Frederick I, Barbarossa, was elected king of Germany in 1152 during a time of civil war. Born in 1122 from the Hohenstaufen family, he was related to the Welf family, whose most well known member was Henry the Lion. Using his natural gifts of mediation and his family ties, Barbarossa was able to unite the various Germanic factions and create peace. Three years later he was granted the title of the Holy Roman Emperor, however, his relationship with the papacy turned sour when Alexander III became Pope.
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During his reign, Frederick Barbarossa felt that he was threatened by several Northern Italian City States. Consequently, he decided to attack these cities. As a result these city-states created a unified coalition known as the Lombard League. In 1176 Barbarossa was handed a major defeat by the Lomabards, which changed the momentum of the war. Even though Barbarossa was handed a major defeat he did manage to have some success in his Italian military campaign; managing to capture Rome in 1167. Partially as a result of these battles Barbarossa established himself as a great warrior and leader. Eventually Barbarossa managed to work out a deal with the Italian cities who formed the Lombard League. The agreement which was created is known as the Peace of Constance. As a part of this agreement the Italian City-States agreed to recognize his position as Holy Roman Emperor. In return he had to allow the city-states to maintain their internal autonomy.
Barbarossa tried to exert himself by claiming special rights reserved for the King. Eventually this lead to Barbarossa's conflicts with the Church. When Pope Victor IV, who crowned him emperor in Rome on 1155, died, Barbarossa lost clerical support in Germany. Included in the special rights which Barbarossa claimed was his authority over the Church. As a result of this he reserved the rights to appoint bishops as well as control Church lands and funds. Unfortunately, Barbarossa often appointed bishops who were politicians first and churchmen second. Barbarossa failed in trying to select a pope who was favorable to his causes and in 1177 he finally recognized Alexander III as the Pope.
In 1189, Barbarossa left on the third Crusade to conquer Jerusalem. While on the Crusade Barbarossa died of drowning in 1190. He failed to achieve his dream of a Central European Empire. Nevertheless he left behind a legacy of a strong ruler who was able to create peace.
Bury, J. B. The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. III: Germany and Western Empire. (New York; The McMillan Company, 1924).
Matthews, Roy. The Western Humanities. (Mountain View, California; Mayfield Publishing Company, 1995).
Strayer, Joseph. Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Vol. 5., (New York; Charles Scribner's and Sons, 1985).
Sullivan, Richard. A Short History of Western Civilization. (New York; Mc.Graw-Hill, Inc. 1994).
Text copyright 1996-1999 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.