Episode 89 – Holy War

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This week the epic struggle between empire and papacy goes into its final stretch. The pope has fled to Lyon. There he calls a church council which Frederick is now unable to forestall. Pope Innocent IV deposes Frederick, and – for the first time in history – calls a crusade, not against the Muslims, not against pagans, not against heretics or Greek orthodox rulers, but against a Latin Christian monarch who for years had tried to find an amicable solution to what was a political, not a religious disagreement. And all that against the backdrop of Jerusalem having fallen into the hands of the Turks, and the Mongol armies on the march.


Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 89 – Holy War

This week the epic struggle between empire and papacy goes into its final stretch. The pope has fled to Lyon. There he calls a church council which Frederick is now unable to forestall. Pope Innocent IV deposes Frederick, and – for the first time in history – calls a crusade, not against the Muslims, not against pagans, not against heretics or Greek orthodox rulers, but against a Latin Christian monarch who for years had tried to find an amicable solution to what was a political, not a religious disagreement. And all that against the backdrop of Jerusalem having fallen into the hands of the Turks, and the Mongol armies on the march.

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Last week we saw pope Innocent IV making a momentous decision. He had set off northwards from Rome when he came to a fork in the road. One path led to Narni where the emperor Frederick II was waiting for him to hammer out the last details of a peace agreement his envoys had negotiated on for months. The emperor – who had run out of money and whose support was slowly crumbling away as the excommunication had been going into its fifth year – was prepared to do almost anything. Return all church lands and property seized – tick, furnish an army to go into the Hoy Land – tick, lead the defence of the west against the Mongol invasion – tick. He might even have considered abdicating as emperor in favour of his son Konrad IV, though that is hotly disputed. This was the path to peace.

But it was also the path to political irrelevance for the papacy. Even with all the concessions made, there was the undeniable fact that Hohenstaufen power surrounded the papal states. Even if Frederick takes his troops back into Sicily, the last few years had shown that if need be, any imperial force can operate without hinderance in Lazio, can abduct cardinals and manipulate politics within the city of Rome. The other Christian monarchs had not come to the pope’s aid then and there is little chance they would come at any point in the future.

Because What neither party realised was that all the time pope and emperor had held each other in their mutual death grip, the kings of England, France, Hungary, Poland, Aragon, Castile and so forth had risen in stature. No longer Reguli, little kings, as Barbarossa had still called them, they had built powerful institutions, had begun to raise taxes and had brought the church in their lands into obedience to them. They were happy to formally recognise the pope as their overlord and in many cases as their actual feudal master, but in reality, they did as they pleased.

The political power of the papacy balanced precariously on feet of clay. Giving in to Frederick’s advances would have exposed its inherent weakness. And that mattered more to Innocent IV than the holy Land, it mattered so much, he was prepared to risk a Mongol invasion just to avoid releasing Frederick from the ban. That is why he took the other path, the path that led to Civitavecchia, to a waiting Genoese fleet that took him and seven of his cardinals first to his hometown and later to Lyon, far out of reach of Frederick.

The arrival of the pope in Lyon did not only cause a massive headache for Frederick but was less than welcome to King Louis of France. Louis, an profoundly pious man and later made a saint was nevertheless a cold calculating politician. And as such, the idea of hosting the pope in France itself did not appeal. When Innocent asked to proceed to Rheims, the pre-eminent archiepiscopate of France and at this point a vacant seat, the response was swift.

According to the inevitable Matthew Paris, Louis wrote that “his nobles were by no means willing to consent that he should come to France. For they were afraid lest he should reward his entertainers like a mouse in a sack, or a snake in one’s bosom;”. Not quite the response of an obedient son of the church.

Not being able to proceed to Rheims and live off the proceeds of that rich diocese, Innocent now needed money. The papal states could not send much given that military operations continued, and all resources had to be channelled into paying the troops of cardinal Rainald of Viterbo and his Guelf allies.  So the pope complained to the immensely rich abbots of Cluny and Citeaux, asking them his especial and dearest sons for pecuniary assistance. Which was no doubt forthcoming since we find one of them shortly afterwards as bishop of Langres. The archbishop of Rouen buys a cardinal’s hat, whilst the archbishop of Lyon resigns in disgust leaving the archbishopric to Philip of Savoy who never took holy orders and would end its days as a married Count. Money has become a huge issue for the church by now and Rome’s demands for cash are influencing domestic policies. One of the key criticisms of the reign of Henry III that will lead to the second Baronial war and the Provisions of Oxford was his willingness to send the tithes of the English church down to Rome. The stench of mammon is cutting through all that frankincense and myrhh.

Though the money flow was an issue, Lyon had some great advantages. For one, Innocent IV could now call for a full church council without having to fear interference from the emperor. Though this fear was probably unsubstantiated. Frederick’s previous attempt to prevent a council by attacking and imprisoning prelates had backfired so badly it is unlikely he would have done it again. This time, when the council was called for June 1245, he guaranteed safe passage to any Italian churchman who wanted to attend. And he sent his own representatives to argue his side and maybe prevent the worst that way.

Taddeo de Suessa was the man Frederick sent over. He had been a long-standing member of the imperial chancery, had worked closely with Pietro da Vinea and was also an accomplished poet in that intellectual circle that formed the centre of Frederick’s court. But most importantly he was the foremost legal brain on Frederick’s side.

Was there a chance for Frederick to prevail in the council? On the outset it looked like zero given the invitations left no doubt of Innocent’s intentions. But some of the cardinals were inclined to a more lenient handling of the affair. What was more significant was that the other monarchs were keen to resolve the conflict. Louis IX wanted to go on crusade and the ongoing conflict prevented many potential crusaders from joining up. The Latin emperor of Constantinople, who was at the council was equally keen to get the papacy to focus on his crumbling empire. King Henry III was still technically in an alliance with Frederick. Though the monarchs were not there in person, their prelates were. So things are not quite as hopeless as it may look.

Innocent leaves no doubt about what he wants, the deposition of the emperor, a declaration that all his crowns and titles are forfeit. His arguments are still the same. Frederick is a godless heretic, lover of Saracen company, female and horrible dictu, male also; the denier of God; the destroyer of churches, whose treatment of the Sicilian Church was especially notorious. As king of Sicily he is faithless vassal who does not abide the orders of his liege lord, he is an invader of the papal states, etc. etc. pp.

Having been repeating the same set of arguments over and over again makes it quite easy for Taddeo to refute them. He can point to the emperor’s constant offers to resolve these issues – see above. Taddeo goes one step further and makes the offer of offers, Frederick would end the fighting in Italy and focus solely on the defence against the Mongols, the safeguarding of Constantinople and the recovery of the Holy Land. He would even go there in person, never to return. And as for the emperor’s alleged heresy, these are allegations so serious, they demand the emperor’s right to defend himself. These cannot be prejudged. A decision has to be postponed until the emperor himself arrives. He is on his way, Taddeo lets his audience know.

Innocent responds saying, how can he trust this man who consorts with Muslims and has a harem of dancing girls?  But Taddeo has an answer for that too. Let the kings of France and England stand as the guarantors of the agreement, those he surely do trust. But that is an even bigger non no for Innocent who fears the three monarchs would simply gang up on him.

The pope is stuck. What reason could the ever-benevolent successor of St. Peter have to prevent a sinner to come before the council and explain himself and if he had indeed erred, renounce his errors and ask for forgiveness.

So the council postpones its decision in anticipation of the imperial arrival. Frederick is meanwhile travelling with all pomp and circumstance through Piedmont and seeks permission to cross the alps from none other than the count of Savoy, whose brother had just been made archbishop of Lyon. Progress stalls but is by no means permanently stalled. Innocent IV realises that within just weeks Frederick will be entering Lyon and he will be back to where he was at that juncture in the road north of Rome. Only that now there was no escape. France was closed to him and most other places in the empire he could reach from here were under even closer control of Frederick.

And so he does what he had wanted to do right from the beginning. On July 17th, 1245, he, not the council, proclaimed the sentence of excommunication and deposition of the emperor Frederick II. The council, which did not necessarily want to condemn him had to fall in line. Opposing the papal decision would have fatally undermined the status of the church, so they went along.

When Frederick hears that Innocent IV had declared all his crowns to be lost, he has his treasure chest brought up to him in Asti where he was staying, puts the imperial crown on his head and says, eyes blazing: “I have not yet lost my crown, neither will pope nor council take it from me without a bloody war”.

And a war it is. Not just a normal war, but a holy war. Innocent IV makes the fight against Frederick II a full-scale crusade. Anyone who picks up arms against the emperor will receive the same absolution from sins a crusader putting his life on the line in Acre or Tyre receives. And should one die in the pursuit of the heretic Sicilian, it is a direct road to heaven, without the need to stop even for the briefest of moments in purgatory. Never before had a full crusade been called against a Christian monarch, let alone an emperor. There were papal wars where soldiers received blessings and absolutions and to a degree Gregory IX had already called the fight against Frederick a crusade. But this is different. The crusade against the Hohenstaufen is given equal billing alongside the crusade in the Holy Land.

The crusader idea had been diluted for a while with actions against the Albigensian and the pagans in the east standing alongside the fight for Jerusalem. In fact the two great papal jurists, Gregory IX and Innocent IV had further developed the concept of crusades dividing them into two types, the ones fought outside Europe to spread Christianity and the ones fought here at home to purify the Mother Church from the gangrene of heresy and disobedience. Is anyone surprised that 150 years into the Crusades and an ideology of papal supremacy these two eminent thinkers conclude that the fight to keep the church pure was more important than those fought out in Palestine?

Louis IX of France is apoplectic about the papal move. He meets Innocent at Cluny and makes it clear to him that his new crusade against Frederick diverts from the urgently needed support to the Holy land, let alone the defence against the Mongols. But there is no way back for Innocent. He has singlehandedly convicted Frederick II despite all the arguments he had heard to the contrary. If he were to backtrack, it would be the admission of an error and since Gregory VII, the pope cannot err.

Where are the mongols when you need them to refute papal infallibility.

All Louis can do is banning the preaching of the crusade in France. Similarly the English barons force Henry III to cut off money flow to the papacy and only a small trickle of crusaders head for Italy. Equally attempts to raise forces in Denmark, Poland and Germany are ultimately unsuccessful. These guys quite sensibly think that defence against the Mongols has priority, and if one were to go on crusade, then properly, to Jerusalem.

Apart from the crusader absolution, Innocent tries various other ways to foster opposition to Frederick II. One very powerful instrument was the papal ability to control marriages, namely either to allow marriages within the otherwise prohibited level of consanguinity, aka marrying your cousin. Alternatively the pope could dissolve marriages that had been made between peoples too closely related. That was enormously powerful, since the prohibition was against consanguinity in the seventh degree, which basically meant virtually any marriage within the European high Aristocracy required a dispensation.

These efforts achieved at least one positive outcome for the pope, the election of an anti king in Germany, Heinrich Raspe, the Landgrave of Thuringia. He was elected mainly with the votes of the bishops and managed to achieve an initial victory against the forces of Frederick’s on, king Konrad IV. But luck quickly turned against the Landgrave and by 1247 he was dead. He had no children and there were no descendants left of that great family that had included the Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia.  Upon his death the great possessions of the Landgraves acquired with such astute wheeling, dealing were given to the House of Wettin. They later formed this string of duchies including Sachsen Anhalt, Sachsen Meiningen and Sachsen Coburg Gotha, of Prince Albert fame.

As a deposed emperor and king, Frederick’s reign is not legitimate, it is tyranny. And tyrannicide – as any decent scholastic will tell you – is justified. In 1246 a conspiracy is unveiled to kill the emperor and to take over the kingdom of Sicily for the pope. The conspirators are not some disgruntled Sicilian barons, but senior members of the imperial bureaucracy. One, Bernardo Orlando Rossi was the podesta of Parma and an administrator of a province in the regno of Sicily, Giacomo da Morra had been put in charge of the March of Ancona and a third, Guiglieno de Sanseverino was from a large family long loyal to the House of Hohenstaufen. When the plot was discovered, Morra and Snaseverino fled to Rome where the cardinals provided them with shelter and safety, which points the finger clearly at Innocent IV. Others were less fortunate. They holed up in some fortress which was quickly taken, and their bodies mutilated in the most gruesome fashion. Rebellion sparked across the kingdom as people had enough of the constantly rising taxes and interference in the economy to fund a war far, far away.

A direct involvement of the pope in the attempted murder was never established, but his behaviour towards the conspirators suggests he would have condoned their acts, had they been successful. For Frederick this conspiracy has a catastrophic effect on his mental state. These were men he had trusted, he had promoted and had relied upon to manage his beloved kingdom of Sicily. Their betrayal highlighted two things, on the one hand that the excommunication was undermining his moral authority and on the other that the constant demands for money and resulting tax burden was festering rebellion. Frederick badly wanted to get out of this cycle of eroding control, but Innocent was all the way out in Lyon and even if Frederick had got there, Innocent would fight tooth and nail not to lift the ban. There is more than a whiff of Greek tragedy about all that is happening from now on.

There is one bright spot in this otherwise quite dismal year 1246. The duke of Austria Friedrich der Streitbare, which roughly translates as Frederick the cantankerous, had died. His name was well deserved. This duke of Austria was almost perennially at war with his neighbours, the kings of Bohemia and Hungary but also with Frederick II himself. In 1236 Frederick had defeated him and the relationship had stabilised. In the 1240s it became clear that the warlike duke would die without male offspring. Under the Privilegium Minus, which you may remember from the days of Barbarossa, the dukes of Austria were able to pass their fief through the female line, which made his daughter Gertrud and his sister Margaret the potential heirs. Frederick had put in a bid for Gertrud but was most humiliatingly rebuffed by his vassal. The reason is not public, but it may well have been the excommunication that gave Gertrud and her dad pause for thought. Or it may have been all these wild rumours about harems and dancing girls and squads of illegitimate children that dented the imperial attractiveness as groom. Gertrud would marry someone else but by the time old Frederick the Cantankerous last of the house of Babenberg bit the bullet in – where else – a battle with a neighbour, the emperor took possession of Austria officially for safekeeping. But he had no desire to hand it to anyone else and the next 30 years are a convoluted mess of claims, counterclaims, battles and court cases, at the end of which a previously almost unknown count from Switzerland, a certain Rudolf whose castle was named after the hawks that flew above it took possession. His family, the lords of the hawks, the Habichtsburg later abbreviated to Habsburg would hold the reigns of Austria and quite a bid besides until 1918.

As 1246 gave way to 1247 Frederick’s position had not necessarily improved overall, but has remained stable, which is a great achievement given his deposition and the calling of a crusade against him. Sicily was back under control, and he had got his paws on the wealth of the house of Babenberg, providing very temporary relief for his money troubles.

Militarily the situation is somewhat bewildering. There are two papal armies active in central Italy but they are small and had suffered several defeats. In Lombardy the sort of baseline level of warfare is continuing. His vicars for the North, Ezzelino da Romano in Veneto and Enzio in the Romagna are reasonably successful. Not that any major cities could be swapped, but castles are being captured and enemy lands devastated.

It is a weird sort of war, since the enemy, the pope, sits unassailably in Lyon. And even if troops could be brought down, the PR backlash of capturing and mistreating a pope would defeat the whole purpose. But stopping hostilities isn’t an answer either, because once the Ghibelline side loses momentum, the Guelfs in the allied cities would take over and the whole house of cards would have crumbled. It is intensely frustrating.

Imperial propaganda tries to push back against the ever shriller allegations of imperial misdemeanours by highlighting the papal outfit in Lyon as one money-grabbing bazaar where all sorts of absolutions and dispensations are sold to the highest bidder. Tapping into the beliefs of the Franciscans, Pedro da Vinea calls for the church to focus purely on the spiritual and leave the worldly concerns to the temporal lords.

To break the gridlock, Frederick plans to go to Germany and at least put on a show of strength. If the German princes were to join him at one of his assemblies, the papal ban would look futile and petty. And that may help king Louis or one of the less fanatic cardinals to convince Innocent to reopen negotiations. Lots of ifs and buts, but something, anything to move this on…

Innocent does not want anything to move on or forward or anywhere. He knows Frederick is running low on cash and time is on his side. But the idea that the emperor could come to Germany is disconcerting. That needs to be stopped. Best way to stop that is stirring up something in Lombardy.

The city of Parma had been pro-imperial since hostilities began. But like in every Italian city, it did have a Guelf party within its walls. One of the conspirators of 1246, Bernardo Orlando Rossi had been Podesta of Parma and still counted many people there amongst his friends. Armed with plenty of papal cash he managed to instigate a Guelf uprising. The Ghibellines were thrown out, the gates closed and Parma joined the Lombard League.

Frederick had to respond. Parma controlled the road that connects Tuscany, where the empire had important bases and Lombardy. Parma was strategic. Hence, he ordered Enzio and Ezzelino to begin a siege of Parma. Frederick himself joined them in the summer.

Frederick decided that Parma was to be made an example of. He declared that the history of Parma was to come to an end. It was to be razed to the ground. In its place had a new city built, initially in wood, just outside the gates of the old one. This city he modestly called Victoria. Depending on the chronicler, Victoria was either a magnificent creation of astounding proportions or a rather unimpressive product of the febrile hubris of the emperor. Whatever it looked like, Frederick made it the nerve centre of the imperial activity in Lombardy. He had the imperial bureaucracy and treasury brought over there. Frederick had settled in Victoria for the long run. Sieges he knew could run for a long time and patience was the order of the day.

On February 18th, 1248, a good 7 months into the siege, Frederick went out to the nearby hills to do what he loved doing more than anything, hunting with falcons. Having seen the imperial party disappear, the Parmegiani attacked Victoria. The imperial army, led by Enzio came out to face them. The attackers saw their enemy coming out and fled, not straight back home, but around the walls, away from the wooden provocation. Believing this to be the great opportunity to bring an end to this rather draining siege, Enzio and his men gave chase. Soon they were too far from their great new city of Victoria to see what happened there. The remaining citizens or Parma, including women and children, armed with any weapon they could, came pouring out of the gates and quickly overwhelmed the skeleton crew that protected the wooden city.

The attackers put the ostentatiously named settlement to the torch. They captured the imperial treasury, which included not just gold and precious vestments, but also the imperial crown. Most historians agree that it was indeed the imperial crown, the one today displayed in Vienna the one the emperor had put on his head in 1245 and threatened the pope with war, that was the one captured by the citizens of Parma. Equally many of Frederick’s personal possessions were looted, including his copy of De Arte Venandi con Avibus, the Art of Hunting with Birds. This lavishly decorated copy seems to have been in the possession of a Milanese merchant in 1268 and later disappeared. It was the full text, i.e., three times larger than the copy we still have today. That is the famous moamin, I mentioned some episodes back.

But the most devastating loss for Frederick was that of his advisor Taddeo da Suessa, the man who defended him in Lyon in 1245 and had become ever closer to the emperor who had grown incredibly suspicious since the betrayal of 1246. Da Suessa had his hands cut off and was then dragged off to die in a dank prison cell in Parma.

The emperor returned a few days later to the scene of devastation. He did take one long look around, held a face-saving great assembly and left. The siege of Parma was over. His army occupied the pass across the Apennines into Tuscany so that communications remained open. But Frederick will never go to Germany again. There will not be a great display of princely loyalty. Innocent IV remains in Lyon, the ban stays.

What still surprises me how little PR mileage the papacy got out of the failure of the siege. What better symbol for the validity of the papal ban than the crown of the deposed emperor falling into the hands of the crusaders. But we have reached a point in this battle of fanatical ideologues where neither side believes a word the other is saying and trusts any old nonsense their own leadership is spouting. That sound familiar? Nothing new under the sun.

I think I will leave it here. Next week we will talk about the last leg of this sad and sorry tale that involves the emperor, Frederick II. I hope you will come along. And apologies for not publishing on the 29th of December. I was definitely in no state to record anything. My voice is gradually coming back, so normal service should resume. Before I go, let me thank all of you who are supporting the show, in particular the Patrons who have kindly signed up on patreon.com/historyofthegermans. It is thanks to you this show does not have to do advertising for products you do not want to hear about. If Patreon isn’t for you, another way to help the show is sharing the podcast directly or boosting its recognition on social media. If you share, comment or retweet a post from the History of the Germans it is more likely to be seen by others, hence bringing in more listeners. My most active places are Twitter @germanshistory and my Facebook page History of the Germans Podcast. As always, all the links are in the show notes.

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