Open main menu

Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor

  (Redirected from Frederick I (HRR))

Frederick I (German: Friedrich I., Italian: Federico I; 1122 – 10 June 1190), also known as Frederick Barbarossa (Italian: Federico Barbarossa), was the Holy Roman Emperor from 2 January 1155 until his death. He was elected King of Germany at Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 and crowned in Aachen on 9 March 1152. He was crowned King of Italy on 24 April 1155 in Pavia and Roman Emperor by Pope Adrian IV on 18 June 1155 in Rome. Two years later, the term sacrum ("holy") first appeared in a document in connection with his Empire.[1] He was later formally crowned King of Burgundy, at Arles on 30 June 1178. He was named Barbarossa by the northern Italian cities which he attempted to rule: Barbarossa means "red beard" in Italian[2]; in German, he was known as Kaiser Rotbart, which has the same meaning.

Frederick Barbarossa
Friedrich I. Barbarossa.jpg
A golden bust of Frederick I, given to his godfather Count Otto of Cappenberg in 1171. It was used as a reliquary in Cappenberg Abbey and is said in the deed of the gift to have been made "in the likeness of the emperor".
Holy Roman Emperor
Reign2 January 1155 – 10 June 1190
Coronation18 June 1155, Rome
PredecessorLothair III
SuccessorHenry VI
King of Italy
Reign1155 – 10 June 1190
Coronation24 April 1155, Pavia
PredecessorConrad III
SuccessorHenry VI
King of Germany
formally King of the Romans
Reign4 March 1152 – 10 June 1190
Coronation9 March 1152, Aachen
PredecessorConrad III
SuccessorHenry VI
King of Burgundy
Reign1152 – 10 June 1190
Coronation30 June 1178, Arles
Died10 June 1190 (aged 67–68)
Saleph River, Cilician Armenia
FatherFrederick II, Duke of Swabia
MotherJudith of Bavaria
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Before his imperial election, Frederick was by inheritance Duke of Swabia (1147–1152, as Frederick III). He was the son of Duke Frederick II of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and Judith, daughter of Henry IX, Duke of Bavaria, from the rival House of Welf. Frederick, therefore, descended from the two leading families in Germany, making him an acceptable choice for the Empire's prince-electors.

Historians consider him among the Holy Roman Empire's greatest medieval emperors. He combined qualities that made him appear almost superhuman to his contemporaries: his longevity, his ambition, his extraordinary skills at organization, his battlefield acumen and his political perspicacity. His contributions to Central European society and culture include the reestablishment of the Corpus Juris Civilis, or the Roman rule of law, which counterbalanced the papal power that dominated the German states since the conclusion of the Investiture Controversy.

Frederick died in 1190 in Asia Minor while leading an army in the Third Crusade.



Early yearsEdit

Frederick was born in 1122. In 1147 he became Duke of the southern German region of Swabia (Herzog von Schwaben), and shortly afterwards made his first trip to the East, accompanied by his uncle, the German king Conrad III, on the Second Crusade. The expedition proved to be a disaster,[3] but Frederick distinguished himself and won the complete confidence of the king. When Conrad died in February 1152, only Frederick and the prince-bishop of Bamberg were at his deathbed. Both asserted afterwards that Conrad had, in full possession of his mental powers, handed the royal insignia to Frederick and indicated that Frederick, rather than Conrad's own six-year-old son, the future Frederick IV, Duke of Swabia, succeed him as king.[4] Frederick energetically pursued the crown and at Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 the kingdom's princely electors designated him as the next German king.[4] He was crowned King of the Romans at Aachen several days later, on 9 March 1152.[5] Frederick's father was from the Hohenstaufen family, and his mother was from the Welf family, the two most powerful families in Germany. The Hohenstaufens were often called Ghibellines, which derives from the Italianized name for Waiblingen castle, the family seat in Swabia; the Welfs, in a similar Italianization, were called Guelfs.[6]

The reigns of Henry IV and Henry V left the status of the German empire in disarray, its power waning under the weight of the Investiture controversy. For a quarter of a century following the death of Henry V in 1125, the German monarchy was largely a nominal title with no real power.[7] The king was chosen by the princes, was given no resources outside those of his own duchy, and he was prevented from exercising any real authority or leadership in the realm. The royal title was furthermore passed from one family to another to preclude the development of any dynastic interest in the German crown. When Frederick I of Hohenstaufen was chosen as king in 1152, royal power had been in effective abeyance for over twenty-five years, and to a considerable degree for more than eighty years. The only real claim to wealth lay in the rich cities of northern Italy, which were still within the nominal control of the German king.[8] The Salian line had died out with the death of Henry V in 1125. The German princes refused to give the crown to his nephew, the duke of Swabia, for fear he would try to regain the imperial power held by Henry V. Instead, they chose Lothair III (1125–1137), who found himself embroiled in a long-running dispute with the Hohenstaufens, and who married into the Welfs. One of the Hohenstaufens gained the throne as Conrad III of Germany (1137–1152). When Frederick Barbarossa succeeded his uncle in 1152, there seemed to be excellent prospects for ending the feud, since he was a Welf on his mother's side.[4] The Welf duke of Saxony, Henry the Lion, would not be appeased, however, remaining an implacable enemy of the Hohenstaufen monarchy. Barbarossa had the duchies of Swabia and Franconia, the force of his own personality, and very little else to construct an empire.[9]

The Germany that Frederick tried to unite was a patchwork of more than 1600 individual states, each with its own prince. A few of these, such as Bavaria and Saxony, were large. Many were too small to pinpoint on a map.[10] The titles afforded to the German king were "Caesar", "Augustus", and "Emperor of the Romans". By the time Frederick would assume these, they were little more than propaganda slogans with little other meaning.[11] Frederick was a pragmatist who dealt with the princes by finding a mutual self-interest. Unlike Henry II of England, Frederick did not attempt to end medieval feudalism, but rather tried to restore it, though this was beyond his ability. The great players in the German civil war had been the Pope, Emperor, Ghibellines, and the Guelfs, but none of these had emerged as the winner.[12]

Rise to powerEdit

Penny or denier with Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, struck in Nijmegen

Eager to restore the Empire to the position it had occupied under Charlemagne and Otto I the Great, the new king saw clearly that the restoration of order in Germany was a necessary preliminary to the enforcement of the imperial rights in Italy. Issuing a general order for peace, he made lavish concessions to the nobles.[13] Abroad, Frederick intervened in the Danish civil war between Svend III and Valdemar I of Denmark[14] and began negotiations with the Eastern Roman Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus.[15] It was probably about this time that the king obtained papal assent for the annulment of his childless marriage with Adelheid of Vohburg, on the grounds of consanguinity (his great-great-grandfather was a brother of Adela's great-great-great-grandmother, making them fourth cousins, once removed). He then made a vain effort to obtain a bride from the court of Constantinople. On his accession Frederick had communicated the news of his election to Pope Eugene III, but had neglected to ask for the papal confirmation. In March 1153, Frederick concluded the treaty of Constance with the Pope, whereby he promised, in return for his coronation, to defend the papacy, to make no peace with king Roger II of Sicily or other enemies of the Church without the consent of Eugene, and to help Eugene regain control of the city of Rome.[16]

First Italian Campaign: 1154–55Edit

Frederick undertook six expeditions into Italy. In the first, beginning in October 1154,[17] his plan was to launch a campaign against the Normans under King William I of Sicily.[15] He marched down and almost immediately encountered resistance to his authority. Obtaining the submission of Milan, he successfully besieged Tortona on 13 February 1155, razing it to the ground on 18 April.[18] He moved on to Pavia, where he received the Iron Crown and the title of King of Italy on 24 April.[19] Moving through Bologna and Tuscany, he was soon approaching the city of Rome. There, Pope Adrian IV was struggling with the forces of the republican city commune led by Arnold of Brescia, a student of Abelard.[citation needed] As a sign of good faith, Frederick dismissed the ambassadors from the revived Roman Senate,[15] and Imperial forces suppressed the republicans. Arnold was captured and hanged for treason and rebellion. Despite his unorthodox teaching concerning theology, Arnold was not charged with heresy.[20]

As Frederick approached the gates of Rome, the Pope advanced to meet him. At the royal tent the king received him, and after kissing the pope's feet, Frederick expected to receive the traditional kiss of peace.[21] Frederick had declined to hold the Pope's stirrup while leading him to the tent, however, so Adrian refused to give the kiss until this protocol had been complied with.[citation needed] Frederick hesitated, and Adrian IV withdrew; after a day's negotiation, Frederick agreed to perform the required ritual, reportedly muttering, "Pro Petro, non Adriano -- For Peter, not for Adrian."[21] Rome was still in an uproar over the fate of Arnold of Brescia, so rather than marching through the streets of Rome, Frederick and Adrian retired to the Vatican.

Wax seal of Frederick I, used in the imperial residence of Pfalz Wimpfen.

The next day, 18 June 1155, Adrian IV crowned Frederick I Holy Roman Emperor at St Peter's Basilica, amidst the acclamations of the German army.[22] The Romans began to riot, and Frederick spent his coronation day putting down the revolt, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 Romans and many more thousands injured. The next day, Frederick, Adrian, and the German army travelled to Tivoli. From there, a combination of the unhealthy Italian summer and the effects of his year-long absence from Germany meant he was forced to put off his planned campaign against the Normans of Sicily.[22] On their way northwards, they attacked Spoleto and encountered the ambassadors of Manuel I Comnenus, who showered Frederick with costly gifts. At Verona, Frederick declared his fury with the rebellious Milanese before finally returning to Germany.[23]

Disorder was again rampant in Germany, especially in Bavaria, but general peace was restored by Frederick's vigorous, but conciliatory, measures. The duchy of Bavaria was transferred from Henry II Jasomirgott, margrave of Austria, to Frederick's formidable younger cousin Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, of the House of Guelph, whose father had previously held both duchies.[24] Henry II Jasomirgott was named Duke of Austria in compensation for his loss of Bavaria. As part of his general policy of concessions of formal power to the German princes and ending the civil wars within the kingdom, Frederick further appeased Henry by issuing him with the Privilegium Minus, granting him unprecedented entitlements as Duke of Austria. This was a large concession on the part of Frederick, who realized that Henry the Lion had to be accommodated, even to the point of sharing some power with him. Frederick could not afford to make an outright enemy of Henry.[25]

On 9 June 1156 at Würzburg, Frederick married Beatrice of Burgundy, daughter and heiress of Renaud III, thus adding to his possessions the sizeable realm of the County of Burgundy. In an attempt to create comity, Emperor Frederick proclaimed the Peace of the Land,[26] written between 1152 and 1157, which enacted punishments for a variety of crimes, as well as systems for adjudicating many disputes. He also declared himself the sole Augustus of the Roman world, ceasing to recognise Manuel I at Constantinople.[27]

Second, Third and Fourth Italian Campaigns: 1158–1174Edit

Frederick's so-called baptismal cup, silver, partly gilded, Aachen c. 1160

The retreat of Frederick in 1155 forced Pope Adrian IV to come to terms with King William I of Sicily, granting to William I territories that Frederick viewed as his dominion.[28] This aggrieved Frederick, and he was further displeased when Papal Legates chose to interpret a letter from Adrian to Frederick in a manner that seemed to imply that the imperial crown was a gift from the Papacy and that in fact the Empire itself was a fief of the Papacy.[29] Disgusted with the pope, and still wishing to crush the Normans in the south of Italy, in June 1158, Frederick set out upon his second Italian expedition, accompanied by Henry the Lion and his Saxon troops.[30] This expedition resulted in the revolt and capture of Milan,[31] the Diet of Roncaglia that saw the establishment of imperial officers and ecclesiastical reforms in the cities of northern Italy,[32] and the beginning of the long struggle with Pope Alexander III.[33]

The death of Pope Adrian IV in 1159 led to the election of two rival popes, Alexander III and the antipope Victor IV, and both sought Frederick's support.[34] Frederick, busy with the siege of Crema, appeared unsupportive of Alexander III, and after the sacking of Crema demanded that Alexander appear before the emperor at Pavia and to accept the imperial decree.[35] Alexander refused, and Frederick recognised Victor IV as the legitimate pope in 1160.[36] In response, Alexander III excommunicated both Frederick I and Victor IV.[37] Frederick attempted to convoke a joint council with King Louis VII of France in 1162 to decide the issue of who should be pope.[36] Louis neared the meeting site, but when he became aware that Frederick had stacked the votes for Alexander, Louis decided not to attend the council. As a result, the issue was not resolved at that time.[38]

The political result of the struggle with Pope Alexander was an alliance formed between the Norman state of Sicily and Pope Alexander III against Frederick.[39] In the meantime, Frederick had to deal with another rebellion at Milan, in which the city surrendered on 6 March 1162; much of it was destroyed three weeks later on the emperor's orders.[40] The fate of Milan led to the submission of Brescia, Placentia, and many other northern Italian cities.[41] Returning to Germany towards the close of 1162, Frederick prevented the escalation of conflicts between Henry the Lion from Saxony and a number of neighbouring princes who were growing weary of Henry's power, influence, and territorial gains. He also severely punished the citizens of Mainz for their rebellion against Archbishop Arnold. In Frederick's third visit to Italy in 1163, his plans for the conquest of Sicily were ruined by the formation of a powerful league against him, brought together mainly by opposition to imperial taxes.

In 1164 Frederick took what are believed to be the relics of the "Biblical Magi" (the Wise Men or Three Kings) from the Basilica di Sant'Eustorgio in Milan and gave them as a gift (or as loot) to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel. The relics had great religious significance and could be counted upon to draw pilgrims from all over Christendom. Today they are kept in the Shrine of the Three Kings in the Cologne cathedral. After the death of the antipope Victor IV, Frederick supported antipope Paschal III, but he was soon driven from Rome, leading to the return of Pope Alexander III in 1165.[42]

The Barbarossa Chandelier in Aachen Cathedral was donated by Frederick sometime after 1165 as a tribute to Charlemagne.

In the meantime Frederick was focused on restoring peace in the Rhineland, where he organized a magnificent celebration of the canonization of Charles the Great (Charlemagne) at Aachen, under the authority of the antipope Paschal III. Concerned over rumours that Alexander III was about to enter into an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I,[43] in October 1166 Frederick embarked on his fourth Italian campaign, hoping as well to secure the claim of Paschal III and the coronation of his wife Beatrice as Holy Roman Empress. This time, Henry the Lion refused to join Frederick on his Italian trip, tending instead to his own disputes with neighbors and his continuing expansion into Slavic territories in northeastern Germany. In 1167 Frederick began besieging Ancona, which had acknowledged the authority of Manuel I;[44] at the same time, his forces achieved a great victory over the Romans at the Battle of Monte Porzio.[45] Heartened by this victory, Frederick lifted the siege of Ancona and hurried to Rome, where he had his wife crowned empress and also received a second coronation from Paschal III.[45] Unfortunately, his campaign was halted by the sudden outbreak of an epidemic (malaria or the plague), which threatened to destroy the Imperial army and drove the emperor as a fugitive to Germany,[46][47] where he remained for the ensuing six years. During this period, Frederick decided conflicting claims to various bishoprics, asserted imperial authority over Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary, initiated friendly relations with Manuel I, and tried to come to a better understanding with Henry II of England and Louis VII of France. Many Swabian counts, including his cousin the young Duke of Swabia, Frederick IV, died in 1167, so he was able to organize a new mighty territory in the Duchy of Swabia under his reign in this time. Consequently, his younger son Frederick V became the new Duke of Swabia in 1167,[48] while his eldest son Henry was crowned King of the Romans in 1169, alongside his father who also retained the title.[46]

Later yearsEdit

Frederick Barbarossa, middle, flanked by two of his children, King Henry VI (left) and Duke Frederick VI (right). From the Historia Welforum.

Increasing anti-German sentiment swept through Lombardy, culminating in the restoration of Milan in 1169.[49] In 1174 Frederick made his fifth expedition to Italy. (It was probably during this time that the famous Tafelgüterverzeichnis, a record of the royal estates, was made.[50]) He was opposed by the pro-papal Lombard League (now joined by Venice, Sicily, and Constantinople), which had previously formed to stand against him.[51] The cities of northern Italy had become exceedingly wealthy through trade, representing a marked turning point in the transition from medieval feudalism. While continental feudalism had remained strong socially and economically, it was in deep political decline by the time of Frederick Barbarossa. When the northern Italian cities inflicted a defeat on Frederick at Alessandria in 1175, the European world was shocked.[52][53] With the refusal of Henry the Lion to bring help to Italy, the campaign was a complete failure. Frederick suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Legnano near Milan, on 29 May 1176, where he was wounded and for some time was believed to be dead.[54] This battle marked the turning point in Frederick's claim to empire.[55] He had no choice other than to begin negotiations for peace with Alexander III and the Lombard League. In the Peace of Anagni in 1176, Frederick recognized Alexander III as pope, and in the Peace of Venice in 1177, Frederick and Alexander III were formally reconciled.[56]

The scene was similar to that which had occurred between Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor at Canossa a century earlier. The conflict was the same as that resolved in the Concordat of Worms: Did the Holy Roman Emperor have the power to name the pope and bishops? The Investiture controversy from previous centuries had been brought to a tendentious peace with the Concordat of Worms and affirmed in the First Council of the Lateran. Now it had recurred, in a slightly different form. Frederick had to humble himself before Alexander III at Venice.[57] The emperor acknowledged the pope's sovereignty over the Papal States, and in return Alexander acknowledged the emperor's overlordship of the Imperial Church. Also in the Peace of Venice, a truce was made with the Lombard cities, which took effect in August 1178.[58] The grounds for a permanent peace were not established until 1183, however, in the Peace of Constance, when Frederick conceded their right to freely elect town magistrates. By this move, Frederick recovered his nominal domination over Italy, which became his chief means of applying pressure on the papacy.[59]

In a move to consolidate his reign after the disastrous expedition into Italy, Frederick was formally crowned King of Burgundy at Arles on 30 June 1178. Although traditionally the German kings had automatically inherited the royal crown of Arles since the time of Conrad II, Frederick felt the need to be crowned by the Archbishop of Arles, regardless of his laying claim to the title from 1152.

The now secularised St Peter's Church at Petersberg Citadel, Erfurt, where Henry the Lion submitted to Barbarossa in 1181

Frederick did not forgive Henry the Lion for refusing to come to his aid in 1176.[60] By 1180, Henry had successfully established a powerful and contiguous state comprising Saxony, Bavaria, and substantial territories in the north and east of Germany. Taking advantage of the hostility of other German princes to Henry, Frederick had Henry tried in absentia by a court of bishops and princes in 1180, declared that imperial law overruled traditional German law, and had Henry stripped of his lands and declared an outlaw.[61] He then invaded Saxony with an imperial army to force his cousin to surrender. Henry's allies deserted him, and he finally had to submit to Frederick at an Imperial Diet in Erfurt in November 1181.[62] Henry spent three years in exile at the court of his father-in-law Henry II of England in Normandy before being allowed back into Germany. He finished his days in Germany, as the much-diminished Duke of Brunswick.[63] Frederick's desire for revenge was sated. Henry the Lion lived a relatively quiet life, sponsoring arts and architecture. Frederick's victory over Henry did not gain him as much in the German feudalistic system as it would have in the English feudalistic system. While in England the pledge of fealty went in a direct line from overlords to those under them, the Germans pledged oaths only to the direct overlord, so that in Henry's case, those below him in the feudal chain owed nothing to Frederick. Thus, despite the diminished stature of Henry the Lion, Frederick did not gain his allegiances.[64]

Frederick was faced with the reality of disorder among the German states, where continuous civil wars were waged between pretenders and the ambitious who wanted the crown for themselves. Italian unity under German rule was more myth than truth. Despite proclamations of German hegemony, the pope was the most powerful force in Italy.[65] When Frederick returned to Germany after his defeat in northern Italy, he was a bitter and exhausted man. The German princes, far from being subordinated to royal control, were intensifying their hold on wealth and power in Germany and entrenching their positions. There began to be a generalized social desire to "create greater Germany" by conquering the Slavs to the east.[66]

Although the Italian city states had achieved a measure of independence from Frederick as a result of his failed fifth expedition into Italy,[67] the emperor had not given up on his Italian dominions. In 1184, he held a massive celebration when his two eldest sons were knighted, and thousands of knights were invited from all over Germany. While payments upon the knighting of a son were part of the expectations of an overlord in England and France, only a "gift" was given in Germany for such an occasion. Frederick's monetary gain from this celebration is said to have been modest.[68] Later in 1184, Frederick again moved into Italy, this time joining forces with the local rural nobility to reduce the power of the Tuscan cities.[69] In 1186, he engineered the marriage of his son Henry to Constance of Sicily, heiress to the Kingdom of Sicily, over the objections of Pope Urban III.[70]

Third Crusade and deathEdit

Pope Urban III died shortly after, and was succeeded by Gregory VIII, who was more concerned with troubling reports from the Holy Land than with a power struggle with Barbarossa. After making his peace with the new pope, Frederick vowed to take up the cross at the Diet of Mainz in 1188.[51] Frederick embarked on the Third Crusade (1189–92), a massive expedition in conjunction with the French, led by King Philip Augustus, and the English, under King Richard the Lionheart. According to one source written in the 1220s, Frederick organized a grand army of 100,000 men (including 20,000 knights) and set out on the overland route to the Holy Land;[71][72] Some historians believe that this is an exaggeration, however, and use other contemporary sources to estimate an army of 12,000–15,000 men, including 3,000–4,000 knights.[71][73]

The battle of Iconium, by Hermann Wislicenus (c.1890)

The Crusaders passed through Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria before entering Byzantine territory and arriving at Constantinople in the autumn of 1189. Matters were complicated by a secret alliance between the Emperor of Constantinople and Saladin, warning of which was supplied by a note from Sibylla, ex-Queen of Jerusalem.[74] While in Hungary, Barbarossa personally asked the Hungarian Prince Géza, brother of King Béla III of Hungary, to join the Crusade. The king agreed, and a Hungarian army of 2,000 men led by Géza escorted the German emperor's forces. The armies coming from western Europe pushed on through Anatolia, where they were victorious in taking Aksehir and defeating the Turks in the Battle of Iconium, and entered Cilician Armenia.[75] The approach of Barbarossa's victorious German army greatly concerned Saladin, who was forced to weaken his force at the Siege of Acre and send troops to the north to block the arrival of the Germans.[76]

Barbarossa drowns in the Saleph. From the Gotha Manuscript of the Saxon World Chronicle.

On 10 June 1190, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa drowned near Silifke Castle in the Saleph river.[77] Accounts of the event are conflicting. Frederick was thrown from his horse and the shock of the cold water caused him to have a heart attack. Weighed down by his armour, he drowned in water that was barely hip-deep, according to the chronicler Ibn al-Athir.

Frederick's death caused several thousand German soldiers to leave the force and return home through the Cilician and Syrian ports.[78] The German-Hungarian army was struck with an onset of disease near Antioch, weakening it further.[78] Only 5,000 soldiers, a third of the original force, arrived in Acre. Barbarossa's son, Frederick VI of Swabia, carried on with the remnants of the German army, along with the Hungarian army under the command of Prince Géza, with the aim of burying the emperor in Jerusalem, but efforts to conserve his body in vinegar failed. Hence, his flesh was interred in the Church of St Peter in Antioch, his bones in the cathedral of Tyre, and his heart and inner organs in Tarsus.[citation needed]

The Saleph River, now known as the Göksu

The unexpected demise of Frederick left the Crusader army under the command of the rivals Philip II and Richard, who had traveled to Palestine separately by sea, and ultimately led to its dissolution. Richard continued to the East where he fought Saladin, winning territories along the shores of Palestine, but ultimately failed to win the war by conquering Jerusalem itself before he was forced to return to his own territories in north-western Europe, known as the Angevin Empire. He returned home after he signed the Treaty of Ramla agreeing that Jerusalem would remain under Muslim control while allowing unarmed Christian pilgrims and traders to visit the city. The treaty also reduced the Latin Kingdom to a geopolitical coastal strip extending from Tyre to Jaffa.

Frederick and the Justinian codeEdit

The increase in wealth of the trading cities of northern Italy led to a revival in the study of the Justinian Code, a Latin legal system that had become extinct centuries earlier. Legal scholars renewed its application. It is speculated that Pope Gregory VII personally encouraged the Justinian rule of law and had a copy of it. The historian Norman Cantor described Corpus Iuris Civilis (Justinian Body of Civil Law) as "the greatest legal code ever devised".[79] It envisaged the law of the state as a reflection of natural moral law (as seen by the men of the Justinian system), the principle of rationality in the universe. By the time Frederick assumed the throne, this legal system was well established on both sides of the Alps. He was the first to utilize the availability of the new professional class of lawyers. The Civil Law allowed Frederick to use these lawyers to administer his kingdom in a logical and consistent manner. It also provided a framework to legitimize his claim to the right to rule both Germany and northern Italy. In the old days of Henry V and Henry VI, the claim of divine right of kings had been severely undermined by the Investiture controversy. The Church had won that argument in the common man's mind. There was no divine right for the German king to also control the church by naming both bishops and popes. The institution of the Justinian code was used, perhaps unscrupulously, by Frederick to lay claim to divine powers.[80]

In Germany, Frederick was a political realist, taking what he could and leaving the rest. In Italy, he tended to be a romantic reactionary, reveling in the antiquarian spirit of the age, exemplified by a revival of classical studies and Roman law. It was through the use of the restored Justinian code that Frederick came to view himself as a new Roman emperor.[81] Roman law gave a rational purpose for the existence of Frederick and his imperial ambitions. It was a counterweight to the claims of the Church to have authority because of divine revelation. The Church was opposed to Frederick for ideological reasons, not the least of which was the humanist nature found in the revival of the old Roman legal system.[82] When Pepin the Short sought to become king of the Franks in the 8th century, the church needed military protection, so Pepin found it convenient to make an ally of the pope. Frederick, however, desired to put the pope aside and claim the crown of old Rome simply because he was in the likeness of the greatest emperors of the pre-Christian era. Pope Adrian IV was naturally opposed to this view and undertook a vigorous propaganda campaign designed to diminish Frederick and his ambition. To a large extent, this was successful.[83]

Charismatic leaderEdit

Frederick Barbarossa as a crusader, miniature from a copy of the Historia Hierosolymitana, 1188

Historians have compared Frederick to Henry II of England. Both were considered the greatest and most charismatic leaders of their age. Each possessed a rare combination of qualities that made him appear superhuman to his contemporaries: longevity, boundless ambition, extraordinary organizing skill, and greatness on the battlefield. Both were handsome and proficient in courtly skills, without appearing effeminate or affected. Both came to the throne in the prime of manhood. Each had an element of learning, without being considered impractical intellectuals but rather more inclined to practicality. Each found himself in the possession of new legal institutions that were put to creative use in governing. Both Henry and Frederick were viewed to be sufficiently and formally devout to the teachings of the Church, without being moved to the extremes of spirituality seen in the great saints of the 12th century. In making final decisions, each relied solely upon his own judgment,[84] and both were interested in gathering as much power as they could.[85]

In keeping with this view of Frederick, his uncle, Otto of Freising, wrote an account of Frederick's reign entitled Gesta Friderici I imperatoris (Deeds of the Emperor Frederick). Otto died after finishing the first two books, leaving the last two to Rahewin, his provost. The text is in places heavily dependent on classical precedent.[86] For example, Rahewin's physical description of Frederick reproduces word-for-word (except for details of hair and beard) a description of another monarch written nearly eight hundred years earlier by Sidonius Apollinaris:[87]

His character is such that not even those envious of his power can belittle its praise. His person is well-proportioned. He is shorter than very tall men, but taller and more noble than men of medium height. His hair is golden, curling a little above his forehead ... His eyes are sharp and piercing, his beard reddish [barba subrufa], his lips delicate ... His whole face is bright and cheerful. His teeth are even and snow-white in color ... Modesty rather than anger causes him to blush frequently. His shoulders are rather broad, and he is strongly built ...

Frederick's charisma led to a fantastic juggling act that, over a quarter of a century, restored the imperial authority in the German states. His formidable enemies defeated him on almost every side, yet in the end he emerged triumphant. When Frederick came to the throne, the prospects for the revival of German imperial power were extremely thin. The great German princes had increased their power and land holdings. The king had been left with only the traditional family domains and a vestige of power over the bishops and abbeys. The backwash of the Investiture controversy had left the German states in continuous turmoil. Rival states were in perpetual war. These conditions allowed Frederick to be both warrior and occasional peace-maker, both to his advantage.[9]


Frederick sends out the boy to see whether the ravens still fly.

Frederick is the subject of many legends, including that of a sleeping hero, like the much older British Celtic legends of Arthur or Bran the Blessed. Legend says he is not dead, but asleep with his knights in a cave in the Kyffhäuser mountains in Thuringia or Mount Untersberg in Bavaria, Germany, and that when the ravens cease to fly around the mountain he will awake and restore Germany to its ancient greatness. According to the story, his red beard has grown through the table at which he sits. His eyes are half closed in sleep, but now and then he raises his hand and sends a boy out to see if the ravens have stopped flying.[88] A similar story, set in Sicily, was earlier attested about his grandson, Frederick II.[89] To garner political support the German Empire built atop the Kyffhäuser the Kyffhäuser Monument, which declared Kaiser Wilhelm I the reincarnation of Frederick; the 1896 dedication occurred on 18 June, the day of Frederick's coronation.[90]

In medieval Europe, the Golden Legend became refined by Jacopo da Voragine. This was a popularized interpretation of the Biblical end of the world. It consisted of three things: (1) terrible natural disasters; (2) the arrival of the Antichrist; (3) the establishment of a good king to combat the anti-Christ. German propaganda played into the exaggerated fables believed by the common people by characterizing Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick II as personification of the "good king".[91]

Frederick's uncle, Otto, bishop of Freising wrote a biography entitled The Deeds of Frederick Barbarosa, which is considered to be an accurate history of the king. Otto's other major work, The Two Cities was an exposition of the work of St. Augustine of Hippo of a similar title. The latter work was full of Augustinian negativity concerning the nature of the world and history. His work on Frederick is of opposite tone, being an optimistic portrayal of the glorious potentials of imperial authority. (See description above.)[92]

Another legend states that when Barbarossa was in the process of seizing Milan in 1158, his wife, the Empress Beatrice, was taken captive by the enraged Milanese and forced to ride through the city on a donkey in a humiliating manner. Some sources of this legend indicate that Barbarossa implemented his revenge for this insult by forcing the magistrates of the city to remove a fig from the anus of a donkey using only their teeth.[93] Another source states that Barbarossa took his wrath upon every able-bodied man in the city, and that it was not a fig they were forced to hold in their mouth, but excrement from the donkey. To add to this debasement, they were made to announce, "Ecco la fica" (meaning "behold the fig"), with the feces still in their mouths. It used to be said that the insulting gesture, (called fico), of holding one's fist with the thumb in between the middle and forefinger came by its origin from this event.[94]


Frederick's first marriage, to Adelheid of Vohburg, did not produce any children and was annulled.[95]

From his second marriage, to Beatrice of Burgundy,[95] he had the following children:

  1. Beatrice (1162–1174). She was betrothed to King William II of Sicily but died before they could be married.
  2. Frederick V, Duke of Swabia (Pavia, 16 July 1164 – 28 November 1170).
  3. Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor (Nijmegen, November 1165 – Messina, 28 September 1197).[95]
  4. Conrad (Modigliana, February 1167 – Acre, 20 January 1191), later renamed Frederick VI, Duke of Swabia after the death of his older brother.[95]
  5. Gisela (October/November 1168 – 1184).
  6. Otto I, Count of Burgundy (June/July 1170 – killed, Besançon, 13 January 1200).[95]
  7. Conrad II, Duke of Swabia and Rothenburg (February/March 1172 – killed, Durlach, 15 August 1196).[95]
  8. Renaud (October/November 1173 – in infancy).
  9. William (June/July 1176 – in infancy).
  10. Philip of Swabia (August 1177 – killed, Bamberg, 21 June 1208) King of Germany in 1198.[95]
  11. Agnes (1181 – 8 October 1184). She was betrothed to King Emeric of Hungary but died before they could be married.


In popular cultureEdit

  • In Victor Hugo's romantic play Les Burgraves (1843), Frederick (as character Frédéric de Hohenstaufen) returns many years after he was presumed dead, as expected by some medieval legends.[citation needed][105]
  • Cyrus Townsend Brady's Hohenzollern; a Story of the Time of Frederick Barbarossa (1901) begins with a dedication to "the descendants of the great Germanic race who in Europe, in America, and in the Far East rule the world".[106]
  • Land of Unreason (1941), by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, mentions the castle of the Kyffhäuser.[citation needed]
  • John Crowley's novel Little, Big (1981) features Frederick Barbarossa as a character in modern times, awoken from his centuries of sleep. In the book, he becomes the President of the United States and rules as a tyrant.[107]
  • Umberto Eco's novel Baudolino (2000) is set partly at Frederick's court, and also deals with the mystery of Frederick's death. The imaginary hero, Baudolino, is the Emperor's adopted son and confidant.[citation needed]
  • In the 2009 movie Barbarossa (also entitled Sword of War and Barbarossa: Siege Lord), Barbarossa is one of the main characters, played by Rutger Hauer.[108]
  • The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) 2018 documentary (The Germans), featured Frederick I in its 3rd of 6 episodes.[109]

See alsoEdit


  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Frederick I., Roman Emperor". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  1. ^ Peter Moraw, Heiliges Reich, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters, Munich & Zurich: Artemis 1977–1999, vol. 4, pp. 2025–28.
  2. ^ Iba, Johnson (2015), p. 29
  3. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 199
  4. ^ a b c Comyn (1851), p. 200
  5. ^ Le Goff (2000), p. 266
  6. ^ Dahmus (1969), pp. 300–302
  7. ^ Bryce (1913), p. 166
  8. ^ Cantor (1969), pp. 302–303
  9. ^ a b Cantor (1969), pp. 428–429
  10. ^ Dahmus (1969), p. 359
  11. ^ Brown (1972)
  12. ^ Davis (1957), pp. 318–319
  13. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 202
  14. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 201
  15. ^ a b c Comyn (1851), p. 230
  16. ^ Falco (1964), pp. 218 et seq.
  17. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 227
  18. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 228
  19. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 229
  20. ^ Cantor (1969), pp. 368–369
  21. ^ a b Comyn (1851), p. 231
  22. ^ a b Comyn (1851), p. 232
  23. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 233
  24. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 203
  25. ^ Davis (1957), p. 319
  26. ^ "Peace of the Land Established by Frederick Barbarossa Between 1152 and 1157 A.D." The Avalon Project. Yale Law School.
  27. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 234
  28. ^   Ua Clerigh, Arthur (1913). "Pope Adrian IV". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  29. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 235
  30. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 236
  31. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 238
  32. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 240
  33. ^ "Frederick I | Holy Roman emperor". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  34. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 241
  35. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 242
  36. ^ a b Comyn (1851), p. 243
  37. ^ Dahmus (1969), p. 295
  38. ^ Munz (1969), p. 228
  39. ^ Davis (1957), pp. 326–327
  40. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 245
  41. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 246
  42. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 247
  43. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 248
  44. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 249
  45. ^ a b Comyn (1851), p. 250
  46. ^ a b Comyn (1851), p. 251
  47. ^ See entry for the contemporary chroniclers, Ottone and Acerbo Morena.
  48. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 252
  49. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 253
  50. ^ Leyser (1988), p. 157
  51. ^ a b Kampers, Franz. "Frederick I (Barbarossa)". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 21 May 2009.
  52. ^ Le Goff (2000), p. 104
  53. ^ Reprint of B. Arthaud. La civilization de l'Occident medieval, Paris, 1964.
  54. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 257
  55. ^ Davis (1957), pp. 332 et seq.
  56. ^ Brown (1972), pp. 164–165
  57. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 260
  58. ^ See Yale Avalon project.
  59. ^ Le Goff (2000), pp. 96–97
  60. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 263
  61. ^ Davis (1957), p. 333
  62. ^ Friedrich (2003), p. 5
  63. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 264
  64. ^ Cantor (1969), pp. 433–434
  65. ^ Le Goff (2000), pp. 102–103
  66. ^ Cantor (1969), p. 429
  67. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 262
  68. ^ Dahmus (1969), p. 240
  69. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 265
  70. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 266
  71. ^ a b Loud 2010, p. 19.
  72. ^ J. Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, 66
  73. ^ Konstam, Historical Atlas of the Crusades, 162
  74. ^ The Crusade of Frederick Barbarossa: Letters, Fordham University.
  75. ^ Loud 2010, p. 111.
  76. ^ Loud 2010, p. 64.
  77. ^ Comyn (1851), p. 267
  78. ^ a b Loud 2010, p. 181.
  79. ^ Cantor, Norman F. (1993). The Civilization of the Middle Ages. New York: HarperCollins. p. 309. ISBN 0060170336. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  80. ^ Cantor (1969), pp. 340–342
  81. ^ Davis (1957), p. 332
  82. ^ Davis (1957), p. 324
  83. ^ Davis (1957), p. 325
  84. ^ Cantor (1969), pp. 422–423
  85. ^ Cantor (1969), p. 424
  86. ^ Cantor (1969), p. 360
  87. ^ Sidonius Apollinaris, Epistles 1.2, a description of Theodoric II of the Visigoths (453–66). See Mierow and Emery (1953) p. 331.
  88. ^ Brown (1972), p. 172
  89. ^ Kantorowicz, Frederick II; last chapter
  90. ^ Jarausch (1997), p. 35
  91. ^ Le Goff (2000), p. 190
  92. ^ Cantor (1969), pp. 359–360
  93. ^ Walford, Cox & Apperson (1885), p. 119
  94. ^ Novobatzky & Shea (2001)
  95. ^ a b c d e f g Gislebertus (of Mons), Chronicle of Hainaut, transl. Laura Napran, (Boydell Press, 2005), 55 note245.
  96. ^ a b c d Hansmartin Schwarzmaier (1961), "Friedrich I.", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 5, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 588–589; (full text online)
  97. ^ a b Kurt Reindel (1969), "Heinrich IX. der Schwarze", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 8, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 343–343; (full text online)
  98. ^ a b c Theodor Schieffer (1969), "Heinrich IV.", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 8, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 315–320; (full text online)
  99. ^ a b c August Nitschke (1955), "Bertha von Turin (von Susa)", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 2, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 150–151; (full text online)
  100. ^ a b c Riezler (1896), "Welf I. (in der Familienreihe IV.).", Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) (in German), 41, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 666–670
  101. ^ a b c Schneidmüller, Bernd (2000). Die Welfen. Herrschaft und Erinnerung (819–1252). Stuttgart: Kohlhammer. pp. 134–135. ISBN 9783170149991.
  102. ^ a b c Lutz Fenske (1987), "Magnus", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 15, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 666–666; (full text online)
  103. ^ a b c Kristó, Gyula; Makk, Ferenc (1996). Az Árpád-ház uralkodói [Rulers of the House of Árpád] (in Hungarian). I.P.C. Könyvek. pp. 79, 81, Appendix 2. ISBN 963-7930-97-3.
  104. ^ a b Hansmartin Schwarzmaier: Friedrich "von Büren", "Ahnherr der Staufer" (um 1010/20 - † um 1050/60) in: Lexikon des Mittelalters. Vol. 4, Artemis & Winkler, Munich/Zurich 1989, ISBN 3-7608-8904-2, Col. 958.
  105. ^ France, Peter (1995). The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198661252.
  106. ^ Brady (1901)
  107. ^ Crowley (2006), pp. 346, 429
  108. ^ Barbarossa at AllMovie
  109. ^ "The Germans". Deutsche Wells.
  110. ^ Kershaw (2001), p. 335

Primary sourcesEdit

Secondary sourcesEdit

  • Brady, Charles Townsend (1901). Hohenzollern; a Story of the Time of Frederick Barbarossa. New York: The Century Co.
  • Brown, R. A. (1972). The Origins of Modern Europe. Boydell Press.
  • Bryce, James (1913). The Holy Roman Empire. MacMillan.
  • Cantor, N. F. (1969). Medieval History. Macmillan and Company.
  • Comyn, Robert (1851). History of the Western Empire, from its Restoration by Charlemagne to the Accession of Charles V. I.
  • Crowley, John William (2006). Little, Big. New York: Perennial. ISBN 978-0-06-112005-3.
  • Dahmus, J. (1969). The Middle Ages, A Popular History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  • Davis, R. H. C. (1957). A History of Medieval Europe. Longmans.
  • Falco, G. (1964). The Holy Roman Republic. New York: Barnes and Co.
  • Freed, John (2016). Frederick Barbarossa: The Prince and the Myth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-122763.
  • Friedrich, Verena (2003). Die ehemalige Benediktinerklosterkirche St. Peter and Paul, Erfurt. Regensburg: Verlag Schnell & Steiner. ISBN 37954-6473-0.
  • Jarausch, K. H. (1997). After Unity; Reconfiguring German Identities. New York: Berghahn Books. ISBN 1-57181-041-2.
  • Iba, Michael E.; Johnson, Thomas L. (2015). The German Fairy Tale Landscape: The Storied World of the Brothers Grimm. Niemeyer C.W. Buchverlage. ISBN 9783980871488.
  • Kershaw, Ian (2001). Hitler, 1936–45: Nemesis. Penguin.
  • Le Goff, J. (2000). Medieval Civilization, 400–1500. New York: Barnes and Noble.
  • Leyser, Karl J. (1988). Frederick Barbarossa and the Hohenstaufen Polity. University of California Press.
  • Loud, G. A. (2010). The Crusade of Frederick Barbarossa: The History of the Expedition of the Emperor Frederick and Related Texts. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 9780754665755.
  • Munz, Peter (1969). Frederick Barbarossa: a Study in Medieval Politics. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
  • Novobatzky, Peter; Shea, Ammon (2001). Depraved and Insulting English. Orlando: Harcourt.
  • Walford, Edward; Cox, John Charles; Apperson, George Latimer (1885). "Digit folklore, part II". The Antiquary. XI: 119–123.

External linksEdit

Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor
Born: 1122 Died: 1190
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Conrad III
German King
formally King of the Romans

Succeeded by
Henry VI
King of Italy
Preceded by
Lothair III
King of Arles
Holy Roman Emperor
Preceded by
Frederick II
Duke of Swabia
Succeeded by
Frederick IV
Preceded by
Beatrice I
as sole ruler
Count Palatine of Burgundy
with Beatrice I
Succeeded by
Otto I