Medieval History Ch. 38: Germany and Italy to the End of the Crusades, Otto the Great, Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick II

Crusaders besieging Damascus in 1148
Crusaders besieging Damascus in 1148

The following is an excerpt (pages 425-442) from Ancient and Medieval History (1944) by Francis S. Betten, S.J. Although some information may be outdated, the Catholic historical perspective it provides remains pertinent. Use the link at the bottom of post to read the previous/following pages. Use the Search box above to find specific topics or browse using the Resources tab above.





547. The German Dukedoms. — At the death of Louis the Child, 911 A.D., the last of the Carolingian rulers in East-Frankland (§ 448), the actual power resided chiefly in the hands of the great dukes. The names of Saxony (with Thuringia), Bavaria, and Lorraine have occurred frequently. The name of Alemannia had changed to Suabia, to which belonged Alsace on the left bank of the Rhine. Franconia, a district in the center, was inhabited by Franks. All the dukes, like those in the western kingdom (§§ 538 ff.), professed themselves vassals to the crown, but acted much as they pleased. Some even showed an inclination to break away entirely.

Most of these duchies represented each a separate tribe with its peculiar habits and customs. With the exception of the westernmost part of Lorraine the language of all of them was German, though not without strongly marked differences.

548. King Conrad I (911-918). — The dukes, together with the bishops and other prominent nobles, chose Duke Conrad of Franconia king. Though personally very energetic, pious, and able, he did not succeed, during his short reign of seven years, in curbing the power of his vassals and in defending the country from its two aggressive pagan foes, the Slavs and the fierce Hungarians. On his deathbed he recommended Henry, Duke of Saxony, his personal antagonist, as his successor, passing over his own brother Everard. The latter with equal unselfishness announced this fact to Henry, whom it is said he found at his favorite sport of hunting — hence Henry’s surname, “the Fowler.”

GERMAN DUKEDOMS ABOUT 900 For the Kingdom of Burgundy see § 556 and map following page 418.
For the Kingdom of Burgundy see § 556 and map following page 418.

549. Henry I, the Fowler (918-936). — As Duke of Saxony he wielded considerable power. His private possessions, too, were very extensive. A rare combination of vigor and bravery with prudence and kindness enabled him to unite the dukes and the great nobility with himself in close but friendly dependence. To the Hungarians he first paid a yearly tribute for a truce of nine years. During this time he hastened the wider introduction of armored horsemen, because this feature of feudalism had made little progress in Germany. To some extent he revived the old Teutonic militia of the freemen (§518) and established the so-called Merseburg Troops, a kind of standing army which was ever ready for the country’s defense. A constant warfare against the Slavs furnished opportunities to gain military experience.

A lasting merit is the encouragement he gave to the development of cities. The few cities Germany then possessed were practically confined to those parts that had once belonged to the Roman Empire. They were situated south of the Danube or west of the Rhine, e.g., Cologne, Augsburg, Treves. Henry erected large walled forts and inclosed the more important places by walls. One out of every nine farmers was obliged to do guard duty in these fortifications, and provide shelter for the other nine, while these tilled his fields. The markets and popular assemblies were to be held within the walls. [In earlier times, the Teutonic peoples held their “markets” — meetings for exchanging goods — in open spaces on the borders between the two tribes that were trading. These border spaces were called “marks” (“marches”). Hence comes our word market, and also the word march (mark state) for a border state (§ 439).] All this helped to increase the population of these strongholds. Many of them grew into large and important cities. The granting of municipal privileges still further strengthened the movement. For this reason later times gave Henry the noble title of “Builder of Cities.”

When Henry refused any longer to pay the tribute and the terrible Hungarians poured over the border, the well-organized army inflicted such a blow upon them that for years they preferred to leave Germany alone.


550. Otto I, the Great (936-973), took up his father’s work. He still further reduced the power of the great dukes, chiefly by augmenting that of the bishops, abbots, and other ecclesiastics. Otto aspired to the position of a real king. This caused several uprisings, in some of which even his own sons were implicated. But he knew not only how to carry out his will but also how to forgive those who were willing to submit. Germany under his rule became a rather strongly consolidated kingdom, much more so than France, where the Capetians had not yet come to the throne, and more so even than England, where the house of Alfred was still busied in reducing the Danelagh to submission.

THE TEMPORAL AND THE SPIRITUAL POWER A mosaic of the tenth century I the Church of St. John, Rome, representing Christ giving the keys to St. Peter and the banner to Constantine the Great.
A mosaic of the tenth century I the Church of St. John, Rome, representing Christ giving the keys to St. Peter and the banner to Constantine the Great.

551. Otto’s Warlike Enterprises. — 1. Most of his wars were directed against the pagan Slavs. He made their princes and tribes tributary. But their conversion he had much more at heart. The new archbishopric of Magdeburg was to be the starting point and base of the missionary work. German colonists in large crowds followed the missionaries and in consequence of their superior methods of agriculture and government not only assimilated the old inhabitants but also secured the country for Christianity. Here, too, the activity of the monks (§ 501) was of the utmost importance. When under the later reigns the zeal of the kings relaxed, subordinate German princes and bishops carried on the work of Christianization and colonization. Repeatedly, however, paganism, and, to some extent, national feeling roused by harshness on the part of the Germans, broke out in fierce opposition. It took several centuries before all the land as far as the Oder and beyond had become Christian and German. Several new vassal states, “marks” or “marches,” were founded. One of them, the North March, afterwards called Brandenburg, was destined centuries later to play a prominent part in German history.
2. Final Defeat of the Hungarians. — After several minor incursions the Hungarians returned with an immense horde — the chroniclers speak of a hundred thousand horsemen. They devastated southern Germany, until Otto approached with the army. The barbarians were decisively defeated, almost annihilated. Their inroads into Christian countries were at an end (§ 457). This Battle on the Lechfeld, 955 A.D., although not quite so significant as those of Chalons and Tours (§ 422), holds a similar position among the great military events of history. The East Mark, established against the Hungarians, eventually became the nucleus of the Austrian Monarchy.
3. His Wars in Italy. — See § 552.

German Colonization on the East at the Expense of Slavs, Letts, and Magyars, 800-1400
German Colonization on the East at the Expense of Slavs, Letts, and Magyars, 800-1400

552. For more than half a century no emperor had been crowned. Otto’s father, the poised and practical Henry, pondered on a restoration; and Otto’s own ardent soul had long been fired with the vision of the imperial diadem. He was no doubt the mightiest king in Christendom. Like Charlemagne he had victoriously fought for the protection of religion and had worked successfully for its extension. The masses of the German people, too, dreamed of the elevation of their king. When he stood amid the carnage of the Lechfeld, his host with common impulse hailed him “Emperor of the Romans.”

Intervention in the affairs of the Kingdom of Italy (i.e., northern Italy, § 447) brought him nearer his goal. The royal power in that realm was a mere name. Some years before the battle on the Lech, Adelheid, widow of the deceased king, appealed to him against the usurper Berengar, who wanted to force her to a marriage with him, and was then besieging her in her castle. Otto came, liberated and married her, and was crowned King of Italy. He allowed Berengar to rule Italy as a German vassal.
Ten years later Berengar sided with a party of turbulent Roman nobles against the lawful Pope, John XII. Appealed to by the Pope, Otto again crossed the Alps, forced Berengar to enter a monastery, restored order in Rome and was crowned Emperor in 962. There was once more a Roman Emperor, a defender of the Church and protector of the Papacy. The dignity founded by Leo III and Charlemagne was renewed. It was now styled:

553. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. — Concerning the emperor’s relation to the pope and other rulers, see § 437. From now on the imperial crown remained by an unwritten law united with the position of the kings of Germany. This means that the German nation had the exclusive right to present their king for coronation to the pope, who unless there was some cogent reason would not crown any one not so presented. But in the choice of their king they were not restricted to their own nation. They might elect a Frenchman or Spaniard. Nor could the pope crown any candidate who, even though elected by the Germans, lacked the necessary qualifications.

Circumstances had induced the popes to grant this privilege, which made the Germans an object of envy to other nations. After centuries, when the dignity had declined in importance, it was still coveted by foreign potentates. For Germany the golden circle of that sacred crown was a strong bond of unity deeply and proudly cherished. This bond no doubt retarded the process of disintegration which later on threatened the country. It soon became customary for the German kings to style themselves Kings of the Romans or Roman Kings before their imperial coronation in Rome.

554. The Union of Germany and (Northern) Italy. — For centuries, Italy’s history is closely bound up with that of Germany. Germany derived great advantage from close contact with a land which was so much more highly civilized. Italy, too, which “with its nine hundred ever-fighting counts resembled a huge ant hill” before the arrival of the Germans, saw a period of order and peace. By favoring the bishops and their cities the foreign rule indirectly promoted city life and city liberties. At all times brilliant minds expected the greatest benefit for Italy from the Teutonic emperors. Still there were other parties which objected strongly to the German regime. It was often narrow party politics thwarted in some selfish petty designs, but at other times genuine patriotism cruelly wounded by Teutonic tyranny, which prompted the opposition.

555. Otto I after His Coronation. — John XII was the true Pope, but unfortunately he was not a good pope. Even though the charges against him are greatly exaggerated, his character was far from defensible. Otto found out that the Pope had changed front and was intriguing against him with the Berengarian party and even with the Hungarians. The Emperor returned to Rome. A council was called, which at the imperial suggestion declared John XII deposed and elected another pope, Leo VIII. It was a violent and tyrannical step. No power could depose the lawfully elected John XII. Hence Leo VIII was an anti-pope, though his private life was without blame. Otto now induced the Romans to swear not to choose a pope without his consent. After the Emperor had left Rome, John succeeded in regaining the city, but died soon. The saintly and learned Benedict V was elected as his successor. He was no doubt the lawful Pope. But the Emperor thought differently. Maintaining the claim of his creature Leo VIII, he took Rome by force and kept Benedict V a prisoner until death. Happily both Pope and anti-pope died within a short time of each other, and a canonical election with the Emperor’s consent raised John XIII to the Apostolic Chair.

Apart from this blunder, which can in some way be extenuated by the extreme provocation he had suffered and by the character of John XII, Otto’s rule was beneficial to State and Church alike. His merit in promoting the missions among the Slavs cannot easily be overestimated. He was deeply impressed with the sacredness of his office, and it is related that he never wore the crown without having fasted the day before.

556. The Other Emperors of the Saxon House. — Otto II (973-983) and Otto III (983-1001), son and grandson of Otto the Great, continued favoring the Church and supporting, though less vigorously, the missions in the east and north. Otto III, young, highly educated, fervently pious, and greatly beloved by the Germans, dreamed of restoring the old Roman Empire in its full extent, with Rome as his residence — an absolutely impossible project.

St. Henry II (1002-1024), a distant relative of the childless Otto III, a man of thoroughly practical character, was the very opposite of his idealistic predecessor. He never strove for the impossible. On the whole he maintained the position that Germany had attained. His chief care was Germany itself. He did perhaps more than anyone else to increase the power of the bishops, upon whose fidelity and support he mainly relied. By a compact with the King of Burgundy (§ 446) he prepared the way for the annexation of that country to Germany, which was effected under his successor.

With St. Henry died out the family of the Saxon emperors. Their rule had considerably strengthened the national unity of Germany, and marked a progress in religious, literary, and artistic life. The Reform of Cluny (§ 501) found an ardent promoter in St. Henry II, under whom it began to enter Germany.

1 Reference Table of German Kings Those marked with a star were crowned Emperor
1 Reference Table of German Kings
Those marked with a star were crowned Emperor

557. The Salian Emperors (1024-1125). — Conrad II, the first of the Salians or Franconians, ruled much in the same way as St. Henry II, though his Church policy was very different. Henry III, his son, was beyond doubt one of the greatest of all the emperors. He still further reduced the power of the mighty dukes by diminishing their territories and declaring hereditary the fiefs of their subvassals. A confusion concerning the lawfulness of three claimants to the Papacy he settled to the benefit of the Church, though not without incurring some of the blame attaching to the methods of Otto I. But he was ever the strong friend and the ardent promoter of the Reform of Cluny and of general ecclesiastical discipline. Under him the cities, too, began to rise into prominence. Many of them were partly or entirely exempted from the power of the lower vassals, and as “free and imperial cities” placed directly under the Emperor. He gave his hearty support to the enforcement of the “Truce of God” (§ 479).

His son and grandson, Henry IV and Henry V, were of a different stamp. Henry IV, who came to the throne as a child, developed into a willful despot. Henry V, who had revolted against his father, surpassed him in craftiness. Both these rulers are notorious in history for what is called the Contest of Lay Investiture, which filled half a century. It must be treated in an extra chapter (§§ 572 and 578-582).



558. Frederick I, Barbarossa (1152-1190). — After the twelve years’ reign of Lothair II, who governed entirely in the spirit of St. Henry but with more success, Conrad III, Duke of Suabia, of the family of Hohenstaufen, was elected. Passing over his young son, he recommended on his deathbed his nephew Frederick as successor. Frederick I, called Barbarossa (Red-beard) by the Italians, was first and foremost a German king and gave to Germany a long period of peace and prosperity. The Germans had every reason to see in him a father of their country. Unfortunately his ecclesiastical and Italian policies were to a large extent a failure. He had drawn his ideas of the imperial dignity from the Justinian Code of Laws, according to which the emperor is the sole source of right (§ 412). Evil advisers did the rest.


Since the days of Otto the Great the Italian cities in Lombardy had been granted a great amount of home rule and other privileges, and under weak rulers had arrogated still more. Frederick called a great assembly on the “Roncalian Fields,” to settle their relation to the emperor. His chief advisers were four professors of Roman law of Bologna. The development of the last two hundred-years was completely ignored. It was ordained that the cities were to be reduced to the condition in which they had been under Otto the Great. This serious mistake led to long wars, in which at first the Emperor was triumphantly victorious. Several of the flourishing cities, among them mighty Milan, were captured and destroyed without mercy.

559. Frederick Barbarossa and the Pope. — Early in his reign Frederick had saved Rome from the machinations of a certain Arnold of Brescia, a heretic and political demagogue, and had been crowned Emperor. Difficulties with the Pope soon loomed up. Once in a solemn assembly a papal letter to the Emperor was read and mistranslated in such a way as to mean that the Empire was a benefice of the Holy See, which would have made the emperor a secular vassal of the pope. The Holy Father Adrian (Hadrian) IV explained its true meaning. The Emperor appeared satisfied; but the indignation roused among his blind admirers had already done much harm. Later the Emperor on the flimsiest pretexts took the side of an antipope and marched against Rome to install him. A few days after his arrival in the Eternal City a terrible pestilence broke out. A large number of his trusted friends and more than 20,000 of his best troops perished. This was generally considered a judgment of God. But a second one was needed. The Pope, Alexander III (§ 522), combined with the league of Lombard cities in their fight for their liberties. At Legnano, 1176, the cause of the Church and of freedom triumphed over despotism. The Peace of Venice, truly fair to each party, was concluded in 1177. [ A lozenge of red and white marble in the vestibule of St. Mark’s Church (picture in § 611) indicates the place where the mighty Emperor, overcome by the sight of the Pope, flung away his imperial purple and threw himself at the feet of Alexander. With tears in his eyes the Holy Father raised him up and gave him the kiss of peace. See Kurth, Turning Points, pages 81- 93, especially pages 92 and 93.]

The battle of Legnano, just a hundred years after the self-humiliation of Henry IV at Canossa, marks a triumph of ecclesiastical liberty over an encroaching secular ruler, and of civil freedom over tyranny. Although won by an overwhelming majority, it was nevertheless a victory of a citizen infantry over feudal cavalry, and thus presaged the coming of a new phase in the history of warfare.

560. Frederick’s Place in History. — Despite the defeat of Legnano, Frederick remained the greatest and most honored monarch in Europe. His court was one of pomp and splendor. He looked upon France and England as fiefs of the Empire; and the sovereigns of those lands regarded the Emperor with profound respect, if not quite as their overlord. In Germany itself, his long reign was a period of remarkable prosperity. Forests were cleared to make farming villages, and villages grew into trading towns. Agriculture improved its methods, and land rose in value. The rougher side of feudal life in the castles began to give way to more refined manners, and a charming German literature appeared in the lays of the minnesingers (§ 615). — When an old man, Frederick, no doubt in order to atone for the misdeeds of his life, set out upon the third crusade (§ 594), and was drowned while trying, after a hot day’s march, to swim across a little stream in Asia Minor.

His death in so holy a cause made men forget his shortcomings and surrounded his name with radiancy. Barbarossa is the popular hero with the German people; legends long told how he was not dead, but sleeping a magic sleep, sitting upon an ivory throne in the heart of the Kyffhauser Mountain. At the appointed time, in his country’s need, the ravens would cease circling about the mountain top; and, at this signal, Barbarosa would awake, to bring again the reign of peace and justice.

561. Guelf and Ghibelline. — The contest in Italy at this period gave rise to new party names. The Hohenstaufen family took their name from their ancestral castle perched on a crag in the Alps. Jlut near this first seat of the family was their village of Warblingen, by which name also they were sometimes known. The cMef rival of the first Hohenstaufen emperor had been Henry the Lion, of Saxony, who was surnamed Welf. In German struggles these names became war cries, — Hi Welf! Hi Waibling! In Italy the German words were softened into Quelf and Ghibelline, and in this form they became real party names. A Ghibelline was of the imperial party; a Guelf was an adherent of the Papacy. Long after this original significance had passed away, the names were still used by contending factions in Italian towns. In general, the democratic factions were Guelfs; but often the terms had no meaning beyond that of party interest, — so that “as meaningless as the squabbles of Guelfs and Ghibellines” has become a byword.

562. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. — Long after the establishment of the Papal States there remained in southern Italy a few districts subject to the Byzantine emperors. There were besides some Italian principalities dating from Lombard times, and a small province acquired by the popes under Henry III. Sicily, however, and some localities in the peninsula had fallen into the power of the Saracens. Little success crowned the struggle of the Ottos against these foes. Under Henry II the Saint a party of Normans on their return from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem did good service against the Mohammedans. A larger force arrived from Normandy and made conquests for which their leader swore fealty to the Emperor. But they soon attacked Italian, Greek, and Arab alike and treated the subjected population with insolence and cruelty. An army sent against them by Pope St. Leo IX was defeated. Their energetic leader, Robert Guiscard, however, took the papal province he had conquered and whatever land he could wrest from either the Greeks or the Saracens as a fief of the Holy See. This fierce warrior then, always fighting against overwhelmingly superior numbers, destroyed both the Greek and the Saracen power in Italy and Sicily. The war was considered a holy war, — a prelude of the crusades. The Arabs he allowed to remain, provided they complied with the laws. Thus Robert became the founder of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies within less than thirty years after the Norman William had made himself master of England (§§ 504 ff.). Normans now controlled the largest island in the north and the largest in the Mediterranean Sea. But their influence upon the population in the south was not so thorough as it had been in the north. Sicily in particular developed a civilization which though Christian and Italian was greatly affected by the presence of the Oriental elements in the island. (See Guggenberger, I, §§ 348- 356.)


563. Barbarossa’s Next Successors. — The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had existed a hundred years, when Frederick Barbarossa brought about a marriage between his son and successor, Henry VI, and the heiress of the southern realm. The Pope, who had been kept in ignorance, strongly disapproved of this union. But after being crowned Emperor, Henry VI (1190-1197) took possession of his wife’s inheritance and with much cruelty put down the opposition of a native party. He took up the scheme of Otto III (§ 556) of founding a world empire. Much more powerful, able, and energetic, and aided by the crusading spirit of the age, he might have succeeded to a large degree, had he not died when at the height of his power. At the request of his wife, Innocent III became guardian of his infant son Frederick, who had already been elected Emperor and was of course heir to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. With fatherly love the great Pope took care of the child, gave him an excellent education, protected all his interests, and had the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies administered in the infant king’s name.

564. A Crown Dispute. — After the sudden death of Henry VI the German princes set aside the election of Frederick, his infant son, and proceeded to a new election. The two parties, the Ghibellines and Guelfs, each chose its own candidate. A civil war was the consequence. One of the “kings” died after a few years. The other, Otto IV, allied himself with John Lackland of England and with him suffered a terrible defeat at Bouvines at the hands of Philip II (§ § 527, 542). The Germans turned again to Frederick of Sicily, who was then twenty years old. Supported by Pope Innocent III he was again elected and crowned King of Germany at Aachen. He had pledged himself never to unite the Kingdoms of Germany and Sicily.

565. Frederick II (1194-1250) was crowned Emperor by Honorius III in 1220. He was one of the most brilliant rulers that ever sat upon a throne. His contemporaries called him the wonder of the world. He spoke German, Latin, Italian, Greek, and Arabic. All his life he remained a protector of art and literature. But this was all he saved from the careful education given him under his tutor Innocent III.

Contrary to his promises he at once united the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with his German realm. He commonly resided in the sunny south. With complete disregard of historical right he reorganized the kingdom upon an entirely new plan, doing away with feudal relations and governing through officials whom he appointed and dismissed according to his pleasure. This southern kingdom was much more modern than medieval. His despotic administration, however, was efficient. The provinces rose to a flourishing state. Arts and sciences were cultivated. Commerce grew, and the cities, though not politically free, became rich and prosperous under Frederick’s government.

566. Frederick II’s First Conflict with the Pope. His “Crusade.” — But religiously and morally his mind had been poisoned by Ghibelline lawyers and by the loose Arabian society of Sicily. He interfered with the most evident rights of the Church and played with promises and oaths. He solemnly took the cross for a crusade, and postponed his departure from year to year, during which time tens of thousands of crusaders, who had gathered in Italy from various lands, either returned home in disgust or fell victims to want and diseases. In the Orient great advantages were lost, because the Christians, rightly expecting to obtain much better results, waited for the arrival of the Emperor; the Emperor never came. Finally, he was excommunicated by the pope.

Unabsolved, Frederick now set out with a handful of knights. The Mohammedan ruler, himself a usurper, and at enmity with a rival, was on good terms with Frederick. Without drawing the sword Frederick by a truce received for ten years the Holy City with Bethlehem and Nazareth (1229). In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher he put the crown of the Kingdom of Jerusalem on his head with his own hands, without any prayer or ceremony, because no priest or bishop was willing to crown an excommunicated man. As peace had thus been brought about, he ordered all the crusaders to leave the Holy Land. All Christendom was indignant at such a crusade. For the sake of Christian unity Pope Gregory IX, the following year, patched up a treaty with Frederick II and absolved him from the excommunication.

567. Second Conflict with the Papacy. — In Germany, where he resided rarely, and where he respected the existing conditions, Frederick II was very popular. In Italy and Sicily he soon renewed his encroachments upon the possessions and the most sacred rights of the Church. He also aimed at a complete subjugation of the Lombard cities, as if there had never been a Peace of Venice (§ 559).

While he was thus engaged in fierce struggles in Italy, a terrible danger approached Germany. The Mongols, or Tartars, kinsmen of the Huns (§ 397), invaded Europe with enormous forces under Genghis Khan (Lord of Lords) and devastated Russia, Poland, and Hungary. Urgent appeals were sent to the absent Emperor. Frederick II preferred to pursue the conquest of papal territory and the war against the democratic cities. In 1240 the Mongols fought a drawn battle with an army hastily gathered by some German princes, and did not advance any farther. Their immense empire soon broke up into parts, one of which was China. Russia remained until about 1500 under the yoke of a Tartar power called the Golden Horde.

A General Council met at Lyons and, in 1245, declared Frederick II deposed. He continued his warfare with a sort of frenzy. Both parties were guilty of repulsive cruelty, though Frederick by far surpassed his antagonists. He died in 1250. On his deathbed he received the sacraments, and ordered restitution to be made to the Church and to all whom he had injured. “ What the people of Italy thought of him,” says a German historian, “they showed by their boundless joy at the return (from France) of the Pope, whose journey was one series of triumphs, because the tyrant was no more, and there was now hope for better times.”

With Frederick II practically ends the rule of the Hohenstaufens in Germany. His son Conrad IV, elected king by his party, never obtained real power and died four years after his father, in 1254.

568. Charles of Anjou. — The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies remained for some years the object of fierce fighting between Frederick’s Italian descendants and the papal party. In 1266 the Pope as suzerain of the kingdom gave the crown to Charles of Anjou, a brother of St. Louis of France. [This Charles of Anjou was no relative at all of the Angevin family that ascended the English throne in the person of Henry II (§§ 515 ff.).] Frederick II’s grandson in Germany, Duke Conradin, a youth of seventeen years, made a futile attempt to conquer the realm. He was captured and executed. Thus, on the scaffold, ended the family of the Hohenstaufen emperors.

Charles of Anjou’s cruelty and the insolence of his French retainers provoked a bloody insurrection in Sicily, beginning with a massacre called the Sicilian Vespers. The insurgents invited Peter III of Aragon, whose descendants eventually became kings of Sicily. Charles of Anjou maintained himself in the peninsula, thus forming the separate kingdom of Naples. Both kingdoms, however, remained fiefs of the Holy See, and were later on reunited.


569. The Empire. — Under the Hohenstaufen rulers Germany saw a new and brilliant growth of arts and literature, particularly in poetry. Many of the grandest buildings of the mighty princes and flourishing cities were finished or commenced. The crusades exerted their renovating influence in every direction. The kingdom and Empire reached a dominating position in Europe. Nor did the intellectual side of this development cease with the end of the Hohenstaufen rule.

In the political field the wrong conception of the imperial dignity could not but work great harm. The violent and almost insane opposition of Frederick II to the Papacy degraded the crown which he wore. About the time of his last war with the popes there set in a rapid political decay. Several of the German dukedoms had been broken up, their former subvassals became immediately subject to the crown, and the title and rank of duke was now bestowed on more princes. The granting to many princes, of royal privileges — e.g., exemption from appeals to the king, — and the liberal distribution of royal property, the chief source of revenue in an age which practically knew no taxes, tended to diminish greatly the ruler’s actual power. This squandering of the king’s rights and property assumed truly alarming proportions shortly before and after Frederick II’s death. The effects became apparent. Germany had entered upon a process of interior disintegration. After this, few German kings were strong enough to go to Rome to receive the imperial crown.

The Italian cities were practically left to themselves. Notwithstanding their endless party strifes and wars they grew constantly in prosperity, and their intellectual life became more vigorous. They, more, perhaps, than any other country, were benefited by the new mendicant orders (§§ 583 ff.).

570. The Papacy. — Imperial transgressions had forced this struggle upon the popes. They came out victorious. It had cost them dearly, however. In the last contest with Frederick II they were deprived of the revenues of their states and at the same time obliged to shoulder heavy expenses. They resorted to a taxation of ecclesiastical property. Their right to do so and the justice of their cause cannot be questioned, but complaints were at once raised by avaricious prelates and jealous rulers. These complaints increased constantly and became one of the standing grievances against the Holy See. The popes could no longer rely upon a strong Germany, and began to look to France for support. But this France had ceased to be the France of St. Louis IX.