Frederick II, Roman Emperor
FREDERICK II, ROMAN EMPEROR
Reigned Nov. 22, 1220 to Dec. 13, 1250. Frederick was born in Jesi, a small city on the eastern side of the Italian peninsula on Dec. 26, 1194. His father was the Emperor Henry VI of the Hohenstaufen family (d. 1197) and his mother was Constance, daughter of Norman King Roger II of Sicily. Frederick inherited the crown of the Kingdom of Sicily through his mother. He was crowned Roman emperor in St. Peter's on Nov. 22, 1220 and ruled until he died on Dec. 13, 1250. His reign was marked by a long and difficult conflict with the papacy. In its aftermath, the empire was permanently weakened. Although the papacy emerged victorious, it did not enhance papal authority and prestige.
Since Frederick was only four years old when Henry VI died, and since the imperial title was not hereditary, he was not immediately elected emperor. Frederick was crowned king of Sicily in 1198, but turbulence and civil war marked his minority there. An old supporter of his father, Markward of Anweiler, claimed the throne for himself. Since the papacy had long claimed the overlord-ship over the Kingdom of Sicily, Pope Innocent III intervened to support the rights of young Frederick. With the pope's support, Markward and his allies were defeated. Innocent did not want Frederick to reassert Hohenstaufen claims in Germany or in central Italy, but after an electoral dispute and a civil war in which Otto of Brunswick emerged victorious, Innocent had no choice but to support young Frederick as the king of Germany. The German princes opposed to Otto elected Frederick king of Germany and emperor-elect in 1211. Frederick spent the next eight years in his German lands reasserting Hohenstaufen rule.
Innocent was not only concerned about the political implications of Frederick's new position. The pope had worked vigorously to reestablish papal secular authority over the Papal States in Central Italy and to eliminate the practice that was common in many parts of Christendom by which kings and princes participated in the election of bishops. The issue had already arisen in Sicily over the election of the archbishop of Palermo in 1209. Frederick's relationship with the Church was further complicated by the large number of fiefs that Innocent had given to the bishops of the realm. The conflict between papal authority and rights in the Kingdom of Sicily and Frederick's royal power would complicate relations with the papacy during his entire reign.
In November 1220 Innocent III's successor, Pope Honorius III, placed the crown of Roman emperor on Frederick in St. Peter's. During the coronation Frederick took the cross again and vowed to lead a crusade to the Holy Land. At Honorius's request he promulgated a series of constitutions that protected the rights of the Church and the clergy in imperial and royal lands. After his coronation Frederick returned to Sicily and began to regain control of the kingdom.
The pope wanted Frederick to lead an army to the Holy Land immediately but Frederick delayed. He spent three years organizing his government and reclaiming royal rights in Sicily. He founded the University of Naples in 1224. It was the first university established by a secular ruler in Europe. There are many stories about Frederick's love of learning. If we can believe all of them he was interested in mathematics, poetry, science, philosophy, and languages. He did write a book on the art of falconry that remained a standard work for centuries.
Pope Honorius became increasingly unhappy with Frederick. The pope died in 1227, and Pope Gregory IX, the new pope, excommunicated the emperor after Frederick's first expedition to the Holy Land was aborted by illness. In spite of his excommunication, Frederick returned to the Holy Land, concluded a peace treaty with the Moslem ruler, Sultan al-Kamil of Egypt. Its terms granted Frederick control of Jerusalem for ten years.
Pope Gregory was not placated by Frederick's success. Instead of lifting the ban of excommunication, the pope called for an invasion of Kingdom of Sicily. Frederick's father-in-law, John of Brienne, led the papal army. Frederick sailed back to Italy and quickly restored order to his kingdom. After extensive negotiations, he concluded a peace treaty with the papacy in 1230. Gregory lifted Frederick's excommunication, and the emperor reaffirmed the Church's rights in the Kingdom of Sicily.
In 1231 Frederick promulgated the Constitutions of Melfi, the first legal codification issued by a European secular ruler. These laws replaced all earlier legislation in the Kingdom of Sicily. As soon as the papacy learned of the plan for a new codification, Gregory warned Frederick not to issue any laws that would infringe upon ecclesiastical rights. As in 1220, the papacy wanted to influence the content of Frederick's legislation. The Constitutions of Melfi, which became the law of the land in the Kingdom of Sicily, were augmented with new legislation for centuries afterwards. They were commented upon by the most important Southern Italian jurists, and remained in force until 1809 in Southern Italy and until 1819 in Sicily.
The relationship between Frederick and Gregory deteriorated from 1231 to 1239. Frederick claimed authority over parts of Central Italy that infringed on papal lands, and Gregory accused the emperor of ignoring or destroying ecclesiastical liberties. Frederick also tried to reestablish imperial control over the Italian city-states in Northern Italy. In 1239, after Frederick had suffered defeats in Northern Italy, Gregory excommunicated him again. The pope accused Frederick of heresy, of injuring the rights of the church in Sicily, and of hindering the recovery of the Holy Land. Gregory died a short time later. When Innocent IV became pope in 1243 after a long interregnum, he pursued a vigorous campaign against Frederick. In 1245 he convened a council in Lyon and summoned the emperor to answer for his crimes. Frederick moved slowly toward Lyon, but Innocent condemned him before his arrival. The pope deposed him from his imperial and royal offices and called for a crusade against him. It was the first time that a pope had used the crusade against a Christian ruler.
Although Frederick continued his war with the papacy after Lyon, he had little success. The Lombard citystates were too rich and powerful to be subdued with the
limited resources Frederick had. On Dec. 13, 1250 Frederick died in Castel Fiorentino near Foggia. After his death, the German empire and the Kingdom of Sicily were separated forever. The Hohenstaufen vision of an empire stretching from the North Sea to Sicily ended with a long imperial interregnum that lasted until 1270 and with the pope's appointment of a French monarch to rule the Kingdom of Sicily.
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