In honour of my 23rd great grandfather, Friedrich II, Emperor of the First Reich (1194-1250)

In an earlier article, I touched upon my relation to Count Roger I of Sicily, scourge of the Arabs, and recounted my relation to him through my father’s Maltese pedigree, which in turn links to Sicilian aristocracy and the Governors of Argos in Greece.

Roger I, the subject of the previous article, was the great grandfather of Friedrich II (1194-1250), otherwise known as Friedrich von Hohenstaufen, Freidrich the Great, or by Nietzsche as “The first European”. Friedrich was responsible for expanding the Holy Roman Empire (The First Reich) to its greatest extent, and was responsible for a crusade that retook Jerusalem from the Arabs, though only briefly.

Frequently at war with the papacy, which was hemmed in between Frederick’s lands in northern Italy and his Kingdom of Sicily (the Regno) to the south, he was excommunicated four times. Pope Gregory IX went so far as to call him an Antichrist.

Speaking six languages (Latin, Sicilian, Old Germanic, Langues d’oïl, Greek and Arabic), Frederick was an avid patron of science and the arts. He played a major role in promoting literature through the Sicilian School of poetry. His Sicilian royal court in Palermo, beginning around 1220, saw the first use of a literary form of an Italo-Romance language, Sicilian. The poetry that emanated from the school had a significant influence on literature and on what was to become the modern Italian language.

He was described thus by scholars:

“A man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability – called by a contemporary chronicler stupor mundi (the wonder of the world), by Nietzsche the first European, and by many historians the first modern ruler – Frederick established in Sicily and southern Italy something very much like a modern, centrally governed kingdom with an efficient bureaucracy.”

Frederick also organised a defence of Europe against the Mongol hordes lead by Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan.

Frederick was aware of the danger the Mongols posed, and grimly assessed the situation, but also tried to use it as leverage over the Papacy to frame himself as the protector of Christendom. While he called them traitorous pagans, Frederick expressed an admiration for Mongol military prowess after hearing of their deeds, in particular their able commanders and fierce discipline and obedience, judging the latter to be the greatest source of their success. He called a levy throughout Germany while the Mongols were busy raiding Hungary, but in mid 1241 dispersed his army back to their holdfasts as the Mongols preoccupied themselves with the lands east of the Danube, attempting to smash all Hungarian resistance. He subsequently ordered his vassals to strengthen their defenses, adopt a defensive posture, and gather large numbers of crossbowmen.

A letter written by Emperor Frederick II, found in the Regesta Imperii, dated to June 20, 1241 and intended for all his vassals in Swabia, Austria, and Bohemia, included a number of specific military instructions. His forces were to avoid engaging the Mongols in field battles, hoard all food stocks in every fortress and stronghold, and arm all possible levies as well as the general populace. Fortunately, hearing of the preparations Frederick had organised, Khan never attempted a full scale invasion,

The Pope’s forces frequently harassed the Empire for rejecting orders, and attempted to invade Frederick’s territory numerous times, killing Frederick’s son Count Ricardo, my 22nd great grandfather.

Frederick’s contemporaries called him stupor mundi, the “astonishment of the world”; the majority of his contemporaries were indeed astonished—and sometimes repelled—by the pronounced unorthodoxy of the Hohenstaufen emperor and his temperamental stubbornness.

Frederick inherited German, Norman, and Sicilian blood, but by training, lifestyle, and temperament he was “most of all Sicilian.” Maehl concludes that “To the end of his life he remained above all a Sicilian grand signore, and his whole imperial policy aimed at expanding the Sicilian kingdom into Italy rather than the German kingdom southward.” Cantor concludes that “Frederick had no intention of giving up Naples and Sicily, which were the real strongholds of its power. He was, in fact, uninterested in Germany.”

Frederick was also a keen scientist. He was also alleged to have carried out a number of experiments on people. Among the experiments were shutting a prisoner up in a cask to see if the soul could be observed escaping though a hole in the cask when the prisoner died; feeding two prisoners, having sent one out to hunt and the other to bed and then having them disemboweled to see which had digested his meal better; imprisoning children and then denying them any human contact to see if they would develop a natural language.

In the language deprivation experiment young infants were raised without human interaction in an attempt to determine if there was a natural language that they might demonstrate once their voices matured. It is claimed he was seeking to discover what language would have been imparted unto Adam and Eve by God. In his Chronicles Salimbene wrote that Frederick bade “foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them; for he would have learnt whether they would speak the Hebrew language (which had been the first), or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perchance the tongue of their parents of whom they had been born. But he laboured in vain, for the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments”

Frederick died peacefully aged 56 after a short illness. He remains arguably the greatest Emperor of the First Reich, and perhaps of all time. His name, deeds and blood shall live forever, and live on in me.
Health and happiness! Live for power and glory!
C.A., author.

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