Friedrich I Barbarossa
Frederick I or Frederick Barbarossa [Italian,=red beard], c. 1125–90, Holy Roman emperor (1155–90) and German king (1152–90), son of Frederick of Hohenstaufen, duke of Swabia, nephew and successor of Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III.
Frederick's mother, Judith, was a Guelph, and Frederick frequently acted as a mediator between his Hohenstaufen uncle, Conrad, and his Guelph cousin, Henry the Lion. Prior to his death Conrad III named Frederick as his successor, hoping that Frederick's reign would end the discord between the rival houses of Hohenstaufen and Guelphs. Frederick's coronation as emperor in Rome was delayed by unrest in Germany and by the revolutionary commune of Rome (1143–55), headed by Arnold of Brescia, which controlled the city. In 1152, Frederick pacified Germany by proclaiming a general land peace to end the anarchy, and in 1156 he satisfied Henry the Lion by restoring the duchy of Bavaria to him, at the same time making Austria into a new duchy as a counterweight to Henry's power.
Frederick's policy was to restore the imperial power in Italy, and to that end made a treaty (1153) with Pope Eugene III, promising to assist him against Arnold of Brescia and against the powerful Normans in Sicily. Frederick entered Italy in 1154 and was crowned in Rome (June 18, 1155) amid hostile demonstrations. The reluctance of his troops to remain in Italy forced him to return to Germany without assisting the new pope, Adrian IV, against King William I of Sicily. Adrian, obliged to ally himself (1156) with William, turned against Frederick.
As a result of the Diet of Besançon (1157,) Frederick entered Italy, seized Milan, and at the Diet of Roncaglia (1158) laid claim, as emperor and king of the Lombards, to all imperial rights, including the appointment of an imperial podesta, or governor, in every town.
The rapacity of his German officials led to the revolt (1159) of Milan, Brescia, Crema, and their allies, secretly encouraged by Adrian IV. After a long siege, Frederick stormed and burned Milan (1162). Moreover he set up an antipope to Adrian's successor, Alexander III, who excommunicated him. Frederick withdrew temporarily, but returned in 1166, captured Rome, and was preparing to attack the pope's Sicilian allies when his army was decimated by an epidemic.
In 1167 the rebellious Italian communes united against Frederick in the Lombard League, and Frederick retreated to Germany, where he turned his mind to pacifying the constantly feuding German princes. In 1174 he returned to Italy. He was decisively defeated (1176) at Legnano by the Lombard League, partly because of lack of support from the German princes, notably Henry the Lion.
After his defeat Frederick became reconciled with the pope; he agreed to recognize Alexander III as pope and was restored (1177) to communion. He made peace with the Lombard towns (confirmed by the Peace of Constance in 1183) and arranged a truce with the pope's Sicilian allies. After his return to Germany, Frederick brought about the downfall (1180) of Henry the Lion, whose large duchies were partitioned; Frederick's divisions of the German territories were of lasting consequence. At the Diet of Mainz (1184) the emperor celebrated his own glory in fabulous pomp. He arranged the marriage (1186) of his son and successor, Henry (later Henry VI), to Constance, heiress presumptive of Sicily, thus insuring peace with Sicily.
In March 1188, Frederick took the Cross, and he set out (1189) on the Third Crusade. He was drowned in Cilicia. Legend, however, has him asleep in the Kyffhäuser, waiting to restore the empire to its former greatness.