The History of Sicily

Frederick and the Sixth Crusade

After having recovered from his fever, Frederick sailed for the Holy Land and forced the Arab leader to give up Jerusalem (the city would be accessed by Christians through a narrow strip of land that connected Nazareth and Bethlehem). Still excommunicated, Frederick entered Jerusalem on March 17, 1229, without the loss of one soldier. Frederick’s interest in Islamic culture led him to learn all he could about the Arabs, and his knowledge of their language made it easy for him to converse with the Muslim population. However, all of this served only to make him unpopular with the local Christians and, on May 1, he sailed for Italy. Once home, he learned that Pope Gregory was conspiring to relieve him of his imperial crown and was fomenting unrest in the regno. The Pope went as far as to send an army against him, but the people of the regno, angered over Gregory’s treachery against the liberator of Jerusalem, supported their king, and the Papal army was defeated.

However, Frederick was more than charitable and, in 1230, a treaty of peace was signed. By 1236, however, Gregory was again bent on removing Frederick, and he lent his support to a revolt by the Lombard League in northern Italy. In 1238, the Emperor demolished the Lombard army at Cortenuova, causing the Papacy to issue a second writ of excommunication against him. Gregory died four years later, his successor, Celestine (1215-1296), dying just seventeen days after that. In 1243, the cardinals elected Innocent IV (1160-1216), a pope as intractable as Gregory. He too excommunicated Frederick and declared him deposed, but the French and English monarchs refused to recognize the edict, and the struggle between the Pope and Frederick continued for several years. In 1250, however, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily succumbed to a bout of dysentery at Castel Fiorentino in Apulia.

Frederick’s body rests in a porphyry tomb in Palermo Cathedral, to which the public has easy access. Though he failed to unite Italy into one kingdom, he succeeded in becoming what noted historian John Julius Norwich calls the first Renaissance prince, two hundred years before his time.


Monreale Cathedral