Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor Biography

Frederick I, also known as Barbarossa, was a powerful and ambitious ruler in the 12th century. As the Holy Roman Emperor, he held multiple titles including King of Germany, Italy, and Burgundy. Despite his fierce opposition to Papal authority, Frederick I was beloved by his subjects for his exceptional leadership skills, strategic warfare, political acumen, and fervent participation in religious crusades. His red beard earned him the nickname Barbarossa, and he is credited with re-establishing the Roman rule of law, which served as a counterbalance to the power of the Pope.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Frederick Barbarossa
  • Died At Age: 68
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Adelheid of Vohburg Beatrice I, Countess of Burgundy
    • Father: Frederick II, Duke of Swabia
    • Mother: Judith of Bavaria
    • Children: Count of Burgundy Conrad II, Duke of Swabia Henry VI, Duke of Swabia Otto I, Duke of Swabia Philip, Frederick V, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick VI, King of Germany
  • Born Country: France
  • Died on: June 17, 1190
  • Place of Death: Silifke Castle, Turkey
  • Cause of Death: Drowning

Childhood & Early Life

Frederick I was born in 1122 to Duke Frederick II (Duke of Swabia) of the Hohenstaufen family and Judith of Bavaria, the daughter of Duke of Bavaria. He was the only son in the family and is believed to have been born in Swabia. His parents came from two greatest and most powerful rivalling families of Germany, which made him favorable to the empire’s prince-electors. He inherited the Duchy of Swabia from his father, after his death in 1147.

Rise & Rule

Frederick I decided to join his uncle Conrad III on the ‘Second Crusade’ in 1146 despite his father’s strong disapproval. His father, Frederick II, died on April 6, 1147, after which he inherited the Duchy of Swabia. Continuous Turkish attacks made it impossible for Conrad III to lead his army across Anatolia, so he sent Frederick to seek help from Louis VII of France. He participated in the ‘Council of Acre’ in 1148 and later became the King of Germany in 1152. He intervened in the Danish Civil War and tried to reconcile his differences with Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos.

Coronations & Alliances

In 1153, Frederick I signed the ‘Treaty of Constance’ with Pope Eugene III, agreeing to prevent Manuel I Komnenos from re-establishing the Byzantine Empire on Italian soil. He obtained the submission of Milan and was crowned the King of Italy in 1155. On June 18, 1155, he was crowned ‘Holy Roman Emperor’ at St Peter’s Basilica. He took several steps to restore peace and order in Germany and strengthened his hold on Swabia. In 1174, he went to Italy in his fifth expedition and signed peace treaties with Alexander III and the Lombard League.

Later Years & Death

Frederick I turned against his cousin Henry the Lion and used the German princes to strip him of his land and outlaw him in 1180. He signed the ‘Peace of Constance’ in 1183 and arranged the wedding of his son Henry VI to Constance of Sicily in 1186. He took the crusader’s vow in 1188 and set out on a meticulously planned crusade. He died on June 10, 1190, after drowning near Silifke Castle in the Saleph river.

Family & Personal Life

Frederick I was married twice. His first marriage was annulled, and he then married Beatrice of Burgundy and had eleven children with her. He died at the age of 68 and his body was interred in different locations.


According to a German legend, Frederick I is not dead but a sleeping hero. His character has been featured in various plays and video games.

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