Frederick I

barbarossa) (c.1122-1190. German king and Roman emperor. Nephew of the weak Conrad III, he was elected king in 1152. Although a Hohenstaufen, his mother was a Guelph, and it was hoped he could mediate between the two parties. Frederick's endeavor to restore the rights of the German monarchy and expand his territorial control while reviving the imperial authority made him a controversial historical personage. He conciliated the Guelphs by recognizing Duke Henry the Lion's position in Saxony and granting him the duchy of Bavaria. Frederick issued a proclamation of peace (Landfriede) in Germany (1152) and built up an efficient royal government based upon the non-noble ministeriales. He gained control over the German church, utilized feudal obligations to strengthen the monarchy, and enlarged his own family domains.

The wealth of the Italian cities and the political disorder there tempted the ambitious Frederick, who decided to embark upon restoring the empire. He invaded Italy in 1154-55, repressed the Lombard communes, allied with Pope Adrian IV to oust Arnold of Brescia, and was crowned emperor. The uneasy alliance collapsed at the Diet of Besançon (1157) when Frederick firmly rejected the concept of papal feudal overlordship. Imperial documents began referring to the Holy Empire (sacrum imperium), an indication that secular authority was divinely sanctioned, not bestowed by papal coronation.

In four subsequent Italian campaigns Frederick had only limited success. Pope Alexander III (1159-81) turned against the emperor, who then supported an antipope, and the schism lasted until Frederick's defeat at Legnano in 1176 by the Lombard League and reconciliation with Alexander. After the Peace of Constance in 1183 (the communes recognized the emperor's suzerainty but were granted self-government), Frederick arranged a marriage alliance with the kingdom of Sicily, thus depriving the papacy of secular allies in Italy. In 1180 he exploited the legal technicalities of feudal practice and the hostility of Henry the Lion's many enemies to eliminate the Saxon rival and diminish Guelph power in Germany. At the pinnacle of success he died while taking part in the Third Crusade.

J.W. Thompson, Feudal Germany (1928); G. Barraclough, The Origins of Modern Germany (1947); Otto of Freising, The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa (ET 1953).