Frederick I (1122-1190)Frederick I (1122-1190) - Had Frederick Barbarossa (Italian for "red beard") not died en route to the Third Crusade, and had he conquered the Holy Land with the huge army he raised, he would likely be remembered as the greatest European monarch of his time.  As it happened, that distinction belongs to Richard the Lionheart.  His royal birth set him on the path of one would who rule over Central Europe.  He was the son of Duke Frederick II of Swabia of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, and Judith of Bavaria, daughter of Duke Henry IX, of the House of Welf; the two most powerful families in Germany.  When his father died, he became Duke of Swabia, and by his thirties began gobbling up royal titles.  In 1152, he was elected King of Germany.  In early 1155, he became King of Italy, and in June of that year, he was also crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Adrian IV.  And finally in 1178, he became King of Burgundy.  Up to that time, his reign represented the most unified the German people had been (Otto the Great would have been proud).


Frederick was also very active in the Crusades.  He participated in the Second Crusade as a young man, and accompanied his uncle, Conrad III, who led the German contingent.  It was a disastrous campaign, but Frederick distinguished himself as a very capable warrior in the process.  Then in the Third Crusade, some 40 years later, Barbarossa raised a huge army, perhaps 100,000 men from across his kingdom, and set out to conquer the Holy Land for Catholic Europe.  This force was considered so formidable, that news of its approach reached the Muslims before it did.  Saladin was said to have desperately tried to recruit as many soldiers as possible in order to repel the coming threat.  But it never reached him.  Frederick drowned in Asia Minor while crossing the Calycadnus River (now called the Göksu).  There was a bridge which spanned the river, but his army took so long to cross, Frederick decided to lead his horse through the water.  Exactly what happened is not certain, but he got swept up in the current and both he and his horse drowned.  Some historians believe Frederick suffered a heart attack while crossing, which led to his demise.  His death ended the Germans' participation in the Third Crusade before it even began (except for about 5,000 men who continued on and joined the French and English armies).  Frederick's leadership was considered so powerful that he held his army together by shear force of will.  Without him, it became unmanageable and broke apart within a week.


Barbarossa was such a legendary figure in his day that legends about him quickly arose following his death.  Perhaps the most interesting is that of the sleeping hero.  The German people came to believe that Frederick did not really die, but is resting under Mt. Untersberg in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and when the ravens cease to fly about the mountain, he will return and restore Germany to its ancient glory.  For this legend he is often referred to as "King under the Mountain."  Of personal interest, I recall that in The Hobbit, the dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield refers to himself as the "King under the Mountain", and wonder if perhaps Tolkien borrowed this title from the Barbarossa legend.