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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

When a Norman insurrection recalled him to Sicily


[Sidenote:

1191. HENRY VI. EMPEROR.]

Henry the Lion hastened back to Germany at once, and attempted to regain possession of Saxony. King Henry took the field against him, and the interminable strife between Welf and Waiblinger was renewed for a time. The king was twenty-five years old, tall and stately like his father, but even more stern and despotic than he. He was impatient to proceed to Italy, both to be crowned Emperor and to secure the Norman kingdom of Sicily as his wife's inheritance: therefore, making a temporary truce with Henry the Lion, he hastened to Rome and was there crowned as Henry VI. in 1191. His attempt to conquer Naples, which was held by the Norman prince, Tancred, completely failed, and a deadly pestilence in his army compelled him to return to Germany before the close of the same year.

The fight with Henry the Lion was immediately renewed, and during the whole of 1192 Northern Germany was ravaged worse than before. In December of that year, King Richard of the Lion-Heart, returning home overland from Palestine, was taken prisoner by Duke Leopold of Austria, whom he had offended during the Crusade, and was delivered to the Emperor. As king Richard was the brother-in-law of Henry the Lion, he was held partly as a hostage, and partly for the purpose of gaining an enormous ransom for his liberation. His mother came from England, and the sum of 150,000 silver marks which the Emperor demanded was paid

by her exertions: still Richard was kept prisoner at Trifels, a lonely castle among the Vosges mountains. The legend relates that his minstrel, Blondel, discovered his place of imprisonment by singing the king's favorite song under the windows of all the castles near the Rhine, until the song was answered by the well-known voice from within. The German princes, finally, felt that they were disgraced by the Emperor's conduct, and they compelled him to liberate Richard, in February, 1194.

[Sidenote: 1197.]

The same year a reconciliation was effected with Henry the Lion. The latter devoted himself to the improvement of the people of his little state of Brunswick: he instituted reforms in their laws, encouraged their education, collected books and works of art, and made himself so honored and beloved before his death, in August, 1195, that he was mourned as a benefactor by those who had once hated him as a tyrant. He was sixty-six years old, three years younger than his rival, Barbarossa, whom he fully equalled in energy and ability. Although defeated in his struggle, he laid the basis of a better civil order, a higher and firmer civilization, throughout the North of Germany.

Henry VI., enriched by king Richard's ransom, went to Italy, purchased the assistance of Genoa and Pisa, and easily conquered the Sicilian kingdom. He treated the family of Tancred (who was now dead) with shocking barbarity, tortured and executed his enemies with a cruelty worthy of Nero, and made himself heartily feared and hated. Then he hastened back to Germany, to have the Imperial dignity made hereditary in his family. Even here he was on the point of succeeding, in spite of the strong opposition of the Saxon princes, when a Norman insurrection recalled him to Sicily. He demanded the provinces of Macedonia and Epirus from the Greek Emperor, encouraged the project of a new Crusade, with the design of conquering Constantinople, and evidently dreamed of making himself ruler of the whole Christian world, when death cut him off, in 1197, in his thirty-second year. His widow, Constance of Sicily, was left with a son, Frederick, then only three years old.


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