Henry, born in 1165 in Nijmegen (present-day Holland), of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa and Beatrice of Burgundy, was soon crowned king of the Germans by the Archbishop of Cologne in Aachen in August 1170 and after his father's death he was crowned emperor in 1191.
The young Enrico was well educated, he knew Latin well, he had learned Roman law and canon law well, he was interested in art and science. According to some sources, his tutors were Konrad von Querfurt and Goffredo da Viterbo.
Many historians believe that the key to his expansionist ambitions was the Kingdom of Sicily, which then included all of Italy south of Rome and some coastal areas of the Mediterranean in the Balkans and North Africa; most of northern Italy was already part of the empire.
On 29 October 1184 in Augsburg the agreement between Frederick I and the king of Sicily William II concerning the engagement of Henry with Costanza d’Altavilla, posthumous daughter of Roger II of Sicily, was announced.
In the summer of 1185 Costanza, accompanied by a crowd of princes and barons, left Palermo for Milan, where the wedding was to be celebrated.
The wedding was celebrated in the church of Sant 'Ambrogio, on 27 January 1186, Pope Urban III did not attend the ceremony. On that occasion Enrico was also crowned king of Italy.
Constance's marriage with Henry VI was fundamental to the acquisition of southern Italy by the Swabian House. Very probably if this marriage had not been celebrated in 1186 or if William II had an heir, the Empire would not have got its hands on the Kingdom of Sicily.
Even today it is not clear who was the main author of this agreement. Recently the initiative was attributed to William II, who would also have used the mediation of the King of England. Perhaps the sovereign of Sicily saw this agreement in the perspective of giving a Norman heir to the throne of Sicily. It cannot be excluded that the initiative started from the Swabian court, in fact Federico I had already tried an approach in the past, but without success.
After marrying Costanza d'Altavilla, Enrico claimed the civil right to be the successor of William II of Sicily, who died without heirs in 1189, but Costanza Tancredi's nephew, with the support of the Sicilian nobility, claimed the right to the throne of Sicilia. In this context, in November 1189, Tancredi was crowned in Palermo, King of Sicily. Pope Clement III, who did not look favorably on a single ruler of the Hohenstaufen family from Germany to Sicily, approved and recognized the election.
When Henry VI became emperor in 1191, he immediately decided to reconquer the Kingdom of Sicily, also supported by the fleet of the Pisan Republic, always faithful to the emperor. However, the Sicilian fleet managed to beat the Pisan fleet; Enrico's army, also due to a series of unfortunate events (including a pestilence), was decimated. Moreover, Tancredi managed to capture Aunt Costanza in Salerno.
For the release of Empress Tancredi, she demanded that the emperor come to terms with a truce agreement. As a gesture of good will, he agreed to hand Costanza to Pope Celestine III who had offered himself as a mediator; during the journey to Rome, however, the convoy was attacked by an imperial garrison and the Empress was released. Having lost the precious hostage, the truce was not stipulated between Tancredi and Enrico.
The expedition to Sicily to hunt Tancredi failed also because in Germany there was a rebellion of the nobility headed by Henry the Lion and supported by the English sovereign Richard the Lionheart. Even to restrain the noble rebels Henry had to return to Germany. Plots apart, Henry did not like the fact that Richard the Lionheart had recognized Tancredi as king of Sicily.
In February 1193, Duke Leopold V of Austria succeeded in capturing the insidious Richard the Lionheart near Vienna, while the English king returned from the crusade. The English sovereign was then handed over to Enrico. Pope Celestine III excommunicated Henry for imprisoning a Crusader ruler, but following the payment of a heavy ransom, King Richard the Lionheart was released in 1194.
On 20 February 1194 Tancredi died while he was engaged in a campaign in the peninsular part of the kingdom to reduce his loyal vassals to the emperor. Shortly afterwards, in circumstances not yet clear, his son Roger also died. With the death of Tancredi the go-ahead for a second descent of Enrico and Costanza arrived.
Henry VI, with the support of the Genoese and Pisan fleets headed by the faithful Marcovaldo di Anweller, after having secured the neutrality of the Lombard Municipalities with the Treaty of Vercelli of 12 January 1194, succeeded in subjugating Sicily.
In the autumn of 1194, he received an oath of loyalty from the lords of the Hauteville in Troia (Foggia). At that time the emperor appointed the bishop of Troy Gualtiero di Pagliara Chancellor of the kingdom of Sicily and Puglia.
To hold the Kingdom was still the widowed Queen Sibilla of Acerra, for the count of Lecce, the younger Guglielmo, son of Tancredi. Arriving on the island, Henry VI had himself crowned King of Sicily on Christmas Day in 1194, thus realizing the union of the kingdom to the empire.
Meanwhile, Queen Constance, while on her way to Sicily, was forced to stop in Jesi from the end of her pregnancy, so on December 26th 1194 she gave birth to the future Frederick II, to whom he imposed the name of Federico Ruggero in honor of the two illustrious grandparents.
Meanwhile, Henry VI in Palermo had Sibilla imprisoned and ordered the blinding and evasion of William III and the immediate transfer of both to Germany. At the same time he ordered that the magnificent royal treasure was confiscated and taken to Germany.
Despite having annexed the Kingdom of Sicily without any impediment, Henry VI accused the conspiracy of lay and ecclesiastics, against them he was atrocious and cruel.
Even Count Riccardo d'Acerra, William's uncle, returning from the crusade was imprisoned and then killed.
Constance, after having entrusted the newborn Federico to the protection of Conrad of Urslingen Duke of Spoleto, left for Sicily, without imagining that on the island he would find discontent, rebellions and fear, due to Enrico's atrocities.
By 1196 the Hohenstaufen dynasty had reached the maximum geographical and economic extent of its power. On paper, England and half of France had been vassals, Denmark and Hungary recognized the authority of the Staufen. Furthermore, two thirds of Italy, in fact, but the entire Papal State, was now under the direct dominion of Enrico. Further away, the kings of Armenia (which at that time stretched to the Mediterranean) and the island of Cyprus became its vassals.
The Emperor introduced numerous officials and vassals to Sicily and brought with him the Teutonic Knights who settled in Messina and Palermo. The Teutonic knights proved to be much more faithful than were the Hospitallers and the Templars. Henry VI placed his trusted men in key positions, above all in the strategically important castles on the northern border, as they guaranteed the connection with northern Italy. Thus Marquardo of Anweller was entrusted with the March of Ancona, the duchy of Romagna and - after the death of Conrad of Lützelhardt (1197) - the county of Molise, while to his brother Filippo, he gave Tuscany and the administration of the feuds of Matilde of Canossa. Gualtierio di Pagliara was Chancellor of the Empire who had spent many years in exile in Germany. Conrad of Urslingen of Spoleto was appointed Vicar of the King.
None of these initiatives was appreciated by the Norman and Longobard barons who rebelled. This situation led, in 1197, to a ruthless repression of the riots in southern Italy.
Henry also contemplated a conquest of Constantinople that began that same year. Led by Conrad of Wittelsbach, archbishop of Magonza, a first contingent of this expedition left, but while he had already conquered Sidon and Beirut came the news of the death of Henry VI in Messina (28 September 1197), then both the prelate and the crusaders did return to Sicily. With the death of the Emperor the Kingdom of Sicily returned to chaos again.
Enrico was succeeded by his son of just three years, the future Federico II. His wife Constance, who survived him a little over a year, was regent in the Kingdom. The German princes elected Emperor Otto IV of Brunswick.
Henry VI of Swabia is buried in the cathedral of Palermo, the same one where he was crowned. Next to the tomb I am the wife and son Federico II.