He was born in November 1165, and named King of Germany by his father in 1169. His father made him King of Italy in 1186, the same year that Henry married Constance of Sicily. Constance was the sole heiress of Sicily, but was challenged by her illegitimate nephew, Tancred. Tancred controlled Sicily (with some difficulty) until after 1191.
In 1191, Henry and Constance were proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor and Empress, and they turned their attention to Sicily. Their attempts to take over in Sicily were hampered by the locals' fear of retribution from Tancred if they aided Henry. Even after Tancred's death in February 1194, Sicily remained in his family's control, but in November Henry prevailed. He was named King of Sicily on Christmas Day.
Henry was considered well-educated, learning Latin as well as Roman and canon law. He wrote poetry and was a patron of poets. A German songbook from the 14th century, the Codex Manesse, has three poems attributed to Henry and has a portrait of him, shown above.
He interfered with English politics somewhat. Richard I of England had made an arrangement with Tancred, and so Henry tried to isolate England: he negotiated with Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to break off the engagement of Richard with Alys, daughter of Louis VII of France.
Henry had an even more significant encounter with Richard in 1193, when Richard became Henry's prisoner. More on that tomorrow.