CONRAD III. (1093-1152), German king, second son of Frederick I., duke of Swabia, and Agnes, daughter of the emperor Henry IV., was the first king of the Hohenstaufen family. His father died in 1105, and his mother married secondly Leopold III., margrave of Austria; but little is known of his early life until 1115 when his uncle the emperor Henry V. appointed him duke of Franconia. In 1116, together with his elder brother Frederick II., duke of Swabia, he was left by Henry as regent of Germany, and when the emperor died in 1125 he became titular king of Burgundy, or Arles. Returning from the Holy Land in 1126, he took part in the war which during his absence had broken out between his brother Frederick and the new king, Lothair the Saxon; and was chosen king in opposition to Lothair on the 1 8th of December 1127. His election in preference to Frederick was possibly due to the fact that owing to his absence from Germany he had not taken the oath of fealty to the new king. Hastening across the Alps he was crowned king of Italy at Monza in June 1128, and in spite of the papal ban was generally acknowledged in northern Italy. His position, however, rapidly weakened. The rival popes, Innocent II. and Anacletus II., both declared against him; the Romans repudiated him; and after failing to seize the extensive possessions left by Matilda, marchioness of Tuscany, he returned to Germany in 1132. He continued the struggle against Lothair till October 1135, when he submitted, was pardoned, and recovered his estates; I owing this generous treatment, it is said, to the good offices of St Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux. In 1136 he accompanied the imperial forces to Italy in the capacity of standard-bearer, distinguished himself by his soldierly skill, and in view of the increasing age and infirmity of Lothair, sought to win the favour of Pope Innocent II.
In December 1137 Lothair died, and some of the princes met at Coblenz, and chose Conrad for a second time as German king on the 7th of March 1138, in presence of the papal legate. Crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle six days later, he was acknowledged at Bamberg by several of the South German princes; but his position could not be strong while Henry the Proud, the powerful duke of Bavaria and Saxony, refused his allegiance. Attempts at a peaceful settlement of this rivalry failed, and Henry was placed under the ban in July 1138, when war broke out in Bavaria and Saxony. The king was unable to make much headway, in spite of the death of Duke Henry, which occurred in October 1139; and his half-brother Leopold IV., margrave of Austria, to whom Bavaria had been entrusted, was defeated by Henry's brother Welf, afterwards duke of Spoleto and margrave of Tuscany. Conrad, however, captured the fortress of Weinsberg from Welf in December 1140, and is said to have allowed the women to leave the town, each with as much of her property as she could carry on her back. To his surprise, so the story runs, each woman came out bearing on her back a husband, a father or a brother, who thus escaped the vengeance of the conquerors. This tale is now regarded as legendary, and the same remark also applies to the tradition that the cries Hi Welfen, hi Wibelinen, were first raised at this siege. Peace was made at Frankfort in May 1142, when Henry the Lion, son of Henry the Proud, was confirmed in the duchy of Saxony, while Bavaria was given to Conrad's step-brother Henry Jasomirgott, margrave of Austria, who married Gertrude, the widow of Henry the Proud.
Affairs in Italy demanded the attention of the king, as Roger I., king of Sicily, had won considerable authority on the mainland, and refused to recognize the German king, whose help Pope Lucius II. implored against the rebellious Romans. This state of affairs drove Conrad into alliance with the East Roman emperor, Manuel Comnenus, who in 1146 married his step-sister; but the condition of Germany prevented the contemplated campaign against Roger. The solitary success amid the general disorder in the Empire was the expedition undertaken in 1142 by Conrad into Bohemia, where he restored his brother-in-law Ladislaus to this throne. An attempt, however, to perform the same service for another brother-in-law, also called Ladislaus, who had been driven from his Polish dukedom, ended in failure. Meanwhile Germany was ravaged and devastated by civil war, which Conrad was unable to repress. Disorder was rampant in Saxony, Bavaria and Burgundy; and in 1146 war broke out between the Bavarians and the Hungarians. A term was placed to this condition of affairs by the preaching of Bernard of Clairvaux, and the consequent departure of many turbulent nobles on crusade. In December 1146 the king himself took the cross, secured the election and coronation of his young son Henry as his successor, appointed Henry I., archbishop of Mainz, as his guardian, and set out for Palestine in the autumn of 1147. Marching with a large and splendid army through Hungary, he reached Asia Minor, where his forces were decimated by disease and by the sword. Stricken by illness, Conrad returned to Constantinople at Christmas 1147, but in March 1148 set out to rejoin his troops. Having shared in the fruitiess attack on Damascus, he left Palestine in September 1148, and passed the ensuing winter at Constantinople, where he made fresh plans for an attack on Roger of Sicily. He reached Italy by sea; but the news that Roger had allied himself with Louis VII., king of France, and his old opponent Welf of Bavaria, compelled him to return hastily to Germany, which was again in disorder. He was obliged to neglect repeated invitations from the Romans, who sent him a specially urgent letter in 1149, and consequently never received the imperial crown.
Conrad died on the 15th of February 1152 at Bamberg, where he was buried. By his wife, Gertrude, daughter of Berenger, count of Sulzbach, he had two sons, the elder of whom, Henry, died in 1150. Passing over his younger son Frederick on account of his youth, he appointed as his successor his nephew Frederick III., duke of Swabia, afterwards the emperor Frederick I. Conrad possessed military talents, and had many estimable qualities, but he lacked perseverance and foresight, and was hampered by his obligations to the church.
The chief authority for Conrad's life and reign is Otto of Freising, "Chronicon," in the Monumenta Germaniae historica. Scriptores, Band xx. (Hanover and Berlin, 1826-1892). The best modern authorities are L. von Ranke, Weltgeschichte, achter Teil (Leipzig, 1887-1888), W. von Giesebrecht, Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit, Band iv. (Brunswick, 1877), J. Jastrow, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Hohenstaufen (Berlin, 1893); Ph. Jaffe, Geschichte des deutschen Reiches unter Lothar dem Sachsen (Berlin, 1843) W. Bernhardi, Konrad III. (Leipzig, 1883); O. von Heinemann, Lothar der Sachse and Konrad III. (Halle, 1869).
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