It began with violence and injustice: it ended as it began. There were six Latin emperors, of whom the first was a gallant soldier; the second, a sovereign of admirable qualities, and an able administrator; the third, a plain French knight, who was murdered on his way to assume the purple buskins; the fourth, a weak and pusillanimous creature; the fifth, a stout old warrior; and the last, a monarch of whom nothing good can be said and nothing evil, except that which was said of Boabdil (called El Chico), that he was unlucky. As the Latins never had the slightest right or title to these possessions in the East, so the western powers were never impelled to assist them, and their downfall was merely a matter of time. In the interests of civilization their occupation of the city seems to have been unfortunate; they learned nothing for themselves, they taught nothing; neither East nor West profited. They destroyed the old institutions, so that the ancient Roman Empire was broken up by their conquest; they inflicted irreparable losses on learning and art; and perhaps the only good result of their conquest was that, for the moment, at least, it deflected the course of trade with the East from the Golden Horn, and sent it by another route to Venice, Genoa, and Pisa.
Under Pope Innocent III the example of Gregory VII (Hildebrand) was followed, with the result of still further strengthening and extending the pontifical sway. When Innocent became pope (1198), the holy see was engaged in a desperate contest for supremacy with the Hohenstaufen rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry VI, son of Frederick Barbarossa, had but recently died, leaving his wife Constance, heiress of the kingdom of Naples or the “Two Sicilies,” and a son, Frederick—afterward Frederick II—born in 1194, to be dealt with by the Pope.
While the imperial power under the Hohenstaufens was making head against the papal authority, Italy was overrun in parts by German subjects of the emperors, and in two expeditions (1194 and 1197) Henry VI recovered the Two Sicilies from the usurper Tancred of Lecce. In his dealings with the Sicilies Innocent therefore had to reckon with the German influence which played an important part in the new settlement of the kingdom. His triumphs in this field, as well as in his conflicts with Philip Augustus of France, Otto IV of Germany, and King John of England, and in the war which he made upon heretics, are set forth in the following article in their historical order, and the cumulative growth of his supremacy forms a subject of increasing interest to the end.
After the great emperors came the great Pope. Within four months of the death of Henry VI, Celestine III had been succeeded by Innocent III, under whom the visions of Gregory VII and Alexander III at last became accomplished facts, the papal authority attained its highest point of influence, and the empire, raised to such heights by Frederick Barbarossa and Henry VI, was reduced to a condition of dependence upon it.