Episode 91 – Hohenstaufen Epilogue

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When Frederick II died there were four legitimate male descendants of the emperor, his son Konrad IV, elected king of the Romans, his son Henry, a mere six years old, but from most noble blood, his son Manfred from his relationship with Bianca Lancia who had married on her deathbed. And there was a grandson, the child of his unlucky oldest son Henry (VII). 18 years later when this episode ends, the House of Hohenstaufen will be wiped from the face of the earth. Lets find out how that could happen..


Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 91 – The Hohenstaufen Epilogue

When Frederick II died there were four legitimate male descendants of the emperor, his son Konrad IV, elected king of the Romans, his son Henry, a mere six years old, but from most noble blood, his son Manfred from his relationship with Bianca Lancia who had married on her deathbed. And there was a grandson, the child of his unlucky oldest son Henry (VII). 18 years later when this episode ends, the House of Hohenstaufen will be wiped from the face of the earth. Lets find out how that could happen..

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Last week we heard about the death of emperor Frederick II, a death that left the whole world stunned. He was 56 years old, certainly an age where death was possible, but after nominally 54 years on the throne, there were few people alive who could imagine a world without the Stupor Mundi, the wonder of the world. So many times had the popes announced the death of their hated opponents, many simply did not believe he was dead.

Even Salimbene di Parma, Franciscan monk and a totally committed partisan of the popes is unsure he can believe the news. What makes them especially hard to believe is that the Franciscan had bought wholesale into the prophecies of Joachim of Fiore, who had predicted that the antichrist would rampage across the land until the year 1260 when he would be defeated and a 1000 years of bliss would ensue. Frederick must hence still be alive creating havoc in the world from some secret hiding place. As he said himself, he only believed it when he saw Innocent IV himself telling a crowd in Ferrara that he, the pope, had heard it from reliable sources that the emperor was dead. Salimbene was not the last who believed the emperor was still alive. For decades false Fredericks would appear all over the empire.

But dead he was. And whilst that was a shock for the Ghibellines in Italy and the Hohenstaufen supporters north of the Alps, it was a source of jubilation for pope Innocent IV. He wrote In January 1251 full of apostolic compassion: “Let heaven and earth rejoice”. And he reminded his flock that the threat from the House of Hohenstaufen is not yet banished. The crusade had to continue, first against king Konrad IV and then against any other descendant of that infernal beast until all and every one of his descendants is gone.

Konrad IV was up in Germany when he hears about his father’s death and the unrelenting opposition of the pope. I think I said last time he was in his 30s, that was a bad calculation error. He was only 22, but that made him still an adult under the conventions of the time and he had been fighting the imperial cause for the last 8 years.

King Konrad IV from the Weingarten Stifterbuchlein

The fighting In Germany had always been hampered by the lack of resources on both sides. The anti-kings Heinrich Raspe and now William of Holland had limited resources of their own, whilst their only significant allies, the archbishops of Cologne and Mainz yielded more spiritual than military power. Konrad IV could rely on his family lands in Southern Germany, though his father’s constant demands for money and prioritisation of the Italian theatre of war meant he could never muster any sizeable forces.

Willem II of Holland

The other drag on Konrad was that he had only been the elected king of the Romans. His father had never allowed him to be crowned, presumably because he feared that Konrad would gain more independence and share the sorry destiny of his oldest son Henry (VII) – who ended up in brackets for opposing the emperor. Meanwhile his opponent William of Holland had been crowned in Aachen by the correct archbishop, just without the correct imperial regalia.

In 1251 Konrad has to make a decision what to do. He could either focus on the German lands, which means seeking a decisive battle against William of Holland and the archbishops. That would give him access to Aachen and force Konrad of Hochstaden, the archbishop of Cologne to crown him. And it seems this was his intention in the first couple of months of 1251. He is gathering the princes for a royal assembly in Augsburg and we find him accelerating the issuance of rights and privileges from his chancery.

But in the end, he decides on the alternative strategy. His father had made him heir, not just of the empire, but also of Sicily and Jerusalem. Sicily was an inheritable kingdom where legitimacy did neither require election nor coronation. He had become full king the second his father had breathed his last. But becoming king on paper is not the same as getting the riches of Sicily sent up to Germany for his campaign to subdue the north. Sicily was run by his half-brother Manfred at least ostensibly on his behalf. These two had barely ever met and we know little about their relationship. So one reason for Konrad to go down south might be to ensure that Manfred does not steal the kingdom from under his nose.

Manfred holding a falcon

But the other, more significant reason is that someone else is also heading for Italy, none other than our friend Pope Innocent IV. He had left Lyons almost as soon as he had heard about the emperor’s death. On his last day in the city, he has one of his cardinals preach a final sermon to the citizens. Most of it is standard, praising God for being delivered from the imperial antichrist, thanking the citizens for their hospitality, etc., etc. He ends his speech with the following: “My friends, since we arrived in this city, we have done much good and largely bestowed alms; for when we first came here, we found three or four brothels, and now at our departure we leave behind us only one; but that extends from the eastern gate of the city to the western one.” (unquote)I love the Holy Church when they spread the gospel so generously amongst the people.

The pope’s journey is not just a homecoming. His objective is to use the uncertainty following the death of Frederick II to finally wipe out Hohenstaufen power. He hopes that his presence in Northern Italy will give the Guelfs the needed boost to bring down the Ghibellines. That sort of falls a bit flat, largely because the Guelf and Ghibelline rivalry is now almost detached from the actual pope and the actual emperor. These are deeply entrenched political parties without actual program fighting for supremacy.

Where he is more successful is in bringing the papal lands under his control. The Sicilian and imperial podestas in the cities are replaced by papal appointees and the countryside is freed of remaining troops loyal to Frederick II.

That left him room to pursue his main project, to kick the Hohenstaufen out of the kingdom of Sicily. When Frederick II died, there were already some grumblings in his kingdom. The tax burden caused by the endless warfare had become unbearable and isolated protests appeared all over the country. And the big cities wanted to form independent communes, just like their neighbours in Northern Italy had done more than a hundred years earlier. Naples that had grown to become the largest city on the mainland saw its chance. Innocent IV tried to ride on the wave and – in his role as Sicilian feudal overlord – issued privileges to the communes of Naples, Capua, Messina and several others.

Meanwhile Konrad IV had arrived in Sicily and together with his brother Manfred gained control of the situation. Sieges of Suessa, Capua and San Germano were successful in 1252/53. Naples put up a more spirited defence and it took until October 1253 before Konrad and Manfred could enter the city. They did not put the town to the sack but just banished the city leadership, forgave the citizens for their obstinacy and had the city walls taken down.

Siege of Naples (later event)
Siege of Naples (a later event)

By 1254 things had calmed down a lot. The kingdom of Sicily was back under Hohenstaufen control. Tax income began to fill the royal coffers.

Konrad IV next step was to look for reconciliation with the pope. At least as far as we know Konrad IV had neither dancing girls nor scientists nor Muslim friends, so a lot of the arguments for Frederick’s excommunications did not apply. But we know enough about papal policy by now that these arguments carry no weight. This conflict has nothing to do with alleged heresy, this is about one thing, breaking the Hohenstaufen grip on Italy, the linkage between the Sicilian kingdom and the empire.

Therefore Innocent’s response was another long list of baseless accusations. Matthew Paris had kindly listed them: (quote) “The pope accused him of being a heretic, and a homicide, one who despised the keys of the Church, and who caused divine services to be performed during the time of interdict. He also charged him with having killed one Frederick, his nephew, by poison, and also his brother Henry, by the agency of John the Moor, who first poisoned him, and afterwards, as he was long in dying strangled him with a napkin.” End quote. All lies, so business as usual.

Given no other option the young king began working on plans to use Sicilian money to establish his power in the empire. Historians argue whether his plans were a replay of Frederick’s strategy to gain control of the Italian communes, or a new approach focused on Germany. But that never came to pass.

Innocent IV had not only reopened the propaganda war bit also rekindled the crusading idea, which now sounded more appealing given the Holy Land was in a mess and Sicily looked ripe for the picking. All he lacked was a suitable new king of Sicily. He had spoken to many candidates in the past and he again touched base with Richard of Cornwall and Charles of Anjou, but both turned him down again. Finally he came up with another idea. He offered the crown of Sicily to Edmund, son of king Henry III of England. Edmund had a slight disadvantage for being 6 years old at the time. The idea was that Henry III would finance the expedition to the tune of 135,000 marks of silver in exchange for making his second son a king. Henry seemed to have got very excited about the idea. Matthew Paris again: The king then sent to the pope all the money he could draw from his treasury, or the exchequer, as well as whatever he could scrape from the Jews, or extort by means of his circuit justiciaries for the purpose of making war against Conrad and subjugating the Sicilians and Apulians”. The English money provided the pope with the funds to muster a large mercenary army to send south.

Family of King Henry III of England

Konrad IV fought back valiantly, but the constant fighting as well as the unfounded accusations of fratricide and other grievous offenses took its toll on the young man. Matthew Paris (quote):

“The hostility, threats, reproaches and defamations, heaped on him by the pope, afflicted King Conrad beyond measure, and he began to pine away under the weight of his grief His malady was also brought on, according to report, by poison administered to him, and he at length took to his deathbed, as it proved, giving vent to bis grief in the following words: ”Alas ! alas ! wretched man that I am; why did my mother give me birth? why did my father beget me to be exposed to so many sufferings? The Church, which ought to be a mother to my father and me, is rather a stepmother.  The empire, which flourished from before the time of Christ’s nativity till this time, is now rotting away, and is consigned to oblivion.” Then, cursing the day of his birth, he breathed forth his wretched and afflicted spirit.” End quote

Konrad IV died on May 21st, 1254 near the castle of Melfi in Puglia.

It was then down to Manfred to defeat the papal invasion, which he did successfully. Relying on his loyal subjects and in particular the Saracens of Lucera who were fighting for their mere existence they beat the papal mercenaries, in particular as the English money ran out.

This particular story has an interesting epilogue of itself. The idea of buying little Edmund a throne in Italy went down like a led balloon with the barons of England. They remembered Henry’s father, King John who had squeezed the country dry to fund foreign wars solely for the benefit of his dynasty. So the barons dug up that old document most had by then forgotten called the Magna Carta. They insisted that the king would only pursue such policy and in particular only introduce new taxes with the baron’s consent. The debate escalated and though Henry binned his plan for Sicily, the opposition against his unpopular regime grew. It culminated in the so-called Second Baron’s war in which Simon de Montfort forced Henry to accept the Provisions of Oxford. This is the actual moment when parliament was established in England. Proper history trivia, the fight against the Hohenstaufen gave rise to parliamentary democracy! If you want to know more about this episode, why not listen to the inimitable David Crowther whose History of England looks at Henry III and the Baron’s war in episodes 65 and 66.

But back to our story.

With Konrad IV out of the way, according to Frederick II’s testament the next ruler should have been Henry, his son from his marriage to Isabella of England and indeed nephew of aforesaid King Henry III. But little Henry had died already, either poisoned by Conrad as the pope claimed or poisoned by the pope for unclear reasons as Matthew Paris claims or of natural causes.

Frederick II had ordered that in this case his son Manfred from his relationship with Bianca Lancia should inherit everything, including the empire. Manfred has his hands full in 1254 fighting back the papal invasion and stabilising his kingdom leaving no headspace for imperial matters.

So what happened to the empire once Konrad IV had died? Well there was already another king, elected only by few but properly crowned, William of Holland. William had been placed on the throne by Innocent IV and was widely seen as a puppet of the ecclesiastics. But the Hohenstaufen side could not yet field their own candidate. The son of Henry VII had died in 1251 without offspring. And that left only Konradin, the just 2-year old son of Konrad IV as the last remaining Hohenstaufen north of the Alps. He was simply too young to be raised to the throne.

So people arranged themselves with William of Holland. William had gained some support in the north by marrying a Welf princess, who came with the formal endorsement from the Margrave of Brandenburg and the duke of Saxony.

We are now moving into a period where only certain imperial princes are allowed to elect the king instead of just those who happened to be present at the election diet. According to the Sachsenspiegel these are the three archbishops of Cologne, Mainz and Trier and three imperial princes, the duke of Saxony, the Margrave of Brandenburg and the Count Palatinate on the Rhine. By 1257 they will be joined by the king of Bohemia which establishes the prince-electors who will be formally recognised in the golden bull of 1356. Why these seven and not say the duke of Bavaria, the House of Welf or the duke of Lorraine is one of these complex questions historians had tried to answer for a hundred years. We will look into this when we get back to the imperial storyline after next season.

The Electors as shown in the Sachsenspiegel (1220-35)

The marriage to the duke of Brunswick’s daughter may have provided William of Holland with support in the north but nearly snuffed out his reign. On his wedding night a candle fell over in their bedchamber and the whole room was quickly engulfed in flames. The vigorous royal couple just about managed to escape.

Having escaped unharmed William calls a well-attended royal assembly and takes the reins of the kingdom. All looks like the story may now continue, just with a Dutch instead of a Swabian dynasty. But in the end William was count of Holland first and king of the Romans second. He used his position to start a war with his neighbour, the countess of Flanders which he won. But this blatant use of royal power to further his own aims alienated many of the imperial princes.

In 1255 the archbishop of Cologne tried to kill him and the papal legate by burning down the house he was staying in. After that William mistrusted the imperial princes and tried to align himself the cities. These, led by Cologne had funded the Rheinische bund, an association of mutual support that stretched from Zurich to Bremen. That however was not enough to stabilise William’s reign. He returned to Holland and fought his local wars. In a winter battle against the Frisians in 1256 fought on a frozen lake his horse broke through the ice and weighed down by his armour he drowned in the cold water. RR Martin would have called his “a reign of fire and ice”.

Rathausturm Koeln – Konrad von Hochstaden – Gerhard Unmaze – check out the figure below the archbishop! It is original from 1410 and was probably put there as a lewd joke.

With William gone, the princes were running several election assemblies without much success. One king emerged by some mysterious process. Alfonso X of Castile was a grandson of Philip of Swabia and as such had made noises that the duchy of Swabia should come to him. The citizens of Pisa, strong allies of Frederick II and trading partners of the kingdom of Castile went to him and offered him the crown. They were seconded by the citizens of Marseille, presumably also interested in the Mediterranean trade. Both cities were inside the empire, but so far no city ever and certainly none in Italy and Burgundy had played any role in the election of the king of the Romans. But somehow this “election” in inverted commas struck a cord with some actual electors in Germany. Alfonso X had at least some Hohenstaufen blood and so he was elected by 3 princes and invited to come to Aachen for his coronation. And that is where the story ends. Alfonso X never went to Germany or played any role there.

Alfonso X of Castile

The other 4 electors chose Richard of Cornwall, brother of king Henry III. Richard had no dynastic claims to the throne whatsoever, but he was a highly regarded soldier and a member of the highest aristocracy. What tipped the balance was papal support. Innocent IV is by now dead, he passed in 1254 shortly after Konrad IV. But his successors pursued the same policy of pushing out the Hohenstaufen. Richard of Cornwall wasn’t a Hohenstaufen.

As for the German princes, they had become so used to their king residing in foreign lands and not bothering them much, they saw an English king as an advantage. Plus Richard had bribed the archbishops of Cologne and Mainz and the Count Palatinate most generously.

Richard of Cornwall was significantly more engaged in imperial affairs than Alfonso X, though that is a very low bar. He travelled to Germany four times in his reign that lasted until 1272. Traditionally this period is referred to as the Interregnum, the horrific time where there was no effective king. The modern view is a bit more nuanced. Fredrick II’s and Konrad IV’s reign had also been very loose so that the shift to largely absent monarchs made only a difference in degree. Richard holds royal assemblies, issues privileges and enfeoffs nobles, not much different to Konrad IV. He even makes several attempts to be crowned in Rome.

Richard of Cornwall

But what matters to us here is that the time when the king of the Romans or the emperor projected power south of the Alps is very much on hold now. Innocent IV had achieved #1 of his main objectives. The empire and Sicily are politically separated. The encirclement of the church is over.

That may explain why Innocent IV’s successor pope Alexander IV took a more lenient approach to Sicily. After the failed invasion, they let things go their way down south.

Manfred had been able to establish his position after 1254. Though already king based on Frederick’s testament he has himself elected king of Sicily by his barons and crowned in Palermo. What helps stabilising his reign is the diminishing tax burden. Manfred has much lower ambitions in Northern Italy and has found an arrangement with the pope, which removes the need of constant war taxes. He even manages to expand his territory by marrying the daughter of the ruler of one of the successor states of the Byzantine empire which brings the island of Corfu and the city of Durazzo in Albania under his control. His daughter Constance marries Peter, heir to the kingdom of Aragon, adding another important ally in the Mediterranean.

Coronation of Manfred of Sicily

He founded the city of Manfredonia that became an important grain port and still bears his name. His court replicated many of the splendours of his father’s and the remaining copy of the Arte de venadi con avibus was created here.

For about 6 years Manfred was left in peace by the popes. But by 1260 Manfred could no longer resist the Ghibelline calls for help in Northern Italy. He got involved in the battle of Montaperti, where the Sienese, a thoroughly Ghibelline city defeated a coalition of Guelf cities, led by their perennial rival, Florence. This battle was one of the larger engagements in the perpetual Guelf-Ghibelline wars and features heavily in Sienese and Florentine consciousness. But that is pretty much it. The Florentines won another battle against the Sienese shortly afterwards and the fighting continued for 200 years.

Battle of Montaperti in the chronicles of

But it did have an impact in Rome. Pope Alexander IV and his successor Urban IV became concerned that Manfred would finally turn into his father and again attempt to encircle the pope.

So they searched for a new candidate to become king of Sicily. Young Edmund had been stripped of his role as papal champion in 1258 once English money had dried up completely.

Their eye fell on that other great man of ambition of the mid-13th century, Charles of Anjou, younger brother of king Louis IX of France and count of Provence. Charles had continued building his reputation as a general during the crusades and as a competent administrator in his rich. He was not a nice man. His greed and ambition was legendary. The sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio made a statue of him for the citizens of Rome that shows him a with a stern, bleak expression that suggests a remoteness of character, a grim determination.  

Charles of Anjou by Arnolfo de Cambio, today in the Capitoline Museum, Rome

Charles of Anjou took the mantle as athlete of Christ and began planning. He was a meticulous man and he realised that Manfred was a worthy opponent. For three years he gathered funds, had the Franciscan brothers preach the crusade against the Hohenstaufen and built connections into his intended target.

On February 3, 1266, Charles’ army crossed the border into Sicily and marched towards an encounter with Manfred’s forces at Benevento. Not much detail is known, but Manfred fought with his characteristic courage and refused to flee when things went awry. He was cut down and died on the battlefield. Since he was excommunicated, he was refused a church burial, but Charles still awarded him the honour of a defeated prince.

Battle of Benevento

Charles quickly gained full control of Sicily. The few barons who decided to continue the fight were defeated but treated fairly. He did not dismantle the system of government Frederick II had established. He instead co-opted the Hohenstaufen bureaucracy and re-issued the constitutions of Melfi. They continued in force almost unaltered until the 18th century.

The members of the court of Manfred who could not bear Angevin rule fled to Aragon where Manfred’s daughter Constance ruled as queen, or to Swabia.

Because there is still one legitimate Hohenstaufen left, Conradin, the young son of Konrad IV. He is 14 years old living on the Hohenstaufen lands in Germany when he hears about the demise of his uncle Manfred. The refugees from Sicily and from Ghibelline cities in Northern Italy beseech him to come south and reverse their fortunes. The swift success of Charles of Anjou they claim shows how quickly things can turn around.

Konradin from the Manesse Liederhandschrift

And so he sets off. In 1267 he is welcomed enthusiastically in Pisa. There is rebellion in Sicily, in part because Charles had failed to reward some of his followers. The barons formerly loyal to Frederick and his family take heart from this new claimant and rise up. The Saracens of Lucera who knew they were on borrowed time threw out their French governor.

As Conradin travels south Ghibelline forces from all across Italy joined his banner. It feels a bit like his grandfather Frederick II’s journey to Germany in 1220 in reverse.  He crosses the border of the kingdom unopposed as Charles is too busy besieging Lucera.

When Charles hears about the incursion, he turns the army around to face his opponent.

The two sides meet at the village of Tagliacozzo. The ensuing battle is brutal. For a time it seems the Ghibelline forces, some clad in modern plate armour, had the upper hand. But late in the battle Charles regroups his forces and overwhelms his enemy.

Conradin flees from the battlefield but was captured by Giovanni Frangipani.

Charles uses the opportunity to restructure his new kingdom. The southern Italian barons who had been loyal to the Hohenstaufen are swept away and replaced with his own men from Provence, France and Northern Italy. There were confiscations, hangings and the occasional act of mercy to inspire awe and gratitude.

But there is one act that excited horror, even at this time.

Charles held a trial of Conradin and his closest companions. This trial was needed as façade to get rid of the last of the Hohenstaufen, who would forever pose a threat to the Angevin dynasty and their main sponsor the pope.

The court of Charles of Anjou condemned the sixteen year of Conradin, his friend, the margrave of Baden, Count Friedrich von Hürnheim, count Wolrad of Veringen and his marshal Konrad Kropf von Flüglingen to death by beheading.

On October 29th, 1268 the 4 young men were brought to the Piazza del Mercato in Naples. The executor’s sword comes down on one neck after the other. As the head of the imperial boy, descendant of an unbroken line of emperors going back to the city of Troy drops into the basket, the story of the Hohenstaufen kings and emperors ends.   

Beheading of Conradin according to Giovanni Villani

Only one of Frederick’s sons is still alive, his beloved Enzio who is languishing in jail in Bologna. The story goes that when he hears of his nephew’s death he decides on one last desperate attempt to flee. He was held as an honoured prisoner, allowed food and wine in abundance as well as visits. So he bribes one of the wine merchants who bring the full barrels of wine and remove the empty ones, to smuggle him out of his palace inside an empty barrel. All goes well until the barrel is loaded onto a cart to leave the city. The merchant had left the bunghole of the barrel open so as not to suffocate the king of Sardinia. Enzios luscious blond hair had found its way out of the bunghole and the matrons of Bologna, all infatuated with the beautiful and tragic Hohenstaufen instantly recognise it. So he was caught and never left Bologna. The Bentivolglio family of Bologna who would rule the city on occasion claims to be descendants of one of Enzio’s many dalliance with the ladies of Bologna.

Johann Georg Buchner: King Enzio bidding farewell to one of his lovers

But this is still not quite yet the end of the story of the struggle between pope and emperor that we have followed for the last 90 episodes. Next week we will see how the popes and their champion, Charles of Anjou feared and maybe there is a little bit of Hohenstaufen revenge in there too. Because the men may be all dead or in prison, but the women are still out there. I hope you will join us again.

And I was wondering whether this isn’t a good time to do another Q&A session. We are coming to the end of these three seasons that in reality is just one continuing narrative. So if you have any questions about these last 300 years of German history, about the podcast or German history in general, just send them through to me at historyofthegermans@gmail.com or on any of my social media sites. Please indicate if you are a Patreon because Patreons are guaranteed an answer on air.

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