The death of Frederick did not satisfy the papacy. It had decreed the ruin of the house of the Hohenstaufen. The popes denounced its surviving representatives as "the viperous brood" and, "the poisonous brood of a dragon of poisonous race."
In his will, Frederick bade his son Conrad accord to the Church her just rights and to restore any he himself might have unjustly seized but on condition that she, as a merciful and pious mother, acknowledge the rights of the empire. His illegitimate son, the brilliant and princely Manfred, he appointed his representative in Italy during Conrad’s absence.
Innocent broke up from Lyons in 1251, little dreaming that, a half century later, the papacy would remove there to pass an exile of seventy years.279 After an absence of six years, he entered Rome, 1253. The war against Frederick he continued by offering the crown of Sicily to Edmund, son of the English Henry III. Conrad descended to Italy and entered Naples, making good his claim to his ancestral crown. But the pope met him with the sentence of excommunication. Death, which seemed to be in league with the papacy against the ill-fated German house, claimed Conrad in 1254 at the age of 26. He left an only son, Conradin, then two years old.280
Conrad was soon followed by Innocent to the grave, 1254. Innocent lies buried in Naples. He was the last of the great popes of an era that was hastening to its end. During the reign, perhaps, of no other pope had the exactions of Rome upon England been so exorbitant and brazen. Matthew Paris charged him with making the Church a slave and turning the papal court into a money changer’s table. To his relatives, weeping around his death-bed, he is reported to have exclaimed. "Why do you weep, wretched creatures? Do I not leave you all rich?"
Under the mild reign of Alexander IV., 1254–1261, Manfred made himself master of Sicily and was crowned king at Palermo, 1258.
Urban IV., 1261–1264, was consecrated at Viterbo and did not enter Rome during his pontificate. He was a shoemaker’s son and the first Frenchman for one hundred and sixty years to occupy the papal throne. With him the papacy came under French control, where it remained, with brief intervals, for more than a century. Urban displayed his strong national partisanship by his appointment of seven French cardinals in a conclave of seventeen. The French influence was greatly strengthened by his invitation to Charles of Anjou, youngest brother of Louis IX. of France, to occupy the Sicilian throne, claiming the right to do so on the basis of the inherent authority of the papacy and on the ground that Sicily was a papal fief. For centuries the house of Anjou, with Naples as its capital, was destined to be a disturbing element in the affairs, not only of Italy, but of all Europe.281 It stood for a new alliance in the history of the papacy as their ancestors, the Normans, had done in the age of Hildebrand. Called as supporter and ward of the papacy, Charles of Anjou became dictator of its policy and master of the political situation in Italy.
Clement IV., 1265–1268, one of the French cardinals appointed by Urban, had a family before he entered a Carthusian convent and upon a clerical career. He preached a crusade against Manfred, who had dared to usurp the Sicilian throne, and crowned Charles of Anjou in Rome, 1266. Charles promised to pay yearly tribute to the Apostolic see. A month later, Feb. 26, 1266, the possession of the crown of Sicily was decided by the arbitrament of arms on the battlefield of Benevento, where Manfred fell.
On the youthful Conradin, grandson of Frederick II., the hopes of the proud German house now hung. His title to the imperial throne was contested from the first. William of Holland had been succeeded, by the rival emperors, the rich Duke Richard of Cornwall, brother of Henry III., elected in 1257 by four of the electors, and Alfonso of Castile, elected by the remaining three.282 Conradin marched to Italy to assert his rights, 1267, was met by the papal ban, and, although received by popular enthusiasm even in Rome, he was no match for the tried skill of Charles of Anjou. His fortunes were shattered on the battlefield of Tagliacozzo, Aug. 23, 1268. Taken prisoner, he was given a mock trial. The Bolognese lawyer, Guido of Suzarra, made an ineffective plea that the young prince had come to Italy, not as a robber but to claim his inheritance. The majority of the judges were against the death penalty, but the spirit of Charles knew no clemency, and at his instance Conradin was executed at Naples, Oct. 29, 1268. The last words that fell from his lips, as he kneeled for the fatal stroke, were words of attachment to his mother, "O mother, what pain of heart do I make for you!"
With Conradin the male line of the Hohenstaufen became extinct. Its tragic end was enacted on the soil which had always been so fatal to the German rulers. Barbarossa again and again met defeat there; and in Southern Italy Henry VI., Frederick II., Conrad, Manfred, and Conradin were all laid in premature graves.
At Conradin’s burial Charles accorded military honors, but not religious rites. The Roman crozier had triumphed over the German eagle. The Swabian hill, on which the proud castle of the Hohenstaufen once stood, looks down in solemn silence upon the peaceful fields of Württemberg and preaches the eloquent sermon that "all flesh is as grass and all the glory of man is as the flower of grass." The colossal claims of the papacy survived the blows struck again and again by this imperial family, through a century. Italy had been exposed for three generations and more to the sword, rapine, and urban strife. Europe was weary of the conflict. The German minnesingers and the chroniclers of England and the Continent were giving expression to the deep unrest. Partly as a result of the distraction bordering on anarchy, the Mongols were threatening to burst through the gates of Eastern Germany. It was an eventful time. Antioch, one of the last relics of the Crusaders in Asia Minor, fell back to the Mohammedans in 1268. Seven years earlier the Latin empire of Constantinople finally reverted to its rightful owners, the Greeks.
In the mighty duel which has been called by the last great Roman historian283 the grandest spectacle of the ages, the empire had been humbled to the dust. But ideas survive, and the principle of the sovereign right of the civil power within its own sphere has won its way in one form or another among European peoples and their descendants. And the fate of young Conradin was not forgotten. Three centuries later it played its part in the memories of the German nation, and through the pictures of his execution distributed in Martin Luther’s writings contributed to strengthen the hand of the Protestant Reformer in his struggle with the papacy, which did not fail.