Western Europe in the Middle Ages: A Short History

By Joseph R. Strayer | Go to book overview

was overwhelmingly ambitious, determined to be a real Roman Emperor, that he incarnated all those desires for worldly wealth and power which were so prevalent in the thirteenth century, that he could not be bound by benefits or restrained by religious scruples. Frederick was no heretic--that would have required more faith than he possessed--he was simply a politician. The Church, to him, was a political force, to be treated in exactly the same way as other political forces. He would negotiate with it, as an equal, as long as he could, and when it became necessary he would fight it in order to get a satisfactory settlement. If the welfare of the Church depended on the preservation of Innocent's political settlement and if that settlement, in turn, depended on the good-will of Frederick II, then the future was dark.

It took some time for the popes to realize that Frederick was dangerous. The emperor could be plausible and ingratiating when he wished, and Innocent's immediate successor was not very energetic. He scolded Frederick for neither giving up Sicily, nor going on a Crusade as he had promised, but took no decisive action. The next pope, Gregory IX ( 1227-1241), was less complacent. He ordered Frederick to start a Crusade, and excommunicated him when he failed to set out on time. Then Frederick completely confused public opinion by going to Palestine and regaining Jerusalem through a treaty with the Sultan of Egypt, who was quite ready to surrender a distant outpost in return for peace with the Christians. Frederick's behavior was shrewd rather than heroic and his hold on Jerusalem was precarious (the city was lost again in 1244). Nevertheless, he had succeeded where the greatest kings of the West had failed, and the pope's attack on him was made to seem rather silly. A peace was patched up, and pope and emperor remained on fairly good terms for the next few years.

The struggle broke out again over the question of the cities of north Italy. Frederick wanted to control these towns, both because of their wealth and because they could block the roads to Germany, from which he drew his best troops. The pope opposed this

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