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The history of Italy and Sicily in the time of Frederick II consists of the tragic vicissitudes of a great idea, the unity of Italy within the Empire. But, attacked on all sides, by the Papacy, by the communes, this idea came to ruin. The political life of Italy, still styled a kingdom, was parcelled amid numberless units, living each for itself and to itself; their exuberant energy was directed only to their own separate interests, and therefore they were as a rule the more bitterly hostile to one another when they were neighbours. This permanent conflict of interests was suspended indeed by many communes when the Emperor Frederick I threatened their very existence. Then was formed for the first time the Lombard League, although even then not a few communes supported the German sovereign. At the Peace of Constance Frederick was compelled to recognise the legal existence of the communes, and their right of self-administration, of exercising jurisdiction, and of contracting alliances, in return for their fealty and certain prescribed duties. Soon these obligations of the communes fell into oblivion, and Italy dissolved amid surviving feudal lords and republics, guided and torn by local passions and local interests in a perpetual strife of little leagues and counter-leagues.

With an inverse evolution Southern Italy, splintered in the tenth century, had been consolidated by the Normans under the house of Hauteville and had been formed by Roger II into the kingdom of Sicily, then the richest and most civilised state in Europe, with its capital in the splendid city of Palermo. Here in contrast to the North was a unity identified with the monarchy which governed it.

Almost at the junction of these two divergent territories, in the little city of Jesi in the March of Ancona, the Empress Constance, the daughter of Roger II, gave birth on 26 December 1194 to Frederick-Roger, who as Frederick II was to be the greatest personality of the thirteenth century. His father, the Emperor Henry VI, was then erecting a personal and German domination from the Alps to the African sea. By policy rather than by arms he was controlling Lombardy; Central Italy was placed under three German dukes; he even obtained an oath of fealty from the prefect and senator of Rome. Meanwhile he at last conquered Sicily, suppressing revolts with pitiless ferocity and causing his Sicilian, even more than his Italian, subjects to look on his early death (28 September 1197) as a liberation.

As had happened three years before, Sicily came into the hands of a woman and a child, of Constance who had already rejoined her husband in the island, and of Frederick whom his father had had elected King of the Romans at the diet of Ratisbon. By his imperial brother’s order Philip, Duke of Swabia, was on his way from Germany to conduct his nephew to be crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, when on the Emperor’s death a revolt of the Tuscans and the political situation in Germany compelled him to return and fight for the German crown. The Empress had Frederick brought from Foligno to Palermo, where the strife of parties produced an extremely difficult situation. The German soldiers of fortune domineered as conquerors; the conquered Normans, with the mass of the population, demanded the expulsion of the foreigners, including the son of the “pitiless” Henry. Of the Saracens, some had withdrawn to the hills to make ready for insurrection, others, remaining as artisans in the cities or cultivators in the plains, feigned conversion to Christianity while filled with rancour against the Christians. Amid these clashing elements there appeared Markward, the seneschal, already disliked by Constance as the adviser of Henry VI’s fierce policy. Being expelled from the March of Ancona by a popular outburst, like Philip from Tuscany and Conrad of Urslingen from Spoleto, he now demanded the regency of Sicily as the executor of the Emperor’s testament.

Constance had already sent to the Pope to request her son’s investiture with Sicily and permission to bury her husband in the cathedral in Palermo. Confronted with the demands of the seneschal, she now declared him a public enemy, dismissed all Germans and adherents of their party such as Walter of Palear, Bishop of Troia, Henry’s chancellory and surrounded herself with counsellors of the Norman faction. Meanwhile Pope Celestine III died at the age of ninety-one, and was immediately replaced by Innocent III, energetic, ambitious, and in the prime of life (8 January 1198). Hence the Empress was obliged to send to the new Pope another more solemn embassy, while she had her son anointed and crowned with great pomp in the cathedral of Palermo (Whitsunday, 17 May 1198).

Like Henry VI, Constance claimed for the Crown those rights which Tancred had given up—the apostolic legateship, the control over appeals to the Papacy, the holding of synods, and the election of prelates. Now Innocent firmly insisted on their surrender, and Constance in her strait was compelled to surrender the first three, while retaining only in part the control of ecclesiastical elections. Another danger was produced by the Pope’s equity. He commanded the liberation of Tancred’s family and of the other Sicilian captives in Germany; and the ex-Queen Sibylla was released or escaped along with her daughters, the eldest of whom found a French husband, Walter, Count of Brienne, who, though poor, was related to the royal houses of France and England, and proved a formidable champion of the dispossessed dynasty.

At the Pope’s command Constance restored Walter of Palear to the chancellorship, and promised to pay annually the accustomed tribute of 600 schifati for Apulia and 400 for Marsica (equal together to 270 ounces of gold); and thus obtained the investiture of the kingdom of Sicily for herself and her son. In her fears for the boy’s future, she provided by her will that on her death the Pope himself should become his guardian with the handsome yearly recompense of 3750 schifati besides the reimbursement of expenses incurred for the defence of the state. She also set up a Council of Regency, consisting of the Chancellor Palear and the Archbishops of Palermo, Monreale, and Capua. Not long after she expired (27 November 1198).

Innocent III declared that he accepted the guardianship in right of his pastoral office, his suzerainty of the kingdom, and the last will of the dead Empress. He confirmed the Council of Regency, but despatched Gregory of Galcano, Cardinal of Santa Maria in Portico, as Vicar Apostolic to take over the guardianship and direct the Council. The deaths, however, of two of the Council and the weakness of Caro of Monreale gave all its powers to the aspiring Bishop of Troia. Master of the capital and the person of the little king, the Chancellor sought only his personal aggrandisement, and, disregarding the Legate, alienated royal demesnes and rights in order to gain a following. Since the supreme authority was weakened by discord, the secondary powers were unbridled, whether prelates, barons, townsmen, German soldiers of fortune reappearing at the death of the Empress, or the Genoese. The last, privileged throughout the island and lords of Syracuse, behaved like an independent power; but their enemies, the Pisans, were roused against them. Mark ward, after an attempt to conquer the kingdom from the north, neutralised Innocent by a feigned repentance, and, leaving the mainland war to Count Diepold, was transported by a Pisan fleet from Salerno to Trapani (October 1199). There he raised in revolt all the Val di Mazzara and the Muslims, and prepared to besiege Palermo.

The Chancellor Walter, lacking both troops and money, was forced to make common cause with the Pope. With troops under Innocent’s cousin, the Marshal Giacopo, he severely defeated the rebels before Palermo (21 July 1200), and raised the siege. This was enough to make the Pope recall his forces and reward his cousin with the county of Andria. On the mainland his instrument was the Count of Brienne, who claimed with, his approval his wife’s inheritance of Lecce and Taranto. At the head of French troops, levied with the help of papal money, Count Walter overthrew the German Count Diepold of Vohburg near Capua (10 June 1201), and proceeded to King Tancred’s lands in Apulia. But this success of the rival dynasty alarmed the Chancellor, who was already enraged by the Pope’s strict control and the quashing by Innocent of his election to the see of Palermo; and he closed with the less domineering partner and adversary. He ceded to Markward the government of the island and the custody of Frederick, and took for himself the rule of the mainland, all in open defiance of the Pope. Innocent responded by excommunicating the Chancellor and depriving him of his bishopric of Troia, while he admonished the seven-year-old king (3 July 1201) and thus provoked (from whose initiative we do not know) the first circular appeal to the princes of the world for help against unjust attack among the many such manifestoes which were a character of his reign.

The clumsy surgeon who caused Markward’s death in an operation for the stone did not change the situation in the island, for another German, William Capparone, usurped power with the title of Captain-general (September 1201). On the mainland Diepold, lord of Salerno and much of Campania, warred against Walter of Brienne, master of a great part of Apulia. The native baronage was divided between the two; Walter of Palear obdurately refused pardon and held by Diepold. But when in a surprise attack on the historic plain of Canne the Count of Vohburg was put to flight by the Count of Brienne, the pride of Walter was humbled. After an interval of concealment he submitted to the Pope, was restored to the chancellorship, and later was compensated for the loss of the see of Troia by that of Catania.

In the island, where events were diversified by a sharp war between the Pisans and the Genoese, in which the latter were victorious and retained their city of Syracuse, the papal party continually advanced, until Capparone himself sent ambassadors to recognise the papal suzerainty (October 1204). The work was completed by two events, which, in themselves misfortunes, yet gave Innocent the final victory. The Pope fell ill at Anagni, and the rumour of his death lured almost all Apulia into insurrection against Walter of Brienne. The count recovered ground and renewed the war with Diepold, whom he besieged in the castle of Sarno. But in his arrogance he did not keep the requisite watch, was surprised in his camp, and died of his wounds (June 1205). With the disappearance of the champion of the Hautevilles, the opposition to the Pope grew weaker; Diepold himself submitted and was sent to Palermo to induce Capparone to consign King Frederick into the hands of the Legate, Cardinal Gherardo of Sant’ Adriano, Innocent’s nephew, towards the close of the year 1206. The Pope later reckoned his expenses in all at 12,800 gold ounces, Frederick’s first debt.

Two years had yet to run before the king attained his majority, fixed by the Pope at fourteen. They were years of turbulence: there was a Muslim revolt with its centre at Corleone; Diepold, embroiled with the Chancellor, joined the German bands who plundered the Terra di Lavoro; the native barons usurped jurisdiction, built illegal castles, carried on their feuds, and tormented the population. Innocent did more than exhort: he drove out one German adventurer, and gave his county of Sora to his own brother Richard; at a congress in San Germane (June 1208) he set up a fresh regency for the mainland. But when the kingdom was consigned to Frederick the demesne was depleted, and the revenues were so exhausted that the most pressing daily needs of the king were only provided for by the loyal gifts of the townsmen of the greater cities.

Secluded in the palace and its gardens, Frederick had grown up amid adversities. Even so he had been able to develope his marvellous natural powers, training assiduously his strong and active body, and enriching his mind with every kind of profitable study. He said himself later that in his youth, before taking up the burden of government, he had sought after knowledge and loved her beauty without ceasing, and had always breathed her balsamic perfumes. Two months after his majority there landed at Palermo the wife chosen for him by the Pope, Constance, sister of Peter II of Aragon and widow of Emeric, King of Hungary (February 1208). She was accompanied by her brother Alfonso, Count of Provence, and a brilliant train of Aragonese, Catalan, and Provençal knights, and 400 lances for her husband’s service. But when, already provoked by the insolence of the Sicilian barons, Frederick marched eastwards “to conquer the land”, his foreign forces were dissipated by an epidemic, and he “remained at Messina with his townsmen, for there were no other knights with him”. Secret conspiracy and open insolence were rife among the nobles. The king succeeded in cajoling them, and then suddenly arrested a number of them and confiscated their usurped domains. Other energetic acts followed, such as the dismissal of the Chancellor; the canons of Palermo, on their refusing to elect a nominee as archbishop, were exiled. But here Frederick found himself still in trammels. The Pope rated him for the sentence on the canons, and commanded the reinstatement of Walter of Palear as Chancellor (25 January 1210). Frederick characteristically justified his treatment of the barons by a manifesto; at this moment, however, he and his suzerain were in dire need of one another’s aid.


If the possession of Sicily by his son confirmed in some measure the work of Henry VI, the peace he had given Italy collapsed at his death. The three duchies he had formed in the centre fell to pieces as we have seen, and everywhere the intestine war burst out more furiously than ever. The Pope himself was an aggressive, if not warlike, power. Immediately on his accession he secured control of the prefect and the senator of Rome, only to lose it again when the Romans, against his command,insisted on waging a victorious war with wealthy Viterbo. Worse still, the single senator was again replaced by the senate of fifty-three members, which compelled the Pope to quit Rome for a year. But the disorders of a new election induced the Romans to recall him and to restore to him the right of nominating the senator. Meantime he had gained a nominal accession of territory. By the diploma of Neuss (8 June 1201), the Guelf claimant Otto IV ceded to the Church the country between Radicofani and Ceprano, the Exarchate, the Pentapolis, the March of Ancona, the Duchy of Spoleto, and Matilda’s lands, in short all and more than all the territory which was to form the Papal State up to 1860. But it was not until tire autumn of 1207 that tire enlarged papal dominion was acknowledged in a congress of petty rulers at Viterbo.

Tuscany made an attempt at providing for peace with curious speed. On Henry VI’s death the Tuscan cities and lords formed at San Genesio a “Tuscan League” under the patronage of the Pope: they would recognise neither emperor nor king without the Pope’s consent, and would aid the Roman Church against anyone who, not being a member of the league, disturbed its possessions. The league indeed broke down, for the allies, among them Florence, attacked one another. Pisa, who had held aloof from the movement, was meanwhile carrying on her war with Genoa, and lost a point to her rival when her protégé Marquess William of Massa was driven out of his two Judicates in Sardinia.

In the March of Verona and Friuli there reigned perpetual strife, both between the great nobles among themselves and between them and the communes, but there were clear signs of the nobles gaining clients and leading parties in the latter. In Piedmont the communes were in the ascendant, and new communes, like Cuneo, were formed on the lands of the Marquess of Saluzzo and the Bishop of Asti. In central Lombardy a Lombard league headed by Milan fought Cremona and her allies during the abeyance of the Empire; and this was typical. The external wars fostered internal strife, which caused too often the exile of a defeated faction among the enemies of their native city.

Into this land of discord came Otto IV, the surviving claimant of the Empire. On renewing at Spires the donation of Neuss he had been promised by Innocent III the imperial crown; and in 1209 he came urging peace and protesting himself rigidly impartial. But his actions belied him. Ezzelin II, lord of Bassano, received Vicenza; Saliuguerra not only kept Ferrara but was made Count of Romagna. Genoa, on the other hand, was forced to renounce the dominion of Albenga and Savona; Asti that of Annone, centre indeed of the imperial demesne in Piedmont. Meanwhile Otto at an assembly at Bologna demanded the fealty of communes and feudal lords, with their contingents for his march to Rome and the long arrears of tribute. Passing through Tuscany, he met the Pope at Viterbo; there he pledged himself never to invade the kingdom of Sicily, a sign perhaps of the likelihood of the invasion, and on 4 October 1209 the coronation at St Peter’s was peaceably performed. But the Senator, indignant at the commune of Rome being ignored, had already barred the bridges of the Tiber, and in the evening the Romans rose in insurrection. The Emperor in disgust made his way back to Lombardy. At Piacenza he let his designs be seen; he was reverting to the policy of Henry VI and would unite Sicily to the Empire. His pledges, perhaps, were too many and too onerous to keep; and the Empire’s need of demesnes and revenues was more crying than ever before.


Otto IV began by reconciling for the nonce Pisa and Genoa, and then invited both to furnish him with ships for the passage to Sicily. Though Genoa refused, Pisa agreed and equipped forty galleys. But when his intrigues were extended to Sicily, the German captains of Henry VI preferred their compatriot to Henry’s Sicilian son, and drew to their side the more turbulent barons, the prelates, discontented townsmen, and the Saracens of the island; the Guelf banner was hoisted at Naples and elsewhere. To the Pope Otto practically threw down the gauntlet. His distant kinsman, Azzo VI, Marquess of Este in the Veneto, had been invested by Innocent III with the March of Ancona. The Emperor now annulled this grant and himself invested Azzo with the March, and the traitorous Count Diepold with the Duchy of Spoleto, as his own lieutenants. Finally, advancing southwards once more with a powerful army composed of Germans, Lombards, and Tuscans, he entered Marsica from Rieti in November 1210, to be met obsequiously by the Abbot of Monte Cassino and all the lords of the Terra di Lavoro save the Count of Aquino. He halted to winter at Capua, and the same fate seemed to  hang over the head of the young Hohenstaufen as had been inflicted by Henry VI on the last child-king of the Norman line.

This time the saviour of the Sicilian monarchy and of the liberty of Italy was the Pope. When he saw that his exhortations and threats (March 1210) were in vain, he excommunicated the perjured Emperor and his supporters, and placed Capua and Naples under interdict (November 1210). When Otto subdued Apulia and much of Calabria, Innocent solemnly renewed the excommunication on Holy Thursday (30 March) 1211, and called all his partisans and all enemies of the Emperor to arms. More effective still was his summons to the German princes to depose Otto and to elect in his stead Frederick of Sicily, “as young in years as old in wisdom”. This bold move had immediate success; the ancient adherents of the Hohenstaufen in Italy, the Marquesses of Este and Montferrat, the communes of Genoa, Pavia, Cremona, and Verona rose in Frederick’s favour; those in Germany invited to come to lead them.

Otto IV with his communications being cut and Germany revolting had no choice but to retreat. Scarcely had he recrossed the Alps before his lieutenants were driven out of Spoleto and Brescia, while Azzo VI secured the rule of Ferrara. But Innocent’s main purpose had been to save the States of the Church anti papal independence. He was determined to maintain the separation of Sicily from the Regnum Italicum, and he hoped to render the victory of his Hohenstaufen protégé innocuous by the stringent obligations to which Frederick submitted at Messina in February 1212. Not only were the tribute and fealty for Sicily renewed, not only did the Pope enforce the cession to himself of the royal rights over Monte Cassino, and the counties of Sora, Aquino, and Fondi, but he constrained Frederick to declare that directly he should be crowned Emperor he would, emancipate his son Henry and cede to him the Sicilian kingdom, that during Henry’s Minority the kingdom should be governed by a person approved by the Pope, and that it should for ever be divided from the Empire and Italy. With what feelings Frederick subscribed can be imagined when we remember what place in his heart was held by “his precious heritage”, “his very own possession”, “the apple of his eye”, which gave him what he felt to be his most glorious title, and which, during all his life, amid all his dominions was his elected home.

Meanwhile the infant Henry was crowned at Palermo, the regency of Sicily being entrusted to Queen Constance. Then, embarking at Messina, Frederick landed at Gaeta on 17 March 1212. After a stay of about a month, under blockade by Pisan galleys, he proceeded to Rome by land, and thence by sea to Genoa in May. The Ottoman Lombards held the usual routes, but in July with the help of his partisans he slipped through to Trent by unknown, tortuous, and difficult ways. He was not to return for eight years.


During this time Sicily was ruled by Constance, but the royal authority declined more and more through persistent rebellions and agitations. In the island, the Muslims sallied forth from the mountainous centre of the Val di Mazzara to plunder, to seize other places, and to make prisoners whom they held to ransom. Both in the island and on the mainland turbulent nobles were in arms. A famine came to aggravate these evils, in which it is said that mothers ate their own children. Meanwhile Frederick could do little save obtain papal letters with their sonorous platitudes and counsels.

In Italy conditions were little better; the local struggles were rekindled and were not extinguished cither by the definitive defeat or by the death of Otto IV. Frederick at Ratisbon constituted (16 February 1213) his relative Frederick, Bishop of Trent, imperial legate for “all Italy,” the first instance of such an appointment. Under the legate were placed then or later vicars of the separate regions. Among these was Aldrovandino of Este, vicar of the Romagna, who had already been appointed to the March of Ancona by the Pope in succession to his father Azzo VI, and was influential in Verona, in Padua, and in Ferrara. The young marquess overcame the Ottomans in the March, and invested with the office of vicar of Sicily was entering the kingdom when he died suddenly, it was said by poison. His successor as vicar of Sicily, Leopold, Bishop of Worms, was restoring order and repressing abuses, when he too was prevented by death from completing his work (1217). In the north the Estensi’s rival, Salinguerra, not only gained the upper hand at Ferrara but obtained from the Pope investiture of Matilda’s lands with Modena, Reggio, Parma, Bologna, and Imola (7 September 1215).

In the meantime Innocent III was fortifying the State of the Church by further guarantees and as he hoped barring the way from the Empire to Sicily more effectually than ever. By the two treaties of Eger (12 July 1213) and Spires (11 October 1215) Frederick, reproducing the charter of Neuss, confirmed Otto’s grants, and pledged himself to conquer for the Roman see what had yet escaped it, and to defend its rights over Sicily and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia; while he ceded the pledged county of Sora to the Papal States. Further, he renewed his promises to allow free ecclesiastical elections, free appeals to the Pope, free ecclesiastical courts, free ecclesiastical administration of vacant sees, and he bound himself to punish heretics and to take the cross. His recompense for these enormous concessions was a precedent as fatal: the Fourth Lateran Council (11-30 November 1215) sanctioned the deposition of his Guelf rival and his own elevation.

The crusading peace imposed by the Council was not observed either by Milan and Piacenza, or by Genoa and Pisa. While they fought Innocent III died at Perugia on 16 July 1216, and was succeeded by his very opposite, Honorius III. To the born autocrat with his bluff adroitness and daring strategy succeeded the tried official who as the Chamberlain Cencio Savelli had tabulated in his Liber Censuum the revenues of the Papacy. And this ex-minister was an elderly man, loving peace and justice, forgiving, willingly credulous. But if he could be overreached, his policy would not be deflected, for it was that of the Papacy and the Curia; this was the fatal obstacle to Frederick’s schemes, the relentless perseverance not of a man but of an institution.

Things took a better turn in Lombardy after the arrival in 1218 of a new papal legate, the energetic Ugolino dei Conti, Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. He induced Genoa to make peace both with Pisa, who had just secured the fealty of the Judge of Cagliari, and with Venice. Genoa was rewarded largely for her support of Frederick; to a confirmation of all imperial grants and of her rights over her two Rivieras was added (1218) a confirmation of her possessions and privileges in Sicily. Not only was she grateful, but emulous Pisa began to imitate her enemy’s profitable devotion. Meanwhile, under the working of a papal interdict, Milan submitted to peace with Pavia (1218), and other reconciliations followed. It was in Rome that the Pope failed; the people restored the commune and forced him to take refuge at Rieti and later at Viterbo.

In these years Pope and Emperor were in harmony. Honorius allowed Frederick’s queen and son to rejoin him in Germany; and now Frederick summoned to him the ecclesiastical and lay lords of Italy and the deputies of the communes to swear fealty and deliberate on their country. Few came, but they were rewarded, especially the prelates. Giacopo, Bishop of Turin, succeeded the dead Frederick of Trent as General Legate, and quickly found that Bologna would not make peace with Imola at his command. The ban of the Empire on the offending city displayed his anger and his impotence (May 1219).

At this very time the first skirmish of the coming duel between Empire and Papacy took place. Honorius summoned Frederick to his Crusade. The reasons, however, which Frederick pleaded to justify postponement were too strong to be denied by the Pope, although excommunication was already threatened. Other grievances Honorius had: that Frederick was planning the election of his son King Henry as King of the Romans; that he interfered in ecclesiastical elections; that he allowed Rainald, son of Conrad of Urslingen, to entitle himself Duke of the now papal Spoleto. On these counts Frederick, in need of his imperial coronation, made a humble, temporising reply. When Honorius demanded the solemn renewal of all his pledges, and especially that of the perpetual separation of Sicily and the Empire, Frederick obeyed at the Diet of Hagenau before the papal legate under the guarantee of the princes (September 1219). Meantime he devised evasion. He promised to abdicate the Sicilian throne, but reserved his right of hereditary succession to his son in that papal fief, if he predeceased him without heirs (10 February 1220). Then as a further sop to the Pope and as a dexterous piece of courtship of the Romans, hitherto unwisely flouted by the Emperors, he announced his approaching coronation to the Senate and people, and begged them to recall the Pope. For once a King of the Romans was popular in his capital; the Senator Parenzio assured him of Rome’s joy, and of her obedience to the Pontiff. Then Honorius could return to the Lateran; and Frederick begged as a favour to be allowed to keep the kingdom of Sicily for his lifetime. Further, at the Diet of Frankfort (April 1220) his concessions to the Roman Church were once more ratified, and his routes to Rome for the coronation and to the East for the Crusade were fixed. But at the same diet his hardest pledge was broken. A garbled version of the facts was later given to Honorius: that without Frederick’s knowledge, in order to provide for the safety of the State during his absence in Rome and the East, the German princes had elected Henry King of the Romans and had sworn fealty to him. Innocent III’s device of separation was for the time at an end; and Frederick, leaving his son in Germany with a council of regency, crossed the Brenner with a strong German force (September 1220).


Italy was in a state of unusual tranquillity; and Frederick was able to advance from Verona without lighting. He must have already conceived the division of the Regnum Italicum into five vicariates under the General Legate (now Conrad, Bishop of Metz). These vicariates were: from Trent to the river Oglio; from Pavia upwards (with Piedmont and the Milanese); from Pavia downwards (with Genoa); the Romagna; and Tuscany. Subordinate to the vicars were the captains of great cities named by the Emperor, and judges appointed by the vicars. In each province there were imperialist lords and communes: Azzo VII of Este, the Marquess of Montferrat, the Count of Biandrate, the four sons of Guido Guerra in Tuscany, and the cities of Pavia, Cremona, Parma, Pisa, and Siena. Frederick’s wish to conciliate the Church was obvious throughout. He notified (24 September 1220) all communes that he had annulled whatever in their laws in an heretical spirit injured ecclesiastical liberties. He invested the Pope’s delegates with Matilda’s lands. From near Bologna he wrote to Honorius hoping “that you will gather the fruit of that tree planted and tended by the Church”. But when he invited his Sicilian magnates to the coronation the Pope’s suspicions were aroused, and he demanded that the Emperor’s coronation-constitution should contain a safeguard of the Church’s rights and a condemnation of heresy. Frederick promised that it should, and explicitly acknowledged that Sicily was no part of the Empire, but held by him as a fief of the Church, declaring that he would only appoint natives to office therein. At last on 22 Novem­ber 1220 he with his consort received the imperial crown in St Peter’s without the customary tumults, and then took the cross again, promising immediate help for the crusade in Egypt and to sail himself within nine months. He promulgated the desired constitution, and, to prove his co­operation with the Pope, appointed Ugolino of Ostia, the papal legate, his own legate in Italy along with Conrad of Metz.

But in spite of the two legates the politics of Italy took their normal course of discord and war. In Tuscany, which had been for some time at peace, Pisa, Siena, Pistoia, and other communes fought endlessly from 1221 with Florence, Lucca, Arezzo, and their minor allies. Bologna and Faenza conquered and filled up the moats of Imola; the Ravennates slaughtered Ugolino, Count of the Romagna; the Estense faction fought Salinguerra over Ferrara. As to Milan, where the popular party prevailed, the nobles with the archbishop emigrated and ravaged the country-side. There was no preventing the faction and inter-city strife that provoked a Franciscan friar, himself a Lombard and a Guelf, to describe his countrymen as “a race most tortuous and changeable, speaking in one way and acting in another, like eels that the more they cling the quicker they slip away”. But to them autonomy, however turbid, was the supreme good. The new Emperor on the contrary, determined to give peace and order to his dominions, was resolved that this liberty should not last. It was the second fatal antagonism of the reign.

Frederick’s first and most necessary task was to consolidate his heredi­tary realm on lines laid down by the Norman dynasty, but far more developed. First of all, he must restore the demesne, squandered by his father and guardians, and usurped under forged diplomas, and he must extirpate rebellion. Two men who now entered his service were to serve him well: Roffredo of Benevento, an eminent professor of law first at Bologna, then at Arezzo, whom he made a judge of the Great Curia; and a low-born Capuan, Peter della Vigna, now made a royal notary. A series of revendications formed the first step: Sora was taken from Richard del Conti; the Abbot of Monte Cassino lost his criminal jurisdiction; Siegfried, Diepold’s brother, lost his fiefs and was sent with him to Germany. At Capua in december 1220 Frederick held the first General Court of the kingdom, and promulgated twenty chapters of assizes or constitutions, dealing with fiefs, the demolition of “adulterine” castles, the construction and administration of royal castles, the investigation into the validity of titles to lands, and the reform of the Norman judicial system. “We,” said the Emperor, “who have received from the hand of the Lord the sceptre of the Empire and the rule of the kingdom of Sicily, announce to all our faithful subjects of the aforesaid kingdom what is our will and pleasure.” In a General Court at Messina (May-July 1221) this autocrat added some censorial constitutions against dicers, blasphemers, Jews (for whom a distinctive garb was prescribed), prostitutes, and scurrilous jongleurs. These were the first, nucleus of the Frederician legislation. During the next ten years other less precisely known laws were issued; they probably included the ten years’ freedom from taxation for immigrants, the stricter regulation of notaries and advocates, the duty of officials to denounce corruption in the administration, the prohibition of pledging plough-oxen or agricultural implements, the just price to be paid tailors, cobblers, and carpenters, the punishment of false coining and fraudulent goods. The reform of abuses public and private is the obvious aim of this legislative activity.

Meanwhile Frederick was attacking open rebels like Thomas, Count of Molise and Celano, on the mainland and Morabit with his Saracens in the island. The rebel count held out for three years, and then went into exile through papal mediation; during his absence Frederick confiscated his lands. The Saracens, supplied with munitions by the Genoese who were indignant at the loss of their special privileges in Sicily, at first repelled the Count of Malta. In 1222 the Emperor himself entered the Val di Mazzara and captured the fortress of Giato with Morabit, whom he hanged at Palermo. Next summer he attacked the Muslims on several sides, and compelled numbers of them to surrender. With them he repeopled the ancient Lucera in the Capitanata on the mainland, not far from his favourite residences and hunting-grounds in Apulia. They were formed into a military and agricultural colony, specially favoured, and they ended in being most useful and faithful clients, impervious to interdict and excommunication. In the Muslim war Frederick not only imposed fresh taxes but called out the feudal array. The latter measure had a subsidiary use, for three notably disloyal counts were imprisoned when they appeared and their fiefs were confiscated.

In February 1223 Frederick continued his reforms by fresh constitu­tions issued in a court at Capua: they organised the administration, prevented the alienation of Church lands, ordered an inquest into the validity of grants made since William II’s reign, and introduced a new silver coin, the “imperial,” to replace the Amalfitan tari. The royal castles were repaired, and the new palace at Foggia was begun. Soon after he planned a more lasting foundation. The only higher education in the kingdom was given by the School of Medicine at Salerno. Frederick, himself learned, a philosopher, and an author, would not endure that his subjects in a land so fertile and happy should beg elsewhere the bread of knowledge. From Syracuse on 5 June 1224 he announced that he had founded in the enchanting city of Naples, abounding in every gift of God, a Studium Universale, “fountain of knowledge and seed-plot of learning”. Outside of Spain this was the only university founded by the secular state alone in the Middle Ages. He called thither from all sides lectors in all arts and sciences with the promise of high salaries; he forbade his Sicilian subjects to study outside the kingdom, while endowing the new university with all kinds of facilities material and moral, and assigning subsidies for poor students. Poverty and humble birth were never demerits in his eyes. He only considered personal capacity and fidelity in the choice of his fellow-workers and ministers. Indeed, from these he formed a new nobility. A year or two earlier a Frederick of Arco and his two nephews received for their services the title of counts, “as if they descended from ancient nobles and ancient counts.”

In this way Frederick raised the intellectual level of his kingdom, while by the consolidation of the supreme power and the repression of feudal abuses he reorganised the administration, and placed all his subjects under the same uniform and equal laws with as much liberty as did not disturb order and peace. And at the same time he revived the fleet, protected commerce, agriculture, and industry, and multiplied the sources of public and private wealth.


But such a strengthening of Sicily, whose king was also Emperor and ruled to north and south of the Papal States, early alarmed the Pope, To patronise Frederick’s domestic enemies became the policy of the papal Curia. Frederick’s interference in ecclesiastical elections, his punishment of prelates, his anti-feudal laws, all met with papal protest. But Honorius’ chief demand, was that Frederick should quit his task as king to launch on the adventure of the crusade. Frederick had transported crusaders and had sent forty galleys to relieve Damietta; but the place fell (8 September 1221) before their arrival, and the old Chancellor Walter of Palear who was in command of them dared not face the wrath of his sovereign. He fled to Venice, was despoiled of his possessions, and died in poverty. But Honorius laid all the blame on Frederick’s tardiness. At a meeting with the Pope at Veroli Frederick again swore to start, but no date was yet fixed. Meanwhile, an awkward incident took place. Gunzelin of Wolfenbuttel, imperial vicar in Tuscany, came to the rescue of Viterbo again assailed by the Romans, and usurped the rule of the duchy of Spoleto. The Emperor, however, completely disavowed the vicar, sent him to Honorius to make his peace, and replaced him in Tuscany by the “Duke of Spoleto”. The Pope, on his side, thought of a lure to the crusade. When the solemn congress for it met at Ferentino in March 1223, Frederick undertook at the Pope’s instance a twofold obligation. The Empress Constance had died on 23 June 1222. The widower now promised to start for the Holy Land before 24 June 1225, and to marry Isabella (or Yolande), the only daughter of King John of Brienne and, through her mother, heiress of the kingdom of Jerusalem.

It seemed that the Emperor was now in earnest. While he sent to fetch the bride from Syria, he prepared a strong fleet, and provided for the government of Sicily during his absence. But the reorganisation of Sicily was not complete; the Saracens were not wholly subdued. He had not yet been free to take personal action in the Regnum Italicum, where the new quiet of Sicily was thought an intolerable despotism, the representatives of the Emperor were distrusted, and the increase of his authority was dreaded as a peril for the liberty so hardly won. For these reasons Frederick asked for a fresh delay; and for this his ambassadors, who came to the Pope at Rieti, whither he had fled from Rome, seemed themselves a warrant—they were King John of Brienne, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Harman of Salza. The Pope consented; it was the only way of avoiding an immediate rupture due to the irremediable opposition of the two points of view. At San Germano on 25 July 1225 two cardinals fixed Frederick’s departure for August 1227, but he was obliged to renew his oath, to send 1000 knights at once to the Holy Land, and to deposit 100,000 ounces of gold to be forfeited for God’s service if he broke his pledge. Frederick indemnified himself on his marriage with Yolande (9 November 1225); John of Brienne, suspect himself and the uncle of King Tancred’s heir, Walter, was forced to abdicate the throne of Jerusalem, and the Emperor received the fealty of his new wife’s vassals. For the time Honorius pensioned the aggrieved ex-king with the government of the Tuscan Patrimony; later he became Latin Emperor of Constantinople.

But Frederick’s main objective was to assert the imperial authority in Italy, and to link the Empire with Sicily. Not only to deliberate on the preparations for the crusade and on the extirpation of heresy, but also to provide “for the honour and reform of the state of the Empire”, he convoked to a General Diet at Cremona for Easter 1226 his son King Henry with the German princes, the Italian vassals, and the deputies of the communes. On his way thither he flouted the Pope and shewed his hand: besides the Sicilian vassals he ordered the knights and city-deputies of the duchy of Spoleto to join him at Pescara on 6 March 1226. The Pope forbade them to obey, and an angry correspondence followed, violent enough for an open breach had either party wished it. Meanwhile the Lombards more than took up the challenge. Instead of attending the diet, the Milanese, Bolognese, Brescians, Mantuans, Bergamese, Turinese, Vicentines, Paduans, and Trevisans, formed at Mosio near Mantua on 6 March 1226 the second Lombard League, an offensive and defensive alliance for twenty-five years. Other communes, such as Piacenza, Verona, Faenza, Vercelli, Lodi, Alessandria, hastened to join, and the Piedmontese Peter della Carovana chanted in the fashionable Provençal his song of defiance: “Behold our Emperor who gathers great forces. Lombards, beware lest he make you worse than slaves, if you stand not firm... Remember the valiant barons of Apulia who now have naught but grief in their dwellings. Love not the folk of Germany; far, far from you be these mad dogs, God save Lombardy, Bologna, and Milan, and their allies, and Brescia, and the Mantuans, and the good men of the March [of Verona], so that none of them be a slave”. Thirty years before, Peter Vidal had raised the same war-chant against the German conqueror, Henry VI. But Frederick came from Sicily to give order and peace to the chaotic north; for him William Figueira and Peter Cardinal prayed that the Milanese might be overthrown by the puissant, wise, and learned Emperor.

Frederick rebuilt the walls of Imola, and awaited his son at Parma (June 1226). But the Lombards seized the Clause of Verona, and demanded as the price of Henry’s passage that the Emperor during his stay in Lombardy should renounce the right of putting to the ban of the Empire and dismiss his army; that he and his son should submit to the jurisdiction of the papal legate; and that King Henry should not bring more than 1200 knights to Cremona. In spite of his indignation, Frederick prudently laid the dispute before the papal legate, who proposed a compromise accepted by the Emperor and rejected by the League, while fresh adherents—Crema, Ferrara, the Counts of Biandrate, and the Marquess of Montferrat—joined the allies. Thus the diet was a mere shadow of the decisive assembly intended; neither the Emperor’s ban, nor the interdicts and excommunications of the Bishop of Hildesheim, who preached the crusade on the Pope’s behalf, had any effect; Frederick’s Italian schemes were checked for the time. Genoa was against him owing to the revolt from her of the Riviera di Ponente; in Tuscany only Pisa was loyal. It was absolutely necessary for him to gain the support of the Papacy to recover his prestige. He succeeded by his energetic measures in satisfying Honorius of his zeal for the crusade, and the Pope at last acceded to his requests for mediation. The Bishop of Hildesheim’s anathemas were annulled, and early in 1227 an accord was drafted, which bound both parties to abandon hostilities, the Emperor to revoke his sentences, and the League to maintain 400 knights for two years in the crusade. The Emperor accepted it, but by the time the League’s acceptance came Honorius was already dead (18 March 1227), and the new Pope, Gregory IX, had already threateningly demanded Frederick’s prompt departure on the crusade.

Ugolino dei Conti, Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, was a kinsman of Innocent III, to whom he owed his promotion, and had abundantly proved his capacity and strength of character. His was a fiery nature of inextinguishable passion, which made him at once the fervent ascetic beloved of St Francis, the enthusiast for the ideal of the Papacy as set forth by Gregory VII, and the hater of the secular genius in whom he discerned its greatest enemy. His insight was greater than his diplomacy, and, indomitable as the old Pope was, Frederick outplayed him to the end. All the same, in sheer ability he stands very high among the wearers of the tiara. A firm grasp of principles in their application to the variety of life made him a great canonist, the five books of whose Decretals are worthy of the Gratian they extend, and an intuitive reformer of ritual which should appeal to the devout imagination. He saw only too clearly in Frederick’s schemes the subjection of the Papacy to the Empire; the conquest of Lombardy must not happen; the Sicilian monarchy must no longer be a compact despotism over layman and clerk.

While the new Pope sojourned in Anagni, the crusaders concentrated in Apulia were decimated by southern heat and malaria. Yet 40,000 are said to have sailed from Brindisi in August. The Emperor himself, with the Landgrave Louis of Thuringia, embarked on 8 September. But the landgrave’s fatal illness forced them to anchor at Otranto, and Frederick fell ill himself. He sent on the rest of the fleet under the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and went to Pozzuoli to drink the waters. His envoys excused him to the Pope at Anagni, but Gregory IX was in no mood to listen; he at once excommunicated the Emperor for breach of his vow (29 September), and renewed the sentence in St Peter’s on 18 November 1227. He had forced the inevitable issue prematurely.

Frederick on his recovery renewed his preparations; but he also issued (6 December 1227) a notable manifesto to the crusaders and princes of Europe, denouncing the secular pretensions of the Papacy, which, having reduced the King of England and others to vassalage, desired to place the Empire under its feet. It was a common danger:

Tunc tua res agitur paries cum proximus ardet.”

He ordered the Sicilian clergy to disregard the interdict. Although a proposed diet at Ravenna could not be held owing to the Lombards’ enmity, the court the Emperor held at Easter 1228 at Barletta was thronged, and all arrangements were made for his absence. At this same time the birth of an heir, Conrad, to the kingdom of Jerusalem cost the Empress Yolande her life. On 28 June Frederick sailed for Palestine.

Gregory IX on his side on Holy Thursday (23 March) renewed the excommunication and interdict, and threatened to deprive Frederick of Sicily; but the Romans did not love his absolutism, and when on Easter Monday he preached against the crusading Emperor he was driven from St Peter’s and forced to quit Rome for nearly two years. War was now in progress; Frederick’s Vicar of Sicily, Rainald, “Duke of Spoleto”, invaded the March of Ancona of which the Emperor had already made him “Imperial Vicar”; Gregory begged for money and men from France, Lombardy, Spain, and England, and let loose on Sicily an army under Cardinal John Colonna. John dei Conti, Count of Fondi, alone resisted the ravages of this horde in the Terra di Lavoro. The Pope exacted taxes, gave and confiscated fiefs, dispensed town-charters, and fomented insurrections—Gaeta came over, and Messina, Syracuse, and other towns rebelled. And it was falsely rumoured that Frederick was dead.

In this turmoil, increased by the intestine wars of North Italy, Frederick, now the regainer of Jerusalem, returned to Brindisi (10 June 1229) to find the gates of Foggia and other papalist towns closed against him. He at once sued for peace, but Gregory only denounced the “execrable pact” he had made with the Sultan as an insult to the Saviour. Thus forced to war, Frederick mustered his army at Naples and marched to raise the siege of Caiazzo in the Terra di Lavoro. As he advanced, the papalist troops could only recoil into the State of the Church, and he recovered the province almost without a blow. But he was hoping for a speedy accommodation with the Pope discouraged by his reverses. Herman of Salza undertook the task, which proved long and arduous. The Pope was exacting and determined to remain in concert with the Lombards; Frederick, who punished the rebel cities in Apulia, was resolved to recover revolted Gaeta and Sant’ Agata. A flood of the Tiber followed by a pestilence, however, strengthened the Pope’s position by bringing him back to repentant Rome in February 1230. The treaty was at last signed on 23 July at San Germano; on 28 August Frederick was absolved at Ceprano, and after a visit to the Pope at Anagni returned to Sicily to heal the wounds of the war. But the terms were hard. The Pope; indeed, recognised Frederick’s simultaneous reign in the Empire and Sicily; Gaeta and Sant’ Agata were to be his within a year. But the Emperor remitted all offences, restored the lands he had seized, and bound himself, neither to tax the Sicilian clergy, nor to» interfere in the election of their prelates, nor to try them in secular courts. The Sicilian monarchy had lost a part of its powers.


Frederick made it his first task to recover rights and lands lost during his absence, and in this he had occasion to besiege and banish his unsuccessful deputy Rainald of Spoleto. In 1233 he followed up his reconquest by subduing and harshly punishing Messina, Syracuse, and other island towns. But he engaged also in a larger design. He was not only king but Caesar, and he determined like Justinian and Theodoric to promulgate a new body of law, to reform his distracted kingdom. The former laws, “rusty from disuse,” were to be fused with his own into a new code, and to form a complete system of law and government. The work, completed in two months, was entitled Liber or Lex Augustalis and promulgated at Melfi in a solemn consistory. It became law on 1 September1 1231, and was immediately translated into Greek, still a living language in Sicily. One of the chief compilers was Giacomo, Archbishop of Capua, in spite of Gregory IX’s prohibition of making laws destitutvas salutis et institutivas enormium scandalorum, but the greatest merit belongs to Peter della Vigna. The work consisted of 217 constitutions grouped in three books, (I) of public law, (II) of procedure, and (III) of feudal and private law, and of punishments. Later, 61 constitutiones novellas were from time to time added; thus in 1234 was issued De corrigendis et compescendis excessibus officialium establishing annual provincial curiae or parliaments to review the conduct of magistrates. The whole formed the first medieval code clearly inspired by the principles of Roman jurisprudence replacing customary and feudal law, and is a monument of the civilisation of Sicily. Even admitting its absolutism and its Draconian penalties, the enlightened spirit of its promulgator, far in advance of his century, is attested by the intention to prevent rather than punish crime; the guarantees for personal liberty, and encroachments on serfdom; the monopoly of criminal jurisdiction for the Crown; the protection of the vassal against the baron and of the weak against the strong; the organisation of magistracies and offices; the abolition of the ordeal and rights of wreck; the protection of foreigners; and the admission of female inheritance. The administrative system preludes the civilised monarchy of modern times; the king and his councillors ruled the state through efficient local officials. The work of Roger II was completed by his grandson in this land compact of diverse, jarring elements, which were combined and dominated without the supremacy or destruction of any. Here as elsewhere in the West was a feudal organisation, but it was restricted and subordinated to that of the State. Beside and above the barons were the officials, paid and protected by the State, yet watched by the government and kept in line by general courts where all could utter their grievances. A special register was maintained of the bureaucracy. Each functionary had to present two annual reports, one on matters entrusted to subordinates, one on his own activities. But offences against the official class were more heavily punished than those against private persons.

Frederick’s ministers were recruited from jurists and notaries, provincial officials from the knights. Save for four prelates (the Archbishops of Palermo and Capua, and the Bishops of Melfi and Rapallo), and two great nobles, allied to him by marriage, the Counts of Acerra and Caserta, he left the aristocracy aside. As under the Norman kings, there were seven great officers, chosen by the sovereign. The Grand Chancellor kept the great seal, drafted laws, and watched over their working. The Grand Constable commanded the army and presided over the court of barons. The Grand Admiral commanded the fleet, and dealt with naval causes. The Grand Justiciar was minister of justice and appeals; the Grand Chamberlain of finance and the demesne—under him were the two Secreta (Treasuries) for the mainland and the island. The Grand Seneschal supervised the palaces, forests, and the household. The Grand Protonotary or Logothete was a secretary of state for non-judicial busi­ness. These officers, often with the addition of trusted prelates and barons, formed the Council of the Crown.

The kingdom was divided into two captaincies-general, one of the mainland to Roseto, the other of most of Calabria and of Sicily proper; but the Captain and Master Justiciar of each were only appointed for special emergencies. The eleven provinces, however, represented permanent needs. In each of them was a Justiciar, annual but renewable, who exercised criminal jurisdiction and kept order; his staff of judges and notaries was nominated by the king, and he could not be a native of his province or an ecclesiastic. Civil justice was dispensed by bailiffs and judges under the Master Chamberlain. For the poor justice was gratuitous, and widows and orphans were even subsidised in their causes by the State. In finance, the provincial authority was the Master Chamberlain (or the Secreto in the south), who administered demesnes, customs, and tolls, and paid the expenses of administration. The same system was in use for direct taxes and the Justiciar; and the surpluses, if any, were paid to the royal treasury at Naples. A kind of Exchequer, the Curia magistri rationum, audited the State accounts.

The revenue was large. At first feudal tenants, ecclesiastical or lay, paid only the feudal obligations (defence, coronation-gift, knighting the king’s son, marriage of his daughter, auberge or entertainment, and relief); but Frederick after his crusade introduced provisionally the collecta, a hearth-tax, which became annual as the collecta ordinaria and was intensely unpopular. To the Norman indirect taxation he added the nova statuta. In spite, however, of heavy taxation, the government paid with difficulty its Saracen and German mercenaries, and was forced to borrow. The loans grew enormous in the troubles of Frederick’s later years, and were the more burdensome from being raised from foreign merchants. Frederick attempted a remedy for this by counter-measures. He was most severe in punishing official extortion; he fostered industry and commerce—in 1234 he established annual general fairs; he combined the economic knowledge of the Saracens with the Norman instinct for organisation. If the State kept up old monopolies (salt, iron and steel, silk, etc.) and instituted new (slaughter-houses, money-changing, etc.), they were regu­lated so as not to fetter industry. Prohibition was only applied to siege­-machines and war-horses. The tax on exported grain was lowered from a third to a fifth and even to a sixth, and the Emperor explained to remonstrants that freedom of commerce leads to its increase and to that of public prosperity. He suppressed internal customs as a check on inter­course; he winked at the presence of enemy Genoese and Venetians who were solely engaged salubriter et quiete in their commerce. Not least of these beneficial measures was the coining in 1231 of augustalsin imita­tion of the East Roman bezant—which initiated the West in a pure and stable gold coinage, to be copied and outlived by the Florentine florin.

In like manner he encouraged agriculture: he forbade the seizure of oxen and implements for debt; he created model farms; he exterminated injurious animals; he fostered the cultivation of cotton and the sugar cane, and the plantation of the date-palm; he sought to acclimatise! the indigo-plant; he allowed the clearing of demesne-forest for vineyard. If he forbade for a time intermarriage with foreigners, it was due to the Sicilian rebellion; and he favoured immigration, founding, like the Norman kings, Lombard colonies in the island. New cities, Augusta, Monteleone, Aquila, were built by him, as well as his royal castles. He sank wells and constructed bridges; he renewed the Roman outlets of Lago Fucino.

The depression of the barons did not mean the political elevation of the communes—a term which in Sicily was equivalent to the English “borough”, not to the Italian or French commune. Their ancient privileges were rather a collection of customs than real charters; and Frederick abolished the elective strategoti, and compalazzi who ruled, and insisted on appointing bailiffs in their place: citizens lost the privilege of being only tried in their own commune; they, like the barons, were to be under the general law. But this unifying system, along with the checks on oppression, was in itself an elevation of the bourgeoisie. The most striking decrees are those of 1232 and 1240, by which every city and fortified town (castello) was to send two deputies to treat with the Emperor on the common weal. With this was conjoined an even more important ordinance (1233): every year on 1 May and 1 November there were to assemble in five cities solemn courts of the neighbouring prelates and barons with four deputies of each greater city and two of each lesser city and castello. These were to sit eight or fifteen days to receive complaints. The president—a special royal commissioner—and two assessors were to investigate the cases, and to send those involving higher officials to the king, those involving lower officials to the local justiciar. Here we see Frederick calling the Third Estate to his parliament, hitherto composed solely of prelates and barons, and although it was merely as an instrument and for consultation, the growing importance of the bourgeoisie is none the less clear.

To sum up, whatever the Popes declaimed on Frederick’s unbearable despotism, it is undeniable that the new resources he created and applied to great designs were beneficial to the nation. Under his vigorous, and up to a certain point liberal administration, the kingdom of Sicily was raised to a state of prosperity and civilisation not reached as yet by any other country of Europe.


After the reconciliation with Gregory IX, the Emperor thought it best to proceed in Italian affairs in concert with the Pope. Attempts were made by both to end the universal strife; more effectual were the Emperor’s vain demand for the cities’ fealty and his summons of the German princes to a general diet at Ravenna for 1 November 1231. Instantly the League was renewed and, in spite of the Pope’s assurance that he was arbitrator in their dispute with Frederick, the Lombards closed the Alpine passes. When the Emperor reached Ravenna towards Christmas he found only faithful Italian lords and the rulers of a few loyal communes such as Parma, Cremona, and Pavia. To continue the diet with the Germans he had to advance himself to Aquileia. Meanwhile the Pope’s efforts at a solution of the Lombard deadlock resulted in an arrangement to discuss it before him on 1 November 1232; but this meeting was prevented by a new train of events.

One embarrassment of the Popes was the hatred subsisting between Rome and Viterbo, which was usually loyal to them, and a success of the Viterbese caused the Romans, even under John Conti of Poli, the Pope’s kinsman, to force Gregory once more to exile. In spite, however, of Frederick’s evasion of his demands for armed help, the Pope secured his recall by negotiation, and then adopted a new method with the Lombards. This time he employed a celebrated Dominican friar, John of Vicenza, who by his preaching had acquired an extraordinary ascendency over the people both in the cause of peace and in the persecution of heresy. John III June 1233 proposed an agreement by which the Lombards should only furnish the Emperor with 500 knights once in every two years. The League accepted these terms, and even Frederick, although wroth at  receiving no compensation for the past, consented to them when the Pope threatened to abandon his mediation. But the sacrifice became useless as soon as Friar John’s eclipse allowed the League to break the treaty. Though Florence had turned a deaf ear to the friar from the first, the people of his native Veneto were strangely obedient; he changed their statutes, he freed prisoners, he absolved from excommunication, and gave a summons for an assembly in the plain of Pagnara near Verona on 28 August. It is said that there came over 400,000 persons of all ranks, unarmed and barefoot. Deputies of communes and feudal lords wept at his eloquence and bowed to his decisions. But the execution of these caused disillusion; unhealthy exaltation gave way to the permanent motives of strife, and John’s own extravagances discredited and overthrew him. He returned with greater zeal to the renunciant’s life he had elected.

Meanwhile the Romans, since Gregory would not help them to destroy Viterbo, forced him to flee once more, and as a crowning act their Senator, Luca Savelli, declared both the Tuscan and the Roman patrimonies part of the dominion of the commune of Rome. Gregory, enraged, proclaimed a crusade against the city, and once more drew near to the Emperor in an interview at Rieti. He begged the Lombard League to allow German troops to pass for his defence, and he was again admitted as arbitrator between the League and the Emperor. Frederick in return was already attacking the Roman castello of Rispampano when there came the terrible news of his son Henry’s rebellion. The Pope promptly censured the unnatural son, but sent no word of reproach to the Lombards, who had enticed him on by the offer of the Iron Crown. Frederick perforce embarked at Rimini in April 1235 for Germany with his second son Conrad. Sicilian reinforcements helped to win the Pope a victory near Viterbo, and a new Senator, Angelo Malabranca, welcomed him back to Rome in May. Thus restored to power, in the Emperor’s absence, Gregory gained a series of diplomatic successes: he reconciled Florence to Siena; he annexed Massa-Carrara on the death of its Marquess; his legate made peace between the Judges of Arborea and Cagliari in Sardinia, and received their fealty; Adalasia, heiress of the Judicates of Torres and Gallura and consort of the Judge of Cagliari, even promised her inheritance to the Papacy if she died childless.

In Germany, Frederick dethroned his son, and on 15 July 1235 wedded Isabella, sister of Henry III of England, an alliance favoured by the Pope. The proposal of a campaign in Lombardy with German troops was already causing friction with Gregory, who urged his rights as arbitrator and attributed the ineffectual character of his efforts to an innovation—the submission of the Veronese to Ezzelin III da Romano, that terrifying figure of a city-tyrant; he also reiterated the grievances, new and old, of the Church. Frederick, however, proceeded. In a circular of capital im­portance he summoned a general diet at Piacenza. Italy was “to re-enter the unity of the Empire”; and not only rebel Lombardy but the lands he had ceded to the Church were to be subjugated, and the gift was to be revoked, for the beneficiary had proved ungrateful and its agents were contriving his ruin to please the Milanese. He was Italian by birth and native sovereign of Sicily; thence he had conquered beyond the Alps and beyond the sea. These singular expressions, which disregard the old imperial and theocratic formulae, overturned the traditional basis of Italian political life and suggest the newer monarchies.

To this striking novelty Gregory IX opposed the imprescriptible rights of the Church in their highest form: God reserved for himself alone the power to judge the Holy See, under whose sentence he placed the world in all hidden and open things. He cited the legend of the Donation of Constantine in its most exaggerated form, and added that of the translation of the Empire: from Greece the Holy See transferred the Empire to the Germans in the person of Charlemagne; but the Pope renounced nothing of his right of supreme dominion.

But Frederick had already crossed the Mincio with the words: “Pilgrims and travellers can go freely everywhere, and shall not I, the Emperor, venture on the lands of the Empire?”. He burnt Vicenza (November 1236), and his lieutenants, Count Gebhard of Arnstein and others, subdued the whole Trevisan March; but he was called back to Germany to subdue the rebel Duke of Austria, and to effect the election of his son Conrad as King of the Romans. He did not rebut the Pope’s renewed efforts at mediation, but when the resultant congress met at Brescia in May 1237 Herman of Salza declared that, unless a peace honourable to the Empire were concluded before the Emperor’s return, war would be resumed à l’outrance. On 12 September Frederick re-crossed the Alps before an agreement was attained, and the die was cast. Refusing further papal mediation, he besieged Goito on the Mincio in full force; Mantua then submitted, and Montechiaro, the key of Brescia, was captured; some Lombard imperialists, fleeing the war, were even transported to Corleone in Sicily. Frederick then encamped on the Oglio near Pontevico, while on the opposite western bank were the Lombards under the Venetian Peter Tiepolo, then podestà of Milan. When the Emperor bridged the river at Soncino, the army of the League began to retreat northwards towards Palazzolo; but they were overtaken unawares near Cortenuova. Their rout was complete; large numbers were slain; many prisoners, including Tiepolo, the carroccio, and the castello of Cortenuova fell into the Emperor’s hands (27 November 1237). In terror Lodi opened her gates, and Milan and Piacenza begged for peace, Milan offer­ing every renunciation and indemnity if she might keep her fidanza and contado. Frederick may not have intended to abuse his victory, but on the advice of the Cremonese and Pavese he insisted on unconditional surrender. It was the fatal mistake of his reign: the Milanese resolved to perish with arms in their hands rather than submit to so great a disgrace, and their example fired their allies. To isolate them, Frederick advanced westward. From Pavia he sent to the Romans the Milanese carroccio, saying it appertained to the city, the source of the Empire, to guard the imperial trophy. He received the submission of Vercelli and Novara, and later of Turin; to all such towns their privileges were con­firmed. He then left Manfred Lancia, his vicar, to reduce Alessandria and other rebels with the aid of the loyalists, while he himself prepared the final blow against Milan.

For this purpose be held at Verona on 1 May 1238 a general diet, which this time the German princes could attend. He demanded once more men and money from Sicily, and troops from Hungary, Germany, and Provence. Ezzelin, the tyrant of Verona, married his illegitimate daughter Selvaggia, and Genoa once more submitted. Then in full force he began the siege of Brescia, hoping by its capture to blockade Milan on every side. But Brescia for two months frustrated all attacks, and Frederick, losing hope as the autumn passed, burnt his siege-engines at dawn on 9 October and retreated to Cremona. This heroic resistance of Brescia turned the scales against the Emperor: his enemies took the offensive; his doubtful friends, like Genoa, broke faith; and the Pope gained courage to add to his former grievances the renewed attack on the peace-wishing Lombards. Frederick replied in kind, but also completely exasperated Gregory by a not too profitable diplomatic success. He obtained the hand of the widowed Adalasia of Torres for his illegitimate son Henry or Enzo, born of a Cremonese mistress and very closely resembling him. The youth, only fifteen, was knighted, given the title of king, sometimes of Torres and Gallura, sometimes of Sardinia, and was sent to the island. This was enough; Gregory resolved to renew the death-straggle between the Papacy and the rejuvenated Empire. He concluded a secret treaty (30 November) with Genoa and Venice—they were not to make peace with the Emperor for nine years without his consent, and were to be given privileges by “the future king of Sicily”. Frederick indeed was weaker than he seemed; his debts amounted to 24,653 ounces of gold, a burden on Sicily not wholly compensated for by the very large share Sicilians enjoyed of offices in Italy. He sent a threatening protest to the cardinals; but on Palm Sunday (20 March) 1239 Gregory IX launched the expected excommunication from the Lateran.

Each side appealed to Christendom. In an encyclical the Pope demonstrated the grievous faults of the heretic Frederick. In his circular the Emperor denounced the Church’s ingratitude and declared himself ready to prove his orthodoxy to competent judges; and in fact, whatever he thought in his heart, his public conduct and his harsh legislation against heresy were unimpeachable. Inspired pamphlets seconded the Emperor’s efforts, but in his own age in vain. Two bishops sent to the cardinals to urge the convocation of a general council were thrown into prison; the sovereigns of Europe held aloof; while the conduct of the subdeacon Gregory of Montelongo as papal legate in Lombardy made public the strict alliance of the Pope with Milan, “the cesspool of the Patarines”. The Pope obtained the sinews of war by raising a tribute of 15,000 marks of silver from the Lombard League, besides contributions from all Christendom and burdensome loans from bankers. Frederick on his side withheld the Sicilian tribute of 1000 schifati, he expelled Lombard friars from Sicily, and confiscated the possessions of foreigners; he levied an “aid” from cathedrals and monasteries, and forbade journeys to Rome without a licence as well as the entrance of anti-imperialist writings.

Frederick had some success in winning over the States of the Church, for at his command Foligno, Viterbo, Tivoli, and other cities swore fealty to his son King Enzo, now his General Legate in Italy; but farther north he lost ground. Azzo VII of Este, a temporary convert, and Alberic da Romano, Ezzelin’s brother and tyrant of Treviso, revolted on the imprisonment of their children. Frederick vainly attacked Treviso and Bologna, while Ravenna turned against him under Paolo Traversari, and Venice promised the Pope twenty-five galleys against Sicily in return for future cessions. After failing in the Romagna the Emperor laid siege to Milan (September 1239). His forces included contingents from Bergamo, Lodi, Mantua, Pavia, Asti, Tortona, Vercelli, and Novara; but, as usual in the siege of great cities in the Middle Ages, the defence, protracted for a month and a half, had the victory, and Frederick retreated to Piacenza, and then amid autumnal floods into Tuscany. The League, left free to act, captured Ferrara by a piece of treachery devised by the papal legate, and with it the aged faction-chief Salinguerra who held it for the Emperor. As a result of the campaign Frederick lost to the League two important strategic points for operations in Lombardy especially from the south—Ferrara commanding the lower Po, and Ravenna his port and base of supplies.

In Tuscany the Emperor had better fortune. He compelled the Bishops of Luni and Volterra, as earlier the Bishop of Arezzo, to surrender to him their counties; he garrisoned Pontremoli, which with Massa-Carrara and other confiscated papal land he formed into the vicariate of the Lunigiana under Marquess Oberto Pelavicini—thus the great western road, the Via Francigena, was wholly under his control where it spanned the Apennines. Tuscany itself was almost all in his obedience. Now he would strike at the chief and inspirer of his enemies—the only means of a secure victory. Entering the Duchy of Spoleto, he held a diet at Foligno and, refusing further mediation, formed a new vicariate out of the States of the Church. Most, though not all, of the towns declared for him; there remained Rome, where part of the nobles were imperialist, the rest not papalist. From Viterbo he marched toward the city. It was a decisive moment (22 February 1240). But from the Lateran a mournful procession, bearing the heads of the two Apostles, crossed the city to St Peter’s amid an immense throng. To it the venerable Pope addressed a fiery harangue describing the wrongs of the Church and calling on his hearers to take the cross in its defence. The effect was immediate; the Romans rushed to arms with a fury that daunted the imperial faction. Frederick waited a fortnight, and then returned through Antrodoco to Sicily (19 March 1240). He there held his second general parliament at Foggia, to which forty-eight cities of the demesne each sent two deputies. The beleaguering of Benevento and Ascoli, and the foundation of the new frontier town of Aquila shewed perhaps his premonitions of a future defensive war.

A new turn of events now ushered in a new diplomatic struggle. At the beginning of the war Louis IX of France had interceded with the Pope, and the ecclesiastical princes of Germany had sent an embassy to defend the Emperor. Now they despatched to Gregory the new Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Conrad of Thuringia, with urgent petitions for the end of a war so pernicious to Christendom. The Pope in response opened negotiations through Cardinal John Colonna, his legate in the Romagna, and Frederick, taught by the last year, at once accepted the invitation. But then Gregory surprised the Emperor by a sudden move: he convoked to Rome for the following Easter a general council to decide on the great dispute. At this Cardinal Colonna was so wroth as to revolt himself, and Frederick denounced the Pope’s duplicity in circulars to sovereigns and the cardinals. But this did not diminish the formidable danger of the council. Certain military successes the Emperor obtained—the capture of Ravenna after Traversari’s death, and of Faenza and Benevento in April 1241. Twenty-five Venetian galleys, however, defeated twelve Sicilian and ravaged the coast of the Capitanata (autumn 1240); and it was a poor revenge to hang the Tiepolo captured at Cortenuova, the son of the Doge. Frederick was in such straits for money that he issued from his camp at Faenza stamped pieces of leather with the compulsory value of a gold augustal. None the less he grappled with the ubiquitous Church. He banished all friars, his persistent enemies, from Sicily save two natives for the care of each convent; he refused safe-conduct to, and ordered his subjects to capture, prelates journeying to the council.

Meanwhile Genoa was welcoming the prelates on their way to Rome; they set sail, but between the Pisan islands of Giglio and Montecristo they were attacked on 3 May 1241 by King Enzo and the Sicilian Admiral Ansaldo de Mari; some escaped, some (among them two cardinals) were captured and imprisoned in Sicilian castles. Eight days after, the Pavese defeated the Milanese at Le Ginestre. Under the impression of these calamities, Gregory IX again offered to absolve Frederick “if he agreed to what the honour of God and of the apostolic see demanded”. Frederick once more accepted the offer, and approaching Rome declared he came as a friend; but the Earl of Cornwall, his brother-in-law and envoy with full powers, was astonished to receive a summons for the unconditional surrender of the Emperor. The war was renewed. In Rome the Senator Matteo Rosso Orsini, a papalist, captured Lagosta (the mausoleum of Augustus), the Colonna stronghold, while outside Cardinal Colonna seized Tivoli and Frederick from Grottaferrata laid waste the Campagna. At this juncture the aged Pope breathed his last on 21 August 1241. The future was to justify his intuition of victory and resistance.


On Gregory’s death the Emperor at once withdrew to his kingdom, while the few and discordant cardinals were forced by the Senator to elect a Pope. They chose Celestine IV (Goffredo Castiglione), an infirm old man who died seventeen days after (17 November 1241); and then they fled from the city to different refuges. For eighteen months, while his vicars subdued the remnants of the Papal States, and a mighty fleet was prepared against Venice and Genoa, Frederick laboured to obtain a Pope in his interests. He sent embassies and letters, with petitions, with exhortations, and with menaces; three times he encamped on the Alban Hills devastating the Campagna; and he left the Romans at last in peace and liberated the two captive cardinals only on a promise from the Sacred College that an election would take place at Anagni.

The election proved a disaster to Frederick, for Cardinal Sinibaldo de’ Fieschi, who on 25 June 1243 became Pope Innocent IV, was the most formidable of all his adversaries. Diplomatic gifts far beyond the average were in this Genoese jurist at the service of an audacious firmness and perspicacity. The Emperor, however, made public demonstrations of joy, and sent an embassy with congratulations and offers of obedience, saving the rights and honour of the Empire. Through a return embassy the Pope replied that he too desired peace provided that all the prisoners taken at Giglio were released, and all the grievances which had provoked the excommunication (in especial the invasion of the Papal States) were remedied; that the Church, on those points on which it had acted unjustly, was ready to make amends at the arbitration of a commission of lay and ecclesiastical princes; but that all its adherents, above all the Lombards of the League, must be included in the peace. In the negotiations that followed, Frederick was under a fatal illusion of his own power and of the pliability of the Papacy. He refused to pardon the Lombards, and proposed as a compromise on the question of the papal lands to receive them as a fief at a tribute higher than their revenue. This was to re-announce his intention of unifying Italy, the chief dread of the Papacy, and Innocent resumed the fierce hostility of Gregory IX. A papal army under Cardinal Ranieri Capocci entered Viterbo suddenly by treachery (August 1243), and closely besieged the imperial garrison in the citadel. Gregory of Montelongo, legate in Lombardy, was ordered to rekindle opposition, and the Pope by means of his own brothers-in-law and other kinsmen in Parma founded a new papalist faction there called the Rossi, which undermined the hitherto firm imperialism of the city. In Tuscany, the young Guido Guerra, of the imperialist Counts Guidi, was induced to revolt to the Guelfs, as in Tuscany the papalists were called. In Sardinia, Adalasia’s marriage to Enzo was annulled. Finally, at the petition of the Romans Innocent made a triumphal entry into Rome in November 1243.

The Emperor replied by laying siege to Viterbo and attempting to gain over the Romans. But the general desire among the exhausted population was for peace; the failure of the harvest produced famine; in Tuscany there were earthquakes, in Lombardy a pestilence. Frederick himself began to vacillate, and more and more to wish for absolution. He gave up the siege of Viterbo on terms which were not all kept. He asked for the King of England’s mediation, and then appointed the Count of Toulouse, and his ow« judges Peter della Vigna and Taddeo da Sessa, his plenipotentiaries. On Holy Thursday (31 March) 1244 they swore in the Lateran on the Emperor’s soul to a peace which he had accepted. But the terms were such as shewed that he could only be admitting them as a temporary expedient to obtain absolution, for they would have destroyed his life-work. He was to restore to the Church and its adherents his conquests; to set free his prisoners and hostages; to annul bans and confiscations, with compensation to be awarded by the Pope; to receive into favour rebels both old and new; to submit the dispute with the Lombard League to the decision of the Pope and that with the Romans to the Pope and cardinals; to exempt the barons from service in person; to declare to the sovereigns that only a formal defect in its notification, not contempt of the Church, had caused him to disregard his excommunication, and that he would now fast and give alms till the day of absolution; to put knights at the Pope’s disposal; and finally to give satisfaction for every papal grievance. Henry IV at Canossa had not been more humiliated.

Perhaps it was due to the incredibility of this surrender that Frederick, in spite of his disavowal, was thought to have incited the seditions which broke out in Rome. Innocent accused him of withdrawing from the treaty, and urged the Landgrave of Thuringia to revolt in Germany. In June the Pope left Rome for Civita Castellana. Frederick, it is true, soon gave signs of reversing his policy. His delegates demanded that his absolution should take place first, the Pope’s the restitution of papal territory and the Lombard arbitration. A personal interview of Pope and Emperor was arranged for at Rieti, but in the meantime Frederick demanded that the Pope’s arbitration should be based not on the Peace of Constance but on the Lombards’ offers at the time of his victory of Cortenuova, and that the Pope should abandon his alliance with the League; he also claimed that the services due to the Emperor from the Papal States should be defined before he restored them to the Pope. To these demands Innocent made no reply; but he strengthened the Sacred College by nine new cardinals and wrote secretly to his Genoese country­men to send him a squadron to Civitavecchia. Then he moved not to Rieti but in the opposite direction to Sutri (27 June); and thence he went by night disguised as a soldier over by-ways to Civitavecchia. There the ships awaited him, and he reached Genoa by sea on 7 July was a master-stroke. The astonished Frederick hastened into Tuscany and despatched the Count of Toulouse to renew negotiations, at the same time appealing to the cardinals. But the Pope, unheeding his suppliant messages, was seeking an absolutely secure refuge. Received with devotion by Boniface of Montferrat, he gained over the commune of Asti and Amadeus IV, Count of Savoy. He crossed the Alps through Savoyard territory, and established his court at Lyons (2 December), where he was still nominally in the Empire yet under the protection of the King of France. There he summoned a General Council for 24 June 1245; he ordered the publication of the ban on Frederick throughout France, and on Holy Thursday (13 April) 1245 renewed it solemnly, including in it Enzo and Manfred Lancia. On 18 April he cited the Emperor before the Council.

Frederick’s counter-moves were partly military. To cut off Italian aid from the Pope, he ordered the Alpine passes to be closed. Marching once more from Sicily, he devastated the countryside of Viterbo, and sent a force against Piacenza. But modern as his spirit was, the medieval atmosphere in which he moved strongly influenced him, and he sent to Lyons the Patriarch of Antioch only to find the Pope firm on his original terms. The Emperor made Taddeo da Sessa his proctor at the Council; but fearing the result under Innocent’s influence, and, as if the papal enmity were due to personal causes, hoping that with another Pope he might achieve his dreams, he announced to the cardinals that he would appeal from Innocent to God, to the future supreme Pontiff, to a universal council, to the princes of the Empire, and the rulers of the world. Taddeo reported that the prelates of the Council were all hostile to him, yet he despatched a more solemn embassy consisting of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, the Bishop of Freising, and Peter della Vigna. They came too late. Already the Pope had ordered a crusade to be preached in Germany against the sometime Emperor, and on 17 July 1245 the Council had declared Frederick of Swabia deposed as a relapsed violator of the peace with the Church, as guilty of sacrilege and suspected of heresy.

At the Pope’s command some German princes elected Henry, Landgrave of Thuringia, as King of the Romans, and in April 1246 Philip, Arch­bishop-elect of Ferrara, was sent to Germany as legate for the rebellious crusade. Meanwhile Innocent treated Sicily as a vacant fief, annulling all the acts of the deposed sovereign and summoning his subjects to “liberty”. Two cardinals, furnished with plentiful funds collected in all quarters by every means, were charged to rouse to rebellion the population of central Italy and Sicily. As subordinate agents fanatical friars, who with some openness wandered through Italy exciting hatred against the Emperor and his officials, also, disguised as pilgrims or traders, worked secretly in Sicily against the despot who despoiled the nobility and oppressed the popula­tion. The remaining Muslims of the island also made common cause with the Pope and rose in revolt.

Frederick again attempted to justify his cause to princes and peoples. In circular he showed that the Council’s sentence was inequitable, and illegal, and that his cause was theirs. But this was a premature truth; the reason he invoked was not the reason of his age. Louis IX, who alone responded to his appeal, only obtained the Pope’s consent to a fruitless double conference at Cluny (November 1245, April 1246). Frederick’s resources, too, were unequal to the situation. If wherever he came with his army obedience was enforced, when he departed there was insurrection or conspiracy. When he was in Piedmont, Alessandria, the marquesses, and the Count of Savoy all submitted; on his departure, Alessandria, Novara, and Boniface of Montferrat reverted to the Lombard League. At Parma he discovered the conspiracy hatching there, but the Rossi leaders got away to papalist Piacenza. Meantime in September 1245 he held a diet at Parma, which authorised the levy of a heavy collecta from ecclesiastics, forbade political prosecutions for heresy, and arranged a new attack on Milan.

The Sicilian, Italian, and German troops under the Emperor passed through Pavia to Abbiategrasso on the Ticinello (Naviglio Grande), whilst Enzo and Ezzelin of Verona advanced from the east. But the Milanese under Gregory of Montelongo on the opposite bank of the Ticinello after three weeks’ waiting repelled two attempts of Frederick to cross (at Bufialora and Casterno, 1 and 4 November 1245). Enzo indeed forded the Adda at Cassano, and defeated the enemy at Gorgonzola on 8 November, when he was momentarily taken prisoner and exchanged. Then he was rejoined at Lodi by his baffled father, whose wrath was shewn in depriving his Genoese prisoners of their right eye and right hand.

The Emperor wintered at Grosseto in Tuscany, and King Enzo in Cremona. A plot of the Reggian exiles was suppressed, but a far more important conspiracy was revealed to Frederick by a courier despatched in haste by his son-in-law Thomas d’Aquino, Count of Caserta (February 1246). Tebaldo Francisco, the Apulian podestà of Parma, had been lured to join the Rossi by nothing less than a promise in the Pope’s name of the Sicilian crown. With him were leagued the powerful house of Sanseverino, Andrea Cicala, captain-general from the Tronto to Roseto, Pandolf di Fasanella, once vicar in Tuscany, the sons of the dead Henry de Morra, Frederick’s faithful minister, and others who owed everything to him. Frederick and Enzo were to be murdered, and then a general insurrection was to break out. So sure of success were the plotters that the report of Frederick’s death was already bruited abroad when he unexpectedly landed at Salerno. They fled in panic: Pandolf and others to Rome to receive the Pope’s praise for their efforts; others again to castles. But of these Sala was captured at once by Thomas, Count of Acerra, and Capaccio surrendered after a four months’ siege. Tebaldo and five others were first paraded from town to town with the papal bull which induced their treason on their foreheads, and then put to death. The rest, too, expiated their crime by ferocious punishments; they were blinded, mutilated, thrown into the sea in sacks, burnt alive. Their property was confiscated; the houses and towers of the Rossi at Parma were demolished. The Saracens in Sicily were next forced to beg for mercy by the Count of Caserta, and were deported to Lucera; and after four centuries the island was emptied of its Muslim inhabitants.

The death of the anti-Caesar Henry on 17 February 1247 gave Frederick new hopes of peace. He left Sicily and Calabria in charge of Peter Ruffo, the Grand Marshal in the name of his grandson Henry, son of the now dead rebel King Henry, and Apulia in that of the Count of Caserta. Out of deference to the Pope he did not, as he wished, attack the hostile Romans. At Cremona he held a diet of his partisans. He now strengthened himself by intermarriages. He had already given a fresh grievance to the Pope by marrying his child daughter to the Emperor John Vatatzes of Nicaea, the enemy of the Latins of Constantinople. To the fifteen year old Manfred, born to him by the much-beloved Bianca Lancia, he wedded Beatrice, daughter of Count Amadeus IV of Savoy, and widow of the Marquess of Saluzzo. One of his daughters he married to Marquess Giacomino del Carretto. At the same time he appointed Manfred vicar “from Pavia downwards.”

Frederick was hopeful of putting pressure on the Pope. He sent to Lyons a solemn embassy of prelates with a clear confession of his faith. But he was told in reply that his request for its examination was temer­arious and illusory unless he came in person unarmed and under safe­conduct (23 May 1247). Undeterred, he advanced in arms towards Lyons. Sending on his baggage through Savoy, he announced his approaching arrival to Louis IX, and invited many French magnates to a meeting at Chambery.

But he never crossed the Alps. While he wandered after the mirage of peace, the exiles of Parma, collecting at Piacenza under the command of Ugo di San Vitale, defeated at Borghetto on the Taro the Parmesan army led by the podestà, Henry Testa of Arezzo, who with many others was slain. The victors re-entered Parma on 16 June. Papalists streamed in from all round, among them Count Richard of Sanbonifacio, the legate Gregory of Montelongo, Azzo of Este, and Alberic of Romano—so many that it was difficult to feed them. Parma was by its position on the cross­roads an indispensable link in the Emperor’s communications. At the news Enzo abandoned the siege of the Brescian fortress of Quinzano, and hurrying to the river Taro recalled his father. The journey to Lyons ended abruptly. Frederick joined forces with Ezzelin at Cremona and encamped with his son outside the revolted city. With the reinforcements he had gathered 38,000 men, whom he too found it difficult to supply, and he swore to raze to the ground and sow with salt the city which had thwarted him. Beside Parma he built his new town of Vittoria (Victory), and ravaged the contado. All over Lombardy from Genoa to Bologna the war flamed up with increased ferocity. Turin was won and lost by the papalist Marquess of Montferrat. Thomas of Savoy, brother of Amadeus IV and late Count-consort of Flanders, changed from papalist to imperialist in return for the grant of Turin, Ivrea, and the vicariate “from Pavia upwards”. Cardinal Octavian degli Ubaldini, legate in the Romagna, plotted with the Florentine Guelfs to subject Florence to Bologna, but the Emperor’s bastard, Frederick of Antioch the vicar of Tuscany, discovering the intrigue, hastily expelled the Guelfs from Tuscany and secured the city (31 January 1248). In the March of Ancona, despite a brilliant imperialist victory, Cardinal Ranieri Capocci,the legate, succeeded by bribes and concessions in recovering almost all the country for the Pope.

Amid these vicissitudes the Emperor fell ill, and during his convale­scence spent his mornings hawking. He was three miles from Vittoria at dawn on 18 February 1248 when the Parmesans unexpectedly assaulted it at the point farthest from Parma and least defended, and broke in after a brief resistance. Taddeo da Sessa was among the slain; about 3000 were made prisoners; the immense imperial treasure was captured; and the new town was given to the flames. The ringing of the alarm-bell recalled Frederick, who cut his way through sword in hand, but too late. Followed by a few knights he withdrew from the smoking ruins through Borgo San Donnino to Cremona, whence he despatched orders to Sicily for fresh armaments.

He was still determined to detach the Pope from the rebels, but Innocent on Holy Thursday (18 April) 1248 once more renewed the excommunication, and nine days later extended it to the sons, the grand­sons, and all the adherents of the quondam Emperor. All papal legates were enjoined to proclaim the crusade against the reprobate Swabian. They had some success. Cardinal Ubaldini occupied most of the Romagna including Ravenna and Rimini. Cardinal Ranieri Capocci (who was empowered to absolve from simony rebels against Frederick) penetrated into Sicily fulminating interdict and excommunication, giving and taking away churches, fiefs, offices, and privileges, and throwing the country into wretched disorder. Faced by this war, Frederick renewed his proposals for peace. From Asti he sent ambassadors to the King of France to entreat his intercession and offer himself, his dominions, and his subjects, all to the war against the infidels; but to Louis’ envoys Innocent IV refused to negotiate until Frederick had renounced the Empire for himself and all his descendants (July 1248). He then absolutely denied in an encyclical to all princes the current rumours of an accommodation. Frederick, however, persevered in a peace-policy. In a diet at Casale, at which the Marquess of Montferrat, bribed with the castello of Verrua, was present, he granted to Tortona the right of coining money to be current everywhere, to Lucca the Garfagnana, to Pisa the Lunigiana—the communes were worth wooing. Fresh ambassadors, Amadeus IV of Savoy and his brother Thomas, were sent to the Pope with a new scheme of reconciliation. It is doubtful if they reached him; but in any case Innocent on 8 December 1248 abolished by a bull the treaty of 1198 between Pope Innocent III and the Empress Constance: he declared the Church in Sicily independent of the lay power; the king was not to intervene in the appointment of prelates or cite ecclesiastics to his courts; the clergy were not to swear fealty to the sovereign; they could fortify castles, rebuild cities, repopulate towns without regard to the royal authority. Ranieri Capocci’s successor as legate in Sicily, Cardinal Peter Capocci, was instructed to declare in April 1249 that peace would never be granted Frederick so long as he or any of his sons remained Emperor or king.

In spite of these attacks it was not till the discovery of a new plot in which rightly or wrongly Peter della Vigna, protonotary of the Empire and logothete of Sicily, was accused of complicity, that Frederick was disillusioned of his hopes of reconciliation. Returning from Piedmont to Cremona, he suddenly ordered the arrest of the all-powerful logothete who had betrayed him. The Cremonese mob wished to lynch the ingrate, but he was taken in chains by night to Sorgo San Donnino (February 1249). Then Frederick, awaking from his dream of peace, denounced to all princes the crime of the Pope, who had induced his physician to give him a poisonous drug, and urged them to resist the temerity of the priesthood, who claimed to add temporal to their spiritual dominion, while he was endeavouring to limit them to their true sphere and reform Holy Church by giving it worthier ministers. Owing to his alliances with Ezzelin and others, and to the increase of the power of Marquess Pelavicini round Cremona, Parma, and Piacenza, he considered the position of King Enzo, his general legate, secure in North Italy, and himself moved to secure the south. He commissioned the Count of Caserta to investigate the disorders in Sicily, and especially to punish, even with the stake, the friars and those who dared bring papal missives across the frontier. In Tuscany he was met by the levies of the Ghibelline or imperialist towns, such as Arezzo, and cruelly punished an abortive conspiracy at San Miniato. Meanwhile Frederick of Antioch captured Capraia, the headquarters of the Florentine Guelf exiles (25 April 1249); the garrison were either executed or immured in Sicilian dungeons. The unhappy Peter della Vigna too was blinded, but he escaped further punishment by the suicide made famous by Dante. Leaving Tuscany quiet, the Emperor then sailed from Pisa to Naples, which he reached on 25 May 1249.

A terrible misfortune befel him the day after. Modena being threatened by the Bolognese and others of the League, Enzo with the Cremonese faction-chief Buoso da Do vara hastened to defend the city. But at La Fossalta, two miles away, he was defeated and led a prisoner to Bologna. In vain Frederick threateningly demanded his son’s liberation; the Bolognese answered with scoffing humility:

“ A cane non magno saepe tenetur aper.”

And in fact the Modenese, assailed by Bologna and her allies under Cardinal Ubaldini, after three months’ brave resistance were forced to surrender on 15 December, and to join the League. King Enzo was never to recover his freedom; after twenty-two years, the most attractive of Frederick’s sons, king and troubadour, died in his Bolognese prison on 14 March 1272.

Yet the disaster of La Fossalta, however bitter to Frederick’s personal feelings, did not arrest the general improvement in his fortunes which was setting in. While he was raising money and men to “crush the rebels” next spring, the redoubtable Ezzelin was seizing Belluno from the Da Camino, and Este and other towns from Marquess Azzo VII, who was then podestà, in Ferrara. The Manfredi recovered Faenza, and the Counts of Bagnacavallo Ravenna. Walter of Palear, Count of Manopello, Frederick’s vicar in the March of Ancona, followed up a decisive victory over the papalists by forcing Fermo to surrender. Piacenza, seeing the hated Parma Guelf, went over to the Ghibellines. And then Marquess Oberto Pelavicini, podestà of Cremona, avenged the defeat of Vittoria by driving the Guelfs from Parma with the aid of the exiled faction. Thus the links of the imperial chain which bound North Italy seemed to be restored. Even the Bolognese, in discouragement, begged for peace; while the Genoese suffered a defeat at sea by Savona. When the new German anti-Caesar, William of Holland, prepared to cross the Alps, King Conrad of Swabia defeated him and prevented his departure. On all sides fortune seemed to smile on the Emperor. But it was an illusory hope. For some time he had suffered from intestinal fevers, and, on going from Foggia to Lucera, he was so ill with dysentery that he was obliged to halt at the castle of Fiorentino. There he dictated his will, inspired by the deepest religious feeling and devotion to Holy Church. Three days later, on 13 December 1250, he expired “in most Christian fashion”, as Manfred announced to his brother King Conrad IV.

With Frederick II there descended to the tomb the power to unite in a single state the Italian nation by cancelling the temporal power of the Popes. Over his grave communal liberty was again unchained in the north, with the clash of passions, of petty ambitions, of local interests, to be exhausted in the tyranny of the signorie which maintained particularism and its selfish conflicts. The tyrannies destroyed all sense of a common fatherland founded on race and language, and opened the era of foreign invasions. In the south, rebellions and anarchy ran their course once more, bringing in new dynasties and at last the fatal servitude for centuries to the alien power of Spain.

With Frederick, moreover, the Holy Roman Empire as a living system of government came also to an end. Its practical working had already altered under him. Barbarossa had attempted to revivify it and give it sufficient material resources of wealth and royal domain, first by asserting obsolete rights over the Regnum, Italicum, later perhaps by the acquisition of the centralised kingdom of Sicily. But under Barbarossa and Henry VI the Empire’s centre had ever been in Germany; with Frederick II Italy came first. And this change, which made even more patent the irreconcilable conflict of interest with the Papacy, brought about the long duel of his reign and the virtual dissolution of the Empire save as an aspira­tion and a dream.

But the man himself, “the wonder of the world and marvellous inno­vator”, cannot be measured either by the dying ideals for which he mainly fought or by the modern state which he half consciously adumbrated. There is something demonic about him. To his contemporaries indeed, if we except impassioned controversialists, the Emperor seemed no monster, but splendid, infinitely attractive and dangerous. In the middle-sized, fat, red-haired man, witty and fluent in six languages, the only thing terrible was the snake-like gleam of his eyes. No monarch was ever less of a figure-head: amid the pomp and circumstance of his daily ceremonial, the luxury, half oriental, half western, of his harem and court, with his eunuchs and Saracen guard, amid his hunting and knightly exercises, amid the eager inquisitiveness and penetrating thought which made him the friend and correspondent of the philosophers and savants of his day, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew, and which make his treatise on hawking the first modern natural history, he was his own chief counsellor and directed his government by his personal decisions. Peter della Vigna may have held the keys of his heart, but none could say that he enriched or led. it. It is not difficult to make a list of Frederick’s astonishing qualities: how this Italian Hohenstaufen was the heir and embodiment of three civilisations—Saracenic, Byzantine, western medieval—how his talents ranged in mastery over law, administration, war, diplomacy, philosophy, precocious science, poetry, and art. Nor is it very difficult to offer some palliation for his faults—the oriental harem-life that he inherited from the Norman Kings of Sicily, the faithlessness with which he met the paternal enmity of the Papacy, the irreverent wit which made Europe shudder, or the abominable cruelty only too much shared by his contemporaries, and provoked by black and ingrate treason. It is easy, too, to sum up his achievements: that by his all but successful resistance and his constant appeal to public opinion in manifestoes and letters he undermined the political prestige of the Papacy; that in the verse-making of his courtiers and himself Italian literature took its rise, and in his building and magnificence lay for the fine arts the fertile seeds of a new era; and that with his Byzantine and Norman inheritance he created “the state as a work of art”. But these lists seem pettifogging besides the creative spirit that brought order and form where it passed, and inspired and compelled obedience. The power, which in the rout of able and illustrious men shines through crannies, in him pours out as through a rift in nature. Among the rulers in the centuries between Charlemagne and Napoleon he has no equal.



ITALY, 1250-1290