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Career of Charlemagne, by Guizot, Francois P. G.

Life of Charlemagne

World History Center

Holy Roman Empire, The
Book: Chapter XI: The Emperors In Italy: Frederick Barbarossa.
Author: Bryce, James
Date: 1901

Page Twelve

Chapter XI: The Emperors In Italy: Frederick Barbarossa.

The reign of Frederick the First, better known under his Italian surname
Barbarossa, is the most brilliant in the annals of the Empire. Its territory
had been wider under Charles, its strength perhaps greater under Henry the
Third, but it never appeared in such pervading vivid activity, never shone
with such lustre of chivalry, as under the prince whom his countrymen have
taken to be one of their national heroes, and who is still, as the half-mythic
type of Teutonic character, honoured by picture and statue, in song and in
legend, through the breadth of the German lands. The reverential fondness of
his annalists and the whole tenour of his life go far to justify this
admiration, and dispose one to believe that nobler motives were joined with
personal ambition in urging him to assert so haughtily and carry out so
harshly those imperial rights in which he had such unbounded confidence. Under
his guidance the Transalpine power made its greatest effort to subdue the two
antagonists which then threatened and were fated in the end to destroy it -
Italian nationality and the Papacy.

Even before Gregory VII's time it might have been predicted that two such
potentates as the Emperor and the Pope, closely bound together, yet each with
pretensions wide and undefined, must ere long come into collision. The
boldness of that great pontiff in enforcing, the unflinching firmness of his
successors in maintaining, the supremacy of clerical authority, inspired their
supporters with a zeal and courage which more than compensated the advantages
of the Emperor in defending rights he had long enjoyed. On both sides the
hatred was soon very bitter. But even had men's passions permitted a
reconciliation, it would have been found difficult to bring into harmony
adverse principles, each irresistible, mutually destructive. As the spiritual
power, in itself purer, since exercised over the soul and directed to the
highest of all ends, eternal felicity, was entitled to the obedience of all,
laymen as well as clergy; so the spiritual person, to whom, according to the
view then universally accepted, there had been imparted by ordination a
mysterious sanctity, could not without sin be subject to the lay magistrate,
be installed by him in office, be judged in his court, and render to him any
compulsory service. Yet it was no less true that civil government was
indispensable to the peace and advancement of society; and while it continued
to subsist, another jurisdiction could not be suffered to interfere with its
workings, nor one-half of the people be altogether removed from its control.
Thus the Emperor and the Pope were forced into hostility as champions of
opposite systems, however fully each might admit the strength of his
adversary's position, however bitterly he might bewail the violence of his own
partisans. There had also arisen other causes of quarrel, less respectable
but not less dangerous. The pontiff demanded and the monarch refused the
lands which the Countess Matilda of Tuscany had bequeathed to the Holy See;
Frederick claiming them as feudal suzerain, the Pope eager by their means to
carry out those schemes of temporal dominion which Constantine's donation
sanctioned, and Lothar's seeming renunciation of the sovereignty of Rome had
done much to encourage. As feudal superior of the Norman kings of Naples and
Sicily, as protector of the towns and barons of North Italy who feared the
German yoke, the successor of Peter wore already the air of an independent

No man was less likely than Frederick to submit to these encroachments.
He was a sort of imperialist Hildebrand, strenuously proclaiming the immediate
dependence of his office on God's gift, and holding it every whit as sacred as
his rival's. On his first journey to Rome, he refused to hold the Pope's
stirrup ^1, as Lothar had done, till Pope Hadrian the Fourth's threat that he
would withhold the crown enforced compliance. Complaints arising not long
after on some other ground, the Pope exhorted Frederick by letter to shew
himself worthy of the kindness of his mother the Roman Church, who had given
him the imperial crown, and would confer on him, if dutiful, benefits still
greater. This word benefits - beneficia - understood in its usual legal sense
of 'fief,' and taken in connection with the picture which had been set up at
Rome to commemorate Lothar's homage, provoked angry shouts from the nobles
assembled in diet at Besancon; and when the legate answered, 'From whom, then,
if not from our Lord the Pope, does your king hold the Empire?' his life was
not safe from their fury. On this occasion Frederick's vigour and the
remonstrances of the Transalpine prelates obliged Hadrian to explain away the
obnoxious word, and remove the picture. Soon after the quarrel was renewed by
other causes, and came to centre itself round the Pope's demand that Rome
should be left entirely to his government. Frederick, in reply, appeals to the
civil law, and closes with the words, 'Since by the ordination of God I both
am called and am Emperor of the Romans, in nothing but name shall I appear to
be ruler if the control of the Roman city be wrested from my hands.' That such
a claim should need assertion marks the change since Henry III; how much more
that it could not be enforced. Hadrian's tone rises into defiance; he mingles
the threat of excommunication with references to the time when the Germans had
not yet the Empire. 'What were the Franks till Zacharias welcomed Pipin?
What is the Teutonic king now till consecrated at Rome by holy hands? The
chair of Peter has given and can withdraw its gifts.'

[Footnote 1: A great deal of importance seems to have been attached to this
symbolic act of courtesy. See Art. I of the Sachsenspiegel. 'Deme pavese is
ok gesat to ridene to bescedener tiet up eneme blanken perde, unde de keiser
sal ime den stegerip halden dur de sadel nicht ne winde.']

The schism that followed Hadrian's death produced a second and more
momentous conflict. Frederick, as head of Christendom, proposed to summon the
bishops of Europe to a general council, over which he should preside, like
Justinian or Heraclius. Quoting the favourite text of the two swords, 'On
earth,' he continues, 'God has placed no more than two powers: above there is
but one God, so here one Pope and one Emperor. The Divine Providence has
specially appointed the Roman Empire as a remedy against continued schism ^1.'
The plan failed; and Frederick adopted the candidate whom his own faction had
chosen, while the rival claimant, Alexander III, appealed, with a confidence
which the issue justified, to the support of sound churchmen throughout
Europe. The keen and long doubtful strife of twenty years that followed,
while apparently a dispute between rival Popes, was in substance an effort by
the secular monarch to recover his command of the priesthood; not less truly
so than that contemporaneous conflict of the English Henry II and St. Thomas
of Canterbury, with which it was constantly involved. Unsupported, not all
Alexander's genius and resolution could have saved him: by the aid of the
Lombard cities, whose league he had counselled and hallowed, and of the fevers
of Rome, by which the conquering German host was suddenly annihilated, he won
a triumph the more signal, that it was over a prince so wise and so pious as
Frederick. At Venice, who, inaccessible by her position, maintained a
sedulous neutrality, claiming to be independent of the Empire, yet seldom led
into war by sympathy with the Popes, the two powers whose strife had roused
all Europe were induced to meet by the mediation of the doge Sebastian Ziani.
Three slabs of red marble in the porch of St. Mark's point out the spot where
Frederick knelt in sudden awe, and the Pope with tears of joy raised him, and
gave the kiss of peace. A later legend, to which poetry and painting have
given an undeserved currency ^2, tells how the pontiff set his foot on the
neck of the prostrate king, with the words, 'The young lion and the dragon
shalt thou trample under feet ^3.' It needed not this exaggeration to enhance
the significance of that scene, even more full of meaning for the future than
it was solemn and affecting to the Venetian crowd that thronged the church and
the piazza. For it was the renunciation by the mightiest prince of his time
of the project to which his life had been devoted: it was the abandonment by
the secular power of a contest in which it had twice been vanquished, and
which it could not renew under more favourable conditions.

[Footnote 1: Letter to the German bishops in Radewic; Mur., S.R.I., t. vi. p

[Footnote 2: A picture in the great hall of the ducal palace (the Sala del
Maggior Consiglio) represents the scene. See the description in Roger's

[Footnote 3: Psalm xci.]

Authority maintained so long against the successor of Peter would be far
from indulgent to rebellious subjects. For it was in this light that the
Lombard cities appeared to a monarch bent on reviving all the rights his
predecessors had enjoyed: nay, all that the law of ancient Rome gave her
absolute ruler. It would be wrong to speak of a re-discovery of the civil
law. That system had never perished from Gaul and Italy, had been the
groundwork of some codes, and the whole substance, modified only by the
changes in society, of many others. The Church excepted, no agent did so much
to keep alive the memory of Roman institutions. The twelfth century now
beheld the study cultivated with a surprising increase of knowledge and
ardour, expended chiefly upon the Pandects. First in Italy and the schools of
the South, then in Paris and Oxford, they were expounded, commented on,
extolled as the perfection of human wisdom, the sole, true, and eternal law.
Vast as has been the labour and thought expended from that time to this in the
elucidation of the civil law, the most competent authorities declare that in
acuteness, in subtlety, in all those branches of learning which can subsist
without help from historical criticism, these so-called Glossatores have been
seldom equalled and never surpassed by their successors. The teachers of the
canon law, who had not as yet become the rivals of the civilian, and were
accustomed to recur to his books where their own were silent, spread through
Europe the fame and influence of the Roman jurisprudence; while its own
professors were led both by their feeling and their interest to give to all
its maxims the greatest weight and the fullest application. Men just emerging
from barbarism, with minds unaccustomed to create and blindly submissive to
authority, viewed written texts with an awe to us incomprehensible. All that
the most servile jurists of Rome had ever ascribed to their despotic princes
was directly transferred to the Caesarean majesty who inherited their name.
He was 'Lord of the world,' absolute master of the lives and property of all
his subjects, that is, of all men; the sole fountain of legislation, the
embodiment of right and justice. These doctrines, which the great Bolognese
jurists, Bulgarus, Martinus, Hugolinus, and others who constantly surrounded
Frederick, taught and applied, as matter of course, to a Teutonic, a feudal
king, were by the rest of the world not denied, were accepted in fervent faith
by his German and Italian partisans. 'To the Emperor belongs the protection of
the whole world,' says bishop Otto of Freysing. 'The Emperor is a living law
upon earth ^1.' To Frederick, at Roncaglia, the archbishop of Milan speaks for
the assembled magnates of Lombardy: 'Do and ordain whatsoever thou wilt, thy
will is law; as it is written, "Quicquid principi placuit legis habet vigorem,
cum populus ei et in eum omne suum imperium et potestatem concesserit ^2."'
The Hohenstaufen himself was not slow to accept these magnificent ascriptions
of dignity, and though modestly professing his wish to govern according to law
rather than override the law, was doubtless roused by them to a more vehement
assertion of a prerogative so hallowed by age and by what seemed a divine

[Footnote 1: Document of 1230, quoted by Von Raumer, v. p. 81.]

[Footnote 2: Speech of archbishop of Milan, in Radewic; Mur., S. R. I., vi.]

That assertion was most loudly called for in Italy. The Emperors might
appear to consider it a conquered country without privileges to be respected,
for they did not summon its princes to the German diets, and overawed its own
assemblies at Pavia or Roncaglia by the Transalpine host that followed them.
Its crown, too, was theirs whenever they crossed the Alps to claim it, while
the elections on the banks of the Rhine might be adorned but could not be
influenced by the presence of barons from the southern kingdom ^1. In
practice, however, the imperial power stood lower in Italy than in Germany,
for it had been from the first intermittent, depending on the personal vigour
and present armed support of each invader. The theoretic sovereignty of the
Emperor-king was nowise disputed: in the cities toll and tax were of right
his: he could issue edicts at the Diet, and require the tenants in chief to
appear with their vassals. But the revival of a control never exercised since
Henry IV's time, was felt as an intolerable hardship by the great Lombard
cities, proud of riches and population equal to that of the duchies of Germany
or the kingdoms of the North, and accustomed for more than a century to a
turbulent independence. For republicanism and popular freedom Frederick had
little sympathy. At Rome the fervent Arnold of Brescia had repeated, but with
far different thoughts and hopes, the part of Crescentius ^2. The city had
thrown off the yoke of its bishop, and a commonwealth under consuls and senate
professed to emulate the spirit while it renewed the forms of the primitive
republic. Its leaders had written to Conrad III ^3, asking him to help them
to restore the Empire to its position under Constantine and Justinian; but the
German, warned by St. Bernard, had preferred the friendship of the Pope.
Filled with a vain conceit of their own importance, they repeated their offers
to Frederick when he sought the crown from Hadrian the Fourth. A deputation,
after dwelling in highflown language on the dignity of the Roman people, and
their kindness in bestowing the sceptre on him, a Swabian and a stranger,
proceeded, in a manner hardlny consistent, to demand a largess ere he should
enter the city. Frederick's anger did not hear them to the end: 'Is this your
Roman wisdom? Who are ye that usurp the name of Roman dignities? Your
honours and your authority are yours no longer; with us are consuls, senate,
soldiers. It was not you who chose us, but Charles and Otto that rescued you
from the Greek and the Lombard, and conquered by their own might the imperial
crown. That Frankish might is still the same: wrench, if you can, the club
from Hercules. It is not for the people to give laws to the prince, but to
obey his command ^4.' This was Frederick's version of the 'Translation of the
Empire ^5.'

[Footnote 1: Frederick's election (at Frankfort) was made 'non sine quibusdam
Italiae baronibus.' - Otto Fris.i. But this was the exception.]

[Footnote 2: See also post, Chapter XVI.]

[Footnote 3: 'Senatus Populusque Romanus urbis et orbis totius domino

[Footnote 4: Otto of Freysing.]

[Footnote 5: Later in his reign, Frederick condescended to negotiate with
these Roman magistrates against a hostile Pope, and entered into a sort of
treaty by which they were declared exempt from all jurisdiction but his own.]

He who had been so stern to his own capital was not likely to deal more
gently with the rebels of Milan and Tortona. In the contest by which
Frederick is chiefly known to history, he is commonly painted as the foreign
tyrant, the forerunner of the Austrian oppressor ^1, crushing under the hoofs
of his cavalry the home of freedom and industry. Such a view is unjust to a
great man and his cause. To the despot liberty is always licence; yet
Frederick was the advocate of admited claims; the aggressions of Milan
threatened her neighbours; the refusal, where no actual oppression was
alleged, to admit his officers and allow his regalian rights, seemed a wanton
breach of oaths and engagements, treason against God no less than himself ^2.
Nevertheless our sympathy must go with the cities, in whose victory we
recognize the triumph of freedom and civilization. Their resistance was at
first probably a mere aversion to unused control, and to the enforcement of
imposts less offensive in former days than now, and by long dereliction
apparently obsolete ^3. Republican principles were not avowed, nor Italian
nationality appealed to. But the progress of the conflict developed new
motives and feelings, and gave them clearer notions of what they fought for.
As the Emperor's antagonist, the Pope was their natural ally: he blessed their
arms, and called on the barons of Romagna and Tuscany for aid; he made 'The
Church' ere long their watchword, and helped them to conclude that league of
mutual support by means whereof the party of the Italian Guelfs was formed.
Another cry, too, began to be heard, hardly less inspiriting than the last,
the cry of freedom and municipal self-government - freedom little understood
and terribly abused, self-government which the cities who claimed it for
themselves refused to their subject allies, yet both of them, through their
divine power of stimulating effort and quickening sympathy, as much nobler
than the harsh and sterile system of a feudal monarchy as the citizen of
republican Athens rose above the slavish Asiatic or the brutal Macedonian. Nor
was the fact that Italians were resisting a Transalpine invader without its
effect; there was as yet no distinct national feeling, for half Lombardy,
towns as well as rural nobles, fought under Frederick; but events made the
cause of liberty always more clearly the cause of patriotism, and increased
that fear and hate of the Tedescan for which Italy has had such bitter

[Footnote 1: See the first note to Shelley's Hellas. Sismondi is mainly
answerable for this conception of Barbarossa's position.]

[Footnote 2: They say rebelliously, says Frederick, 'Nolumus hunc regnare
super nos . . . at nos maluimus honestam mortem quam ut,' &c. - Letter in
Pertz, M.G.H., legg. ii.]

[Footnote 3: 'De tributo Caesaris nemo cogitabat;
Omnes erant Caesares, nemo censum dabat;
Civitas Ambrosii, velut Troia, stabat,
Deos parum, homines minus formidabat.'

Poems relating to the Emperor Frederick of Hohenstaufen, published b, Grimm.].

The Emperor was for a time successful: Tortona was taken, Milan razed to
the ground, her name apparently lost: greater obstacles had been overcome, and
a fuller authority was now exercised than in the days of the Ottos or the
Henrys. The glories of the first Frankish conqueror were triumphantly
recalled, and Frederick was compared by his admirers to the hero whose
canonization he had procured, and whom he strove in all things to imitate ^1.
'He was esteemed,' says one, 'second only to Charles in piety and justice.'
'We ordain this,' says a decree: "Ut ad Caroli imitationem ius ecclesiarum
statum reipublicae incolumen et legum integritatem per totum imperium nostrum
servaremus ^2.' But the hold the name of Charles had on the minds of the
people, and the way in which he had become, so to speak, an eponym of Empire,
has better witnesses than grave documents. A rhyming poet sings ^3: -

'Quanta sit potentia vel laus Friderici
Cum sit patens omnibus, non est opus dici;
Qui rebelles lancea fodiens ultrici
Repraesentat Karolum dextera victrici.'

The diet at Roncaglia was a chorus of gratulations over the re-establishment
of order by the destruction of the dens of unruly burghers.

[Footnote 1: Charles the Great was canonized by Frederick's anti-pope and
confirmed afterwards.]

[Footnote 2: Acta Concil. Hartzbem, iii., quoted by Von Raumer, ii. 6.]

[Footnote 3: Poems relating to Frederick I, ut supra.]

This fair sky was soon clouded. From her quenchless ashes uprose Milan;
Cremona, scorning old jealousies, helped to rebuild what she had destroyed,
and the confederates, committed to an all but hopeless strife, clung
faithfully together till on the field of Legnano the Empire's banner went down
before the carroccio ^1 of the free city. Times were changed since Aistulf
and Desiderius trembled at the distant tramp of the Frankish hosts. A new
nation had arisen, slowly reared through suffering into strength, now at last
by heroic deeds conscious of itself. The power of Charles had overleaped
boundaries of nature and language that were too strong for his successor, and
that grew henceforth ever firmer, till they made the Empire itself a delusive
name. Frederick, though harsh in war, and now balked of his most cherished
hopes, could honestly accept a state of things it was beyond his power to
change: he signed cheerfully and kept dutifully the peace of Constance, which
left him little but a titular supremacy over the Lombard towns.

[Footnote 1: The carroccio was a waggon with a flagstaff planted on it, which
served the Lombards for a rallyingpoint in battle.]

At home no Emperor since Henry III had been so much respected and so
generally prosperous. Uniting in his person the Saxon and Swabian families,
he healed the long feud of Welf and Waiblingen: his prelates were faithful to
him, even against Rome: no turbulent rebel disturbed the public peace. Germany
was proud of a hero who maintained her dignity so well abroad, and he crowned
a glorious life with a happy death, leading the van of Christian chivalry
against the Mussulman. Frederick, the greatest of the Crusaders, is the
noblest type of mediaeval character in many of its shadows, in all its lights.

Legal in form, in practice sometimes almost absolute, the government of
Germany was, like that of other feudal kingdoms, restrained chiefly by the
difficulty of coercing refractory vassals. All depended on the monarch's
character, and one so vigorous and popular as Frederick could generally lead
the majority with him and terrify the rest. A false impression of the real
strength of his prerogative might be formed from the readiness with which he
was obeyed. He repaired the finances of the kingdom, controlled the dukes,
introduced a more splendid ceremonial, endeavoured to exalt the central power
by multiplying the nobles of the second rank, afterwards the 'college of
princes,' and by trying to substitute the civil law and Lombard feudal code
for the old Teutonic customs, different in every province. If not successful
in this project, he fared better with another. Since Henry the Fowler's day
towns had been growing up through Southern and Western Germany, especially
where rivers offered facilities for trade. Cologne, Treves, Mentz, Worms,
Speyer, Nurnberg, Ulm, Regensburg, Augsburg, were already considerable cities,
not afraid to beard their lord or their bishop, and promising before long to
counter-balance the power of the territorial oligarchy. Policy or instinct
led Frederick to attach them to the throne, enfranchising many, granting, with
municipal institutions, an independent jurisdiction, conferring various
exemptions and privileges; while receiving in turn their good-will and loyal
aid, in money always, in men when need should come. His immediate successors
trode in his steps, and thus there arose in the state a third order, the
firmest bulwark, had it been rightly used, of imperial authority; an order
whose members, the Free Cities, were through many ages the centres of German
intellect and freedom, the only haven from the storms of civil war, the surest
hope of future peace and union. In them ^1 national congresses to this day
sometimes meet: from them aspiring spirits strove to diffuse those ideas of
Germanic unity and self-government, which they alone had kept alive. Out of
so many flourishing commonwealths, four only were spared by foreign conquerors
and faithless princes till the day came which made them again the members of a
great and real German state. To the primitive order of German freemen,
scarcely existing out of the towns, except in Swabia and Switzerland,
Frederick further commended himself by allowing them to be admitted to
knighthood, by restraining the licence of the nobles, imposing a public peace,
making justice in every way more accessible and impartial. To the south-west
of the green plain that girdles in the rock of Salzburg, the gigantic mass of
the Untersberg frowns over the road which winds up a long defile to the glen
and lake of Berchtesgaden. There, far up among its limestone crags, in a spot
scarcely accessible to human foot, the peasants of the valley point out to the
traveller the black mouth of a cavern, and tell him that within Barbarossa
lies amid his knights in an enchanted sleep ^2, waiting the hour when the
ravens shall cease to hover round the peak, and the pear-tree blossom in the
valley, to descend with his Crusaders and bring back to Germany the golden age
of peace and strength and unity. Often in the evil days that followed the
fall of Frederick's house, often when tyranny seemed unendurable and anarchy
endless, men thought on that cavern, and sighed for the day when the long
sleep of the just Emperor should be broken, and his shield be hung aloft again
as of old in the camp's midst, a sign of help to the poor and the oppressed.

[Footnote 1: Lubeck, Hamburg, Bremen, and Frankfort.

(Since this was first written Frankfort has been annexed by Prussia, and
her three surviving sisters have, by their entrance first into the North
German confederation, now into the German Empire, lost something of their

[Footnote 2: The legend is one which appears under various forms in many