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1266-1435 - Anjou

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 foundations of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily were laid by the Norman chief, Robert Guiscard, who, in 1060, conquered Southern Italy, and whose nephew, Roger II., became the first King of Naples and Sicily. After the extinction of the Norman dynasty upon the death of William II the grandson of Roger II, in 1186, the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily fell to the German House of Hohenstaufen by the marriage of the Emperor Henry VI with the Norman heiress; but during the contest between the Guelfs and Ghibellines the Hohenstaufens were overthrown, Manfred being defeated and killed in the battle of Benevento, in 1266, by his rival, Charles of Anjou, the brother of St. Louis, King of France; Pope Urban IV. having bestowed Naples and Sicily, as papal fiefs, upon the House of Anjou; and Manfred's brother and successor, Conradine, being defeated, taken prisoner and beheaded. The House of Anjou then ruled Naples and Sicily.

In the distress of the Latins, the walls and towers of Constantinople had fallen to decay ; they were restored and fortified by the policy of Michael VIII Paleologous, who deposited a plenteous store of corn and salt provisions, to sustain the siege which he might hourly expect from the resentment of the Western powers. Of these, the sovereign of the two Sicilies was the most formidable neighbor; but as long as they were possessed by Mainfroy, the bastard of Frederic the Second, his monarchy was the bulwark rather than the annoyance of the Eastern empire. The usurper, though a brave and active prince, was sufficiently employed in the defence of his throne; his proscription by successive popes had separated Mainfroy from the common cause of the Latins; and the forces that might have besieged Constantinople, were detained in a crusade against the domestic enemy of Rome.

The prize of her avenger, the crown of the two Sicilies, was won and worn by the brother of St. Louis, by Charles, count of Anjou and Provence, who led the chivalry of France on this holy expedition. The disaffection of his Christian subjects compelled Mainfroy to enlist a colony of Saracens whom his father had planted in Apulia; and this odious succour will explain the defiance of the Catholic hero, who rejected all terms of accommodation. "Bear this message," said Charles, "to the sultan of Nocera, that God and the sword are umpire between us; and that he shall either send me to paradise, or I will send him to the pit of hell." The armies met, and though Gibbon wrote that he was "ignorant of Mainfroy's doom in the other world", in this he lost his friends, his kingdom, and his life, in the bloody battle of Benevento.

Naples and Sicily were immediately peopled with a warlike race of French nobles; and their aspiring leader embraced the future conquest of Africa, Greece, and Palestine. The most specious reasons might point his first arms against the Byzantine empire; and Palasologus, diffident of his own strength, repeatedly appealed from the ambition of Charles to the humanity of St. Louis, who still preserved a just ascendant over the mind of his ferocious brother.

For awhile the attention of that brother was confined at home, by the invasion of Conradin, the last heir of the imperial house of Swabia: but the hapless boy sank in the unequal conflict; and his execution on a public scaffold [October 25, 1268] taught the rivals of Charles to tremble for their heads as well as their dominions. The king of Tunis confessed himself the tributary and vassal of the crown of Sicily; and the boldest of the French knights were free to enlist under his banner against the Greek empire.

The new kingdoms of Charles were afflicted by every species of fiscal and military oppression ; and the lives and fortunes of his Italian subjects were sacrificed to the greatness of their master and the licentiousness of his followers. The hatred of Naples was repressed by his presence; but the looser government of his vicegerents excited the contempt, as well as the aversion, of the Sicilians.

Palaeologus was easily persuaded to divert his enemy from a foreign war by a rebellion at home; and a Greek subsidy of twenty-five thousand ounces of gold was most profitably applied to arm a Catalan fleet, which sailed under a holy banner to the specious attack of the Saracens of Africa. A treaty was sealed with the signet of pope Nicholas himself, the enemy of Charles; and his deed of gift transferred the fiefs of St. Peter from the house of Anjou to that of Arragon. So widely diffused and so freely circulated, the secret was preserved above two years with impenetrable discretion; and each of the conspirators imbibed the maxim of Peter of Arragon, who declared that he would cut off his left hand if it were conscious of the intentions of his right. The mine was prepared with deep and dangerous artifice; but it may be questioned, whether the instant explosion of Palermo were the effect of accident or design.

On the vigil of Easter, a procession of the disarmed citizens visited a church without the walls; and a noble damsel was rudely insulted by a French soldier. The ravisher was instantly punished with death; and if the people was at first scattered by a military force, their numbers and fury prevailed; the conspirators seized the opportunity ; the flame spread over the island; and eight thousand French were exterminated in a promiscuous massacre, which obtained the name of the Sicilian Vespers of 1282.

Peter of Arragon, who sailed from the African coast to Palermo, was saluted as the king and saviour of the isle. By the rebellion of a people, on whom he had so long trampled with impunity, Charles was astonished and confounded. From this disastrous moment, the life of Charles was a series of misfortunes; his capital was insulted, his son was made prisoner, and he sank into the grave without recovering the isle of Sicily, which, after a war of twenty years, was finally severed from the throne of Naples, and transferred, as an independent kingdom, to a younger branch of the house of Arragon.

Manfred received as his wife's dowry, Corfu, Durazzo, and a strip of the Albanian coast, with the title of Lord of Romania. This dominion passed to his conqueror Charles of Anjou, who further established a feudal superiority over the Epeirot despotat. But the plans of Charles [1272-1276] were cut short by the revolution of the Vespers. The Two Sicilies - to forestall the name - were now divided. Both kingdoms had to do with the lands east of the Adriatic, but it was only the continental kingdom which kept any actual dominion there. Durazzo was lost and won more than once; but it came back to the Angevin house, to become a separate Angevin duchy, till it fell before the growth of the Albanian powers.

Louis I duke of Anjou, son of John, king of France, and uncle of Charles VI, king of France, was adopted by Joanna I as king of Naples, d. 1384. In the extremity of Joanna's distress she had sought assistance from a quarter too remote to afford it in time for her relief. She adopted Louis duke of Anjou, eldest uncle of the young king of France, Charles VI, as her heir in the kingdom of Naples and county of Provence. This bequest took effect without difficulty in the latter country. Naples was entirely in the possession of Charles of Durazzo. Louis, however, entered Italy with a very large army, consisting at least of 30,000 cavalry, and, according to some writers, more than double that number. He was joined by many Neapolitan barons attached to the late queen. But, by a fate not unusual in so imperfect a state of military science, their armament produced no adequate effect, and mouldered away through disease and want of provisions. Louis himself dying not long afterwards, the government of Cbrbles III appeared secure, and he was tempted to accept an offer of the crown of Hungary. This enterprise, equally unjust and injudicious, terminated in his assassination.

Ladislaus, his son, a child ten years old, succeeded to the throne of Naples, under the guardianship of his mother Margaret, whose exactions of money producing discontent, the party which had supported the late duke of Anjou became powerful enough to call in his son. Louis II, as he was called, reigned at Naples, and possessed most part of the kingdom, for several years; the young king Ladislaus, who retained some of the northern provinces, fixing his residence at Gaeta. If Louis had prosecuted the war with activity, it seems probable that he would have subdued his adversary. But his character was not very energetic; and Ladislaus, as he advanced to manhood, displaying much superior qualities, gained ground by degrees, till the Angevin barons, perceiving the turn of the tide, came over to his banner, and he recovered his whole dominions.

The kingdom of Naples, at the close of the fourteenth century, was still altogether a feudal government. This had been introduced by the first Norman kings, and the system had rather been strengthened than impaired under the Angevin line. The princes of the blood, who were at one time numerous, obtained extensive domains by way of appanage. The principality of Tarento was a large portion of the kingdom. The rest was occupied by some great families, whose strength, as well as pride, was shown in the number of; men-at-arms whom they could muster under their banner. At the coronation of Louis II., the Sanseverini appeared with 1800 cavalry completely equipped. This illustrious house, which had filled all the high offices of state, and changed kings at its pleasure, was crushed by Ladislaus, whose bold and unrelenting spirit well fitted him to bruise the heads of the aristocratic hydra. After thoroughly establishing his government at home, this ambitious monarch directed his powerful resources towards foreign conquests. The ecclesiastical territories had never been secure from rebellion or usurpation; but legitimate sovereigns had hitherto respected the patrimony of the head of the church. It was reserved for Ladislaus, a feudal vassal of the Holy Seo, to seize upon Rome itself as his spoil For several years, while the disordered state of the church, in consequence of the schism and the means taken to extinguish it, gave him an opportunity, the king of NapleM occupied great part of the papal territories. He was disposed to have carried his arms farther north, and attacked the republic of Florence, if not the states of Lombardy, when his death relieved Italy from the danger of this new tyranny.

An elder sister, Joanna II, reigned at Naples after Ladislaus. Under this queen, destitute of courage and understanding, and the slave of appetites which her age rendered doubly disgraceful, the kingdom relapsed into that state of anarchy from which its late sovereign had rescued it. She adopted first as her heir and successor Alfonso, king of Aragon and Sicily, but subsequently revoked her adoption, and substituted in his room another, Louis of Anjou, third in descent of that unsuccessful dynasty. Upon his death, the queen, who did not long survive him, settled the kingdom on his brother Regnier. The Neapolitans were generally disposed to execute this bequest. But Regnier was unluckily at that time a prisoner to the duke of Burgundy ; and though his wife maintained the cause with great spirit, it was difficult for her, or even for himself, to contend against the king of Aragon, who immediately laid claim to the kingdom. After a contest of several years, Regnier, having experienced the treacherous and selfish abandonment of his friends, yielded the game to his adversary; and Alfonso founded the Aragonese line of sovereigns at Naples, deriving pretensions more splendid than just from Manfred, from the house of Suabia, and from Roger Guiscard.

Sicily, after the reign of its deliverer, Frederic I, had unfortunately devolved upon weak or infant princes. The marriage of Maria, queen of Sicily, with Martin, son of the king of Aragon, put an end to the national independence of her country. Dying without issue, she left the crown to her husband. This was consonant, perhaps, to the received law of some European kingdoms. But, upon the death of Martin, in 1409, his father, also named Martin, king of Aragon, took possession as heir to his son, without any election by the Sicilian parliament. Thus was Sicily united to the crown of Aragon. Alfonso now enjoyed the three crowns of Aragon, Sicily, and Naples. In the first year of Alfonso's Neapolitan war he was defeated and taken prisoner by a fleet of the Genoese, who, as constant enemies of the Catalans in all the naval warfare of the Mediterranean, had willingly lent their aid to the Angevin party. Genoa was at this time subject to Filippo Maria duke of Milan, and her royal captive was transmitted to his court. But here the brilliant graces of Alfonso's character won over his conqueror, who had no reason to consider the war as his own concern. The king persuaded him, on the contrary, that a strict alliance with an Aragonese dynasty in Naples against the pretensions of any French claimant would be the true policy and best security of Milan.

That city, which he had entered as a prisoner, he left as a friend and ally. From this time Filippo Maria Visconti and Alfonso were firmly united in their Italian politics, and formed one weight of the balance which the republics of Venice and Florence kept in equipoise. After the succession of Sforza to the duchy of Milan the same alliance was generally preserved. Sforza had still more powerful reasons than his predecessors for excluding the French from Italy, his own title being contested by the duke of Orleans, who derived a claim from his mother Valentine, a daughter of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. But the two republics were no longer disposed towards war. Florence had spent a great deal without any advantage in her contest with Filippo Maria; and the new duke of Milan had been the constant personal friend of Cosmo de' Medici, who altogether influenced that republic. At Venice, indeed, he had been at first regarded with very different sentiments; the senate had prolonged their war against Milan with redoubled animosity after his elevation, deeming him a not less ambitious and more formidable neighbour than the Visconti.

But they were deceived in the character of Sforza. Conscious that he had reached an eminence beyond his early hopes, he had no care but to secure for his family the possession of Milan, without disturbing the balance of Lombardy. Venice had little reason to expect further conquests in Lombardy; and if her ambition had inspired the hope of them, she was summoned by a stronger call, that of self-preservation, to defend her numerous and dispersed possessions in the Levant against the arms of Mahomet II. All Italy, indeed, felt the peril that impended from that side; and these various motions occasioned a quadruple league in 1455, between the king of Naples, the duke of Milan, and the two republics, for the preservation of peace in Italy. One object of this alliance, and the prevailing object with Alfonso, was the implied guarantee of his succession in the kingdom of Naples to his illegitimate son Ferdinand. He had no lawful issue; and there seemed no reason why an acquisition of his own valour should pass against iis will to collateral heirs. The pope, as feudal superior of the kingdom, and the Neapolitan parliament, the sole competent tribunal, confirmed the inheritance of Ferdinand.

Alfonso, sumamed the Magnanimous, was by far the most accomplished sovereign whom the fifteenth century produced. The virtues of chivalry were combined in him with the patronage of letters, and with more than their patronage, a real enthusiasm for learning, seldom found in a king, and especially in one so active and ambitious. This devotion to literature was, among the Italians of that age, almost as sure a passport to general admiration as his more chivalrous perfection. Magnificence in architecture and the pageantry of a splendid court gave fresh lustre to his reign. The Neapolitans perceived with grateful pride that he lived almost entirely among them, iu preference to his patrimonial kingdom, and forgave the heavy taxes which faults nearly allied to his virtues, profuseness and ambition, compelled him to impose. But they remarked a very different character in his son. Ferdinand was as dark and vindictive as his father was affable and generous. The barons, who had many opportunities of ascertaining his disposition, began, immediately upon Alfonso's death, to cabal against his succession, turning their eyes first to the legitimate branch of the family, and, on finding that prospect not favourable, to John, titular duke of Calabria, son of Begnier of Anjou, who survived to protest against the revolution that had dethroned him. John was easily prevailed upon to undertake an invasion of Naples, but ho underwent the fate that had always attended his family in their long competition for that throne. After some brilliant successes, his want of resources, aggravated by tho defection of Genoa, on whose ancient enmity to the house of Aragon he had relied, was perceived by the barons of his party, who, according to the practice of their ancestors, returned one by one to the allegiance of Ferdinand.

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. At his death in 1458, however, 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.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:01:22 ZULU