Frederick II

 

Frederick was born on the 26 th of December 1194 in Jesi. He was the son of Henry of Hoenstaufen and of Constance of Altavilla, the last descendant of the Norman dynasty.When only four years old, Frederick was left an orphan by both his parents by whom he inherited the Empire and the Kingdom of Sicily.

The years of his childhood and adolescence were decisive in forming the complex and extraordinary personality of the young Swabian prince. Frederick passed them in Palermo, the capital of the Norman Kingdom, once the seat of an Arab Emirate. A capital in which very different races, religions and costumes had grown intertwined and had coexisted.
In 1209 Frederick became out of age and, free at last from the custody of Pope  Innocent III,  married Constance  of  Aragon ,who brought  him a dowry of 300 knights thanks to whom he succeeded in stating again his rights on Germany. He defeated the encroacher Otto IV of Brunswick, and restored peace and order through measures aiming at reforming and reorganizing the state.Then he returned to his beloved Kingdom of Sicily. In March 1221 for the first time Frederick visited Apulia, a land rich in forests, rivers, art witnesses, of which his successors will be very fond too.

In the following 30 years Frederick built there castra, palatia, domus solaciorum (fortresses, palaces, places of pleasure) which still impress a unique character on the rural landscape and on the town layout, and constitute a significant part of the region artistic heritage.

In 1223 the capital of the kingdom was moved from Palermo to Foggia because the geographic position gave to Apulia a vantage role, with regard to the territories of the Empire, too. Divided into four not homogeneous districts: Capitanata,Terra di Bari, Terra d'Otranto and Basilicata, Apulia was particularly involved in the plan of reorganization of the state, carried out by means of a close net of control, consisting on the castle system and on the net of towns and villages even repopulated, if necessary, as in the case of Altamura and Lucera.
The king's massariae, agro-pastoral productive structures and the forestae (forests) from which the timber used in building castles was drawn, carried out a fundamental role in the administration of the enormous state latifundia.

A not lesser care was devoted to the coasts, inserted in a plan of commercial revision that reserved a great attention to some cities, among which Brindisi, the seat of an important royal shipyard and a mint.
By tradition open to commercial and cultural exchange with the opposite side of the Adriatic Sea and with the Eastern ports, in Frederick's age Apulia acquired a greater importance. The fusion of its rich classical and Byzantine heritage with the Romanic production and the influence of modern Gothic style became deeper and found its interpreters in the protomagistri  (master masons) at work in the Swabian yards.

After the death of Constance, who had given him Henry, the son destined to be his successor and to inherit the imperial crown, Frederick married the daughter of the King of Jerusalem Jolanda of Brienne, who gave him another son, Conrad, who had to inherit the Kingdom of Sicily. His third wife  too, Isabel of Aragon, died very young and, as Jolanda, was buried in the crypt of the Cathedral in Andria. However the only woman Frederick probably loved was Bianca Lancia who gave him other sons. Manfred, her illegitimate son, more than the other sons being like his father, desperately tried to put obstacles in the way of the Angevins who could rely on the help and protection of the Pope. In the end he lost the Kingdom of Sicily and his life in the battle near Benevento.

A lot of disciplines, both artistic and scientific, and activities were cultivated and practised at court. Among them music and poetry of course, up to falconry, Frederick's favourite sport, but also a means of studying nature, as the treatise he wrote De arte venandi cum avibus (about the art of hunting by birds of prey), complete with excellent miniatures, testifies.
Caring for one's body health (cura corporis) was very important as well as a daily personal cleanliness according to the dictates of the Salerno School of Medicine.

As he had a series of interests, from mathematics to astronomy, from natural science to poetry and music, in 1224 Frederick II founded the University of Naples and reorganized the Salerno School of Medicine, where he instituted the first professorship of anatomy.
Together with his son Enzo he gathered the Sicilian School poets round the Magna Curia (the Great Court) in Palermo. And this was the origin of the Italian literature in vulgar language, as both Dante and Petrarca acknowledged.
At the end of the forties Frederick had suffered heavy defeats by the Communes League, and his health too was fading. In November 1250, regardless of his physical troubles, he wanted to take part in a hunt in the area between Foggia and Lucera. On the 1st of December he was suddenly taken ill and carried to Castel Fiorentino where he died on the 13th of the same month: a prediction had foretold "you will die near the iron door, in a place bringing the name flower", which had made him always avoiding Florence.
Pope Innocent IV, referring to Frederick II, had declared: "Heaven help those who will leave to this man and to his descent the crown by which he dominated the Christ's people". The reins of the kingdom of Southern Italy were held by his son Manfred, but the support offered to the Angevins by the Pope was decisive in the fight for the power and in 1266 the young Swabian prince was defeated and died in the battle near Benevento. Pope Clement IV crowned King of Sicily Charles the Angevin, the brother of the King of France Louis IX .Two years later another descendant, just 16 years old, of Frederick II, Corradino, Conrad's son, desperately tried to defend the Southern kingdom against the Angevins, but he was defeated at Tagliacozzo and handed to Charles Angevin who, after summary proceedings, had him to be executed in Naples, in Market Square, on the 29th of October 1268. The dream of a lasting Swabian kingdom in the beloved  lands of Southern Italy, already cherished by Frederick the Red Beard, Frederick II's grand-father, had come to an end.  (M.T.)

 

A crownAugustale of Frederick II. National Archeological Museum, NaplesCaesarean-bust portraying Frederick II, about 1250, Museo Civico, BarlettaFrederick marrying Isabel Jolanda of BrienneThe Camaleuco of Costanza d’Aragona – Treasure of the Cathedral of Palermo