1. The Excommunicate Crusader
Constance was thirty when she married Henry, forty-two when she gave birth to her only child. Fearing doubts of her pregnancy and of her child’s legitimacy, she had a tent erected in the market place of Iesi (near Ancona); and there, in the sight of all, she was delivered of the boy who was to become the most fascinating figure of the culminating medieval century. In his veins the blood of the Norman kings of Italy merged with the blood of the Hohenstaufen emperors of Germany.
He was four when, at Palermo, he was crowned King of Sicily (1198). His father had died a year earlier, his mother died a year afterward. Her will besought Pope Innocent III to undertake the guardianship, education, and political protection of her son, and offered him in return a handsome stipend, and the regency and renewed suzerainty of Sicily. He accepted gladly, and used his position to end that union of Sicily with Germany which Frederick’s father had just achieved; the popes reasonably dreaded an empire that should encompass the Papal States on every side and in effect imprison and dominate the papacy. Innocent provided for Frederick’s education, but supported Otto IV for the German throne. Frederick grew up in neglect, sometimes in poverty, so that compassionate citizens of Palermo had on occasion to bring the royal gamin food.26 He was allowed to run free in the streets and markets of the polyglot capital, and to pick his associates wherever he pleased. He received no systematic education, but his avid mind learned from all that he heard or saw; the world would later marvel at the scope and detail of his knowledge. In those days and ways he acquired Arabic and Greek, and some of the lore of the Jews. He grew familiar with different peoples, garbs, customs, and faiths, and never quite lost his youthful habit of tolerance. He read many volumes of history. He became a good rider and fencer, and a lover of horses and hunting. He was short but strong, with “a fair and gracious countenance,”27 and long, red, curly hair; clever, positive, and proud. At twelve he dismissed Innocent’s deputy regent and took over the government; at fourteen he came of age; at fifteen he married Constance of Aragon, and set out to reclaim the imperial crown.
Fortune favored him, for a price. Otto IV had violated his agreement to respect the sovereignty of the Pope in the Papal States; Innocent excommunicated him, and ordered the barons and bishops of the Empire to elect as Emperor his young ward Frederick, “as old in wisdom as he is young in years.”28 But Innocent, so suddenly turning toward Frederick, did not veer from his purpose of protecting the papacy. As the price of his support he required from Frederick (1212) a pledge to continue tribute and fealty from Sicily to the popes; to guard the inviolability of the Papal States; to keep the “Two Sicilies”—Norman southern Italy and the island—perpetually separated from the Empire; to reside in Germany as Emperor and leave the Sicilies to his infant son Henry as King of Sicily under a regent to be appointed by Innocent; furthermore, Frederick bound himself to maintain all the powers of the clergy in his realm, to punish heretics, and to take the cross as a crusader. Financing his trip and retinue with money provided by the Pope, Frederick entered a Germany still held by Otto’s armies. But Otto was defeated by Philip Augustus at Bouvines; his resistance collapsed; and Frederick was crowned emperor in a splendid ceremony at Aachen (1215). There he solemnly renewed his pledge to undertake a crusade; and in the full enthusiasm of triumphant youth he won many princes to make the same vow. For a moment he seemed to Germany a God-sent David who would free David’s Jerusalem from the heirs of Saladin.
But delays ensued. Otto’s brother Henry raised an army to depose Frederick, and the new Pope, Honorius III, agreed that the young Emperor must defend his throne. Frederick overcame Henry, but meanwhile he became involved in imperial politics. Apparently he already longed for his native Italy; the heat and blood of the South were in his temperament, and Germany irked him; of his fifty-six years only eight were spent there. He granted large feudal powers to the barons, gave charters of self-government to several cities, and entrusted the government of Germany to Archbishop Engelbert of Cologne and Herman of Salza, the able Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. Despite Frederick’s apparent negligence Germany enjoyed prosperity and peace during the thirty-five years of his reign. The barons and bishops were so satisfied with their absentee landlord that to please him they crowned his seven-year-old son Henry “King of the Romans”—i.e., heir to the imperial throne (1220). At the same time Frederick appointed himself regent of Sicily for Henry, who remained in Germany. This rather inverted the plans of Innocent, but Innocent was dead. Honorius yielded, and even crowned Frederick emperor at Rome, for he was anxious that Frederick should embark at once to rescue the Crusaders in Egypt. However, the barons in South Italy and the Saracens in Sicily staged a revolt; Frederick argued that he must restore order in his Italian realm before venturing on a long absence. Meanwhile (1222) his wife died. Hoping to prod him to fulfill his vow, Honorius persuaded him to marry Isabella, heiress to the lost kingdom of Jerusalem. Frederick complied (1225), and added the title of King of Jerusalem to those of King of Sicily and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Trouble with the Lombard cities again delayed him. In 1227 Honorius died, and the stern Gregory IX ascended the papal throne. Frederick now prepared in earnest, built a great fleet, and gathered 40,000 crusaders at Brindisi. There a terrible plague broke out in his army. Thousands died, more thousands deserted. The Emperor himself, and his chief lieutenant, Louis of Thuringia, caught the infection. Nevertheless Frederick gave the order to sail. Louis died, and Frederick grew worse. His doctors, and the higher clergy who were with him, advised him to return to Italy. He did, and sought a cure at Pozzuoli. Pope Gregory, his patience exhausted, refused to hear the explanations of Frederick’s emissaries, and announced to the world the excommunication of the Emperor.
Seven months later, still excommunicate, Frederick set sail for Palestine (1228). On learning of his arrival in Syria, Gregory absolved the subjects of Frederick and his son Henry from their oaths of allegiance, and began negotiations to depose the Emperor. Taking these actions as a declaration of war, Frederick’s regent in Italy invaded the Papal States. Gregory retaliated by sending an army to invade Sicily; monks spread a rumor that Frederick was dead; and soon a large part of Sicily and southern Italy were in papal hands. Two Franciscan delegates of the Pope reached Acre soon after Frederick, and forbade any man in the Christian ranks to obey the excommunicate. The Saracen commander, al-Kamil, astonished to find a European ruler who understood Arabic and appreciated Arabic literature, science, and philosophy, made a favorable peace with Frederick, who now entered Jerusalem as a bloodless conqueror. As no clergyman would crown him King of Jerusalem, he crowned himself in the church of the Holy Sepulcher. The bishop of Caesarea, calling the shrine and city desecrated by Frederick’s presence, laid an interdict upon religious services in Jerusalem and Acre. Some Knights Templar, learning that Frederick planned to visit the reputed site of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, sent secret word to al-Kamil, suggesting that here was a chance for the Sultan to capture the Emperor. The Moslem commander sent the letter to Frederick. To free Jerusalem from its interdict, the Emperor left it on the third day, and went to Acre. There, as he walked to his ship, the Christian populace bombarded him with filth.29
Arrived at Brindisi, Frederick organized an impromptu army, and advanced to recapture the towns that had yielded to the Pope. The papal army fled, the cities opened their gates; only Sora resisted, and stood siege; it was captured and reduced to ashes. At the frontier of the Papal States Frederick stopped, and sent the Pope a plea for peace. The Pope agreed; the Treaty of San Germano was signed (1230); the excommunication was withdrawn. For a moment there was peace.
2. The Wonder of the World
Frederick turned to administration, and from his court at Foggia, in Apulia, wrestled with the problems of too wide a realm. He visited Germany in 1231, and confirmed, in a “Statute in Favor of Princes,” the powers and privileges that he and his son had extended to the barons; he was willing to surrender Germany to feudalism if that would leave him at peace to develop his ideas in Italy. Perhaps he recognized that the battle of Bouvines had ended German hegemony in Europe, and that the thirteenth century belonged to France and Italy. He paid for his neglect of Germany in the rebellion and suicide of his son.
Out of the polyglot passions of Sicily his despotic hand forged an order and prosperity recalling the brilliance of Roger II’s reign. The rebellious Saracens of the hills were captured, were transported to Italy, were trained as mercenaries, and became the most reliable soldiers in Frederick’s army; we may imagine the wrath of the popes at the sight of Moslem warriors led by a Christian emperor against papal troops. Palermo remained in law the capital of the Regno, as the Two Sicilies were briefly called; but the real capital was Foggia. Frederick loved Italy more ardently than most Italians; he marveled that Yahveh had made so much of Palestine when Italy existed; he called his southern kingdom the apple of his eye, “a haven amidst the floods, a pleasure garden amidst a wilderness of thorns.”30 In 1223 he began to build at Foggia the rambling castle-palace of which only a gateway remains today. Soon a city of palaces rose about his own to house his aides. He invited the nobles of his Italian realm to serve as pages at his court; there they rose through widening functions to administer the government. Head of them all was Piero delle Vigne, a graduate of the school of law at Bologna; Frederick made him logothete or secretary of state, and loved him as a brother or a son. At Foggia, as at Paris seventy years later, lawyers replaced the clergy in administration; here, in the state nearest to the See of Peter, the secularization of government was complete.
Reared in an age of chaos, and learned in Oriental ideas, Frederick never dreamed that the order called a state could be maintained except by monarchical force. He seems honestly to have believed that without a strong central power men would destroy, or repeatedly impoverish, themselves through crime, ignorance, and war. Like Barbarossa he valued social order more highly than popular liberty, and felt that the ruler who competently maintains order earns all the luxuries of his keep. He allowed some measure of public representation in his government: twice a year, at five points in the Regno, assemblies met to deal with local problems, complaints, and crimes; to these assemblies he summoned not only the nobles and prelates of the district, but four deputies from each major city, and two from each town. For the rest Frederick was an absolute monarch; he accepted as axiomatic the basic principle of Roman civil law—that the citizens had handed over to the emperor the sole right to legislate. At Melfi in 1231 he issued for theRegno—chiefly through the legal skill and counsel of Piero delle Vigne—the Liber Augustalis, the first scientifically codified system of laws since Justinian, and one of the most complete bodies of jurisprudence in legal history. It was in some ways a reactionary code: it accepted all the class distinctions of feudalism, and maintained old rights of the lord over the serf. In many ways it was a progressive code: it deprived the nobles of legislative, judicial, and minting powers, centering these in the state; it abolished trial by combat or ordeal; it provided for state prosecutors to pursue crimes that heretofore had gone unpunished if no citizen brought in a complaint. It condemned the law’s delays, advised judges to cut down the perorations of advocates, and required the state courts to sit daily except on holidays.
Like most medieval rulers, Frederick carefully regulated the national economy. A “just price” was established for various services and goods. The state nationalized the production of salt, iron, steel, hemp, tar, dyed fabrics, and silks;31 it operated textile factories with Saracen slave women workers and eunuch foremen;32 it owned and operated slaughter houses and public baths; it created model farms, fostered the cultivation of cotton and sugar cane, cleared woods and fields of injurious animals, built roads and bridges, and sank wells to augment the water supply.33 Foreign trade was largely managed by the state, and was carried in vessels owned by the government; one of these had a crew of 300 men.34 Internal traffic tolls were reduced to a minimum, but tariffs on exports and imports provided the chief revenues of the state. There were many other taxes, for this government, like all others, could always find uses for money. To Frederick’s credit must be put a sound and conscientious currency.
To make this monolithic state majestic and holy without relying upon a Christianity normally hostile to him, Frederick strove to restore in his own person all the awe and splendor that had hedged a Roman emperor. His exquisite coins were stamped with no Christian word or symbol, but with the circular legend IMP/ROM/Cesar/Aug; and on the reverse was the Roman eagle encircled with the name Fridericus. The people were taught that the Emperor was in a sense the Son of God; his laws were the divine justice codified, and were referred to as Iustitia—almost the third person of a new trinity. Anxious to place himself beside the old Roman emperors in the history and galleries of art, Frederick commissioned sculptors to carve his likeness in stone. A bridgehead at the Volturno, a gate at Capua were adorned with reliefs, in ancient style, of himself and his aides; nothing remains of these works except a female head of great beauty.35 This pre-Renaissance attempt to revive classic art failed, washed away by the Gothic wave.
Despite his near-divinity and royal industry, Frederick found it possible to enjoy life at all levels in his Foggia court. An army of slaves, many of them Saracens, ministered to his wants and managed the bureaucracy. In 1235, his second wife having died, he married again; but Isabella of England could not understand his mind or morals, and retired into the background while Frederick consorted with mistresses and begot an illegitimate son. His enemies charged him with maintaining a harem, and Gregory IX accused him of sodomy.36 Frederick explained that all these white or black ladies or lads were used only for their skill in song, dance, acrobatics, or other entertainment traditional in royal courts. In addition to these he kept a menagerie of wild beasts; and sometimes he traveled with a retinue of leopards, lynxes, lions, panthers, apes, and bears, led on a chain by Saracen slaves. Frederick loved hunting and hawking, collected strange birds, and wrote for his son Manfred an admirable and scientific treatise on falconry.
Next to hunting, he took delight in educated and graceful conversation—delicato parlare. He preferred the meeting of true minds to the joust of arms. He himself was the most cultured causeur of his time, and was noted for his wit and repartee; this Frederick was his own Voltaire.37 He spoke nine languages and wrote seven. He corresponded in Arabic with al-Kamil, whom he called his dearest friend after his own sons; in Greek with his son-in-law, the Greek Emperor John Vatatzes; and in Latin with the Western world. His associates—especially Piero delle Vigne—formed their admirable Latin style on the classics of Rome; they keenly felt and emulated the classic spirit, and almost anticipated the humanists of the Renaissance. Frederick himself was a poet, whose Italian verses won Dante’s praise. The love poetry of Provence and Islam entered his court, and was taken up by the young nobles who served there; and the Emperor, like some Baghdad potentate, loved to relax, after a day of administration or hunting or war, with pretty women around him, and poets to sing his glory and their charms.
As he grew older Frederick turned more and more to science and philosophy. Here above all he was stirred by the Moslem heritage of Sicily. He read many Arabic masterpieces himself, brought Moslem and Jewish scientists and philosophers to his court, and paid scholars to translate into Latin the scientific classics of Greece and Islam. He was so fond of mathematics that he persuaded the Sultan of Egypt to send him a famous mathematician, al-Hanifi; and he was intimate with Leonardo Fibonacci, the greatest Christian mathematician of the age. He shared some of the superstitions of his time, and delved into astrology and alchemy. He lured to his court the polymath Michael Scot, and studied occult science with him, and chemistry, metallurgy, and philosophy. His curiosity was universal. He sent questions in science and philosophy to scholars at his court, and as far abroad as Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and Iraq. He kept a zoological garden for study rather than for amusement, and organized experiments in the breeding of poultry, pigeons, horses, camels, and dogs; his laws establishing closed seasons for hunting were based on careful records of pairing and breeding seasons—for which the animals of Apulia were said to have written him a vote of thanks. His legislation included an enlightened regulation of medical practice, operations, and the sale of drugs. He favored the dissection of cadavers; Moslem physicians marveled at his knowledge of anatomy. The extent of his learning in philosophy appears in his request to some Moslem savants to resolve certain discrepancies between the views of Aristotle and Alexander of Aphrodisias on the eternity of the world. “O fortunate emperor!” exclaimed Michael Scot, “I verily believe that if ever a man could escape death by his learning it would be you.”38
Lest the learning of the scholars whom he had assembled should die with their deaths, Frederick founded in 1224 the University of Naples—a rare example of a medieval university established without ecclesiastical sanction. He called to its faculty scholars in all arts and sciences, and paid them high salaries; and he assigned subsidies to enable poor but qualified students to attend. He forbade the youths of his Regno to go outside of it for their higher education. Naples, he hoped, would soon rival Bologna as a school of law, and would train men for public administration.
Was Frederick an atheist? He had been pious in his youth, and perhaps retained the basic tenets of Christianity till his crusade. Intimate intercourse with Moslem leaders and thinkers seems to have ended his Christian faith. He was attracted by Moslem learning, and considered it far superior to the Christian thought and knowledge of his day. At the Diet of German princes in Friuli (1232) he cordially received a Moslem deputation, and later, in the sight of bishops and princes, joined these Saracens in a banquet celebrating a Mohammedan religious feast.39 “It was said by his rivals,” reports Matthew Paris, “that the Emperor agreed and believed in the law of Mohammed more than that of Jesus Christ … and was more a friend to the Saracens than to the Christians.”40 A rumor credited by Gregory IX charged him with saying that “three conjurors so craftily led away their contemporaries as to gain the mastery of the world—Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed”;41 all Europe buzzed with this blasphemy. Frederick denied the charge, but it helped to turn public opinion against him in the final crisis of his life. He was unquestionably something of a freethinker. He had his doubts about the creation of the world in time, personal immortality, the virgin birth, and other doctrines of the Christian faith.42 In rejecting trial by ordeal he asked: “How could a man believe that the natural heat of glowing iron will turn cool without an adequate cause, or that, because of a seared conscience, the element of water will refuse to accept [submerge] the accused?”43 In all his reign he built one Christian church.
Within limits he gave freedom of worship to the diverse faiths in his kingdom. Greek Catholics, Mohammedans, and Jews were allowed to practice their religions unmolested, but (with one exception) they could not teach in the university, or rise to official position in the state. All Moslems and Hebrews were required to wear a dress that would distinguish them from Christians; and the poll tax that Moslem rulers levied on Christians and Jews in Islam was here levied upon Jews and Saracens as a substitute for military service. Conversion from Christianity to Judaism or Islam was severely punished in Frederick’s laws. But when, in 12 3 5, the Jews of Fulda were accused of “ritual murder”—the killing of a Christian child to use its blood at the Passover festival—Frederick came to their rescue, and denounced the story as a cruel legend. He had several Jewish scholars at his court.44
The great anomaly of this rationalist’s reign was the persecution of heresy. Frederick did not allow liberty of thought and speech, even to the professors in his university; it was a privilege confined to himself and his associates. Like most rulers, he recognized the necessity of religion for social order, and could not allow it to be undermined by his savants; besides, the suppression of heresy facilitated an intermittent peace with the popes. While some other monarchs of the thirteenth century hesitated to co-operate with the Inquisition, Frederick gave it his full support. The popes and their greatest enemy agreed in this alone.
3. Empire vs. Papacy
As Frederick’s rule at Foggia developed, his far-reaching aims became ever clearer: to establish his rule throughout Italy, to unify Italy and Germany in a restored Roman Empire, and perhaps to make Rome again the political as well as the religious capital of the Western world. When in 1226 he invited the nobles and cities of Italy to a diet at Cremona he showed his hand by including in his invitation the duchy of Spoleto, then a papal state, and by marching his troops through the lands of the popes. The Pope forbade the nobles of Spoleto to attend. The Lombard cities, suspecting that Frederick planned to subject them to a real, instead of nominal, submission to the Empire, refused to send delegates; instead they formed the second Lombard League, in which Milan, Turin, Bergamo, Brescia, Mantua, Bologna, Vicenza, Verona, Padua, and Treviso pledged themselves to a defensive and offensive alliance for twenty-five years. The diet was never held.
In 1234 his son Henry revolted against his father and allied himself with the Lombard League. Frederick rode up from southern Italy to Worms, without an army but with plenty of cash; the rebellion collapsed at the news of his coming or the touch of his gold; Henry was put into prison, languished there for seven years, and then, while being transferred to another place of confinement, rode his horse over a cliff to death. Frederick went on to Mainz, presided over a diet there, and persuaded many of the assembled nobles to join him in a campaign for the restoration of imperial power in Lombardy. So aided, he defeated the army of the League at Cortenuova (1237); all the cities surrendered but Milan and Brescia; Gregory IX offered to mediate, but Frederick’s dream of unity could not be reconciled with the Italian love of liberty.
At this juncture Gregory, though ninety and ailing, decided to throw in his lot with the League, and risk the whole temporal power of the popes on the issue of war. He had no fondness for the Lombard towns; he too, like Frederick, considered their liberty a license to chaotic strife; and he knew that they harbored heretics openly hostile to the wealth and temporal power of the Church; at this very time the heretics of besieged Milan were defiling altars and turning crucifixes upside down.45 But if Frederick overcame these cities the Papal States would be engulfed within a united Italy and a united Empire dominated by a foe of Christianity and the Church. In 1238 Gregory persuaded Venice and Genoa to join him and the League in war against Frederick; in a powerful encyclical he charged the Emperor with atheism, blasphemy, and despotism, and a desire to destroy the authority of the Church; in 1239 he excommunicated him, ordered every Roman Catholic prelate to proclaim him an outlaw, and absolved his subjects from their oath of allegiance. Frederick replied in a circular letter to the kings of Europe, repudiating the charge of heresy, and accusing the Pope of wishing to destroy the Empire and to reduce all kings to subservience to the papacy. The final struggle between empire and papacy was on.
The kings of Europe sympathized with Frederick, but paid small heed to his appeal for help. The nobility in Germany and Italy sided with him, hoping to restore the cities to feudal obedience. In the cities themselves the middle and lower classes were generally for the Pope; and the old German terms Waibling and Welf, in the form of Ghibelline and Guelf, were revived to signify respectively the adherents of the empire and the defenders of the papacy. Even in Rome this division held, and Frederick had many supporters there. As he approached Rome with a small army one city after another opened its gates to him as to a second Caesar. Gregory anticipated capture, and led a mournful procession of priests through the capital. The courage and frailty of the old Pope touched the hearts of the Romans, and many took up arms to protect him. Unwilling to force the issue, Frederick by-passed Rome, and wintered at Foggia.
He had persuaded the German princes to crown his son Conrad King of the Romans (1237); he had placed his son-in-law, the able but brutal Ezzelino da Romano, over Vicenza, Padua, and Treviso; and had set over the other surrendered cities his favorite son Enzio, “in face and figure our very image,” handsome, proud, and gay, brave in battle and accomplished in poetry. In the spring of 1240 the Emperor captured Ravenna and Faenza, and in 1241 he destroyed Benevento, the center of the papal forces. His fleet intercepted a Genoese convoy carrying toward Rome a group of French, Spanish, and Italian cardinals, bishops, abbots, and priests; Frederick confined them in Apulia as hostages to bargain with. He soon released the French; but his long detention of the rest, and the death of several in his prisons, shocked a Europe accustomed to consider the clergy inviolable; and many now believed that Frederick was the Antichrist predicted some years before by the mystic Joachim of Flora. Frederick offered to release the prelates if Gregory would make peace, but the old Pope remained firm even to death (1241).
Innocent IV was more conciliatory. At the urging of St. Louis he agreed on terms of peace (1244). But the Lombard cities refused to ratify this agreement, and reminded Innocent that Gregory had pledged the papacy against a separate peace. Innocent left Rome secretly, and fled to Lyons. Frederick resumed the war, and no force seemed now capable of preventing his conquest and absorption of the Papal States, and the establishment of his power in Rome. Innocent summoned the prelates of the Church to the Council of Lyons; the Council renewed the excommunication of the Emperor, and deposed him as an immoral, impious, and unfaithful vassal of his acknowledged suzerain the Pope (1245). At the Pope’s urging a group of German nobles and bishops chose Henry Raspe as anti-Emperor; and when he died they named William of Holland to succeed him. Excommunication was pronounced against all supporters of Frederick, and religious services were interdicted in all regions loyal to him; a crusade was proclaimed against him and Enzio, and those who had taken the cross for the redemption of Palestine were granted all the privileges of crusaders if they joined the war against the infidel Emperor.
Surrendering to a fury of hatred and revenge, Frederick now burned all bridges behind him. He issued a “Reform Manifesto,” denouncing the clergy as “slaves to the world, drunk with self-indulgence; the increasing stream of their wealth has stifled their piety.”46In the Regno he confiscated the treasures of the Church to finance his war. When a town in Apulia led a conspiracy to capture him he had the ringleaders blinded, then mutilated, then killed. Receiving a call for help from his son Conrad, he set out for Germany; at Turin he learned that Parma had overthrown his garrison, that Enzio was in peril, and that all northern Italy, and even Sicily, were in revolt. He put down rebellion after rebellion in town after town; took hostages from each of them, and slew these men when their towns rebelled. Prisoners found to be messengers of the Pope had their hands and feet cut off; and Saracen soldiers, immune to Christian tears and threats, were used as executioners.47
During the siege of Parma Frederick, impatient of inaction, went off with Enzio and fifty knights to hunt waterfowl in the neighboring marshes. While they were away the men and women of Parma came out in a desperate sortie, overwhelmed the disordered and leaderless forces of the Emperor, captured the Emperor’s treasury, his “harem,” and his menagerie. He levied heavy taxes, raised a new army, and resumed the struggle. Evidence was brought to him that his trusted premier, Piero delle Vigne, was conspiring to betray him; Frederick had him arrested and blinded; whereupon Piero beat his head against the wall of his jail till he died (1249). In that same year news came that Enzio had been captured by the Bolognese in battle at La Fossalta. About the same time Frederick’s doctor tried to poison him. The quick succession of these blows broke the spirit of the Emperor; he retired to Apulia, and took no further part in the war. In 1250 his generals won many successes, and the tide seemed to have turned. St. Louis, captured by Moslems in Egypt, demanded of Innocent IV an end to the war, so that Frederick might come to the Crusaders’ aid. But even as hope revived, the body failed. Dysentery, the humbling nemesis of medieval kings, struck the proud Emperor down. He asked for absolution, and received it; the freethinker donned the garb of a Cistercian monk, and died at Florentino on December 13, 1250. People whispered that his soul had been borne off by devils through the pit of Mt. Etna into hell.
His influence was not apparent; his empire soon collapsed, and a greater chaos ruled it than when he came. The unity for which he fought disappeared, even in Germany; and the Italian cities followed liberty, and its creative stimulus, through disorder to the piecemeal tyranny of dukes and condottieri who, hardly knowing it, inherited the unmorality of Frederick, his intellectual freedom, and his patronage of letters and arts. The virtù, or masculine unscrupulous intelligence, of the Renaissance despots was an echo of Frederick’s character and mind, without his grace and charm. The replacement of the Bible with the classics, of faith with reason, of God with Nature, of Providence with Necessity, appeared in the thought and court of Frederick, and, after an orthodox interlude, captured the humanists and philosophers of the Renaissance; Frederick was the “man of the Renaissance” a century before its time. Machiavelli’s Prince had Caesar Borgia in mind, but it was Frederick who had prepared its philosophy. Nietzsche had Bismarck and Napoleon in mind, but he acknowledged the influence of Frederick—“the first of Europeans according to my taste.”48 Posterity, shocked by his morals, fascinated by his mind, and vaguely appreciating the grandeur of his imperial vision, applied to him again and again the epithets coined by Matthew Paris: stupor mundi et immutator mirabilis—“the marvelous transformer and wonder of the world.”