The game between the aristocracy and the king of Germany – who as such, moreover, was the designated emperor – was mainly played around the question of the elective nature of the sovereign function. In fact, Henry V was not called to succeed the throne by the German princes the Duke of Swabia Frederick, his natural successor, but Lothair of Supplimburg, with the result that during all or almost all of his reign (1125-37) he had to reckon with the rebellion of the Swabians.
On Lothair’s death, the aristocracy did not elect the designated heir, Henry the Superb Duke of Saxony, but Conrad III of Hohenstaufen, head of the Swabian party. Thus the foundations of the struggle for control of the crown were laid between the house of Swabia – whose supporters, named after the castle of Waibling, were called Ghibellines – and that of Bavaria and Saxony, or the party of the Guelphs, descendants of Guelph duke of Bavaria (fig. 2); the struggle lasted throughout the reign of Conrad (1138-52) before being temporarily blocked under Frederick I Barbarossa (1152-90).
The effort of the Hohenstaufen was to build a strong central power, using elements related to them for the administration – in particular the ministeriales -, and inserting the German aristocracy in an iron feudal pyramid which had the sovereign at its apex. The construction of vast territorial lordships was also supported, entrusted to loyal vassals, such as the Babenbergs, who at first obtained Bavaria and then saw their county of Austria transformed into a hereditary duchy. If on the southern side the Hohenstaufen strengthened their position, the same cannot be said for the North-East, where in that same period the Margrave Alberto l’Orso excelled, who in 1142 obtained the brand of Brandenburg as a fief, and the Duke of Saxony, the Guelph Henry the Lion. Returning from the unfortunate 2nd crusade (1147-49), Conrad reconciled with Henry, who for his part had launched a real crusade against Vend and Abodriti (1147).
A true Guelph territorial state thus began to take on its own physiognomy, which from Saxony reached the lands beyond the Elbe, snatched from the Slavs also with a massive peasant penetration from Rhineland, Franconia, Thuringia, Saxony and the Netherlands: peasants (called guests) were settled in the center of the land to be cleared, in new villages, with privileged statutes. Alongside the villages, real new cities were also born. It is the beginning of the process that will lead German peasants, knights and merchants to re-Germanize the eastern part of Germany, settling deeply in the heart of Eastern Europe and profoundly changing its physiognomy. The foundation must be framed in the context of this mighty growth of Germany nordof Lübeck (1143), which became the main freight port of the Baltic when in Visby, in 1161, the Hansa.
Frederick I Barbarossa
Committed, however, hard in Italy, against the communal powers and the papal opposition to an increased Germanic presence in the peninsula, Frederick I failed in the attempt to create between northern Italy and Germany a block capable of acting as an effective counterweight to the evolution of the German North. The defeat of Legnano against the Lombard League (1176) reduced the Italian ambitions of the sovereign and rekindled the conflict with Henry the Lion. Frederick, who had been elevated to the Empire by Hadrian IV in 1154, tried Henry as his feudal superior, deposed him depriving him of Bavaria and Saxony and forced him into exile (1181). The Guelph state was then dismembered among numerous feudal lords: Bavaria went to Otto of Wittelsbach, Saxony was divided between the archbishop of Saxony and Bernardo d’Anhalt, increasing the shattering of public authority. In fact, throughout his political career Frederick, despite his high conception of imperial majesty, behaved in Germany as an authentic faction leader, aimed above all at granting privileges and favors in order to build a clientele that was able to supply troops. for his Italian expeditions and to control the kingdom during his absence. His sixth descent in Italy was aimed at having his son Henry crowned king of Italy and marrying Constance of Altavilla, heir to the Norman Kingdom (1186). Two years later, Frederick met his death in the third crusade.
From Henry VI to Frederick II
His son Henry VI, neglecting the authentic Germanic frontier (that of the North-East), engaged in a hard war to have his rights on the Kingdom of Sicily recognized; crowned emperor in 1191, he then had to face a revolt of the great aristocracy in Germany His early death in 1197 put an end to his plans for a universal empire and again plunged Germany into the whirlwind of the civil war between Guelphs and Ghibellines. The crown was disputed by Otto of Brunswick, son of Henry the Lion, who was elected with the support of the archbishop of Cologne, and Philip of Swabia, brother of Henry VI and uncle of little Frederick Roger, son of the deceased emperor. I support that Pope Innocent III said to Otto aimed at preventing the union of Sicily with Germany. But, the alliance soon cracked, the pope excommunicated the Guelph and supported the candidacy of Frederick, who in 1212 managed to get himself elected king by some of the German princes; the battle of Bouvines (1214), won by the arms of Philip Augustus of France, marked the definitive defeat of Otto, ally of John Senzaterra king of England, in favor of Frederick, ally of the king of France. In 1220 Frederick was also crowned emperor in Rome by Pope Honorius III. Before leaving Germany, Federico had issued the Confederatio cum principibus ecclesiasticis, with which it granted the bishops authentic powers of territorial government by renouncing to impose new taxes on the lands of the Church, to intervene in the succession of fiefdoms, to build cities or fortresses in the bishop’s domains.
At the same time the presence of military religious orders began to make itself felt in the Baltic area: the creation of the order of the Sword Knights by Albert Bishop of Livonia dates back to 1201. In 1226 the Teutonic Order received, through the great master Ermanno di Salza, a bull that attributed Prussia, largely pagan and still to be conquered. The conquest turned into a war of extermination against the pagan Baltics and, although already in 1234 Gregory IX granted Prussia as a fief to the Teutonic Order (which two years later merged with the Sword-holders, thus expanding into Livonia), only in 1283 the conquest of the country could be said to be assured. From that moment colonization developed by German and Polish peasants. However, the development of Prussian cities with the passage of time ended up constituting a counterweight to the authority of order. Meanwhile, the expansion of the Teutons towards the east had been stopped in 1242 by the Russians of Novgorod. The birth of Germanic Prussia also marked a decisive moment for the economic growth of Hansa, which in those same years had to deal with the resourcefulness of the kings of Denmark, in particular of Valdemaro II. (1202-41): Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Norway, the cities of Hamburg and Lübeck had been subjected to tribute and forced to take oaths of submission. Valdemaro went to Estonia and Lithuania ; the German reaction materialized in the battle of Bornhöved (1227), where Valdemaro was defeated thus leaving the Germans free field on the Baltic.
Henry VII at the ‘Great Interregnum’
According to Topschoolsoflaw, Frederick, embroiled in the problem of the crusade, was excommunicated and also had to face the too autonomous politics of his son Henry VII, elected king of Germany (1228), who became the interpreter of more strictly German interests, relying on the small service aristocracy of ministeriales and the rich and advanced Rhenish cities. The opposition of the princes forced Henry to grant, in the Diet of Worms, the Constitutio in Favorm Principum(1231), ratified by Frederick II the following year, with which not only the ancient rights of the feudal lords over the cities were restored, but the princely power also made great strides: the feudal lords reserved the right exclusive of minting coins; the emperor undertook not to build cities and castles in their territories without their consent. Going to Germany to put an end to the frond of his son – who had made a pact with the cities of Northern Italy connected in the second Lombard League -, Federico deposed him and imprisoned him: Henry died in 1242 and heir to the throne became the second son Corrado. Frederick finally promulgated a great imperial peace in the Diet of Mainz of 1235, which should have formed the basis for a new legislative order of the Kingdom. Taken by Italian problems, Federico in his last years lost interest in Germany, where his son Corrado took over on his death (1250). Corrado died after only four years, the Germany fell into the so-called Great interregnum (1254-73).