Frederick II, the beginning of the decline for chivalry

October 3, 2011

Frederick II

Although Frederick was Emperor of Germany through his father Henry VI, in spirit and moral outlook he had more in common with the Moslems and Sicilians with whom he spent his formative years. Possessing high intelligence and enormous energy, he was also beset by instability and a passionate nature that he rarely brought under self-control. With both parents dead by the time he was four, the willful youngster, who had inherited the Kingdom of Sicily from his mother, essentially raised and educated himself in Palermo, the most culturally advanced city in the West outside of Spain….

Frederick gave his word that he would lead a crusade to the Holy Land….

Capturing Damietta painted by Cornelis Claesz. van Wieringen. This painting was taken from the largest wall tapestry of the 17th century depicting "The Ship of Damiate". This tapestry which hangs in the Haarlem City Hall, in Haarlem, the Netherlands, is 35 feet long by 7 feet high.

   His failure to fulfill his word caused irreparable damage to the crusading cause. During the Fifth Crusade in 1219, the Christians captured Damietta, the key to Egypt. When the Moslem Sultan offered the Kingdom of Jerusalem in return for Damietta, the Christians refused because they expected Frederick to bring reinforcements. When the selfish intriguer never arrived, the Crusaders eventually lost everything. Year after year, conditions in the Christian East went from bad to worse while Frederick built up his power and amused himself in his Sicilian harem.

Statue of Pope Gregory IX in Sacro Monte, a 17th century chapel. This is part of a collection of statues that shows the canonization of St. Francis of Assisi by Pope Gregory IX. The statues were created by Dionigi Bussola.

For the fourth time, he renewed his vow and this time actively assisted in raising a large crusading army. In the summer of 1227 as the stern and unbending Gregory IX replaced the easygoing Honorius on the papal chair, tens of thousands of crusaders assembled in Brindisi under the immediate leadership of Louis of Thuringia, husband of Saint Elizabeth, waiting for the perfidious egoist. Again Frederick delayed, which exposed thousands to disease in the unhealthy climate and unsanitary camp conditions in southern Italy. At long last Frederick and the Crusaders embarked, only to sail a few miles and return. Those who survived the pestilence returned home in disgust. Gregory, even more disgusted, excommunicated Frederick despite his claim of illness. As Cardinal and papal legate before his elevation, he had been watching the Emperor’s treacherous antics for almost ten years.

The Court of Emperor Frederick II in Palermo 1865, Painted by Arthur Georg von Ramberg.

The excommunicated Emperor finally went to the Holy Land in 1228 with only a few hundred knights, not as a warrior but as a negotiator, for Frederick with his Moslem connections was on friendly terms with the sultan in Cairo. Although no battles were fought, historians insist on calling this the Sixth Crusade. The wily negotiator succeeded in gaining access to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, but he was not allowed to fortify them. Moreover, the religious military orders and other Christian defenders were bound to a ten-year truce by a treaty to which they had not consented.

Catholic prisoners are being beheaded by the Saracens. Taken from the 14th century Les Livres du Graunt Caam.

Many of the Moslems, who were ill-disposed to compromise with Frederick, continued to plunder and beat the pilgrims. In one incident, ten thousand were butchered….

The unscrupulous autocrat returned to his power base in Sicily and southern Italy where he enacted laws and issued decrees that suppressed all feudal tradition that impeded his effort to obtain total power….

Year after year, conditions in the Christian East went from bad to worse while Frederick built up his power and amused himself....

Frederick II left as his legacy a revival of the spirit of Roman law with its pagan outlook and brought in a period of selfish, nationalistic rulers that destroyed the unity of Christendom and the concept that Christian principles must permeate all aspects of life.


Jeremias Wells, History of Western Civilization (n.p., n.d.), pp. 267-269.


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 114


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