The European Union has been compared with the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted for a thousand years until Napoleon put an end to it. It was a loose confederation of autonomous principalities governed by compromise. The British historian R.J.W. Evans observed: “Around the early 18th century, pretty much the whole of Europe was tied into the Empire in this kind of way – Britain, Denmark, Prussia, Sweden, Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, all rulers with crowns outside the Empire, but intimately, functionally, connected to it. Even the Russian ruling house is a German house. So it’s a form of much wider political constellation. The security of the Empire is inextricably linked to the security of Europe as a whole. This is a very important way in which, on the one hand problems of the Empire can be exported, but also the rest of Europe can find it necessary to sustain some kind of order in Germany.”
The greatest of the early emperors was Frederick II (1194–1250), named in his own time, “a wonder of the world” (stupor mundi), who has been rediscovered from time to time by writers like Goethe, Nietzsche, German poets before World War I and admirers of Angela Merkel.
In addition to being Holy Roman Emperor in direct line of succession from Augustus, Frederick was King of Sicily and – among other kingdoms – Jerusalem. He reigned during the sixth crusade.
By family heritage, he could not have been more diverse. One grandfather northern, the other southern – emblematic of the tension between the European north and the European south, which is so acute today.
In his court in Palermo, the brightest of the bright – scientists and artists – were assembled, including Muslims and Jews. For half a century, they achieved a unique harmony – so unique that it could not survive his death.
One of his two grandfathers, Frederick I’s, red beard – Barbarossa – was used as the code word for the Nazi invasion of Russia in June, 1941.