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Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor

Drawing from an 1881 encyclopedia. Frederick sends out the boy to see whether the ravens still fly.

Frederick I (1122/25-1190), also known as Frederick Barbarossa ("Frederick Redbeard") was elected king of Germany on March 4, 1152 in succession to his uncle Conrad III, and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1155.

As the son of Frederick of Hohenstaufen, duke of Swabia, and Judith of Bavaria, of the rival Guelph dynasty, Frederick was descended from Germany's two principal families, making him an acceptable choice for the Empire's princely electors as heir to the Imperial crown.

He undertook six expeditions into Italy, in the first of which he was crowned emperor in Rome by Pope Adrian IV in the aftermath of the overthrow by Imperial forces of the republican city commune headed by Arnold of Brescia.

Thereafter, relations between Emperor and Pope descended into bitter conflict culminating in Frederick's defeat at the Battle of Legnano near Milan (1176) by the pro-Papal Lombard League of northern Italian cities.

After making his peace with Pope Alexander III, Frederick embarked on the Third Crusade (1189) with Philip Augustus of France and Richard I of England; he drowned while crossing the Saleph river in Cilicia in south-eastern Anatolia.

However, Frederick is the subject of a sleeping hero legend. He is said not to be dead, but asleep with his knights in a cave in Kyffhäuser mountain in Thuringia, Germany, and that when ravens should cease to fly around the mountain he would awake and restore Germany to its ancient greatness. According to the story his red beard has grown through the table beside which he sits. His eyes are half closed in sleep, but now and then he raises his hand and sends a boy out to see if the ravens have stopped flying.

Frederick was succeeded as king and emperor by his son Henry.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was codenamed Operation Barbarossa, remembering Frederick I.

Preceded by:
Conrad III, King of the Romans
List of German Kings and Emperors Succeeded by:
Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor