Guelfs and Ghibellines

views updated


The words Guelf and Ghibelline are Italianized forms (Guelfo, Ghibellino ) of the German Welf and Weibelungen. They are originated from the rivalry in twelfth-century Germany between the Welfs of Saxony and the dominant Hohenstaufens of Swabia (whose rallying cry was "Weibelungen," after a castle at Weibelung). Possibly the words became convenient shibboleths after Welf VI, lord of the German fiefs of Tuscany and Spoleto, had defected in 1162 to join the alliance of the Papacy, Sicily, and the lombard league against the Hohenstaufen Emperor frederick barbarossa.

However, the emergence in Italy of a Guelf or papal party as opposed to a Ghibelline or Hohenstaufen party belongs properly to the reign of frederick ii (121850), grandson of Barbarossa. Elected King of Germany in 1215 and Emperor in 1218, on both occasions with papal support, Frederick II failed to abide by the solemn promise he made at his coronation to resign his kingdom of

Sicily. Thus by breaking his promise he provoked a vicious struggle between the Papacy and the Emperor that extended from the pontificate of gregory ix (122741) onward and in which whole cities from Rome to Milan and Genoa went Guelf (papal) or Ghibelline (imperial), often according as the political wind blew. The Ghibellines, weakened by the deposition of Frederick at the Council of Lyons in 1245 and by his death in 1250, looked for leadership first to Frederick's son conrad iv of germany, and then to his illegitimate son manfred. After Pope alexander iv (125461) had secured the backing of the powerful Guelf bankers of Florence, and the French Pope urban iv (126164) had persuaded Charles of anjou to accept the kingdom of Sicily, the Ghibelline cause deteriorated; the mortal blow came in effect with the defeat of Conradin, the son of Conrad IV and the last of the Hohenstaufens, by Charles at Tagliacozzo in 1268. Some Ghibelline strongholds, such as Siena and Pisa, survived for a time, and there was even a brief resurgence of Ghibelline hopes after the successful anti-Angevin revolt of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282; but by 1300 Guelf and Ghibelline by and large represented only local or family, rather than papal and imperial, persuasions.

Bibliography: c. poulet, Guelfes et Gibelines, 2 v. (Paris 1922). j. p. trevelyan, A Short History of the Italian People (4th ed. New York 1956). g. pepe, Lo stato ghibellino di Federico II (2d ed. Bari 1951). a. fliche and v. martin, eds., Histoirede l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1935) 10:217247. s. runciman, The Sicilian Vespers (Cambridge, England 1958). c. w. previtÉ-orton, The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History, 2 v. (Cambridge, England 1960). g. barraclough, The Origins of Modern Germany (2d ed. Oxford 1957; pa. New York 1963). d. p. waley, The Papal State in the Thirteenth Century (New York 1961). r. celli, Pour l'histoire des origines du pouvoir populaire: l'experience des villes-etats italiennes: XieXIIe siècles (Louvain 1980). p. herde, Guelfen und Neoguelfen (Stuttgart 1986); Von Dante zum Risorgimento (Stuttgart 1997). s

[l. e. boyle]