The Prussian Crusade was one of the most significant events of the medieval era in East Central Europe. In the early thirteenth century it came like a storm upon one of the last pagan peoples living along the Baltic coastline, throwing the debris of their ancient culture upon the shore like so many pieces of broken and worn amber, where today we may contemplate its scattered remnants in the golden glow of soft romantic sunsets, that time of day when nostalgia most effectively blurs the harsh contours of reality. Baltic paganism was more than sentimental unity with nature and alternative mythologies to familiar Biblical and Classical stories. It was at its rough-hewn heart a warrior religion: massacre and slavery were its life-blood; forecasts of military success were the farthest extent of its mind. The pagan afterlife was designed for martial heroes, not for women or slaves. Therefore, we should not regret the fact that this culture gave way to western Christianity and western institutions. That ancient barbarian society did not welcome traders or missionaries and it menaced a faltering and divided Polish kingdom. While states have a limited right to isolate themselves if they wish, it is awkward to claim immunity from attack by foreigners when one is extending one's frontiers into their lands, however slowly, as the Prussians were; and the Prussians were hardly a state, so that there was no means of controlling any tribe which chose to make war. Nevertheless, from what little we know of the situation it is reasonable to infer that in Prussia it was the Poles who were the more serious aggressors; they were including the northern pagans in a general program of national expansion. However, if the Poles had abstained from an effort to subjugate Prussia, the Danes would not have; they had been active in extending their empire and the Roman Catholic religion all through the twelfth century. Be all that as it may, the crusade which grew out of these wars established the Teutonic Knights in Prussia, with the long-time consequence that Germans came to dominate the southern Baltic coast until near the middle of the twentieth century.(1)

Although many historians have emphasized the German role in the Prussian Crusade, it was not a purely German phenomenon. The Teutonic Knights would never have been called to Prussia if the Piast prince of Masovia had possessed the resources to conquer the region by himself, and the Teutonic Knights could not have conquered Prussia without the substantial help of Polish and Bohemian crusaders. Nevertheless, in several senses the crusade depended on Germans, especially on that handful of Germans who ruled the Holy Roman Empire as imperial officials, dukes, counts, and churchmen. Because the crusaders who came to Prussia acted in the context of the complex politics of Holy Roman Empire in the early thirteenth century, an understanding of the special circumstances that determined the path of German politics from the end of the twelfth century is necessary to comprehending the origins of the Prussian Crusade.

The Wendish Crusade

The Wends were the western-most Slavic people. They had pressed the Germans west of the Elbe River and established themselves in the lake district of Holstein. Their raids into Saxony and Denmark provoked a heroic conflict that one prominent historian of the crusades called the Punic War of the Baltic.(2)

Two Christian rulers built their states on the war against Wendish pirates and slave-catchers. They built not on the territories conquered--though they took whatever they could--but on the concerted efforts necessary to achieve victory. Those efforts could be successful only if everyone acknowledged the leadership of these charismatic warrior-princes. In 1147 Heinrich (Henry the Lion) of Saxony and Waldemar the Great of Denmark invaded Holstein, Mecklenburg and Pomerania in a crusade that was organized and promoted by Bernard of Clairvaux as part of the Second Crusade. Bernard had realized that Welfs and Hohenstaufens, who had been feuding over the crown time out of mind, would never had cooperated in an expedition to the Holy Land--their most recent bloody civil dispute was too recent to be forgotten or forgiven yet. Nor would either send an army out of the Holy Roman Empire as long as the other remained at home, ready to strike. So Bernhard had persuaded the Hohenstaufens to march to Jerusalem, while the Welfs took on the local pagans. The quiet effort at a peaceful conversion--an alluring but frustratingly slow and unpredictable mission--was overwhelmed by the noise of battle. The Christian victory was not complete for several decades, but the decisive blow had been struck.(3)

Bernard of Clairvaux had been a formative figure in the history of the military religious orders. His inspired preaching, his ideal of Christian service, and his ultra-practical Rule of the Templars (1128) combined traditions of monastic austerity and self-sacrifice with the warrior ethos of popular epic poetry. Henceforth, Bernard's Cistercians were the foremost advocates of military monasticism.(4) But it was his genius for using the crusade to overcome domestic feuds that was of importance immediately. He understood that common enemies unite peoples better than common interests. The Wendish Crusade was the beginning of four decades of domestic tranquility in the Holy Roman Empire, at least more tranquility than had existed before. It also opened the Baltic Sea to German commerce, with the newly founded city of Lübeck as the chief mercantile outlet to the east.

Friedrich Barbarossa

The previous generation of Germans, those living in the middle of the twelfth century had seen the Holy Roman Empire in its greatest glory. The reign of Friedrich Barbarossa was a glorious one for them, if not for actual accomplishments, at least for magnificent efforts and noble dreams. Although the red-bearded Emperor had failed in most of his undertakings, especially in Italy, and had erred in many decisions, so striking were his occasional successes and so strongly did he build on them that even today he is widely viewed as the greatest German ruler between Charlemagne and Bismarck.

His first step was to strip his principal rival, Heinrich the Lion, of Bavaria. Then in 1180 he used Heinrich's failure to attend a Reichstag as an excuse to foment a rebellion of his vassals that destroyed the empire Heinrich had built in the north. Some of Heinrich's lands went to vassals, others to long-time enemies such as the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, and some to Denmark.(5)

Friedrich Barbarossa saw that peace and order in any state were dependent upon strong government, and that strong government was dependent upon sound finances and firm leadership. He was limited in what he could achieve in a federal system--perhaps the best way to look at feudal relationships in Germany--but of all the forces in the country, whether the great prelates or the assemblages of nobles, he had the primary right and duty to enforce the peace. That gave him immense, but limited powers. By defining peace in his own way, Friedrich Barbarossa could direct both local and international politics; and as Holy Roman Emperor, he was universally acknowledged as the leader of Christendom. In his view, the many problems of the Christian world that he was responsible for resolving could not be sorted out into Italian problems, Arab problems, German problems and so forth because each related to the others in such a complex way that resolving one required attempting a resolution of the others. Although the heart of his empire was the kingdom of Germany, he was the ruler of a multinational empire, and he thought and acted on an international scale. There was only one simplifying factor--as he looked at the tangle of problems that faced him, he saw that the end of the skein seemed to lie in Italy. There, in Italy, the heart of the old Roman Empire, were the rich cities which could provide through taxes the money he needed to raise armies with which he could bring peace and order to the Holy Roman Empire. Moreover, Italy, even more than Germany, was in disorder and, therefore, in need of effective government; the established families were contending for power, the centers of commercial activity which had recently made themselves independent were now fighting among themselves for dominance of the regional markets, and churchmen saw their own interests--won at such cost from Friedrich's predecessors--being lost. Everywhere the losing factions were calling upon the Emperor to come to their aid.

Nor was peace and order the full extent of what the Emperor could offer. Peace and order were, then as now, the first step toward the resolution of other problems, not the end of life's race. Dante was to express this well a century hence. But first steps first. The great tripwire was the party of the papacy, which was united only in its fear of imperial domination. Some were idealists who believed that the leadership of Europe properly belonged to the popes; others were ambitious men who resented any efforts to limit their activities; others simply preferred a collective approach to political decision-making and wanted to deliver as few taxes and services as possible. This party existed in Germany, too, but its center was Italy. That was largely because Italy was far away from the Emperor's main source of armies and Italy was home to the papacy, which time and again had prevented emperors from exercising leadership even in Germany, much less south of the Alps. Because Friedrich Barbarossa saw that his duty lay in bringing Italy fully into the Holy Roman Empire, he spent most of his reign there. The combination of Lombard cities, the papacy, and the Norman kingdom of Sicily, however, proved too strong for him. Friedrich's Italian policy seemed to be a total failure following his military defeat at Legnano in 1176.(6)

This apparent defeat was not absolute. Friedrich was not driven out of Italy, and toward the end of his long and war-filled stay in the country, most of his enemies came to realize that Friedrich was less of a threat and more a potential friend than they had thought. The Lombard cities agreed to pay taxes, accept imperial magistrates, and allow him to regulate their foreign policy. Also, the kingdom of Sicily came to Friedrich's son, Heinrich, as dowry for Constance, the king's only child. The Pope, too, was friendly--a pleasant surprise considering the recent bitter hostility--and supported Friedrich in hopes of ending the wars and in diverting that military energy into a new crusade to recover Jerusalem.

If Friedrich had lived longer, so that the passage of time would permit everyone to grow accustomed to the new arrangement, his empire might have survived. One must forget today's nationalism and understand that there was no real Germany or Italy as we are accustomed to think about them. Italy was the kingdom of the Lombards, the kingdom of the Normans, the Papal States, and other smaller units. In the mountains of the Tyrol the population was German, and in the south the rulers were Norman-French, with ties to England. In Germany, too, there were important minorities. There were Bohemians and other Slavic groups, there were Frisians, Danes, Flemings, and there were what we could call French in Burgundy and Lorraine. Moreover, there were important differences among the larger groups of Germans themselves. A native of the south could not always understand a person in the north, and pride in being a Saxon, a Bavarian, or a Swabian took precedence over pride in being German. Tradition and custom were of more importance in keeping these disparate groups together than were any feelings of nationalism; and tradition and custom grow slowly. Friedrich needed time, but he was an old, old man. Time was not his to command.

Friedrich was also titular head of all Christendom, and as such was asked to lead the great crusade of 1189, the greatest international crusade ever organized. As Holy Roman Emperor he led his Germans, Italians, and Slavs--and the kings of France and England, too--to the Holy Land to attempt the recovery of Jerusalem.(7)

Friedrich did not live to see the Holy Land. He died on the frontier of Palestine, drowning in a small mountain stream, and with him died the hopes of the Third Crusade. No one else could impose discipline on the other leaders--many of whom hurried home in anticipation of civil war, to protect their properties and families--and the rag-tag army that remained in the East was too weak to do more than join the English and French at the siege of Acre. The old man had left a great burden to his son, but fortunately the crusade was not an important part of his immediate duties. That son, Heinrich VI, had been left in Italy, ready to deal with any problem that might arise; and this proved to have been a wise decision, because revolts broke out soon after the news of the Emperor's death arrived in Europe.(8)

Civil War in the Holy Roman Empire

Heinrich VI could have been a greater monarch than Friedrich Barbarossa if death had not taken him, too, prematurely, in 1196. In his short reign he had put down the Welf rising in Germany, had occupied rebellious Sicily, and had even exacted a heavy annual tribute from Byzantium. In moving swiftly to deal with rebels and enemies, however, he had frightened the papal officials who were urging the Holy Father to stop Heinrich while there was still time. When Heinrich was struck down by illness, his fragile empire flew apart again. Encouraged by the head of the Church, rebellions broke out everywhere, and Germany itself was torn by civil war until 1215.

The Hohenstaufen supporters bypassed Friedrich II, the infant son of the late monarch, and chose the mature and popular Hohenstaufen uncle, Philip of Swabia, as the new German ruler. Those nobles who feared any potentially strong emperor rallied to the Welfs (Guelph), the family that had occupied the throne early in the century and who now held a grudge against the Hohenstaufens for having recently deprived them of lands in Saxony and Bavaria. Holding a separate election for German king (the first step to selecting a Holy Roman Emperor, who could acquire that title only after a formal coronation by the Pope), they sent the name of Duke Otto of Braunschweig, the head of the Welf family, to Pope Innocent for confirmation.(9) There were irregularities in both elections and in the hurried coronations of the rival kings of Germany. Consequently, the decision rested with the new Pope, Innocent III, who could select either man, or neither. He could even select his ward, Friedrich of Hohenstaufen, who had an excellent claim to be the rightful heir of Heinrich's empire, although it was awkward that Friedrich was so young--not yet even baptized--he would have to remain under papal guidance for many years, a circumstance that many thought highly undesirable.(10)

The selection of the German king came normally through election--the small number of nobles and prelates who had the right to vote gathering in one of the traditional Reichstag(11) sites, usually in one of the archepiscopal seats (Mainz, Cologne), with a coronation in Aachen, in the cathedral of Karl the Great (Charlemagne) to follow very quickly--but the Hohenstaufens had worked hard to make hereditary succession into a viable tradition, too, so that in practice only the handful of males belonging the royal family would ever be considered for election. All this was tradition, of course, rather than statute law, and who was to gainsay the foremost candidate if he chose to offer his interpretation of what tradition was? Vagueness has its advantages, and as one wit put it, "a tradition is something you did once and want to do again." But there were disadvantages to this. The vagueness of the election laws allowed the Pope to play an important role in each election. Since only a Pope could crown an Emperor--and no Pope would want to be part of a flawed process--it was possible for Popes to find violations of accepted practice that could invalidate the election; or delay the coronation. In practice, no Pope wanted to crown a candidate whose personality or politics were unacceptable. That meant that each Pope would seek to extract promises and concessions from each candidate, and each concession made it more difficult for the Emperor to take full advantage of his theoretical powers. At this time, as in the past, Pope Innocent III led those forces opposed to a strong Emperor. Innocent saw in Heinrich's union of the Holy Roman Empire and the kingdom of Sicily a dangerous encirclement of the Papal States that threatened to make the Christian establishment an appendage of a secular government. Anyone who ruled the two most populous and wealthy parts of Europe--Germany and Italy--and furthermore surrounded the papacy, could force the Church to do his bidding. Innocent, therefore, decided to end the union of Germany and Italy--at least, the union of Sicily with the Holy Roman Empire--and made only a pretense of neutrality until he could obtain a promise from one of the candidates to separate those states. Whichever candidate was willing to do that, his representatives hinted, could expect papal recognition. But since neither Philip nor Otto was willing to make sweeping concessions concerning Italy, Innocent began to organize those Italians who valued their civic independence and freedom from imperial taxes. This complicated the German civil war and made it into a European conflict. The war occupied the nobles of Germany for a decade and a half.

The nobles switched from side to side in hopes of bettering themselves or when faced by no alternative, and they thought of little besides politics. The peasantry and burghers, on the other hand, saw the war only as a nuisance. Still, the conflict was not serious enough to prevent a river of immigrants from flowing toward the east to settle in Poland or fleets of merchants from opening new markets in the Baltic. Nor did it prevent a great flowering of German poetry, which bloomed amid the courts where the patrons gathered to discuss politics.(12)

German National Pride

This era saw the first full bloom of German feudalism--a development which would last longer and be more important perhaps than the party conflicts over the crown. Friedrich Barbarossa had established feudalism as a replacement for imperial control over the Church on which earlier emperors had based their authority. Friedrich was determined to rule through his vassals. This would be possible, he thought, if no one family was strong enough to dominate the others--the interests of the lesser counts and prelates would be to prevent the rise of any prince who might challenge imperial authority; peace and order were always in the interests of the weaker territorial rulers. Friedrich's policy had required a generation to mature, but it had required bringing down the proud Welf family. While this humiliated the Welfs and their supporters, it gave a new pride and importance to the minor nobles who had traveled into Italy and to the Holy Land, and, having brought back new clothes, new manners, and a new literature, lost much of their awkward provincialism. They were proud of themselves, of what they had accomplished, and of what they yet expected to do. Moreover, they saw themselves increasingly as models that others should copy, foreigners as well as the lower orders of nobles and knights. This was part pride, part vanity, and part Christian idealism. Also it was curiously naive. Knowing that they had not reached the level of the sophisticated Italians or French, many petty German nobles took refuge in their native simplicity and praised themselves for their superior "virtue." This made them more aware of being German and also proud of it. Some might say that this is a peculiarly German characteristic even to the present day. At least it is a point raised by those who discuss the German "soul," that is, that which makes a German German. Certainly in the thirteenth century the Germans were technologically advanced, hard-working, enterprising, capable, warlike, active in speculative philosophy, and driven by a religious idealism that was generally fundamentalist and practical but that occasionally went to extremes. It was a curious combination of characteristics which permeated that rapidly evolving society; it was particularly strong among those nobles whose principal reason for existence was (aside from war) to serve as models for Christian gentlemen. Although the connotations of the word are perhaps too French and more appropriate to a later era, we could call this combination of cultural traits Chivalry.

Tempting as it is to view all European nobles through the familiar prism of French aristocracy, this would be very misleading for Germany. The true nobles were powerful political leaders, knights were often of common ancestry--descendants of free warriors, rich burghers who could afford armor, even serfs of outstanding individual ability.(13) This meant that the class of knights were burdened by innate feelings of inferiority, complicated by the fact that many were indeed the equal of French knights or even their own lords in terms of manners, appreciation of the arts, patriotism and religious piety. Sometimes in terms of real power, too.

There was a general feeling of genuine self-satisfaction in Germany. Superiority would be too strong a word, because the Germans recognized their cultural inferiority. They were happy with their food, their wine, their rather rough and stolid sense of humor, and their virtue. They felt uncomfortable abroad and would have been happier if everyone else were more like themselves. The greatest poet of the era, Walther von der Vogelweide, summed it up thus:

From the Elbe to the Rhine and then back to Hungary, are the best people I have known in all the world. Judging by looks and politeness, by God, I swear that the women are better than elsewhere. German men are gentlemen, but the women are really angels. Whoever complains is crazy--I cannot explain it otherwise. Whoever seeks Virtue and True Love should come to our country. There is much here. Long may I live there.(14)

Because the civil wars were not viciously fought and did little to harm the basic prosperity of the era, the general mood was optimistic. Everyone believed that a great future lay ahead, that once the civil war was ended and peace reestablished, Germany would rise to meet its true destiny as the leader of Christendom. For years to come that dream would be frustrated because no party was strong enough to win the contest decisively; the papacy was always there to revive the discontented, and the kings of France, England, and Denmark mixed into German affairs repeatedly; consequently, when peace finally came it, it appeared as a series of false dawns, and it did not bring the expected benefits. Except in those parts of the Rhineland and Italy where the fighting had been concentrated, the casual observer might not even note that the civil war had ended. There was no strong royal government, no end to private warfare, and no removal of foreign domination from those parts of the country where neighboring monarchs had established spheres of influence.

The ultimate victor was Friedrich II, who grew into a young man during the contested reigns of Philip and Otto. In the end he was the only candidate, and since he had been reared as King of Sicily--a land Innocent III had insisted was his in order to deny it to Philip and Otto--he could not be stripped of it now. Pope Innocent and his successor, Honorius III, could do little except hope for the best--a dispirited hope that hardly squared with personal interviews and countless reports of the youth's dangerous ideas and life style. Everyone who met Friedrich conceded that he was brilliant. That only made him all the more dangerous.

Germany without Leadership

Friedrich spent several years in Germany after defeating his enemies in 1215, but when he returned to the more hospitable climate of Italy, he remained there except for one triumphal tour north of the Alps. He saw the limitations of governing from Germany. In the kingdom of Sicily he saw the potential for making that rich and populous land into a model state. Because he believed that anyone remaining in Germany would never be more than an ordinary feudal monarch, continually wrestling with quarrelsome vassals, constraining customs and ancient laws, and papal pretensions, he ignored Germany with the thought that he would get to its problems later, if and when he found the time.(15) His friends protested his lack of interest, especially his ignoring Danish aggression, but they had to concede that whatever the problems of Germany were, those of Italy were more serious.(16)

As a result of this neglect of business north of the Alps, which became even worse after the imperial visit in 1235 because of his quarrel with Popes Gregory IX and Innocent IV, there was little leadership or even supervision in Germany. Each principality was governed by its duke, count, bishop, or abbot for his own benefit, often just as each petty ruler had done during the civil war. Private warfare abounded. City republics sprang up and flourished. The Holy Roman Empire was a garden without a gardener. Flowers came up, but also weeds. Both grew wildly and fought to monopolize the sunlight. For practical purposes the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist. Because the nobles had already seen periods of impotence from which the Empire had recovered--and because there was every reason to believe that the present situation would improve--they did not realize how far the decline of royal authority had gone.

In England, which had long-standing ties to the Welf party, the crown was able to reorganize after its humiliation by Innocent, rebuilding royal authority on the basis of Parliament and the courts. This was a national policy, which permitted the king to bypass the troublesome vassals and clergy to a certain extent. In contrast, Friedrich II made little effort to emulate this policy, if he was even aware of it.(17) In France, the king, Philip Augustus, recovered from his humiliations at the hands of Innocent IV, to defeat Otto IV and King John in battle, seize Normandy, and organize a strong feudal state with the king as the acknowledged leader of his country. This example, too, was lost on Friedrich II.

There were significant changes occurring in the so-called lower orders in Germany, the burghers and peasantry. The rise of cities and the collapse of the classical manor made possible a social mobility and an increasing wealth that could have been harnessed to imperial leadership if the imagination and daring had been present. But it was not. Such royal leadership as existed concentrated on Italy.(18)

As royal influence declined and eventually disappeared, the history of Germany became that of the individual princely state and free city, a chaotic collection of several hundred political units of varying sizes. This disorder appalled both contemporaries and the historians of later epochs. It ran contrary to that desire for order and organic unity that was such an essential part of the German character. As Germans then saw the universe, it was organized on a feudal basis, with God the Father in heaven ruling through his chief officials, the Pope and the Emperor, each of whom had a feudal hierarchy subordinated to him. Each person on earth and each angel and saint in heaven had his place and his duty, each subject to a distant and glorious ruler who concerned himself, through his vassals, about even the lowest of his subjects. God, like the Emperor, was almost unapproachable, but his presence was unmistakable. Friedrich II, however, was not a concerned and loving ruler, and he was so distant that his vassals in Germany learned to follow their own instincts rather than turn to him for guidance. This upset the divine arrangement that alone could provide sure justice and the defense of the right.(19)

In this new and disordered world, the strongest took power. The stronger vassals were all found in the eastern part of Germany. The older states of the west had been subdivided among heirs until no larger territories remained; although the same process was unfolding in the east, so recently had the land there been taken from the Slavs that several large counties and duchies remained. Moreover, these had formerly been almost unpopulated, and now they were being filled with settlers from the west. What had been vast expanses of wilderness were now fields lying side by side, long orderly villages that stretched along the roads that led to the newly founded cities, and the refuge of flourishing monastic communities. Formerly poverty-stricken princes were now wealthy from taxes and powerful with knights and ministeriales who had enrolled in their service.(20)

This eastern portion of Germany was divided into two parts: that north of the Elbe River, which had fallen under Danish control when the empire of Heinrich the Lion had collapsed, and that to the south, which remained independent.

                                    Danish Germany

The most prominent northern states were Holstein, Mecklenburg, Schwerin, and the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. From 1200 to 1223 they were vassals of the Danish crown. Under the leadership of King Waldemar II,(21) they contributed much to the crusade to Livonia. Private warfare ceased, trade boomed, and the cities, in particular, grew in size, number, and wealth. This came to an end in 1223 when Count Heinrich of Schwerin(22) kidnaped the king in a private quarrel, held him prisoner for almost three years, and thereby brought about the collapse of the Danish empire. In 1225 the rebels of Holstein, Mecklenburg, Schwerin, and the Archbishop defeated the Counts of Braunschweig and Anhalt who were related to Waldemar II and two years later defeated the forces led by the King, who had been released by the Pope from his promises not to seek to recover his lost territories.(23)

Waldemar's great empire was lost in the ensuing battle. The King observed the peace settlement and lived quietly until 1242, apparently resigned to his fate. His sons, however, were ambitious to lead Denmark to greatness again, and their efforts to restore royal authority led to a half-century of internal turmoil. There were three paramount issues in that civil conflict: the rights of the free peasantry, the relationship of the Church to the crown, and the status of Schleswig, which Waldemar had given to a younger son who had married into the hostile dynasty of neighboring Holstein. The alliance of Holstein and Schleswig reflected an ancient Angle and Saxon unity that tended to draw that important Danish province into the Holy Roman Empire, something that the successive kings were determined to prevent.

The Schauenburg dynasty that returned to Holstein in 1227 never recovered the power it held before Waldemar had sent it into exile. The Count participated in and encouraged the crusade to Livonia, but his successors were active only in wars against Danes and Danish allies. With one great exception--Bruno, the son who became the Bishop of Olmütz (Olomouc) in Moravia.(24)

Mecklenburg was divided among the four grandsons of the Slavic Obodrite duke, so that from 1227 on there were four small states. These were rapidly settled by immigrants from Holstein and Westphalia, who almost completely Germanized the country. Other than the ruling family and the nobility, only pockets of the original population remained. The cities of Rostock and Wismar, founded only a few years earlier, were already prominent in Baltic trade.(25)

Count Heinrich of Schwerin gained little from his military successes because he died soon afterward and his widow did not know how to retain the advantages he had won. When his son reached maturity he mixed in Mecklenburg affairs and little else, as was prudent for the count of such a small and weak state.(26)

The Archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen passed from the possession of the zu Lippe family to that of the Oldenburgs, and, consequently, the long-time interest in the crusade to Livonia lapsed. The new archbishop concerned himself with purely local affairs. Related to the duchess of Holstein, he helped in the defense of that country against the Danes. The financial problems he inherited from his predecessors were complicated by the expenses he incurred in building a cathedral in Bremen and in wars against his own subjects.(27)

The cities that eventually formed the heart of the Hanseatic League--Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck--became free in 1227 and remained so by a combination of courage, intelligent politics, and luck. Because they were so small--only a few thousand citizens each--they could not be compared to the Italian cities, and it would be easy to overestimate their importance. Nevertheless, because they had ships and money, they dominated the ever richer trade across the North Sea and the Baltic. Even the most powerful nobles made efforts to win and keep their friendship.(28)

All of these northern states were more interested in Baltic affairs than what was going on to the south in Germany. Their crusaders went almost exclusively to Livonia, which was readily accessible by ship in the summertime. Only after the Prussian cities became important trade centers did they have much to do with the crusade that is the subject of this book.

(A section on minor German states is omitted here)

Friedrich II

Friedrich was the only child of the Emperor-elect Heinrich VI and his wife Constance, heiress of Sicily. As noted earlier, his father died when Friedrich was but two and the German nobles passed over him to elect his uncle Philip of Swabia as Holy Roman Emperor. That was only wise and prudent, because family enemies had already put forward a son of Heinrich the Lion as a rival for the crown; urging the Pope to acknowledge the Welf candidate as Otto IV, for they knew that Innocent III would like to weaken the Hohenstaufens as much as possible. There remained to Friedrich only the kingdom of Sicily, which was governed by administrators who often did not have the interests of the young Hohenstaufen at heart.

Under the guardianship of Pope Innocent III, young Friedrich learned to trust no man, lay or cleric, and he later made it a principle of business to assume that everyone wanted to take advantage of him and that everyone acted without principles, just as he had often observed them to act during his youth. He did not know his uncle, Philip of Swabia, but he knew well that he had been murdered by Otto of Wittelsbach, the Count Palatine of Bavaria in 1208; he drew the lesson that a king without a strong bodyguard can have but a short reign, and therefore he surrounded himself with Islamic guards (who had the extra advantages of being exotic--increasing Friedrich's own aura of mystery and power--and immune to churchmen's threats). Despite his unsettled early life, he received a good education: Friedrich could discuss philosophy, religion, politics, and literature with the greatest experts; his poetry was outstanding; and his linguistic skill was extraordinary (he spoke Italian, Arabic, Greek, Latin, German, and French). He despised his vast and distant northern lands and loved only Sicily with its favorable climate, its heterogeneous population of Arabs, Greeks, Normans, and Italians, and especially its strong central government, the creation of the Norman kings.

It was this kingdom of Sicily, composed of Italy south of the Papal States and the island of Sicily, that was the principal obstacle to papal approval of either of the candidates elected by the German princes. Neither wanted to lose that prized kingdom. Later, when faced by military defeat, Otto IV declared himself willing to make the sacrifice, after which he quickly obtained papal recognition and the considerable support of the Church in the civil war. But after Otto became Emperor-elect, he showed his true feelings by invading Sicily in an effort to reannex it to the imperial crown. This betrayal caused Innocent to excommunicate him and look about for someone who could be raised up in his place. The only suitable candidate was Friedrich. This was not a pleasing choice for the Pope, Friedrich being a lawful heir to both the Holy Roman Empire and the kingdom of Sicily, but there was at least a chance that Friedrich would prove to be more trustworthy than the faith-breaking Otto. Friedrich's wife, the daughter of the King of Aragon, was opposed to the venture, but Friedrich saw little choice--and he never listened to women. To survive he had to beat the Welf.

The Pope rallied a number of nobles to hold a hurried election in Germany and Friedrich set out on the dangerous journey to accept the crown, traveling from Rome to Genoa by sea, and thence over the mountains to Constance. In late 1212 the eighteen-year-old ruler was crowned German king in Mainz. After initial skirmishing, Otto gave up hope of holding any part of Germany except his lands around Braunschweig and concentrated on knocking out Friedrich's French ally, King Philip Augustus. However, it was the French monarch who carried off the victory at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214. Otto was constrained to abdicate. In 1215 Friedrich was crowned in Aachen, this time with universal recognition, and there he took a fateful vow to undertake a crusade to the Holy Land.

Although Friedrich spent the next five years in Germany, he accomplished little. To a certain extent he restored peace and order, but he was unable to reward his friends and punish his enemies as he was free to do in Sicily. In Sicily he was an authoritarian monarch, able to do much as he pleased; in Germany he was only a feudal king, hampered by law, tradition, and the necessity to obtain the consent of the nobles for even the most trifling innovation. Germany was cold and wet, Sicily was warm and dry; Germany had apples, Sicily citrus fruits; German women wore heavy woolen and linen clothing, Italians seductive silks. Even today Germans on holiday flock to the south, while Italians stay home; and today there is no fearful journey across the Alps to endure. Friedrich's decision to stay in Naples and Palermo is entirely understandable.

In 1220 Friedrich withdrew to Italy, leaving the government of Germany to his minor son Heinrich and his regents. Among his last acts was the granting of many imperial rights and privileges to the ecclesiastics in the empire. This was an act of far-sighted policy, not a mere ploy to win episcopal loyalty during his absence. He was establishing a more uniform system of government and eliminating exceptions. However, in making practices more uniform he was also renouncing aspects of royal authority necessary to traditional feudal government.(38)

In November of 1220 Friedrich was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Honorius III, who was friendly toward the brilliant but unconventional young man who knelt before him.(39) As the impressive ceremony was conducted, no one thought that it would be the last such imperial coronation by a Pope in Rome for many years. Friedrich quickly showed how little interest he had in tradition and duty by his lack of enthusiasm for crusading. The Pope was only expressing the general feeling of the people by urging him to hurry to Egypt to rescue the Fifth Crusade, which was bleeding to death at Damietta. Friedrich was the only person who could bring order to the quarreling ranks of the crusaders, and it seemed that even a small reinforcement might save the crusade and turn imminent defeat into the greatest success that the westerners had had in a century. But he refused to sail there, claiming that he had to right the confused situation in Sicily before he did anything else. The crusade was subsequently a disaster, and Friedrich was blamed for it.

Once in Sicily, Friedrich subdued the semi-independent counts and nobles, then built castles at strategic points, and filled them with garrisons loyal to him personally. He built up an elite corps of mercenaries, the main body of which were Arabs. These he settled in Lucania with their families practically as hostages, so that they were dependent upon his favor. He surrounded himself with oriental luxury and splendor so that he could be approached only with great ceremony and deference, and he provided himself secretly with a harem. He enforced the religious laws to the letter, rooting out heresy as mercilessly as any bigot, but he allowed complete religious freedom to Moslems and Jews. In 1224 he founded the University of Naples and used it to train bureaucrats for his government. The lawyers who graduated from the university became paid administrators in the most centralized state of that era.(40) Feudal practices did not disappear, but they became irrelevant. Friedrich's despotism, his state, and his support of the arts and trade became the model for the Italian Renaissance despots of a later century.

Because Friedrich was so occupied with his reorganization of the kingdom, he could not make good his crusading vow. The delays were tolerated by Pope Honorius, although reluctantly. If the Emperor had sailed to Damietta, he might have saved the crusade and recovered Jerusalem.

Although the opportunity had passed, the next Pope, the aged Gregory IX, would not tolerate further delays in the fulfillment of the crusading vow. This terrible old man saw more danger in Friedrich than did others. He saw the despot, the criminal who respected neither God nor man, the oriental potentate who would destroy the liberties of all free men. He saw in him the Anti-Christ, the bitter enemy of the Church, the agnostic who laughed at all that Gregory held for pious and just. The Pope ordered Friedrich to sail not so much for the salvation of the Holy Land or the Emperor's soul as much as to hinder Friedrich's plans to reorganize all his territories on the Sicilian model.

Friedrich reluctantly complied with the papal orders. He began his preparations for a crusade but did it so slowly that the Pope believed him guilty of purposeful delay, delay in hope that Gregory would die and that his successor would allow a further postponement of the task. At last, in 1227, Friedrich sailed from Brindisi. Three days later he was back. Plague had broken out on board. Friedrich was ill, and Count Louis of Thuringia was dead. The Emperor dismissed his troops, saying that it was necessary to delay the crusade until the spring of 1228.(41)

Friedrich II's Conflict with Pope Gregory IX

Pope Gregory was furious, and in his fury he excommunicated Friedrich for failure to fulfill his crusading vow. In a manner increasingly typical for him, Friedrich refused to sue for papal forgiveness, but went on crusade in the spring of 1228 while still under the ban. This arrogance gave those many persons in the Holy Land who feared his ambition--he also held the title King of Jerusalem, the dowry of his latest bride--an excuse to refuse him help and even to fight against him. Not only did he sail on crusade while excommunicated, Friedrich did not win the Holy City by force of arms; instead, he chose to treat with the enemy. He sat down with the calif of Egypt, discussed Arab philosophy, and came away with a treaty that restored Jerusalem to the Christians. Those crusaders who had fought hard and unsuccessfully for decades regarded this treaty as a slight and pointed out that Friedrich had not acquired even one of the defensive sites needed to protect Jerusalem from attack. The Patriarch of Jerusalem refused to ring the bells or sing a Thanksgiving mass, and the nobles remained absent from his court.

While the imperial army was away from Sicily, Pope Gregory angrily raised an army and invaded Friedrich's kingdom. The imperial officials wrote him to hurry home. He did so, abandoning most of his projects, which, in any case, were becoming increasingly untenable. Once back in Italy, he defeated the papal army and recovered the lost provinces, but he refrained from entering the Papal States, a act that helped his friend and advisor, Hermann von Salza, Grandmaster of the Teutonic Order, to reconcile him with the Pope to the extent that the excommunication was lifted.

The Emperor turned from war to lawmaking. In 1231 he published the Constitution of Melfi, the first codified law system of any European state since Justinian. Its provisions established once and for all the absolutist system that he had been creating in Sicily. In a similar manner, he gave feudal Germany the Constitution in Favor of the Princes, a document that listed the powers which those rulers could exercise in their territories to bring peace, justice, and order to the realm. This reduced further the number of exceptions found in feudal law but also increased the autonomy of the princes or legalized the rights they had been exercising for many years. Two years later he granted greater liberties to the German cities, making them dependent on the Emperor alone. In practice this meant that they were independent, because he did not make the effort to bend them to the imperial will--as he was doing with the Italian cities--and use their revenues to reestablish royal authority.

Few understood what Friedrich was doing. Not even his son Heinrich, King of Germany, understood. Heinrich remonstrated with his father, arguing that the Emperor was dissipating what little remained of royal authority. Friedrich was not concerned. He held no love for feudalism. He saw justice and beauty only in uniformity and order. He would create this order, this uniformity, in the state wherever he could. He was too wise to introduce new practices into Germany--there he would only confirm past usages and extend them to all the princes so that everyone would know what was permitted and what was not. For the Germans, order and uniformity had to be confirmed by tradition; for Italians it was proof that man was master of his own fate. Therefore, Friedrich's real work was in Italy, where there were educated men, rich merchants, and willing soldiers in far greater numbers than in Germany. There, where people understood him better, he built his new state. Of Germany he wanted only peace, some money, and some recruits for his army. Most of all, he wanted the Germans to leave him alone.(42)

1. For earlier contests between Christians and Pagans, see Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen (trans. Francis J.Tschan. New York: Columbia, 1959); The Crusades, 14-16, 21, for this and the essential difference between a pilgrimage and a crusade--the bearing of arms; for the Danish activities, see The Baltic Crusade, 15-17, 61-62, 93-94, and Edgar Anderson, "Early Danish Missionaries in the Baltic Countries," Gli Inizi del Cristianesimo in Livonia-Lettonia (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 1989), 256-276.

2. The Northern Crusades, 61.

3. Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades. A Short History (New Haven and London: Yale, 1987), 94-98, 102-103; Feudal Germany, II, 408, 436-446, 536-537

4. Northern Crusades, 72-73; The Making of Europe, 22-23, 192, 228, 259-260, 265-266.

5. For these destructive acts Thompson strongly disagrees with the generally favorable view of Barbarossa as one of Germany's greatest rulers. Feudal Germany, I, 276-279, 285-291. More recent historians see Heinrich's Germany-first policies as a threat to the unity of the empire, but are not in agreement as to whether he would have created a "German" state. Heinrich, like his contemporaries, was a medieval ruler who cared little what language his subjects spoke, as long as they paid taxes and performed military service. For Heinrich the Lion (1129-1195), ADB, XI, 589-601.

6. A more thorough examination of German kingship is Hanna Vollrath, "Ideal and Reality in Twelfth-Century Germany," England and Germany, 93-104; David Abulafia, Frederick II, a Medieval Emperor (London: Penguin, 1988), 67-86. The title is important, suggesting as it does that Friedrich II was not an unusual, Renaissance-style monarch, but a traditional Hohenstaufen.

7. Rudolf Hiestand, "Kingship and Crusade in Twelfth-Century Germany," England and Germany, 240-241, 248, 253, 255-261; The Crusades, 134-139.

8. Peter Munz, Frederick Barbarossa (London: Eyre and Spottiswood, 1969); good background, especially for northern Germany, is in James Westfall Thompson, Feudal Germany; and a thoughtful analysis of medieval German history is Geoffrey Barraclough, The Origins of Modern Germany, 167-246; Thomas Curtis Van Cleve, The Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), 1-9.

9. Austin Poole, "Philip of Swabia and Otto IV," Cambridge Medieval History, VI, 44-60.

10. It would be more accurate to call Friedrich by his Italian name, Frederico, than the German Friedrich or the English Frederick, because it would indicate more accurately the center of his realm and his life-long interest, but it would be too confusing to readers accustomed to the latter names.

11. The assembly (diet) of all the nobles and prelates of the Empire (the Reich). Only the most prominent nobles and churchmen were allowed to act as Electors, but the number was not yet fixed (as it later was by Charles IV, at seven, in the Golden Bull).

12. Central Europe, 22-24, 30-32, for an excellent overview of the German "Drive to the South"; Karl-Friedrich Krieger, "Obligatory Military Service and the Use of Mercenaries in Imperial Campaigns under the Hohenstaufen Emperors," England and Germany, 151-168, for the failure of royal efforts to make vassals and ministeriales acknowledge the primacy of imperial rights (especially military service); also The Making of Europe, 176, 179-182, 191-194.

13. See Feudal Germany, 325-337, for a somewhat dated but spirited description of the rise of this new class of "parvenus, men of low birth, without family pride, and actuated by grossly materialistic motives and ambitions, without the culture and the idealism of the French noblesse." Better are the analyses following the lead of Marc Bloch, Feudal Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), II, 336-344, describing the problems that even contemporaries had in deciding whether any one outstanding man of ministeriale origin might be considered noble.

14. "Von der Elbe unz an den Rin." One of his most popular patriotic poems and found in countless editions of Walther's works.

15. Leo Stern and Horst Gericke, Deutschland in der Feudalepoche von der Mitte des 11. Jr. bis zur Mitte des 13. Jr. (Berlin: Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1964), 151-246.

16. Albrecht II of Brandenburg tried to prevent King Waldemar from occupying the entire region north of the Elbe, but failed. In 1218 he gave up the struggle and became, for all practical purposes, a Danish vassal. Brandenburg, 112-117.

17. David Carpenter, "England in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries," England and Germany, 105-125, showing how royal authority in thirteenth-century England declined; Susan Reyonold, "English Towns," Ibid., 276-282.

18. Werner Rösener, "The Decline of the Classic Manor in Germany during the High Middle Ages," England and Germany, 317-321, 324-327; Hermann Jakobs, "Aspects of Urban Social History in Salian and Staufen Germany," Ibid., 288, 294-295, with a survey of recent scholarship, 296-298.

19. It is common to think of Friedrich as a modern ruler, one who valued rationality and self-interest above religion and superstition. But he is also the man who avoided attacking Florence because he had been warned he would die there. On his deathbed he asked the name of the southern Italian village where his party had stopped; upon being told that it was "Florence," he resigned himself to his fate with a few appropriate words. In short, he was a part of the intellectual world of mystery, magic, a belief in unseen but active powers.

20. Benjamin Arnold, Count and Bishop in Medieval Germany. A Study of Regional Power, 1100-1350 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 69-71, 79; his German Knighthood, 1050-1300 (New York: Oxford, 1985); and his Princes and Territories in medieval Germany (Cambridge: University Press, 1991); Richard Barber, The Knight and Chivalry (New York: Harper, 1982), 25-31; The Making of Europe, 24, and elsewhere through the text.

21. Waldemar the Victorious 1170-1241, married 1205 Margarete, daughter of King Pemysl Ottokar of Bohemia, 1212 Berengaria, daughter of King Sancho of Portugal. Three of his sons would follow him as King of Denmark. William Urban, "Valdemar II" Great Lives from History: Ancient and Medieval Series (Frank Magill, ed. 5 vols. Engelwood Cliffs, New Jersey: Salem Press, 1988), V, 2202-5

22. Heinrich (1187-1228) was minor count, but possessed a strategic territory. This German dynasty, the German bishops of Schwerin, and the German burghers of the city were important in supporting the dukes of Mecklenburg in their policies of reorganizing their lands after the defeat of paganism in the Wendish crusade. Heinrich married Margarethe of Schlawe in 1218, daughter of Bogislaw of Pomerania. He deeply resented Danish policies which not only barred him from acquiring lands and influence in the east, but seemed to be aimed at depriving him of the few possessions he had.

23. Annales Danici Medii aevi (ed. Ellen Jørgensen. Copenhagen: Gad, 1920), 107; Richard Hausmann, Das Ringen der Deutschen und Dänen um den Besitz Estland bis 1227 (Leipzig, 1870); Rudolf Usinger, Deutsch-dänische Geschichte, 1189-1227, 287-399; the Teutonic Knights would become involved when Friedrich II asked Grandmaster Hermann von Salza to travel to northern Germany and arrange for Waldemar's ransom. Hochmeister Hermann von Salza, 39-45.

24. Geschichte der deutschen Länder, I, 421-426, excepts of which are in Schleswig-Holsteinische Geschichte--ein Überblick (2nd enlarged edition. Ed. Alexander Scharff. Würzburg: Ploetz, 1966). Bruno became Bishop in 1246 and lived until 1281.

25. August Rudolff, Geschichte Mecklenburgs vom Tode Viclots bis zur Schlacht bei Bornhoeved (Berlin: Wilhelm Susserot, 1901), 111-161; William Urban, "The Wendish princes and the 'Drang nach Osten'," JBS, 9 (1978), 225-224; Feudal Germany, II, 504-508, 557-558; The Making of Europe, 180-181, 274-277.

26. Witte, Mecklenburgische Geschichte, I, 149-160; Pagel, Mecklenburg, 52-59; L. Fromm, Chronik der Haupt und Residenzstadt Schwerin (Schwerin: Oertzen, 1862), 28ff.

27. The Baltic Crusade, 7-8, 13, 48-50, 72, 85-87.

28. Wilson King, Chronicles of Three Free Cities: Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck (London: Dent, 1914) is a readable, popular summary of this history; Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, 195-206, for the scant knowledge of the Baltic before this era.

29. The Baltic Crusade, 5-16, 111-112; The Northern Crusades, 62-64; Die Mark Brandenburg, 28-32, 169-171; The Making of Europe, 31-39.

30. Die Mark Brandenburg, 42-45, with much more detail throughout the rest of the book regarding settlement, religious activity, governmental jurisdictions than about politics; Schultze, Brandenburg 72-83, 111-140; Historia Pomorze, II, 65-68, 139-140; Friedrich Ludwig Carstens, The Origins of Prussia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), 1-51; Feudal Germany, II, 447-448; ADB, XIV, 151-152.

31. Karl Demandt, Geschichte des Landes Hessen (2nd ed. Kassel-Basel: Bärenreiter, 1972), 169-184; Karl Herzog, Geschichte des Thuringischen Volkes (Hamburg: Friedrich Perthes, 1827), 215-289.

32. Die Mark Brandenburg, 17-21,46, 51-52; Geschichte der deutschen Länder, I, 476-478; Rudolf Koetzschke, Deutsche und Slaven im mitteldeutschen Osten (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1961), 113-149; ADB, XI, 544-546.

33. Hans Silbertorth, "Erzbischof Albrecht II von Magdeburg," Geschichtsblätter für Stadt und Land Magdeburg, 45(1910); Geschichte der Deutschen Länder, 503-504; Brandenburg, 136-140.

34. His sons Heinrich (1170-1252) and Albrecht (-1261) were major players in imperial politics. Heinrich was a supporter of Philip of Hohenstaufen, husband of Irmigard of Thuringia and guardian of Johann and Otto of Brandenburg, ADB, XI, 449-450.

35. Karl Richter, "Die böhmischen Länder im Früh- und Hochmittelalters," in Handbuch der Geschichte der böhmischen Länder (ed. Karl Bosl. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1967), I, 272ff; Adolf Bachmann, Geschichte Böhmens (Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1899), I, 427-495; Feudal Germany, II, 630-639.

36. Adolf Ficker, Herzog Friedrich II, der letzten Babenberger (Innsbruck: Wagner, 1884).

37. Otto Stolz, Geschichte des Landes Tirol (Innsbruck-Wien-München: Tyrolia, 1955), 442-447.

38. Ernst Kantorowicz, Frederick the Second, 1194-1250 (trans. E.O. Lorimer. New York: R.R. Smith, 1931) and Georgina Mason, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (London: Secker and Warburg, 1957).

39. Friedrich's marriage (1210-1222) to Constance, daughter of King Alphonso of Aragon, produced one son, Heinrich, who was married to a daughter of Leopold of Austria. His marriage (1225-1228) to Yolanthe, daughter of Jean of Brienne, brought him a claim to the kingdom of Jerusalem, and produced one son, Konrad, who married a daughter of Otto of Bavaria. His marriage (1235-1241) to Isabella, daughter of King John of England, produced Margarethe, who married Count Albrecht of Thuringia. More important were his numerous illegitimate children, especially Heinrich, Enzio and Manfred, who were given important posts in Friedrich's Sicilian government.

40. England and France also had centralized governments, but Magna Carta had limited the perogatives of the English crown, and the rulers in London and Paris during the middle of the thirteenth century were not impressive figures.

41. The Crusades, 222-225.

42. Van Cleve, Frederick II, 102-106, 116-120.