For all of his importance as a medieval ruler, there are surprisingly few biographies in English of the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa (c. 1122-1190)....

For all of his importance as a medieval ruler, there are surprisingly few biographies in English of the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa (c. 1122-1190). John Freed fills this gap with his new book, Frederick Barbarossa: The Prince and the Myth (Yale University Press, 2016), which offers readers both an account of Frederick’s life and his posthumous image as a German ruler. Freed begins by describing the historical background of 12th century Germany, setting Frederick’s succession to the throne within the context of medieval dynastic politics. From there he recounts Frederick’s campaigns against both the papacy and the Italian communes, his subsequent efforts to strengthen his rule in Germany, and his death in the Near East while participating in the Third Crusade. Though an undercurrent of frustrated ambition ran throughout many of his efforts, Frederick nonetheless became a symbol of a united Germany by the 19th century and, in the process, achieved a stature as a sovereign that belied the complicated realities of the world in which he lived.

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