History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Frederick I, Redbeard

Thus once again there was wrath and bitterness betweenthe houses of Welf and Waiblingen. But meantime the Emperor could but nurse his wrath, and he returned to fight his Italian foes with such troops as he could muster.

On May 29, 1176, the battle of Legnano was fought. And although the gallant little army did great deeds of valour, the Germans were utterly defeated. The Emperor himself was in the thickest of the fight. His standard-bearer was killed, and he himself struck from his horse, and the fighting host swept over him. As the Emperor was no more to be seen, the terrible news that hewas killed spread through all the host, and in mad panic the Germans fled.

The generals tried to rally the men. But it was in vain. Each man thought only of saving himself, and fled in wild panic towards Pavia.

There the sad remnant of the army gathered to mourn their lost leader. The Empress wept and put on mourning garments. But in vain they sought his dead body among the slain. Then, greatly to the joy of all, after three days Barbarossa suddenly appeared before the gates of Pavia.

Although wounded and bruised and left for dead Frederick had not been killed. He had recovered himself, and in the darkness of the night had crept to a place of safety, and there he had remained until it was safe for him to join his friends.

Battle of Legnano


The battle of Legnano was a turning-point in Barbarossa's reign. He saw that it was useless to fight longer against the spirit of freedom which had grown up among the great Italian cities. So he made up his mind to make peace with them. He acknowledged their right to govern themselves and choose their own magistrates, keeping over them only a vague title of Emperor. He also gave up the cause of the rival Pope, and made friends with Alexander III, who removed the ban of excommunication from him.

Having thus made peace in Italy, Barbarossa returned to Germany. He had been away four years, and he found that many of the great nobles had quarrelled among themselves, disturbing the peace of the land. Above all, he found Henry the Lion at war with many of the lesser nobles. Many of these nobles now came before the Emperor to complain of the oppression of the great Duke.

Barbarossa too had somewhat against the Lion; he had not forgotten the day upon which he had knelt in vain, and he commanded the Duke to appear before him to answer for his misdeeds. Henry did not come.

Four times he was commanded to come. Four times he refused. Then the Emperor declared Henry the Lion to be an outlaw. All his lands and possessions were taken from him, his vassals were freed of their oaths to him, and his life was at the mercy of any who chose to take it.

Undismayed at the Emperor's wrath, Henry prepared for war. So once more the smouldering hate between Welf and Waiblingen leapt up in flames. Many battles had Barbarossa fought in Italy. But against his own people his sword had scarce been drawn. Now he made ready to draw it, not only against his own people but against his own cousin and life-long friend.

Soon through all the land the noise of war spread; armies marched to and fro, battles were fought, towns and castles were taken and retaken.

Henry was so powerful that it seemed at first doubtful which side would win. But in the days of his greatness Henry's pride had made for him many enemies. Now one by one many left his side and joined that of the Emperor. Others who had promised help did not send it. Loss after loss fell upon him. At length, unable to hold out longer, he yielded, and throwing himself at the Emperor's feet, begged forgiveness.

With tears in his eyes the Emperor raised him. "You are the creator of your own misfortune," he said, and kissed him.

But even though Barbarossa forgave Henry he could not raise him to his former power. For the nobles were against him. So, although some land was still left to him, both his dukedoms were taken from him, and he was banished for three years.

With his wife and children he went to England to the court of his father-in-law, Henry II. And it is interesting to remember that in England his son William was born. It is from this son that our own King George V is descended.

Since the destruction of Milan Frederick had won no such victory as he had now won over his greatest vassal. All the power he had lost in Italy he had more than regained in Germany.

Now there followed a time of peace and splendour. Barbarossa made another journey to Italy, but this time he went, not intent on war, but on peace. Both by the cities and by the Pope he was greeted in friendly fashion. Even with the King of Sicily there was peace, and Barbarossa's son Henry was married to the Princess Constance of Sicily.

But now from the East there came terrible news. The Holy Land was once more in the hands of the Turks. The Christian kingdom of Jerusalem lay in ruins.

Once more a crusade was preached. In England Richard Coeur de Lion, in France Philip Augustus, took the Cross. Frederick Redbeard, old man though he was, followed their example; and leaving his son to rule, he set out for the Holy Land with a great army.

Through many dangers, hardships, and disappointments, the great army fought its way onward. But Barbarossa never saw Jerusalem. In Asia Minor the army had to cross a river swollen by the rain. There was only one bridge, and the Emperor, becoming impatient at the slow passage, urged his horse into the river and tried to swim across. But the stream was too strong, he was swept away by it and was drowned. His knights and nobles tried to save him, but in vain, and it was only a dead body that they drew at length from the swirling waters.

Sorrowfully the army now went forward, carrying the dead body of their Emperor, and led by his young son, also called Frederick. But young Frederick too died before Palestine was reached. Already many of the great host had perished on the way, far more by famine and plague than by the sword. Now many more, utterly disheartened, returned homeward; only a few reached the Promised Land, and joined the English and French at the siege of Acre.

Somewhere in the wastes of Asia Minor the bones of the great Emperor were laid to rest. But no one knows certainly where they were laid. And as he died so far away, and was buried no man knew where, the German people refused to believe that he was really dead. So there arose a legend that he was only resting, weary of his great labours, and that one day he would come again.

In a cave within the hill of Kyffhausen, it is said, he sits upon an ivory chair asleep, his head pillowed upon a great marble table, through which his beard has grown. Peacefully he sleeps, but when danger threatens the Fatherland he stirs uneasily. Then those who listen may hear the clash and clang of armour. Sometimes, too, the sound of chant and psalm, the roll of organ music, may be heard to come from that magic cave.

And ever round the summit of the hill black ravens fly. Day by day in silent mysterious circles they sweep. But when they cease their circling flight, it is said, Barbarossa will awake. Forth from his cave he will stride, and hang his great shield upon the blasted tree which stands in the valley. Then once again the tree will become green and flourishing, once again Barbarossa will lead the Empire to new and brighter glory. Until that day he sleeps. But sometimes he stirs and half awakes. Opening his eyes, still heavy with sleep, he calls a dwarf to him.

"Go," he says, "look if the ravens still fly around the hill, for if it be so, I must yet sleep another hundred years."

Such was the old legend. Some say that Barbarossa still sleeps within his mysterious cave. Some say that he awoke when, in 1871, after long years of degradation and disunion, Germany once more formed a strong, united Empire.

Barbarossa is one of the great heroes of the German nation. He was a stern ruler, pitilessly cruel to his enemies, but with all his strength he laboured to make Germany free and great. He was not always victorious; he was beaten by the free cities of Italy and by the Pope. But he knew how to yield, and so win victory out of defeat.