Frederick II Leads the Sixth Crusade Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Frederick II led the Sixth Crusade under his imperial power, reestablished Christian rule in the Holy Land in an almost bloodless victory, and ironically earned papal condemnation and the opposition of Christian feudal interests for his efforts.

Summary of Event

In 1215, at the age of twenty-one, Frederick II took his vow as a Crusader, apparently to the surprise of Pope Innocent III Innocent III , who served as his absentee guardian after Frederick was orphaned at the age of four. Frederick’s father, Henry VI, was heir to the Germanic empire of Frederick I Barbarossa (r. 1152-1190), while his mother, Constance of Sicily, was heiress to southern Italy (r. 1194-1198). If he ever gained full control of his inheritance, Frederick could be the most powerful Western ruler since Charlemagne. [kw]Frederick II Leads the Sixth Crusade (1227-1230) [kw]Sixth Crusade, Frederick II Leads the (1227-1230) [kw]Crusade, Frederick II Leads the Sixth (1227-1230) Crusades;Sixth[06] Frederick II Italy;1227-1230: Frederick II Leads the Sixth Crusade[2330] Israel/Palestine;1227-1230: Frederick II Leads the Sixth Crusade[2330] Europe (general);1227-1230: Frederick II Leads the Sixth Crusade[2330] Byzantine Empire;1227-1230: Frederick II Leads the Sixth Crusade[2330] Religion;1227-1230: Frederick II Leads the Sixth Crusade[2330] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1227-1230: Frederick II Leads the Sixth Crusade[2330] Frederick II (1194-1250) Innocent III Honorius III Gregory IX Richard Filangieri

Frederick spent much of his early life in Sicily, at the time a half Muslim kingdom also populated by a large number of Jews and Greeks. He had a succession of tutors and appears to have absorbed much on his own from the cultural diversity of Sicily, including an attitude of toleration. Arabic and Greek texts and Muslim mathematics and science fascinated him. By the time he reached adulthood, Frederick could speak nine languages (including Arabic) and could write in seven of them. He was not a typical medieval ruler, and when he finally departed on what was the Sixth Crusade, it was a most unusual Crusade.

Also in 1215, Frederick was crowned German king at Aachen, having survived a bitter power struggle for the throne. The first five years of his reign was spent consolidating power in the north, largely by permitting considerable independent authority of the German princes. Clearly his Crusader’s oath would have to await resolution of immediate political necessities. His “guardian,” Pope Innocent III, dreamed of a Fifth Crusade after the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) was diverted by the Venetians into a rapacious sacking of the Christian cities of Zara and Constantinople, and the unofficial Children’s Crusade (1212) turned into an incredibly embarrassing fiasco. Innocent’s plans were put into effect by his successor, Honorius III Honorius III . Yet this Fifth Crusade, an attack on Damietta in Egypt led by John of Brienne John of Brienne , the king of Jerusalem (r. 1210-1225), in March of 1218, ended in disaster three years later.

Frederick was too preoccupied to have anything to do with the Fifth Crusade. In November of 1220, he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome with Honorius officiating. In return, he reaffirmed his vow to go on a crusade, affirmed church liberties, and promised to keep separate the crowns of southern Italy and Germany. Frederick then returned to Palermo, intent on exerting central control over what was at the time the wealthiest European kingdom because of its vast grain supplies and central position over Mediterranean trade routes.

In the wake of the failure of the Fifth Crusade, Frederick strategized with Honorius about launching a Sixth Crusade. At the suggestion of Hermann von Salza (c. 1170-1239), Frederick’s friend and grand master of the Teutonic Knights (1210-1239), Frederick decided to marry Isabella, the fifteen-year-old daughter of John of Brienne and heiress to the crown of Jerusalem. Showing that this Crusade would be in imperial and not papal control, Frederick had himself crowned king of Jerusalem. This was to be a well-planned military movement using the resources of southern Italy and the Teutonic Knights. At the conference of San Germano held in 1225, Frederick pledged to the pope, under penalty of excommunication, that the Sixth Crusade would be launched by August 15, 1227.

Honorius did not live to see Frederick honor his vow as a Crusader. For his successor, Gregory IX Gregory IX , the eighty-six-year-old nephew of Innocent III, gaining the upper hand in the pope-emperor relationship was a more important goal than was the Crusade. Imperial control of northern and southern Italy produced serious encirclement anxieties for Gregory. Anxious to occupy the Holy Roman Emperor in dangerous adventures far away from Italy, Gregory sent Frederick a letter containing a stern warning to go on the Sixth Crusade as scheduled, or suffer the consequences.

Frederick II.

(Library of Congress)

Unbeknown to Gregory, Frederick had already gone on the Crusade, using diplomats instead of soldiers. Taking advantage of a raging dispute between al-Malik al-Kāmil Malik al-Kāmil, al- , the sultan of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria (r. 1218-1238), and his brother al-Muՙazzam, the governor of Damascus (1249-1250), Frederick was able to communicate to al-Kāmil the advantages of his kingship over Jerusalem, and to having troops at hand hostile to Syrian interests. While Gregory ordered Frederick to go east, the sultan was inviting him to come to Egypt.

Frederick and his army finally set sail from Brindisi on September 8, 1227. Disease had plagued the assembling army even before departure. Many were ill from either typhoid or cholera while on board ship. Among the sick was Frederick, who disembarked at Otranto to recover, while the rest of his fleet continued on its journey. Seizing the opportunity to catch Frederick on a technicality, Gregory excommunicated him, after denouncing the emperor in a long list of grievances. Gregory then began assembling an army to invade Sicily.

Pope Honorius III.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

While Frederick recuperated, his wife died shortly after bearing him a son, thus clouding the issue of whether Frederick would be king or regent of Jerusalem. Meanwhile his forces, led by Duke Henry of Limburg (fl. thirteenth century), recaptured Sidon, and reenforced Caesarea. Hermann of Salza established the mighty fortress of Montfort as the main base of operations of the Teutonic Knights. During his recuperation, Frederick tried, to no avail, to come to terms with Gregory. Finally, while still under excommunication, Frederick set sail for Jerusalem in June of 1228, with forty additional ships. This act, which showed the sincerity of Frederick’s intentions, was a major blow to Gregory’s prestige.

On his way to the Holy Land, Frederick stopped off at Cyprus, using his army’s force to gain recognition of his overlordship. From Cyprus, he ventured to Tyre and then on to Acre. By this time, al-Kāmil had little reason to negotiate further with Frederick, since his brother, the governor of Syria, had suddenly died, leaving only a child to continue his claims. Yet pressure exerted by Frederick’s original force (although much dwindled by the time of his arrival) and the new troops arriving with Frederick, convinced al-Kāmil to come to terms. By the treaty of February 18, 1229, the sultan surrendered Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. He also provided Frederick with a land corridor to the coast for supplies.

In return, Frederick promised not to fortify Jerusalem, to respect Muslim control of holy places and mosques, and to protect the sultan’s interests from all adversaries (including Christians) for the length of a ten year truce.

As a final act, Frederick went to the altar of the Holy Sepulchre and placed the crown of the kingdom of Jerusalem on his own head. Instead of celebration for the return of the Holy Land to Christian rule, Jerusalem was placed under interdict and Frederick was again excommunicated for entering the church while still under excommunication and collaborating with the infidel. That the Holy Land was returned to Christianity by Frederick, without bloodshed, using only eight hundred knights and ten thousand foot soldiers, was beside the point.

To protect his kingdom of Sicily from papal invasion, Frederick had to make a speedy exit from Jerusalem. He appointed two Syrian barons as regents and headed back to Sicily. Overlordship of Cyprus was sold to five other Syrian barons. To represent imperial interests in the Holy Land, Richard Filangieri Filangieri, Richard was sent in 1231, and would remain for the next twelve years. By the end of 1230, the papal invading force had been defeated and Gregory was forced to make peace. Ten years later, the hundred-year-old pope died, still battling Frederick and facing the encirclement of Rome. His successor, Innocent IV, deposed Frederick in 1245, and declared a Holy Crusade against the Holy Roman Emperor. The fact that Jerusalem had fallen the previous year, to a band of marauding Turks, allies of the Egyptians, was hardly noticed.


The Sixth Crusade marked the final, successful chapter in the effort of the so-called crusading movement to capture and occupy the Holy Land, although it was not the last Crusade by Christians; that would come in 1248 with the failed Seventh and Eighth Crusades led by Louis IX. It was not until many years later, during the aftermath of World War I, that the Holy Land was again, for a time, under European (Christian) administration.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abulafia, David. Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor. London: Pimlico, 1992. A demythologizing biographical study of Frederick II, containing solid and detailed analysis of his crusading venture. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Billings, Malcolm. The Crusades. Rev. ed. Charleston, S.C.: Tempus, 2000. Good starting point for an understanding of Frederick’s role in the Crusades, and a very readable background for the Crusades as well. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2000. Chapters explore ethnic and religious stereotyping, daily life, the conduct of war, and more. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Irwin, Robert. “Muslim Responses to the Crusades.” History Today 47, no. 4 (April, 1997). Presents a rich overview of the Muslim perspective on the Crusades. Provides photographs and a short list of further readings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kantorowicz, Ernst. Frederick the Second, 1194-1250. Reprint. New York: Ungar, 1967. First published in 1931 and somewhat overdramatic in tone, this landmark biography of Frederick is still the most readable and comprehensive study of his reign. Maps, bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Madden, Thomas F. A Concise History of the Crusades. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999. Presents an overview of the Sixth Crusade, with discussion of Frederick II’s role in the effort. Part of the Critical Issues in History series. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Madden, Thomas F, ed. The Crusades: The Essential Readings. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. A collection of previously published articles about the Crusades, including medieval sources, lay enthusiasm, patronage, Byzantium, and the subjection of Muslims. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marshall, Christopher. Warfare in the Latin East, 1192-1291. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. An exhaustive military history of the strategies used in the later Crusades, including detailed analysis of conflicts between fellow Christians. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174-1277. Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1973. An in-depth study of the role of kings and nobles in the administration of the Latin kingdom, detailing the lack of cooperation by Frankish lords, with an excellent chapter on the Baillage created by Frederick II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riley-Smith, Jonathan, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Places the Sixth Crusade within the context of the medieval crusading movement, arguing its significance in the history of late medieval culture in the West. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.

Categories: History