Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews    entry May 2012

Angevin Rule in Naples (simplified!)
—(an easy guide for those with MADD—Medieval Attention Deficit Disorder!)

 Statue of Charles of Anjou by T. Solari
at the Royal Palace in Naples. 
The first change of dynasties (that is, from the Normans to the Hohenstaufens) in the Kingdom of Sicily (later known as the Kingdom of Naples) was so peaceful that most people didn't notice. In the 1150s, the last Norman king (dynasty#1) died without a male heir. One of his granddaughters, however, had married the son of the German emperor Barbarossa. Their child would become Frederick II and, thus, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies passed to German rule. It was peaceful and domestic—just like your in-laws coming to stay with you and taking over your house for a few years, that's all.

The second change, however — from the German Hohenstaufens (dynasty#2) to French Angevins (dynasty#3) — was so violent that the whole European continent noticed. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, the strong, almost messianic, Holy Roman Emperor, was at the heart of the power struggle between those (the Ghibellines) who favored a strong empire and those (the Guelphs) who favored an all-powerful church. When he died in 1250, the situation was at somewhat of a stand-off. Frederick's death, however, was the opportunity for a combined Papal and pro-church French Anjou (Angevin) army to break the stalemate; they invaded the Kingdom of Sicily and did battle with Manfred, Frederick's heir, already on his way to becoming an able ruler in his own right. The southern half of the peninsula was thus torn by a brutal war of succession. Manfred was killed in battle and victory went to the French. And so King Charles of Anjou arrived in 1266 and began two centuries of Angevin rule of southern Italy, a period that continued the tradition of a monarchy ruling a large kingdom in the south of the peninsula, while the rest of Italy was fragmenting into city communes and duchies. The first thing Charles did was to capture Manfred's heir, the teenaged Corradin, and have him beheaded in Piazza Mercato in Naples. No sense in taking chances.

Charles then moved the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily from Palermo to Naples. That put him closer to his French interests but at the same time removed him and his capital, physically, from Sicily. That then led to some Angevin fragmenting when a seemingly trivial incident in Palermo set off the episode of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282. It turned into a successful anti-French revolt, which resulted in the Angevins being expelled from Sicily. The Sicilians called on an Aragonese king, Peter, to rule them and thus became part of one of the most obscure, yet fascinating confederations in European history, the Crown of Aragon. The episode also set the stage for the concept of the "Two Sicilies"—the Aragonese one on Sicily and the Angevin one on the mainland, each claiming to be the "real" Sicily. It was a shaky start for Charles of Anjou; he lost a big chunk of the kingdom and then had to contend with pesky naval tactics from Sicily as far north as Naples—pesky enough to capture and hold Ischia and Capri for a while and even to kidnap Charles' son and hold him as a bargaining chip. His son, Charles II, was released and it was he who eventually managed a truce with Sicily. It gave the Angevins some time to build a kingdom from their base in Naples.

If there was a Golden Age of Angevin Rule, it was under Charles II's son, Robert, crowned in 1310, so well-thought of historically, that his by-name is Robert the Wise. He ruled until 1343, during which time Naples began to look like a medieval capital; work would begin or approach completion on some of the city's most important monuments, including the Maschio Angioino, the Duomo, San Lorenzo, Santa Chiara and San Martino. It was a time when artists, craftsmen and traders from elsewhere in Italy and Europe came to Naples to work and where illustrious men of letters such as Boccaccio lived and wrote of the "happy, peaceful, generous and magnificent Naples".

Angevin rule of the Kingdom of Naples (still called the Kingdom of Sicily at the time) continued for another century, and it was as opposite from a "Golden Age" as you can imagine. The period had all those elements we associate with the Middle Ages: plots, crossbows & drawbridges, incompetent rulers, petty barons, murder, torture and long-suffering serfs. The most agonizingly complex episode is the one in which Queen Joan I of Naples (read about both Joans, here) apparently murders her husband; said husband's brother, Louis of Hungary, then invades Naples to get revenge; Joan flees to France; Louis and his  Hungarians don't get their revenge, but they do  sack Naples and leave with the silverware; Joan returns, marries Otto von Brunswick, supports an anti-Pope against the legitimate Pope and is ex-communicated; the real Pope then offers the crown of Naples to Louis of Hungary. He says no and gives it to his nephew, Charles of Durazzo. The armies of Joan and Otto then clash with the armies of Charles in the streets of Naples. Charles wins. Joan and Otto go to prison in the Castel dell'Ovo. Otto dies and Joann is moved to another prison where she is murdered, probably on the command of Charles. (I left a lot out!)

Charles, however, is murdered and his queen and son/heir, Ladislaus, then hole up in Gaeta, a few miles north of Naples, for ten years while Naples is enmeshed in struggle by various claimants to the throne. Ladislaus returns and takes the city in 1394. He reigns until 1414. At his death the throne passes to his sister, the second Joan. The last 20 years of her rule are the last of real Angevin rule in Naples. It is a dark and thoroughly nasty period, devoid, as far as I can tell, of any redeeming light or virtue.

(The early 1400s were pretty bleak elsewhere in the world, as well, so maybe Naples has no special claim to misery: in 1401, Tamerlane sacked Baghdad and slaughtered thousands; in 1403, the Doge of Venice imposed the world's first quarantine against the Black Death; Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. Yet, on the other hand, for you Pollyannas, the University of Leipzig was founded in 1409, and in 1421, a translation into Latin of the Geography by 2nd-century Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, revives the old crazy notion that the world might be round. Somewhere in the middle is the Battle of Agincourt (1415) which at least gave us rousing battlefield rhetoric, if only in literature, a couple of centuries later.)

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
                                    [William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV Scene iii]

Joann II died in 1435. By complex rules of heredity, the throne of Naples passed for a few years to René of Anjou. The Aragonese rulers of Sicily then made war on the Angevins of Naples and won. Alfonso of Aragon took the throne of Naples in 1443 and proclaimed that he had "reunited the Two Sicilies."

(See also: Catalan Expansion in the Mediterranean.)

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