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Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006, 10:45 AM
Friedrich II as the ‘Last Emperor’

Frank Shaw

In the last paragraph of the last chapter of his book on the last Hohenstaufen Emperor, Friedrich II (1212–50)—a chapter significantly entitled ‘Antichrist’— Ernst Kantorowicz touches on two matters of great interest. The first is the confusion that frequently exists between Friedrich and his grandfather, the other great Friedrich of the Hohenstaufen line, Friedrich Barbarossa (1152–90); and the second is the clear intention of the builders of the Kyffha¨user Monument in Thuringia, erected in the 1890s to celebrate the unification of Germany under Wilhelm I in 1871, to link this event with the Hohenstaufen dynasty, specifically with Friedrich Barbarossa. Kantorowicz’s notes on this passage in his Ergaenzungsband are scanty, and it seemed desirable to supplement them by re-examining a number of works that appeared around the time of the erection of the Kyffhauser Monument and continued to appear throughout the Second Empire,2while also taking into account a number of more recent publications.

I begin with Friedrich Barbarossa, and with the Kyffha¨user Monument. To
set the scene I start with a passage from Peter Munz’s book on Barbarossa:
In Thuringia, to the north of the river Unstrut, stands the imposing Kyffha¨user Mountain.
Its northern slopes rise steeply from the plains, and its heights command a view of the whole land. According to a legend the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa never really died but is asleep inside that mountain. Over the centuries his red beard has grown through the table at which he is sitting, and outside the ravens circle the peak. One day, so the
prophecy goes, the ravens will stop flying, and then the emperor will awake, emerge from the mountain and restore the glory of the German empire.
The Kyffha¨user Monument itself is one of the most spectacular examples of
late-nineteenth-century architectural pomp. It depicts the aged Wilhelm on
horseback gazing proudly ahead, whilst a somewhat dishevelled and dazedlooking Friedrich Barbarossa stirs indecisively from sleep in his grotto at the foot of the imperial plinth.

Every German schoolchild once had to learn by heart Friedrich Ru¨ckert’s
ballad Barbarossa of 1817, which gives poetic expression to the myth referred to in the above passage from Munz. It is, however, by no means the earliest formulation of this myth, as we shall see. Its roots go back a long way, and the search for them leads in an unexpected direction. For it was originally not Friedrich Barbarossa who was waiting in the wings to guide the course of German history, but his grandson Friedrich II. There is no reliable evidence throughout the Middle Ages that might justify a belief that Friedrich I was still alive, while evidence for the belief that Friedrich II was still alive, long after reports of his death had reached the world, is, as we shall see, abundant. So the question arises: Why did the legend of the undead Emperor shift from grandson to grandfather? But much more important than this is the question:
Why did people come to believe that the Emperor Friedrich II was not dead
in the first place? And then there is the subsidiary question: Why was the
restless spirit associated with the Kyffha¨user Mountain, whose connexions with the Hohenstaufen dynasty are not immediately apparent? I start with the most important question: Why did the myth arise that Friedrich II would return?

source (http://ghj.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/19/3/321)