Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor

Henry VI (Heinrich VI) (November 1165 – 28 September 1197), a member of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, was King of Germany (King of the Romans) from 1169 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1191 until his death. From 1194 he was also King of Sicily.

Henry VI
Contemporary portrait from the Liber ad honorem Augusti, 1196
Holy Roman Emperor
Reign15 April 1191 – 28 September 1197
Coronation15 April 1191, Rome
PredecessorFrederick I Barbarossa
SuccessorOtto IV
King of Germany (King of the Romans)
Reign15 August 1169 – 28 September 1197
Coronation15 August 1169, Aachen
PredecessorFrederick I Barbarossa
SuccessorPhilip and Otto IV
King of Italy
Reign21 January 1186 – 28 September 1197
Coronation21 January 1186, Milan
PredecessorFrederick I Barbarossa
SuccessorOtto IV
King of Sicily
with Constance I
Reign25 December 1194 – 28 September 1197
Coronation25 December 1194, Palermo
PredecessorWilliam III
SuccessorFrederick
BornNovember 1165
Nimwegen
Died(1197-09-28)28 September 1197 (aged 31)
Messina
Burial
SpouseConstance I of Sicily
IssueFrederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
HouseHohenstaufen
FatherFrederick I
MotherBeatrice I, Countess of Burgundy
ReligionRoman Catholicism

He was the second son of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his consort Beatrix of Burgundy. Well-educated in the Latin language, as well as Roman and canon law, Henry was also a patron of poets and a skilled poet himself. In 1186 he was married to Constance of Sicily, the posthumous daughter of the Norman king Roger II of Sicily. Henry, stuck in the Hohenstaufen conflict with the House of Welf until 1194, had to enforce the inheritance claims by his wife against her nephew Count Tancred of Lecce. Henry's attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Sicily failed at the siege of Naples in 1191 due to an epidemic, with Empress Constance captured. Based on an enormous ransom for the release and submission of King Richard I of England, he conquered Sicily in 1194; however, the intended unification with the Holy Roman Empire ultimately failed due to the opposition of the Papacy.

Henry threatened to invade the Byzantine Empire after 1194 and succeeded in extracting a ransom, the Alamanikon, from Emperor Alexios III Angelos in return for cancelling the invasion. He made the Kingdom of Cyprus and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia formal subjects of the empire and compelled Tunis and Tripolitania to pay tribute to him. In 1195 and 1196, he attempted to turn the Holy Roman Empire from an elective to a hereditary monarchy, the so-called Erbreichsplan, but met strong resistance from the prince-electors and abandoned the plan. Henry pledged to go on crusade in 1195 and began preparations. A revolt in Sicily was crushed in 1197. The Crusaders set sail for the Holy Land that same year but Henry died of illness at Messina on 28 September 1197 before he could join them. His death plunged the Empire into the chaos of the German throne dispute for the next 17 years.