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Emperor Frederick II

and the

Castel del Monte


Link to Frederick's Castello in Trani

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Above: Frederick and family on the stairway to the Ambo in Bitonto Cattedrale


Right: Frederick and his falcon (Wikipedia)


Link to Frederick's Wedding Pic and Tomb in Palermo






Frederick II (1194 - 1215 - 1250 (56)) - Stupor Mundi


Link to the Normans and the Hohenstaufen Kings in Southern Italy and Sicily


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 the 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 the 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 5th Crusade, 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.


Link to a Website for Frederick Tragics










Castel del Monte


Eight sides, eight rooms on each floor, eight eight-sided towers, inland from Barletta on the one decent sized hill for miles around. 


Emperor Frederick II built the Castel del Monte in around 1240.  It was one of around 200 fortresses that he erected, but the only one that was not rectangular. 


Its shape is amenable to all manner of esoteric, astrological and geometric interpretations.  Then again, it could have been just a geometrically pleasing hunting lodge.  It does not seem to have had a serious military raison d'ętre, although its location on top of the only high hill on a very big flat plain certainly gave it a dominating presence.


After the middle ages, the Castel del Monte enjoyed a life (and got knocked around a bit) as a prison, and was later  abandoned. 


Nowadays it is listed by UNESCO, and you can find it pictured on the obverse of the Italian Euro-Cent !





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