Constance of Sicily (1154–1198)

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Constance of Sicily (1154–1198)

Holy Roman empress and queen of Sicily. Name variations: Constance d'Altavilla; Constance of Germany; (German) Konstanz. Born in 1154 in Sicily; died on November 27, 1198, in Germany; daughter of Roger II the Great, king of Sicily (r. 1103–1154), duke of Apulia (r. 1128–1154), and Beatrice of Rethel; married Henry VI (1165–1197), king of Germany and Holy Roman emperor (r. 1190–1197), king of Sicily (r. 1194–1197), on January 27, 1186; children: Frederick II (b. 1194), Holy Roman emperor (r. 1215–1250).

Constance of Sicily was born a princess of the Sicilian royal house. Her father, King Roger II, died shortly before her birth, and her mother, Beatrice of Rethel , died of complications after her birth, leaving Constance to begin life as an orphan. The throne was assumed by her nephew who became king of Sicily as William II. Constance was raised at the Sicilian court, where she remained until 1186 when she married the Holy Roman emperor's son, Prince Henry Hohenstaufen of Germany (later Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI). Though it remains unclear why she married at such a late age, it is possible that her position as only the aunt of the reigning Sicilian king made her a less valuable marriage prospect than other princesses. However, her marriage to the future emperor of Germany was likely regarded as an excellent ending to what was probably a long search for a suitable husband.

Three years after her marriage, the new princess of Germany also became queen of Sicily, when William II died without children and named Constance as his heir. Although she claimed the title, Constance could not actually take the throne for some time because the people of Sicily did not want Henry Hohenstaufen, a foreigner, as their king, and because Constance was also opposed by the pope, who was an enemy of her husband. Therefore, Tancred of Lecce, one of Constance's nephews, set himself up as ruler of Sicily with the approval of the Sicilians and the pope. A war of succession quickly developed.

The coronation of Henry and Constance as emperor and empress in 1190 tilted the balance of the war in their favor, due to the vast resources now at the new emperor's disposal. Tancred remained entrenched for several more years, primarily because Henry's new duties kept him away from Sicily. On Tancred's death in 1194, Constance was finally able to claim the throne as her own. In that year as well, she gave birth to her first and only child, Frederick, later Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. But Constance's fortunes turned in 1197, when her husband Henry, an extremely severe emperor who counted the pope and many kings among his mortal enemies, died suddenly that September, and not many mourned his passing. Overnight Constance's position changed from that of a powerful empress to a woman who feared for her safety and that of her infant son Frederick, Henry's heir.

The leading nobles of Germany opposed the succession of Constance's son because it would mean a long minority, a political situation always best avoided. They convened to choose a new emperor, settling on Otto of Brunswick, who was crowned as Emperor Otto IV in January 1198. Constance fled Germany with her son and returned to Sicily. She died in November of that year, about age 44, leaving her son in the pope's custody. The pope, Innocent III, at first favored Otto but, in 1212, reversed his decision and had the boy Frederick reinstalled as Emperor Frederick II.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Constance of Sicily (1154–1198)

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