of Henry VI, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Sicily,
in 1197 brought the crown of Sicily to Henry's remarkable son Frederick
II before his third birthday. By the age of 21, through clever diplomacy
and military action, Frederick had attained undisputed control of
his father's Imperial crown as well and controlled the largest realm
of Europe. Later, as a successful, though somewhat reluctant, crusader
in the Holy Land, he was crowned King of Jerusalem--a title he claimed
through his second wife Iolande, a daughter of John, Count of Brienne.
within his own lifetime Frederick II was widely regarded as one of
the most brilliant rulers in the history of European monarchy, combining
in a unique mixture the cultural heritage of his German father and
Sicilian mother. He was strongly influenced by Islamic, Hebrew and
Christian scholars, all of whom he cultivated at his court in Sicily.
Frederick II himself was fluent in six languages and a student of
mathematics, philosophy, natural history, medicine and architecture.
He was a poet as well, and one of his principal courtiers composed
the first Italian sonnet. All these interests led to his being apothesized
as Stupor Mundi--the "wonder of the world."
II's reign in his kingdom in Sicily and southern Italy was more successful
than his experience as Emperor in the north. He moved powerfully to
end the autonomy of the Sicilian feudal lords and developed a strong
royal administrative organization.
In his Empire
to the north, however, he faced a number of intractable obstacles.
The princes of Germany were strongly independent, with the right even
to elect the Emperor. Frederick II had no choice but to accept the
reality of their power. At the same time, he faced two major challenges
in northern Italy. The cities of the Lombardy region, strengthened
by new economic prosperity, were restive and constantly testing the
rule of the Empire. Then, after Frederick's son Enzio through marriage
became King of Sardinia and added that island territory to the Empire,
Pope Gregory IX became alarmed at the encirclement he perceived. Gregory
was already at odds with Frederick II over the Pope's claim to supremacy
in Sicily. In fact, Gregory had previously attempted unsuccessfully
to enforce his claims by dispatching an invading army while Frederick
was away in the Holy Land on Crusade. Now Gregory threw his support
to the rebellious cities of Lombardy.
military success ran to Frederick. Rome itself was threatened on several
occasions. By the time of Frederick's death in 1250, the tide of affairs
had turned. Later, with Frederick II's son Manfred
on the throne of Sicily, Pope Clement IV found the key for a major