medieval italian kings

Exploring Medieval Italian Kings – A Journey into History

Italy’s rich history is characterized by the rule of its monarchs, who held significant power during the medieval period. From the Lombard kings to the Renaissance dynasties, these rulers shaped the political, cultural, and social landscape of Italy. In this article, we will take a journey through time and explore the captivating world of medieval Italian kings and the Italian monarchy’s history.

Key Takeaways:

  • The medieval Italian kings played a crucial role in shaping Italy’s history.
  • The Lombard kings, Normans, Holy Roman Emperors, House of Hohenstaufen, Papal States, Angevin Dynasty, and Sforza and Visconti families were some of the most influential dynasties of the time.
  • The decline and eventual end of Italian monarchy were influenced by various factors, including foreign invasions and the rise of city-states.

The Rise of Monarchy in Italy

The history of medieval Italy rulers is intertwined with the establishment of Italian royal families. These early ruling families set the stage for the future kings and queens of Italy. It was during this period that the Italian monarchy began to take shape, with each new ruler seeking to expand their power and influence.

At the start of the medieval period, Italy was a collection of city-states ruled by individual families. However, as the power of the papacy grew, so too did the influence of the pope on Italian politics. This led to the emergence of powerful families who sought to align themselves with the papacy and gain favor with the church.

One such family was the House of Savoy, who would go on to become one of the most influential dynasties in Italian history. However, they were far from the only family vying for power and influence. Other notable families included the Medici, the Visconti, and the Sforza, all of whom played a significant role in shaping the Italian monarchy.

The Lombard Kings of Italy

The Lombard kings were a Germanic people who conquered Italy in the late 6th century. Their reigns had a significant impact on the political landscape of medieval Italy rulers. The Lombard kings ruled for over two hundred years, and during this time, they established a stable and prosperous kingdom.

Despite this stability, the Lombard kings faced challenges from the papacy and other Italian rulers. However, they were able to maintain their rule and expand their territory through a combination of military might and strategic alliances.

Ultimately, it was the Frankish king Charlemagne who brought an end to the Lombard kingdom. In the late 8th century, he conquered their territory and incorporated it into his own empire.

The Normans: Shaping Italian Monarchy

The Normans were a people of Viking origin who settled in northern France. In the 11th century, they launched a series of conquests that would see them establish their rule in various parts of Italy.

Under the Norman kings, Italy experienced a period of stability and prosperity. The Normans were able to establish a strong monarchy, which lasted until the 12th century. They also played a significant role in the development of Italian culture and art, leaving behind a lasting legacy that can still be seen today.

The Holy Roman Emperors

The Holy Roman Emperors played a complex role in the history of medieval Italy rulers. While they sought to maintain control over Italy, they faced challenges from local rulers who resisted their authority.

Over the centuries, the power of the Holy Roman Emperors waned, and they became increasingly reliant on alliances with Italian rulers. However, their influence can still be seen in the architecture and art of the period.

Overall, the rise of monarchy in Italy was a complex and turbulent period, marked by political maneuvering and military conquests. From the Lombard kings to the Holy Roman Emperors, each ruler left their mark on the history of Italy, shaping the country we know today.

The Lombard Kings of Italy

The Lombards, a Germanic people, ruled over Italy from 568 to 774 AD, establishing the Kingdom of the Lombards, also known as the Lombard Kingdom. The Lombards were fierce warriors who invaded Italy and quickly became the dominant power in the region. The Lombard kingdom spanned over much of modern-day Italy, including parts of central and northern Italy.

Under the reign of King Liutprand, the Lombard kingdom reached its peak and enjoyed a period of stability and prosperity during the 8th century. Liutprand reformed the laws and the administration of the kingdom, promoting trade and agriculture, and fostering the arts.

Lombard Kings Reign
Alboin 568–572
Cleph 572–574
Authari 584–590
Agilulf 591–616
Rothari 636–652
Liutprand 712–744

The Lombard kings had to contend with the Byzantine Empire, which maintained control over parts of Italy. The Lombards and the Byzantines engaged in frequent conflicts, including the Lombard conquest of Ravenna, the Byzantine capital in Italy, in 751 AD.

The Lombards had a significant impact on the development of Italy and its culture. They introduced legal reforms, including the famous Lombard Laws, and left an important architectural legacy, such as the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Milan and the Tempietto Longobardo in Cividale del Friuli. The Lombards also contributed to the spread of Christianity in Italy, as King Authari converted to Catholicism in the 6th century.

The Lombard Kingdom came to an end in 774 AD when Charlemagne, the king of the Franks, conquered Lombardy and incorporated it into his Carolingian Empire. Despite their brief reign in Italy, the Lombard kings left an enduring legacy in Italian history and culture.


The Lombard kings were a powerful force in medieval Italy and had a lasting impact on the development of the country. Their reign established the groundwork for future rulers and created a cultural legacy that is still visible today. The Lombards were just one of many groups that contributed to the rich tapestry of Italian history and demonstrate the complexity of the country’s past.

The Normans: Shaping Italian Monarchy

The Norman influence on Italian monarchy cannot be overstated. This group of people from northern France established their control over southern Italy and Sicily in the 11th century, leaving a lasting mark on the region’s history.

One of the most significant conquests of the Normans was the establishment of the Kingdom of Sicily. Under this new kingdom, powerful rulers such as Roger II, Frederick II, and William II reigned over Italy and Sicily, leaving their own unique mark on Italian monarchy.

During this time, the Normans married into Italian royal families, including the powerful Hauteville family. Robert Guiscard, one of the most famous Norman conquerors, married the daughter of the Lombard prince of Salerno, solidifying his control over southern Italy.

The Normans also brought French influence to Italy, blending their own traditions with those of the local culture. The result was a unique fusion of cultures that helped shape Italian monarchy for centuries to come.

The Holy Roman Emperors and Their Impact on Italian Monarchy

The Holy Roman Emperors played a crucial role in the medieval Italian monarchy. From the 10th to the 16th century, the Holy Roman Empire exerted significant influence over Italy, which was composed of various city-states and principalities. The emperors sought to maintain control over Italy, often clashing with local rulers and paving the way for imperial intervention and conquest.

The Relationship between the Holy Roman Emperors and Italy

The relationship between Italy and the Holy Roman Empire was complex and often fraught with conflict. Emperors sought to assert their authority over the Italian peninsula, which was viewed as a crucial part of the empire’s territory. Italy, however, was not a unified nation-state, but rather a diverse collection of independent states, each with its own ruling classes and political systems.

As a result, the Holy Roman Emperors found it challenging to assert their authority over Italy. They were often forced to deal with the pope, who had significant power within the Italian peninsula due to the presence of the Papal States. The popes often clashed with the emperors over issues such as the appointment of bishops and taxation, leading to a long-standing conflict between the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy.

The Holy Roman Emperors and Italian Monarchs

The Holy Roman Emperors had a significant impact on Italian monarchy. They often appointed their own kings and dukes to regions within Italy, which weakened the power of local rulers. The emperors also sought to extend their authority over the Italian principalities, which led to conflict with local ruling families.

During the 12th century, Frederick Barbarossa sought to assert his control over Italy. He waged wars against various Italian cities, including Milan and Venice, in an attempt to bring them under his rule. His successor, Frederick II, was also a significant figure in Italian monarchy. He was crowned king of Italy in 1220 and later became the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Decline of the Holy Roman Empire

Despite their efforts, the Holy Roman Emperors were unable to exert their authority over Italy for an extended period. They faced fierce resistance from local rulers, who were often supported by the pope and other European powers. The emperors also struggled to deal with the ongoing conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines, two opposing political factions who fought for control of the Italian city-states.

As a result, the power of the Holy Roman Empire began to decline in the 14th century. By the end of the 16th century, the empire had lost much of its authority over Italy, and the Italian peninsula had become a patchwork of independent states.

The Holy Roman Emperors played a crucial role in the history of Italian monarchy. Their attempts to maintain control over Italy shaped the political landscape of the time, setting the stage for the rise of powerful ruling families such as the Medici and Sforza. Understanding their impact is crucial to understanding the complexities of medieval Italian monarchy.

The House of Hohenstaufen

The House of Hohenstaufen was a medieval Italian dynasty that played a crucial role in shaping the Italian monarchy. Two of its most prominent rulers, Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick II, left a lasting impact on the political and cultural landscape of Italy.

Frederick Barbarossa, also known as Frederick I, reigned from 1155 to 1190 and was known for his military conquests, including the Lombard League. He also played a significant role in the Investiture Controversy, a power struggle between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Catholic Church.

Frederick II succeeded his grandfather, Frederick Barbarossa, and reigned from 1220 to 1250. He is widely considered one of the most significant rulers of the medieval period, known for his patronage of the arts and sciences. He also played a critical role in the Sixth Crusade, where he negotiated a treaty with the Muslim leader al-Kamil that allowed Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem.

House of Hohenstaufen Timeline
1155 – Frederick I (Barbarossa) begins his reign
1190 – Frederick I dies
1208 – Philip of Swabia becomes king
1212 – Frederick II is born
1220 – Frederick II begins his reign
1250 – Frederick II dies

The House of Hohenstaufen’s reign came to an end with the death of Frederick II, but their influence on Italian monarchy remained. Their legacy can be seen in the continued struggle for power between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, as well as in the emergence of city-states as a dominant force in Italian politics.

The Papal States and the Italian Kings

The Papal States, governed by the pope, held significant power in medieval Italy. The pope wielded both religious and political authority, creating a unique dynamic with the Italian kings.

The popes often acted as mediators between warring factions, including Italian rulers. In some cases, the pope even crowned or deposed monarchs.

However, not all popes were content with a purely diplomatic role. Pope Gregory VII famously clashed with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over the issue of lay investiture, or the appointment of church officials by secular rulers.

Despite these conflicts, the popes and Italian kings generally maintained a complex relationship. The popes often relied on alliances with monarchs to further their own ambitions, while monarchs sought papal approval to legitimize their rule.

The papacy’s influence on Italian kingship continued throughout the medieval period, shaping the course of Italian history.

The Angevin Dynasty: French Influence in Italy

The Angevin Dynasty, originating from France, gained power in several parts of Italy. Their reigns had a significant impact on Italian monarchy, particularly during the 13th and 14th centuries. The dynasty’s founder, Charles of Anjou, was appointed King of Naples and Sicily in 1266 by the pope, leading to the establishment of the Kingdom of Naples.

Under the Angevin rule, Naples became a center of French influence, drawing artists, scholars, and writers to the city. King Robert the Wise, who ruled from 1309 to 1343, was a patron of the arts and commissioned several works, including the famous frescoes in the Basilica of San Francesco di Paola.

However, the Angevin Dynasty faced significant opposition from rival factions and local rulers, leading to several conflicts. The most famous of these was the Sicilian Vespers, a rebellion that erupted in 1282 against Charles of Anjou’s rule in Sicily.

The dynasty’s rule in Naples and other parts of southern Italy lasted until the mid-15th century when it was challenged by the rising power of the Aragonese dynasty. Nonetheless, the Angevins left a lasting impact on Italian culture and politics during the medieval period.

The Angevin Dynasty in Italian Monarchs Timeline

Monarch Reign Notes
Charles I 1266-1285 Founder of the dynasty, appointed King of Naples and Sicily
Charles II 1285-1309 Known as “The Lame,” faced several rebellions
Robert the Wise 1309-1343 Patron of the arts, commissioned several works
Joanna I 1343-1382 First female monarch of Naples, faced several assassination attempts
Charles III 1382-1386 Short reign, faced opposition from rival factions
Ladislaus I 1386-1414 Known as “The Magnanimous,” faced several wars and conflicts

“The Angevin Dynasty brought a new era of French influence to Italy, leaving a lasting impact on culture and politics during the medieval period.” – Dr. Alessandro Conti, Italian historian

The Sforza and Visconti: Renaissance Kings

The Renaissance period was a time of great change and innovation in Italy, and the Sforza and Visconti families played a significant role in this era of Italian monarchy history.

Starting with the Visconti family, they established their rule over the city of Milan in the 14th century, dominating the region until the early 15th century. Under their reign, Milan became a center of art and culture, with the construction of landmarks such as the Milan Cathedral and Castello Sforzesco.

However, the Visconti family’s rule came to an end with the death of their last ruler, Filippo Maria Visconti, in 1447. This opened the door for the Sforza family to take control of Milan.

Sforza Family Reign Key Monarch Reign Duration
Francesco Sforza 1450-1466 16 years
Galeazzo Maria Sforza 1466-1476 10 years
Ludovico Sforza 1494-1499 5 years

The Sforza family proved to be powerful and innovative rulers, with notable achievements such as the founding of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and the patronage of renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci. However, their reign came to an end with the French invasion of Italy in 1499.

Despite their relatively short reigns, both the Visconti and Sforza families left significant legacies in Italian monarchy history, particularly in the areas of art and culture. Their contributions helped shape the Italian Renaissance, leaving a lasting impact on the world.

The End of Italian Monarchy

Despite the strong influence of medieval Italian kings throughout history, the monarchy eventually came to an end. One of the key factors was the foreign invasions that Italy faced, including those by French and Spanish forces. In addition, the rise of city-states, including Venice and Florence, eroded the power of the monarchy and shifted the focus to regional governance.

Another significant factor was the emergence of the Renaissance period, which brought about a new era of culture and intellectualism that challenged the traditional structures of power. This led to a decline in the authority of the monarchy and an increasing emphasis on individualism and republicanism.

Despite these challenges, the legacy of the medieval Italian kings lives on in the art, architecture, and historical landmarks that remain scattered throughout Italy. From the Colosseum and the Pantheon in Rome to the Castel del Monte in Apulia, the impact of the monarchy can still be felt in the cultural heritage of the country.

Overall, the end of Italian monarchy marked the beginning of a new era of Italian history, one characterized by a focus on regionalism and the emergence of the Italian Republic. Nevertheless, the influence of the medieval Italian kings remains an important aspect of Italy’s rich cultural and historical legacy.


As we conclude our journey into the world of medieval Italian kingship, we have uncovered the rich history of the Italian monarchy. From the early royal families to the Lombard kings, the Normans, and the powerful Holy Roman Emperors, each era brought its unique challenges and triumphs.

The House of Hohenstaufen played a crucial role in the medieval Italian monarchy, with the reigns of Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick II significantly impacting the political and cultural landscape of Italy. The Papal States held significant power and influenced Italian kingship, shaping the course of Italian history.

The Angevin Dynasty brought French influence to Italy and established their rule in various parts of the country, including the reign of King Robert the Wise. The Renaissance brought new dynasties to the forefront of Italian monarchy, with the Sforza and Visconti families making significant contributions to art, culture, and politics during this transformative period.

Unfortunately, the decline and eventual end of Italian monarchy came as a result of foreign invasions and the rise of city-states, bringing an end to a significant chapter in Italian history.

Final Thoughts

By exploring the reigns of medieval Italian kings, we gain valuable insights into the complex tapestry of Italian history. From the struggles and achievements of powerful rulers to the impacts of French influence and the Renaissance, each era played a significant role in shaping Italy’s history.

As we reflect upon our journey, we can appreciate the intricate web of power, dynasties, and struggles that defined this captivating period of Italian history.


Q: How long did the Italian monarchy last?

A: The Italian monarchy lasted from the Middle Ages until the end of World War II. It was officially abolished in 1946.

Q: Who was the first Italian king?

A: The first Italian king was Victor Emmanuel II, who ruled from 1861 to 1878.

Q: Were all Italian kings from Italy?

A: No, not all Italian kings were from Italy. Many dynasties came from other European countries and established their rule over Italy.

Q: How many dynasties ruled Italy during the medieval period?

A: There were several dynasties that ruled Italy during the medieval period, including the Lombards, Normans, Holy Roman Emperors, House of Hohenstaufen, and more.

Q: Did the Pope have power over the Italian kings?

A: Yes, the Pope had significant influence over the Italian kings, particularly during the medieval period. The Papal States held political and religious power, often engaging in conflicts with the monarchs.

Q: What led to the decline of Italian monarchy?

A: Various factors contributed to the decline of Italian monarchy, including foreign invasions, the rise of city-states, and the increasing power of the merchant class.

Q: Were there any notable Italian queens?

A: Yes, there were several notable Italian queens, such as Queen Joanna of Naples and Queen Catherine of Siena, who played significant roles in the political and cultural history of Italy.

Q: Did the Italian monarchy have any influence on the Renaissance?

A: Yes, the Italian monarchy, particularly the Sforza and Visconti families, played a crucial role in supporting and patronizing the arts during the Renaissance. They contributed to the cultural and intellectual advancements of the time.

Q: What happened to the Italian royal families after the monarchy was abolished?

A: After the abolition of the Italian monarchy, many members of the royal families continued to live privately. Some still engage in philanthropic work and maintain ties to their rich historical heritage.

Q: Can I visit any royal palaces in Italy today?

A: Yes, many royal palaces in Italy are open to the public for visits and tours. Some of the most famous ones include the Royal Palace of Caserta, Palazzo Pitti, and the Royal Palace of Turin.