Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Alberto da Giussano and Barbarossa - Part III: Emperor Frederick I

Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor

Excerpts from Wikipedia:

Frederick I Barbarossa (1122 – 10 June 1190) was elected King of Germany at Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 and crowned in Aachen on 9 March, crowned King of Italy in Pavia in 1154, and finally crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Adrian IV on 18 June 1155. He was crowned King of Burgundy at Arles on 30 June 1178. The name Barbarossa came from the northern Italian cities he attempted to rule, and means "red beard."

Rise to power

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 East 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, in return for his coronation, he promised 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.

Reign and wars in Italy

Frederick undertook six expeditions into Italy. In the first he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome by Pope Adrian IV, following the suppression by Imperial forces of the republican city commune led by Arnold of Brescia. During the 1155 campaign in Rome, Frederick quickly allied forces with Pope Adrian IV to regain the city. The major opposition was led by Arnold of Brescia, a student of Abelard. Arnold was captured and hanged for treason and rebellion. Despite his unorthodox teaching concerning theology, Arnold was not charged with heresy. Frederick left Italy in the autumn of 1155 to prepare for a new and more formidable campaign.

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 establishment of imperial officers in the cities of northern Italy, the revolt and capture of Milan, and the beginning of the long struggle with Pope Alexander III. In response to his excommunication by the pope in 1160, Frederick declared his support for Antipope Victor IV. Frederick attempted to convoke a joint council with King Louis of France in 1162 to decide the issue of who should be pope. Louis came near 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 that the Norman state of Sicily and Pope Alexander III formed an alliance against Frederick. 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. The next visit to Italy in 1163 saw his plans for the conquest of Sicily 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 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.

Frederick then focused on restoring peace in the Rhineland, where he organized a magnificent celebration of the canonization of Charles the Great (Charlemagne) at Aachen. In October 1166, he went once more on journey to Italy to secure the claim of his Antipope 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. Frederick's forces achieved a great victory over the Romans at the Battle of Monte Porzio, but his campaign was stopped 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.

Later years

In 1174, Frederick made his fifth expedition to Italy but 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, and represented 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, the European world was shocked that such a thing could happen. With the refusal of Henry the Lion to bring help to Italy, the campaign was a complete failure.

Frederick was able to march through Northern Italy and occupy Rome with his self-appointed Antipope Paschal III, but the Lombards rose up behind him while a severe fever crippled his army. 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, 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 Pope 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. But the grounds for a permanent peace were established only in 1183, when, in the Peace of Constance, Frederick conceded their right to freely elect town magistrates. By this move, Frederick recovered his nominal domination over Italy. This became his chief means of applying pressure on the papacy.

Frederick and the Justinian code

Because of the increase in wealth of the trading cities of northern Italy, there occurred a revival in the study of the Justinian Code. This was a Latin legal system which had become extinct in earlier centuries. Legal scholars renewed its application. It is speculated that Pope Gregory VII personally encouraged the Justinian rule of law, and possessed a copy of it. Corpus Iuris Civilis (Justinian Body of Civil Law) has been described as the greatest code of law ever devised. It envisaged the law of the state as a reflection of natural moral law, 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 VI and Henry V, 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.

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 a the new Roman emperor. 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. When Pepin the Short sought to become king of the Franks, the church needed military protection. Pepin found it convenient to make an ally of the pope. Frederick 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 which was designed to diminish Frederick and his ambition. To a large extent, this was successful.

Charismatic leader

Comparison has been made between Henry II of England and Frederick Barbarossa. Both were considered to be the greatest and most charismatic leaders of the age. Each had a rare combination of qualities which made them appear to be superhuman to their contemporaries. They possessed longevity, boundless ambition, extraordinary organizing skill, and greatness on the battlefield. They 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 which 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 twelfth century. In making final decisions, each relied solely upon their own judgment. Both were interested in gathering as much power as they could.

Frederick's charisma led to a fantastic juggling act which 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.


There is a lot more information about Emperor Frederick I, or as he is more widely known "Barbarossa." He truly affected the northern subalpine nations so much, that his nickname has reigned loudly down through history. The historical record seems to show him not as much a tyrant as he was an aggressive imperialist, and one with a lot of power. Then again, in the preview for the upcoming movie 'Barbarossa', he is shown cutting off a man's ear, so maybe we need to keep this as an open question.

Of further significance to us today, is that there have been four times in history that the closely-related subalpine nations have become "one nation." First, through Etruscan civilization, which at it's peak encompassed the vast majority of the north. Second, through Gallia Cisalpina, as the Roman's called the region of the Celto-Ligurian tribal culture. Third, and the most "administratively proactive" was the Langbard Kingdom. And fourth, through the Lombard League(s).

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