The Reign Of Frederick I Barbarossa


Frederick I., Barbarossa. --His Character. --His First Acts. --Visit to

Italy. --Coronation and Humiliation. --He is driven back to

Germany. --Restores Order. --Henry the Lion and Albert the Bear.

--Barbarossa's Second Visit to Italy. --He conquers Milan. --Roman

Laws revived. --Destruction of Milan. --Third and Fourth Visits to

Italy. --Troubles with the Popes. --Barbaro
sa and Henry the Lion.

--The Defeat at Legnano. --Reconciliation with Alexander III.

--Henry the Lion banished. --Tournament at Mayence. --Barbarossa's

Sixth Visit to Italy. --Crusade for the Recovery of Jerusalem.

--March through Asia Minor. --Barbarossa's Death. --His Fame among

the German People. --His Son, Henry VI., Emperor. --Richard of the

Lion-Heart Imprisoned. --Last Days of Henry the Lion. --Henry VI.'s

Deeds and Designs. --His Death.

[Sidenote: 1152.]

Konrad left only an infant son at his death, and the German princes, who

were learning a little wisdom by this time, determined not to renew the

unfortunate experiences of Henry IV.'s minority. The next heir to the

throne was Frederick of Suabia, who was now thirty-one years old,

handsome, popular, and already renowned as a warrior. He was elected

immediately, without opposition, and solemnly crowned at

Aix-la-Chapelle. When he made his "royal ride" through Germany,

according to custom, the people hailed him with acclamations, hoping for

peace and a settled authority after so many civil wars. His mother was a

Welf princess, whence there seemed a possibility of terminating the

rivalry between Welf and Waiblinger, in his election. The Italians

always called him "Barbarossa," on account of his red beard, and by this

name he is best known in history.

Since the accession of Otto the Great, no German monarch had been

crowned under such favorable auspices, and none had possessed so many of

the qualities of a great ruler. He was shrewd, clear-sighted,

intelligent, and of an iron will: he enjoyed the exercise of power, and

the aim of his life was to extend and secure it. On the other hand he

was despotic, merciless in his revenge, and sometimes led by the

violence of his passions to commit deeds which darkened his name and

interfered with his plans of empire.


Frederick first assured to the German princes the rights which they

already possessed as the rulers of States, coupled with the declaration

that he meant to exact the full and strict performance of their duties

to him, as King. On his first royal journey, he arbitrated between Swen

and Canute, rival claimants to the throne of Denmark, conferred on the

Duke of Bohemia the title of king, and took measures to settle the

quarrel between Henry the Lion of Saxony, and Henry of Austria, for the

possession of Bavaria. In all these matters he showed the will, the

decision and the imposing personal bearing of one who felt that he was

born to rule; and had he remained in Germany, he might have consolidated

the States into one Nation. But the phantom of a Roman Empire beckoned

him to Italy. The invitation held out to Konrad was not renewed, for

Pope Eugene III. was dead, and his successor, Adrian IV. (an Englishman,

by the name of Breakspeare), rejected Arnold of Brescia's doctrines. It

was in Frederick's power to secure the success of either side; but his

first aim was the Imperial crown, and he could only gain it without

delay by assisting the Pope.

In 1154 Frederick, accompanied by Henry the Lion and many other princes,

and a large army, crossed the Brenner Pass, in the Tyrol, and descended

into Italy. According to old custom, the first camp was pitched on the

Roncalian fields, near Piacenza, and the royal shield was set up as a

sign that the chief ruler was present and ready to act as judge in all

political troubles. Many complaints were brought to him against the City

of Milan, which had become a haughty and despotic Republic, and began to

oppress Lodi, Como, and other neighboring cities. Frederick saw plainly

the trouble which this independent movement in Lombardy would give to

him or his successors; but after losing two months and many troops in

besieging and destroying Tortona, one of the towns friendly to Milan, he

was not strong enough to attack the latter city: so, having been crowned

King of Lombardy at Pavia, he marched, in 1155, towards Rome.

[Sidenote: 1154.]

At Viterbo he met Pope Adrian IV., and negotiations commenced in regard

to his coronation as Emperor, which, it seems, was not to be had for

nothing. Adrian's first demand was the suppression of the Roman

Republic, which had driven him from the city. Frederick answered by

capturing Arnold of Brescia, who was then in Tuscany, and delivering him

into the Pope's hands. The latter then demanded that Frederick should

hold his stirrup when he mounted his mule. This humiliation, second only

to that which Henry IV. endured at Canossa, was accepted by the proud

Hohenstaufen in his ambitious haste to be crowned; but even then Rome

had to be first taken from the Republicans. By some means an entrance

was forced into that part of the city on the right bank of the Tiber;

Frederick was crowned in all haste and immediately retreated, but not

before he and his escort were furiously attacked in the streets by the

Roman people. Henry the Lion, by his bravery and presence of mind, saved

the new Emperor from being slain. The same night, Arnold of Brescia was

burned to death by the Pope's order. (Since 1870, his bust has been

placed upon the Pincian Hill, in Rome, among those of the other great

men who gave their lives for Italian freedom.)

The news of the Pope's barbarous revenge drove the Romans to madness.

They rushed forth by thousands, threw themselves upon the Emperor's

camp, and fought until the next night with such desperation that

Frederick deemed it prudent to retreat to Tivoli. The heats of summer

and the fevers they brought soon compelled him to leave for Germany; the

glory of his coming was already exhausted. He fought his way through

Spoleto; Verona shut its gates upon him, and one robber-castle in the

Alps held the whole army at bay, until it was taken by Otto of

Wittelsbach. The unnatural composition of the later "Roman Empire" was

again demonstrated. If, during the four centuries which had elapsed

since Charlemagne's accession to power, the German rule was the curse of

Italy, Italy (or the fancied necessity of ruling Italy) was no less a

curse to Germany. The strength of the German people, for hundreds of

years, was exhausted in endeavoring to keep up a high-sounding

sovereignty, which they could not truly possess, and--in the best

interests of the two countries--ought not to have possessed.

On returning to Germany, Frederick found enough to do. He restored the

internal peace and security of the country with a strong hand, executing

the robber-knights, tearing down their castles, and even obliging

fourteen reigning princes, among whom was the Archbishop of Mayence, to

undergo what was considered the shameful punishment of carrying dogs in

their arms before the Imperial palace. By his second marriage with

Beatrix, Princess of Burgundy, he established anew the German authority

over that large and rich kingdom; while, at a diet held in 1156, he gave

Bavaria to Henry the Lion, and pacified Henry of Austria by making his

territory an independent Dukedom. This was the second phase in the

growth of Austria.


Henry the Lion, however, was more a Saxon than a Bavarian. Although he

first raised Munich from an insignificant cluster of peasants' huts to

the dignity of a city, his energies were chiefly directed towards

extending his sway from the Elbe eastward, along the Baltic. He

conquered Mecklenburg and colonized the country with Saxons, made Luebeck

an important commercial center, and slowly Germanized the former

territory of the Wends. Albert the Bear, Count of Brandenburg, followed

a similar policy, and both were encouraged by the Emperor, who was quite

willing to see his own sway thus extended. A rhyme current among the

common people, at the time, says:

"Henry the Lion and Albert the Bear,

Thereto Frederick with the red hair,

Three Lords are they,

Who could change the world to their way."

The grand imperial character of Frederick, rather than what he had

actually accomplished, had already given him a great reputation

throughout Europe. Pope Adrian IV. endeavored to imitate Gregory VII.'s

language to Henry IV. in treating with him, but soon found that he was

deserted by the German Bishops, and thought it prudent to apologize. His

manner, nevertheless, and the increasing independence of Milan, called

Frederick across the Alps with an army of 100,000 men, in 1158. Milan,

then surrounded with strong walls, nine miles in circuit, was besieged,

and, at the end of a month, forced to surrender, to rebuild Lodi, and

pay a fine of 9,000 pounds of silver. Afterwards the Emperor pitched his

camp on the Roncalian fields, with a splendor before unknown.

Ambassadors from England, France, Hungary and Constantinople were

present, and the Imperial power, almost for the first time, was thus

recognized as the first in the civilized world.

Frederick used this opportunity to revive the old Roman laws, or at

least, to have a code of laws drawn up, which should define his rights

and those of the reigning princes under him. Four doctors of the

University of Bologna were selected, who discovered so many ancient

imperial rights which had fallen into disuse that the Emperor's treasury

was enriched to the amount of 30,000 pounds of silver annually, by their

enforcement. When this system came to be practically applied, Milan and

other Lombard cities which claimed the right to elect their own

magistrates, and would have lost it under the new order of things,

determined to resist. A war ensued: the little city of Crema was first

besieged, and, after a gallant defence of seven months, taken and razed

to the ground.

[Sidenote: 1162.]

Now came the turn of Milan. In the meantime the Pope, Adrian IV., had

died, after threatening the Emperor with excommunication. The college of

cardinals was divided, each party electing its own Pope. Of these,

Victor IV. was recognized by Frederick, who claimed the right to decide

between them, while most of the Italian cities, with France and England,

were in favor of Alexander III. The latter immediately excommunicated

the Emperor, who, without paying any regard to the act, prepared to take

his revenge on Milan. In March, 1162, after a long siege, he forced the

city to surrender: the magistrates appeared before him in sackcloth,

barefoot, with ashes upon their heads and ropes around their necks, and

begged him, with tears, to be merciful; but there was no mercy in his

heart. He gave the inhabitants eight days to leave the city, then

levelled it completely to the earth, and sowed salt upon the ruins as a

token that it should never be rebuilt. The rival cities of Pavia, Lodi

and Como rejoiced over this barbarity, and all the towns of northern

Italy hastened to submit to all the Emperor's claims, even that they

should be governed by magistrates of his appointment.

In spite of this apparent submission, he had no sooner returned to

Germany than the cities of Lombardy began to form a union against him.

They were instigated, and secretly assisted, by Venice, which was

already growing powerful through her independence. The Pope whom

Frederick had supported, was also dead, and he determined to set up a

new one instead of recognizing Alexander III. He went to Italy with a

small escort, in 1163, but was compelled to go back without

accomplishing anything but a second destruction of Tortona, which had

been rebuilt. In Germany new disturbances had broken out, but his

personal influence was so great that he subdued them temporarily: he

also prevailed upon the German bishops to recognize Paschalis III., the

Pope whom he had appointed. He then set about raising a new army, and

finally, in 1166, made his fourth journey to Italy.

[Sidenote: 1166. FOURTH JOURNEY TO ITALY.]

This was even more unfortunate than the third journey had been. The

Lombard cities, feeling strong through their union, had not only rebuilt

Milan and Tortona, but had constructed a new fortified town, which they

named, after the Pope, Alessandria. Frederick did not dare to attack

them, but marched on to Ancona, which he besieged for seven months,

finally accepting a ransom instead of surrender. He then took that part

of Rome west of the Tiber, and installed his Pope in the Vatican. Soon

afterward, in the summer of 1167, a terrible pestilence broke out, which

carried off thousands of his best soldiers in a few weeks. His army was

so reduced by death, that he stole through Lombardy almost as a

fugitive, remained hidden among the Alps for months, and finally crossed

Mont Cenis with only thirty followers, himself disguised as a common


Having reached Germany in safety, Frederick's personal influence at once

gave him the power and popularity which he had forever lost in Italy. He

found Henry the Lion, who in addition to Bavaria now governed nearly all

the territory from the Rhine to the Vistula, north of the Hartz

Mountains, at enmity with Albert the Bear and a number of smaller

reigning princes. As Emperor, he settled the questions in dispute,

deciding in favor of Henry the Lion, although the increasing power of

the latter excited his apprehensions. Henry was too cautious to make the

Emperor his enemy, but in order to avoid another march to Italy, he set

out upon a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Frederick, however, did not succeed

in raising a fresh army to revenge his disgrace until 1174, when he made

his fifth journey to Italy. He first besieged the new city of

Alessandria, but in vain; then, driven to desperation by his failure, he

called for help upon Henry the Lion, who had now returned from the Holy

Land. The two met at Chiavenna, in the Italian Alps; but Henry

steadfastly refused to aid the Emperor, although the latter conquered

his own pride so far as to kneel before him.

[Sidenote: 1177.]

Bitterly disappointed and humiliated, Frederick appealed to all the

German States for aid, but did not receive fresh troops until the spring

of 1176. He then marched upon Milan, but was met by the united forces of

Lombardy at Legnano, near Como. The latter fought with such desperation

that the Imperial army was completely routed, and its camp equipage and

stores taken, with many thousands of prisoners, who were treated with

the same barbarity which the Emperor himself had introduced anew into

warfare. He fell from his horse during the fight, and had been for some

days reported to be dead, when he suddenly appeared before the Empress

Beatrix, at Pavia, having escaped in disguise.

His military strength was now so broken that he was compelled to seek a

reconciliation with Pope Alexander III. Envoys went back and forth

between the two, the Lombard cities and the king of Sicily; conferences

were held at various places, but months passed and no agreement was

reached. Then the Pope, having received Frederick's submission to all

his demands, proposed an armistice, which was solemnly concluded in

Venice, in August, 1177. There the Emperor was released from the Papal

excommunication; he sank at Alexander's feet, but the latter caught and

lifted him in his arms, and there was once more peace between the two

rival powers. The other Pope, whose claims Frederick had supported up to

that time, was left to shift for himself. Before the armistice ceased,

in 1183, a treaty was concluded at Constance, by which the Italian

cities recognized the Emperor as chief ruler, but secured for themselves

the right of independent government. Thus twenty years had been wasted,

the best blood of Germany squandered, the worst barbarities of war

renewed, and Frederick, after enduring shame and humiliation, had not

attained one of his haughty personal aims. Yet he was as proud in his

bearing as ever; his court lost none of its splendor, and his influence

over the German princes and people was undiminished.

He reached Germany again in 1178, full of wrath against Henry the Lion.

It was easy to find a pretext for proceeding against him, for the

Archbishop of Cologne, the Bishop of Halberstadt, and many nobles had

already made complaints. Henry, in fact, was much like Frederick in his

nature, but his despotic sternness and pride were more directly

exercised upon the people. He raised an army and boldly resisted the

Imperial power: again Westphalia, Thuringia and Saxony were wasted by

civil war, and the struggle was prolonged until 1181, when Henry was

forced to surrender unconditionally. He was banished to England for

three years: his Duchy of Bavaria was given to Otto of Wittelsbach; and

the greater part of Saxony, from the Rhine to the Baltic, was cut up and

divided among the reigning Bishops and smaller princes. Only the

province of Brunswick was left to Henry the Lion, of all his

possessions. This was Frederick's policy for diminishing the power of

the separate States: the more they were increased in number, the greater

would be the dependence of each on the Emperor.

[Sidenote: 1184. TOURNAMENT AT MAYENCE.]

The ruin of Henry the Lion fully restored Frederick's authority over all

Germany. In May, 1184, he gave a grand tournament and festival at

Mayence, which surpassed in pomp everything that had before been seen by

the people. The flower of knighthood, foreign as well as German, was

present: princes, bishops and lords, scholars and minstrels, 70,000

knights, and probably hundreds of thousands of the soldiers and common

people were gathered together. The Emperor, still handsome and towering

in manly strength, in spite of his sixty-three years, rode in the lists

with his five blooming sons, the eldest of whom, Henry, was already

crowned King of Germany, as his successor. For many years afterwards,

the wandering minstrels sang the glories of this festival, which they

compared to those given by the half-fabulous king Arthur.

Immediately afterwards, Frederick made his sixth journey to Italy,

without an army, but accompanied by a magnificent retinue. The temporary

union of the cities against him was at an end, and their former

jealousies of each other had broken out more fiercely than ever; so

that, instead of meeting him in a hostile spirit, each endeavored to

gain his favor, to the damage of the others. It was easy for him to turn

this state of affairs to his own personal advantage. The Pope, now Urban

III., endeavored to make him give up Tuscany to the Church, and opposed

his design of marrying his son Henry to Constance, daughter of the king

of Sicily, since all Southern Italy would thus fall to the Hohenstaufen

family. Another excommunication was threatened, and would probably have

been hurled upon the Emperor's head, if the Pope had not died before

pronouncing it. The marriage of Henry and Constance took place in 1186.

[Sidenote: 1190.]

The next year, all Europe was shaken by the news that Jerusalem had been

taken by Sultan Saladin. A call for a new Crusade was made from Rome,

and the Christian kings and people of Europe responded to it. Richard of

the Lion-Heart, of England; Philip Augustus of France; and first of all

Frederick Barbarossa, Roman Emperor, put the cross on their mantles, and

prepared to march to the Holy Land. Frederick left his son Henry behind

him, as king, but he was still suspicious of Henry the Lion, and

demanded that he should either join the Crusade or retire again to

England for three years longer. Henry the Lion chose the latter


The German Crusaders, numbering about 30,000, met at Ratisbon in May,

1189, and marched overland to Constantinople. Then they took the same

route through Asia Minor which had been followed by the second Crusade,

defeating the Sultan and taking the city of Iconium by the way, and

after threading the wild passes of the Taurus, reached the borders of

Syria. While on the march, the Emperor received the false message that

his son Henry was dead. The tears ran down his beard, no longer red, but

silver-white; then, turning to the army, he cried: "My son is dead, but

Christ lives! Forwards!" On the 10th of June, 1190, either while

attempting to ford, or bathing in the little river Calycadnus, not far

from Tarsus, he was drowned. The stream, fed by the melted snows of the

Taurus, was ice-cold, and one account states that he was not drowned,

but died in consequence of the sudden chill. A few of his followers

carried his body to Palestine, where it was placed in the Christian

church at Tyre. Notwithstanding the heroism of the English Richard at

Ascalon, the Crusade failed, since the German army was broken up after

Frederick's death, most of the knights returning directly home.

The most that can be said for Frederick Barbarossa as a ruler, is, that

no other Emperor before or after his time maintained so complete an

authority over the German princes. The influence of his personal

presence seems to have been very great: the Imperial power became

splendid and effective in his hands, and, although he did nothing to

improve the condition of the people, beyond establishing order and

security, they gradually came to consider him as the representative of a

grand national idea. When he went away to the mysterious East, and

never returned, the most of them refused to believe that he was dead. By

degrees the legend took root among them that he slumbered in a vault

underneath the Kyffhaeuser--one of his castles, on the summit of a

mountain, near the Hartz,--and would come forth at the appointed time,

to make Germany united and free. Nothing in his character, or in the

proud and selfish aims of his life, justifies this sentiment which the

people attached to his name; but the legend became a symbol of their

hopes and prayers, through centuries of oppression and desolating war,

and the name of "Barbarossa" is sacred to every patriotic heart in

Germany, even at this day.

[Sidenote: 1191. HENRY VI. EMPEROR.]

Henry the Lion hastened back to Germany at once, and attempted to regain

possession of Saxony. King Henry took the field against him, and the

interminable strife between Welf and Waiblinger was renewed for a time.

The king was twenty-five years old, tall and stately like his father,

but even more stern and despotic than he. He was impatient to proceed to

Italy, both to be crowned Emperor and to secure the Norman kingdom of

Sicily as his wife's inheritance: therefore, making a temporary truce

with Henry the Lion, he hastened to Rome and was there crowned as Henry

VI. in 1191. His attempt to conquer Naples, which was held by the Norman

prince, Tancred, completely failed, and a deadly pestilence in his army

compelled him to return to Germany before the close of the same year.

The fight with Henry the Lion was immediately renewed, and during the

whole of 1192 Northern Germany was ravaged worse than before. In

December of that year, King Richard of the Lion-Heart, returning home

overland from Palestine, was taken prisoner by Duke Leopold of Austria,

whom he had offended during the Crusade, and was delivered to the

Emperor. As king Richard was the brother-in-law of Henry the Lion, he

was held partly as a hostage, and partly for the purpose of gaining an

enormous ransom for his liberation. His mother came from England, and

the sum of 150,000 silver marks which the Emperor demanded was paid by

her exertions: still Richard was kept prisoner at Trifels, a lonely

castle among the Vosges mountains. The legend relates that his minstrel,

Blondel, discovered his place of imprisonment by singing the king's

favorite song under the windows of all the castles near the Rhine, until

the song was answered by the well-known voice from within. The German

princes, finally, felt that they were disgraced by the Emperor's

conduct, and they compelled him to liberate Richard, in February, 1194.

[Sidenote: 1197.]

The same year a reconciliation was effected with Henry the Lion. The

latter devoted himself to the improvement of the people of his little

state of Brunswick: he instituted reforms in their laws, encouraged

their education, collected books and works of art, and made himself so

honored and beloved before his death, in August, 1195, that he was

mourned as a benefactor by those who had once hated him as a tyrant. He

was sixty-six years old, three years younger than his rival, Barbarossa,

whom he fully equalled in energy and ability. Although defeated in his

struggle, he laid the basis of a better civil order, a higher and firmer

civilization, throughout the North of Germany.

Henry VI., enriched by king Richard's ransom, went to Italy, purchased

the assistance of Genoa and Pisa, and easily conquered the Sicilian

kingdom. He treated the family of Tancred (who was now dead) with

shocking barbarity, tortured and executed his enemies with a cruelty

worthy of Nero, and made himself heartily feared and hated. Then he

hastened back to Germany, to have the Imperial dignity made hereditary

in his family. Even here he was on the point of succeeding, in spite of

the strong opposition of the Saxon princes, when a Norman insurrection

recalled him to Sicily. He demanded the provinces of Macedonia and

Epirus from the Greek Emperor, encouraged the project of a new Crusade,

with the design of conquering Constantinople, and evidently dreamed of

making himself ruler of the whole Christian world, when death cut him

off, in 1197, in his thirty-second year. His widow, Constance of Sicily,

was left with a son, Frederick, then only three years old.