Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor

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Henry VI (November 1165 – 28 September 1197) was King of Germany from 1190 to 1197, Holy Roman Emperor from 1191 to 1197 and King of Sicily from 1194 to 1197.



Early years

Born in Nijmegen, Henry was the son of the emperor Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor and Beatrix of Burgundy, and was crowned King of the Romans at Bamberg in June 1169, at the age of four. After having taken the reins of the Empire from his father, who had gone on the Crusade, in 1189-1190 he suppressed a revolt by Henry the Lion, former duke of Saxony and Bavaria and relative of Frederick.

Constance of Sicily was betrothed to Henry in 1184, and they were married on 27 January 1186. Constance was the sole legitimate heir of William II of Sicily, and, after the latter's death in November 1189, Henry had the opportunity of adding the Sicilian crown to the imperial one, as his father had died crossing the Saleph River in Cilicia, now part of Turkey 10 June 1190.

Coronation as Emperor

In April 1191, in Rome, Henry and Constance were crowned Emperor and Empress by Pope Celestine III. The crown of Sicily, however, was harder to gain, as the barons of southern Italy had chosen a grandson of Roger II, Tancred, count of Lecce, as their king. Henry began his work besieging Naples, but he had to return to Germany (where Henry the Lion had revolted again) after his army had been heavily hit by an epidemic.

Constance, who stayed behind in the palace at Salerno, was betrayed by the Salernitans, handed over to Tancred, and only released on the intervention of Celestine III, who in return recognized Tancred as King of Sicily.

Henry had a stroke of fortune when Leopold V, Duke of Austria, gave him his prisoner, king Richard I of England, whom he kept in Trifels Castle. Ignoring his excommunication by Pope Celestine III for imprisoning a former crusader, Henry managed to exact from the English a ransom of 150,000 silver marks, a huge sum for that age, and with this money, he could raise a powerful army to conquer southern Italy.

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