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Frederick Barbarossa

Updated December 6, 2019

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Frederick Barbarossa Frederick Barbarossa, like other men of his age, was influenced by a growing resurgence of neoclassical sensibilities. It should not therefore be considered surprising that he would have considered himself ruling as Frederick, by the grace of God emperor of the Romans and august forever..(A letter to Otto of Freisling) He like other leaders before and since saw and welcomed the prestige and sense of legitimacy offered by the title of Roman Emperor. To achieve this, kings since the time of Charlamegne had often traveled to Rome in order to be crowned Emperor. The pope as heir to the Church of Constantine provided the symbolic link between the Roman past and the present Empire. It was in this light that in 1154 Frederick entered Italy, to be crowned in Rome and assert his domination over Northern Italy as such.

His subsequent involvement in Italy was to bring him and his family line into conflicts, which would have severe effects on the future of the Hohenstaufen line and the German Monarchy. As a result, at a time when other dominant royal families were laying the cornerstones of powerful national monarchies, Hohenstaufen power and the Holy Empire crumbled. Frederick Barbarossa’s mother, Judith, was a Guelph , Frederick acted as a mediator between his Hohenstaufen uncle Conrad, and his Guelph cousin, Henry the Lion. Prior to his death Conrad III named Frederick as his successor, hoping that Frederick’s reign would end the discord between the rival houses of Hohenstaufen and Guelphs.

In 1152, Frederick pacified Germany by proclaiming a general land peace to end the anarchy, and in 1156 he satisfied Henry the Lion by restoring the duchy of Bavaria to him, at the same time making Austria into a new duchy as a counterweight to Henry’s power. In Italy, Frederick’s policy was to restore the imperial power, which had virtually disappeared as a result of neglect by previous emperors. It was thus necessary for him to reconcile with the pope. In a Treaty in 1153 with Pope Eugene III, Frederick promised to assist him against Arnold of Brescia and against the powerful Normans in Sicily.

Frederick entered Italy in 1154 and was crowned in Rome on June 18, 1155. The reluctance of his troops to remain in Italy forced him to return to Germany without assisting the new pope, Adrian IV, against King William I of Sicily. Adrian, allied himself with William in 1156, turned against Frederick. At the Diet of Besanon in 1157 the papal legate presented a letter that Frederick interpreted as a claim by the pope that the empire was a papal fief.

Frederick replied that he held the throne through the election of the princes from God alone and prepared to invade Italy, where Milan had begun the conquest of Lombardy. Adrian explained that he had not intended that interpretation of his words, but Frederick entered Italy, seized Milan, and at the Diet of Roncaglia in 1158 laid claim, as emperor and king of the Lombard’s, to all imperial rights, including the appointment of an imperial governor, in every town. The heavy handedness of his German officials led to the revolt of Milan, Brescia, Crema, and their allies, in 1159. The revolt was secretly encouraged by Adrian IV.

After a long siege, Frederick stormed and burned Milan in 1162. He also set up an antipope to Adrian’s successor, Alexander III, who excommunicated him. Frederick withdrew temporarily, but returned in 1166, captured Rome, and was preparing to attack the pope’s Sicilian allies when his army was hit by an epidemic and he was forced to withdraw. In 1167 the Italian communes united against Frederick in the form of the Lombard League, and Frederick retreated with difficulty to Germany, where he turned to increasing his territorial power and pacifying the constantly feuding German princes. In 1174 he returned to Italy.

He was decisively defeated at Legnano by the Lombard League in 1176, partly because of lack of support from the German princes, perhaps most notably Henry the Lion. After his defeat Frederick submitted to the pope; he agreed to recognize Alexander III as pope and was afterwards restored to communion. He made peace with the Lombard towns, which was later confirmed by the Peace of Constance in 1183 and arranged a truce with the pope’s Sicilian allies. After his return to Germany, Frederick brought about the downfall of Henry the Lion, whose large duchies were partitioned.

Frederick’s divisions of the German territories were to be of much future consequence. The process of division of German territorial integrity would not be reversed for hundreds of years. In 1186 he arranged the marriage of his son and successor, Henry (later Henry VI), to Constance, heiress of Sicily, in an attempt to insure peace with Sicily and build on the base of royal power, thereby tying the future of his family even closer to the Italian quagmire. Henry VI, was crowned German king at Aachen in 1169 and king of Italy at Milan in 1186 after his marriage to Constance, heiress presumptive to the throne of Sicily.

Henry was in Italy as his father’s representative, attempting to force it to submit to imperial domination. He became regent at his father’s departure in 1189 for the Third Crusade and succeeded him when he died in 1190. In 1191, Henry entered Italy to secure Constance’s Sicilian inheritance from. Stopping at Rome he was crowned Holy Roman emperor by Pope Celestine III. He continued southward, but failed in the initial attempt to take Sicily.

He then had to return to Germany, where he faced a rebellion started by the Guelphs and the nobles of the Lower Rhine. Henry secured a powerful bargaining weapon when he obtained custody of King Richard I of England in 1193. Richard was brother-in-law and ally of the Guelph leader, Henry the Lion. Soon after Richard had paid a ransom, swore an oath to Henry, and was released in 1194, peace was made. In Sicily, Palermo fell in November, and on Christmas Day Henry was crowned king of Sicily.

At the Diet of Wrzburg (1196) Henry proposed that the empire be made hereditary in his family, the Hohenstaufen, and in return offered unrestricted rights of inheritance to those who held fiefs from him. The proposal was defeated, though it found many supporters, and Henry contented himself with securing the election of his son, Frederick II, as king. Henry died of a fever in Messina as he was preparing to invade the Holy Land. He was then succeeded in Sicily by Frederick II and in the rest of the empire by Philip of Swabia.

Upon his father’s death in 1197, Frederick II was only two years old. He spent his youth in his kingdom of Sicily. It was not until many years later that he reunited the two crowns under Hohensaufen leadership. In order to gain support for his rule, Frederick II, promised Pope Innocent III that when crowned Holy Roman emperor he would separate Sicily from the empire by establishing regency there for his infant son Henry. He attempted to reverse these arrangements in 1220. Promising Pope Honorius III to start on his crusade, he secured Henry’s election as German king, and thus his position as imperial successor, shortly before his own imperial coronation at Rome in 1220.

This action seemed to make more likely the union of Sicily and the empire, under Frederick, however, no such union was occurred. After his coronation Frederick returned to Sicily. While in Germany, the success of Frederick’s early rule was due largely to his lavishness with imperial lands and rights. In the Sicilian kingdom, which included Southern Italy, he pursued the reverse of his German policy; he suppressed the nobility, transported Saracens to a colony on the mainland, recovered alienated lands, and began legislative reforms. In 1224 he founded the university at Naples.

He then began to try to strengthen his Sicilian domains in preparation for the inevitable conflict with the Lombard League. In Germany, Frederick attempted to insure support for his Italian policy by granting the princes practically absolute authority within their territories. This policy led to a conflict with his son Henry, who objected to Frederick’s virtual renunciation of his imperial rights in Germany. In 1234 Henry rebelled with the aid of some German towns, but Frederick easily deposed and imprisoned his son. At the Diet of Mainz in 1235, Frederick issued a land decree establishing an imperial court of justice to try all cases except those involving the great vassals. In 1236 Frederick began a successful campaign against the Lombard cities, but in March of 1239, Pope Gregory IX joined the Lombards and excommunicated the emperor.

Frederick issued a decree against the pope and seized most of the Papal States. In May, 1241, he captured a number of officials traveling from Genoa to a general council in Rome, and he was threatening Rome when Gregory died. After the election in 1243 of Pope Innocent IV, Frederick offered concessions to the pope and his allies, but the pope fled to Lyons in 1244. The Pope then deposed Frederick at the Council of Lyons in 1245 and gave the emperor’s foes the banner of Crusaders. The election in 1246 of an antiking to Conrad IV, who was Frederick’s younger son, plunged Germany into civil war. The war in Italy turned in Frederick’s favor in 1250, but in December he died of dysentery.

In the end, the intense struggle between Frederick and the papacy led to the eventual ruin of the house of Hohenstaufen. Despite the original intent of Frederick Barbarossa and his successors to consolidate and strengthen the Imperial sway over Italy in order to increase the power and legitimacy of their family lines, most of the ultimate gains were made by the German princes. The princes who aided the Emperors against Henry the Lion and later anti imperialists considered themselves defenders of the Empire and redistributed amongst themselves the possessions of the defeated Welfs. Many concessions had to be made to the princes by the embattled Emperors to attempt to gain their support.

In one example, Frederick confirmed the practice that any lands left to the crown had to be granted again within a year and a day to a new lord. This subsequently made it much more difficult for German Emperors to acquire new lands, as compared with other European Monarchs of the time. As a result, even as the power of the German princes was growing, the growth of the Hohenstaufen line stagnated. By 1216, it was established that the emperor could neither abolish principalities or create new ones at random. Unlike other Monarchs of the era, the attempts made by the Hohenstaufen line to make the crown hereditary were unsuccessful.

The right of election would be reserved for the princes. Ultimately, in Germany, the misfortunes of the Emperors led to the increasing codification and strengthening of the perceived inalienable feudal rights of the Princes. Instead of emerging from the period as a bourgeoning nation state, as would occur in other parts of Europe, The Empire would grow into a loose confederation of some 300 states. History Reports.

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