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Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 239–252 (2000)


Emperor Frederick II is generally regarded as having been a ‘strong’ ruler, yet the puzzle remains as to how he managed his governance of Germany without the benefit of the more centralized institutions with which he was familiar as king of Sicily. This article seeks to show that the emperor understood almost to perfection what could or could not be achieved as ruler of the Germans, and that the copious legislation of his reign can be analysed to show that his principles of governance for Germany demonstrated sound political sense.


Eight centuries ago the year 1194 witnessed a series of political and dynastic successes for the ruler of the western Roman Empire, Henry VI (1190–1197). In the spring he released from captivity King Richard of England (1189–1199) in return for a huge ransom and the submission of the English kingdom as a fief of the Empire. Early in the summer the emperor was in Italy with his army, and by autumn he had conquered the Norman kingdom of Sicily which he claimed as the inheritance of his spouse, the last surviving legitimate member of the Norman royal line. On Christmas Day he was crowned king of Sicily in Palermo Cathedral, and the very next day Empress Constance, who had stayed behind at Jesi in central Italy, gave birth to their heir, the future emperor Frederick II.

After an extremely perilous early career during which he survived the plots of
several adventurers, politicians, and churchmen who took advantage of the fact that he had lost both parents by the age of four, this child turned into one of the most admired and hated of all the powerful rulers in thirteenth-century Europe, whose political grasp of, and professional application to his rights, duties, and inheritances certainly matched the expertise of his contemporaries such as Louis IX of France (1226–1270), Ferdinand III of Castile (1217–1252), and Jaime I of Aragon (1213–1276).
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