When the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II married the heiress of Jerusalem in November 1225, Christendom expected that he, the most powerful Christian monarch, would restore Jerusalem to its former glory. Instead, Frederick II spent less than eight months in the Holy Land and departed draped in the offal and intestines pelted at him by his furious subjects.
Even a comparatively balanced observer such as David Abulafia,[ii] who concedes that the baronial opposition was “ideological,” deals with the consequences of Frederick’s policies in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in just one page of his 440-page biography. Abulafia notes that “the emperor began by assuming that it would be sufficient to proclaim his rights as he interpreted them.” (Emphasis added by H.P. Schrader) Yet the fact that the Emperor’s “rights” could legitimately be interpreted otherwise is glossed over. Abulafia then explains how hard the Emperor found it to “envisage the degree to which the Latin states of the East, despite the bitter threat from the Islamic world, were divided by family rivalries and constitutional conflicts,”[iii] but fails to acknowledge that the Emperor had created both those rivalries and the constitutional crisis in Jerusalem. Finally, he clearly sympathizes with his subject when he notes that Frederick was “amazed by the lack of response to what he clearly saw as his own tremendous achievement.”[iv] Abulafia too cannot comprehend why the residents of Outremer saw nothing valuable in the Emperor thumbing his nose at the pope and then leaving them to face the consequences. According to Abulafia, Frederick II “returned to Italy more than ever conscious of his imperial rights,” ― and that was exactly the problem.
These attitudes were the root cause of the conflict between Frederick and the baronial faction in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Emperor’s absolutist view of monarchy clashed with the barons’ insistence on constitutional government based on the laws and customs of the kingdom. Frederick viewed himself as Emperor and King by the Grace of God. He recognized no fetters on his rights to rule ― neither laws nor institutions nor counsels.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the other hand, was a feudal state par excellance, frequently held up by scholars as the "ideal" feudal kingdom. (See for example John La Monte's work Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1100 to 1291, or John Riley Smith's The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174 - 1277.) The nobility of Outrmer in the age of Frederick II had developed highly sophisticated constitutional views, and based on the history of Jerusalem saw kings as no more than the “first among equals.” Furthermore, they upheld the concept that government was a contract between the king and his subjects, requiring the consent of the ruled in the form of the High Court.
Frederick proved his contempt for the laws and constitution of Jerusalem within the first four years of his reign by the following actions: 1) refusing to recognize that his title to Jerusalem derived through his wife rather than being a divine right; 2) by demanding the surrender of Beirut and nearly a dozen other lordships without due process; and 3) by ignoring the High Court of Jerusalem and its functions ― which included approving treaties.
Of these actions, the second has received the most attention because Frederick’s attempt to disseize the Lord of Beirut without due process was the spark that ignited the civil war. Because the Lord of Beirut was a highly respected, powerful and learned nobleman, the Emperor’s arrogant, arbitrary and unconstitutional attempt to disseize Beirut met with widespread outrage and finally armed opposition. Beirut was able to rally a majority of the kingdom ― and not just the nobility, but the Genoese, the Templars and the commons of Acre ― to his cause. After each bitter defeat when Frederick tried to find a means of placating the opposition, he refused to budge on the principle of his right to arbitrarily disseize lords without due process. Like a spoiled brat having a temper tantrum, he kicked, screamed, lied and cheated, but he would not take his case against the Lord of Beirut to court. To the end, he insisted that Beirut abdicate his lordship without due process. To the end, Beirut refused.
|I couldn't find a picture of a king wearing offal, so I chose this image that also suggests contempt for a king.|