By Philip Daileader, P.h.D., William & Mary University
Before Frederick II became emperor, Germany was plagued with civil wars over the next emperor. The consequences of civil war between the Hohenstaufen and the Welf families for the royal authority were extensive. The position of the Crown was further weakened, and the nobles’ control over peasants increased. They would build private stone castles, but emperors could not destroy them. The support of the German nobility for the Hohenstaufen family proved to be costly for them, but that was not all.
It was a normal practice for the papacy to launch crusades against Holy Roman Emperors and invite knights and soldiers from around the whole continent to fight with the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany. Their participation in the crusades would be rewarded with the forgiveness of their sins. If they were killed in the war, they would be granted martyrdom and salvation.
This was promised to the knights and the soldiers once again when the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II Hohenstaufen became the target of the papacy. Although he had succeeded in taking back Jerusalem from Muslims without fighting, his problems with the papacy did not end.
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Crusade Against Frederick II
Frederick II’s problems with the papacy started again in 1239, with Pope Gregory IX. He was excommunicated over the emperor’s political rights in the north of Italy. In response, he invaded Italy and headed for Rome and the pope, specifically. The pope’s reaction to this invasion was unprecedented. In all parts of Europe, he announced a crusade against Frederick II, who was an important Christian emperor.
Crusader preachers went around the continent preaching this crusade. Here again, the pope had to make an unprecedented decision. Many people had taken vows to go on a crusade to defend Jerusalem and capture more places in Syria and Palestine. Gregory IX declared that those who had vowed to go to the east could stay in Europe and fulfill their vows by fighting against Frederick II. This decision showed that for the pope, Frederick II was more frightening than problems in or around Jerusalem. This way, he could gather a large enemy to fight with the emperor.
Learn more about the people’s crusade.
The Papacy’s Hostility with the Hohenstaufen Family
However, these attempts did not come to fruition because Gregory IX died in 1241. He was replaced by another pope, named Innocent IV, who was an intractable enemy of Frederick II. In 1245, he formed a council called the Council of Lyons, where he excommunicated the emperor and called for his deposition and a new crusade against him.
The final years of Frederick II’s reign passed with his attempts to fight against crusaders and rebels who had vowed to overthrow him. These civil wars had disastrous repercussions for the kingdom of Germany. They continued even after his death in 1250 with the papacy forbidding the German nobility from electing another Hohenstaufen as the next emperor. They could elect anyone but a member of House Hohenstaufen, which showed the deep hostility of papacy toward the Hohenstaufens.
However, there were still some individuals loyal to the Hohenstaufens. They decided to elect Frederick II’s son, named Conrad IV, who reigned from 1250 to 1254. After he was elected, the pope declared that since he had no right to rule in Germany, he would declare a crusade against him. They openly said that the papacy wanted to eliminate the Hohenstaufen family.
The Great Interregnum
The darkest time of Germany in the High Middle Ages was from 1254 to 1273, known as the “Great Interregnum.” Interregnum means “period between rules,” referred to the time Germany had no emperors. The empire was so disastrously fragmented that the nobility could not find a good emperor. Even if, at some points, possible candidates to be emperor emerged, the nobility saw it as an opportunity to accumulate more wealth. They preferred to have no emperors at all so that they could increase their power and fortune. In addition to building more castles, they seized some parts of the property belonging to the empire.
Finally, in 1273, another emperor was chosen, but Germany had already become a loose confederation of hundreds of small units like principalities, city-states, and bishoprics. The nobility elected the emperor and this elective principle remained until the end of the Holy Roman Empire.
Learn more about the Medieval inquisitions.
Common questions about Frederick II’s Problems with the Papacy and its Consequences
Pope Gregory IX was the person who announced a crusade against Frederick II. He sent preachers all over Europe to recruit crusaders. He even allowed those who had already vowed to go on crusades to Jerusalem to stay in Europe and fight against Frederick II.
Pope Gregory IX excommunicated Frederick II over the emperor’s political rights in the north of Italy. In response, the emperor invaded Italy and headed for Rome and the pope specifically. In an unprecedented reaction, the pope announced a crusade against Frederick II, who was an important Christian emperor.
Pope Innocent IV was an intractable enemy of Frederick II. In 1245, he formed a council called the Council of Lyons, where he excommunicated the emperor and called for his deposition and a new crusade against him.