1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Frederick I., Roman Emperor
FREDERICK I. (c. 1123-1190), Roman emperor, surnamed “Barbarossa” by the Italians, was the son of Frederick II. of Hohenstaufen, duke of Swabia, and Judith, daughter of Henry IX. the Black, duke of Bavaria. The precise date and place of his birth, together with details of his early life, are wanting; but in 1143 he assisted his maternal uncle, Count Welf VI., in his attempts to conquer Bavaria, and by his conduct in several local feuds earned the reputation of a brave and skilful warrior. When his father died in 1147 Frederick became duke of Swabia, and immediately afterwards accompanied his uncle, the German king Conrad III., on his disastrous crusade, during which he greatly distinguished himself and won the complete confidence of the king. Abandoning the cause of the Welfs, he fought for Conrad against them, and in 1152 the dying king advised the princes to choose Frederick as his successor to the exclusion of his own young son. Energetically pressing his candidature, he was chosen German king at Frankfort on the 4th or 5th of March 1152, and crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 9th of the same month, owing his election partly to his personal qualities, and partly to the fact that he united in himself the blood of the rival families of Welf and Waiblingen.
The new king was anxious to restore the Empire to the position it had occupied under Charlemagne and Otto 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. Count Welf was made duke of Spoleto and margrave of Tuscany; Berthold VI., duke of Zähringen, was entrusted with extensive rights in Burgundy; and the king's nephew, Frederick, received. the duchy of Swabia. Abroad Frederick decided a quarrel for the Danish throne in favour of Svend, or Peter as he is sometimes called, who did homage for his kingdom, and negotiations were begun with the East Roman emperor, Manuel Comnenus. It was probably about this time that the king obtained a divorce from his wife Adela, daughter of Dietpold, margrave of Vohburg and Cham, 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. In spite of this omission, however, and of some trouble arising from a double election to the archbishopric of Magdeburg, a treaty was concluded between king and pope at Constance in March 1153, by which Frederick promised in return for his coronation to make no peace with Roger I. king of Sicily, or with the rebellious Romans, without the consent of Eugenius, and generally to help and defend the papacy.
The journey to Italy made by the king in 1154 was the precursor of five other expeditions which engaged his main energies for thirty years, during which the subjugation of the peninsula was the central and abiding aim of his policy. Meeting the new pope, Adrian IV., near Nepi, Frederick at first refused to hold his stirrup; but after some negotiations he consented and received the kiss of peace, which was followed by his coronation as emperor at Rome on the 18th of June 1155. As his slender forces were inadequate to encounter the fierce hostility which he aroused, 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, to Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony; and the former was pacified by the erection of his margraviate into a duchy, while Frederick's step-brother Conrad was invested with the Palatinate of the Rhine. On the 9th of June 1156 the king was married at Würzburg to Beatrix, daughter and heiress of the dead count of Upper Burgundy, Renaud III., when Upper Burgundy or Franche Comte, as it is sometimes called, was added to his possessions. An expedition into Poland reduced Duke Boleslaus IV. to an abject submission, after which Frederick received the homage of the Burgundian nobles at a diet held at Besancon in October 1157, which was marked by a quarrel between pope and emperor. A Swedish archbishop, returning from Rome, had been seized by robbers, and as Frederick had not punished the offenders Adrian sent two legates to remonstrate. The papal letter when translated referred to the imperial crown as a benefice conferred by the pope, and its reading aroused great indignation. The emperor had to protect the legates from the fury of the nobles; and afterwards issued a manifesto to his subjects declaring that he held the Empire from God alone, to which Adrian replied that he had used the ambiguous word beneficia as meaning benefits, and not in its feudal sense.
In June 1158 Frederick set out upon his second Italian expedition, which was signalized by the establishment of imperial officers called podestas in the cities of northern Italy, the revolt and capture of Milan, and the beginning of the long struggle with pope Alexander III., who excommunicated the emperor on the 2nd of March 1160. During this visit Frederick summoned the doctors of Bologna to the diet held near Roncaglia in November 1158, and as a result of their inquiries into the rights belonging to the kingdom of Italy he obtained a large amount of wealth. Returning to Germany towards the close of 1162, Frederick prevented a conflict between Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony, and a number of neighbouring princes, and severely punished the citizens of Mainz for their rebellion against Archbishop Arnold. A further visit to Italy in 1163 saw his plans for the conquest of Sicily checked by the formation of a powerful league against him, brought together mainly by the exactions of the podestas and the enforcement of the rights declared by the doctors of Bologna. Frederick had supported an anti-pope Victor IV. against Alexander, and on Victor's death in 1163 a new antipope called Paschal III. was chosen to succeed him. Having tried in vain to secure the general recognition of Victor and Paschal in Europe, the emperor held a diet at Würzburg in May 1165; and by taking an oath, followed by many of the clergy and nobles, to remain true to Paschal and his successors, brought about a schism in the German church. A temporary alliance with Henry II., king of England, the magnificent celebration of the canonization of Charlemagne at Aix-la-Chapelle, and the restoration of peace in the Rhineland, occupied Frederick's attention until October 1166, when he made his fourth journey to Italy. Having captured Ancona, he marched to Rome, stormed the Leonine city, and procured the enthronement of Paschal, and the coronation of his wife Beatrix; but his victorious career was stopped by the sudden outbreak of a pestilence which destroyed the German army and drove the emperor as a fugitive to Germany, where he remained for the ensuing six years. Henry the Lion was again saved from a threatening combination; conflicting claims to various bishoprics were decided; and the imperial authority was asserted over Bohemia, Poland and Hungary. Friendly relations were entered into with the emperor Manuel, and attempts made to come to a better understanding with Henry II., king of England, and Louis VII., king of France.
In 1174, when Frederick made his fifth expedition to Italy, the Lombard league had been formed, and the fortress of Alessandria raised to check his progress. The campaign was a complete failure. The refusal of Henry the Lion to bring help into Italy was followed by the defeat of the emperor at Legnano on the 29th of May 1176, when he was wounded and believed to be dead. Reaching Pavia, he began negotiations for peace with Alexander, which ripened into the treaty of Venice in August 1177, and at the same time a truce with the Lombard league was arranged for six years. Frederick, loosed from the papal ban, recognized Alexander as the rightful pope, and in July 1177 knelt before him and kissed his feet. The possession of the vast estates left by Matilda, marchioness of Tuscany, and claimed by both pope and emperor, was to be decided by arbitration, and in October 1178 the emperor was again in Germany. Various small feuds were suppressed; Henry the Lion was deprived of his duchy, which was dismembered, and sent into exile; a treaty was made with the Lombard league at Constance in June 1183; and most important of all, Frederick's son Henry was betrothed in 1184 to Constance, daughter of Roger I., king of Sicily, and aunt and heiress of the reigning king, William II. This betrothal, which threatened to unite Sicily with the Empire, made it difficult for Frederick, when during his last Italian expedition in 1184 he met Pope Lucius III. at Verona, to establish friendly relations with the papacy. Further causes of trouble arose, moreover, and when the potentates separated the question of Matilda's estates was undecided; and Lucius had refused to crown Henry or to recognize the German clergy who had been ordained during the schism. Frederick then formed an alliance with Milan, where the citizens witnessed a great festival on the 27th of January 1186. The emperor, who had been crowned king of Burgundy, or Arles, at Arles on the 30th of July 1178, had this ceremony repeated; while his son Henry was crowned king of Italy and married to Constance, who was crowned queen of Germany.
The quarrel with the papacy was continued with the new pope Urban III., and open warfare was begun. But Frederick was soon recalled to Germany by the news of a revolt raised by Philip of Heinsberg, archbishop of Cologne, in alliance with the pope. The German clergy remained loyal to the emperor, and hostilities were checked by the death of Urban and the election of a new pope as Gregory VIII., who adopted a more friendly policy towards the emperor. In 1188 Philip submitted, and immediately afterwards Frederick took the cross in order to stop the victorious career of Saladin, who had just taken Jerusalem. After extensive preparations he left Regensburg in May 1189 at the head of a splendid army, and having overcome the hostility of the East Roman emperor Isaac Angelus, marched into Asia Minor. On the 10th of June 1190 Frederick was either bathing or crossing the river Calycadnus (Geuksu), near Seleucia (Selefke) in Cilicia, when he was carried away by the stream and drowned. The place of his burial is unknown, and the legend which says he still sits in a cavern in the Kyffhäuser mountain in Thuringia waiting until the need of his country shall call him, is now thought to refer, at least in its earlier form, to his grandson, the emperor Frederick II. He left by his wife, Beatrix, five sons, of whom the eldest afterwards became emperor as Henry VI.
Frederick's reign, on the whole, was a happy and prosperous time for Germany. He encouraged the growth of towns, easily suppressed the few risings against his authority, and took strong and successful measures to establish order. Even after the severe reverses which he experienced in Italy, his position in Germany was never seriously weakened; and in 1181, when, almost without striking a blow, he deprived Henry the Lion of his duchy, he seemed stronger than ever. This power rested upon his earnest and commanding personality, and also upon the support which he received from the German church, the possession of a valuable private domain, and the care with which he exacted feudal dues from his dependents.
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 ascendancy was finally overthrown rather by the ravages of pestilence than by the might of human arms. In Germany his resolute will and sagacious administration subdued 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 conferring 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 frank and open manners, untiring and unresting energy, and a prowess which found its native element in difficulty and danger, he seemed the embodiment 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 ingenious 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 Legnano, 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.
In appearance Frederick was a man of well-proportioned, medium stature, with flowing yellow hair and a reddish beard. He delighted in hunting and the reading of history, was zealous in his attention to public business, and his private life was unimpeachable. Carlyle's tribute to him is interesting: “No king so furnished out with apparatus and arena, with personal faculty to rule and scene to do it in, has appeared elsewhere. A magnificent, magnanimous man; holding the reins of the world, not quite in the imaginary sense; scourging anarchy down, and urging noble effort up, really on a grand scale. A terror to evildoers and a praise to well-doers in this world, probably beyond what was ever seen since.”