New Circle Begins
German kings, who had come close to subduing the whole of Italy during the tenth century, created the Holy Roman
Empire. It seemed that Germany would thrive in this huge state, but the emperors elected by high-ranking noblemen
became dependent on them. The nobles' drive for independence was tearing Germany into a multitude of domains. Instead
of uniting German lands, many emperors spent their lives trying to gain full control of Italy. The throne became a
source of constant feuding, and though some were successful, Germany as a whole was not strong. Having survived so
much internal and external turmoil, the empire was facing a new century.
Two Crowns, One Throne
The long-standing discord between the powerful families of Hohenstaufen and Welf continued in Germany into
the early thirteenth century. The conflict gained new impetus when each party proclaimed a supreme ruler -- Philip
of Swabia and Otto of Brunswick, respectively. A new war began. By 1205, Philip had nearly bested Otto. The wealthy
and influential city of Cologne remained among Otto's last strongholds in northern Germany. He personally defended
the city, and Philip's 1205 campaign was unsuccessful. The following year, Philip of Swabia launched another campaign
against the defiant city. Otto's forces, unwilling to let Philip approach Cologne, met him by Wassenberg in late July.
The battle was short, and the winner pardoned Cologne.
Struggle for the Baltics
Philip of Swabia was killed in 1208. His adversary Otto ascended to the throne, but was not able to hold it for
long. The throne passed to Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, the grandson of great Frederick Barbarossa. In the meantime,
German noblemen were gaining new lands and power. Northern German feudalists had long envied the success of Denmark,
which had secured lands from Elba to Estonia, including Germany's Holstein. In 1222, Count Henry of Schwerin took Danish
King Waldemar II captive and released him only after the latter paid a ransom and gave up Holstein. Eager to regain his
lost lands, and to avenge his wounded pride, Waldemar launched a new war against his erstwhile captors. The decisive battle
was fought near Bornhoved on July 22, 1227.
There had been times when all of Europe had prostrated itself before the rampant Danish Vikings, but on that day in July,
Danish bodies covered the whole battlefield.
Brilliant Twilight of a Great Dynasty
Born in Italy, Frederick II had always considered it his home. The heir to the Sicilian throne, he dreamed of uniting
all of Italy under his rule, using German soldiers and money. Frederick's primary adversaries in the fight for Italy were
the Vatican City and the Lombard League, an alliance of independent Northern Italian cities. The League's armies, constantly
maneuvering, managed to save their cities from being besieged, and were able to wear down Frederick's forces through the year
1236. Towards the end of the next year, history repeated itself, as the Lombards performed a keen maneuver to cover the city
of Brescia, being certain that Frederick, having disbanded part of his army, would retreat for winter. They then withdrew to
the town of Cortenuova, where they quietly established camp. But the emperor followed the League's army, and located their
camp on November 27, 1237. The battle started at twilight. That same night, the Lombards abandoned their banner in order to
save their lives.
Frederick II died in 1250, and chaos reigned for the next two decades. Eventually, Rudolf Habsburg was elected emperor
in 1273. The Pope acknowledged him as emperor, but in exchange, Habsburg had to give up all claims to Italian lands. Wisely,
Rudolf recognized that his efforts should be focused on Germany. But control over German lands was also a goal for many others,
especially King Premysl Otokar II of Bohemia. Several years of conflict eventually brought the adversaries to the Morava River
on August 27, 1278. Premysl, nicknamed the Iron and Golden King, hoped to crush his enemy there. Instead, he found his death,
and Rudolf Habsburg found his glory.
Albrecht, the son of Rudolf Habsburg, became the duke of Austria while his father was still alive. In the eyes of the
noblemen, this made him too powerful. Consequently, Adolf Nassau, ruler of a small county, was elected emperor in 1292. He was
supposed to be a puppet of the noblemen, but Nassau refused. Remembering Albrecht Habsburg, the German nobles offered him the
throne, and Albrecht accepted.
In 1298, at the Reichstag in Meinz, Adolf Nassau was removed from office and the throne was awarded to Albrecht. None of the
adversaries were present at this event, because they were already warring for the crown. Facing each other by Gollheim on a
July morning, the two adversaries both personally fought in the battle. By noon, only the legitimate owner of the throne was
New Circle Begins
The end of one span of history is the beginning of another. New emperors were being elected, and the stars of glorious new
warriors were rising. Germany, as before, was waiting for a power that would bring it internal peace and unity.