Episode 61 – The Peace of Venice

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This week we will talk about the great peace conference in Venice where Barbarossa is finally reconciled with the papacy, the Lombards and the Sicilians.It is also the time he has to bend the knee before his implacable foe, Pope Alexander III in a grand ceremony before all of Europe.


Hello and Welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 61 – The Peace of Venice

This week we will talk about the great peace conference in Venice where Barbarossa is finally reconciled with the papacy, the Lombards and the Sicilians.It is also the time he has to bend the knee before his implacable foe, Pope Alexander III in a grand ceremony before all of Europe.

As before there is an episode website at historyofthegermans.com/61-2 where you can find the transcript, maps and images to follow along. And by the way I have finally re-recorded episode 59, now sniffle free, 14 days later.

Before we start just a reminder. The History of the Germans Podcast is advertising free thanks to the generous support from patrons. And you can become a patron too and enjoy exclusive bonus episodes and other privileges from the price of a latte per month. All you have to do is sign up at patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website historyofthegermans.com. You find all the links in the show notes. And thanks a lot to Stephanie, Erika and Sean who have already signed up.

Let‘s go back where we left off last week. On June 5th 1176 Barbarossa re-appears in Pavia having lost the encounter with the Milanese at Legnano. His armour, sword and lance as well as his treasure had been left on the field of battle. Even though he still had some military capabilities left, his campaign had hit the end of the road.

Like in 1167/68 after the loss of the army before Rome, the emperor goes incommunicado. Just once charter is produced in the 6 months following Legnano. We hear about illness, possibly another bout of Malaria.

It is at this stage that Barbarossa finally gives up on his imperial dreams. He gives his archbishops, namely Wichman of Magdeburg and Christian of Mainz Carte Blanche to negotiate with Pope Alexander III. When I say Carte Blanche, I mean full authority to bind the emperor. Barbarossa swears to honour whatever his envoys agree with the pope.

Wichmann v. Magdeburg

Such a fundamental abrogation of control requires an explanation. Cardinal Boso reported that quote “Indeed all the Princes of his Kingdom, both ecclesiastical and secular, who until that time had followed Frederick in his errors, told him that unless he made peace with the Church they would follow him no longer, nor give him any aid” unquote. Boso as a partisan of Alexander III is not the most reliable source when it comes to the inner workings of the empire. But on this occasion, he may be right.

Barbarossa’s reign in Northern Italy was entirely built on military might. The secular princes have stopped supporting this effort after the catastrophe of 1167. Money for Mercenaries had run out in 1176. His only source of soldiers were the bishops.

The bishops, in particular those who had been former members of the imperial chancery were personally loyal to the emperor and the imperial agenda in Italy. But on ecclesiastical matters they were more and more leaning towards Alexander III. That is not much of a surprise given Barbarossa himself made little efforts to boost his antipope Calixtus III and had opened negotiations with Alexander before. After the string of defeats that could easily be seen as God’s judgement on the imperial position in the schism, the bishops now wanted reconciliation with the pope before it was too late. And Barbarossa had no option other than to accept.

He tried to keep the initiative and proposed a church council for both Alexander III and Calixtus III to attend and where Alexander III would then be declared the true pope. But nobody responded. Events have run away from him.

The bishops meet Alexander III’s negotiators in Agnani in October 1177. The envoys kicking off the discussion by saying, according to Boso quote “’Our lord the Emperor, being most desirous to grant you and the Church of Rome true peace, has sent us with plenary powers to your presence and urgently requests that that agreement of concord and peace, which last year your brothers negotiated with him and which has remained through his fault a dead letter, be now concluded by us and with your consent, under the protection of God, and in every detail.” And here is the response, again according to Boso: “When this message had been heard in public the kindly Pope with a joyful and calm appearance replied: ‘We rejoice at your arrival and the happy tidings that you bring, and for these reasons give thanks to God Almighty. In the visible world there is no message that falls so sweetly upon our ears as the news that the Emperor, your lord, whom we recognize as first amongst the princes of the world, wishes, as you declare, to give us true peace. But if he wishes to give us and the Roman Church full peace, he must grant it also to all our allies, and in particular to the King of Sicily, the Lombards, and to the Emperor in Constantinople, who stood unshakeably with us during the trials of the Church.’ The envoys both assented to and praised this speech of the Pontiff Pope” unquote

Agnani Papal Palace

Negotiations lasted 2 weeks and were conducted in secret. In the final document that emerged the empire conceded to almost every one of Alexander’s demands.

Barbarossa, his wife and his son Henry accept Alexander III as the one and only true pope and promise to show him the reverence due to him. There are no specifics set out how that reverence is to be shown.

The bulk of the agreement is taken up with the resolution of temporal matters, i.e, what the pope owns and what the emperor has to return to him..

In particular Barbarossa is to return all the papal regalia that the Holy church held during the reign of Innocent II, which is another way of saying that Barbarossa had to drop the Roman Commune and return the title of prefect of Rome he had taken in 1167. That made the pope again the sovereign ruler of Rome, assuming he can dislodge the Senate.

Further the Lands of Matilda were to go back to the pope as were all the lands and property of any church the emperor may have acquired during the schism.

Finally reconciliation with the papacy was conditional upon the conclusion of peace agreements with the Lombards, the King of Sicily and emperor Manuel.

This looks like a clean sweep for the papacy, though there were a few things that the imperial negotiators managed to obtain. They obtained the recognition of the archbishops Christian of Mainz and Phillip of Cologne. Both Christian and Philipp had been installed by the antipopes or a bishop installed by an antipope. Alexander had appointed his own archbishop of Mainz, Conrad. The deal they came up with was that Conrad would give up Mainz but would be first in line for the next vacant archbishopric. Christian would publicly burn the pallium, the symbol of his office that he had received from anti pope Paschalis III and receive a new one from Alexander III.

Phillipp v. Heinsberg grave in the cathedral of Cologne

This was a pragmatic and ultimately inevitable solution. Completely unwinding a schism would be catastrophic. Imagine every ordination by a schismatic bishop was declared invalid, at which point the sacraments of the priests so ordained would also be invalid. And that in turn means that anyone who say had been baptised by a schismatic priest and later died would end up in purgatory through no fault of their own. That could not be and as we have seen in previous schism, most of the schismatic bishops and priests remained and their sacraments were considered valid. Hence this was a concession, but not a major one.

The pope also promised to crown the empress Beatrice, which was even less of a concession since it it only worked if Barbarossa had gained control of Rome for the pope first. This being a challenge,  all it meant was that by inference the previous coronation of Beatrice was now invalid.

One part of the imperial negotiation strategy had been to conclude a final peace agreement with Alexander, which is why the envoys had unlimited power to bind the emperor. A final peace with the pope would have split the anti-imperial coalition. But they did not get that. Angnani was only a preliminary settlement, subject to a broader peace agreement that included the Lombard League, William of Sicily, and emperor Manuel. These peace agreements should be negotiated again by each party appointing arbiters. Until this peace was finally concluded, Barbarossa was to observe a truce with all parties.

The preliminary accord of Agnani was not far short of an unconditional surrender. It shows either how desperate Barbarossa’s position had become or how keen the bishops were to remove the shadow of deposition.

Just to lighten the mood, there is a human-interest story here as well. Both pope Alexander and Barbarossa praise the efforts of several Carthusian monks in bringing about peace, without explaining in detail what they had done. Cardinal Boso, who was present at the negotiations does not mention them at all. But they must have somehow be involved.  Now one of them was Dietrich of Silve-Benite. He pops up at the most unexpected junctures. He was there when Barbarossa fled across Mont Cenis in 1168 and he is again on hand at this difficult point in Barbarossa’s life doing who knows what. He will be involved in the upcoming negotiations as well, which is very unusual for a member of the Carthusian order, an order that vows to live a life of silence, solitude and prayer. Carthusians are normally prohibited from receiving guests, meeting people outside their monastery and even  seeing their family more than once a year. How come that Dietrich of Silve-Benite is there, at one of the largest political gatherings of his time.  Barbarossa himself  gives a hint when he calls him „sprouted from our lineage“ and Dietrich calls himself „ of the house and lineage of the great Frederick“. In other words he was most likely Barbarossa’s natural son, born to an unknown mother in the 1140s. It is one of those bewildering things about Barbarossa that we hear nothing about any premarital or extramarital relationships. In fact, except for Henry IV and then later Frederick II, these medieval emperors were an exceedingly chaste bunch. Contemporary French kings are famous for their excessive piety and sexual incontinence – none of that in the chronicles of these monarchs. I find that very hard to believe, in particular with Barbarossa who was unmarried for a period during his late 20s and apparently was later quite infatuated with his very beautiful wife Beatrix of Burgundy.

Marriage of Frederick Barbarossa and beatrix of Burgundy, as imagined by Tintoretto

Moving on from potential sexual frustration to actual deep political frustration. The news of some sort of agreement between the pope and emperor leads to anxiety amongst the Lombards who fear that they have been left out of the peace agreement. The most anxious of all of them are the Cremonese whose position within the League is already extremely precarious and hence needs imperial support. They invite Barbarossa to stay with them and even promise him to accompany him to the Lands of Matilda. Why Barbarossa accepts that invitation is a bit unclear. It may well be that even the rich city of Pavia has run out of patience feeding the imperial entourage. Anyway, by December 1176 we find Barbarossa in the monastery of S. Agata in Cremona.

Having secured the emperor, the Cremonese come up with ever more audacious schemes. First they dig up the long superseded peace of Montebello that had made them the mediators between the League and the emperor. Based on that they issue a second mediation award which is largely identical to the first one but guarantees the existence of Alessandria. That did backfire both ways as the Lombards were expecting more, and the imperials still cannot stomach the existence of Alessandria.

This being a lead balloon they try something else. The way the Cremonese tell the story, they had received the emperor with all the honours due to his rank and in exchange, Barbarossa had promised to protect the city should they fall out with the League. Barbarossa was to send 1000 German knights for the defence of Cremona.

Barbarossa will later blame Cremona for all the misfortunes he had experienced in Italy since 1155. As for 1177, he says the Cremonese did not provide as much as loaf of bread for the upkeep of his entourage. Instead, they harassed and harangued the effectively defenceless emperor. They demand the transfer of two important castles, Guastella and Luzzara, threatening to kill him. Only by God’s grace did he manage to escape from Cremona without signing any of these charters, even though his frightened princes urged him to grant them all they wanted. That old alliance between Cremona and the empire is broken.

Barbarossa then begins an itineration around central Italy where he can be found in Modena, Pesaro, Ravenna waiting for the final peace negotiations to begin.

What looked like a smooth process in Agnani turns out to be a lot more complex in reality. The fractious Lombard League sees conspiracies everywhere. Yes, the pope has sworn that he had not signed a binding peace with the emperor, but can they really believe this. Cremona and Tortona have left the League and sided with the emperor. What do they know?

All the paranoia culminates in the question where to hold these four-way negotiations.

In Agnani the parties had agreed Ravenna as the location. But the Lombard League bans any bishops from crossing their territory en route to Ravenna. With Ravenna out, Bologna is suggested, but that does not work for the imperials who had besieged Bologna recently and feared to be lynched when they come into town. Venice was the next suggestion, but the Lombards were opposed because Venice had helped Christian of Mainz to besiege Ancona in violation of the league treaty. Sounds complex, it is.

In the end the Pope, William of Sicily and Barbarossa agree on Venice and the Doge of Venice promises the Lombards that Barbarossa would not be allowed in the city until the peace is concluded. That reassures the Lombards in so far as Barbarossa will not be able to use his prestige and personal charm to influence the outcomes.

And so for the next couple of months Barbarossa wonders about central Italy whilst his destiny is decided in the Serenissima. It could be worse. Emperor Manuel had been unceremoniously dropped from the proceedings after his devastating defeat against the Turks at Myriokephalon. And again, if you want to hear this story from the other side of the Mediterranean, check out episode 244 of the history of Byzantium.

With that the first international peace congress in Europe gets under way. One source claims 8,400 participants had taken part and names some 5000 by name, the crème de la crème of Europe, each trying to outshine the other.  The archbishop of Cologne comes with 400 secretaries, chaplains and attendants, the patriarch of Aquileia has 300, as did Mainz and Magdeburg, count roger of Andria, representing the king of Sicily came with an entourage of 330, duke Leopold of Austria could only muster a paltry 160 knights and attendants..

Pope Alexander III arrives on May 10th 1177 and is offered the palace of the patriarch in San Silvestro, a building that must have been very large and impressive but is almost completely lost today. It is inside the patriarchal chapel of this building that negotiations for a lasting peace took place.

All that is left of the Ca de papa, the house of the Pope

Pope Alexander was in charge of proceedings and proposed that first item on the agenda should be the peace between the emperor and the Lombard League. The two items that needed to be resolved were the Imperial regalia, i.e, the rights and privileges the emperor held in Northern Italy and the status of Alessandria. The imperial side began by offering options. Option one was the acceptance of the laws of Roncaglia and option two was to retore imperial control to what it was under king Henry IV. Option one was immediately dismissed, leaving option 2.

The counterproposal from the League was the rights and privileges as they existed under Henry V.

That does not sound like a massive gap since Henry IV had spent half his reign wondering around Italy begging cities for help. But that is something we know. The negotiators in 1177 had no idea what rights and privileges Henry IV or Henry V for that matter actually enjoyed. It was an elaborate form of shadow boxing with two blindfolded fighters. And there was also no compromise visible for Alessandria.

After a couple of weeks of to and fro, Pope Alexander decided that all this was just too complex to resolve within the timeframe of the congress. Hence he proposed a six year truce with the Lombard League and a 15 year truce with the Sicilians. And the agreement of Agnani should be incorporated into this treaty in full.

When his negotiators brought the proposal to Barbarossa he threw a full blown tantrum. He did not want a truce. The reason he did not want a truce was optics, nothing else. Barbarossa knew that when the treaty will be concluded, he will have to go to Venice and pay homage to the pope. If a treaty could be concluded with the Lombards, they would then have to repeat the procedure at Montebello, i.e, kneel before the emperor with their swords pointing at their hearts before receiving the kiss of peace. That way both the pope and the emperor would be able to stage their honour and prestige before the eyes of all of Europe.

We have to remember that the medieval public never saw the treaties and agreements that underpinned the peace. All they see is the way the peace is staged. Who kneels to who, how deep, with or without shoes, wearing which clothes. And what they see is what they will tell their friends at home about. And that becomes the political reality, irrespective of whatever concessions have been made.

Hence it made sense for Barbarossa to get upset about the truce. But what could he do. He did contemplate to go to Venice himself, against the explicit order of the pope and the doge and try to sway the negotiations. But that would only have resulted in a break-up of the peace congress and resumption of hostilities. That was something the German princes would not let him do.

But he needed to be granted something and it may be that the representatives of France and England put some pressure on Alexander III to get this over the line. So Pope Alexander allowed Barbarossa to keep the Lands of Matilda for another fifteen years, essentially until such time as the truce with William of Sicily was to run. These two things may have nothing to do with each other, but it sounded somewhat neat.

And that was it. On July 22nd the delegates signed the final draft. It was a rickety arrangement that left pretty much everyone disappointed. Milan and other members of the league felt betrayed by Pope Alexander, the pope may be regretting the handover of the Lands of Matilda, but worse off was Barbarossa who was dreading what was coming now.

We let Cardinal Boso take it from here:

Quote: “And so when these matters had been brought to completion in this way, the Pontiff released the Doge and the people of Venice from the oath which bound them, and instructed them to escort the Lord Emperor with due ceremony into their city. The Doge hastened to fulfil this instruction, and with due honours and ceremony brought the Emperor to the monastery of St. Nicholas on the Lido in six galleys which he had made ready. On the following day on the Vigil of St. James, when morning was at its height, the Pope sent to the Emperor the Bishops of Ostia, Porto and Praeneste, [Hu., G., and M., with I., Cardinal Priest of the title of Santa Anastasia; T., Cardinal Priest of the title of Santa Vitalia; P., Cardinal Priest of the title of Santa Susanna, and I., Cardinal Deacon of the title of St. Mary in Cosmidin.] They came into the presence of the Emperor, and after he had renounced the Schism of Octavian, Guy of Crema, and John of Strumi,[these were the antipopes]  and promised obedience to the venerable Pope Alexander as to the first Person in Christendom and to his successors who would enter on their office according to the canon. Upon that they absolved him from the sentence of excommunication that had been passed upon him and made him once more Part of the unity of the Catholic Church. Some of the more important Princes of his Empire made the Same renunciation according to the ancient custom of the Church.

 Thereupon the Emperor, like the orthodox prince that he now was, approached the presence of the Same Pontiff, who was enthroned with his Archbishops, Bishops, and Cardinals before the doors of St. Mark’s; and in the sight of all who awaited the benefit of the peace he put off his cloak and bowed down to the ground, and after kissing the Pope’s feet just as if they were those of the first of the Apostles, in verity he most devoutly administered the kiss of peace to him. Then were all filled with great joy, and from the excess of their $adness the sound of their chanting of the Te Deum rose up to the skies. But the august monarch, taking the Pontiff by his right hand, and amid chants and hymns of praise led him to the choir of the church, and there reverently received with bowed head the blessing from his hand.”

(Venice) Il Barbarossa bacia il piede al Papa – Federico Zuccari – Sala del Maggior Consiglio

On the next day, the feast of St. James the Apostle, the Pope returned to the Same church, and being about to celebrate the rites of the Mass with a joyous procession of Patriarchs, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons and the other orders of the Church, he drew near to the altar. The Emperor took his place in the choir, and the German clergy began in clear voices to chant the Introit of the Mass, and with all jubiliation carried out the whole chanting of the service. After the Gospel and the homily, the Emperor once again, together with his Princes, bowed down in a most devout fashion, opened his treasures and, after kissing Alexander’s feet, made him an offering of gold. When the Mass had been celebrated, Frederick took the Pontiff by the right hand and conducted him outside to his white horse and held his stirrup with a strong grip. But when he took the reins and made as if to carry out the duties of a marshal, the Pope accepted in his loving manner the intention for the deed, since the journey to the sea seemed to him to be rather long. End quote

Barbarossa will remain in Venice until September 17th, almost 6 weeks regularly meeting Pope Alexander and kissing his feet. The peace agreement is re-signed again and again, and princes are made to deliver oaths on it again and again. The emperor finally receives papal permission to leave.

As always with German history, the significance of the events of the peace of Venice are heavily disputed.

Let’s start with the first observation, there is no contemporary source from Germany that describes the events in front of the church of San Marco. About 50 years after these events a German monk tells the story that Count Dietrich of Lusatia had intervened when Pope Alexander had hesitated to raise the emperor from his prostration suggesting that the submission to the pope was considered humiliating to Barbarossa. Things got worse when papal propaganda in the 13th century embellished events. Thomas of Pavia, a Franciscan Monk reported that Pope Alexander had put his foot on Barbarossa‘s neck and quoted Psalm 91.13  “Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.”

Protestant propaganda from teh 16th century

By the late Middle Ages the image of the emperor kneeling before an imperious pope had become the central memory of the peace of Venice. During the Reformation the image of the pope putting his foot on the neck of the German ruler played a major role in anti-papal propaganda. In 1617 a German paster wondered why no honest German man had shown the heroic effort to plunge a dagger into the heart of this son of a dot,dot,dot pope Alexander.

The story turned in the 19th century. This image of the mythical hero Barbarossa being humiliated was simply impossible to swallow. One Canossa was enough. Hence historians began weaving a sophisticated net or arguments that Knut Goerich called a second historical reality. In that reality, Barbarossa was a superior negotiator who managed to turn the military defeat into an ultimately manageable result. The kneeling before the pope and strator service weren’t a humiliation, but no more than the usual reference to be granted the pope.

The pendulum has now swung back and many contemporaries see Venice as the final submission of the imperial dream under the triumphant papacy. Best quote is “Canossa lasted just 3 days but the degradation before Alexander III went on for a 100 days”.

Do I have an opinion? Sure I do. The emperor prostrating himself before the pope is showing to everyone publicly that he is recognising the papal authority and accepts that the pope is superior. This is the end of the idea that the empire and the emperor is equal in rank and independent from the recognition by the pope.

But I also think that Venice was ultimately a decent, if not actually a good deal for the Hohenstaufen. Whether that was due to Barbarossa’s negotiation skills or the more realistic perspective of his princes, mainly of Christian of Mainz does not realty matter. Barbarossa can retain some level of influence over Northern Italy and gains more room to manoeuvre now he is no longer excommunicated.

But it goes beyond that. Venice is a hugely important event. The concept of the Holy Roman Empire as conceived initially by Rainald von Dassel and Barbarossa that is now dead. The name remains but underneath is now Plan B. And plan B is building dynastic power. Once Barbarossa is back in Germany, he will continue his aggressive policy of territorial expansion. As he does that, he no longer has any moral authority to stop the other princes from pursuing the same strategy. It started before but after 1177 the big carving up of the empire goes into overdrive. Aristocratic families who have gained a leading position such as the House of Welf, the Luxembourgs, the Wittelsbach, the Wetting and the Askanier will dominate for the next centuries and those who have not yet moved into the top tier like the Habsburgs and Hohenzollern have only another few decades  to get into the game..

As for Italy, the truce with the Lombard league will lead to a more sustained peace 6 years later, a peace that will completely rejig the alliances, turning Milan from foe to friend.. But the most significant dynastic impact results from the truce with Siciliy. How that happened is going to be the subject of next weeks episode. I hope to see you then.

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