Konradin The Last Staufer

#Onthisday, August 23rd, 1268 Konradin, last of the imperial Hohenstaufen dynasty, lost the battle of Tagliacozzo. Konradin had made a desperate attempt to regain his inheritance as king of Sicily. Sicily was at the time one of the richest and best organised kingdoms in Europe, comprising not just the island of Sicily but all of Southern Italy up to Rome.

The popes had tried to get rid of the Hohenstaufens for years, offering the kingdom of Sicily to whoever was willing and able to oust them. King Henry III of England had initially shown interest but was rebuffed by parliament, adding to his woes that would lead to the Second Barons War.

After Henry III, the popes offered Sicily to Charles of Anjou, younger son of King Louis VIII of France. Once terms were agreed, Pope Urban IV called a crusade against Konradin’s uncle Manfred who had ruled Sicily (nominally) on his behalf. Charles defeated Manfred in the battle of Benevento in 1266 and took control of the kingdom.

Konradin appeared in Southern Italy in 1268 with an army raised by Ghibelline (=pro-imperial) Italian cities, a contingent of Austrian soldiers and many Sicilian nobles who struggled under the harsh Angevin rule. The battle was brief but bloody. Almost the entire army perishes, and Charles of Anjou has the survivors executed.

On October 29th, 1268, Konradin, just 16 years old, is beheaded on the main square in Naples together with his friend Frederick of Baden. This marks the end not just of the family of Frederick Barbarossa, it is also the end of imperial meddling in Italian affairs. Nominally Northern Italy remains part of what now will be called the Holy Roman Empire, but few emperors go to Italy, and if they do, it is in a private capacity.

Charles was also not able to enjoy his new kingdom for long. In 1282 the inhabitants of Sicily rose up and murdered thousands of their French oppressors in an event known as the Sicilian Vespers. The king of Aragon came to the rebels aid (or may have even instigated the event himself). Charles lost control of the island and died a few years later a broken man.

Konradin has been romanticised in German history as “the last Staufer”, young and “beautiful as Absalom” whose tragic demise closes the heroic medieval history of the Empire. Modern historians like Peter H. Wilson have been questioning whether there was as much of a structural break between the Staufer and their successors.

We will see what we make of the death of Konradin when we get to it in the History of the Germans Podcast – available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify etc. and on my website historyofthgermans

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