rem – Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen

19. September 2010
bis 20. Februar 2011

Ausstellung der Länder
und Hessen

Die Staufer und Italien
Friedrich II.
Frederick II

Who was actually ...? Questions and answers about

Frederick II (1212–1250)

Who was Emperor Frederick II actually and how did he come to power?

Although Frederick II was singled out to rule the empire early on, the road there was protracted. In 1196, the imperial princes elected him his father Emperor Henry VI’s co-king one day before his second birthday. When Henry VI died shortly afterward, the merely two year old child’s authority could not be asserted. His uncle King Philipp of Swabia safeguarded the Hohenstaufen’s claim to the throne, contending with the Welf Otto IV. Frederick II grew up in the Kingdom of Sicily, which he at first ruled under the regency of various nobles as of 1198 and then independently as of 1208. After the murder of King Philipp and the banishment of Otto IV, a circle of Southern and Central German Princes hostile to the Welfs elected Frederick II Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in absentia in Nürnberg in the summer of 1211 at the instigation of the pope. In March of 1212, Frederick II set out from Sicily for the empire to assume rule there. In December of 1212, he was elected once again in Frankfurt and crowned in Mainz with copies of the insignia. The real crown jewels were still in the hands of the Welfs. The French King Philip II Augustus’s victory over Otto IV and his English allies at the Battle of Bouvines in June 1214 ultimately decided the struggle for the throne. In the end, Frederick II finally had himself crowned once more with the real insignia in Aachen on July 25, 1215.

Were there other “Italian Moments” for Frederick II as an adult?

A better question would be if there were moments north of the Alps? Frederick II gave little priority to his German-speaking territory as a theater of activity. He already set out for Italy again in 1220 once he had left his son Henry (VII), crowned king but still in his minority, under the care of the archbishop as his deputy in the empire.

His policy centered on the determined establishment of his rule in the Kingdom of Sicily, conflicts with the papacy and new conflicts with the northern Italian cities. When asserting his claims, Frederick II relied on a demonstratively imperial representational culture in the style of the Roman Caesars.

What highlights of his reign do we still remember today?

Frederick II was the sole medieval ruler able to issue a document, which states “issued in the Holy City of Jerusalem” in its date of March 1229. Even though he had been excommunicated by the pope, he set out on the Fifth Crusade in 1228. In five months of negotiations with Sultan Al-Kamil of Cairo, he obtained a peace treaty that established Christian sovereignty over large parts of Jerusalem. Friedrich then placed the crown of the Kingdom of Jerusalem on his own head himself in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on March 18, 1229.

How did his era end?

Frederick II’s last years were attended by much turmoil.

In 1245, the pope declared the emperor deposed because of disloyalty as a vassal, breaches of the peace, blasphemy and heresy. Although Frederick’s son Conrad IV had ruled the empire since 1237, Heinrich Raspe was consequently elected new king. However, he died soon thereafter and was succeeded by William of Holland. In Italy, the emperor had to act against rebellious cities and strove to reconcile with Pope Innocent IV. On the way to the papal residence in Lyon, Frederick II fell so gravely ill in Castel Fiorentino in Apulia that he died on December 13, 1250 at the age of fifty-five.

What anecdotes are told about Emperor Frederick II?

Selecting the most fascinating of the multitude of anecdotes is not at all easy. The story of his birth is certainly interesting: It was told that Frederick’s birth was a public demonstration in the market square of Jesi to prove his forty year old mother’s ability to bear children and that her child was a genuine successor and not a changeling.


Portrait of Frederick II

in: Chronica Sancti Pantaleonis, Cologne, Monastery of St. Pantaleon, ca. 1237, Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Cod. Guelf. 74.3 Aug. 2°.)