He was the second son of the German King Henry the Fowler and his wife Matilda. He attempted a revolt against his older brother Otto I in 938 in alliance with Eberhard of Franconia and Giselbert of Lorraine, believing he had a claim on the throne. In 939 he was defeated at Birten and forced to leave Germany. He fled to the court of Louis IV of France, but returned after he and Otto were reconciled, and awarded the Duchy of Lorraine.
However, he could not assert his authority in Lorraine, and as a result he was stripped of his position. He plotted to assassinate Otto in Easter 941 in Quedlinburg, but was discovered and put in captivity in Ingelheim, being released after doing penance at Christmas of that year. In 948 he acquired the Dukedom of Bavaria through his marriage to the Bavarian noblewoman Judith. He first defended, and then enlarged his Duchy in wars with Hungary, and through the acquisition of Friuli in Italy. As matchmaker for his brother he brought Queen Adelaide to Pavia in 951. In 953–954 he put down a revolt by Liudolf, Duke of Swabia and Conrad of Lorraine, and died in 955 in Pöhlde Abbey.