Sicilian Vesper

In 1268, Charles of Anjou became King of Sicily. Pope Urban IV offered the Kingdom to Charles in order to keep it out of the hands of the Hohenstaufen family. However, the Sicilian people came to resent the Angevin rulers. Charles did not show great personal interest in Sicilian interests, and was primarily interested in the island as a starting point for a Mediterranean empire. He centered his government in Naples, on the Italian mainland, and only visited Sicily once. His troops plundered the island after Charles' original conquest from Manfred, who had taken over Sicily after the death of the Emperor Frederick. Later, Charles supplanted many of the landowners with French supporters and many Sicilian administrators with French officials. Despite an increase in government efficiency and increased trade during Charles' rule, the aloofness, indifference, and disregard for local traditions connected with the Angevins caused widespread discontent in Sicily.

By 1282, Charles was King of Sicily, Jerusalem, and Albania, ruler of Provence and other French territories, regent in Greece, and overlord in Tunis. His ambition was to go even further, conquer the Byzantine Empire, and become the ruler of the entire Mediterranean region. Charles' power and ambition brought him many enemies. One of these was King Peter I of Aragon. His wife, Constance, was from the house of Hohenstaufen and was seen by many as the legitimate heir of the Kingdom of Sicily. His Chancellor, John of Procida, had served both Frederick II and Manfred, and remained in contact with many enemies of Charles, especially in Sicily. Another enemy was the Byzantine Empire Michael, whom Charles hoped to supplant. Together, King Peter and the Emperor Michael planned a conspiracy against Charles centered in Aragon, Constantinople, and Sicily.

However, the Sicilian people took matters into their own hands. On March 30, 1282, Easter Monday, a large crowd of Sicilians where gathered outside a church near Palermo awaiting Vespers. A group of French officials joined them, despite the cold reception by the crowd. Some of the Frenchmen began approaching the Sicilian women, and when a French sergeant took a married woman away from the crowd, her husband stabbed him to death. The French rushed to avenge their comrade and where attacked and killed by the crowd. As the church bells throughout the city rang for Vespers, messengers ran throughout Palermo calling for an uprising. The Sicilians slaughtered the French and women who had married Frenchmen, invading houses, inns, convents, and monasteries. The leading official and some followers escaped to their castle, but where later killed. Meanwhile, however, the rebels where already in control of Palermo, which they declared an independent Commune.

In days to come, the revolt spread throughout the island. Cities and towns declared their independence, and the French fled or where massacred. In Calatafimi the Angevin official, William Porcelet, had gained the love of the people for his benevolence and justice and was allowed to escape to Provence. Sperlinga, which prided itself on being independent of the rest of Sicily, allowed its occupiers to flee safely to Messina. Finally Messina was the only major area still under French control. This was Charles' capital in Sicily, where the French forces where strongest and the Sicilians had benefited most from Angevin rule. However, the French governor angered the citizens in his attempt to consolidate his power in the region, and Messina joined in expelling the French and declaring itself an independent Commune. The Sicilian Communes, now essentially in control of the island, sent word to the Byzantine Emperor Michael and King Peter of Aragon hoping for aid.

King Charles and the Pope tried to convince the Sicilians to return to Angevin rule. When this failed, King Charles came to Sicily in August with troops to reconquer the island. Later that month, King Peter arrived with troops to aid the revolt. In the Commune of Palermo he was acclaimed King of Sicily, and set out to fight Charles' forces, besieging Messina. The war soon became centered on the Italian mainland, and Queen Constance of Aragon arrived in Sicily to govern as regent. Rule of Sicily passed entirely from the Angevins to the Spanish House of Aragon with Charles' death in January, 1285. Bibliography

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