*1165 - † 28.09.1197












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Short Biography


Henry VI, Hohenstaufen

*1165 - † 28.09.1197

Roman King 1167-1191

King of Germany, 06.1169-1197

Crowned Aachen, 15.08-1169

¥ Constance Hauteville 27.01.1186

King of Italy, crowned Milan 1186

Roman Emperor 1191-1197

Crowned Rome, 15.04.1191

King of Sicily 20.11.1194-1197

Crowned Palermo 25.12.1194


Born in Nijmegen (The Netherlands), Henry was the second 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 10 June 1190.


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.

When in February 1194 Tancred died, leaving as heir a young boy, William III, Henry met little resistance and entered Palermo, capital city of the Kingdom of Sicily, on 20 November, and was crowned on 25 December. At that point, Henry was the most powerful monarch in the Mediterranean and Europe, since the Kingdom of Sicily added to his personal and Imperial revenues an income without parallel in Europe. Henry felt strong enough to send home the Pisan and Genoese ships without giving their governments the promised concessions in Southern Italy, and even received tribute from the Byzantine Empire.

His next aim was to make the imperial crown hereditary. At the Diet of Würzburg, held in April 1196, he managed to convince the majority of the princes to vote for his proposal, but in the following one at Erfurt (October 1196) he did not achieve the same favourable result.

In 1197 Henry prepared for a Crusade, but, on 28 September, he died of malaria in Messina.

He was buried in Palermo Cathedral.




We are relatively well informed about the physical appearance of Henry VI.

In the first place we have a portrait of his mother which is followed by a series of portraits of him in several manuscripts, art-works and on his seals.


Beatrix of Burgundy

*1144 ca - † 1184

¥ Frederick I Barbarossa 1156


Beatrix of Burgundy, daughter of count Rainals III of Burgundy and heiress of the county, married Frederick Barbarossa at the age of twelve. She had eleven children by him, the first when she was 15 and the last when she was 32. At her death at the age of 40 seven of them were still alive.


In October 1166 Frederick Barbarossa went to Italy for the fourth time. He captured Rome and installed Pope Paschalius (†1168), who had been elected by his intervention in 1164, on the Holy See. His wife Beatrix was crowned an empress at the same occasion. With this coronation the portrait of a queen in the S. Maria in Trastevere may have a relation.


Empress on a Mosaic

 in the apse of the S. Maria in Trastevere in Rome


On th mosaic is a young woman in imperial robes sitting on a throne, together with a bearded man dressed in a white tunica and a yellow cloak. Her robes are strewn with medallions enclosing square crosses (symbols of administrative authority. She is crowned with a crown with three leaves, the diadem with pendilia and set with pearls.

In her hands she keeps a scroll inscribed with the words LEVA EIVS SVB CAPITE MEO ET DEXERA ILLIVS AMPLESABIT ME. (His left hand under my head, and his right shall embrace me). The bearded man keeps a book inscribed with the words VENI ELECTA MEA ET PONAM IN TE THRONUM  MEUM (Come, my elect, and I shall place you on my throne). [1]


The S. Maria in Trastevere was consecrated in the time of the pontificate of Alexander III (1159-’81). On the mosaic in the apse five popes are depicted. On the right side of the throne there are the (anti-) popes Calixtus III (1168-‘78) and Innocentius III (1179-‘80). On the rioght side are three popes named  Cornelius, Julius and Leopoldus. There have not been any popes with these names and  for that reason we may suppose that the anti-popes Victorius IV (1159-’64), Paschalius III (1164-’68) and pope Alexander III are meant. We may therefore suppose that the mosaic was finished after the recognition of Alexander III in 1177..

Even when the bearded man is dressed in Imperial robes, the ‘golden”cloak symbolizing universal rule, the man clearly is not Frederick Barbarossa because he had a red beard and a quite different appearance. Also we might expect an imperial crown in that case. Thus we may suppose that it may have been

adapted after the fall of the Hohenstaufen in 1245 when, at the same time, the names of the anti-popes may have been changed for obvious reasons (as they had been ‘Hohenstaufen popes’)

However, we may be sure that the mosaic was made in the time of the rule of Alexander III and after the death of Paschalius III, and that is the time when Empress Beatrix was still alive. This makes it probable that the empress on the mosaic is in fact her.

Be it as it is, a strong argument for the hypothesis is also that the women on the mosaic strongly resembles Henry VI at about the same age.


Beatrix and Henry


Beatrix of Burgundy and Henry VI

mosaic in the apse of the Basilica Francesca Romana in Rome, 1167 ca


A third but somewhat less convincing portrait of Beatrix can be found in the St. Patrokli Dom in Soest (NRW). It is on a fresco in the northern apse depicting the Holy Virgin with child and the Three Wise Men of the East offering her a crown. This part of the Dom was consecrated on 08.07.1166 by Rainald von Dassel, archbishop of Köln and Arch-chancelor of Italy (†1167).


Fresco in the St. Patrokli Dom in Soest (NRW)


As the child on her lap is of the age of about four, the fresco should have been painted in about 1169-’70 which is the year Henry VI was crowned King of Germany. This would explain the Three Wise Men offering a crown, apparently not to the Virgin but to the child.

Admittedly the fresco is not in an optimal condition, probably due to the WWII bombing of the Dom and later restoration which may have disturbed the resemblance. The time of its creation however (“the sixties of the 12th century”) is a strong argument  that Beatrix and her son are depicted.



Somewhat later we meet Henry as a fifteen years old boy in the Hamersleben Bible from about 1180, today in the Treasury of the Dom of Halberstadt (Inv. Nr. 472). [2] On a miniature the boy is dressed in a green tunica  and a red cloak lined wit vair. On his legs he wears red stockings. In his right hand he has a sword upright and in his left a palm-leaf.


St. Pancratius,

Hamersleben Bible, fol 1 r°


From about the same time there is a portrait of Fredrick Barbarossa and his sons Henry VI and Frederick V of Swabia, Henry  wearing a red cloak lined with vair  and crowned with a three-pointed crown. Above his head Heinricvs Rex. (Welfen­chronik, Hess. Landesbibliothek Fulda, Ms. D11. fol. 14)


As a king he is depicted on a stained window in Straatsburg Cathedral, together with his father, and on his royal seal.


Emperor Frederick Barbarossa

and his son Henry VI.

Stained glass in Straatsburg Cathedral. 13th century. (Photo H.d.V. 2010)


Seal of King Henry VI

The king on his throne with crown, lily-sceptre and orb.

L.: X HEINRICVS DEI GRACIA ROMANOR(um) REX . Date: Before 1185. [3]


King Henry VI alone is depicted on another window in Straatsburg Cathedral:


King Henry VI

On a stained window in Straatsburg Cathedral

The king in a green tunica and a red cloak, wearing golden shoes, with crown, lily-sceptre and orb. (Photo H.d.V. 2010)

These windows were made after the resumption of the building activities of the Straatsburg Minster in 1176. 


After the severe damaging of the Cathedral in 1870 the windows were restored, the name of Frederick Barbarossa on the halo replaced by the name of King Conrad II, and the name Fridericus Imperator now around the head of some other ruler. The window is announced as “Conrad II (990-1039) and his son Henri III”.  [4]


Depicted alone, Henry VI wears the crown of his father as formerly elswhere in the cathedral, the colors reversed.


As an Emperor he is depicted on a mosaic in the Vatican Museum, on his seals and in the manuscript of Petrus de Ebulo. 


Mosaic with a portrait of Henry VI.

Museo di Roma. From the apse of the ancient St. Peter in Rome


Henry VI is of the age of about 25 on this mosaic. Probably it was made at the occasion of his coronation in Rome on 15 April 1191.

The crown is of three (six) plates and reminds the so-called Ottonian crown which was certainly not seen by the artist then. It is depicted by Petrus de Ebulo on the page showing Henry VI riding to his coronation (fol. 105, see below)

A distinguishing mark of Henry are the blooms on his cheeks which are visible on his earlier portrait but are more accentuated here. Perhaps they were a part of his make up as his eyes seem to be surrounded by kohl.



Seal: Henry VI on his throne with sceptre with a cross and orb. Crowned with a crown with a hoop and pendilia.  L.: HEINRIC DI GRA ROMANO4 IMPR TSEMP AVGVSTVS. Date: 1191. [5].


Golden Bull: Henry VI on his throne with sceptre with a cross and orb. Crowned with a crown with pendilia.. L.: HEINRICVS DI GRA ROMANOR IMPR ET SEMP AVGVST. Date: 1191. [6]


In the manuscript os Petrus de Ebulo there are several pages on which Henry VI is depicted usually seated on his throne and dressed in imperial robes. [7]


Emperor Henry VI on his throne.

Receiving the manuscript of  Petrus de Ebulo [8]


Again Henry VI is dressed in green and red. His crown is of a model somewhat different from his earlier crowns which suggests that there were several crowns in his treasury.

Behind him are the soldiers of his guard, bearing red shields with a bend.


A portrait showing him at the age of about thirty is on a 12th century fresco in the crypt of Maxentius in the Basilica of Aquileia. It shows clearly that Henry VI was suffering from rosacea, a skin disease characterized by facial  redness (which also can be seen in earlier portraits of him).


This fresco was a part of a fresco on the northern vault of the crypt. In the 19th century it was removed and was lost for a long time. In 1974 it was returned and it is exposed in a separate show-case in the crypt now. 


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.  [9]


Henry VI died on 28 November 1197 and was buried in Palermp Cathedral. In 1781 the tomb was openen and several clothes were found. They were described by F. Daniele in I regali sepolchri del Duomo di Palermo. Napoli, 1784. Pp. 29 f.f. and plates D-H. Daniele has been cited by door Schramm, Percy Ernst & Florentine Mütherich: Denkmale der deutsche Könige und Kaiser. München, 1962.


Æ See the section Henry I (VI) Hohenstaufen in my article about Sicily.






Henry VI riding to his coronation, 1191 [10]


Ininitially Henry VI used a banner in the colours of the Empire, being a golden cross on a red field. This may have been the banner of the Roman King. Later, when crowned an Emperor his banner showed a yellow latin cross on a white field (like the banner of his father at the third crusade) and still later a white latin cross on a yellow field. The two last banners are his banners as a “Defender of the Faith” (in fact in the service of the Church) and accordingly should be associated with military expeditions abroad, like the crusades were. The first banner apparently was for use within the Holy Empire as the square cross symbolizes the royal administrative authority.


Banner of Henry VI as a Roman King, 1191


Banners at the Siege of Naples, May-August 1191. [11]


Banner of the Church (Ecclesia) at the siege of Naples

according to Petrus de Ebulo.


Imperial Banner of Henry VI  at the siege of Naples

according to Petrus de Ebulo.


The Imperial Banner at the siege of Salerno, 17. 09.1194  [12]

L: imperiale vexillum 


The Imperial Banner at the siege of Salerno, 17. 09.1194 

Yellow two pointed banner with a long mast-end, charged with a white latin cross




According to Petrus de Ebulo the arms of Henry VI initially were: Argent, an eagle Sable. At some other occasion these arms were made Argent, an eagle Or, by gilding the eagle in the same manuscript. Perhaps this has to do with a change of style in relation to his Imperial ambitions.[13] Probably also, the shield was red with a golden eagle which would match the golden eagle on his red cloak.  His third arms were a square cross patée on an orb, which he bore at the occasion of his preparations for a crusade in 1197. These are on a bracteate struck in Blankenburg in Thüringen.

Bracteate, struck in Blankenburg in Thüringen. [14]


Knight on horseback with banner and shield. The bracteate is supposed to be struck for a crusade and is ascribed to Count Henry II of Schwarzburg-Käfernburg (1184 -1231). However, it is difficult to accept that this Henry II bore a square cross and indeed, the arms of Schwarzburg were later: Azure, a lion Or, which is more convenient for a count. As the shield looks very much like the shield of his father on a bracteate of 1157, and because the cross matches his imperial banners, it can as well be ascribed to Henry VI. [15] The fact that the planned crusade was an initiative of Henry VI himself and not of the church, explains why the cross is a square cross and not a latin cross (like on the crusade-shield of his father before).


1st arms

Roman King and/or King of Sicily

2nd arms

King of Sicily and/or Roman King

3rd arms

Roman Emperor [16]



 Frederick II



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© Hubert de Vries 2012-12-12; updated 2015-03-02


[1] Canticus Canticorum 2:6, stated similarly 8:3.

[2] Kostbarkeiten aus dem Domschatz zu Halberstadt.  Halle a/d Saale, 2001. pp. 48-49.  Der Heilige Schatz im Dom zu Halberstadt. Regensburg, 2008. N° 52 pp. 184-187

[3] Die Zeit der Staufer Stuttgart 1977. Kat. 32.

[4] Zschokke, Fridtjof: Die Romanischen Glasgemälde des Starssburger Münsters. Basel, 1942. Vitraux Cathédrale de Strasbourg. Strasbourg 1999.

[5] Die Zeit, Kat.   33

[6] Die Zeit, Kat.   34, on the reverse the seal of Rome

[7] Ebulo, Petrus de: Liber ad Honorem Augusti  sive de rebus Siculis. Codex 120 II der Burgerbibliothek Bern,  fol. 105,.fol.109 (showing his shield), fol. 132, fol. 137, fol. 139, fol. 146, fol. 147 showing a lions’ throne. Lit.: Ebulo, Petrus de: Liber ad Honorem Augusti.  sive de rebus Siculis. Codex 120 II der Burgerbibliothek Bern. Eine Bilderchronik der Stauferzeit. Herausgegeben von Theo Kölzer und Marlis Stähli. Jan Thorbecke Verlag Sigmaringen, 1994.

[8] Ebulo op. cit. fol. 139.

[9] Photo H.d.V.  sept. 2003

[10] Ebulo, op. cit. fol. 105

[11] Ebulo, op. cit. fol. 109

[12] Ebulo, op. cit. fol. 132.

[13] After 1194 he was as well a Roman emperor and king of Sicily and made Byzantium, Tunis and Tripolis his tributaries.

[14] Münzstätte Blanken­burg i. Thür./ 188.73 GF Heinrich II. v. Schwarzburg/ 1184-1231 (?) Seega 344/ 083 g. smb st. m. 276 Nr. 2 / Die Zeit der Staufer Abb. 107.1

[15] Bracteate of  Frederick I. The emperor on horseback with a shield with a square cross. 188.29. KS Friedrich I 1152-'90 Seega 58/ 0,87 g SMM acc. 60708 aus Fd Seega / Auf dem Schild des Kaisers ein kreuz. Vielleicht handelt es sich hier um einen "Kreuzzugspfennig". Die umschrift ist unlesbar verwildert. Die Zeit der Staufer Abb. 104.3.

[16] Reconstructions of banners and arms. H.d.V.