1282-1496 - Arragon
Naples and Sicily, in the 11th century, had been formed into one kingdom under Norman rule. Two centuries later they had been conquered by Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis IX of France, who was called in by the popes to oppose the Hohenstaufen. The acquisition of territory beyond the peninsula naturally began with Aragon. The Crown of Aragon was united by allegiance to the King of Aragon; at its greatest expanse (in the 1400s), it included a large portion of eastern Spain, the Balearic islands, the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, the Kingdom of Naples (including Sicily) and part of Greece. The acquisition of the Balearic isles may pass as the enlargement of a peninsular kingdom ; but before that happened, Aragon had won and lost what was practically a great dominion north of the Pyrenees. But this dominion was continuous with its Spanish territory. The real beginning of Aragonese dominion beyond the sea was when the war of the Vespers in 1282 for a moment united the crowns of Aragon and the insular Sicily. The War of the Sicilian Vespers drove the French from Sicily, and gave that island to the house of Aragon.
From this time Naples and Sicily were divided until the extinction of the original house of Anjou by the death of Joanna II in 1435. Then the island crown was held by independent Aragonese princes, and lastly was again united to the Aragonese crown. The 14th and 15th centuries witnessed the division of Italy among five principal powers - the kingdom of Naples, the duchy of Milan, the republics of Florence and Venice, and the papacy.
John of Procida, a Neapolitan, whose patrimony had been confiscated for his adherence to the party of Manfred, retained, during long years of exile, an implacable resentment against the house of Anjou. From the dominions of Peter III, king of Aragon, who had bestowed estates upon him in Valencia, he kept his eye continually fixed on Naples and Sicily. The former held out no favourable prospects; the Ghibelin party had been entirely subdued, and the principal barons were of French extraction or inclinations. But the island was in a very different state. Unused to any strong government, it was now treated as a conquered country. A large body of French soldiers garrisoned the fortified towns, and the systematic oppression was aggravated by those insults upon the honour of families which are most intolerable to an Italian temperament.
John of Procida, travelling in disguise through the island, animated the barons with a hope of deliverance. In like disguise he repaired to the pope, Nicholas III., who was jealous of the new Neapolitan dynasty, and obtained his sanction to the projected insurrection; to the court of Constantinople, from which he readily obtained money ; and to the king of Aragon, who employed that money in fitting out an armament, that hovered upon the coast of Africa, under pretext of attacking the Moors. It is, however, difficult at this time to distinguish the effects of preconcerted conspiracy from those of casual resentment.
Before the intrigues so skilfully conducted had taken effect, yet after they were ripe for development, an outrage committed upon a Udy at Palermo, during a procession on the vigil of Easter, provoked the people to that terrible massacre of all the French in their island which has obtained the name of Sicilian Vespers. By the rebellion which began in the Sicilian Vespers, in 1282; the island of Sicily gave itself to the House of Aragon. Unpremeditated as such an ebullition of popular fury must appear, it fell in, by the happiest coincidence, with the previous conspiracy. The king of Aragon's fleet was at hand; the Sicilians soon called in his assistance ; he sailed to Palermo, and accepted the crown (AD 1283).
The long war that ensued upon this revolution involved or interested the greater part of civilized Europe. Philip III. of France adhered to his uncle, and the king of Aragon was compelled to fight for Sicily within his native dominions. This indeed was the more vulnerable point of attack. Upon the sea he was lord of the ascendant. His Catalans, the most intrepid of Mediterranean sailors, were led to victory by a Calabrian refugee, Roger di Loria, the most illustrious and successful admiral whom Europe produced till the age of Blake and Do Kuyter. In one of Loria's battles the eldest son of the king of Naples was made prisoner, and the first years of his own reign wero spent in confinement But notwithstanding these advantages, it was found impracticable for Aragon to contend against the arms of France, and latterly of Castile, sustained by the rolling thunders of the Vatican. Peter III. had bequeathed Sicily to his second son James; Alfonso, the eldest, king of Aragon, could not fairly bo expected to ruin his inheritance for his brother's cause; nor were the barons of that free country disposed to carry on a war without national objects. He made peace, accordingly, in 1295, and engaged to withdraw all his subjects from the Sicilian service.
Upon the death of Charles II, king of Naples, in 1305, a question arose as to the succession. His eldest son, Charles Martel, had been called by maternal inheritance to the throne of Hungary, and had left at his decease a son, Carobert, the reigning sovereign of that country. According to the laws of representative succession, which were at this time tolerably settled in private inheritance, the crown of Naples ought to have regularly devolved upon that prince. But it was contested by his uncle Robert, the eldest living son of Charles II, and the cause was pleaded by civilians at Avignon before Pope Clement V, the feudal superior of the Neapolitan kingdom. Reasons of public utility, rather than of legal analogy, seem to have prevailed in the decision which was made in favor of Robert. The course of his reign evinced the wisdom of this determination. Robert, a wise and active, though not personally a martial prince, maintained the ascendency of the Guelf faction, and the papal influence connected with it, against the formidable combination of Ghibelin usurpers in Lembardy, and the two emperors Henry VII and Louis of Bavaria. No male issue survived Robert, whose crown descended to his granddaughter Joanna.
Joanna reigned for thirty years without the attack of any enemy, but not intermeddling, like her progenitors, in the general concerns of Italy. Childless by four husbands, the succession of Joanna began to excite ambitious speculations. The lawful heir was Charles of Durazzo, descended from the younger son of Charles II of Naples. Being at enmity with Charles of Durazzo, Joanna adopted her remote cousin Louis, Duke of Anjou by the second creation. Charles and his descendants had successfully defended their rights against Louis and his heirs, until their line also died out in Joanna II. The latter, in order to defend herself against the attacks of Louis III of Anjou, adopted Alfonso of Aragon as her heir. When later Alfonso wished to make himself master of Naples without waiting for Joanna's death, Joanna revoked this act of adoption, adopted Louis III, and on her death (1435) made his brother Rene her heir. After her death, the kingdom was fought for between Rene of Anjou and Alfonso, surnamed the Magnanimous.
Rene found supporters among the Italian princes, especially the Milanese Visconti, who helped him to assert his claims with arms. During the war of succession which ensued, Alfonso was taken prisoner hy the Genoese fleet, in August, 1435, and was sent a prisoner to Filippo Maria at Milan. Here he pleaded his own cause so powerfully, and proved so incontestably the advantage which might ensue to the Visconti from his alliance, if he held the regno, that he obtained his release and recognition as king.
In Naples the Angevin line came to an end in 1435 with Joan II. She was succeeded by Alfonso V of Aragon, and the Two Sicilies, separate since 1282, were again united. Alfonso V, already king of Aragon, Sicily, and Sardinia, obtained the crown of Naples after a contest with Rene le Bon of Provence, the representative of a second Angevin line which was descended from Louis, brother of Charles V, and which rested its claims not on descent but on adoption. From the end of the year 1435 Alfonso reigned alone and undisturbed in Lower Italy, combining for the first time since the year 1282 the crowns of Sicily and Naples. The former he held by inheritance, together with that of Aragon. The latter he considered to be his by conquest. Therefore, when he died in 1458, he bequeathed Naples to his natural son Ferdinand, while Sicily and Aragon parsed together to his brother John, and so on to Ferdinand the Catholic. Sicily remained to the kings of Aragon, while Naples was bequeathed to his natural son. The outlying possessions of Aragon were thus strictly acquisitions made by the Kings of Aragon on behalf of the crown of Aragon.
Alfonso V, by his patronage of literature and art, and by maintaining Naples in unwonted peace, has earned from historians the title of "the Magnanimous." The twenty-three years of Alfonso's reign were the most prosperous and splendid period of South Italian history. He became an Italian in taste and sympathy, entering with enthusiasm into the humanistic ardor of the earlier Renaissance, encouraging men of letters at his court, administering his kingdom on the principles of an enlightened despotism, and lending his authority to establish that equilibrium in the peninsula upon which the politicians of his age believed, not without reason, that Italian independence might be secured.
The continental Sicily had, during the reign of Alfonso the Magnanimous, a common king with Aragon and the island. Then the continental kingdom was - save during the momentary French occupations - held by Aragonese princes till the final union of the crowns of Aragon and the Two Sicilies. Meanwhile a war of more than a hundred years gave to Aragon the island of Sardinia as a new kingdom.
This arrangement was contested in Naples where the Angevin claim was revived. Rene le Bon resigned his pretensions to his son John of Calabria, who was at this time governor of Genoa for Charles VII of France. At first John gained important successes. But other Italian powers were opposed to the establishment of French influence in Italy. Especially, Francesco Sforza, though formerly the enemy of the house of Aragon, now gave consistent support to Ferdinand. And John's failure was assured when Charles VII was succeeded in 1461 by Louis XI, who regarded with jealousy the house of Anjou. In 1464 John left Italy and showed his sense of Louis' hostility by joining the league of French nobles against him. Ferdinand I was now firmly established in Naples.
Thus Alfonso, who seized the kingdom, was legally only a successful usurper; and all the claims which Louis I derived from the adoption of Joanna I, together with the claims of the house of Durazzo, were united in the person of Rene, who more than once tried to recover his heritage. The rights of René passed in 1481, through his nephew the Count of Maine, by will and also, though not so certainly, by succession, to Louis XI, and after him to Charles VIII. Sixtus IV, although he refused to consider the application of Charles du Maine for the investiture of Naples, in 1482, moved by different thoughts, urged Louis to undertake the conquest of the kingdom, " which belongs to him." At the beginning of the reign of Charles VIII there was some talk of putting forward René of Lorraine, a descendant through the female line or the house of Anjou, as claimant to the kingdom, but these proposals seem never to have been serious, and cannot be said to impair the rights of Charles VIII.
Thus, at the final union of Castile and Aragon, Aragon brought with it the outlying crowns of the Two Sicilies and of Sardinia. The insular Sicilian kingdom was slightly lessened by the grant of Malta and Gozo to the Knights of Saint John. The continental kingdom was increased by the addition of a 1557 small Tuscan territory.
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