Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Mark Walker




Holy Roman Empire, politics, European history, religion


This thesis examines the evolution of imperial power in the Holy Roman Empire during the Hohenstaufen era. The time period covered is from the election of Conrad III in 1138 until the death of Frederick II in 1250. This time period was pivotal in the history of Europe. The focus of this thesis is on politics, in particularly how the institutions and structures of royal power changed throughout the time period. It analyzes the transformation of royal rule in Germany and Italy throughout the era and the way in which the German kings exercised their power over the clergy, princes, and popes. The power of the monarchy and its instruments of rule changed drastically throughout the Hohenstaufen period. Conrad III reigned in the time period following the Investiture Contest which had left the monarchy in a weaker position than it had been in its height under the Salians. The Support of the princes was necessary for any major undertaking and the power of the Emperor was largely dependant upon the strength of the ruler himself. Division within the Empire between the Staufen and Welf factions caused instability for decades. Despite his ambitions, Conrad was unable to strengthen imperial power and the monarchy’s prestige continued to sink. His successor, Frederick I Barbarossa proved to be much more successful. Barbarossa managed to strengthen imperial authority in Italy by enforcing his Roncaglia decrees and secure a valuable source of income from the regalia. In Germany he broke the power of Henry the Lion and increased the standing of the monarchy. Henry VI’s acquisition of Sicily greatly strengthened Hohenstaufen power and he left the monarchy and administration in a better situation in Germany itself, though he failed to get the princes to agree to hereditary succession. However, his early death left the Empire in a difficult position and the resulting civil war with the Welfs proved to be disastrous for the monarchy. In order to secure the crown Otto IV gave important concessions to the papacy and the princes which greatly reduced the rights of the Emperor. Frederick II’s policies ultimately resulted in an extension of these concessions in Germany and his commitment to imposing imperial power in central Italy led to a life and death struggle with the papacy. Frederick II’s died without defeating the papacy. Despite the successes of the Staufen emperors, particularly Frederick I and Henry VI, the various concessions that they were forced to grant the princes led to the continued erosion of imperial power in Germany. Any successes made in Italy were temporary and entirely dependant on the strength of the monarch at that particular moment. By the death of Frederick II in 1150, the princes in Germany, both ecclesiastical and secular, had become essentially sovereign in their own territories. The destruction of the house of Hohenstaufen and the interregnum that followed signaled the end of the era of the powerful medieval emperors. The very institutions and rights that had given the monarchy power had collapsed, and the German kings’ become utterly dependant on the princes.