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Frederick II

Frederick II. (1194-1250), grandson of Barbarossa, and son of the Emperor Henry VI., was born near Ancona. His mother was heiress of Sicily, of which Frederick was acknowledged king by her submitting to the feudal superiority of the Pope. Innocent III. also favoured him by excommunicating Otto IV. in 1211, when he became Emperor. With the succeeding Popes, however, his relations were very different. Though he was crowned at Rome in 1220, the Emperor delayed for some years his promise to take the cross, in order to subdue the Italian nobles and his Sicilian subjects, and in 1227 was excommunicated by Gregory IX. for returning under plea of sickness. Next year, however, he at length arrived in the East, extorted from the Sultan of Egypt Jerusalem and the holy places, and crowned himself king of the city with his own hand. Having made a truce for ten years, he returned to Europe in order to oppose the Pope's designs in the south of Italy. Revolts followed in Lombardy and Germany, the latter headed by the Emperor's own son Henry, supported by the minister Peter de Vincis, and in 1239 Frederick was again excommunicated. In 1245 his subjects were absolved from their allegiance by Innocent IV., and a year after the capture of his only supporter, his natural son Enzio, he himself died. His object had been to reduce the Popes to their original spiritual functions, and he failed. That he was one of the greatest princes of the Middle Ages there can be no doubt; and he was no mere warrior or even statesman. To his contemporaries he was the wonder of the world, and the marvellous transformer! He spoke all the languages of his Empire, was the earliest of the Italian troubadours, and a student of natural science. He tolerated Jews and Mahometans, though he persecuted heretics. He founded universities at Vienna and Naples, and encouraged poets and artists. His ideal was an intelligent autocracy, based on a uniform code of laws giving security to the mercantile classes, who were, however, to have no political power. He was licentious and cruel, but not ungenerous. By his enemies he was accused of being an atheist, He married, in 1235, Isabella, daughter of John, King of England.