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THE arrogant and defiant assertion that man is the supreme controller of his own destinies can hardly be applied, even by the most rebellious intelligence, to those mortals who rule over the kingdoms of the world. However great the personality of a monarch may be, the success or failure of his reign and the magnitude of his power are governed by the temper and tendencies of his age. Our own Henry VIII owed the enjoyment of his absolute authority not primarily to his profound sagacity and dominating will, but to the fact that the men of his century were eager to secure the peace and order that a benevolent despotism brings in its train. And the unhappy Charles was the victim, not so much of his own unstable mind and wavering purpose, as of the gradual revulsion of feeling in a nation which, grown strong and self-confident under the good governance of the Tudor dynasty, was now eager to free itself from the controlling power which had led it into the haven of peace. Amid the countless examples which History furnishes of this subjection of kings to circumstance, there is none more striking than the career of the Emperor Frederick the Second. This magnificent prince, whom his own contemporaries regarded with amazement and hailed as the "Wonder of the World," and whom a historian of our own age has signalised as "the most gifted of the sons of man; by nature the more than peer of Alexander, of Constantine and of Charles,"1 is denied by posterity the title of "Great" which has been frequently bestowed upon lesser men. His enlightened mind, his energy, his strength and his genius, should have resulted in a reign of a glory rarely paralleled in the history of mankind. Yet through the heritage of strife to which he succeeded, through the formidable power, the overweening ambition and the implacable hatred of the Papacy, he was denied the part of a Builder and compelled to do the work of an architect who seeks to maintain a crumbling edifice and uphold it against the assaults of time. Throughout his life he was occupied in defending the rights of the Empire against the power that assailed it, and thus he was prevented from that work of construction which History demands of those whom she will honour with the verdict of greatness...
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Copyright © 2015 by Lionel Allshorn
Published by Perennial Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
A HERITAGE OF STRIFE
THE CHILD OF MOTHER CHURCH
THE ADVENTURE AND THE GOAL
KING AND EMPEROR
THE FIRST EXCOMMUNICATION
THE EXCOMMUNICATE CRUSADER
THE YEARS OF SOLACE
THE REBELLIOUS SON
THE SECOND EXCOMMUNICATION
FIRE AND SWORD
THE CAPTURED COUNCIL
A NEW ENEMY
THE COUNCIL OF LYONS
THE DEPOSED EMPEROR
THE GATHERING OF THE CLOUDS
THE FALL OF NIGHT
THE ARROGANT AND DEFIANT ASSERTION that man is the supreme controller of his own destinies can hardly be applied, even by the most rebellious intelligence, to those mortals who rule over the kingdoms of the world. However great the personality of a monarch may be, the success or failure of his reign and the magnitude of his power are governed by the temper and tendencies of his age. Our own Henry VIII owed the enjoyment of his absolute authority not primarily to his profound sagacity and dominating will, but to the fact that the men of his century were eager to secure the peace and order that a benevolent despotism brings in its train. And the unhappy Charles was the victim, not so much of his own unstable mind and wavering purpose, as of the gradual revulsion of feeling in a nation which, grown strong and self-confident under the good governance of the Tudor dynasty, was now eager to free itself from the controlling power which had led it into the haven of peace.
Amid the countless examples which History furnishes of this subjection of kings to circumstance, there is none more striking than the career of the Emperor Frederick the Second. This magnificent prince, whom his own contemporaries regarded with amazement and hailed as the “Wonder of the World,” and whom a historian of our own age has signalised as “the most gifted of the sons of man; by nature the more than peer of Alexander, of Constantine and of Charles,"1 is denied by posterity the title of “Great” which has been frequently bestowed upon lesser men. His enlightened mind, his energy, his strength and his genius, should have resulted in a reign of a glory rarely paralleled in the history of mankind. Yet through the heritage of strife to which he succeeded, through the formidable power, the overweening ambition and the implacable hatred of the Papacy, he was denied the part of a Builder and compelled to do the work of an architect who seeks to maintain a crumbling edifice and uphold it against the assaults of time. Throughout his life he was occupied in defending the rights of the Empire against the power that assailed it, and thus he was prevented from that work of construction which History demands of those whom she will honour with the verdict of greatness.
In order to comprehend Frederick’s position and the power and pretensions of his enemy, it is necessary to recall to mind the development of the Mediæval Empire and the Papacy, and the gradual enmity that arose between them. In the year 476 the throne of the Western Empire became vacant through the deposition of Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer, who sent the Imperial insignia to his patron, the Eastern Emperor, at Constantinople. For over three centuries there was no Emperor at Rome, until there arose in the West a giant whose power qualified him to fill with dignity the ancient throne of the Cæsars. Pippin, King of the Franks, had defended the Pope of Rome against the Lombards and had bestowed certain rich lands on the spiritual power. In 768 Charlemagne succeeded Pippin and extended his sway over many of the nations that had once acknowledged Rome as their master, converting reluctant pagans by the argument of the sword. In 800 this conqueror of the heathen appeared in Rome to rescue the Pope from a hostile faction of the populace. In admiration for his militant Christianity and in gratitude to his house, Leo III crowned him with the Imperial Crown in the Church of St. Peter and proclaimed him Cæsar and Augustus.
The initiative of the revival of the Empire thus belonged to the Pope, and the crown of Empire was bestowed by him. His successors were not slow to assert that what the Pope had given the Pope could take away. Here, then, were already two factors which contributed to the aggrandisement of the Papacy and to the strife of later centuries. Pippin had laid the foundation of the temporal power of the Papacy and thus inoculated the pontiffs with the desire for territorial expansion. Charles, by accepting the crown from Leo, had made possible the claim to the power of deposition and the superiority which that power implied. Charles added yet a third by freeing the whole body of the clergy from the jurisdiction of the temporal courts, in criminal as well as civil cases. The ecclesiastical courts, thus strengthened, gradually extended their jurisdiction over the laity, and acquired the right to try all cases relating to marriage, wills, perjury, or concerning widows, orphans or crusaders, on the ground that all such cases were connected with religion. Further, since all crime was sin, and therefore a spiritual matter meet to be dealt with by the Church, they claimed the right to try all criminal cases.
Thus by the end of the twelfth century the Church had absorbed a great part of the criminal administration of both laity and clergy. Naturally the Pope, as the head of the Church, became the supreme court of appeal in all cases amenable to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. He thus assumed the attribute of the fountain of justice for the whole of Christendom, while Emperors, Kings and princes bore the sword, according to this ambitious conception, simply as his ministers to carry into effect his sentences and decrees.
Soon after the death of Charlemagne the Empire fell into decay and was not revived until 962, when Otho the Great secured the Imperial Crown to the German race.1 It henceforth became the rule that whoever was elected by the German princes as their king had a right to the crown of Italy and also to the Imperial title. A century after this revival the Papacy, which had also sunk into degradation and discredit, was rescued from a humiliating bondage to the various factions in Rome by Henry III. This Emperor, forgetting his worldly wisdom in his zeal for Christianity, determined to put an end to the line of vicious and dissolute Popes who had long occupied the throne of St. Peter. Exerting his authority as protector of the Church, he nominated for the holy office a series of devout and strong-minded men, and thus restored the moral repute of a power which was to bring his successors to ruin.
In 1073 Gregory VII, or Hildebrand, was elected to the Papal Chair, and flung down the gage of battle with the secular authority. Discarding with scorn the theory that the Pope and the Emperor were two co-equal world powers, ordained to act in conjunction for the general good of Christendom, he asserted that “the spiritual power was to stand related to the temporal power as the sun to the moon.” He conceived the ambitious ideal of an universal theocracy, with the Pope at its head as God’s Vicar on earth. For the attainment of this ideal he instituted two reforms to strengthen his influence,—the enforcement of clerical celibacy and the suppression of simony.
It was inevitable that this latter reform should result in conflict with the monarchs of Europe. The evil of simony had grown up side by side with feudalism. Abbots and bishops had secured the protection that was so necessary in those turbulent times by becoming the vassals of powerful barons and princes. When once a prelate had paid homage for his estates and temporalities, these became a permanent fief of the overlord, were subject to the same feudal obligations as a lay fief, and were at the disposition of the patron when the office became vacant. The temporal rulers throughout Christendom were thus securing the control of the most important ecclesiastical appointments, and it frequently resulted that a vacant bishopric would be virtually sold to the highest bidder, or bestowed without any regard to the moral character of the recipient. Moreover, the authority of the Pope was naturally weakened by this dependence of his prelates on feudal lords and by the acquisition of those lords of the power of nomination to vacancies.
Hildebrand, ever scornful of moderate measures, struck fiercely at the root of the evil with a reform which was as impracticable as it was subversive of established order. He issued decrees sternly forbidding the clergy to receive investiture for a church, abbey or bishopric, from the hands of a temporal lord. This was nothing more or less than an attempt to wrest out of the hands of the lords and princes of Christendom their authority over the vast ecclesiastical domains that lay within their territory. When it is remembered that the Church was then in possession of nearly one-fourth of the lands in the great countries of the West, the magnitude of this attempted change becomes clear. The success of the reform would make the Pope the actual overlord of all these wide territories, and would fatally weaken the authority of every temporal ruler in Christendom, who would see their diminished possessions interspersed with innumerable estates owing allegiance to an independent power.
The immoderate attempt of Hildebrand aroused opposition on every side, but the fiercest conflict raged in Germany. The Emperor-elect, King Henry IV, threatened with excommunication and deposition for his opposition to the reform, gathered a council of such of the prelates of the Empire as dared to answer to his summons and ordered Hildebrand to descend from the Papal throne. The infuriated Pope gathered a council in his turn at Rome and issued the dread sentence of excommunication and deposition. “In the name of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” ran the solemn decree, “I withdraw, through St. Peter’s power and authority, from Henry the King, son of Henry the Emperor, who has arisen against the Church with unheard-of insolence, the rule over the whole kingdom of the Germans and over Italy. And I absolve all Christians from the bond of the oath which they have made or shall make to him; and I forbid anyone to serve him as king.”
If in later days the frequency of the sentence deprived it of some of its terrors, this first deposition of a monarch was salutary in its effects. Henry’s authority seemed to slip entirely out of his hands. Encouraged by the Papal sanction a large number of his subjects revolted, and he was shunned by many of his firmest friends and supporters as a man accursed of Heaven. There ensued the memorable scene at Canossa. Henry followed Hildebrand in penitence to a stronghold in the Apennines, and for three days, clad in sackcloth and with feet bared to the snow, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the successor of Charlemagne and the Caesars, awaited the Pope’s forgiveness in the courtyard of the castle. On the fourth day the penitent was admitted to the Papal presence and the sentence which had brought him to this abject submission was revoked. Henry was soon able to revenge himself upon Hildebrand, but the humiliation at Canossa struck a severe blow at the Imperial prestige and increased that of the Papacy to a corresponding degree. The successors of Hildebrand continued the struggle with the unrepentant Emperor and incited his own son to rebel against him. Henry finally died of a broken heart. After further strife between the representatives of the rival powers, this first stage of the great struggle, known as the Investiture Contest, was brought to a close in 1122 by the Concordat of Worms, which applied a reasonable remedy to the evil which Hildebrand had attempted to eradicate in so drastic a fashion. There followed a few years of peace, and then the great house of Hohenstaufen appeared upon the scene and took up the gage against the aggressor of the Imperial rights.
In the meantime the Papal influence was gaining great strength from another source. The Crusades, which commenced at the end of the eleventh century, were initiated and directed by the successors of St. Peter. The prominent part which the Popes took in these enterprises naturally fostered their authority and enhanced their prestige. The resources of Christendom were placed in the hands of the Papacy, and the vast wealth collected for the maintenance of these costly expeditions was to a large extent at the disposal of the Pope, who was not always too conscientious to employ it against his Christian enemies. Moreover, the call to a Crusade was a formidable weapon which the Vicar of Christ frequently wielded against a monarch who was growing too powerful and too independent to please him. If the unhappy sovereign refused to squander his wealth and endanger his life by embarking for the Holy Land at the Papal summons, the dread sentence of excommunication was his punishment. If he obeyed the call and met with disaster and the shame of failure that so many Crusaders encountered, he returned with reduced power and prestige, and was less able to resist the Papal encroachments. “It was thus,” writes Milman, “by trammelling their adversaries with vows which they could not decline and from which they could not extricate themselves; by thus consuming their wealth and resources on this wild and remote warfare, that the Popes, who themselves decently eluded, or were prevented by age or alleged occupations from embarkation in these adventurous expeditions, broke and wasted away the power and influence of the Emperors.” The Hohenstaufens suffered again and again from this unsaintly policy of the Popes. The founder of the greatness of the house of Hohenstaufen was one Frederick, a knight of Suabia, who served the unhappy Emperor, Henry IV. In return for a rare and unswerving loyalty, Henry bestowed upon Frederick the hand of his daughter Agnes, with the Duchy of Suabia as her dower. Frederick built himself a new abode high on the hill of Staufen, and hence the family took the name of Hohenstaufen. The next generation of the house, which consisted of two sons, Frederick and Conrad, served their uncle, the Emperor Henry V, and on his death in 1125 inherited all his ancestral possessions, including a deadly enmity with the house of Guelf. Thirteen years later, Conrad the Hohenstaufen and Henry the Guelf appeared as rival candidates for the Imperial Crown. Conrad succeeded in gaining the suffrages of the Electors and was crowned by the Pope’s Legate at Aix-la-Chapelle ( 1138).
The first Hohenstaufen Emperor was not allowed the leisure to build up too formidable a power. Five years after his election he was called to a Crusade. Reluctant to neglect the task of consolidating the Imperial authority in Italy, Conrad at first refused. He was, however, reduced to obedience by the threat of excommunication, and in 1147 led a vast German host towards the East. Cheated and starved by their Greek allies and harassed unceasingly by their Turkish enemies, the Crusaders were compelled to retreat, after over 60,000 of their number had succumbed to heat, famine, pestilence, or the sword. The next year Conrad was again urged to journey to the Holy Land. He joined King Louis of France at Jerusalem, and though he gained great renown for personal valour, he was again unsuccessful. He returned to Germany and died in 1152.
Although he had led his subjects to disaster, Conrad had earned the admiration of Germany by his courage and strength, and his nephew was elected in his place. The red-bearded Frederick I, or Barbarossa, as he is more commonly called, is one of the national heroes of the Fatherland. During a reign of forty years, he brought an internal peace and order to Germany greater than she had known since the days of Otho the Great. He secured the homage of the Kings of Denmark, Poland, Hungary, and Pomerania, and the great Diet which he held at Mayence in 1184, and which was attended by 40,000 knights, was a striking demonstration of the might of his German sovereignty. Yet all his power was unable to secure for him an effective control over the turbulent cities of Northern Italy. Influenced by lofty ideas of the Imperial authority, he made repeated efforts to revive the more substantial dominion of Charlemagne and Otho. The great Italian towns, headed by Milan and assisted by the Pope Alexander III, finally formed themselves into the Lombard League, which, in 1176, inflicted an overwhelming defeat on Barbarossa and his German host on the field of Legnano. A truce for six years was made after this battle and was followed by the Treaty of Constance. The Emperor was compelled to grant the right of private war and the privilege of self-jurisdiction to the untameable cities, on condition that their respective Podestas should receive investiture from his deputy and that they should furnish him with provisions whenever he should pass through Italy. They thus became republican states with only a nominal subjection to the Empire.
It is needless to say that Barbarossa incurred the violent enmity of the Papacy. The state of tension that always existed between the two parties was well instanced by an incident which occurred at the Diet of Besançon, held in the early part of Frederick’s reign. Two Papal Legates appeared with complaints from Pope Adrian. In the course of the argument which followed, one of the Legates haughtily enquired: “From whom does the King hold his power if not from the Pope?” Whereupon a German baron sprang up and was with difficulty prevented by the Emperor from striking the Papal official down with his sword. When the feeling between the two parties was as bitter as this, it was not likely to be long before they drifted into open strife. Barbarossa was unwise enough to give the occasion for a rupture. Adrian died in 1159 and the cardinals could not come to a unanimous decision in electing his successor. Fourteen voted for Alexander III and nine for Victor IV. Frederick called a general council to settle the matter, but Alexander, who considered himself to be duly elected by the majority, resented this interference, and as the Emperor persisted in his refusal to recognise him, the sentence of excommunication was again proclaimed. Frederick therefore actively espoused the cause of Victor, and for some years Europe was bewildered by the existence of two Popes.
Barbarossa was at this time at the height of his power, and his successes against the Lombard cities so alarmed Alexander that he fled to France. There was open enmity between Pope and Emperor for fourteen years, until Frederick was finally brought to submission by the victory of the Lombard League, the Pope’s allies, at Legnano. The two enemies met at Venice and once again the successor of the Caesars humbled himself before the successor of St. Peter. Overcome by some outburst of emotion, Frederick cast off his purple mantle and flung himself on his knees before the venerable Pope, who raised him and bestowed the kiss of peace.
There was no further breach with the Papacy during Barbarossa’s lifetime. Indeed, all Christendom was brought into temporary unison by the news, which arrived in Europe in 1187, that the Sepulchre of Christ had once again fallen into the hands of the infidels. Richard of England and Philip of France took the cross and set out by sea for the Holy Land. Barbarossa, though well stricken in years, was not one to linger at the call of duty. The grand old warrior girded on his sword, summoned his vassals around him, and marched overland to join the monarchs of England and France at Acre. Much might have been accomplished had his life been spared, for the mutual animosity of Richard and Philip would have been subdued by the presence of the renowned Emperor. But almost at the threshold of Syria a tragic death overtook him. His army was slowly crossing a river by a narrow bridge and the impatient Hohenstaufen plunged into the swiftly flowing stream to gain the opposite bank. The tide overpowered his aged limbs and he was brought to land a lifeless corpse. His sorrowing followers bore the remains of their Father and Lord to Antioch, and disheartened and saddened by his loss, only a remnant reached Acre.
Henry VI, who succeeded him, had many of his father’s virile qualities and a double share of the Hohenstaufen taint of cruelty. To him belongs the odium of having participated in the imprisonment of Richard Cœur de Lion on his return from the Crusade. We can imagine that Barbarossa, had he been alive, would have acted very differently towards the impetuous and dauntless English hero, who in so many ways was a man after his own heart.
Henry added to the Hohenstaufen dominions those lands which were to be the chief delight of his Imperial son. By his marriage with Constance, the rightful heir to the crown of Sicily, Henry had a lawful claim, not only to that island itself, but also to the southern half of the Italian peninsula. Soon after his accession to the Imperial dignity he led a German host into his new dominions, which had been seized by the usurper Tancred. His first campaign, though not entirely successful, was followed by another which reduced all opposition. The cruelties which he practised towards his defeated enemies were so barbarous that he was laid under the sentence of excommunication. Celestine, however, who at this time occupied the chair of St. Peter, was a feeble character, and Henry’s only answer was to seize many of the lands which the Church claimed in the south.
The acquisition of the lordship of Sicily and Naples was to prove a doubtful blessing to the Imperial cause. Hedged in to the north and south by the hated Hohenstaufen power, the bitter enmity of the Papacy was now rendered doubly persistent by the fear for its independence. There was henceforth to be no chance of a lasting peace until one of the two warring powers should be crushed into the dust.
It was thus to no heritage of fair peace that the son of Henry was destined to succeed, but to a crown made heavy with a weight of hatred; a hatred that could cloak itself under the mask of religion, could enlist in its service all the fanaticism and superstition of the Age of Faith, and that could drown the defensive cry of “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s,” with the sanction of supreme power—"See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.”
ON THE 24TH DAY OF December, in the year 1194, treachery and vengeance were abroad in the land of Sicily. Henry the Emperor had given fair promises to the wife, the children and the followers of the usurper Tancred, and enticed them into his power. There followed a mockery of judgment and a bloody assize. The boy William, the usurper’s son, was deprived of his manhood by mutilation, blinded with hot irons, and sent with his mother and sisters to a dungeon in the Alps. The prelates and barons who had fallen into the snare of the fowler were tortured, burnt, buried alive, or more mercifully hanged. On the same day that the Emperor was enjoying this barbarous revenge a man-child was born to him in Jesi, a town of Apulia.
The Empress Constance, who was now forty, had been married to Henry eight years, and there had been no former child of the marriage. In anticipation, therefore, of the calumnies which might arise, she gave as much publicity to the actual entrance of the child into the world as decency and her Imperial dignity would allow. This, however, was not sufficient to silence lying tongues, and the rumour was spread that the Empress had passed the age of child-bearing and that the son of a butcher of Jesi had been brought into her bed and passed off as her own child. Unwilling to allow her son Frederick to be burdened with the weight of this slander, the Imperial mother laid aside her pride and, before an audience of Italian matrons, underwent a humiliating ordeal to prove that she was still capable of the honours of maternity. Her brave conduct was rewarded by the virtual suppression of the calumny, though once or twice it was raised from its obscurity by the more hysterical of Frederick’s enemies.
The child’s birth was hailed by Henry with considerable joy and the court poet poured forth a torrent of verses on the auspicious occasion. The parents were, however, too busy with affairs of state, and constant journeyings to and fro, to attend to the rearing of the babe, and he was left at Foligno in the care of a noble Italian lady. Before he had attained his third birthday his father died and the prospects of the young Frederick assumed a precarious aspect. The Electors of Germany, in spite of an oath which they had sworn to Henry, ignored the child entirely in their election of a new Emperor. The crown of Sicily, as a hereditary possession, was not disputed and he was crowned at Palermo in 1198; but the Kingdom quickly relapsed into anarchy and the royal authority was of little account. Constance realised the urgent necessity of a powerful protector who would guard the child’s interests, and in spite of many misgivings, she was compelled to apply to the Pope.
The present holder of that dignity, Innocent III, was the most vigorous character who had occupied the Chair of St. Peter since the days of Hildebrand. He raised the power of the Papacy to a height that it had never before attained and never afterwards excelled. Before his death in 1216 he had secured the complete vassalage of the King of Arragon; he had gained a signal triumph over the proud Philip Augustus of France and compelled him, after a protracted excommunication, to reinstate his divorced wife; he had become the overlord of the crafty John of England, and although the sturdy patriotism of the English barons saved that country from becoming a mere fief of the Papacy, she continued for sixty years to be the treasure-house of Rome, and was drained of her wealth to provide the Popes with the resources for their struggle with the Emperors.
Innocent, therefore, seemed a powerful protector for the young Frederick, and he was perfectly willing, in his capacity as the father of orphans, to take the child under his protection. His motives, however, were very far from disinterested, and he seized the opportunity offered by the friendless position of the child and his mother to drive a very hard bargain with Constance. He revived a baseless claim which the Papacy had long made to the overlordship of Sicily and Apulia, and granted them back to the Empress and her son as his vassals. The lands are thus detailed in Innocent’s letter: “The Kingdom of Sicily, the Duchy of Apulia and Principality of Capua, with all its appurtenances, Naples, Salerno and Amalfi, with their appurtenances, Marcia and the other lands beyond Marcia, to which the Royal pair have a right” A Legate was sent to receive the oath of fealty and homage from the new vassals of Rome. They were further required to pay a yearly tribute, and this was to be supplemented, during Frederick’s minority, by a payment of 30,000 golden tarins and whatever the Pope might expend in the defence of the Kingdom. The Crown was to surrender its claim to the nomination of bishops, who were henceforth to have the right to appeal from the King to Rome. Lastly, the clergy were to be judged by their own courts in all cases except high treason.
The protection bought at so heavy a price was soon urgently needed. Constance died at the end of 1198 and bequeathed the four-year-old orphan to the guardianship of Innocent. The Pope wrote a letter of consolation to his young ward, wherein he said: “God has not spared the rod; he has taken away your father and mother: yet He has given you a worthier father, His Vicar, and a better mother, the Church.” In days to come, the Church, as Milman remarks, was to act rather as the stepmother than the mother of Frederick.
For three years after the death of Constance the confusion in the Kingdom1 was so great that Frederick was without a home. One chronicle tells us that he was passed about between the houses of the burghers of Palermo, staying a week at one, a month at another, according to the means of his hosts. It was in one of these houses that he was visited by a strange and prophetic dream, that seemed to foreshadow his future struggles with Rome. He was heard one night to cry out loudly in his sleep: “I cannot! I cannot!” and when he was questioned the next morning, he replied: “I seemed to be eating all the bells in the world, and I saw one great bell, which I tried to swallow, but it seemed to kill me; and on that account I cried out.”
Meanwhile Innocent was not idle in Frederick’s cause, which, through his overlordship, had now become largely his own. The first enemy to be subdued was Markwald, who had followed Henry from Germany into the South, and had afterwards, with many other German barons, betrayed an active reluctance to leave these fair lands, which afforded so tempting a prey to the adventurer. On the death of Constance he had claimed the regency of Sicily and gathered around his banner all the German intruders. Innocent excommunicated him and his robbers in vain. The Saracens of the mountains allied themselves with Markwald in the cause of anarchy, and the Pope was compelled to send an army into Sicily. In 1200 the two forces met before the walls of Palermo, from which the child Frederick was an anxious spectator of the bloody battle that ensued. Victory fell to the Pope’s general and was followed by a further success. Two years later the death of Markwald freed Frederick from one of his enemies.
The young King was now installed in the royal palace of Palermo and his private education commenced. The Archbishop of Taranto and the notary John of Trajetto were entrusted with the general supervision of his studies. Strangely enough, Mussulman scholars were appointed to instruct him in the various branches of learning. They were undoubtedly the most learned men of the day, but it is some cause for wonder that the education of the Pope’s ward should have been entrusted, during his tender years, to the care of infidels. The result was that Frederick’s mind was so broadened that he was unable, in future years, to adopt the prevailing attitude of narrow and fanatical hatred towards the followers of Islam that was essential in the orthodox and complete Christian.
The young King had now a royal palace for home and servants around him, but in other respects his position was still unhappy. He was king only in name, and was desperately poor; he was surrounded by intrigue; his person was the objective of every ambitious adventurer who sought to assume the title of Regent; his dominions were devastated by anarchy. It would be tedious to relate all the conflicts which raged throughout Sicily and Southern Italy for several years; but some idea of the miserable state of affairs by which the child was surrounded may be gathered from this quaint and pathetic letter which he addressed to the Kings of Europe in his tenth or eleventh year :—
“To all the Kings of the world, and to all the Princes of the universe, from the innocent boy, King of Sicily, called Frederick; greeting in God’s name.
“Assemble yourselves, ye nations; draw nigh, ye kings; hasten hither, ye princes, and see if any sorrow be like unto my sorrow! My parents died ere I could know their caresses; I did not deserve to see their faces; and I, like a gentle lamb among wolves, fell into slavish dependence upon men of various tribes and tongues. I, the offspring of so august a union, was handed over to servants of all sorts, who presumed to draw lots for my garments and for my royal person. Germans, Tuscans, Sicilians, barbarians, conspired to worry me. My daily bread, my drink, my freedom, are all measured out to me in scanty proportion. No king am I; I am ruled instead of ruling; I beg favours instead of granting them. My subjects are silly and quarrelsome. Since, therefore, my Redeemer liveth, and can raise me out of such a pool of misery, again and again I beseech you, O ye princes of the earth, to aid me to withstand slaves, to set free the son of Cæsar, to raise up the Crown of my kingdom, and to gather together again the scattered people! Unless you avenge me, you yourselves will fall into like dangers.”
By 1208, however, a measure of peace was restored to the unhappy Kingdom, and the Pope determined to secure a matrimonial alliance for his ward. Frederick had narrowly escaped the bonds of wedlock when only eight years old. Innocent had attempted to gain for him the hand of a sister of the King of Arragon, but the negotiations were prolonged for several years, until finally the proposed bride died. Her elder sister was then chosen in her place, and in 1208 Innocent wrote to Pedro urging him to delay the match no longer. “Your sister,” ran the Papal missive, “will have a noble husband, the offspring of Emperors and Kings; he is of royal blood both by father and mother. He is endowed with virtues beyond his years; he is passing from the gate of boyhood into years of discretion at a quicker pace than usual, whence we may expect the happiest results. His Kingdom is rich and noble; it is the navel and harbour of other realms; it will be of advantage to Arragon, and it is especially beloved by us, being the peculiar possession of the successor of St. Peter.”
The proposed match was one that is curious enough to modern eyes. The boy Frederick was only fourteen and a half years of age. The lady, Constance, was at any rate ten years his senior and was a widow. She had married the King of Hungary and borne him a child when her second husband was only nine. The disparity in age was, however, ignored by Innocent and Pedro, though we are unacquainted with the sentiments of the two persons who were most intimately concerned in the matter.
In 1209 all obstacles to the alliance were overcome, and Constance, attended by five hundred knights, sailed to Palermo and was united to her youthful bridegroom amidst great rejoicings. In spite of the fact that their own inclinations had not been consulted, the royal pair seem to have quickly adapted themselves to circumstances, and a very real affection grew up between them. It must have been of great advantage to Frederick to have a wife of mature years and considerable experience to counsel him in his difficult position. He also secured a more tangible gain. The lady not only brought a handsome dowry with her, but the knights who had conducted her from Arragon were employed by the young King to establish a more effective sway over Apulia.
The improvement of his prospects, the dignity of matrimony and the change from childhood to adolescence now made Frederick yearn for a little more independence and power. The new Queen, moreover, was apparently a lady of considerable spirit and encouraged her husband in his increasing dislike of the Pope’s too officious overlordship, which was very much in evidence at the Sicilian Court. Soon after his marriage we hear of the first acts of rebellion on the part of Frederick against his guardian’s authority. The bishopric of Palermo became vacant, and the Canons for some reason betrayed a great reluctance to proceed to the election of a successor. Frederick urged them to fulfil their duty and, as they still delayed, commanded them to elect his own nominee. The Canons refused and appealed to the Pope, whereupon the young King flew into a royal passion and banished them from the Kingdom. This act called forth a strong letter of rebuke from Innocent. “We are amazed,” he wrote, “at the conduct of your advisers. Do not usurp our office in things spiritual; be content with the temporal power which you hold from us. Beware of the doom of Uzzah and Uzziah; lay not hands upon the Ark! It is quite a mistake on your part to think that we conferred to your mother that privilege concerning appeals to Rome by the Sicilian Clergy, of which you speak; we refused it on her sending ambassadors to us. Do you persevere in your reverence to Rome and recall the Canons.”
We do not know whether Frederick yielded to the demand of Innocent, but next year he again displeased the Pope. Queen Constance urged him to dismiss the Chancellor of the Kingdom, who had been appointed by Innocent and betrayed too great an anxiety for self- aggrandisement. He was accordingly banished from the Court and another letter of admonishment was the result. “As you are now past the age of childhood,” wrote Innocent, “you should put away childish things. . . . The Bishop of Catania, Chancellor of the Realm, has been your guardian hitherto and has undergone many toils and sorrows on your behalf. But now, forgetful of his services, you take no notice of him. . . . Recall the Chancellor forthwith and take his advice henceforth; let no one assail him, or we shall take it as an outrage done to ourselves.” Frederick, however, refused to obey these haughty commands, and the Chancellor was not recalled.
Early in the year 1212 the young King, who was now seventeen, was presented by his wife with a son. The infant was named Henry and was crowned at Palermo as joint ruler of the Kingdom with his father. Frederick’s position was now daily improving and his authority was respected throughout Sicily, if not on the mainland. He was able to reward faithful followers with grants of various kinds. The Church in Sicily and Apulia was specially favoured. The Teutonic Order of Knights, which had been formed shortly after the death of Barbarossa to succour the sick and wounded German crusaders and pilgrims, received various lands and privileges. This order was to be Frederick’s loyal supporter and constant friend throughout his life.
Some few weeks after the birth of a son to Frederick a summons came from Germany which was to effect a rapid and considerable change in his fortunes. On the death of the Emperor Henry VI, and the election which ensued, the infant son of that Emperor had been entirely ignored as a possible claimant to the throne, in spite of an oath which had been sworn to Henry by many of the Electors. The votes of the majority had been cast for Philip, the brother of the late Emperor, and those of the minority for Otho of Brunswick, the head of the house of Guelf. A civil war immediately broke out between the two rival claimants and raged with extraordinary violence for twelve years. It was an age of cruelty, and the mutual hatred of Hohenstaufen and Guelf found expression in the most barbarous reprisals, in which neither age nor sex was spared. A young nun who fell into the hands of some Guelf soldiers was stripped naked, smeared with honey, rolled in feathers and paraded through the streets on horseback with her face to the tail. These same soldiers were then captured by Philip’s supporters and boiled in hot water for punishment. The Abbot of Gall seized six of the principal burghers of Arbon and cut off their feet, in revenge for a similar mutilation inflicted on one of his servants, whose only offence was that he had been found stealing fuel in a forest. These are merely instances of the savagery with which the war was pursued.
Innocent was the only power who might have brought this devastating strife to an end by definitely throwing the moral weight of the Papal approval on the side of one candidate. It suited his plans, however, to see Germany wasting her strength in internecine warfare and he held his hand, unwilling to support the Hohenstaufens and afraid to incur their anger when they seemed the more likely to succeed. Finally, however, Philip gained the advantage, and Innocent was compelled to recognise him as Emperor. The Guelf seemed thoroughly disheartened and broken, when the crime of one man intervened to wrest the fruits of success from Philip’s hands. He was assassinated by a private enemy, and his leaderless party lost heart. Otho gained a rapid ascendancy, journeyed to Rome, and was joyfully crowned by Innocent in 1209.
If the Pope exulted at the defeat of the Hohenstaufen party, he soon found that the Guelf Emperor was to prove just as refractory as any of the Hohenstaufens had been. Otho had taken various vows of obedience to Innocent at his Coronation, and immediately commenced to break them. Among other engagements he had promised to work no harm to the Pope’s ward, Frederick. In 1210, however, he led an army into the young King’s Italian dominions, and was joined by several turbulent nobles. Within a year he had conquered the greater part of the mainland and was threatening Frederick in Sicily, when he was summoned back to Germany by the news of a sudden reversal of his fortunes in that country. The flouted Pope had excommunicated him for his broken vows, and the Hohenstaufen party, reinforced by many of Otho’s former supporters whom he had alienated by his arrogance or by his excommunication, had again taken the field.
The Princes of the Empire now bethought themselves of the neglected scion of the house of Hohenstaufen, the grandson of their old Lord, Barbarossa, and the son of their former Emperor Henry. They had had their fill of anarchy and civil war and thought with regret of the days when the Emperors of that house had made Germany strong and glorious. ‘The Child of Sicily,’ as he was called in Germany, must now be nearing manhood, and rumour spoke of the high qualities that promised to develop with advancing years. Accordingly the Princes gathered themselves together. The Archbishop of Mayence, the Prelates of Magdeburg and Trèves, the King of Bohemia, the Landgrave of Thuringia, and the Dukes of Austria and Bavaria, all these high dignitaries assembled at Nuremburg in the October of 1211. They deposed Otho as a heretic and decided to elect the young Frederick of Sicily.
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