Frederick II

1194-1250. King of Germany and Sicily, and Roman emperor. The Sicilian-born grandson of Frederick Barbarossa,* his father had him elected German king in 1196. When, however, Henry VI died the next year, the princes refused to accept the youthful Hohenstaufen heir. The ensuing struggles in Germany and Italy, abetted by French and English pressures and Innocent III's endeavors to restore papal power, resulted in a decline of imperial authority. In 1212 Frederick was again named king through the contrivance of Innocent and Philip Augustus. The French victory at Bouvines (1214), followed by the deposition of the Guelph emperor Otto IV (1215) and Frederick's own imperial coronation (1220), placed him in a dominant position.

In the next three decades he was involved in a continuous struggle with the papacy. His primary interest lay in Italy, and Germany (under the regency of his sons) occupied a clearly subordinate role. In 1213 he relinquished authority over German church personnel and recognized those rights acquired by the nobles since 1197, while his privilege of 1220 eliminated all royal power over the internal administration of ecclesiastical principalities. In 1231 these concessions were extended to all secular princes and included control over local courts and coinage. This signified the victory of princely particularism over the monarchical ideal in Germany. In Sicily, Frederick had by 1224 restored the power of the Norman monarchy, and after a crusading interlude in 1228-30 sought to extend his absolutistic rule to northern and then central Italy, actions which incurred papal opposition. In 1245 Innocent IV excommunicated and preached a crusade against Frederick which had little effect. The execution of Frederick's grandson Conradin in 1268 ended the Hohenstaufen dynasty.

Frederick was a patron and student of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, zoology, and poetry. His court at Palermo, noted for its oriental splendor, was the leading cultural center of southern Europe. A skeptic in religion, he was tolerant of Jews and Muslims. In his dealings with Christian and Muslim leaders alike, he proved to be a brilliant diplomat, administrator, and general. Frederick's achievements and interests were so many that some called him the “wonder of the world.”

E. Kantotowicz, Frederick II (1931); G. Barraclough, The Origins of Modern Germany (1947); D.P. Waley, The Papal States in the Thirteenth Century (1961).