Frederick I, who was called Barbarossa, was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from June 18, 1155 until his death on June 10, 1190. His reign lasted 34 years.
Frederick was born in 1122. The exact date of his birth is unknown. He was the eldest son of Frederick II, Duke of Swabia and Judith of Bavaria. His father was a member of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, and his mother was the daughter of the head of the Welf dynasty, making Frederick a member of two of Germany’s most prominent families. In 1147, Frederick’s father died. This made Frederick the Duke of Swabia. n 1155, Frederick’s uncle, Conrad, who was the Holy Roman Emperor, died. Frederick was then elected by the princes of the Holy Roman Empire to become the Holy Roman Emperor. On June 18, 1155, Frederick was coronated in Rome.
The Holy Roman Empire was a huge country. It stretched from western France to Poland, and then south to Lombardy, a region in northern Italy. In 1158, the citizens of Milan, the largest city in Lombardy, rebelled against Frederick. Frederick responded by leading an army of 100,000 men across the Alps and putting down the rebellion. But, Milan rebelled again, and Frederick responded by again defeating the rebels. But, the Italians were determined to be free from Frederick’s hegemony. All of the cities of Lombardy united in a league and declared independence. Frederick attempted to invade Lombardy, but his invasion failed and he was forced to relinquish his control of northern Italy.
Frederick knew that Germany was unified in name only. Nobles constantly complained to him about another noble. There were so many disputes that Frederick feared that should England or France decide to invade the Holy Roman Empire, his nation would be conquered. So, he enacted strict laws that punished any noble who caused trouble and broke the Emperor’s peace. This helped to unify the Holy Roman Empire and create a sense of national identity.
In 1187, the Muslims recaptured the holy city of Jerusalem from the Christians. This enraged the Pope, who called for another crusade. Frederick responded to this by starting the Third Crusade. He raised an army of 150,000 men and travelled to Palestine. Then, in Western Turkey, on June 10, 1190, Frederick drowned crossing a river. The Third Crusade was brought to an abrupt end upon Frederick’s sudden and unexpected demise.
Interesting Fact #1: Frederick was called Barbarossa because of his red beard. Barbarossa means “red beard” in Italian. This nickname was a sign of the Italian’s respect for Frederick.
Interesting Fact #2: Frederick was one of Germany’s most popular rulers. It was said that Germany and Frederick Barbarossa were one in the hearts of the Germans.
Interesting Fact #3: Legend says that Frederick is not really dead. Instead, he is asleep in a cave in the Alps, guarded by his men. His beard is so long it touches the floor an his face is lined with wrinkles. Once the ravens stop circling the mountain, he will awake from his slumber and restore Germany to its former greatness.