Written by Dan Muir

Frederick I was crowned King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor. He was one of the outstanding medieval German emperors. He was an intelligent statesman of imagination and determination and had a powerful personality. He had an exalted concept of his dignity as Roman emperor and introduced the use of the word Holy in the title. This was intended to reflect a mystical association between himself and the destiny of Christianity as well as his ties with Charlemagne and the ancient caesars.

Frederick was born in 1122 and was the nephew of the German king, Conrad III, whom he was elected to succeed in 1152. His Hohenstaufen dynasty had its base in Swabia and Franconia. Burgundy came into his hands by his marriage in 1156 to its heiress, Beatrix.

Frederick's concept of government was feudal and hierarchical. He created the rank of Prince for his chief vassal in return for their support. He also aided them against rivals within their domains. He aided his own chief rival, Henry the Lion by making him a duke. When Henry later refused military service, he broke with him and seized his duchies. Frederick also dominated the church in Germany.

Frederick was anxious to assert his power in Italy and undertook six expeditions across the Alps. He overthrew Arnold of Brescia in Rome and was crowned by the pope. Because Frederick fomented a schism by promoting an antipope, the reigning Pope Alexander II cooperated with the Lombards who defeated Frederick in 1176. He made his peace with the pope prior to his death.