duke of Wroclaw. But Henry IV was generous in his triumph: he restored the rich lands obtained earlier from the Bishopric and also founded a Kolegiata consecrated to the Holy Cross.
Meanwhile, in foreign politics Henry IV continued to try to obtain the subordination of the other Silesian Dukes, which indirectly could bring him the Royal Crown. In 1284 he used the betrayal of the Greater Poland noble family of Zaremba (Thomas II's family) as a pretext to capture the town of Kalisz. It soon became clear that the Dukes of Greater Poland never accepted this loss, so after some discussions, Kalisz was exchanged with the town of Olobok by Duke Przemysl II.
On 30 September 1288, Leszek II the Black, Duke of Sieradz and High Duke of Poland, died without issue. This event opened an opportunity for Henry IV to realize his ambitious plans to gain Krakow and the title of High Duke. With this purpose, he began to find suitable allies from 1287, when he reconciled with Przemysl II, returning him Wielun. According to the Professor and Historian Oswald Balzer, shortly before began the preparations to the First Coalition of Piast Dukes formed by Leszek II the Black, Henry IV, Przemysl II and Henry III of Glogow, which had the intention to make the unification of Poland. Notwithstanding the veracity of this theory, after hearing the news of Leszek II's death, Henry IV was ready for action.
Henry IV's major contenders for the Krakow throne were Leszek II's half-brother Wladyslaw I the Elbow-high and Duke Boleslaw II of Plock, who counted on the support of the Lesser Poland nobility. However, the Duke of Plock failed to obtain the decisive support of the Castellan Sulk the Bear (Sulk z Niedzwiedzia), who was the Governor of the city. On 26 February 1289 the bloody Battle of Siewierz took place between the troops of the Dukes of Plock and Kuyavia, and Henry IV's troops, supported by King Rudolph I and the Dukes of Opole, Glogow and Scinawa (Steinau). The battle ended with a victory for the Masovia-Kuyavia coalition; from two of Henry IV's allies, Duke Przemko of Scinawa was killed in the battle, and Duke Bolko I of Opole was seriously injured and captured by Wladyslaw I the Elbow-high.
Despite this success, Duke Boleslaw II of Plock unexpectedly resigned his pretensions, leaving all the Krakow inheritance to Wladyslaw I the Elbow-high. As the war turned favorable to him, Wladyslaw I, with the assistance of the Bishop of Krakow, Paul of Polkozic (who was later imprisoned after rebelled against him), managed to besiege and capture Wawel castle and forced the Silesian troops to retreat to Skala.
However, Henry IV regrouped his forces and marched against Krakow in person at the head of his army in August 1289. Thanks to the betrayal of the Krakow townspeople and the help of the Franciscans (who even hid him in their monastery), Henry IV took the city and was recognized as High Duke. Despite his victory, Henry IV decided to remain in Sandomierz.
During his reign, Henry succeeded in strengthening central power across his duchy, as well as improving its economy. He supported progress of mining and cities, many of which received German city law and various privileges. He was also an educated man, fluently spoke several languages and actively supported Western court culture and chivalric ethos. Henry himself was a talented poet; two of his poems were recorded in Codex Manesse.
Henry IV died suddenly in 1290, aged no more than thirty-two years. The details of his death, given by the chronicler Ottokar of Styria, are seen by some historians as very reliable and by others as doubtful.
The year of his death is widely accepted, and confirmation for this can be found in numerous sources. However, the exact day was variously given by the sources.
One, the most supported by far of the largest number of sources, and given by the Church of St. John the Baptist, was 23 June. There are, however, other proposals: 24 June, 22 July, and even in April.
About the real cause of Henry IV's death, there are several independent sources: these are the tombs of the Silesian Dukes, the Chronicle of Jan Dlugosz, and later chroniclers, like the Bohemian Chronicle of Pulkawy and the Chronicle of Ottokar of Styria.
According to Ottokar of Styria, who seems to be the most accurate in details, Henry IV aspired to the title of the King of Poland, asking Pope for permission for a coronation. The negotiations were successful, and he send to Rome 12,000 grzywnas as a present to the Pope. But when the envoy reached Italy it was noted that 400 grzywnas were stolen during the trip, and the Pope, infuriated, cancelled all negotiations with Henry IV. Although the embezzler was able to escape from the papal fury and the justice of the Doge of Venice, it is known that Henry IV wanted to punish him. In order to prevent the imminent revenge of the Duke it was decided to get rid of him: a false lawyer (brother of one of the Duke's doctors) was employed at the court of Wroclaw, and slowly poisoned Henry IV. While another doctor called Guncelin, recognizing the symptoms of poisoning, was able to rescue the Duke from an imminent death, causing severe vomiting and cleansing the body; but the assassin wasn't discovered, and this time put the poison in the knife used by Henry IV to cut his bread. The poison was finally detected, but it was too late to save the Duke. Henry IV died in the Catholic faith, deciding not to prosecute or punish his killers.
This is a very long story of the Duke's death and only some elements are confirmed by other sources. Ottokar of Styria told the story in many details in agreement with that provided by the Kronika Zbraslawska. Other sources related that a chaplain named Aleksy, as a deputy of King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia had betrayed Henry IV's interests and tried to give the crown to the "King of Kalisz" Przemysl II. In this story the theft of the envoy to Rome was also mentioned, only the epilogue was a little different: here, the thief was killed by his own servants in the streets of Rome.
Following the version of Ottokar of Styria, should be sought among the Wroclaw townspeople (just like Henry IV's father) two brothers, one of them was lawyer and the other doctor. The only two persons who could be identified as the brothers were John (who was an adviser of the Duchy and a lawyer) and Jakob (known as Magister, so probably a doctor), sons of one Gocwina, who was a doctor in the court of Henry III the White. They still in their posts at the time of Henry IV's death. It's assumed that they acted on behalf of Henry V the Fat, who wanted to obtain Krakow and with this the title of High Duke, but wasn't any evidence to support this. There is no other person who will take advantage of the Duke's death, and could be linked to the circumstances of the death of Henry IV.
According to the chroniclers, the dying Henry IV made two documents. One to the Wroclaw church (which give the desired permissions to the Bishop to obtain the full sovereignty over the Duchy of Nysa-Otmuchow) and other politic (who regulated the issue of his inheritance). Under this will, he bequeathed the Duchy of Wroclaw to Duke Henry III of Glogow, and Krakow -with the title of High Duke- to Przemysl II. In case of the death of one of the princes, the other could took possession over his districts, which further arrangements according to custom. Many historians, however, believed the existence of a third document. If it was true, this would be a step towards the reunification of Poland, and Henry IV, who was denigrated particularly in the earlier literature, was really a conscious promoter of Poland interests and a true patriot (apart from the merits of raising the awareness of the problems of ethnic and linguistic diversity in the Middle Ages). Only the testament to the Church (who wasn't count with the return of Klodzko to King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia as an excuse for mixing in the Silesian affairs) was fully implemented. Henry IV was buried in the Kolegiata of the Holy Cross and St. Bartholomeus in Wroclaw, which he founded.
Henry V the Fat could take Wroclaw with support of King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia, after the local nobility refused to accept the rule of Henry III of Glogow. Wenceslaus II himself gained the Seniorate Province, but Duke Przemysl II could retain the title of High Duke.
During World War II German anthropologists wanted to prove the "Germanic look" of Henry IV. To this end, his remains were removed and were to be tested. Unfortunately, they were lost during the war. The sarcophagus is now in the National Museum in Wroclaw.
Around March 1280, Henry IV married firstly with the daughter of Duke Wladyslaw of Opole (b. ca. 1256/65? – d. 1287/88?), perhaps called Constance. After almost seven years of childless union, the Duke of Wroclaw obtain the annulment of his marriage under the grounds of sterility, although this fact is disputed by modern historians.
By 1288, Henry IV married secondly with Matilda (b. ca. 1270 – d. bef. 1 June 1298), daughter of Margrave Otto V "the Tall" of Brandenburg-Salzwedel. The Professor and historian Ewa Maleczynska alleged that the real reason of the divorce of Henry IV was that he maintain an affair with Matilda and wanted to marry her. They had no children.