Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor Biography

(Holy Roman Emperor (1155 - 1190))

Born: 1122

Born In: Haguenau, France

Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, was Duke of Swabia and the King of Germany in the 12th century. Apart from being King of Germany, he was also crowned King of Italy and King of Burgundy. He was an extremely ambitious ruler and firmly believed that his authority was second only to God. Fierce and strong-willed, Frederick I passionately opposed the Papal authority, but supported religious crusades of the Latin Church. He was well-loved by his subjects and is considered as one of the greatest medieval emperors by historians, thanks to his exceptional organizational skills, war strategies, political knowledge, and enthusiastic participation in religious crusades. He had a red beard due to which he was called ‘Barbarossa’ in the northern parts of Italy. It means ‘red-beard’ in Italian. He is credited with re-establishing the ‘Roman rule of law,’ which counterbalanced the papal authority.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Frederick Barbarossa

Died At Age: 68


Spouse/Ex-: Adelheid of Vohburg Beatrice I, Countess of Burgundy

father: Frederick II, Duke of Swabia

mother: Judith of Bavaria

children: Count of Burgundy Conrad II, Duke of Swabia Henry VI, Duke of Swabia Otto I, Duke of Swabia Philip, Frederick V, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick VI, King of Germany

Born Country: France

Emperors & Kings German Men

Died on: June 17, 1190

place of death: Silifke Castle, Turkey

Cause of Death: Drowning

Childhood & Early Life
Frederick I was born in 1122 to Duke Frederick II (Duke of Swabia) of the Hohenstaufen family and Judith of Bavaria, the daughter of Duke of Bavaria. He was the only son in the family and is believed to have been born in Swabia. His parents came from two greatest and most powerful rivalling families of Germany, which made him favorable to the empire’s prince-electors.
He inherited the Duchy of Swabia from his father, after his death in 1147.
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Rise & Rule
Frederick I decided to join his uncle Conrad III on the ‘Second Crusade’ in 1146 despite his father’s strong disapproval.
His father, Frederick II, died on April 6, 1147, after which he inherited the Duchy of Swabia.
Continuous Turkish attacks (near Dorylaeyum) made it impossible for Conrad III to lead his army across Anatolia, and his rear-guard was later destroyed, so he sent Fredrick to seek help from Louis VII of France.
He participated in the ‘Council of Acre,’ which was held at Palmarea on June 24, 1148. The council decided to attack Damascus. The siege of Damascus lasted only five days and the crusade army had to retreat back to Jerusalem.
On February 1152, he was handed the Royal Insignia by Conrad III while he was on his deathbed, making him the King of Germany. He was crowned at Frankfurt on March 4, 1152 by the princely electors. On March 9, 1152, he was crowned the King of the Romans at Aachen.
He intervened in the Danish Civil War (between Svend III and Valdemar I of Denmark) in 1152 in order to restore peace. He also tried and failed to reconcile his differences with Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos to continue the alliance against Roger II of Sicily after Conrad III’s death.
In 1153, he signed the ‘Treaty of Constance’ with Pope Eugene III. He agreed to prevent Manuel I Komnenos from re-establishing the Byzantine Empire on the Italian soil, help the Pope in fighting the enemies of the Church and control Rome better. This was done in order to aide his imperial coronation.
He obtained the submission of Milan and successfully laid siege to Tortona on February 13, 1155. After moving to Pavia, he was crowned with the ‘Iron Crown’ as ‘King of Italy’ on April 24, 1155.
On June 18, 1155, he was crowned ‘Holy Roman Emperor’at St Peter’s Basilica by Adrian IV. On the day of his coronation itself, he had to quash the revolt by the Romans, in which more than 1000 Romans died.
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He took several steps, including conciliatory measures to restore peace and order in Germany, especially Bavaria. Henry II Jasomirgott was awarded the ‘Duchy of Austria’ to compensate for the loss of the ‘Duchy of Bavaria,’ as Frederick had given it to his cousin Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony. He appeased his formidable cousin, so that he would not rise in revolt.
He got the big ‘County of Burgundy’ after his marriage to Beatrice of Burgundy, daughter and heiress of Renaud III.
In June 1158, he undertook his second Italian expedition with his cousin Henry the Lion and the Saxon troops, as the papacy questioned his authority by suggesting that that his imperial crown was a gift from the church and the empire was under the Church’s fiefdom.
With the death of Pope Adrian IV in 1159 led to the election of two popes, Alexander III and antipope Victor IV. They both vied for his support. He recognized Victor IV as the legitimate Pope in 1160, after Alexander III refused to receive an imperial decree in Pavia.
There was a rebellion in Milan again, but it eventually surrendered on March 6, 1162. This followed the surrender of Placentia, Brescia, and many other northern Italian cities. In 1163, he again visited Italy to siege Sicily but failed.
He supported anti pope Pascal III after the death of Victor IV. However, Pascal III was driven out of Rome. He organized a huge celebration to commemorate the canonization of Charles the Great under the authority of Paschal III at Aachen.
In October 1166, he undertook his fourth Italian expedition when rumors about Alexander III forming an alliance with Byzantine emperor Manuel I surfaced, but this time his cousin Henry the Lion refused to join him.
In 1167, Frederick I besieged Ancona which recognized Manuel I’s authority. He also achieved a great victory against the Romans at the ‘Battle of Monte Porzio.’ He was so happy by his victory at this battle that he lifted the siege on Ancona and returned to Rome. Upon his return, he received his ‘second coronation’ from Paschal III and his wife was crowned empress. However, he had to rush back to Germany, where he lived for the next 6 years, because his campaign was halted by a severe epidemic, which took a heavy toll on his army.
He declared his Imperial control over Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia and tried to smooth things over with Manuel I, Henry II of England, and Louis VII of France. He also strengthened his hold on Swabia after several counts died that year, including his young cousin Frederick IV, Duke of Swabia.
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In 1174, he went to Italy in his fifth expedition where a pro-Papal league, the ‘Lombard League,’ was standing against him. Northern Italian cities defeated him at Alessandria in 1175, as his cousin Henry the Lion again did not send his army to support him.
He suffered another heavy loss in the ‘Battle of Legnano,’ near Milan, on May 29, 1176. Many believed that he had perished following serious injuries. Following this defeat, he had no choice but to settle his differences with Alexander III and the ‘Lombard League.’
In 1176, he signed a peace treaty, ‘the Peace of Anagni,’ and recognized Alexander III as pope and as a result of ‘the Peace of Venice’ in 1177, Frederick and Alexander III formally reconciled. This treaty also included a truce with the Lombard cities, which took effect in August 1178.
He was crowned the King of Burgundy in Arles on June 30, 1178 by the Archbishop of Arles.
He now turned against his cousin Henry the Lion, and used the hostile German princes and got Henry tried (in absentia) in a court. Henry was stripped of his land and outlawed in 1180.
He, along with his elder son, Henry VI, King of the Romans, signed the ‘Peace of Constance’ in 1183, in the hope of bringing permanent peace by granting the ‘Lombard League’ powers to settle conflicts by allowing the cities to select their own town magistrates.
In 1184, he had both his sons knighted at the ‘Diet of Pentecost’ where he hosted a massive celebration. In 1186, he arranged the wedding of his son Henry VI to Constance of Sicily, the heiress of the Kingdom of Sicily. This was done despite Pope Urban III’s opposition.
On December 1, 1187, he expressed support to the crusade sermon preached by Cardinal Henry of Marcy at a public assembly in Strasbourg. However, he avoided taking the cross on ground because of his conflict with Archbishop Philip of Cologne. On March 27, 1188, the Archbishop submitted to him at the ‘Diet of Mainz.’ Thereafter he took the crusader’s vow after Bishop Godfrey of Würzburg preached a sermon and the assembly unanimously urged him to take the vow.
On March 29, 1188, he rode with Rabbi Moses in solidarity with the Jews in Mainz, after ordering an imperial edict that declared death for maiming and killing a Jew. He was able to successfully prevent massacres like the ones they had experienced in the First and the Second Crusade in Germany.
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On May 26, 1188, he sent an ultimatum to Saladin about termination of alliance through Henry II of Dietz. He was successful in making Hungarian, Serbian, Byzantine and Seljuk envoys give safe passage to the crusaders.
He set out on April 15, 1189, from Haguenau on what is known as ‘the most meticulously planned and organized’ crusade of the time. With an army of over 12000-15000 men, including about 3000-4000 knights, they arrived at Constantinople in the autumn of 1189.
After receiving a note about a secret alliance between the Emperor of Constantinople and Saladin from the ex-Queen of Jerusalem, he personally asked Prince Géza of Hungary to join the crusade. After this, around 2000 men led by Géza escorted his forces.
They were able to defeat the Turks in the ‘Battle of Iconium’ and eventually reached Cilician Armenia.
Family & Personal Life
Frederick I was married twice. As his first wife, Adelheid of Vohburg, did not have any children, their marriage was annulled.
He then married Beatrice of Burgundy and had eleven children with her. They were Beatrice, Frederick V (Duke of Swabia), Henry VI (Holy Roman Emperor), Conrad, Gisela, Otto I (Count of Burgundy), Conrad II (Duke of Swabia), Renaud, William, Philip of Swabia and Agnes.
He died on June 10, 1190, after drowning near Silifke Castle in the Saleph river. However, there are many different accounts about his death. His son Frederick VI wanted to bury him at Jerusalem, but his body could not be preserved in vinegar.
His flesh was interred at St Peter in Antioch, while his bones and internal organs were interred at Cathedral of Tyre and Tarsus respectively.
According to a German legend, Frederick I is not dead but a sleeping hero. He is asleep with his knights inside a cave in the Kyffhäuser mountains in ‘Thuringia’ or ‘Mount Untersberg’ in Banvaria, Germany. He will rise when ravens stop flying around the mountain to restore Germany to its greatness.
The character of Frederick I has been featured in various plays. The 2009 film ‘Barbarossa’ had him in the main character, which was played by Rutger Hauer.
His character has also featured in the popular video games ‘Call of Duty: WWII’ and ‘Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.’

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