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Henry VI, the King of Germany, and Holy Roman Emperor

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Henry VI (German Heinrich VI) was the King of Germany from 1169, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1191 and the King of Sicily since 1194. He was the son of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa and Beatrice I of Burgundy.

As a child, on August 15, 1169, he was elected to be the German king (heir to the imperial throne). With a magnificent celebration in Mainz in 1184, he was knighted. Henry was the viceroy of his father in Germany. In January 1186, Henry married Constance, the daughter of the King of Sicily and his heir. The young king – he was only 21 years old when in Milan, he was crowned as the royal King of Italy.

In 1189, after the death of the last grandson of Roger II, Henry inherited the Sicilian crown through his wife, Constance. However, the Neapolitan and Sicilian nobility refused to submit to the German king and elected to King, Tancred, Count Lecce, the illegitimate son of Constant’s brother.

Inheriting the Throne

When in May, 1189, his father Friedrich Barbarossa went on a crusade, Henry remained to rule in his absence. On June 10, 1190, Friedrich Barbarossa drowned in Cilicia (Asia Minor), and Henry VI inherited his father’s throne. Henry had to withstand a struggle with Heinrich Leo, who also wanted the throne, and autocratically returned from exile. Learning that, the Sicilian barons had elected to the Sicilian throne somebody else. Henry reconciled with Heinrich Leo and hurried to Italy.

In Italy, he drew on his side the Lombards, and was crowned by Pope Celestine III, and then invaded the kingdom of Sicily. The resistance exerted by Naples, and the plague that decimated the army, compelled the emperor to retreat. Returning to Germany, he received a rich inheritance in Italy, left after the death of Duke Wilf VI.

In 1192, in the vicinity of Vienna, by the Duke Leopold of Austria, the enemy of German and French kings, Richard I the Lionheart (King of England in 1189-1199) was captured and imprisoned at Dürnstein Castle, while returning from the crusade. Henry VI had every reason to fear Richard as an ally of the Welfs and a supporter of the hostile party in Sicily. In 1193, the conditions for the liberation of Richard were established at the Reichstag, a ransom of 150,000 marks, of which one third went to the Austrian duke. At the same time, the English king was to recognize himself as a vassal of the German Emperor. Only on these conditions was he released in early 1194.

Having given the duchy of Swabia to his brother Conrad, Henry undertook a new campaign to Italy in order to achieve a close union of the Sicilian crown with the Germans. This time, Naples did not resist, Salerno was seized, Sicily also submitted, and in November 1194, the Emperor solemnly entered Palermo, where he was crowned the Sicilian ruler. Sibylla and Wilhelm abandoned their rights after they were promised the counties of Lecce and Tarentum. But soon, Henry, under the pretext of an open alleged conspiracy, ordered the capture and imprisonment of Queen Sibylla and her daughter in the monastery, and all adherents of the Norman royal house were captured and executed.

Part of the Sicilian nobility, perhaps with some reason, was accused of attempting to assassinate the Emperor. Henry escaped to Germany and sent from Palermo the treasury of the Norman kings.

When he returned to Germany, Henry stopped the strife that had arisen during his absence and spoke at the Diet in Mainz in 1196, demanding recognition of the German Crown hereditary. Having met the resistance of spiritual princes and the pope, he could achieve only the proclamation of the title of the German king to his two-year-old son, Friedrich.

Then he went south for the German crusade, to extend his power to the East. He was already paying tribute to the Moorish princes of northern Africa and the Greek emperor Alexei III, who had removed his brother Isaac from the throne.

In 1196, the Emperor had to go to Sicily, where a local conspiracy against him was plotting to kill him, which, apparently, was not alien to the Emperor and his wife. Heinrich had already appointed a successor in case the conspiracy succeeded and he was killed. But the plans were stopped, and Heinrich inflicted the most severe penalties against the conspirators. He ordered his rival to nail the iron crown to his head, ordered his other accomplices to be burned at the stake or drowned.

 The End

After suppressing the uprising in Sicily, Henry wanted to follow the army of the Crusaders. At the end of the summer of 1197, he arrived in Messina to personally join the Crusade. A huge fleet was assembled, not with an objective of holy sites, but of Constantinople. But all these vast plans were unexpectedly suppressed. Henry, who was only 32 years old, died of fever in a few days. On September 28, 1197, they laid him in his grave. He was buried in the Cathedral of Palermo.  He was a great but short-lived German king.


  • Yeger O. World History: in 4 volumes
  • Th. Toeche, “Jahrbücher des Deutschen Reichs unter Heinrich VI”
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