Frederick I Barbarossa, Roman Emperor

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Reign: March 4, 1152, to June 10, 1190; b.1122 or 1123, the son of Frederick II, Duke of Swabia, and Judith, the daughter of Henry the Black. His reddish-blond hair earned him the sobriquet "Barbarossa," which means "Red Beard" in Italian. In 1147 he became Duke of Swabia upon the death of his father and accompanied his uncle, Conrad III, on the unsuccessful Second Crusade. Frederick was elected king of Germany on March 4, 1152 after Conrad's death. His lineage made him an ideal choice to bring reconciliation to Germany, since his Hohenstaufen father was a brother of the preceding king, and his mother was sister to Henry the Proud, who had been leader of the Guelphs, Conrad's main opposition.

Frederick hoped to reestablish the power of empire, which had been weakened during the struggle between popes and emperors during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. After his coronation he predicted the restoration of the greatness of imperial Rome. He considered himself the heir of the caesars and had no difficulty including his own legislation with that of Justinian and the emperors of antiquity. He saw Roman law as a vehicle for extending his power, especially in regard to the papacy. Frederick called his state the sacrum imperium, or "Holy Empire," and he believed himself to have been chosen by God to foster an institution that was the cornerstone of world order, the source of peace and justice. Although his vision had something in common with that of post-Constantinian emperors, his was an empire governed by medieval mechanisms, especially customary law, and its medieval roots were fundamental to it. The veneration of charlemagne as a saint during the Christmas season of 1165 was meant to enhance Frederick's own imperial prestige as the ostensible heir of the franks and the Saxons as well the ancients.

In Germany Frederick tried to fulfill the hope of reconciliation that his election portended. He offered important offices and dignities to his Guelph uncle Welf VI, and he was eventually able to satisfy the demand of Henry the Proud's son and heir, Henry the Lion, to return the Duchy of Bavaria, which had been given by Conrad to the Babenburg family. The Babenburg Henry Jasomirgott was compensated with the newly created Duchy of Austria, which was granted on generous terms. But years later, when Henry the Lion refused to support him during a crucial Italian campaign, Frederick blamed his defeat in Italy on him and was eventually able drive him from power.

As the perfidy of Henry the Lion demonstrated, a German policy based solely upon the accommodation of German princes could only have modest success. It was necessary for Frederick to build power that was independent of the high aristocracy, and he had certain advantages, since he could use his legal position as sovereign against the nobility. He also increased the size of royal estates and attempted to give them a geographic cohesion that would make them governable. Within these lands he built towns and castles and placed ecclesiastical institutions under his protection. He employed to a greater extent than his predecessors ministrales, a servile class of men who were hardly serfs, to govern those lands directly under royal control. There were no exact equivalents to ministrales, who were often quite talented soldiers, and who occasionally became quite wealthy in other countries

In spite of the Frederick's energy and intelligence, his success in Germany was limited and led to no unified kingdom. The princes may have been too firmly entrenched because of the weakness of the monarchy during the investiture controversy, and monarchy itself too archaic in its structure. There was no fixed capital and no class of administrators. Income was always uncertain. German nationalist historians have looked wistfully at his reign, but he had no nationalist aspirations, not as later centuries would understand them.

Certainly Frederick's long involvement in Italy was detrimental to his success in Germany. Frederick made six expeditions to Italy, where he spent 16 of his 38 years in power. Numerous and complex were his reasons for devoting so much of his time there. He was enamored with the classical tradition, and Italy was the home of the Roman Empire, but there were factors more compelling than historical romanticism. It has been conjectured that he hoped to create a basis for a territorial state from a central grouping of lands that included northern Italy as well as Burgundy and Switzerland. Clearly the cities of northern Italy had been the beneficiaries of the increase in trade and population that had taken place over the previous several hundred years, and they could provide Frederick with a revenue that was greater than that of either the French or English king. In addition Italy was the seat of the papacy, and in an age when society was perceived as the "Church," it was in Frederick's interest to remain on good terms with the popes or to dominate them. A strong Norman state in southern Italy, which could threaten his influence in Rome, further complicated the situation.

Nevertheless, the future of his rule in Italy looked bright at the beginning of his reign. In 1153 at Constance his delegation reached an accommodation with the papacy that promised to benefit both pope and emperor. In addition there were a group of Italian cities that were uncomfortable with the dominance of Milan, the most powerful city in northern Italy, and they looked to the emperor for support. Although Pope hadrian iv crowned Frederick emperor in 1155, and although he was able to dominate Lombardy after he destroyed Milan in 1162, Italian politics became bramble from which he could never completely extricate himself. All Italian cities shared a sense of independence and a reluctance to support Frederick financially. They chafed under imperial administrators and their demands for regalia, certain political and economic prerogatives that Frederick claimed as his own. Milan was rebuilt with the help of

its neighbors. In regard to the papacy, Frederick's understanding of imperial authority made him sensitive to papal aspirations, both real and imagined, and his inability to intervene effectively in the southern Italy for a sustained period of time made him a poor ally to the popes. In 1160 he sided with Antipope victor iv in the disputed election of Alexander III and began an 18-year schism that had disastrous consequences for his Italian policy. The cities of Lombardy supported Alexander, who worked closely with them. In a moment of imperial weakness, they formed an alliance known as the lombard league and built a strategically placed fortress named after the pope, Alessandria, as an act of defiance. Abandoned by his cousin, Henry the Lion, before whom he may have knelt to beg for help, he was decisively defeated by the League at Legnano in 1176. He was able to salvage a respectable peace, but he could not dictate terms.

Yet Frederick was far from broken. In 1180 he was able not only to drive Henry the Lion into exile but also to fragment the base of power that Henry had created by subdividing his estates. In spite of his defeat at Legnano he was able to collect a healthy subsidy from Lombardy and to establish his own power base in Tuscany. He arranged a marriage between his son Henry and Constance, the woman who would become the heiress to the Norman kingdom of the mezzogiorno, which might have given his son mastery in Italy and hegemony in Europe if Henry VI had not died prematurely.

Therefore Frederick still had great power and position when news reached Europe in 1187 that Jerusalem had fallen to Muslim forces. He, along with the kings of England and France, vowed to free the Holy City. The emperor, who led the largest contingent, took an overland route to Palestine, and in 1190, in what is now Turkey, he fell from his horse in a rapidly moving stream and drowned. In latter times a legend, which had originally grown up around his grandson, Frederick II, was transferred to him. Frederick, it claimed, did not die on a crusade, but rather he sleeps in a cave, to be awakened when Germany will again need him.

Bibliography: h. simonsfeld, Jahrbücher des deutschen Reiches unter Friedrich I (Leipzig 1908). otto of freising, The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa, tr. c. c. mierow (New York 1953). u. balzani, Italia, papatoe impero nella prima metà del secolo XII (Messina 1930). g. barraclough, tr., Medieval Germany, 9111250, 2 v. (Oxford 1938). p. munz, Frederick Barbarossa, A Study in Medieval Politics (Ithaca, NY 1969). r. manselli and j. riedmann, ed., Federico Barbarossa nel dibattito storiografico in Italiae in Germania, Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico 10 (Bologna 1982). f. cardini, Il Barbarossa: Vita, Trionfi, ellusioni di Federico I, Imperatore (Milan 1985). h. fuhrmann, Germany in the High Middle Ages c. 10501200, tr. t. reuter (Cambridge 1986). f. opll, Friederich Barbarossa (Darmstadt 1990). a. haverkamp, Medieval Germany 10561273, tr. h. braun and r. mortimer (Oxford 1988); Friederich Barbarossa Handlungsspielräume und Wirkungsweisen des staufischen Kaisers (Sigmaringen 1992). t. e. carson, Barbarossa in Italy (New York 1994). a. plassmann, Die Struktur des Hofes unter Friedrich I. Barbarossa nach den deutschen Zeugen seiner Urkunden (Hannover 1998). k. gÖrich, Die Ehre Friedrich Barbarossa: Kommunication, Konflikt und politisches Handeln im 12. Jahrhundert (Darmstadt 2001).

[t. e. carson]

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Frederick I Barbarossa, Roman Emperor

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Frederick I Barbarossa, Roman Emperor