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Frederick II: The Emperor Had Street Cred

When you're the grandson of two of the most powerful rulers of the middle ages, Roger II (on your mother's side) and Frederick Barbarossa (on your father's), saying that you have it made is an understatement. Yet that wasn't the case with Frederick II. He was born on December 24, 1194 in Jesi, on the Adriatic coast -- his mother, Constance of Hauteville, the daughter of Roger II, was on her way down to Palermo from Germany for the coronation of her husband, Henry VI of the Hohenstaufen lineage, as King of Sicily. Constance had been yanked out of a convent at age 32 by her nephew, Norman king William II, and married off to the Swabian heir to continue the Hauteville dynasty. She ultimately gave birth at 40 to her only child, going into labor in a public square to quell any doubts about her pregnancy. Left fatherless at the age of 3, Frederick's mother also died a year after her husband. He was entrusted to tutors who were to give him an education fit for a king, but he was often neglected and abandoned. Left to his own devices, he got his education by roaming the streets of the poorest areas of Palermo, coming into contact with all of Palermo's diverse cultures and religions -- Arab, Jewish, Byzantine, and the merchants who came from all over the Mediterranean. This unconventional education would prove to be integral in the formation of the young king. He ruled with respect for other traditions, in the same vein as his grandfather, Roger II.

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