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, 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. Frederick energetically pursued the crown and at Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 the kingdom's princely electors designated him as the next German king. He was crowned King of the Romans at Aachen several days later, on 9 March 1152. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Rise to power
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. Abroad, Frederick intervened in the Danish civil war between Svend III and Valdemar I of Denmark and began negotiations with the Eastern Roman Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus. 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.
First Italian Campaign: 1154–55
Frederick undertook six expeditions into Italy. In the first, beginning in October 1154, his plan was to launch a campaign against the Normans under King William I of Sicily. He marched down and almost immediately encountered resistance to his authority. Obtaining the submission of Milan, he successfully besieged Tortona in early 1155, razing it to the ground. He moved on to Pavia, where he received the Iron Crown and the title of King of Italy. 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. As a sign of good faith, Frederick dismissed the ambassadors from the revived Roman Senate, 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.
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. 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. 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." 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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, 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.
Second, Third and Fourth Italian Campaigns: 1158–1174
Frederick Barbarossa as a crusader, miniature from a copy of the Historia Hierosolymitana
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. 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. 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. This expedition resulted in the revolt and capture of Milan, the Diet of Roncaglia that saw the establishment of imperial officers and ecclesiastical reforms in the cities of northern Italy, and the beginning of the long struggle with Pope Alexander III.
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. 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. Alexander refused, and Frederick recognised Victor IV as the legitimate pope in 1160. In response, Alexander III excommunicated both Frederick I and Victor IV. Frederick attempted to convoke a joint council with King Louis VII of France in 1162 to decide the issue of who should be pope. 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.
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. 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. The fate of Milan led to the submission of Brescia, Placentia, and many other northern Italian cities. 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.
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, 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; at the same time, his forces achieved a great victory over the Romans at the Battle of Monte Porzio. 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. 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, 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, while his eldest son Henry was crowned King of the Romans in 1169, alongside his father who also retained the title.
Frederick Barbarossa, middle, flanked by two of his children, King Henry VI (left) and Duke Frederick VI (right). From the
The now secularised St Peter's Church at Petersberg Citadel
, Erfurt, where Henry the Lion submitted to Barbarossa in 1181.
Increasing anti-German sentiment swept through Lombardy, culminating in the restoration of Milan in 1169. 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.) He was opposed by the pro-papal Lombard League (now joined by Venice, Sicily, and Constantinople), which had previously formed to stand against him. 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. 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. This battle marked the turning point in Frederick's claim to empire. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
Frederick did not forgive Henry the Lion for refusing to come to his aid in 1176. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
Although the Italian city states had achieved a measure of independence from Frederick as a result of his failed fifth expedition into Italy, 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. 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. 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.
Third Crusade and death
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. 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. Frederick organized a grand army of 100,000 men (including 20,000 knights) and set out on the overland route to the Holy Land; Some historians believe that this is an exaggeration, however, and that the true figure might be closer to 15,000 men, including 3,000 knights.
The Saleph River, now known as the Göksu
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. 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. The approach of the immense German army greatly concerned Saladin and the other Muslim leaders, who began to rally troops of their own to confront Barbarossa's forces.
On 10 June 1190, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa drowned near Silifke Castle in the Saleph river. 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.
Some of Frederick's men put him in a barrel of vinegar to preserve his body.
Frederick's death plunged his army into chaos. Leaderless, panicking, and attacked on all sides by Turks, many Germans deserted, were killed, or committed suicide. Only 5,000 soldiers, a small fraction 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.
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.