Frederick I “Barbarossa” of the Holy Roman Empire

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Frederick "Barbarossa"

      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.

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Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany


      Wilhelm II was the Kaiser (German for Emperor) of Germany from June 15, 1888 to November 18, 1918. He reigned for 30 years.

     Wilhelm was born on January 27, 1859 in Berlin to Victoria of the United Kingdom, the daughter of Queen Victoria, and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, who would later go on to become Kaiser Friedrich III of Germany. During her pregnancy, Vicky, as his mother was called, suffered a fall. This was thought to cause a traumatic birth, which resulted in Wilhelm being born with a withered arm. This deformation apalled Vicky, and she would always look down on her son as inferior because of it.

     Wilhelm grew up in a tumultuous family. His mother, who favored his other brothers over him, hated Wilhelm, and always turned her nose up at him. His father was jealous of Wilhelm. Wilhelm possesed superior military skills than his father did, and when he joined the German military, was promoted faster than his father had been. This caused a rift between Wilhelm and his parents. It also influenced Wilhelm’s political beliefs. His parent’s were liberals, and Wilhelm eventually became a conservative, wanting to seperate from his parents.

     In 1871, Wilhelm’s grandfather united Germany and formed the German Empire. Then, when his grandfather died in 1888, Wilhelm’s father succeeded to the throne. However, the now Kaiser Friedrich III was suffering from throat cancer, and died later that year. On June 15, 1888, to his mother’s horror, Wilhelm became Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

     Wilhelm had always fostered a love of the navy. His mother was British, so when he travelled to Britain, he always made a point of viewing the Royal Navy and its ships. Because of his fasicination with maritime warfare, Wilhelm endeavored to build the greatest navy in the world and make Germany the foremost naval power. He built a large navy, larger than any Germany had seen before, and aggresively pursued imperialism. He claimed land in Africa for Germany, and established German colonies in the Pacific.

     When his grandmother, Queen Victoria, died on January 22, 1901, Wilhelm travelled to her bedside and wept. He mourned for weeks after his death, as he had loved her more than he had ever loved his mother.

     In 1914, after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which was the native country of the assassin. Wilhelm decided to support his Austro-Hungarian ally in their war against Serbia. However, Russia, seeing a fellow slavic country in peril, declared war on Austria-Hungary and Germany. Then, France, Russia’s ally, declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Austria-Hungary and Germany, forming the Central Powers. When Germany invaded neutral Belgium, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Great Britain had an alliance with Belgium, as it was their connection to continental Europe. The German chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, regarded Britain’s alliance with Belgium as a “mere scrap of paper”. Great Britain, Belgium, Russia, France, and eventually the United States would form the Allies. This was the beginning of World War I.

     Eventually, 4 million Germans died in the war. In 1918, seeing that the war was hopeless, Wilhelm ordered his generals to surrender. The Versailles Treaty officially ended WWI, and Wilhelm abdicated the throne. He lived out his final days in exile at Huis Dorm, a manor house in the Netherlands. He died there on June 4, 1941.

Interesting Fact #1: Wilhelm had a daschund named Senta who died in 1927 at the age of 20, or 140 in dog years.

Interesting Fact #2: King George V of Great Britain, Czar Nicholas II of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were all first cousins and grandsons of Queen Victoria.

Interesting Fact #3: Wilhelm was thought to be a repressed homosexual, suffered from depression, had a hot temper, and had a hand fetish. When meeting someone, he would always kiss their hand instead of shaking it.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Works Cited:

“BBC – History – Historic Figures: Wilhelm II (1859 – 1941).” BBC – Homepage. Web. 29 Dec. 2010.,
MacDonogh, Giles. The Last Kaiser: the Life of Wilhelm II. New York: St. Martin’s, 2001. Print.,
Dowswell, Paul, Ruth Brocklehurst, and Henry Brook. The World Wars: [an Introduction to the First & Second World Wars]. London: Usborne, 2007. Print.,
World War I – Trenches on the Web. Web. 29 Dec. 2010.,
Kaiser Wilhelm II. Digital image. Global Regional. Web. 29 Dec. 2010. <;.