Frederick Barbarossa

   Frederick Barbarossa (1123?-1190), whose name means Frederick the Red-bearded, was one of the greatest of the Holy Roman emperors. He is also known as Frederick I. Frederick, a handsome, bold, and able man, became Holy Roman emperor in 1152. He faced two tasks. The first was to end a feud between two powerful German noble families, the Welfs and the Hohenstaufens, that had left Germany in chaos and to establish his authority there. The second was to assert his power over the Empire's possessions in northern Italy, or Lombardy. These pos­sessions were wealthy trading cities that had gradually gained independence during the previous years.

   Underlying both tasks was the problem of his relationship with the papacy. The Holy Roman emperors had traditionally maintained their power over the strong German no­bles by using bishops and other clergy to help govern. Therefore, no one could become a bishop unless he was acceptable to the emperor. This situation had caused a struggle for power between the papacy and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, 75 years before Frederick came to power. The same struggle was a cause of the independence of the Italian cities, for each side had tried to gain the aid of the cities by granting them more privileges.

   Frederick, closely related to both the Welfs and the Hohenstaufens, ended the feud and established his power in Germany within two years after his accession. He also asserted his influence over the German clergy without interference from the pope. In 1154 he turned his attention to Italy, where he subdued those cities that would not submit to him. In 1158 his decisions in disputes be­tween the cities resulted in the revolt of Milan, which he finally burned in 1162.

   Meanwhile, the old struggle with the papacy broke out afresh. In 1159 the College of Cardinals split and elected two popes, one who was favorable to Frederick and one, Alexander III, who strongly desired the independence of the papacy. While Frederick was engaged in Lombardy against Milan, Alexander won the kings of England and France and a large part of the clergy outside the Holy Roman Empire to his side. Frederick's Italian invasion of 1167 caused Alexander to flee from Rome. However, when Frederick returned to Italy in 1174, he faced the combined opposition of the pope and the Lombard cities and was decisively defeated in 1176. Fred­erick then recognized Alexander III as the rightful pope. Alexander agreed to let Frederick retain con­trol of the German bishops.

   Frederick returned to Germany to put down a new outbreak of the Hohenstaufen-Welf feud by expelling his cousin and former ally Henry the Lion, head of the Welfs. In 1189 Frederick joined the Third Crusade but died before this crusade was able to reach the Holy Land.