1902 Encyclopedia > Frederick I, surnamed Barbarossa

Frederick I, surnamed Barbarossa
Holy Roman Emperor
(1123-1190)




FREDERICK I. (1123-1190), surnamed by the Italians Barbarossa, Holy Roman emperor, and one of the greatest of German sovereigns, was the son of Frederick the One-eyed of Hohenstaufen, duke of Swabia, and of Judith, daughter of Henry the Black, duke of Bavaria, and was born most probably in 1123. He succeeded his father as duke of Swabia in 1147, and in the same year accompanied his nncle Conrad III. on his disastrous crusade. As in addition to his exceptional personal qualities Frederick possessed the advantage of uniting in himself the blood of the two great rival families, the Guelphine and the Ghi-belline, Conrad III., though possessing an infant son, nom-inated him as his successor. On the death of Conrad this choice was unanimously ratified by the assembly at Frank-fort, March 4 or 5, 1152, and on the 9th of the same month Frederick received the crown of Germany at Aix-la-Chapelle. During the reign of Conrad, the Italian and imperial rights claimed by the German kings had been almost in abeyance, and it was to establish their reality that Frederick devoted the chief energies of his life. After settling various dis-putes among the German princes, and making arrangements for an alliance with Manuel emperor of the East against King William of Sicily, he, in October 1154, descended with his army through the vale of Trent to hold the diet of his imperial feudatories on the plains of Boncaglia. Before this diet the Milanese had treated with contempt his messenger sent to warn them against continuing to oppress the citizens of Lodi; and when he witnessed after-wards, on his march to Piedmont, the desolation that had been caused by the Milanese, he began to sack and burn their dependencies, and after crossing the Po razed Tortona to the ground. Then having appeared, with the iron crown on his head, in the church of St Michael's, Pavia, he set out over the Apennines to receive the imperial crown at Borne. After apprehending Arnold of Brescia as an earnest of his intentions to support the papal cause, and adjusting certain ceremonial differences with the pope, he was crowned emperor June 18, 1155; but immediately after quelling the insurrection in Rome which followed his coronation, he was compelled, by the sudden appearance of a pestilence in his army, to march towards Lombardy, and without accom-plishing more than the capture of Spoleto he disbanded his troops and returned home.

For the next three years a great variety of matters detained him in Germany. Immediately on his return from Italy he put vigorous measures into execution against the robber knights; and in September 1156 he reconciled Henry the Lion by the restoration of the duchy of Bavaria, while at the same time he pacified Henry Jasomirgott, his rival, by raising Austria to the rank of a duchy. Adelaide, whom he,married in 1147, he had divorced in 1153 on the pretext of kinship; and, having in 1156 married Beatrice, daughter of the count of Burgundy, he received at Besangon in 1157 the homage of the Burgundian nobles. In the same year he was successful in compelling King Boleslaus of Poland to acknowledge him as his feudal lord, obtained by persuasion the same allegiance from King Geisa of Hungary, and rewarded Duke Ladislaus of Bohemia for his faithful services by giving him the rank of a king. About this time he published a manifesto against the pretensions of the Pope to confer beneficia upon him; and when Frederick in the beginning of 1158 was preparing for a second campaign in Italy, the pope sent an embassy to explain that he did not use the word in its feudal sense.

Frederick's chief purpose in this expedition was to quell the pride of Milan. Descending into Italy by four different roads, with an army of 100,000 foot and 15,000 horse, he in 1158 laid siege to the city, which, after defying for a month his persistent and furious attacks, was compelled from scarcity of provisions to surrender, and with humili-ating forms to take the oath of allegiance. He then held another diet at Boncaglia, at which, besides settling a number of standing disputes, he recovered the right of instituting podestas to administer justice in the cities, assumed the nomination of the consuls, and deprived the cities and barons of the right of going to war. The adoption of these regulations —which if within the legal prerogatives of the emperor had nevertheless fallen into abeyance, and were utterly opposed to the strong spirit of independence struggling into existence in the cities.—may be said to mark the first stage of his waning influence in Italy. And a second stage was reached when, on the death of Pope Adrian IV. in 1159, he determined to support the anti-pope Victor IV.; for from that time he had to contend with the ceaseless opposition and intrigues of Pope Alexander III., who fulminated against him a sentence of excommunication, March 24, 1160. It is true that Frederick in 1162 was able to spread terror throughout Lombardy by the capture and demolition of Milan; but in 1164 the cities of Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Treviso, and Venice formed a defensive league, and expelled the p>odestas and other foreign oppressors from their territories. In 1163 Frederick had punished the rebellion of Mainz against its archbishop by razing its walls and filling up its trenches; but having, on the death of Victor IV, promoted the election of the new anti-pope'Pascal III., he was detained by fresh religious and political contentions in Germany till the end of 1166. Disregarding the embers of conflagration in the north of Italy, he now pushed on towards Borne, to which Alexander had returned the previous year. Doubtful as to the pro-priety of at once attacking the city, he laid siege to Ancona; but when he learned that the Boman citizens had rashly allowed themselves to be defeated at Tusculum, he raised the siege, and going to Rome took forcible possession of part of the Leonine city, and attacked and captured the Vatican. On the following Sunday (August 1, 1167) the empress received in St Peter's the imperial diadem from Pascal III., and Frederick the circlet of gold which was the sign of patrician dignity. Meanwhile be-hind him the cities of Lombardy had formed their famous league; even Lodi was forced to yield its assent to the alliance ; and Milan springing into existence almost as by the wand of an enchanter, gave evidence of its defiant and unquenchable hostility by the demolition of the castle of Trezzo, which contained the emperor's treasure. Even at Rome his position was far from enviable, for Alex-ander III, having taken refuge in the Colosseum, was prepared to offer a desperate resistance. Accordingly Frederick fell upon the curious expedient of proposing that both Alexander and Pascal should resign, and another pope be t elected. The citizens clamorously supported the pro-posal, but Alexander prevented its accomplishment 'by sud-denly leaving Rome for Benevento. Immediately on his departure, and, to the superstitious fancies of the time, as if in token of the wrath of heaven at his expulsion, and at the sacrilegious violence done to the most sacred edifice of the holy city, suddenly, in the midst of a day of burning and sultry splendour, the whole German army with scarcely an exception was smitten by a pestilence of unexampled viru-lence, to which the terrors of superstition imparted both additional horror and a more deadly fatality. Frederick led the haggard and terror-stricken crowd of survivors with great difficulty to Pavia, whence at the end of the year he set out for Germany attended by about 30 horsemen; and at Susa he only saved himself from death at the hands of the citizens by escaping during the night on foot accompanied by two followers. For nearly seven years after this luckless flight he remained in Germany. On the death of Pascal III. in September 1168 he supported the new anti-pope Calixtus III., but by doing so he only lent additional vig our to the Lombard league, who this year had founded the city which in honour of their patron Alexander III. they named Alexandria; and in 1173 they took an oath not to leave off waging war against the emperor till they drove him out of Italy. Besolved, however, on a final effort, Frederick, having collected an immense army, set out in October 1174 on his fifth and last Italian expedition. He burned Susa to the ground, and captured Asti; but failing in a treacherous attack on Alexandria, made after he had granted it a truce, he endeavoured to negotiate a peace with the League. Final terms could not, however, be agreed upon, and notwithstanding the crushing blow which his fortunes at this time sustained through the de-fection of Henry the Lion, he resolved when recruited by a new army from Germany to risk the battle at Lignano, which resulted in his total defeat, 29th May 1176. Having in this battle been crushed beneath his horse, he was believed to have fallen, either wounded or dead, into the hands of the confederates; but on the third day afterwards he arrived at Pavia unhurt, but so worn out by hunger and fatigue as to be scarcely recognizable. Finding his case now desperate, he at last agreed to acknowledge the ponti-ficate of Alexander, and also at Venice, 25th July 1177, concluded a truce of six years with the cities. He then turned his attention to Henry the Lion, who owned himself vanquished in 1181, and was banished to England. On the expiry of the treaty of Venice, the famous treaty of Con-stance was signed, 25th June 1183, by which, while the supremacy of the empire was formally recognized, the inde-pendent jurisdiction of the cities was substantially guaran-teed. Henceforth, Frederick resolved to rule Italy more by conciliation than by compulsion, and while re-establish-ing his influence in Lombardy by granting such favours to the Milanese as secured their lasting alliance and friendship, he virtually placed Sicily under his immediate government by arranging a marriage between Constance, heiress of that kingdom, and Henry his eldest son, who, having been elected King of the Romans in his infancy, received the crown of Italy on the day of his marriage, 27th June 1186, from the patriarch of Aquileia.





Having thus at last brought his long life-struggle to an honourable if not very triumphant close, it might have been expected that Frederick would now have been content to doff his armour, and to pass his remaining days in peace. But hearing in 1187 of the victorious progress of Saladin against the Christians in Syria, his martial ardour was again kindled, and he resolved to enter the lists against the redoubtable Saracen conqueror. This purpose he was, however, unable to carry fully out, for after two successful battles in Asia Minor, he was drowned before reaching Syria while crossing a small river in Pisidia, June 10, 1190.

Frederick I. is said to have taken Charlemagne as his model; but the contest in which he engaged was entirely different both in character and results from that in which his great predecessor achieved such a wonderful temporary success. Though Frederick failed to subdue the republics, the failure can scarcely be said to reflect either on his prudence as a statesman or his skill as a general, for his ascendency was finally overthrown rather by the ravages of pestilence than by the might of human arms. In Ger-many his resolute will and sagacious administration sub-dued or disarmed all discontent, and he not only succeeded in welding the various rival interests into a unity of devotion to himself against which papal intrigues were comparatively powerless, but won for the empire a prestige such as it had not possessed since the time of Otto the Great. The wide contrast between his German and Italian rule is strikingly exemplified in the fact that, while he endeavoured to overthrow the republics in Italy, he held in check the power of the nobles in Germany, by confer-ring municipal franchises and independent rights on the principal cities. Even in Italy, though his general course of action was warped by wrong prepossessions, he in many instances manifested exceptional practical sagacity in dealing with immediate difficulties and emergencies. Possessing great physical beauty, frank and open manners, untiring and unresting energy, and a prowess which found its native element in difficulty and danger, he seemed the em-bodiment of the chivalrous and warlike spirit of his age, and was the model of all the qualities which then won highest admiration. Stern and ambitious he certainly was, but his aims can scarcely be said to have exceeded his prerogatives as emperor; and though he had sometimes recourse when in straits to expedients almost diabolically in-genious in their cruelty, yet his general conduct was marked by a clemency which in that age was exceptional. His quarrel with the papacy was an inherited conflict, not reflecting at all on his religious faith, but the inevitable consequence of inconsistent theories of government, which had been created and could be dissipated only by a long series of events. His interference in the quarrels of the republics was not only quite justifiable from the relation in which he stood to them, but seemed absolutely necessary. From the beginning, however, he treated the Italians, as indeed was only natural, less as rebellious subjects than as conquered aliens ; and it must be admitted that in regard to them the only effective portion of his procedure was, not his energetic measures of repression nor his brilliant victories, but, after the battle of Lignano, his quiet and cheerful acceptance of the inevitable, and the consequent complete change in his policy, by which if he did not obtain the great object of his ambition, he at least did much to render innoxious for the empire his previous mistakes.

The principal contemporary authorities for the reign of Frederick I. are the chronicle of Otto bishop of Freisingen, to which is pre-fixed a letter of Frederick containing a summary of the early events of his reign; the continuation of this chronicle from 1158 to 1160 -- Radevic, one of the canons of Otto ; the chronicle of Otto Morena of Lodi, continued from 1162 to 1167 by his son Acerbus ; and the life of Pope Alexander III. by the cardinal of Aragon. The chief modern writers are Muratori, Annali cVItalia; Sismondi, Histoire des Republiques Italiennes ; H. v. Bunau, Leben unci Thaten Fried- richs I., Leipsic, 1722; Cherrier, Histoire de la lutte des papes et des empereurs de la maison de Souabe, &c, 2d edition, Paris, 1856; F. vou Raumer, Geschichte der Hohenstaufen und Hirer Zeit, 4th ed., Leipsic, 1871 ; P. Schefler-Boichorst, Friedrichs letzter Streit mit der Curie, Berlin, 1866 ; K. Fischer, Der Kreuzzug Friedrichs I., Leipsic, 1870 ; H. Prutz, Kaiser Freidrich I, 3 vols., Dantzic, 1871-73 ; Fr. X. "Wegele, Kaiser Friedrich I. Barbarossa, ein Vortrag, Nordlingen, 1871 ; Dettloff, Der erste Romerzug Kaiser Friedrichs 1. Gottingen, 1877 ; Bryee, Holy Roman Empire; Milman, History of Latin Christianity ; C. Vignati, Storia diplo- matica delta lega Lombarda, Milan, 1866 ; Teste, History of the Wars of Frederick I. and the Communes of Lombardy, English translation, 1877 ; and E. A. Freeman in his first series of Essays. (T. F. H.)







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