Friedrich I, Barbarossa (1122 – 10 June 1190) was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 until his death 35 years later. He was elected King of Germany at Frankfurt on March 4, 1152 and crowned in Aachen on March 9, 1152. He was crowned King of Italy on April 24, 1155 in Pavia and emperor by Pope Adrian IV on June 18, 1155 in Rome.
Two years later, the term sacrum (“holy”) first appeared in a document in connection with his empire. He was later formally crowned King of Burgundy, at Arles on June 30, 1178. He was named Barbarossa by the northern Italian cities which he attempted to rule: Barbarossa means “red beard” in Italian; in German, he was known as Kaiser Rotbart, which means “Emperor Redbeard” in English.
The prevalence of the Italian nickname, even in later German usage, reflects the centrality of the Italian campaigns to his career.
Friedrich was born in mid-December 1122 in Haguenau, to Friedrich II, Duke of Swabia and Judith of Bavaria. He learned to ride, hunt and use weapons, but could neither read nor write, and was also unable to speak the Latin language. Later on, he took part in the Hoftage during the reign of his uncle, King Conrad III, in 1141 in Strasbourg, 1142 in Konstanz, 1143 in Ulm, 1144 in Würzburg and 1145 in Worms.
Before his imperial election, Friedrich was by inheritance Duke of Swabia (1147–1152, as Friedrich III). He was the son of Duke Friedrich II of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and Judith of Bavaria, daughter of Heinrich IX, Duke of Bavaria, from the rival House of Welf. Friedrich, therefore, descended from the two leading families in Germany, making him an acceptable choice for the Empire’s prince-electors.
When Conrad III died in February 1152, only Friedrich and the prince-bishop of Bamberg were at his deathbed. Both asserted afterwards that Conrad III had, in full possession of his mental powers, handed the royal insignia to Friedrich and indicated that Friedrich rather than Conrad III’s own six-year-old son, the future Friedrich IV, Duke of Swabia, succeed him as king.
Friedrich energetically pursued the crown and at Frankfurt on March 4,1152 the kingdom’s princely electors designated him as the next German king.
He was crowned King of the Romans at Aachen several days later, on March 9, 1152. Friedrich’s father was from the Hohenstaufen family, and his mother was from the Welf family, the two most powerful families in Germany. The Hohenstaufens were often called Ghibellines, which derives from the Italianized name for Waiblingen castle, the family seat in Swabia; the Welfs, in a similar Italianization, were called Guelfs.
There, Pope Adrian IV was struggling with the forces of the republican city commune led by Arnold of Brescia, a student of Abelard. As a sign of good faith, Friedrich dismissed the ambassadors from the revived Roman Senate, and Imperial forces suppressed the republicans. Arnold was captured and hanged for treason and rebellion. Despite his unorthodox teaching concerning theology, Arnold was not charged with heresy.
As Friedrich approached the gates of Rome, the Pope advanced to meet him. At the royal tent the king received him, and after kissing the pope’s feet, Friedrich expected to receive the traditional kiss of peace.
Friedrich had declined to hold the Pope Adrian IV’s stirrup while leading him to the tent, however, so Adrian refused to give the kiss until this protocol had been complied with. Friedrich hesitated, and Adrian IV withdrew; after a day’s negotiation, Friedrich agreed to perform the required ritual, reportedly muttering, “Pro Petro, non Adriano — For Peter, not for Adrian.”
Rome was still in an uproar over the fate of Arnold of Brescia, so rather than marching through the streets of Rome, Friedrich and Adrian retired to the Vatican.
The next day, June 18, 1155, Adrian IV crowned Friedrich I Holy Roman Emperor at St Peter’s Basilica, amidst the acclamations of the German army.
The Romans began to riot, and Frederick spent his coronation day putting down the revolt, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 Romans and many more thousands injured.
The next day, Friedrich, Adrian IV, and the German army travelled to Tivoli. From there, a combination of the unhealthy Italian summer and the effects of his year-long absence from Germany meant he was forced to put off his planned campaign against the Normans of Sicily.
On June 9, 1156 at Würzburg, Friedrich married Beatrice of Burgundy, daughter and heiress of Renaud III, thus adding to his possessions the sizeable realm of the County of Burgundy.
In an attempt to create comity, Emperor Friedrich proclaimed the Peace of the Land, written between 1152 and 1157, which enacted punishments for a variety of crimes, as well as systems for adjudicating many disputes. He also declared himself the sole Augustus of the Roman world, ceasing to recognise Manuel I as Roman (Byzantine) Emperor at Constantinople.