Frederick II (December 26, 1194 – December 13, 1250), of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, was a pretender to the title of King of the Romans from 1212 and unopposed holder of that monarchy from 1215. As such, he was King of Germany, of Italy, and of Burgundy. He was also King of Sicily from his mother's inheritance. He was Holy Roman Emperor (Emperor of the Romans) from his papal coronation in 1220 until his death. His original title was King of Sicily, which he held as Frederick I from 1198 to his death. His other royal titles, accrued for a brief period of his life, were King of Cyprus and Jerusalem by virtue of marriage and his connection with the Sixth Crusade.
He was raised and lived most of his life in Sicily, with his mother, Constance, being the daughter of Roger II of Sicily. His empire was frequently at war with the Papal States, so it is unsurprising that he was excommunicated twice and often vilified in chronicles of the time. Pope Gregory IX went so far as to call him the Antichrist. After his death the idea of his second coming where he would rule a 1,000-year reich took hold, possibly in part because of this.
He was known in his own time as Stupor mundi ("wonder of the world") and was said to speak six languages: Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic. By contemporary standards, Frederick was a ruler very much ahead of his time, being an avid patron of science and the arts.
He was patron of the Sicilian School of poetry. His royal court in Palermo, from around 1220 to his death, saw the first use of a literary form of an Italo-Romance language, Sicilian. The poetry that emanated from the school predates the use of the Tuscan idiom as the preferred language of the Italian peninsula by at least a century. The school and its poetry were well known to Dante and his peers and had a significant influence on the literary form of what was eventually to become the modern Italian language.
He founded the University of Naples in 1224.
In 1196 at Frankfurt am Main the child Frederick was elected King of the Germans. His rights in Germany were disputed by Henry's brother Philip of Swabia and Otto of Brunswick. At the death of his father in 1197, the two-year-old Frederick was in Italy travelling towards Germany when the bad news reached his guardian, Conrad of Spoleto. Frederick was hastily brought back to Constance in Palermo, Sicily. His mother, Constance of Sicily, had been in her own right queen of Sicily; she had Frederick crowned King of Sicily and established herself as Regent. In Frederick's name she dissolved Sicily's ties to the Empire, sending home his German counsellors (notably Markward von Annweiler and Gualtiero da Pagliara), and renouncing his claims to the German kingship and empire.
Unlike most Holy Roman emperors, Frederick spent little of his life in Germany. In 1218 he helped Philip II of France and Eudes III, Duke of Burgundy to bring an end to the War of Succession in French Champagne by invading Lorraine, capturing and burning Nancy, capturing Theobald I, Duke of Lorraine and forcing him to withdraw his support from Erard of Brienne. After his coronation in 1220, Frederick remained either in the Kingdom of Sicily or on Crusade until 1236, when he made his last journey to Germany. (At this time, the Kingdom of Sicily, with its capital at Palermo, extended onto the Italian mainland to include most of southern Italy.) He returned to Italy in 1237 and stayed there for the remaining thirteen years of his life, represented in Germany by his son Conrad.
In the Kingdom of Sicily, he built on the reform of the laws begun at the Assizes of Ariano in 1140 by his grandfather Roger II. His initiative in this direction was visible as early as the Assizes of Capua (1220) but came to fruition in his promulgation of the Constitutions of Melfi (1231, also known as Liber Augustalis), a collection of laws for his realm that was remarkable for its time and was a source of inspiration for a long time after. It made the Kingdom of Sicily an absolutist monarchy, the first centralized state in Europe to emerge from feudalism; it also set a precedent for the primacy of written law. With relatively small modifications, the Liber Augustalis remained the basis of Sicilian law until 1819.
He eventually embarked on the crusade the following year (1228), which was looked on by the Pope as a provocation, since the church could not take any part in the honor of the crusade, resulting in a second excommunication. By this time the crusading army had dwindled to a meagre force. Knowing that he could not take Jerusalem by force of arms, Frederick negotiated along the lines of a previous agreement he had intended to broker with the Egyptian sultan, Al-Kamil. The treaty resulted in the restitution of Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem to the Kingdom, though there are disagreements as to the extent of the territory returned. The Ayyubid ruler of the region, who was nervous about possible war with his relatives who ruled Syria and Mesopotamia, wished to avoid further trouble from the Christians, at least until his domestic rivals were subdued.
The crusade ended in a truce and in Frederick's coronation as King of Jerusalem on March 18, 1229— although this was technically improper, as Frederick's wife Yolande, the heiress, had died in the meantime, leaving their infant son Conrad as rightful heir to the kingdom. There is also disagreement as to whether the 'coronation' was a coronation at all, as a letter written by Frederick to Henry III of England suggests that the crown he placed on his own head was in fact the imperial crown of the Romans. In any case, Gerald of Lausanne, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, did not attend the ceremony, indeed, the next day the Bishop of Caesarea arrived to place the city under interdict on his orders. Frederick's further attempts to rule over the Kingdom of Jerusalem were met by resistance on the part of the barons, led by John of Ibelin, Lord of Beirut. In the mid-1230s, Frederick's viceroy was forced to leave Acre, the capital, and in 1244, following a siege, Jerusalem itself was lost again to a new Muslim offensive.
Whilst Frederick's seeming bloodless victory in recovering Jerusalem for the cross brought him great prestige in some European circles, his decision to complete the crusade while excommunicated provoked Church hostility. Although in 1230 the Pope lifted Frederick's excommunication at the Treaty of San Germano, this decision was taken for a variety of reasons related to the political situation in Europe. Of Frederick's crusade, Philip of Novara, a chronicler of the period, said "The emperor left Acre [after the conclusion of the truce]; hated, cursed, and vilified." (The History of Philip of Novara, Christian Society and the Crusades, ed Peters. Philadelphia, 1971). Overall this crusade, arguably the first successful one since the First Crusade, was adversely affected by the manner in which Frederick carried out negotiations without the support of the church. He left behind a kingdom in the Levant torn by a civil war between his agents and the local nobility, the War of the Lombards.
Against the excommunication on his lands, the preachers condemned the Pope, ministered sacraments and absolutions. Brother Arnold in Swabia proclaimed the Second Coming for 1260. Frederick would then confiscate the riches of Rome and distribute them among the poor, the "only true Christians".
Frederick celebrated it with a triumph in Cremona in the manner of an ancient Roman emperor, with the captured carroccio (later sent to the commune of Rome) and an elephant. He rejected any suit for peace, even from Milan which had sent a great sum of money. This demand of total surrender spurred further resistance from Milan, Brescia, Bologna and Piacenza, and in October 1238 he was forced to raise the siege of Brescia, in the course of which his enemies had tried unsuccessfully to capture him.
Frederick received the news of his excommunication by Gregory IX in the first months of 1239 while his court was in Padova. The emperor responded by expelling the Minorites and the preachers from Lombardy, and electing his son Enzio as Imperial vicar for Northern Italy. Enzio soon annexed the Romagna, Marche and the Duchy of Spoleto, nominally part of the Papal States. The father announced he was to destroy the Republic of Venice, which had sent some ships against Sicily. In December of that year Frederick marched over Toscana, entered triumphantly into Foligno and then in Viterbo, whence he aimed to finally conquer Rome, in order to restore the ancient splendours of the Empire. The siege, however, was ineffective, and Frederick returned to Southern Italy, sacking Benevento (a papal possession). Peace negotiations came to nothing.
In the meantime the Ghibelline city of Ferrara had fallen, and Frederick swept his way northwards capturing Ravenna and, after another long siege, Faenza. The people of Forlì (which kept its Ghibelline stance even after the collapse of Hohenstaufen power) offered their loyal support during the capture of the rival city: as a sign of gratitude, they were granted an augmentation of the communal coat-of-arms with the Hohenstaufen eagle, together with other privileges. This episode shows how the independent cities used the rivalry between Empire and Pope as a mean to obtain the maximum advantage for themselves.
The Pope called a council, but Ghibelline Pisa thwarted it, capturing cardinals and prelates on a ship sailing from Genoa to Rome. Frederick thought that this time the way into Rome was opened, and he again directed his forces against the Pope, leaving behind him a ruined and burning Umbria. Frederick destroyed Grottaferrata preparing to invade Rome. Then, on August 22, 1241, Gregory died. Frederick, showing that his war was not directed against the Church of Rome but against the Pope, drew back his troops and freed two cardinals from the jail of Capua. Nothing changed, however, in the relationship between Papacy and Empire, as Roman troops assaulted the Imperial garrison in Tivoli and the Emperor soon reached Rome. This back-and-forth situation was repeated again in 1242 and 1243.
The plotters, however, were unmasked by the count of Caserta. The vengeance was terrible: the city of Altavilla, where they had found shelter, was razed, and the guilty were blinded, mutilated and burnt alive or hanged. An attempt to invade the Kingdom of Sicily, under the command of Ranieri, was halted at Spello by Marino of Eboli, Imperial vicar of Spoleto.
Innocent also sent a flow of money to Germany to cut off Frederick's power at its source. The archbishops of Köln and Mainz also declared Frederick deposed, and in May 1246 a new king was chosen in the person of Heinrich Raspe. On August 5 1246 Heinrich, thanks to the Pope's money, managed to defeat an army of Conrad, son of Frederick, near Frankfurt. But Frederick strengthened his position in Southern Germany, acquiring the Duchy of Austria, whose duke had died without heirs, and one year later Heinrich died as well. The new anti-king was William II, Count of Holland.
Between February and March 1247 Frederick settled the situation in Italy by means of the diet of Terni, naming his relatives or friends as vicars of the various lands. He married his son Manfred to the daughter of Amedeo di Savoia and secured the submission of the marquis of Monferrato. On his part, Innocent asked protection from the King of France, Louis IX; but the king was a friend of the Emperor and believed in his desire for peace. A papal army under the command of Ottaviano degli Ubaldini never reached Lombardy, and the Emperor, accompanied by a massive army, held the next diet in Turin.
In February 1249 Frederick fired his advisor and prime minister, the famous jurist and poet Pier delle Vigne on charges of speculation and embezzlement. Some historians suggest that Pier was planning to betray the Emperor, who, according to Matthew of Paris, cried when he discovered the plot. Pier, blinded and in chains, died in Pisa, possibly by suicide. Even more shocking for Frederick was the capture of his son Enzio of Sardinia by the Bolognese at the Battle of Fossalta, in May of the same year. Only twenty-three at the time, he was held in a palace in Bologna, where he remained captive until his death in 1272. Frederick lost another son, Richard of Chieti. The struggle continued: the Empire lost Como and Modena, but regained Ravenna. An army sent to invade the Kingdom of Sicily under the command of Cardinal Pietro Capocci was crushed in the Marche at the Battle of Cingoli in 1250. In the first month of that year the indomitable Ranieri of Viterbo died and the Imperial condottieri again reconquered Romagna, Marche and Spoleto, and Conrad, King of the Romans scored several victories in Germany against William of Holland.
Frederick did not take part in of any of these campaigns. He had been ill and probably felt himself tired. Despite the betrayals and the setbacks he had faced in his last years, Frederick died peacefully, wearing the habit of a Cistercian monk, on December 13, 1250 in Castel Fiorentino near Lucera, in Puglia, after an attack of dysentery. At the time of his death, his preeminent position in Europe was challenged but not lost: his testament left his legitimate son Conrad IV the Imperial and Sicilian crowns. Manfred received the principate of Taranto and the government of the Kingdom, Henry the Kingdom of Arles or that of Jerusalem, while the son of Henry VII was entrusted with the Duchy of Austria and the Marquisate of Styria. Frederick's will stipulated that all the lands he had taken from the Church were to be returned to it, all the prisoners freed, and the taxes reduced, provided this did not damage the Empire's prestige.
However, upon Conrad's death a mere four years later, the Hohenstaufen dynasty fell from power and an interregnum began, lasting until 1273, one year after the last Hohenstaufen, Enzio, had died in his prison. During this time, a legend developed that Frederick was not truly dead but merely sleeping in the Kyffhäuser Mountains and would one day awaken to reestablish his empire. Over time, this legend largely transferred itself to his grandfather, Frederick I, also known as Barbarossa ("Redbeard").
His sarcophagus (made of red porphyry) lies in the cathedral of Palermo beside those of his parents (Henry VI and Constance) as well as his grandfather, the Norman king Roger II of Sicily. A bust of Frederick sits in the Walhalla temple built by Ludwig I of Bavaria.
Frederick II was a religious sceptic. He is said to have denounced Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as all being frauds and deceivers of mankind. He delighted in uttering blasphemies and making mocking remarks directed toward Christian sacraments and beliefs. Frederick's religious scepticism was unusual for the era in which he lived, and to his contemporaries, highly shocking and scandalous.
In Palermo, where the three-year-old boy was brought after his mother's death, he was said to have grown up like a street youth. The only benefit from Innocent III's guardianship was that at fourteen years of age he married a twenty-five-year-old widow named Constance, the daughter of the king of Aragon. Both seem to have been happy with the arrangement, and Constance soon bore a son, Henry.
At his coronation, he may have worn the red silk mantle that had been crafted during the reign of Roger II. It bore an Arabic inscription indicating that the robe dated from the year 528 in the Muslim calendar, and incorporated a generic benediction, wishing its wearer "vast prosperity, great generosity and high splendor, fame and magnificent endowments, and the fulfillment of his wishes and hopes. May his days and nights go in pleasure without end or change". This coronation robe can be found today in the Schatzkammer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Rather than exterminate the Saracens of Sicily, he allowed them to settle on the mainland and build mosques. Not least, he enlisted them in his — Christian — army and even into his personal bodyguards. As Muslim soldiers, they had the advantage of immunity from papal excommunication. For these reasons, among others, Frederick II is listed as a representative member of the sixth region of Dante's Inferno, The Heretics who are burned in tombs.
A further example of how much Frederick differed from his contemporaries was the conduct of his Crusade in the Holy Land. Outside Jerusalem, with the power to take it, he parlayed five months with the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt al-Kamil about the surrender of the city. The Sultan summoned him into Jerusalem and entertained him in the most lavish fashion. When the muezzin, out of consideration for Frederick, failed to make the morning call to prayer, the emperor declared: "I stayed overnight in Jerusalem, in order to overhear the prayer call of the Muslims and their worthy God". The Saracens had a good opinion of him, so it was no surprise that after five months Jerusalem was handed over to him, taking advantage of the war difficulties of al-Kamil. The fact that this was regarded in the Arab as in the Christian world as high treason did not matter to him. When certain members of the Knights Templar wrote al-Kamil a letter and offered to destroy Frederick if he lent them aid, al-Kamil handed the letter over to Frederick. As the Patriarch of Jerusalem refused to crown him king, he set the crown on his own head.
Besides his great tolerance (which, however, did not apply to Christian heretics), Frederick had an unlimited thirst for knowledge and learning. To the horror of his contemporaries, he simply did not believe things that could not be explained by reason. He forbade trials by ordeal in the firm conviction that in a duel the stronger would always win, whether or not he was guilty. Many of his laws continue to influence modern attitudes, such as his prohibition on physicians acting as their own pharmacists. This was a blow to the charlatanism under which physicians diagnosed dubious maladies in order to sell useless, even dangerous "cures".
Frederick inherited a love of falconry from his Norman ancestors. According to one source, Frederick replied to a letter in which the Mongol Khan Batu invited him to "surrender" that he would do so provided only that he be permitted to become the Khan's falconer. He maintained up to fifty falconers at a time in his court, and in his letters he requested Arctic gyrfalcons from Lübeck and even from Greenland. He commissioned his Syrian astrologer Theodor to translate the treatise De arte venandi cum avibus, by the Arab Moamyn, and he corrected or rewrote it himself during the interminable siege of Faenza. One of the two existing versions was modified by his son Manfred, also a keen falconer.
Frederick loved exotic animals in general: his menagerie, with which he impressed the cold cities of Northern Italy and Europe, included hounds, giraffes, cheetahs, lynxes, leopards, exotic birds and an elephant.
He was also alleged to have carried out a Language deprivation experiment, having young infants raised without human interaction in an attempt to determine if there was a natural language that they might demonstrate once their voices matured. It is claimed he was seeking to discover what language would have been imparted unto Adam and Eve by God. The experiments were recorded by the monk Salimbene di Adam (who despised Frederick) in his Chronicles, who wrote that Frederick bade "foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them; for he would have learnt whether they would speak the Hebrew language (which had been the first), or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perchance the tongue of their parents of whom they had been born. But he laboured in vain, for the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments."
Frederick was also interested in the stars, and his court was host to many astrologers and astronomers. He often sent letters to the leading scholars of the time (not only in Europe) asking for solutions to questions of science, mathematics and physics.
A Damascene chronicler, Sibt ibn al-Jawzi, left a physical description of Frederick based on the testimony of those who had seen the emperor in person in Jerusalem: "The Emperor was covered with red hair, was bald and myopic. Had he been a slave, he would not have fetched 200 dirhams at market." Frederick's eyes were described variously as blue, or "green like those of a serpent".
He was not able to extend his legal reforms beyond Sicily to the Empire. In 1232, he was forced by the German princes to promulgate the Statutum in favorem principum ("statute in favor of princes"). It was a charter of aristocratic liberties for German princes at the expense of the lesser nobility and commoners. The princes gained whole power of jurisdiction, and the power to strike their own coins. The emperor lost his right to establish new cities, castles and mints over their territories. The Statutum severely weakened central authority in Germany. From 1232 the vassals of the emperor had a veto over imperial legislative decisions. Every new law established by the emperor had to be approved by the princes.
Modern treatments (that is, 20th and 21st century literature) of Frederick vary from sober evaluation (Wolfgang Stürner) to hero worship (Ernst Kantorowicz). However, all agree on Frederick II's significance as Holy Roman Emperor, even if some of his actions (such as his politics with respect to Germany) remain quite dubious. In the judgment of British historian Geoffrey Barraclough, for instance, Frederick's extensive concessions to German princes -- which he made in the hopes of securing his base for his Italian projects -- undid the political achievements of his predecessors and set German unity back for centuries.
|Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor|| Father:|
Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor
| Paternal Grandfather:|
Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor
| Paternal Great-grandfather:|
Frederick II, Duke of Swabia
| Paternal Great-grandmother:|
Judith of Bavaria
| Paternal Grandmother:|
Beatrice I, Countess of Burgundy
| Paternal Great-grandfather:|
Renaud III, Count of Burgundy
| Paternal Great-grandmother:|
Agatha of Lorraine
Constance of Sicily
| Maternal Grandfather:|
Roger II of Sicily
| Maternal Great-grandfather:|
Roger I of Sicily
| Maternal Great-grandmother:|
Adelaide del Vasto
| Maternal Grandmother:|
Beatrix of Rethel
| Maternal Great-grandfather:|
Ithier, Count of Rethel
| Maternal Great-grandmother:|
Beatrix of Namur
Frederick, a notorious womanizer, left several children, legitimate and illegitimate:
Frederick had a relationship with Bianca Lancia (ca.1200/10-1230/46), possibly starting around 1225 (see her page for discussion of dating problems). One source states that it lasted 20 years. She bore him three children:
Matthew of Paris relates the story of a marriage in articulo mortis (on her deathbed) between them when Bianca was dying, but this marriage was never canonized by the Church. Nevertheless, Bianca's children were apparently regarded by Frederick as legitimate, evidenced by his daughter Constance's marriage to the Nicaen Emperor, and his own will, were he appointed Manfred as Prince of Taranto and Regent of Sicily.
In addition, this article uses material from the Friedrich II. in the German-language Wikipedia, which, in turn, gives the following references; the notes are theirs: