Frederick II (1194 - 1215 - 1250 (56)) - Stupor
to the Normans and the Hohenstaufen Kings in Southern Italy and
Hohenstaufen Family Tree
Frederick II packed a lot into his 56
year life. He was the grandson of the
Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick I
("Barbarossa") who drowned in 1190 whilst travelling south to take part in
Third Crusade. His dad,
Emperor Henry (Hohenstaufen) VI (1165 - 1194 - 1197 (32)),
was the guy who got seriously rich by capturing the awful Richard I after
Crusade No 3, then selling him back to
England for an obscene amount of money (what were the English thinking - the
guy could not even speak their language), and using this to bribe the
Emporal Electors, and fund a military campaign to take over Southern Italy.
He also married Constance, the daughter of the Norman Guiscard
King Roger II of Sicily (= Sicily +
Southern Italy) who survived her siblings to become
Queen Constanzia of Sicily in her own
right, though hubbie Henry also saw himself as King!
When Queen Constance (1154 - 1194
- 1198 (44)) died, son Frederick became King of Sicily at the
age of 4, so he had plenty of time to practice being an absolute monarch
before he bribed his way to
the Holy Roman Emperorship in 1215 aged 19, after Philip
(his uncle - died 1208) and Otto IV (his cousin - died 1215) had had a go. For good measure, Frederick was also
King of Swabia (part of Germany from where later
Jacob Fugger the Rich was to emerge) and to add a bit of icing on the cake
his second marriage to
Yolanda de Brienne also made him
King of Jerusalem in 1229. Through his
three marriages and other liaisons he left the
world at least 20 children.
In the words of Jones and Ereira in "Crusades" ….. "Frederick was a very odd Christian. It was odd to find a European ruler who spoke six languages including Arabic, who had read the Koran, who enjoyed philosophy and sciences. It was odd to find any European who had put his wife in a harem, who openly enjoyed extravagant eroticism and who had no hesitation in making outrageous comments on morals and religion. He was a true product of Sicily, the cultural mix that had been created by Greeks, two Arab regimes and the Norman conquest of the ten hundreds. To Europeans, he was stupor mundi, the amazement of the world. Islamic observers, who heard him comment that while the Caliph was a descendant of the Prophet, the Pope had been found on a dung heap, decided he was an atheist."
Frederick is also reputed to have said that "the three greatest frauds in
history were Moses, Jesus and Mohamed."
Frederick led the last part of the
5th Crusade (1228-9)
after years of prevarication during which he was excommunicated twice - once
for not going then later for going without permission. The crusade regained Jerusalem by treaty
(and incidentally saw Frederick crowned King of Jerusalem), but this just made the Pope and
knights more angry because the purpose of a Crusade was to shed (infidel) blood, not do
bloodless deals. Ten years later, excommunicated again, Frederick had a Crusade (complete with forgiveness of sins indulgences) declared against him, a move which eventually destroyed the civilization of Sicily
and solidified the power of the Guelphs (the Pope's men) against the Ghibellines
(the Emperor's men).
The Byzantines and Normans before him left behind
some magnificent church architecture in Puglia, and Frederick added
Cathedral of Altamura to
this. However his real building love was castelli (with some
also functioning as hunting lodges). He built around 200 fortresses in Southern Italy and Sicily, some of
which were large enough to double as palaces (Barletta
was the court assembly point for Frederick's leg of the
Castello di Trani
was the setting in 1259 for the marriage of his illegitimate son King Manfred
to his love Helena).
Lest all this makes Frederick sound a
good sort of person to be around, he was not. He was capricious, cruel
and violent in the most abusive traditions of absolute feudal monarchs.
His "glittering courts", fortresses and military adventures were funded by
bleeding his subjects dry, as he never encountered much in the way of plunder
(the other medieval way of royal lifestyle finance). It is probably true
that the ongoing status of Southern Italy as the very poor neighbour
of the expanding and thriving City States of the Renaissance in Central
Italy, was a direct result of the oppressive control
and extortion inherited from Frederick and maintained by the various French
and Spanish regimes
that succeeded him in Naples and Palermo. By contrast, the Republics and City States to the North
enjoyed 300 years in the sun and were
until the 1500s pretty much masters of their own thriving destinies.
to a Website for Frederick Tragics