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Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor
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Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor

Frederick I Hohenstaufen (1122June 10 1190), also known as Frederick Barbarossa ("Frederick Redbeard") was elected king of Germany on March 4, 1152 and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on June 18 1155. He was also Duke of Swabia (1147-1152, as Frederick III) and King of Italy (1154-1186). As son of Duke Frederick II of Swabia and Judith of Bavaria, from the rival House of Guelph, Frederick descended from Germany's two principal families, making him an acceptable choice for the Empire's princely electors as heir to the Imperial crown.

In 1147 Frederick became duke of Swabia and shortly afterwards made his first trip to the East, accompanied his uncle, the German king Conrad III on the Second Crusade. The expedition proved to be a disaster, but Frederick distinguished himself and won the complete confidence of the king. In 1152 the dying king of Germany advised the elector princes to choose Frederick as his successor to the exclusion of his own young son. Energetically pressing his candidature, he was chosen as the next German king at Frankfurt on the 4th of March and crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle several days after.

The new king was anxious to restore the Empire to the position it had occupied under Charlemagne and Otto I the Great, and saw clearly that the restoration of order in Germany was a necessary preliminary to the enforcement of the imperial rights in Italy. Issuing a general order for peace, he was prodigal in his concessions to the nobles. Abroad, Frederick intervened in the civil war for the Danish between Svend III and Valdemar I of Denmark, and negotiations were begun with the East Roman emperor, Manuel I Comnenus. It was probably about this time that the king obtained a divorce from his wife Adela of Vohburg, on the ground of consanguinity, and made a vain effort to obtain a bride from the court of Constantinople. On his accession Frederick had communicated the news of his election to Pope Eugenius III, but neglected to ask for the papal confirmation. Eager to make amends with the Papacy, Frederick concluded a treaty with Rome in March 1153, by which he promised in return for his coronation to defend the papacy and make no peace with king Roger I of Sicily, or other enemies of the Church, without the consent of Eugenius.

He undertook six expeditions into Italy, in the first of which he was crowned emperor in Rome by Pope Adrian IV in the aftermath of the overthrow by Imperial forces of the republican city commune headed by Arnold of Brescia. He left Italy in the Autumn of 1155 to prepare for a new and more formidable campaign. Disorder was again rampant in Germany, especially in Bavaria, but general peace was restored by Frederick's vigorous measures. Bavaria was transferred from Henry II Jasomirgott, margrave of Austria, who became duke of Austria in compensation, to Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony. On June 9 1156 at Würzburg, Frederick married Beatrice of Burgundy, daughter and heiress of Renaud III, adding the County, also known as Franche Comté to his possessions.

In June 1158, Frederick set out upon his second Italian expedition, which resulted in the establishment of imperial officers in the cities of northern Italy, the revolt and capture of Milan, and the beginning of the long struggle with Pope Alexander III, which resulted in the excommunication of the emperor in 1160. In response, Frederick declared his support for Antipope Victor IV. Returning to Germany towards the close of 1162, Frederick prevented a conflict between Henry of Saxony and a number of neighbouring princes. He also severely punished the citizens of Mainz for their rebellion against Archbishop Arnold. The next visit to Italy in 1163 saw his plans for the conquest of Sicily ruined by the formation of a powerful league against him, brought together mainly by the taxes collected by the imperial officers.

Frederick then organized the magnificent celebration of the canonization of Charlemagne at Aix-la-Chapelle, while restoring the peace in the Rhineland. In October 1166, Frederick went once more on journey to Italy to secure the claim of his Antipope Paschal, and the coronation of his wife Beatrice as Holy Roman Empress. This campaign was stopped by the sudden outbreak of the plague which threatened to destroy the Imperial army and drove the emperor as a fugitive to Germany, where he remained for the ensuing six years. Again, Henry of Saxony used Frederick's absence to create political unrest, which required the Emperor's attention. Conflicting claims to various bishoprics were decided and imperial authority was asserted over Bohemia, Poland and Hungary. Friendly relations were entered into with the eastern emperor Manuel, and attempts were made to come to a better understanding with Henry II of England and Louis VII of France.

In 1174, Frederick made his fifth expedition to Italy and, in response, the pro-papal Lombard League was formed to stand against him. With the refusal of Henry of Saxony to bring help to Italy, the campaign was a complete failure. Frederick suffered a heavy defeat at the battle of Legnano near Milan, on May 29 1176, where he was wounded and for sometime believed to be dead. He had no choice other than begin negotiations for peace with Alexander III and the Lombard League. These resulted in the Treaty of Venice, signed in August 1177, where a truce for six years was agreed. Moreover, Frederick recognized Alexander as the rightful pope by kneeling before him to kiss his feet.

After making his peace with the Pope, Frederick embarked on the Third Crusade (1189), a grand expedition in conjunction with the French army, led by king Philip Augustus together with the English, under Richard, the Lionheart. Frederick never saw the Holy Land because he drowned while crossing the Saleph River in Cilicia, south-eastern Anatolia. His body was then embalmed, placed in a barrel and taken back to Germany on the back of a cart. This untimely death left the Crusader army under the command of the rivals Philip and Richard and ultimately led to its dissolution. Richard continued to the East were he fought Saladin with mixed results, but ended without accomplishing his main goal, the capture of Jerusalem.

Frederick is the subject of a sleeping hero legend. He is said not to be dead, but asleep with his knights in a cave in Kyffhäuser mountain in Thuringia, Germany, and that when ravens should cease to fly around the mountain he would awake and restore Germany to its ancient greatness. According to the story his red beard has grown through the table beside which he sits. His eyes are half closed in sleep, but now and then he raises his hand and sends a boy out to see if the ravens have stopped flying.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was codenamed Operation Barbarossa, remembering Frederick I.

Frederick's descendents by his wife Beatrice

See also: Dukes of Swabia family tree


This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

Preceded by:
Conrad III
King of Germany
Also Holy Roman Emperor
Succeeded by:
Henry VI

Preceded by:
Frederick II
Duke of Swabia Succeeded by:
Frederick IV