Henry VI (Holy Roman emperor and German king)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Henry VI (Holy Roman emperor and German king)

Henry VI, 1165–97, Holy Roman emperor (1191–97) and German king (1190–97), son and successor of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I (Frederick Barbarossa). He was crowned German king at Aachen in 1169 and king of Italy at Milan in 1186 after his marriage to Constance, heiress presumptive to the throne of Sicily. Henry remained in Italy as his father's representative, ravaging central Italy and forcing it to submit to imperial domination. He became regent at his father's departure (1189) for the Third Crusade and succeeded Frederick, who died in 1190. In 1191, Henry entered Italy on an expedition to secure Constance's Sicilian inheritance from Tancred of Lecce, who had illegally assumed the crown. Stopping at Rome he was crowned Holy Roman emperor by Pope Celestine III. He continued southward, but failed in the initial attempt to take Sicily. He returned to Germany, where he faced a rebellion fomented by the Guelphs and the nobles of the Lower Rhine, who opposed his attempt to absorb Thuringia into the royal demesne. Henry secured a powerful bargaining weapon when he obtained custody (1193) of King Richard I of England, brother-in-law and ally of the Guelph leader, Henry the Lion. Soon after Richard had paid a ransom, sworn fealty to Henry, and been released (Feb., 1194), peace was made. In Sicily, the death of Tancred favored the success of Henry's second expedition (May, 1194). Palermo fell in November, and on Christmas Day Henry was crowned king of Sicily. Insatiable, Henry dreamed of further expansion in the Mediterranean. He began to promote (1195) a new crusade and intimidated the Byzantine emperor, Alexius III, into paying him tribute. At the Diet of Würzburg (1196) Henry proposed that the empire be made hereditary in his family, the Hohenstaufen, and in return offered unrestricted rights of inheritance to those who held fiefs from him. The proposal was defeated, though it found many supporters, and Henry contented himself with securing the election of his infant son (later Emperor Frederick II) as king. Henry died of a fever at Messina just as he was preparing to invade the Holy Land. He was succeeded in Sicily by Frederick II and in the rest of the empire by Philip of Swabia.

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