Was Frederick II of Hohenstaufen really a medieval Dr. Mengele?

Was Frederick II of Hohenstaufen really a medieval Dr. Mengele?


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According to legend, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who was intelligent (spoke six languages) and influential, also purportedly used cold-blooded methods to further his "scientific" inquiries. According to the Wikipedia entry:

[Frederick] was also alleged to have carried out a number of experiments on people. These experiments were recorded by the monk Salimbene di Adam (who despised Frederick) in his Chronicles. Amongst the experiments included shutting a prisoner up in a cask to see if the soul could be observed escaping though a hole in the cask when the prisoner died; feeding two prisoners, sending one out to hunt and the other to bed and then have them disemboweled to see which had digested their meal better; imprisoning children without any contact to see if they would develop a natural language.

I've read this elsewhere long ago, and as there isn't too much information about Frederick, I'm wondering if anyone can point to a definitive source. Certainly Salimbene di Adam might have had an axe to grind, but the consistency of the accounts makes them seem believable and, given the character of Frederick (his belief in reason, his winning of Jerusalem by treaty rather than by war), which points to an unconventional mind that was unhobbled by conventional restraints.

Can anyone clarify this issue? Was Frederick a real monster or someone who had been given the 13th century version of a swift-boating by the Church he defied?


I found a number of various sources that had different versions of the examples you provided from Wikipedia. For example, one story claimed that he put a number of prisoners in an airtight room and then once he was certain they had suffocated, he had the door opened very slowly so that he could observe whether or not their souls could be seen escaping the room. With the experiment on infant children, each example I found stated that the mothers were instructed to not speak or show any form of expression towards the children so that he could see if they would develop natural speech on their own. There were different views on whether the experiment involved two, three, or possibly more children, but all sources agreed that each of the children died before developing any speech patterns.

Perhaps the best answer to this came from a Lecture in Medieval History:

Not all of his scientific bent was exercised [in] such unacceptionable ways; he often engaged in bizarre physical experiments. With Frederick one never knows whether what one reads in sources from the period is an honest attempt to tell the truth about him, a fantastic bit of gossip, or a downright lie.


Frederick II was not a monster. One must consider when he lived, for one. They had NO idea that keeping children in that way would mess them up psychologically, as it surely would, if they even lived, which they didn't, and they didn't know it would kill them, either.

Prisoners were deemed at the time to have given their lives to the State. ANYTHING could be done to them and often was.

My point is NOT to say that what Frederick did was totally cool so get over it. But it was not unusual given the time in which he lived. Look what was going on in other parts of the world at the the time. Execution by boiling, or flaying alive, or Heaven only knows what else.

It should also be noted that Frederick was FAR in advance of his time in many areas as well. He was the first European monarch to forbid Trial by Ordeal, for example. He also created the first State University, the University of Naples, now called the University of Naples Frederick II. It was the first university in Europe NOT run by the Church (thank God).

He was the first to create the concept of a centralised nation-state, which he did for the Kingdom of Sicily. The Liber Augustalis, also called the Constitutions of Melfi, remained the Basic Laws in Sicily all the way down to about 1818.

If those stories are true, was it cruel of him? Perhaps. But given the standards of the time, not worse than any monarch. He was also HIGHLY tolerant of Muslims and Jews in his lands. Under Frederick, either group was able to pretty much live as they wished, without fear of the State, as long as they weren't loud about it. There were no pogroms, no big men with swords knocking on the doors at night during his reign. Jews and Muslims also flourished at his court as scientists and translators of Aristotle and other Greek, Arabic, and even Hebrew learned persons.

Frederick himself was no slouch. In addition to speaking German, Italian, Latin, French, Arabic, and one other tongue (I don't recall which) he was also an avid sportsman who wrote a well received book called De Arte Venandi cum Avibus, The Art of Hunting with Birds, commonly known in English as the Art of Falconry. In it, he describes the nature and care of birds generally and birds of prey in particular, and how to hunt with the latter. His book is still in print. He challenges Aristotle frequently, and was proven right in the 19th century by bird specialists. The writer of this answer is lucky enough to own a copy.

The man was NOT perfect. Nor would he have claimed to have been. If the story about the children IS true, I expect he probably regretted their deaths, since no one knew that would occur. But these stories have circulated for CENTURIES! Are they true? Who can know at this point? There is no proof, and never will be.

Frederick was a man who inspired passions in everybody who dealt with him. Either you LOVED him or you HATED him. Very rarely were your views of him mild. Its just the way things were with him. You readers can tell I am rather fond of the man. But even I admit he could probably be quite unpleasant if you got on his bad side. We all know I mean the List where the Human Waste resides. And by unpleasant, I think we can all surmise my meaning.

Be ready for the book when it comes out. Thanks. The info I gave here is stuff you can find with just some basic research. My book will expand on that and make some very interesting claims that you should all enjoy.

EDIT: It should be noted that, although Frederick DID create the concept of the centralised nation-state, if you will, in the Kingdom of Sicily, he, quite sadly, did EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE in Germany. Frederick had spent his entire life in Palermo growing up. There he had receieved a cosmopolitan education at the hands of a multiplicity of tutors both Christian and not, and had breathed in the scent of the crossroads of Europe his entire youth. It was here that Catholic, Muslim, and Jew all met, bought, sold, traded, had sex, and did about everything else that humans can do with each other.

By the time Frederick was ready to become Holy Roman Emperor, the man was a thorough Sicilian in matters of culture from the language he normally preferred to speak to the weather he preferred and the food he liked. He had not been to Germany and had no real desire to go. He did, as he knew he had to. He went, and quickly realised that the easiest way to get the troops and money he needed to get his title was to let the recalcitrant nobles have their way in terms of their feudal rights and then some. He quickly left the country, and only went back once or twice more in his life for short periods. Otherwise he left Germany to his son Henry (and later Conrad) to control in his absence.

Now this may have been a FINE method to get money for his pocket and troops for the army. But it was disastrous for Germany! As Germany became more and more feudalised, the likelyhood of it EVER developing a centralised nation-state became slimmer and slimmer. And after the fall of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty, the idea of bringing Germany and Italy together into one Imperium fell with it. As a result, NEITHER country was able to unify until 1870 (Italy) and 1871 (Germany).

So what can be said of Frederick in the end? A brilliant man. He thought in terms of what could be done at the beginning of his rule. Although he had some grandiose ideas which I shall present in my book, I think that he was perhaps a little TOO grandiose, and not in the right way. He focused on unifying two countries into the HRE when two separate nations in personal union would have been a safer bet.

If I say anything more, then you won't have reason to buy my book, so there you are.


There is a strong probability that the stories about his experiments were lies circulated by his enemies. The story about the child experiment has also been told about other historical characters, for example. I suppose that the story tellers considered him to be evil not so much for harming people cruelly but for questioning and experimenting with topics which were part of religion.


Frederick II. was in opposition to the popes. Stories presenting him in bad light are nowadays attributed to the popes' propaganda.


Was Frederick II of Hohenstaufen really a medieval Dr. Mengele? - History

Despite being excommunicate, in June 1228 Friedrich II set sail for the Holy Land, arriving at Limassol on Cyprus on July 21. There, after some difficulties establishing his authority (the subject of separate entries), he continued to Tyre, arriving September 3.

His arrival was by no means as welcome as he had expected. On the one hand, he had made powerful enemies already by asserting his absolute rights as monarch (although he was only regent). His claims to absolute authority were in sharp violation of the laws and customs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in which the High Court exercised powers over appointments, fiefs and more. (See High Court). On the other hand, and more significantly, al-Mu’azzam was dead. Al-Kamil no longer needed the assistance of any Christian ruler. To top it all off, Friedrich had hardly arrived in the Holy Land before he learned that the pope had raised an army (commanded by his late wife's father among others), and was preparing to invade the Kingdom of Sicily with the declared intent of deposing him.

Like Richard the Lionheart before him, Friedrich needed to return home as rapidly as possible. Not being the strategist or commander Richard had been, Friedrich II put his faith in negotiations. On February 18, 1229, after five months of secret negotiations, a treaty was signed with al-Kamil.

Modern historians like to call Friedrich’s preference for diplomacy over warfare “enlightened,” or attribute it to greater "subtlety" and even genius. The modern German historian Heiko Suhr, for example, claims in his essay “Friedrich II von Hohenstaufen: Seine politischen and kulturellen Verbindungen zu Islam” (Friedrich II von Hohenstaufen: His Political and Cultural Ties to Islam, GRIN Verlag, 2008, p. 17), that the treaty demonstrated his “willingness to compromise and his diplomatic skills.” Historian David Abulafia, in his biography of Friedrich II, claims that Friedrich “performed magnificently.” (Friedrich II: A Medieval Emperor, Oxford University Press, 1988, p.184) Friedrich’s success is usually contrasted to the failures of all other crusades (except the First). A popular website, for example, claims Friedrich “accomplished what four previous crusades failed to do: recover the Holy Land. Even though he was excommunicated, he accomplished more than the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth crusades combined.” (Medieval Times and Castles)

The fact that Friedrich failed to win contemporary praise ― indeed was pelted with offal by the common people of Acre when he made his way to his ship to depart and was widely criticized by princes of the church and the local barons ― is put down to the “bigotry” of the church and “blood-thirsty” character of his contemporaries. Friedrich, it is argued, was simply “ahead of his time.” Or, as the German historian Jacob Burckhardt Recht claims: “a modern man.” In short, Friedrich was an enlightened man of peace and his unpopularity in the Holy Land (and elsewhere) was entirely attributable to the backward, unenlightened, implicitly barbaric nature of his contemporaries.

In short, Friedrich II’s “crusade” did NOT restore Jerusalem to Christian control. It gave Christians a precarious access to Jerusalem for just over ten years. It is no wonder that contemporaries, concerned about Christian control of Jerusalem (not mere access) were bitterly disappointed. Furthermore, the residents of Outremer, the people living surrounded by the Saracen threat, recognized the truce as worthless to their security. It is easy to sympathize with those who threw offal at the Emperor who -- despite all his wealth, power and troops -- left them with nothing substantial or material.

The truce reveals the degree to which Friedrich’s entire “crusade” was about his power struggle with the Pope rather than Jerusalem or the Holy Land. While leaving the residents of Outremer to deal with the consequences of his worthless truce, he made a great show of wearing the Imperial crown in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This was clearly a way of thumbing his nose at the Pope. It was his way of demonstrating his belief that he was God’s representative on earth and did not need papal approval. Having had his day in Jerusalem (and ostentatiously telling the Muslims they should continue their call to prayers even in his presence), he departed the Holy Land never to return.

Neither his son nor his grandson, despite being titular kings of Jerusalem, ever set foot in the kingdom. It was left to other kings, such as Louis IX, to try to reclaim Christian control of the Holy City and secure the Holy Land.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Rise of the Ibelins

Last week Dr. Schrader challenged the common myth about the peaceful reception of Guy de Lusignan on Cyprus. There is, however, another “myth” which needs re-examination: namely the late arrival of the Ibelins on Cyprus. Throughout the 13th Century, the Ibelins were the dominant family in Outremer, challenging the Holy Roman Emperor on both the mainland and on Cyprus. Significantly, they consistently enjoyed the favor of the Lusignan kings. Dr. Schrader argues this had roots in their pivotal role in establishing Lusignan rule on Cyprus in the first place.

Historians such as Edbury posit that the Ibelins were inveterate opponents of the Lusignans until the early 13 th century. They note that there is no record of Ibelins setting foot on the island of Cyprus before 1210 and insist that it is “certain” they were not among the early settlers―while admitting that it is impossible to draw up a complete list of the early settlers. Edbury, furthermore, admits that “it is not possible to trace [the Ibelin’s] rise in detail” yet argues it was based on close ties to King Hugh I. Close? Hugh was the son of a cousin.

Even more difficult to understand in the conventional version of events is that the Ibelins became so powerful and entrenched that within just seven years (1217) of their supposed “first appearance” on Cyprus an Ibelin was appointed regent of Cyprus, presumably with the consent of the Cypriot High Court--that is the barons and bishops of the island who had supposedly been on the island far longer. The appointment furthermore jumped over closer relatives. This hardly seems credible if the Ibelins were not recognized as a "leading" family on Cyprus.

My thesis and the basis of my novel The Last Crusader Kingdom is that while the second generation of Ibelins (that is, Baldwin and Balian d’Ibelin) were inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan, they were on friendly terms with Aimery de Lusignan. Aimery was, for a start, married to Baldwin’s daughter, Eschiva. We have references, furthermore, to them “supporting” Aimery as late as Saladin’s invasion of 1183. I think the Ibelins were very capable of distinguishing between the two Lusignan brothers, and judging Aimery for his own strengths rather than condemning him for his brother’s weaknesses.

Furthermore, the conventional argument that Balian d’Ibelin died in late 1193 because he disappears from the charters of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at that date is reasonable -- but not compelling. The fact that Balian d’Ibelin disappears from the records of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1193 may mean that he died, but it could just as easily mean that he was occupied elsewhere. The Ibelin brothers of the next generation, John and Philip, for example, "disappear" from the records of Jerusalem from 1210 to 1217 too, but they were very much alive, active and powerful -- one in Beirut and the other apparently on Cyprus.

In short, Balian's disappearance from the records of Jerusalem could also have been because he busy on Cyprus. The lack of documentary proof for his presence on Cyprus is not grounds for dismissing the possibility of his presence because 1) the Kingdom of Cyprus did not yet exist so there was no chancery and no elaborate system for keeping records, writs and charters etc., and 2) those who would soon make Cyprus a kingdom were probably busy fighting 100,000 outraged Orthodox Greeks on the island!

But why would Balian d’Ibelin go to Cyprus at this time?

Because his wife, Maria Comnena, was a Byzantine princess. Not just that, she was related to the last Greek “emperor” of the island, Isaac Comnenus. She spoke Greek, understood the mentality of the population, and probably had good ties (or could forge them) to the Greek/Orthodox elites, secular and ecclesiastical, on the island. She had the means to help Aimery pacify his unruly realm, and Balian was a proven diplomat par excellence, who would also have been a great asset to Aimery.

If one accepts that Guy de Lusignan failed to pacify the island in his short time as lord, then what would have been more natural than for his successor, Aimery, to appeal to his wife’s kin for help in getting a grip on his unruly inheritance?

If Balian d’Ibelin and Maria Comnena played a role in helping Aimery establish his authority on Cyprus, it is nearly certain they would have been richly rewarded with lands/fiefs on the island once the situation settled down. Such feudal holdings would have given the Ibelins a seat on the High Court of Cyprus, which explains their influence on it. Furthermore, these Cypriot estates would most likely have fallen to their younger son, Philip, because their first born son, John, was heir to their holdings in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. John was first Constable of Jerusalem, then Lord of the hugely important port city of Beirut, and finally, after King Aimery’s death, regent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem for his niece. Philip, on the other hand, was constable of Cyprus and later regent of Cyprus for Henry I ― notably despite the fact that his elder brother was still alive at the time.


Do modern historians think Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire lives up to his larger-than-life medieval reputation for brains and competency? Or is he more legend than reality?

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I would say the modern consensus is that he was a pretty extraordinary ruler, but not completely out of the ordinary, and he was just as much a product of his age and circumstances as any other 13th-century personality.

The three major academic biographies of Frederick in English are:

Ernst Kantorowicz, Frederick II: 1198-1250. This was originally in German, but was translated into English by E. O. Lorimer (Ungar, 1931). Kantorowicz’s biography was extremely influential, and it’s full of incredibly useful and interesting information, but reading it these days is a pretty bizarre experience. It’s almost a hagiography more than a biography - Frederick was the subject of prophecies, a new Roman Emperor, a saviour, a messiah, maybe a literal god. Is Kantorowicz merely repeating medieval legends or does he really believe that himself? You’re never really sure…here is an excerpt from his conclusion:

“The last emperor of the Romans disappeared from amidst his followers in the radiant glory of the Imperator Invictus, and was spared the knowledge of the tragic fate that overhung his house. His life closed with the “transfiguration” into the Emperor of the End. His imperial career had described no curve, had known neither climax nor decline. From birth his line of life ran arrow-straight to its zenith, then quitted earth and vanished like a comet in the ether: perchance to reappear once more in fiery brilliance at the end of time.” (pg. 685)

For Kantorowicz, Frederick was a sort of idealized mythological Germanic hero, not a man of the Middle Ages, or even of the Renaissance, nor a modern man either, but perhaps a god reborn from the ancient past. Both then and now, Kantorowicz has been criticized for his credulous acceptance of legend as fact, and his almost total lack of footnotes. When you think of Frederick as a larger-than-life legend, it’s most likely because of Kantorowicz.

2. Thomas Curtis Van Cleve, The Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Immutator Mundi (Oxford University Press, 1972). When you think of Frederick as something like a modern man transported back in time with his modern sensibilities intact, that’s probably due to Van Cleve. For him, Frederick was far ahead of his time, as if he had travelled there from a more enlightened time. The ultimate conclusion is similar to Kantorowicz (Frederick is unique and out of place/time) but far more rational:

“It is but natural when confronted by the presence of Frederick II in the thirteenth century that one is constrained, by the very singularity of his attributes, to associate him with the Renaissance rather than with the Middle Ages. But it is misleading to insist unduly upon the presence of Renaissance attributes in isolated individuals…He was neither Medieval nor Renaissance — nor was he Modern. He revealed attributes of all these eras, but he belonged to none.” (pg. 531-532)

Van Cleve was still very pro-Frederick, but unlike Kantorowicz, not fanatically pro-Empire and anti-Papacy, and he eventually admits that everyone in Frederick’s story, from Frederick himself to his Papal enemies, was really no more virtuous or evil than anyone else in the 13th century.

3. David Abulafia, Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor (Oxford University Press, 1992). Abulafia sees Frederick as a totally medieval ruler, with medieval mindsets and acting in ways that are completely typical for a medieval person:

“The subtitle of this book [“A Medieval Emperor”] is intended (unlike other subtitles one could cite) to convey a meaning: the medieval emperor and king of Sicily in whom everyone has identified a stupor mundi, a wonder of the world, since the thirteenth century, was in fact a man of his time, and not the displaced Renaissance despot he is generally taken to have been. Part of Frederick's attraction to historians and the wider public has always been that he was supposedly a rationalist, even a free-thinker, ahead of his time, nurtured in the tolerant setting of semi-Muslim Sicily, a friend of Jews and Saracens: the sort of ruler who, to be frank, does not really exist in the Christian Middle Ages, even in Sicily or Spain.” (436-38)

It was the circumstances of his birth that brought him into the defining conflict of the 13th century (he was also the first to rule Sicily and Germany simultaneously, which the Popes did not appreciate), but he was a more stubborn and determined ruler than most, and perhaps more intelligent and competent than others, so he was able to handle this conflict more skillfully than another ruler might have. He also may have been more interested in science and philosophy than most, but he was not alone, and he surrounded himself with people who had similar interests.

So, he certainly was an intelligent and competent ruler. Even other medieval commentators could see that. But at the same time, modern historians would now argue that he was also fully a product of his environment.

Aside from the biographies listed above, also check out Abulafia’s article “Kantorowicz and Frederick II”, in History 62 (1977), pg. 193-210.


Why weren't there many important independent city states in Medieval to early Modern southern Italy?

Nearly everyone knows of the famous, powerful city states located in northern and central Italy during the middle ages and renaissance, such as the Republic of Venice, Duchy of Milan, Florence, Genoa, not to mention smaller ones such as Pisa, Verona, Padua Etc. My question is, why didn't southern Italy also have this type of political entity? The only one I can really think of is Amalfi, and if I remember correctly it did not last nearly as long. What were the political, military, social and economic conditions in southern Italy which prevented the rise of major maritime merchant states similar to Venice or Genoa?

Well, unlike the rest of Italy, Southern Italy was pretty much a single unified country. So, Naples and Palermo, which were definitely cities on the same scale as Milan, Genoa, etc., aren't thought of as individual city-states because they were the capitols of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies/Kingdom of Naples/Kingdom of Sicily.

I guess I need to brush up on my knowledge of Medieval southern Italy. If I understand correctly, was'nt southern Italy often ruled by ɿoreign' powers? Such as the Normans initially under Roger and Robert Guiskard, the German house of Hohenstaufen, the French house of Anjou, and eventually the Aragonese.

Thanks! This is rather specific, but how much do you know about Amalfi? Did it have any ɼolonies' across the Mediterranean in the way that Venice and Genoa latter did? At what point did it disappear as an autonomous power? I read a little about Amalfi in David Abulafia's 'The Great Sea', and I have wanted to know more.

The Norman's Kingdom of Sicily was quite successful at the the start, it comprised of all southern Italy, they even conquered the coasts of Tunisia and Libya (where interestingly they reported there were still romance speakers) and their fleet could stand up to the Byzantines.

They had a great involvement in the first crusade, Prince Behemond conquered Antioch and established one of the most longstanding crusader states.

To be concise: Southern Italy peaked before Northern Italy. Trade with the Levant was initially spearheaded by cities of lower Italy - before Venice or Genoa made its entry. However, that also attracted outsiders: from the Saracens crossing into Sicily to the Normans and later on the Catalans.

Moreover geographically the north is better located for a variety of reasons: in terms of agriculture/horiculture and especially located near the Alpine passes - the overland doorway to northwestern Europe.

Remember also that politically Southern Italy had not been part of the Carolingian Empire. The Duchy of Benevento had remained much more feudal in nature, in comparison, the Carolingian project failed full on in the north by the 1100’s as the urban centres overthrow the feudal landed powers (Church and Nobility) and established a new - more dynamic one might say - sociopolitical order in the north. The south evolved in a different direction, in an equally tense mire of competing units, little Republics, landed nobility, etc. However while the north broke the backs of landed noble power, the south became ‘unified’ in a feudal entity by the Norman onslaught (under Papal aegis).

For the life of me though I cant see why you left out the metropole of Naples from your OP, a city central to Renaissance history as well, as a political player and a centre of patronage.

Southern Italy had a very different historical experience. When the Lombards took down the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna, the Byzantines broadly speaking were able to hold onto their southernmost Italian possessions, and over the course of the next three centuries expanded that position. By 1025, Northern Italy was under German control and the south was Byzantine, divided by the Papal State in the center. Sicily was its own animal, conquered by the Arabs.

Byzantine authority in Southern Italy deteriorated very quickly in the 11th century, and within 50 years of their apogee in 1075, mercenary Normans, initially hired by the Byzantines to defend their Italian possessions, were the major power brokers in the region. Robert de Hauteville, one such Norman, received the title Duke of Apulia from the Pope who was worried about Norman encroachment on papal lands. By the end of his life, the Duchy of Apulia spread across all of the territory of the former Byzantine Catepanate of Italy. His successors followed up, and by the time of Roger II (r.1130-1154) had even conquered Sicily from the Arabs. With a strong and unified state in Southern Italy, Roger was named King of Sicily. For its time, the Kingdom of Sicily was quite modern in its institutions, and as a result was a dominant player in the central Mediterranean. The de Hauteville line died out relatively quickly, which allowed for the German Hohenstaufens to marry into the Sicilian throne. Frederick (r.1198-1250), the second such Hohenstaufen and the first to rule Sicily in his own right, was perhaps the most accomplished Sicilian king, and though he was elected Holy Roman Emperor, he arguably cared more for his southern Italian territories than his northern ones, basing his capital and spending much of his time there, rather than in the nominal territory of the Empire. That southern Italy had much stronger government institutions than the ones in the Empire’s Kingdom of Italy contributed to that.

This did not change significantly, though the Sicilian throne would continue to change hands. The Capetian House of Anjou took the Kingdom of Sicily, and though Charles was an energetic and successful ruler, he overexploited his Sicilian subjects, who revolted and successfully fought for an independent Kingdom (1282). Sicily was split off from Southern Italy, which Charles retained as King of Naples. This was the only real division in southern Italy during this period. Sicily was given to King of the Crown of Aragon, Peter and his wife Constance, who was the last Hohenstaufen heir. Peter kept Sicily separate from the rest of his growing confederate kingdoms, and he gave Sicily to a different son than his primary inheritor (1285). Though this son, James, would inherit Aragon in his own right, a different son of Peter, Frederick took Sicily for himself after a papal dispute forced James to evacuate Sicily (1302). Sicily and the rest of Aragon remained essentially separate until 1409, when the last of Frederick’s line died out and Sicily once again reverted to the Aragonese king, who this time, due to a succession crisis, did not divide his holdings, and the Trastámara King Ferdinand inherited it all (1412). The island of Sicily was made a constituent kingdom of the Crown of Aragon, and formally remained so, through the unification of Castile and Aragon to the Habsburg acquisition of Spain, until the War of the Spanish succession (1700).

Naples had a similar experience. Despite losing the island of Sicily itself, Charles of Anjou retained control over southern Italy as a unit, and his line persisted until 1435. By luck, Rene, the Duke of Anjou, though of a different lineage than Charles, managed to get himself named heir to Naples in 1435. He lasted until 1442, when Aragon took Naples. For whatever reason, King Alphonso chose not to retain Naples within the Crown of Aragon, and instead passed the whole territory to his illegitimate son Ferdinand. This line persisted until 1501, when France took the kingdom, and then Spain took Naples in 1504, where it remained until the war of the Spanish Succession (1700).

You can see how Naples and Sicily were more or less unified political units that persisted despite the number of times they changed hands. There wasn’t the opportunity for autonomous city states to rise up, unlike in Northern Italy which was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The importance of the Kingdom of Italy, established by Charlemagne to represent the territory he took from the Lombards (800), waxed and waned in importance to the German Emperors. While the Ottonians were very much interested in expanding and maintaining that kingdom’s position (up through 1024), each successive Emperor found their concerns rooted in Germany rather than Italy, which was a territory where they did not speak the language, and for its own part was riddled with special exceptions in its laws. In short, it was difficult for the Holy Roman Empire to exercise its authority in Italy, and as a result, the Emperors ignored it. In this context, without a significant governing authority, the cities and smaller principalities, once Imperial vassals, began to exercise sovereignty in their own right. Frederick Barbarossa (1154-1184) broke with that, and in the Wars of the Guelphs and Ghibellines attempted to secure control of his Italian territories. Largely, though, he failed to do so, and this further hurt his successors’ ability to exercise control in that region.

The later Staufens’ unconcern for Northern Italy and a long Interregnum (1250-1277), where no King of Germany was elected Emperor, following the end of their rule, meant that the small Italian states were even better able to exercise power in their own right. Sure, there were Kings in Germany named, but the Kingdom of Italy by this point was tied to the Imperial title, and the Germans had their own concerns to deal with over the Alps. By the time the house of Luxembourg secured the Imperial throne (1355), though Italy was nominally Imperial territory, the Emperor’s authority in that region had all but vanished, and for the Letzeburgish kings, their other territories, like the Kingdom of Bohemia and Hungary, were more important than the Imperial title for using their power. And of course, by 1355, we’re pretty firmly in the beginning period of the Italian city states.

The fates of Southern and Northern Italy for the next few centuries were essentially solidified in the High Medieval Period. For Southern Italy, it was a story of unification and consolidation, but in the north, it was deterioration. In that context, as the old Italian kingdom fell apart, small states took the lead. In contrast, strong rule and government in Sicily and Southern Italy largely prevented that process from happening. The Holy Roman Empire was a state reliant on very old types of governance, which, while effective when they came into being, made the Empire archaic in the High Medieval period, and unable to keep itself together, especially in the rich Kingdom of Italy. In contrast, we have Sicily, a nascent state of the High Medieval Era, which was able to survive the types of entropy which ate at Imperial power, and remain independent until the mid 15th and early 16th centuries. It’s not like the city states fared any better anyways just as Naples fell under Spanish control in 1504, most of Northern Italy suffered the same fate over the 16th century, as Spain defeated France for control of that region in the Italian wars.


The History Book Club discussion

"The High Middle Ages (or High Medieval Period) was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries (c. 1001–1300). The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500.

The key historical trend of the High Middle Ages was the rapidly increasing population of Europe, which brought about great social and political change from the preceding era.

By 1250 the robust population increase greatly benefited the European economy, reaching levels it would not see again in some areas until the 19th century.

This trend was checked in the Late Middle Ages by a series of calamities, notably the Black Death but also including numerous wars and economic stagnation.

From about the year 780 onwards, Europe saw the last of the barbarian invasions and became more socially and politically organized. The Carolingian Renaissance led to scientific and philosophical revival of Europe.

The first universities were established in Bologna, Salerno, Paris and Modena.

The Vikings had settled in the British Isles, France and elsewhere, whilst Norse Christian kingdoms were developing in their Scandinavian homelands.

The Magyars had ceased their expansion in the 10th century, and by the year 1000, a Christian Kingdom of Hungary was recognized in central Europe, forming alliances with regional powers.

With the brief exception of the Mongol invasions in the 13th century, major nomadic incursions ceased. The powerful Byzantine Empire of the Macedonian and Komnenos dynasties gradually gave way to resurrected Serbia and Bulgaria and to a successor Crusade state from 1204 to 1261, while countering the continuous threat of the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor.

In the 11th century, populations north of the Alps began to settle new lands, some of which had reverted to wilderness after the end of the Roman Empire. In what is known as the "great clearances", vast forests and marshes of Europe were cleared and cultivated.

At the same time settlements moved beyond the traditional boundaries of the Frankish Empire to new frontiers in Europe, beyond the Elbe River, tripling the size of Germany in the process.

The Catholic Church, reaching the peak of its political power at this time, called armies from across Europe to a series of Crusades against the Seljuk Turks, who occupied the Holy Land, thereby founding the Crusader States in the Levant.

Other wars led to the Northern Crusades, while Christian kingdoms conquered the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, and the Normans colonized southern Italy, all part of the major population increase and resettlement pattern of the era.

The High Middle Ages produced many different forms of intellectual, spiritual and artistic works. This age saw the rise of ethnocentrism, which evolved later into modern civic nationalisms in most of Europe, the ascent of the great Italian city-states, and the rise and fall of the Muslim civilization of Al-Andalus.

The rediscovery of the works of Aristotle led Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers of the period to develop Scholasticism, a combination of Catholicism and ancient philosophy. For much of the time period Constantinople remained Europe's most populous city and Byzantine art reached a peak in the 12th century. In architecture, many of the most notable Gothic cathedrals were built or completed during this era.

The Crisis of the Late Middle Ages, beginning at the start of the 14th century, marked the end of this era."

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Europe in the High Middle Ages

A thematic survey of medieval Europe offering a portrait of social, economic, political and intellectual life in Latin Christendom.

Everyone knows what William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but in recent years is has become customary to assume that the victory was virtually inevitable, given the alleged superiority of Norman military technology. In this new study, underpinned by biographical sketches of the great warriors who fought for the crown of England in 1066, Frank McLynn shows that this view is mistaken. The battle on Senlac Hill on 14 October was a desperately close-run thing, which Harold lost only because of an incredible run of bad fortune and some treachery from the Saxon elite in England. Both William and Harold were fine generals, but Harold was the more inspirational of the two.

Making use of all the latest scholarship, McLynn shows that most of our 'knowledge' of 1066 rests on myths or illusions: Harold did not fight at Hastings with the same army with which he had been victorious at Stamford Bridge three weeks earlier the Battle of Senlac was not won by Norman archery Harold did not die with an arrow in the eye. In overturning these myths, McLynn shows that the truth is even more astonishing than the legend. An original feature of the book is the space devoted to the career and achievements of Harald Hardrada, who usually appears in such narratives as the shadowy 'third man'. McLynn shows that he was probably the greatest warrior of the three and that he, in turn, lost a battle through unforeseen circumstances.

Richard and John: Kings at War

Legend and lore surround the history of kings Richard and John, from the ballads of Robin Hood and the novels of Sir Walter Scott to Hollywood movies and television. In the myth-making, King Richard, defender of Christendom in the Holy Land, was the “good king,” and his younger brother John was the evil usurper of the kingdom, who lost not only the Crown jewels but also the power of the crown. How much, though, do these popular stereotypes correspond with reality? Frank McLynn, known for a wide range of historical studies, has returned to the original sources to discover what Richard and John, these warring sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, were really like, and how their history measures up to their myth. In riveting prose, and with attention to the sources, he turns the tables on modern revisionist historians, showing exactly how incompetent a king John was, despite his intellectual gifts, and how impressive Richard was, despite his long absence from the throne. This is history at its best-revealing and readable.

Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor

Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily, King of Jerusalem, has, since his death in 1250, enjoyed a reputation as one of the most remarkable monarchs in the history of Europe. His wide cultural tastes, his apparent tolerance of Jews and Muslims, his defiance of the papacy, and his supposed aim of creating a new, secular world order make him a figure especially attractive to contemporary historians. But as David Abulafia shows in this powerfully written biography, Frederick was much less tolerant and far-sighted in his cultural, religious, and political ambitions than is generally thought. Here, Frederick is revealed as the thorough traditionalist he really was: a man who espoused the same principles of government as his twelfth-century predecessors, an ardent leader of the Crusades, and a king as willing to make a deal with Rome as any other ruler in medieval Europe.
Frederick's realm was vast. Besides ruling the region of Europe that encompasses modern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, eastern France, and northern Italy, he also inherited the Kingdom of Sicily and parts of the Mediterranean that include what are now Israel, Lebanon, Malta, and Cyprus. In addition, his Teutonic knights conquered the present-day Baltic States, and he even won influence along the coasts of Tunisia. Abulafia is the first to place Frederick in the wider historical context his enormous empire demands. Frederick's reign, Abulafia clearly shows, marked the climax of the power struggle between the medieval popes and the Holy Roman Emperors, and the book stresses Frederick's steadfast dedication to the task of preserving both dynasty and empire. Through the course of this rich, groundbreaking narrative, Frederick emerges as less of the innovator than he is usually portrayed. Rather than instituting a centralized autocracy, he was content to guarantee the continued existence of the customary style of government in each area he ruled: in Sicily he appeared a mighty despot, but in Germany he placed his trust in regional princes, and never dreamed of usurping their power. Abulafia shows that this pragmatism helped bring about the eventual transformation of medieval Europe into modern nation-states.
The book also sheds new light on the aims of Frederick in Italy and the Near East, and concentrates as well on the last fifteen years of the Emperor's life, a period until now little understood. In addition, Abulfia has mined the papal registers in the Secret Archive of the Vatican to provide a new interpretation of Frederick's relations with the papacy. And his attention to Frederick's register of documents from 1239-40--a collection hitherto neglected--has yielded new insights into the cultural life of the German court.
In the end, a fresh and fascinating picture develops of the most enigmatic of German rulers, a man whose accomplishments have been grossly distorted over the centuries.

The Lombard League, 1167-1225

The Lombard League, an alliance which included many of the cities in northern Italy, played a crucial role in the evolution of Italy's political landscape. The League enjoyed an iconic status, glorified in 19th-century political and historical pamphlets, and also in paintings, novels and even operas. Historiography has overlooked the cooperation among the Italian city republics and has instead labelled medieval Italy as politically fragmented. This volume offers new interpretations, by examining the League's structure, activity, place in political thought, and its links with regional identities. Using documentary evidence, histories, letters, inscriptions and contemporary troubadour poems as well as rhetorical and juridical treatises, Dr Raccagni argues that the League was not just a momentary anti-imperial military alliance. It was a body that also provided collective approaches to regional problems ranging from the peaceful resolution of disputes to the management of regional lines of communication.

The Normans: From Raiders to Kings

There is much more to the Norman story than the Battle of Hastings. These descendants of the Vikings who settled in France, England, and Italy - but were not strictly French, English, or Italian - played a large role in creating the modern world. They were the success story of the Middle Ages a footloose band of individual adventurers who transformed the face of medieval Europe. During the course of two centuries they launched a series of extraordinary conquests, carving out kingdoms from the North Sea to the North African coast.

In The Normans, author Lars Brownworth follows their story, from the first shock of a Viking raid on an Irish monastery to the exile of the last Norman Prince of Antioch. In the process he brings to vivid life the Norman tapestry’s rich cast of characters: figures like Rollo the Walker, William Iron-Arm, Tancred the Monkey King, and Robert Guiscard. It presents a fascinating glimpse of a time when a group of restless adventurers had the world at their fingertips.


Was Frederick II of Hohenstaufen really a medieval Dr. Mengele? - History

The greatest tragedy of this short episode in the history of the Knights Templar is that it denied them a kingdom of their own. Had they handled the situation in Cyprus better, the Knights Templar would not have been vulnerable to King Philip IV's machinations a century later. Although Templars might have been arrested and properties confiscated in France, the Order itself would have survived -- just as the Hospitallers did from their independent bases of Rhodes and then Malta.

Sources:
Barber, Malcolm. The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple.University of Cambridge Press, 1994.

Edbury, Peter. Crusades Texts in Translation: The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade. Ashgate, 1998.

Hill, George. A History of Cyprus: Volume 2: The Frankish Period 1192-1432. Cambridge University Press. 1948.

Robinson, John J.. Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades. Michael O'Mara Books, 1994.


Compare and contrast the nature and impact of the crusading activities of Frederick II and Louis IX.

Perhaps two of the most important figures in the history of Crusading were Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire and King Louis IX of France. Both of these rulers are the only Crusading leaders who led and were responsible for entire Crusades[1]. Previous figureheads of the Crusades, such as Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (Holy Roman Empire) and King Richard I (the Lionheart king of England) had been essential parts of a previous Crusades, however neither had organised and fully led the Crusades they were a part of[2]. However both Frederick II and Louis IX are so important to their respective Crusades that these Crusades are often named after them (the 6th Crusades often being referred to as Frederick’s Crusade[3] and the 7th and 8th Crusades being known as Saint Louis Crusades[4]). Therefor it is easy to see why these two Crusading leaders are often compared, both led their own Crusades. However to what extent were the nature and impact of the similar? In this essay we will be comparing and contrasting the motivations each leader had to head to the Holy Land as well as taking a look at the impact of their Crusading activities.

From the time that Frederick II was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1220, he had promised that he would participate in Crusading activities[5]. However, Frederick was more interested in establishing control as Holy Roman Emperor than heading out to the Holy Land (Frederick always had a problem keeping control over local lords even when he was just King of Sicily)[6]. Instead of fully committing to a Crusade by amassing a force and going himself (as was expected from a Holy Roman Emperor[7]), Frederick instead sent a small, tributary force[8]. However Frederick constantly promised to send a full force at an unspecified point of time. This promise led to Crusader leaders rejecting a peace proposal from the Ayyubid’s which then resulted in the 5 th Crusade ending in the defeat of the Crusaders[9]. Due to his lack of participation, Frederick II was given an ultimatum by Pope Honorius III (who had been Frederick’s Tutor as a child), lead a Crusade by the end of 1227 or face excommunication[10]. It is unlikely that this threat gave Frederick II much of an incentive to go on a Crusade as he was more concerned with governing his large domain than with spiritual affairs[11]. What seems to have changed Frederick’s mind was his marriage to Yolande of Jerusalem. After this marriage Frederick declared that now was the time he would head out on Crusade, however it is argued by Alexander Mikaberidze that Frederick’s intention with this “Crusade” were not in fact spiritual, but rather an attempt to establish control over Jerusalem through his marriage with Yolande[12]. Frederick set out for the Holy Land in August 1227, but due to a sudden illness he turned back for Sicily[13]. Many chroniclers of the time believed that Frederick’s illness was in fact faked[14]. However Mikaberidze believes that Frederick wouldn’t have faked his own illness to avoid a “Crusade” as he never had any spiritual intentions in the first place and would merely delay his seizure of power[15]. However the turning away from the Holy Land was deemed the “final straw” for the Pope, who excommunicated Frederick in September 1227[16]. However Frederick still set sail for Jerusalem once again in June 1228. This was seen as a grave insult towards the Pope, that someone who was excommunicated would be leading a “Crusade”[17].

Louis IX’s motivations for leading a Crusade contrast directly with Frederick II. As a prince, Louis grew up in the atmosphere of the Albigensian Crusade[18]. By the time he was given full powers as King in 1225, it was clear that Louis IX was a very spiritually centred individual. During his rule it is said that Louis heavily punished religious crimes such as blasphemy. Under Louis’ reign Jews experienced large scale persecution, culminating with a trail of the Talmud in 1248. Louis also tried to extend to power and influence of the Churches in everyday life[19]. According to the “Life of Saint Louis” Louis IX decided to go on his Crusade after suffering from a great illness. It is said that Louis decided that “his duty as a Son of the Church was more important that his duty as King of France”[20]. (It must be remembered that while the source is deemed as mostly unbiased, the Life of Saint Louis was written by Jean Joinville, who was a very close friend of Louis’.) Louis would end up participating in two Crusades but also spent four years in the Holy Land giving aid to the Crusader States[21].

It is already clear that the very nature of both leaders crusading activities were entirely different. However, now that we’ve established the nature of both Crusader leaders activities, we can now assess the impact. It must be stated straight away that the activities of Frederick would inevitably influence the way that Louis’ Crusades would play out.

Many primary sources from the time depict Frederick’s Crusade as an apocalyptic event that was the sign of the end-times (many contemporary sources describe Frederick as the Anti-Christ)[22]. However there were many positive short term effects. According to Edward Peters, Frederick’s Crusade was the only Crusade since the first to achieve anything of significance[23]. While other expeditions had only managed to keep the Crusader States barely alive, David Abulafia notes that Frederick managed to extend their borders to create a secure “buffer-zone” around them. This is something that had never been achieved before, the Christian Kingdoms in the Holy Land had always been tightly squeezed by hostile neighbours[24]. While Lansing & English disagree that Frederick’s Crusade was the only one to achieve anything of significance, they do point out that the initial success (such as the retaking of Jerusalem) did revitalise interest in crusading throughout Christendom, as it was seen as a not entirely pointless venture (especially significant after the failure of the 5 th Crusade). Lansing & English even believe that Frederick managed to inspire Louis IX’s Crusades[25].
However, while Frederick’s Crusade did achieve all of this with a relatively small amount of bloodshed[26], the negative effects seem to far outweigh the positive. While it is true that Frederick had succeeded in reclaiming Jerusalem, part of the peace treaty was that Christian defenders would not be allowed to rebuild the city walls of add any new defences, making Jerusalem almost impossible to defend[27] (Jerusalem would be lost once again in 1244[28]). Mikaberidze points out that the peace treaty in fact strengthened the enemies of the Crusader states by giving them more time to focus on their own internal problems[29]. Additionally, Frederick’s coronation as King of Jerusalem was seen by many Barons to be unlawful, which then led to a full blown civil war[30]. It is also argued by Ralph Davis that Frederick’s decision to perform the Crusade while excommunicated led to war with the Papacy, which then led to widespread war within the Holy Roman Empire between the supports of the Emperor and Pope[31].
The long term effects of Frederick’s Crusade also paint a rather grim picture. The Civil War in the Crusader States, which lasted from 1231 to 1241, would destabilise the kingdom, driving pre-existing divisions even deeper, and inevitably weakened the Kingdom far more than it had been before. In complete contrast to this, the Ayyubid’s had more time to settle internal affairs, and with this new found stability it was even easier to focus on the Crusader States[32]. The destabilising of the Kingdom, as well as the loss of Jerusalem would end up being the main motivation behind Louis IX’s crusading efforts[33]. Richard Cassady argues that due to this Crusade, Papal authority had been challenged. Cassady argues that more and more small crusading forces (such as the Barons Crusade) appeared without any blessings from the Pope, leading to more frequent, but disastrous “mini” Crusades[34]. It seems overall, Frederick’s Crusading activities caused more harm and actually achieved little of significance to the Crusading movement overall. This is partly due to the nature of the Crusade itself, which can be argued wasn’t a “Crusade” at all, due to its non-religious motivations.

Louis IX’s first Crusade only really had one goal, to take Egypt to relieve pressure on the Holy Land[35]. Louis’ initial Crusade however was a complete failure. The entire crusading army was either destroyed or forced to abandon what little gains it had made. Louis himself was captured, and according to Jean Joinville, he was ransomed for 400,000 Livers[36]. According to Christopher Tyerman, France’s total national income at the time was only 1,250,000 Livers, much of which had already been used to prepare for the Crusade. An obvious long term effect of this Crusade is that overall it managed to cripple France economically[37]. Tyerman however also brings forth two long term effects of Louis’ initial Crusade that had a devastating effect on the Crusading movement as a whole. The first of these is that the shock of Louis’ Crusade on the Ayyubid’s caused great instability that eventually led to the rise of the Mamluks. The Mamluks eventually become incredibly effective against the Crusader states, eventually fully conquering them[38]. Additionally the failure of Louis’ Crusade dealt a great blow to future crusading attempts. Many Barons, Princes and Kings saw the failure of Louis’ Crusade as a sign that Crusading was a pointless and expensive venture, which then lead to a slowing down of expeditions[39].
While Louis’ first crusading attempt failed completely, Louis’ time spent in the Holy Land actually seems to have an overall positive effect. According to Peter Jackson, when Louis arrived in the Holy Land he spent a large amount of his own personal wealth to help rebuild the defences of the Crusader States[40]. These were the same Kingdoms that had just suffered greatly due to a Civil War and renewed invasion, all caused by the crusading activities of Frederick II. Like Frederick, Louis also worked diplomatically with the Muslim’s, however Louis’ diplomacy was centred more on helping the Crusader states in the long term instead of expanding his own personal domain[41]. The long term impact of these efforts, Jackson argues, is that while Louis may not have been able to save the Crusader States completely (they were mostly gone by the end of the Century) he did manage to delay what is considered by many to be the inevitable[42].
The target for Louis’ final attempt at a Crusade was Tunis, and can easily be called a failure as he died before any fighting could take place[43]. However this Crusade did end in a favourable peace treat which was brokered by Louis’ brother Charles. Christians were given the right to live and worship and trade in Tunis, which opened up a genuine connection with the Muslim world[44]. It is due to this that Jonathan Riley-Smith argues this Crusade cannot be called a failure as it had several positive short and long term effects[45]. This Crusade also inspired Prince Edward of England to muster what was left of Louis’ final Crusade to go on another Crusade, this time to the Holy Land[46].

The nature of Emperor Frederick II and King Louis IX’s crusading activities were entirely different as were the effects. Frederick’s “Crusade” was entirely motivated by personal gain rather than a genuine effort to secure the Holy Land in the name of Christ[47]. In many ways it is unfair to call Frederick’s excursion a Crusade at all, especially when compared to the Crusading activities of Louis IX. While Louis’ second Crusade was heavily influenced by outside politics (it was the personal ambition of his brother than sent him to Tunis[48]), his overall motivation for all his crusading activities seems to be genuinely Pious. It is far fairer to label his efforts as Crusades as they were done in the name of the Papacy and Christ. His crusading activities as well as his extremely religious rule in France would lead to Louis being canonised as “Saint Louis”[49].
While the efforts of both leader’s excursions ended up being incredibly bloody, Frederick’s excursion seems to have weakened the Crusader States in the long term, perhaps even sealing their ultimate fate. Louis’ Crusade on the other hand opened up trade with the Muslim World, the kind of connection which had not been seen since the Byzantine Empire, and despite the fact that they seemed doomed, Louis’ efforts in the crusading states seems to have prolonged their lifespan by at least half a century, healing some of the damaged caused by Frederick’s “Crusade”.

[1] Marshall, Christopher. Warfare in the Latin East, 1192-1291. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992) p.64

[2] Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades: A History. (New Haven: Yale UP, 2005) p.459

[3] Abulafia, David. Frederick II. (Cambridge: Kings College, 1998) p.81

[4] Tyerman, Christopher. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2006) p.787

[5] Abulafia. Frederick II. p.82

[7] Powell, James. Church and Crusade. (Washington DC: Cato Think-Tank, 2007) p.11

[8] Abulafia. Frederick II. p.83

[9] Riley-Smith. The Crusades. p.459

[10] Abulafia, David. Frederick II. (Cambridge: Kings College, 1998) p.83


Hohenstaufen Centralization of the HRE: What exactly does this take?

I'm going to disagree on this. First, the Empire's strategic position after the conquest of Sicily was strong, and the Pope was a very weak figure (the presence of Imperial troops in Ancona may have played a role in this). While the Welfs still have staying power (witness their revival after Henry's death), rebellions are not inevitable and IMO not probable. It's a mistake, IMO, to sue the era's nobility as naughty children, always willing to revolt for more concessions. Doing so against an Emperor who is on a crusade?

Finally, I suspect Henry VI would be able to retake Jerusalem. Az-Zahir and al-Aziz were quarreling over the carcass of Saladin's empire, and the arrival of the emperor? Bad times ahead.

Janprimus

I'm going to disagree on this. First, the Empire's strategic position after the conquest of Sicily was strong, and the Pope was a very weak figure (the presence of Imperial troops in Ancona may have played a role in this). While the Welfs still have staying power (witness their revival after Henry's death), rebellions are not inevitable and IMO not probable. It's a mistake, IMO, to sue the era's nobility as naughty children, always willing to revolt for more concessions. Doing so against an Emperor who is on a crusade?

Finally, I suspect Henry VI would be able to retake Jerusalem. Az-Zahir and al-Aziz were quarreling over the carcass of Saladin's empire, and the arrival of the emperor? Bad times ahead.

I'm actually more inclined towards the opinion of Freivolk regarding the nobility which certainly wouldn't automatically have to result in a rebellion, but the imperial nobility is likely to get more malcontent and less loyal, when their monarch is in Sicily, and the same applies to the Sicilian nobility when their king is in the empire (one of the reasons why I suggest to separate those (again)). This even was an issue, when the the king of the Romans/Holy Roman Emperor was either in Germany or in Italy.
Furthermore with an absentee monarch the nobility will strengthen their position .

Regarding the crusades Henry VI would field a large army in the holy land and this could earn him a lot of respect so probably no real rebellion in his absence, but a long absence is the ideal opportunity for the nobility (in the Holy Roman Empire and, if it's held by the same monarch, Sicily) to strengthen their position at the expense of the crown.

Eurofed

Imperial authority only really started to weaken when the monarch was absentee from, and much more importantly actively neglectful of, one section, for several years on end, or much worse, there was a minority or interregnum. Really, it was not like nobles and cities would automatically start to be rebellious again if the emperor did not show up on either side of the Alps for X months, regardless of circumstances.

Elfwine

Also on the issue of securing things: Henry was crowned in 1191. If he managed to beat the nobles into submission (and from what I can tell it sounds like his position on his death was what we want to continue for this to work, it doesn't have to get much more secure) in two years, he's doing well, not poorly.

On the nobility: I think the problem is that the nobility everywhere will squeeze concessions and take advantage, and the HRE has the problem that the Emperor has to focus on two areas at once (Sicily at least is already set up to be responsive to its king, though I think Faeelin having Frederick's absence mean that's gotten rusty is more than plausible) in a way that say, France doesn't require that.

So while the Emperor is busy dealing with Germany - one way or another - Italy will be "behind his back' and vice-versa.

Perfect opportunity for the usual medieval crap.

This seems more daunting than the HRE nobility being worse than anywhere else.

Eurofed

On the nobility: I think the problem is that the nobility everywhere will squeeze concessions and take advantage, and the HRE has the problem that the Emperor has to focus on two areas at once (Sicily at least is already set up to be responsive to its king, though I think Faeelin having Frederick's absence mean that's gotten rusty is more than plausible) in a way that say, France doesn't require that.

So while the Emperor is busy dealing with Germany - one way or another - Italy will be "behind his back' and vice-versa.

Perfect opportunity for the usual medieval crap.

This seems more daunting than the HRE nobility being worse than anywhere else.

But absence from a section only started to make things troublesome for imperial authority when the emperor was away for years on end, and especially if he was neglectful of the section and/or unsuccessful elsewhere.

In principle, the issue of absence can be neatly countered by having the imperial court shuttling back and forth between Germany and Italy-Sicily on a regular basis.

This is eminently doable and would keep the problem at bay until centralization gets entrenched enough, and imperial administration and communication-travel technology developed enough that it is not more a significant issue, which is bound to happen at some point (in all likelihood during the 14th-15th centuries).

Most policy issues of the HRE seem to be addressable by the emperors staying within the Empire's borders.

Again, for the purpose of this discussion, I'm going to treat the Kingdom of Sicily as an integral part of the HRE it's not like the merger would bring serious legal difficulties, and in all likelihood, it is going to become de jure during Henry VI's or Frederick II's reign. At some point IOTL, the Kingdoms of (northern) Italy and Burgundy were legally merged with the HRE, too. If there is a part of the Staufen possessions which it makes most sense to be ruled as a separate kingdom by a cadet branch of the dynasty, it is Jerusalem, not Sicily (although the imperial throne would likely claim suzerainty for prestige reasons).

And with the dynasty building up on the power base established by a surviving Henry VI, there does not seem to be foreseeable domestic issues that would require an emperor to stay in any section more than 2-3 years on a row, tops.

Foreign policy issues, of course, are another matter. In all likelihood, the HRE would have to do at least one Crusade, under Henry, to retake Jerusalem. But it would be most likely successful, and the prestige windfall would erase all effects of the emperor's absence, and then some.

It is a reasonable guess that in order to be successful, a centralizing HRE would have to keep foreign adventurism under some serious checks (after centralization gets entrenched from the 14th century onwards, it becomes another matter entirely). But some foreign wars are bound to happen, the emperors are not going to keep an entirely isolationist policy, for various reasons. We may also want to speculate on it.

It is quite possible that the HRE is driven to do a few more Crusades during the 13th century, to defend Outremer from a Muslim counteroffensive, and/or to expand the area controlled by the Crusader Kingdoms (ie. Syria and/or Egypt). They also may or may not intervene in the Angevin-Plantagenet/Capetian feud.

Expansion in Poland and Hungary is also going to happen, but this is an area where the Emperors may delegate management to the nobles to a relevant degree. Like the Crusades and more so, Eastern expansion may easily become a safety valve for ambitious nobles and burghers.


The Mysterious & Enigmatic Dr. John Dee

Dee encountered Habsburg claims to the role of Last World Emperor at Maximilian of Habsburg’s coronation as King of Hungary at Bratislava in September 1563. In early 1564 Dee wrote his Monas Hieroglyphica to advise the soon to be Emperor Maximilian II. His contribution to Maximilian’s prophetic destiny, of uniting the world by defeating the Antichristian East, took the form of promising the philosopher’s stone. His Monas applied kabbalistic techniques, and ideas borrowed from Joachim of Fiore, to construct and then deconstruct a symbol he entitled his hieroglyphical Monad (right), which secreted the stone within it. This combined the astrological symbols for the Sun, Moon and Aries with the Cross. By now all these had become identified with Habsburg universal ambitions, and Charles V had elevated the Cross to a particular symbol of Habsburg veneration.

When Dee returned to Elizabeth I’s Court in the summer of 1564, he tutored the Queen in the arcane mysteries of his symbol. Some of his lessons probably concerned the alchemical mystery of the philosopher’s stone, which fascinated Elizabeth. Other lessons may have concerned the solar, Arian and cruciform symbolism supporting universal Empire. The decline in political relations between Elizabethan England and Habsburg Spain over the following decades created an ideological rivalry over ancient imperial iconography and prophecy, particularly about the destiny waiting the western empire in the East. The Tudors stole the Habsburgs imperial clothes.

In Elizabethan England such ideas became entangled in wider struggles between radical and conservative Protestants for influence over policy. Ancient imperial ideologies included Virgil’s prophecy in his Fourth Eclogue, addressed to Augustus Caesar, which celebrated the return of the Golden Age of peace and plenty under the virgin goddess of justice, Astraea. From her accession Elizabeth had claimed an imperial authority over both State and Church that reached back to Constantine. By the mid-1570s events enabled some of her courtiers to promote her as the imperial virgin, and to exploit a previously overlooked English strand of Joachimite expectation, in order to advance the aggressive anti-Catholic, anti-Habsburg foreign policy which they made synonymous with “the Protestant Cause.”

The collapse of Spanish Habsburg control in the Netherlands in 1576 persuaded the Earl of Leicester and his followers that Elizabeth could usurp the Habsburg role of Last World Emperor, and with it advance her ambitions in the East. They encouraged her to accept the proffered sovereignty of Holland and Zealand in 1576. John Dee supported these ambitions in a series of writings sponsored by Leicester and circulating at Court, which urged Elizabeth to recover her ‘British Empire’. This name did not look forward, but backward, to the empire of Arthur, King of the Britons. Part of this certainly included North America, where, Dee believed for a time, remnant Arthurian colonies controlled the fabled North West Passage to the Indies. But Dee’s writings placed more emphasis on the vast European empire of Elizabeth’s ancestor, Arthur, to the “south, and east” of the British Isles. Despite his association with Britain, Arthur had been a favoured Habsburg imperial hero, so here again the Tudors challenged the Habsburgs. Dee’s General and Rare Memorials, published in September 1577, included iconography connecting Elizabeth with Constantine, at a time when, Dee later recalled, “great hope was conceived, (of some no simple politicians), that her Majesty might, then, have become the Chief Commander, and in manner Imperial Governor of all Christian kings, princes, and states.” In 1576 Elizabeth also imagined herself bringing peace to the whole of Christendom.

As Dee well knew, a long tradition of astrological calculations added to the excited atmosphere surrounding the ‘British Empire’ in the 1570s. A flurry of apocalyptic prophecies had surrounded the election of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, predicting that he would restore unity to Christendom, shattered by the Reformation, and would prove the divinely chosen instrument against the Antichristian Turks in the East. One of the most influential prophecies for the later Habsburgs was the 1564 book On the Greatest Conjunction by the Bohemian Astrologer Cyprian Leowitz, which predicted apocalyptic consequences from the conjunction of the superior planets Jupiter and Saturn in the zodiacal sign of Aries in April 1584. Leowitz pointed out that such conjunctions occurred in Aries only every 800 years, that one foreshadowed the beginning of the Roman Empire and the birth of Christ, the next the transfer of the empire to Charlemagne. This must be the final conjunction, for the world could not last more than 6,000 years.

Leowitz knew that the zodiacal sign of Aries the Ram had particular significance for the Habsburgs. Ancient theories considered it first amongst zodiacal epochs, for the world had been created with the sun in Aries, meaning that the sign immortalised the first Age of Gold, mystically transfigured into the Ram’s Golden Fleece. The Habsburgs inherited the sovereignty of the Order of the Golden Fleece, whose members considered themselves God’s Elect, chosen to prepare the way for the return of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God signified by the Golden Fleece, who would rule his earthly kingdom from Jerusalem. Leowitz argued that the imminent return of the heavenly bodies to their positions at the Creation pointed to cosmic struggles for the Habsburgs in Eastern Europe, from Bohemia to Constantinople, where they would battle the Antichristian power of the Ottomans in the Last Days, before planting their banners in Jerusalem and ushering in the second coming of Christ. Dee’s copy of Leowitz’s book survives, with his enthusiastic marginal annotations about the final battles against Antichrist and the foundation of an apocalyptic empire in the East.

In 1576 Dee’s associate in magical learning James Sandford, another Leicester client, dedicated his Houres of Recreation to Elizabeth’s favourite, Christopher Hatton. Sandford put Elizabeth’s universal pretensions into the cosmic apocalyptic context previously reserved for the Habsburgs. Citing Leowitz’s predictions about the great 1583 conjunction, and prophetic visions seen in Poland, Sandford added for good measure the widespread expectation that either the world would end in 1588, or “at leaste governementes of kingdomes shall be turned upside downe.” Elizabeth, in whom “there must needes be some diviner thing… than in the Kings and Queens of other countries” would play a leading role in the End Times. During the Royal Progress at Norwich in August 1578, court poets introduced a new theme into their masques and declamations, celebrating Elizabeth as the Virgin Queen for the first time. A few years later Sandford applied Joachim’s prophecies of the End when he dedicated to Leicester his translation of Giacopo Brocardo’s The Revelation of St John Reveled (London, 1582). This thoroughly Joachimite Protestant prophecy imagined Christ’s Kingdom soon covering “the whole worlde. No other religion, no other lawe, and rule to heare then that of the Gosple.” By now the idea that Elizabeth would prepare the way for Christ by triumphing over the East had permeated the excitable underworld of popular prophecy, and manuscripts circulated declaring that “Elizabeth now Queen of England is ordained of God to be Queen of Jerusalem.”

The ‘British Empire’ John Dee envisaged for Elizabeth I was profoundly different from that which actually emerged in later centuries. It drew upon an ancient prophetic tradition that had become interwoven with widely-held beliefs in astrological influence on earthly events, and with a profound belief in the ability of alchemists to create the philosopher’s stone, through which the Last World Empress would rule. Elizabeth certainly believed in alchemy’s transformatory powers, for she employed male and female alchemists in distilling houses at her palaces of Hampton Court and Whitehall, and in her Privy Chamber. She also believed in the power of astrological forces, on which Dee advised her many times. In the mid-1570s she found the prospect of becoming the universal ruler over a pacified globe deeply attractive.

Why then has Dee’s magical vision of the ‘British Empire’ been condemned to historical obscurity? The answer lies in the reactions of political conservatives at Elizabeth’s Court, particularly her long-time favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton, of more obscure figures who supported his rise, and of Hatton’s protégé, John Whitgift. From the mid-1570s these men became influential at Court, and Whitgift became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1583. From then on he and Hatton worked hard to drive prophetic expectations of a magical Empire out of politics, because they believed such ideas stirred up the ‘mob’, whom they feared above all, to follow radical, ‘popular’ politics. Once the Earl of Leicester died in 1588, Hatton and Whitgift became even more influential over the ageing Elizabeth. Throughout the 1590s they and their many followers used all the government propaganda machinery at their disposal to suppress the kind of magical ‘British Empire’ Dee had envisaged. They had already forced Dee’s students, the brothers Richard and John Harvey, to recant their beliefs in Leowitz’s astrological predictions of the Apocalypse. They now sponsored attacks on astrological prediction altogether, and others that denigrated alchemists as deluded fools. Whitgift made sure that Dee was blocked from the promotions and appointments he sought, and his career declined in consequence.

During the reign of James, the first English settlements in Virginia helped to switch attention away from the apocalyptic ‘British Empire’ in Europe to its real development in North America. The chaotic events of the Civil War sealed the fate of the magical Empire. The collapse of royal authority meant that press censorship also disappeared, and in the 1640s and 1650s there was a wild explosion of excited apocalyptic prophecies by obscure writers, again calling upon astrological and alchemical ‘proofs’ that their envisaged empire would come to pass. The restored monarchy of Charles II set out to suppress such ideas once and for all. It imposed a rigorous press censorship and made it clear that magical, prophetic thinking would disqualify anyone with pretensions to social or political advancement. As a result, magical ideas were driven underground, and members of ‘polite’ society, such as the Fellows of the Royal Society, felt constrained from discussing them in public, though they continued to do so in private letters. The success of the Establishment’s reaction can be measured by how forgotten ‘magical’ ideas of empire remain today. Thus the utopian ‘British Empire’ Dee imagined survived only in ‘popular’ culture, amongst the powerless and marginalised.

At the end of the day, if we still seek such ideas, we should perhaps look at what motivated migrants to leave Britain for its empire in recent centuries. Perhaps we will find a distant echo of John Dee’s belief in his magical ‘British Empire’ in their belief that Australia or New Zealand would prove a better world.

Glyn Parry is author of the new book The Arch-Conjuror of England (Yale University Press, 2012), the first full-length biography of John Dee based on primary historical sources. The book is available from all good bookstores or online book outlets.


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