History of Germany - H. E. Marshall
The great Barbarossa was succeeded by his son Henry. He was twenty-five years old, and had already been chosen and crowned King in his father's lifetime. In many ways he was like his father, but he lacked his large-heartedness; he was hard and cruel, and the people did not love him as they had loved Barbarossa.
Frederick had ruled so firmly that rebellion against the Emperor had almost ceased in Germany. But after his death it soon burst out again. Henry the Lion returned, and, encouraged by his friend Richard the Lion-heart of England, became once more the centre of rebellions. Sicily too, which Henry claimed through his wife Constance, also rebelled. Here too the rebels were encouraged by Richard. They refused to look upon either Constance or Henry as their ruler, and chose a prince named Tancred for their King.
In order to be free to fight the Sicilians, Henry made a truce with the Lion, and hurried southward to be crowned Emperor and conquer Sicily. But it was with difficulty that Henry persuaded the Pope to crown him, for now that the Emperor claimed not only the north of Italy but the south, the Pope began to be more than ever afraid of his might. He feared for his own possessions if they could be attacked both on the north and on the south by the Emperor.
Henry did at length, however, receive the crown. Then he marched onward to conquer Sicily. Through the land he passed triumphantly, town after town, castle after castle, yielding to him, until he reached Naples. Here his triumphant march was stopped, for Naples would not yield. For three months it held out against the conqueror. Besieged and besiegers both fought bravely. But at length a terrible plague broke out in the German army. The men died in hundreds. Even the Emperor himself fell ill. There was no choice left to him. If he would save even a remnant of his army, he must leave the plague-stricken spot.
So Henry turned northward. Then, to add to his misfortunes, the news came to him that the Empress was a prisoner. For greater safety she had left the camp before Naples and gone to Salerno. Now the people of Salerno had betrayed her into the hands of Tancred. Dressed in all the splendour of an Empress she was led before him.
"Why can you not be content with the glory of half the world?" he asked. "Why do you come to rob me of my land? See how a just God has punished both you and your husband for your greed."
Very proudly Constance answered, "Now, indeed, our star sinks, but soon yours too will sink. Not after a strange land have I sought, but after my own kingdom, which you have wantonly torn from me."
But Tancred cared little for the proud words of the Empress. He cared as little for Henry's persuasions and threats. He kept the Empress a prisoner, and a beaten man, leaving his wife in captivity, Henry returned homewards. His conquests were wiped out, and all that remained to him from his Italian expedition was the Imperial crown.
He returned to find Germany too in a state of rebellion. For the peace he had made with Henry the Lion had been but a false peace. And now, from all sides, troubles seemed to crowd upon the Emperor. But at length a piece of good fortune befell him.
Richard Coeur de Lion, returning from the Holy Land, was taken prisoner by Leopold of Austria.
When the Emperor heard the news he was delighted. It was worth more to him than gold and gems, he said; for Richard was his great enemy, the friend of both Henry the Lion and Tancred. So he sent a messenger to the Duke of Austria, saying that no mere duke might keep a King prisoner, and commanding that Richard should be given over to him as Emperor.
Henry resolved to use Richard as a hostage to force his enemies to make peace, and not to set him free until he had paid an enormous ransom. Seeing their mighty friend thus a prisoner, many of the revolted nobles made peace with the Emperor, and at length Richard, having paid an enormous ransom and taken an oath of fealty to Henry, was set free.
With the money which Henry received from the English, he was able to raise another army in order to conquer Sicily. He was able, too, to leave Germany with no fear of rebellion. For that great rebel, Henry the Lion, had grown weary of strife, and he now troubled Germany no more. He went away to his own castle, and lived there quietly until he died.
So Henry once again marched into Italy to take possession of the kingdom of Sicily. Meanwhile Tancred had died, and this time Henry was successful. And when he had subdued the people he took a horrible and cruel vengeance on all those who had withstood him. Many of the nobles were beheaded, others were blinded, tortured, and cruelly ill-treated.
Even Tancred's little four-year-old son did not escape. He was blinded and sent a prisoner to Germany with his mother and sisters. There he soon died.
Henry now was more greedy of power than ever. He had dreams of a world-wide German Empire over which the Hohenstaufens should rule. So now he tried to persuade the nobles to make the crown hereditary in his family. He offered them many privileges if they would consent. Many of the princes were willing to agree to this, but the Saxons held out against it, and Henry could do no more than persuade them to choose his son as his successor, as many Emperors before him had done.
Still Henry clung to his dreams of a world-wide Empire. He claimed the King of England as his vassal; he called himself overlord of France; he cast longing eyes on Spain. He claimed large parts of the Eastern Empire, and was about to set out to conquer Constantinople, when he suddenly died at Messina in 1197.