Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor

Frederick II
Brindisi, augustale di federico II, 1220-1250.JPG
A gold augustalis bearing Frederick's effigy
Holy Roman Emperor
Reign22 November 1220 – 17 July 1245
Coronation22 November 1220 (Rome)
PredecessorOtto IV
Successorvacant[note 1]
King of Sicily
Coronation3 September 1198 (Palermo)
PredecessorHenry VI
SuccessorConrad I
King of Germany
formally King of the Romans
Coronation9 December 1212 (Mainz)
25 July 1215 (Aachen)
PredecessorOtto IV
SuccessorHenry (VII)
King of Italy
Reign22 November 1220 – 13 December 1250
PredecessorOtto IV
SuccessorConrad IV
King of Jerusalem
Coronation18 March 1229, Jerusalem
PredecessorIsabella II
SuccessorConrad II
Born26 December 1194
Iesi, Italy
Died13 December 1250(1250-12-13) (aged 55)
Castel Fiorentino, Sicily
SpouseConstance of Aragon
Isabella II of Jerusalem
Isabella of England
Bianca Lancia (?)
Henry VII, King of Germany
Conrad IV, King of Germany
Anna, Empress of Nicaea
Manfred, King of Sicily
Enzo of Sardinia
FatherHenry VI, Holy Roman Emperor
MotherConstance, Queen of Sicily
ReligionRoman Catholicism[1]

Frederick II (26 December 1194 – 13 December 1250; Latin: Fridericus, Federicus, Italian: Federico, German: Frîderich, Friedrich) was King of Sicily from 1198, King of Germany from 1212, King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor from 1220 and King of Jerusalem from 1225. He was the son of emperor Henry VI of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and of Constance, heiress to the Norman kings of Sicily.

Arms of the House of Hohenstaufen.
Arms of the House of Hohenstaufen as Holy Roman Emperor.
The dominions of Frederick II.

His political and cultural ambitions were enormous as he ruled a vast area beginning with Sicily and stretching through Italy all the way north to Germany. As the Crusades progressed, he acquired control of Jerusalem and styled himself its king. However, the Papacy became his enemy, and it eventually prevailed. Viewing himself as a direct successor to the Roman emperors of antiquity,[2] he was Emperor of the Romans from his papal coronation in 1220 until his death; he was also a claimant to the title of King of the Romans from 1212 and unopposed holder of that monarchy from 1215. As such, he was King of Germany, of Italy, and of Burgundy. At the age of three, he was crowned King of Sicily as a co-ruler with his mother, Constance of Hauteville, the daughter of Roger II of Sicily. His other royal title was King of Jerusalem by virtue of marriage and his connection with the Sixth Crusade. Frequently at war with the papacy, which was hemmed in between Frederick's lands in northern Italy and his Kingdom of Sicily (the Regno) to the south, he was excommunicated four times and often vilified in pro-papal chronicles of the time and after. Pope Gregory IX went so far as to call him an Antichrist.

Speaking six languages (Latin, Sicilian, Middle High German, Langues d'oïl, Greek and Arabic[3]), Frederick was an avid patron of science and the arts. He played a major role in promoting literature through the Sicilian School of poetry. His Sicilian royal court in Palermo, beginning around 1220, saw the first use of a literary form of an Italo-Romance language, Sicilian. The poetry that emanated from the school had a significant influence on literature and on what was to become the modern Italian language.[4] He was also the first king to formally outlaw trial by ordeal, which had come to be viewed as superstitious.[5]

After his death his line did not survive, and the House of Hohenstaufen came to an end. Furthermore, the Holy Roman Empire entered a long period of decline from which it did not completely recover until the reign of Charles V, 250 years later.[6]

Historians have searched for superlatives to describe him, as in the case of Donald Detwiler, who wrote:

A man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability – called by a contemporary chronicler stupor mundi (the wonder of the world), by Nietzsche the first European, and by many historians the first modern ruler – Frederick established in Sicily and southern Italy something very much like a modern, centrally governed kingdom with an efficient bureaucracy.[7]

Early years

Frederick's birth in Iesi (illustration in Giovanni Villani's Nuova Cronica, ca. 1348)

Born in Iesi, near Ancona, Italy, in December, 1194, Frederick was the son of the emperor Henry VI. He was known as the puer Apuliae (son of Apulia).[note 2] His mother Constance gave birth to him at the age of 40, and Boccaccio related in his De mulieribus claris about the empress: as a Sicilian princess and paternal aunt of William II of Sicily, a prediction that "her marriage would destroy Sicily" led to her confinement in a convent as a nun from childhood to remain celibate and her late engagement to Henry at the age of 30. Some chronicles say that Constance gave birth to him in a public square in order to forestall any doubt about his origin such as son of a butcher. Frederick was baptised in Assisi.[note 3][8]

In 1196 at Frankfurt am Main the infant Frederick was elected King of the Germans. His rights in Germany were disputed by Henry's brother Philip of Swabia and Otto of Brunswick. At the death of his father in 1197, Frederick was in Italy, traveling towards Germany, when the bad news reached his guardian, Conrad of Spoleto. Frederick was hastily brought back to his mother Constance in Palermo, Sicily, where he was crowned king on 17 May 1198, at just three years of age.[8]

Constance of Sicily was in her own right queen of Sicily, and she established herself as regent. In Frederick's name she dissolved Sicily's ties to Germany and the Empire that had been created by her marriage, sending home his German counsellors and renouncing his claims to the German throne and empire.

Upon Constance's death in 1198, Pope Innocent III succeeded as Frederick's guardian. Frederick's tutor during this period was Cencio, who would become Pope Honorius III.[9] Markward of Annweiler, with the support of Henry's brother, Philip of Swabia, reclaimed the regency for himself and soon after invaded the Kingdom of Sicily. In 1200, with the help of Genoese ships, he landed in Sicily and one year later seized the young Frederick.[8] He thus ruled Sicily until 1202, when he was succeeded by another German captain, William of Capparone, who kept Frederick under his control in the royal palace of Palermo until 1206. Frederick was subsequently under tutor Walter of Palearia, until, in 1208, he was declared of age. His first task was to reassert his power over Sicily and southern Italy, where local barons and adventurers had usurped most of the authority.[8]