House of Hohenstaufen: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The House of Hohenstaufen (or the Staufer) was a dynasty of German kings lasting from 1138 to 1254. Three of these kings were also crowned Holy Roman Emperor. In 1194 the Hohenstaufen also became Kings of Sicily. Staufen, the adjective and plural of Staufer, is also the name of their castle in Swabia built by the first known member of the dynasty, Frederick I, Duke of Swabia. Therefore the dynasty is sometimes called Swabian dynasty after the family's ducal origin. Hohenstaufen Castle is located on a mountain of the same name near Göppingen.


Origins as dukes of Swabia

Coat of arms of the Hohenstaufen dynasty
Hohenstaufen emporer arms.svg
Armoiries Famille Hohenstaufen.svg
Arms of the dukes when not emperor or king
Adopted 1196
Escutcheon The Imperial Eagle of the Holy Roman Empire
Other elements An inescutcheon of three léopards
Earlier versions A single black lion on a gold background (Or, a lion sable) used until 1196
Family tree of the Hohenstaufen emperors including their relation to succeeding dynasties

In 1079, King Henry IV appointed the Hohenstaufen Frederick von Büren as duke of Swabia. At the same time, Frederick was engaged to the king's approximately seven-year old daughter, Agnes. Nothing is known about Frederick's life before this event. He proved to be a close ally of Henry IV in his struggle against other Swabian lords, namely Rudolf of Rheinfelden (the previous duke), and the Zähringen and Welf lords. Frederick's brother Otto became bishop of Strasbourg in 1082.

Frederick I was succeeded by his son Frederick II in 1105. Frederick II remained a close ally of the kings, and he and his brother Conrad were named the king's representatives in Germany when the king was in Italy. Around 1120, Frederick II married Judith of Bavaria from the rival House of Welf.

Coat of arms

When Frederick I became Duke of Swabia in 1079, his coat of arms showed a yellow lion on a black shield. Whilst members of the family reigned as German Kings and Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, the Hohenstaufen coat of arms was used as a breast shield on the empire’s coat of arms. Philip of Swabia, elected German king in 1198, changed the coat of arms – the lion was replaced by three leopards.[1]

Ruling in Germany

When the last male member of the Salian dynasty, Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, died without an heir in 1125 there was controversy about the succession. Frederick and Conrad, the two current male Staufen, were grandsons of Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor and nephews of Henry V. Frederick ran for king, but lost the election against Lothair II. A civil war between the Staufen and Lothair II ended with the submission of the Staufen in 1134. After the death of Lothair II in 1137, Conrad became King of the Romans. After Frederick II's death in 1147, he was succeeded as duke by his son Frederick II. When Conrad died without adult heir in 1152, Frederick succeeded him as King Frederick I.

Frederick I (r. 1152-90), known as Frederick Barbarossa because of his red beard, struggled throughout his reign to restore the power and prestige of the German monarchy. Because the German dukes had grown stronger both during and after the Investiture Controversy and because royal access to the resources of the church in Germany was much reduced, Frederick was forced to go to Italy to find the finances needed to restore the king's power in Germany. He was soon crowned emperor in Italy, but decades of warfare on the peninsula yielded scant results. The papacy and the prosperous city-states of northern Italy were traditional enemies, but the fear of imperial domination caused them to join ranks to fight Frederick. Under the skilled leadership of Pope Alexander III, the alliance suffered many defeats but ultimately was able to deny the emperor a complete victory in Italy. Frederick returned to Germany. He had vanquished one notable opponent, his cousin, Saxony's Henry the Lion, but his hopes of restoring the power and prestige of the monarchy seemed unlikely to be met by the end of his life.

During Frederick's long stays in Italy, the German princes became stronger and began a successful colonization of Slavic lands. Offers of reduced taxes and manorial duties enticed many Germans to settle in the east. Due to colonization, the empire increased in size and came to include Pomerania, Silesia, Bohemia, and Moravia. A quickening economic life in Germany increased the number of towns and gave them greater importance. It was also during this period that castles and courts replaced monasteries as centers of culture. Growing out of this courtly culture, German medieval literature reached its peak in lyrical love poetry, the Minnesang, and in narrative epic poems such as Tristan, Parzival, and the Nibelungenlied.

Frederick died in 1190 while on a crusade and was succeeded by his son, Henry VI (r. 1190-97). Elected king even before his father's death, Henry went to Rome to be crowned emperor. A death in his wife's family gave him possession of Sicily, a source of vast wealth. Henry failed to make royal and imperial succession hereditary, but in 1196 he succeeded in gaining a pledge that his infant son Frederick would receive the German crown. Faced with difficulties in Italy and confident that he would realize his wishes in Germany at a later date, Henry returned to the south, where it appeared he might unify the peninsula under the Hohenstaufen name. After a series of military victories, however, he died of natural causes in Sicily in 1197.

Because the election of a three-year-old boy to be German king appeared likely to make orderly rule difficult, the boy's uncle, Philip, was chosen to serve in his place. Other factions elected a Welf rival candidate, Otto IV, as king, and a long civil war began. Philip was about to win when he was murdered by a relative in 1208. Otto IV in turn was beaten by the French at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214. Frederick returned to Germany in 1212 from Sicily, where he had grown up, and became king in 1215. As Frederick II (r. 1215-50), he spent little time in Germany because his main concerns lay in Italy. Frederick made significant concessions to the German nobles, such as those put forth in an imperial statute of 1232, which made princes virtually independent rulers within their territories. The clergy also became more powerful. Although Frederick was one of the most energetic, imaginative, and capable rulers of the time, he was not concerned with drawing the disparate forces in Germany together. His legacy was thus that local rulers had more authority after his reign than before it.

Romanticizing postcard from 1905, depicting Mount Hohenstaufen and Hohenstaufen kings.

By the time of Frederick's death in 1250, little centralized power remained in Germany. The Great Interregnum (1256-73), a period of relative freedom in which there was no emperor and German princes vied for individual advantage, followed the death of Frederick's son Conrad IV in 1254. In this short period, the German nobility managed to strip many powers away from the diminished monarchy. Rather than establish sovereign states, however, many nobles tended to look after their families. Their many male heirs created more and smaller estates. From a largely free class of officials previously formed, many of whom assumed or acquired hereditary rights to administrative and legal offices. These trends compounded political fragmentation within Germany.

During the political decentralization of the Hohenstaufen period, the population grew from an estimated 8 million in 1200 to about 14 million in 1300, and the number of towns increased tenfold. The most heavily urbanized areas of Germany were located in the south and the west. Towns often developed a degree of independence, but many were subordinate to local rulers or the emperor. Colonization of the east also continued in the thirteenth century, most notably through the efforts of the Knights of the Teutonic Order, a society of soldier-monks. German merchants also began trading extensively on the Baltic.


The conflict between the Hohenstaufen and the Welf irrevocably weakened the German monarchy. The Norman kingdom of Sicily became the base for Hohenstaufen rule. Henry VI, who followed his father Frederick Barbarossa, as emperor in 1190, married Constance, heiress of Sicily. But Henry died before realizing his plans for hereditary monarchy over Germany and Italy. His underage son Frederick succeeded him only in Sicily, while in the empire the struggle between the Hohenstaufen and the Welf erupted once again.

1198: First signs of decline

In 1198, two rival kings were chosen: the Hohenstaufen Philip of Swabia, who was a brother of Henry VI, and the son of Henry the Lion, Welf Otto IV. First, Pope Innocent III supported the Welfs, but when Otto, who was the sole monarch after the death of Philip in 1208, moved to appropriate Sicily, Innocent changed sides and accepted Frederick II and his ally, the French king Philip II Augustus, in 1214 at the Battle of Bouvines, near Lille. When Otto died in 1218, Fredrick became the undisputed king, and in 1220 he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor.

Frederick II

Frederick II lived in Southern Italy, founded the University of Naples in 1224 to train future state officials and reigned over Germany primarily through the allocation of royal prerogatives, leaving the sovereign authority and imperial estates to the ecclesiastical and secular princes. This favored the division of the empire.

In 1226, Frederick assigned orders of knights to complete the conquest and conversion of the Prussians in Lithuania. A reconciliation with the Welf took place in 1235. During this time, the grandson of Henry the Lion was named duke of Brunswick and Lunenburg. The power struggle with the popes continued and resulted in Fredrick's excommunication in 1227. In 1239, the Pope excommunicated Fredrick again, and in 1245 he was condemned as a heretic by a church council.

Fredrick died in 1250, and his heir Conrad IV reigned only a short time before his own death in 1254. His son Conradin immediately had to defend Sicily against an invasion by Charles of Anjou a brother of the French king. Conradin was defeated in 1268 at the Battle of Tagliacozza and was handed over to Charles. Conradin was publicly executed at Naples.

End of the Hohenstaufen

Conrad IV was succeeded as duke of Swabia by his only son, two-year old Conrad. By this time, the office of duke of Swabia had been fully subsumed into the office of the king, and without royal authority had become meaningless. In 1261, attempts to elect the younger Conrad king were unsuccessful. After a failed campaign to retake control of Sicily, Conrad Conradin was executed in 1268; with him, the Duchy of Swabia ceased to exist. Most of the later emperors were descended from the Hohenstaufen.

Members of the Hohenstaufen family

Holy Roman Emperors and Kings of Germany

Like the first ruling Hohenstaufen, Conrad III, also the last one, Conrad IV, was never crowned emperor. After a 20 year period (Interregnum 1254-1273) the first Habsburg was elected king.

Arms of the Hohenstaufen Sicily

Kings of Sicily

Note: Some of the following kings are already listed above as German Kings

Dukes of Swabia

Note: Some of the following dukes are already listed above as German Kings

See also


  1. ^ Stälin, Paul Friedrich (1882.). Geschichte Württembergs Erster Band Erste Hälfte (bis 1268). Gotha,. pp. 389–393.  

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address