Dominus Fredericus (Rich Peace)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1849?
Rhyme: couplet
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: dramatic monologue


◦ Gould and Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel

◦ Kantorowicz, Frederick the Second 1194-1250

◦ Van Cleve, The Emperor Frederick the Second of Hohenstauffen


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the South African National Gallery manuscript .

Scholarly Commentary


Hitherto unknown, this dramatic monologue is one of DGR's most important early writings. Its significance is apparent prima facie, but set in the context of certain other works written before 1850—several of these unknown until the past few years—the poem throws DGR's ideas about his work and about the Pre-Raphaelite movement into sharp new relief. It also shows that DGR's father Gabriele, a prominent intellectual and free-thinker, had a much greater influence on DGR than has been previously thought.

The speaker of the poem is Frederick II of Hohenstauffen (1194-1250), the all-but legendary Holy Roman Emperor whose reign and works were the springboard of the Italian Renaissance. In a singularly arresting poetic move, DGR imagines Frederick to be meditating on the prophetic writings of the esoteric monk Joachim de Fiori (ca. 1135 - 1202), who conceived a millenarist interpretation of Frederick and his coming reign shortly after Frederick's birth. The first fourteen lines carry clear allusions to Joachim (“gladdening flowers”, line 6), to his trinitarian ideas (“thrice-sealed heart”, line 11), and to his prophecy that Frederick was the incarnation of the promised leader who would inaugurate the third and final age of man when the secular and Christian worlds would be joined in what Joachim called the Age of the Holy Spirit (“what dark marvels in the infant hid”, line 8). The meditation is set at some point in the latter part of Frederick's life (“The middle hour to me of life's short day”, line 37) after his second excommunication by the pope in 1239 (he had been excommunicated once before, in 1227).

In a Shelleyan interpretation of Frederick's historical position, DGR emphasizes the social and political significance of Frederick's splendid court at Palermo, the center of Frederick's anti-papal and humanist programs. There Frederick created a center for philosophical, artistic, and scholarly pursuits. Michael Scot was Frederick's court astrologer, Piero della Vigne was Frederick's principal adviser, and the court assembled those poets of the Sicilian School who brought the troubador verse of Provence into Italy, laying the groundwork for the cultural transformation of the twelfth and thirteenth-centuries with which DGR always identified, not least in his crucial first book, The Early Italian Poets .

Textual History: Composition

The precise date of the poem is not known but the physical characteristics of the manuscript, the handwriting, and the subject matter make it an early work. 1849 is a likely date because of the contemporary political and cultural significance of the poem, in particular its relevance to the program of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

The textual crux at lines 49-50 is notable. These lines may not represent an unrhymed couplet at all; they may signal that a part of the poem is missing, a passage on a different piece of paper. The continuity of the poem certainly falters at these lines, and the final word on line 49 seems slightly disjunct, as if it had been added later.


Frederick's struggles to subordinate Church power to the authority of the secular state produced the fierce controversy at the core of Frederick's legend: the argument about whether he was a second Christ or the anti-Christ. The Joachimite view was that Frederick was the promised leader who inaugurated the third age of man—Christ come again. When Gregory IX excommunicated him in 1239, the papacy launched its campaign to vilify Frederick as the anti-Christ.


The poem should be read alongside DGR's translation of what he took to be a poem by Frederick, the “Canzone. Of his Lady in bondage.”, as well as DGR's note where he reads the canzone (very much in the spirit of his father Gabriele) as an anti-papal allegory. DGR's interpretive note is relevant here because in these verses the “Sister &. . .brother” (line 10) are the “Sweet name” of “Rich Peace” (lines 1-2) and the “lovely name” of “Joy” (lines 5-7). That equation is a recondite move to associate the spiritual goals of the Church with the secular pursuits of Frederick. Frederick and his magnificent court were regularly celebrated for their jovialitas. The term “Rich Peace”, on the other hand, was associated with the Church, whose Pax Dei movement was inaugurated at the Synod of Charroux in 989. These identifications spawn the poem's central set of ironies. The Synod of Charroux set out standards for excommunicating anyone who attacked the Church, and the entirety of Frederick's reign was marked by his war with papal authority. In Frederick's mind, however, as the poem shows, he was fighting the corruptions of Church power, of which the Pax Dei movement is here represented as a signal instance. An apologia pro vita sua, the poem is arguing that Frederick's life and works define a struggle to renovate the spiritual order by cultivating the jovialitas of the humanist arts and sciences. In this act of renovation, the papal Pax Dei movement would be supplanted by the “Rich Peace” of Frederick's jovialitas.

The poem is also important as an index of Browning's early influence on DGR's work. DGR has clearly been reading the series of Bells and Pomegranates pamphlets (1841-1846), and especially the Dramatic Lyrics (1842) and Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1844). However, DGR's distinctive way of using the monologue is already apparent in this poem and in “Johannes Ronge” (an associated monologue written about the same time). DGR approaches the monologue and related works through an historical perspective that is at this point more particularized than Browning's. DGR operates under the horizon of pastiche, as we see in works like “Hand and Soul” and “Ave”. That perspective leads DGR to mark these kinds of works with very particular dates: the speaker of “Hand and Soul” specifies “The spring of 1847” as the date when he saw Chiaro's picture in the Uffizi, and the speaker of “Johannes Ronge” tells us that she was born in the same year as Ronge, 1813. The poem is also closely related to the pair of early dramatic monologues “Sunday Morning. Catholic Church” and “Sunday Morning: Protestant Church”.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 55-1849.raw.xml