Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Emperor Frederick II and his Crusade

The first half of the thirteenth century witnessed a titanic struggle for supremacy between two of the most spectacular personalities of the Middle Ages: one a Pope, the other an Emperor. 
    The Pope in question was Innocent III, one of the greatest Popes of all time. He came from a noble Roman background, was born in 1161, studied in Paris and Bologna, and made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury in 1187. He became a cardinal in 1189, and was elected Pope in 1198 at the astonishingly young age of 37. He called the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, attended by over 400 bishops from all over Europe, where the Pope was proclaimed “Vicar of Christ” on earth, with supervision over all archbishops, bishops and monasteries. Detailed plans for church reform were issued. All secular rulers were also to be guided by the church, with papal supremacy over kings being stressed. Innocent III exercised this authority by excommunicating at different times the Emperor Otto and King Philip Augustus of France, and placing England under King John under an Interdict following a dispute about appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. (John submitted and did homage to the Pope in 1208, meaning that the Pope was now technically the feudal overlord of England! The Pope duly helped his new vassal by excommunicating the barons who forced John to sign Magna Carta in 1215) 

          Innocent’s great ambition was to recover Jerusalem. In 1202 he proclaimed the Fourth Crusade, intended to strengthen the weak Christian position in Palestine by an attack on Egypt. But the result was a disaster of epic proportions. The crusaders who assembled were largely French, and their leaders, William of Montferrat and Baldwin of Flanders, negotiated with Venice to ship their army out. The Venetians then hijacked the campaign into staging an attack on Constantinople, resulting in enormous destruction in the city, immense plunder for the Venetians, and a permanent weakening of the Christian position in the eastern Mediterranean. For half a millenium Constantinople had held at bay the Moslem threat, but could never do so again.

Despite this, Innocent never lost hope, but unfortunately he had other, more overtly political concerns. The temporal power in central Italy had long been threatened from two fronts: the Holy Roman Empire, based in Germany, to the north, and the Norman kingdom of Sicily to the south. Now these twin threats were to be united in one man.  

The future Emperor Frederick II was born in 1194. His two grandfathers were the greatest European monarchs of their day.

His paternal grandfather was the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the legendary German warrior-king who had died on his way to join the Third Crusade; and his maternal grandfather was Roger II, King of Sicily, ruler of the most glittering and sophisticated court of the century. But by the age of four young Frederick had lost both his parents, and was now heir to both Sicily (where he was proclaimed King at the age of three) and the Holy Roman Empire. The Pope was appointed guardian to the little orphan.
     In fact Innocent III did not even see him until he was 17. He was bought up in Palermo, and despite the German inheritance on his father's side, was always really a Norman-Sicilian, with the Greek and Saracen traditions of the island, and its cultivated and intellectually vibrant court life. 
He was the best-educated prince of his time, speaking Greek and Arabic as well as French, German, Latin and Italian. Frederick had a lifelong interest in philosophy, science, literature and all the arts. He founded in Naples in 1224 the first entirely secular European university, together with a great medical school at Salerno, and forbade his subjects to study anywhere else. He wrote poetry and a book on falconry, opened his court to minstrels and troubadours, and conducted curious scientific experiments of his own devising. Everywhere he went he was accompanied by his private zoo, which included leopards, ostriches,  and even an elephant and a giraffe.It is little wonder that he became known as "Stupor mundi": the wonder of the world.
    Sicily may be considered the first modern state in mediaeval Europe. It had a proper written code of laws, together with a bureaucracy and professional judges. Frederick extended this by issuing the Constitutions of Melfi, 1233, with full details of how the kingdom was to be governed. Income came from customs duties, with central control of the ports. There were state monopolies on certain goods such as silk, iron manufacture, salt and pitch. The army included Moslem mercenary troops as well as Norman knights. Court etiquette based on that of Constantinople: the King was treated as a semi-divine being, rarely seen in public, and only to be approached with prostrations. He lived in a guarded palace, with beautiful gardens, complete with a harem and eunuchs. Northern Europe would have seemed very uncivilized by comparison.
     Frederick was notoriously irreligious and blasphemous in his speech. He was also a cruel man, with no personal friends; never very popular with his subjects, and ruled largely by fear: always travelling with a substantial bodyguard and a team of executioners, mostly Moslems. When he faced a Moslem revolt in Sicily in 1221-2, he deported many of his Moslem subjects to a special colony at Lucera in mainland Italy; local population being cleared out to make room for them. The new settlers were provided with a mosque, and Christian missionaries were forbidden to try to convert them!

Innocent III was determined to ease pressure on central Italy by preventing any unification of the Holy Roman Empire with the Kingdom of Sicily, and to this end was prepared to use young Frederick to stir up trouble in Germany. Early in the 13th century the Bavarian, Otto IV, was Emperor, and Frederick’s claims were ignored by the German princes; but in 1212 Pope Innocent III excommunicated Otto and sent Frederick to Germany to overthrow him. Frederick allied with King Philip of France to defeat Otto at the battle of Bouvines in 1214, and gained the support of the German princes by recognizing their privileges in the “Golden Bull”. He was crowned "King of the Romans" at Aachen in 1215, then crowned Emperor by the new Pope, Honorius III, in 1220. But Frederick had no desire to stay in Germany. He left his son Henry, aged 9, as titular ruler there and returned to Sicily and the splendours of Palermo. This support of Frederick was a major misjudgment by Innocent III and his successor, for Frederick was to prove the greatest threat yet to the temporal power of the papacy. The rest of his reign was to be marked by increasingly bitter hostility.

There were other causes for dispute. Frederick twice promised to lead a crusade, but always found excuses for not setting out. In  1227 he faced a new and aggressive opponent in the shape of Cardinal Ugolino, who had sponsored St. Francis and was now at the age of 86 elected Pope as Gregory IX; remaining in office till he was 100! At once he decided to show Frederick who was boss, and so when Frederick once again found excuses for not crusading, Gregory excommunicated him.

But Frederick did go on a sort of crusade. In 1225 he married, as his second wife, Yolande, the daughter of John of Brienne, the titular king of Jerusalem. (The city had been in Moslem hands for almost 40 years, and only the coastal areas of Palestine were still controlled by the crusaders). She gave birth to a son, Conrad, but died soon afterwards. In 1228, Frederick set out for the east, to claim his rights in name of his infant son. The Pope not impressed, renewed the sentence of excommunication. 
    He landed first in Cyprus, where the crusader lords who ruled the island were forced to acknowledge him as their overlord, and then proceeded to Acre, but found most of the crusaders there refused to work with him. So instead he opened negotiations with the Sultan of Egypt, and in early 1229, signed a treaty with him!
     Under this agreement, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth were to be restored to the Christian kingdom, though Moslems could keep a few holy places (such as the al-Aqsa mosque),and would be allowed allowed freedom of worship. All prisoners to be exchanged. In March 1229 Frederick entered Jerusalem, was given the keys of the city, attended mass in the church of the Holy Sepulchre. He found the place almost deserted: local clergy and crusaders boycotted the ceremony. Undeterred, Frederick crowned himself King of Jerusalem. He then went on sightseeing tour of mosques before returning to Acre. As he passed through the streets, people pelted him with filth. He landed back in Italy that summer. Despite the common sense and usefulness to Christian pilgrims of Frederick's arrangements, the Pope was absolutely livid. This wasn’t proper crusading! Frederick had made a mockery of whole idea! (which he had, of course!)

In 1237, Frederick decided to suppress the free cities of northern Italy, who were being encouraged by pope to fight against him. This initiated a division which was to dominate Italian politics for many generations, between "Guelfs" (who supported the Pope) and "Ghibbelines" (who supported the Emperor); though soon these labels took on other implications as well, as can be seen in the writings of Dante. Frederick defeated the Milanese, and was excommunicated again. He then marched on Rome intending to overthrow the Pope, but Gregory IX died in 1241. Frederick hoped the new Pope, Innocent IV, would be more amenable, but instead he fled to Lyons, where he summoned a Church Council that in 1245 declared Frederick to be deposed. In 1248 Frederick was decisively defeated by an alliance of the Guelf cities in a battle near Parma, and his power was broken. He died two years later and was buried in Palermo cathedral. But the struggle of his family, the Hohenstaufen, with the papacy continued. 

         Frederick II, 1194-1250

1197   King of Sicily
1215   King of  the Romans
1220   Crowned Emperor
1221   Moslem revolt in Sicily
1225   Revolt in Italian cities
1228   Excommunicated
1229   Crowned king of Jerusalem
1231   Constitutions of Melfi
1233-4   Revolt in Germany
1238   Italian revolt suppressed
1245   Proclaimed to be deposed
1247   Defeated near Parma
1250   Death of Frederick


Innocent III   1198-1216
Honorius III   1216-27
Gregory IX   1227-41
Innocent IV   1243-54

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