p267 The fortunes of the house of Tancred really culminated in the reign of King Roger, declined under William the Bad, improved under William the Good, the latter's son, and then vacillated, after the failure of the legitimate succession, until they became involved with the destiny of the Empire under Henry the Sixth and Frederick the Second, of Hohenstaufen. Before going on to give a brief sketch of those changes, I shall endeavour to explain very clearly the connexion between the race of Tancred and King Roger's successors, since it was in virtue of this connexion that they claimed the crown of Sicily for centuries after his death.
Triangular court in the monastery of La Cava
Roger the Great Count was the youngest son of Tancred of Hauteville. Roger's eldest son died an infant, and was succeeded by Roger, the first king.
William the First was succeeded by William the Second, the Good, who left no heir.
King Roger's eldest son, Roger, who died before his father, left a natural son, called Tancred.
William the Second was succeeded by this Tancred.
Tancred was succeeded by his son, the infant William the Third.
King Roger had a daughter, Constance, sister of p269 William the First. She married the Emperor Henry the Sixth. He claimed the crown for her, and deposed and probably killed the infant William the Third.
William the Third was therefore succeeded by Henry the Sixth of Hohenstaufen.
Henry the Sixth was succeeded by his only son, the Emperor Frederick the Second of Hohenstaufen, who was the grandson of King Roger.
Frederick the Second was succeeded by his second son, Conrad.
Conrad was succeeded by his only son, Conradin, a young boy, whose uncle Manfred, a natural son of Frederick the Second, was regent, and took the crown.
Manfred was killed in battle at Benevento. He left one daughter, Constance, married to Peter the Third of Aragon.
Conradin succeeded his uncle Manfred, but was taken prisoner by Charles of Anjou, and was executed in Naples.
Conradin was succeeded by Charles of Anjou, brother of Lewis the Ninth of France, known as Saint Lewis.
Charles of Anjou lost Sicily in the revolution of the Sicilian Vespers, and the Sicilians elected Peter the Third of Aragon for their king, because he was married to Constance, great-great‑granddaughter of King Roger, and also the last heiress of the house of Hohenstaufen.
Peter the Third was succeeded by a long line of p270 Aragonese kings, the second of whom, after him, was his second son, King Frederick the Second of Sicily, often confounded with the Emperor Frederick the Second, his great-grandfather.
Now, as Ferdinand the 'Catholic,' whose queen was Isabella, was of the united houses of Aragon and Castile, he also inherited the Norman blood, which through him was transmitted to his grandson, Charles the Fifth, of the house of Austria, and so on through all the Spanish dynasties to the present day. About nine hundred years have passed since Tancred of Hauteville dealt his famous thrust at the wild boar, and though his house gave Sicily no long and unbroken line of kings, yet the blood of the Norman gentleman is in the veins of almost every royal race in Europe.
My readers will not have lost patience over this page of genealogy, which makes clear a point too often left in obscurity, namely, that with the exception of Charles of Anjou's episodic reign in Sicily, and of Garibaldi's forcible seizure of the island in order to found a republic, which rather unexpectedly turned into a kingdom, and excepting the seven years' reign granted to a Duke of Savoy by the absurd peace of Utrecht in 1713, the succession to the kingdom really continued on the strength of the Norman blood down to 1860, the descent to the Bourbons being traced through Anne of Austria, wife of Lewis the Thirteenth of France and sister of Philip the Fourth of Spain. By its alliance p271 with the house of Hapsburg the house of Savoy may really claim as much Norman blood as the deposed king of Naples.
I shall now return to the task of briefly outlining the reigns of Roger's successors.
It is not surprising that his son and successor, William, afterwards surnamed the Bad, should really have been more a Mohammedan than a Christian in belief, in character, and in manners. He had been brought up chiefly by learned Arabians in the customs and luxuries of what was in reality an Eastern court. Amari describes him as indolent, fierce, proud, and avaricious, and suggests that his admiral, Majo of Bari, personified the Sicilian court with all its sins, while even the Moslems themselves attribute to the evil character of the king and of his general the disturbances which marked the beginning of William's reign. That he lived the life of an Arab emir can hardly be denied; his palace was the abode of an Eastern harem, and both were directed, if not controlled, by Moslem eunuchs hateful to the people. It must be admitted that although he repressed sedition in Sicily itself with wisdom and justice, he dealt cruelly with insurgents in Calabria and Apulia. He was full of contradictions, as men often are who have been educated against their natural tastes. He was slothful, but when roused he was desperately brave; he was capricious, but he could be wise; he was kind, but he could be ruthless. In a community of upright and p272 virtuous men he would have deserved to be called the Bad; but in his own times he earned the appellation by his unpopularity rather than by his surprising wickedness, and he cannot be held responsible for the long struggle between the Emperor Barbarossa and the Emperor Manuel, which had its origin when he was a youth, and ended after his death. King Roger was still alive when Manuel took Bari and Brindisi. King William forced him to conclude an honourable treaty a year after Roger's death, and Sicily enjoyed the benefits of a thirty years' peace, while Europe was convulsed by the quarrels of the Holy Roman Empire and the Holy See. The Vatican received the ambassadors of the East, who almost returned to the ancient allegiance of Constantinople and to the unity of the Eastern and Western churches, but to the indescribable mortification of Manuel, Pope Alexander the Third reconciled himself with Barbarossa, declared that separation of the churches was final, and excommunicated the Emperors of the East.
The excommunication may or may not have affected the spiritual welfare of the warlike Greek; there can be no doubt but that the alliance of the Pope with Barbarossa put a stop to Manuel's reconquest of the West, and that Venice, which had temporarily withdrawn from the strife, took the offensive again as soon as it was evident that in so doing she could find herself on the stronger side. Manuel poured his armies and his gold upon the p273 eastern coast of Italy, and such was the strength of the one and the persuasion of the other that the hosts of the Emperor Frederick were twice driven back from the walls of Ancona; but no sooner had the Pope taken a decided course of action than Ancona returned to the imperial allegiance. Venice descended with a fleet of one hundred galleys, and the Normans of the south completed the destruction of the Greeks with their swords. The thirty years' peace was signed, and it was long before Manuel renewed his quarrel with the emperor. William had already entered into the Pope's good graces, and a series of victories against the African Arabs increased his credit with the Holy See. That he attempted even by bribery to prevent the coronation of Frederick Barbarossa in Rome is more than probable, for in the riot which was stirred up by that ceremony the imperial soldiers fell upon the Roman people with their drawn swords, crying out that they would give German steel for Arabian gold.
William's successes in Africa were short-lived; the garrisons he placed in the conquered towns sorely oppressed the Arabs, and a Moslem patriot of Sfax roused his fellow-citizens to the destruction of their oppressors. William retorted by the cruel execution of a hostage, and the African towns replied by something like a general rising. William sent twenty galleys to reduce the insurrection, and merciless butchery restored his power for a while; but a general p274 movement of the Arabians which extended as far as Morocco was prepared, the Arabs, or Bedouins, dug wells along the proposed line of march, and during three whole years stored up grain by plastering the sheafs of wheat with clay, and Spain joined Africa in manning a fleet of seventy galleys. Before such a force Tunis soon fell, and the Christian garrison was bidden to choose between death and Mohammed's creed. In other cities the Christians shut themselves up in the forts and prepared for a long resistance, and months passed before the Sicilian fleet, which was engaged in the Balearic Islands, could come to the rescue. But under the walls of Mehdia it was put to flight by a few Arab vessels; the treacherous Majo brought word to King William that the cities of Africa were amply provisioned; and when the unfortunate garrisons had devoured their horses, they only escaped slaughter by the magnanimity of their foes. Majo lost his life in the first outbreak of a revolution in which every member of the house of Tancred took part; King William was taken prisoner in the council chamber, and the insurgents divided among themselves the women of his harem and the accumulated treasure of King Roger; the infuriated Normans, not satisfied with Majo's death, slew all the Moslem eunuchs of the palace and slaughtered the Moslems in the streets; but discord soon broken out in their own ranks, the bishops appealed to the populace p275 to free the king, and presently the people of Palermo were in arms to a man. Quick to take advantage of the situation, the king made terms with the multitude, promised them anything and everything, and with their help took bloody vengeance upon the barons, the murderer of Majo was blinded and hamstrung, and a sort of order was restored. A second conspiracy, which broke out ten years later, ended in the immediate death of all the conspirators, but the religious hatred between Moslems and Christians, which King Roger's wisdom had almost entirely allayed, had now broken out with renewed fury; the massacre of Moslems was followed by a furious reaction under a king who was half a Moslem himself, the reign of the eunuchs was restored, every Moslem had a father, a brother, a wife, or a sister to avenge, and a friend in the palace ready to execute his private vengeance; where Mohammedans had been murdered in the public places their Christian murderers now perished wholesale on the scaffold, until the whole country was tired of slaughter, and sank, with its sovereign, into an apathy of weariness. Then William the Bad, giving over the government of his kingdom to his ministers, amused his slothful hours with the building of a magnificent palace, which was called the Zisa, but before that beautiful retreat was ended, he breathed his last at the age of forty-six years; and when he was borne to the grave, the matrons of Palermo, and more especially the p276 Moslem women, followed in thousands, with dishevelled hair, and robed in sackcloth, striking the funeral cymbal in time with their doleful lamentations. Afterwards it was known by a few that the king had been dead several days before his death was announced, the secret having been kept in order that the chief men might gather in council to assure the succession and coronation of the boy William the Second, then barely fourteen years of age. This was in 1166.
Moorish palace of La Zisa, Palermo
When the days of mourning were passed, the royal lad strode in state through Palermo, and radiantly handsome as he was, says the chronicler Falcandus, p277 his beauty was strangely perfected on that day, and there was such imperial grace in his features, that even they who had most bitterly hated his father, and whom no one had expected to be loyal to his heirs, loved the youth forthwith, and cried out that it would be shameful and unmanly to visit the sins of the sire upon the son. The queen, also, his mother, Margaret of Navarre, who was regent till he should be of age, bestowed great gifts, and many pardons, and all manner of gracious treatment upon those who had been discontented.
Tomb of King Roger
William reigned three and twenty years, and so changed the character of the court of Palermo and of the government of Sicily that the Mohammedan element sank into abeyance. According to Richard of San Germano the king's chief counsellors, his 'two most sturdy pillars of support,' were Walter of the Mill, the English Archbishop of Palermo, and the Chancellor Matthew. It was by the advice of the archbishop, says this chronicler, that William the Second gave his aunt Constance in marriage to Henry of Hohenstaufen, afterwards Henry the Sixth, making the counts of the kingdom swear upon the sacraments that if the king died childless they would obey Constance of Hauteville and her husband. Also, this Walter of the Mill first p279 built for William the great cathedral where it stands to‑day.
But when William died, and left no heirs, a great dissension arose among the nobles, and they forgot their oaths, many aspiring to the throne; and at last, lest the archbishop should prevail and thrust Constance upon them, they agreed to choose for their king, Tancred, not the great crusader, but the natural son of William the Bad's elder brother, who had died in early manhood. They could not have chosen a braver or a truer man of his race, and he laboured with all his might for the cause of peace; by a liberal expenditure of the royal treasure, which he was the first to touch, and by some brave fighting, he restored the kingdom of the south, and even the Abbot of Monte Cassino swore fealty to him. He was crowned in 1189, the year before Barbarossa died; and Joanna, the widowed queen of the young king, was Joanna of England, own sister of King Richard the Lion-hearted.
It was not to be expected that a man of such temper as Henry the Sixth would tamely relinquish his just claims to the south, but his father was still alive, and the stirring events of the third Crusade intervened; so that it was not until Frederick Barbarossa had perished in the East that Henry came into Italy; and meanwhile Tancred had no small difficulty in prevailing upon Richard the Lion-hearted and Philip Augustus p280 of France to restrain their men from wrangling in his city of Messina and to proceed on their way.
For Richard was a quarrelsome man, and Roger of Hoveden has left a record of his journey through the south, how he left Salerno when he heard that his fleet had reached Messina, and proceeded to Cosenza by way of Amalfi, which is a geographical impossibility that need startle no one accustomed to the chronicles. He came down by Scalea, and saw the island, where, says Roger, 'there is a fine chamber beneath the ground, in which Lucan used to study'; and he slept at Cetraro and at other places till he came to Mileto, where 'there is a tower of wood close by the abbey, by means of which Robert Guiscard attacked and took the castle and town,' in his quarrel with his brother the Great Count, a hundred years before Roger of Hoveden — but he did not take it, as has been seen. And then, 'the king of England, departing from Mileto with a single knight, passed through a certain small town, and, after he had passed through, turned towards a certain house in which he heard a hawk, and entering the house took hold of it. On his refusing to give it up, numbers of peasants came running from every quarter, and made an attack on him with sticks and stones. One of them then drew his knife against the king, upon which the latter, giving him a blow with the flat of his sword, it snapped asunder, whereupon he pelted the others with stones, and with difficulty p281 making his escape out of their hands, came to a priory called Bagnara.' Thence he hastily crossed the straits and slept in a tent 'near a stone tower which lies at the entrance of the Faro on the Sicilian side.' It must be admitted that the royal progress lacked dignity, but on the following day Richard made up for it by making 'such a noise of trumpets and clarions, that alarm seized those who were in the city,' that is, in Messina; and by way of making himself at home in a friendly country he seized a monastery, ejected the monks, and fortified himself, and presently, 'a disagreement arose between the army of the king of England and the citizens of Messina,' which soon became an open quarrel between the two kings — 'and to such a pitch did the exasperation on both sides increase, that the citizens shut the gates of the city, and, putting on their arms, mounted the walls.'
The end of it was that the kings agreed together, took Messina and forced Tancred to pay over an exorbitant sum of money, supposed to represent the dowry of the childless Joanna. Roger of Hoveden says that before the conclusion of this so‑called treaty of peace more than a hundred thousand pagans who were in the kingdom of Sicily indignantly refused to serve under King Tancred, both because Henry of Hohenstaufen had laid claim to the throne of Sicily, and also because Richard of England had taken possession of a great part thereof; and that these Saracens p282 fled to the hills with their families and herds, attacking and plundering Christians. It is interesting to learn that while Richard was making such unjustifiable claims he was profoundly impressed by the prophecies and wise sayings of a certain Abbot of Curazzo,b who interpreted the revelation of Saint John the Evangelist in a modern spirit; and that, the 'divine grace inspiring thereto, Richard, being sensible of the filthiness of his life, after due contrition of heart, having called together all the bishops and archbishops who were with him at Messina, made a general confession of his sins and from that time forwards became a man who feared God, and left what was evil and did what was good.'
So at last the turbulent crusaders departed, and Tancred had leisure to go over into Apulia and insure the fidelity of his vassals by a general exhibition of strength and generosity. And now Henry the Sixth and his wife Constance came to Rome and were crowned emperor and empress in the Church of Saint Peter's, and the Emperor Henry, being pleased with the Romans, made them a present of Tusculum, then the stronghold of the Colonna family, and the Romans promptly destroyed it, as he expected.
Henry immediately entered Tancred's kingdom in spite of the opposition of the Pope who had just crowned him, and the timid monks of Monte Cassino hastened to swear fidelity to him, while many towns, p283 being taken unawares, placed themselves in his hands; and the emperor received the submission of Salerno and left the empress there, while he himself made a futile attack upon Naples. But as usual desertion and disease did their work in the German army; Henry left Constance in Salerno, and retiring with the remains of his forces returned to Germany. In no long time after this the Count of Acerra received back for Tancred most of the towns the emperor had taken, and he went up to Monte Cassino and entered the abbey, no one opposing him; but when neither prayers nor promises could prevail upon the monks to return to their allegiance to Tancred, he departed without doing them any violence. Henry the Sixth, however, had not given up the struggle; he sent a strong army to the south, while Tancred brought up a considerable force from Sicily, after crowning his eldest son Roger as his successor in case of his own death. He fought desperately for his kingdom, and had he lived he might have held his own. As it was, his son Roger came to an untimely end, and Tancred himself, says Richard of San Germano, died of grief. He left his crown to a child, the infant William the Third and the regency to his queen, a woman of no great spirit. The chancellor Matthew, the wise counsellor of William the Good and the friend of Tancred, was also dead, and Sicily was defenceless before the arms of Henry the Sixth. Tancred's widow fled from Palermo with her infant son to p284 a safer place, whence she treated with Henry for her life and safety. She surrendered to him at last, and he handed her over with her royal child to one of his faithful captains, 'to do with them according to his will.' Then Henry, having got possession of the capital, received the keys of the treasury from the eunuchs of the palace and was shown coffers full of gold, gems, and precious objects, part of which he distributed to his followers, while he sent a part back to Germany; and to this day in the museum of Vienna may be seen the cloak of King Roger, the tunic and leggings of William the Good, richly embroidered with gold and pearls and Arabic characters, with many objects of like interest and value. The emperor established himself in the magnificent palace called the Cuba, now used as a barrack, though almost quite uninjured, and on Christmas Day, in the year 1194, presiding over the council of Palermo, he summoned before him Tancred's widow and the infant William, a great many bishops and counts of the kingdom, and indicted them for high treason; and he commanded some to be blinded, some to be burnt alive, some to be hanged, and some to be sent captive to Germany. So perished Tancred's house; and on Saint Stephen's Day, being the very day after that general condemnation, Constance of Hauteville, the empress, being no longer young, brought forth her only son, who was to be the Emperor Frederick the Second. It is said also that because of her p285 years and because Sicily had been so greatly disturbed concerning the succession, she feared lest it should be said thereafter that the child was not her own. Therefore she caused a tent to be pitched before the cathedral, and the curtain was raised that all the women might come and see her at their will; and so the great emperor was born in a public place.
Accusations of frightful cruelty have been brought against the Emperor Henry; the chronicle I have followed gives the mildest account of his vengeance, but the great weight of evidence goes to prove that he commanded innumerable and most atrocious executions, and that after men, women, laymen, and priests had been hacked to pieces, drowned, burned, or boiled in lard, his unsatisfied ferocity required the executioner to nail a kingly crown upon the living head of a descendant of Tancred of Hauteville.
But Henry did not long survive these horrors. Having gone back to Germany, he was recalled to Palermo in 1097 by the news, perhaps not unfounded, that Constance meant to hold Sicily for herself and defy him. He reached Messina, indeed, and thence proceeded to besiege one of the great vassals in Castrogiovanni; but there a deadly disease overtook him, and in a few weeks he breathed his last, and was buried in the cathedral of Palermo, in that stately tomb from which he had cast out the bones of the unhappy King Tancred and his eldest son.
Doorway in the castle of Frederick II
Meanwhile the Christianizing reign of William the p287 Second had produced lasting results, and the Moslem population had almost quite deserted Palermo; thousands had returned to Africa, and tens of thousands had gone out into the hill country above Mazzara on the southwest coast, and after the year 1200 there are no deeds referring to Moslems in the capital. Those in the provinces were vassals of the churches and monasteries, or of the great nobles, and when Innocent the Third, in his enthusiasm for the fourth Crusade, seized all the ecclesiastical revenues of Sicily for the year 1199, the monasteries ground the Moslems to raise more money; at the same time the Pope issued a proclamation enjoining the greatest severities against those baptized Saracens who had fallen back to Islamism. The oppressed people rose, found a ready leader in their lawful regent by Henry's will, the German Markwald, who had secured the alliance of Pisa, and they besieged Palermo; but their defeat ruined their cause and exposed them to far greater sufferings. The Pope gave the Christians spiritual arms against the Grand Seneschal, promising the privileges and indulgences of true crusaders to those who fought against Markwald, 'who tempted his Saracens with captive Christian women and draughts of Christian blood'; but he bade them respect the ancient privileges of the Moslems. The regents removed the boy Frederick to Messina, where he was safe, and sent a force of militia to relieve Palermo. The city p288 had suffered a siege of seventeen days and was already reduced to want of bread when the relieving army arrived, cut the enemy to pieces, and drove Markwald to flight. He was again beaten far to eastward, in the wild country about Randazzo, on the slope of Etna, and his career would have been ended had not the Sicilian regents found it convenient to forgive him and make common cause with him against the pretender, Walter of Brienne, the husband of a daughter of King Tancred; and so the fighting went on, with varying fortune, until both Walter and Markwald perished, and the kingdom was left in comparative peace under the regency of the Pope.
The latter soon afterwards declared Frederick to be of age, at fourteen years, and in the same year married him to Constance, the sister of Peter the Second of Aragon and the young widow of a king of Hungary. She was older than he, of course, and she came of a race that lacked neither courage nor astuteness. Frederick, educated in the safe seclusion of a palace, while others disputed his kingdom, now issued from its gates to survey the wreck of the Norman dominions. The mainland was lost, apparently beyond recovery, partly to the Pope and partly to the lawless barons of the south; in Sicily, the royal lands had been either seized by the nobles or given away as bribes by the regents, who had also granted the province of Syracuse to a Genoese colony of p289 traders; and of all King Roger's conquests, Frederick could only count with certainty upon the allegiance of half a dozen Sicilian cities. As for the Empire, it was in dispute between his uncle and his cousin, and the boy, who was to be German emperor, king of Sicily and Apulia, and king of Cyprus and Jerusalem, had difficulty in raising enough money to support five hundred horsemen whom his wife borrowed from her cousin of Provence to defend him. To make matters worse, his cousin of Hohenstaufen, the Emperor Otto the Fourth, occupied Naples and Aversa, by the help of the Pisans, and secretly negotiated with the discontented Moslems of Sicily for the destruction of Frederick, in 1210. The youth seemed lost, but his career was already at its upward turning-point, and from that time he rose rapidly to the height of earthly glory.
Innocent the Third, to whom we may as well give credit for supporting his ward, prepared the way for the latter's elevation to the throne of the Empire. With incredible energy and matchless knowledge of his times, he excommunicated the rival Otto, and formally proclaimed his deposition in Nüremberg, absolved the whole Empire from its oath of allegiance, recalled to the world the election of Henry's infant son, and immediately forced Germany into a civil war, from which the only issue was clearly the coronation of the young Frederick, then eighteen years old. p290 Frederick, as Amari well puts it, was already weary of reigning where he could not rule, and threw himself heart and soul into this German revolution. He left his queen and an infant son in Sicily in 1212, sailed to Gaeta, visited the Pope in Rome, and promised everything that was asked of him, sailed on again to Genoa, and rode by Pavia, Cremona, and Trent to Basle, barely escaping his enemies as he passed. In vain Otto pursued him, in vain allied himself with England; Philip Augustus of France joined Frederick and the Pope, and Otto was beaten in the decisive battle of Bouvines.
Frederick remained eight years in Germany, during which he repressed all opposition and made himself the undisputed master of the situation. His father had come down from the north to claim the southern kingdom as his wife's dowry, and to hold it as his own possession; the son went northwards almost alone to claim an Empire which was his own by rightful inheritance. Henry, with Europe at his back, wreaked his vengeance upon a small and helpless kingdom; his son took that kingdom with him to the heart of the Empire he had claimed and recovered from the hands of usurpers. Henry's body was borne to its stolen resting-place in Palermo, pursued by the curses and imprecations of mankind; Frederick the Second spent much of his life, indeed, in a contest with the popes, was thrice or four times excommunicated, and lies, p291 perhaps unshriven, beside his father in the cathedral; but historians have called him the Philosopher King, and though he attained no saintly honours, his fame is at least unsullied by such dastardly cruelty as his father practised, and by the vile treachery that soon set Charles of Anjou on the throne of Sicily and Naples.
Having been crowned in Rome in the year 1220, he returned to Sicily to find himself face to face with what may be called the Moslem question. The nobles were more or less divided among themselves, and Frederick now had power to control them, but the Moslems, though united, were in a most unhappy position. Those who during more than twenty years had lived like free barons in the castles of the West were, legally speaking, the vassals of churches and monasteries that clamoured to the emperor for satisfaction against them; but Frederick, who found himself at odds with the Church and with his barons, needed these very barons as allies. The emperor did not hesitate to satisfy the most pressing demands of the churchmen by nominally bestowing upon them lands and castles held by the Saracens; but when the former attempted to take possession, they more than once found themselves the prisoners of those they sought to dispossess, and the Mohammedans began to move about the island in strong bands, committing depredations of every description, forming a permanent revolutionary p292 army that fluctuated in strength, but may sometimes have numbered thirty thousand fighting men. Frederick held a sort of parliament at Messina soon after his arrival, and visited many of the principal cities; but he accomplished little until his next visit, when he was obliged to take the field against the great freebooter, Mirabbet, whose predatory enterprises had assumed dangerous proportions, and who had associated himself with two of the most infamous ruffians who ever adorned a gibbet, Hugo Fer of Marseilles and William the Swine of Genoa. These two, though some historians lay the blame entirely upon the first, had collected together, by promises and persuasion, a vast number of young children who were to be transported to the Holy Land under the name of the Children's Crusade, to be cared for and educated by the kings of Jerusalem, and brought up to be defenders of the holy places. The organizers of the enterprise were well provided with money to carry it out, and offered the church's parents such surety of their good faith that thousands of fathers, in those times of general poverty and numerous families, consented, each believing that his child was taken from him only to enter upon an honourable career of arms, and with the Pope's especial benediction. In this way it is said that Hugo Fer and William the Swine gathered a company of fifty thousand boys with whom they embarked on many vessels for the East. The rest is soon told. The p293 traitors sailed eastwards indeed, but not to Palestine, for they were in league with the Saracens, and they sold fifty thousand Christian children into slavery in Africa. Therefore when Frederick took those men alive with Mirabbet in the castle of Giato, he hanged them; and perhaps his father would have found for them worse tortures than boiling in lard or tearing to pieces with red-hot pincers.
Though Frederick now had the upper hand, a desultory war continued for some time, and in the meanwhile the Pope, Honorius the Third, did his best to force the emperor to lead another crusade, not without some crafty intention of seizing Apulia in his absence, and Frederick constantly made use of his troubles in Sicily, real and imaginary, as an excuse for putting off his departure to the Holy Land. He had now given up all idea of employing the Saracens against the nobles, and had accomplished the more difficult task of organizing the nobles against the Saracens. In the year 1225 he so completely defeated the latter in the Sicilian mountains, that during eighteen years afterwards there is no mention of a Moslem rebellion. It was on this occasion that he transplanted six thousand Saracens to the mainland. These colonists perished altogether under Charles of Anjou.
Frederick was driven at last, by the menaces and entreaties of Gregory the Ninth, to sail from Brindisi with an army of crusaders already decimated by the p294 plague. Falling ill himself, he was obliged to put back, and was excommunicated by the ruthless pontiff before he had recovered. Nevertheless, in the following year he set forth again, founding his claim to the throne of Jerusalem upon his marriage with a princess of Antioch, and he actually succeeded in obtaining possession of the holy city by a treaty with the sultan of Egypt; whereupon the Pope declared the agreement to be sacrilegious, sent an army under Frederick's brother-in‑law to take Jerusalem from him, and perhaps from force of habit, excommunicated the emperor again. But the latter returned to Italy with his new title of King of Jerusalem, drove the papal troops from his dominions, and forced the pontiff to a peace. His Mohammedan colonists fought bravely under him in this war, but as many of them afterwards attempted to return secretly to Sicily, he collected them together and established them in Apulia, in the town called from them Lucera de' Saraceni, and they long continued to play an important part in the wars of the continent. The ingenious pontiff, finding it impossible to get rid of his troublesome master in any other way, now exhorted him to lead another crusade to the Holy Land, but Frederick was little inclined to renew his previous experience, and he must have smiled when he received the usual excommunication in return for his refusal. But Pope Gregory had gone too far, and Frederick retorted by occupying the states of the Church, and even by threatening Rome p295 itself. In desperate straits the pontiff called a council, but death overtook him suddenly, and after the two years' reign of his successor, the next Pope, refusing to make peace, fled to France, convened a council in Lyons, and declared the Emperor Frederick deposed.
Fountain of the Ninety-Nine Waterspouts,
Fountain in the Piazza Palazzo,
Church of San Bernardino,
Castle of Frederick II at Monteleone, Calabria
p308 The Pope's champion sacked the old papal city of Benevento, and women and children were mown down with the men in the harvest of the sword. The town ran blood and wine, and Charles's threadbare Frenchmen filled their wallets and saddle-bags with gold, and got fine silk and cloth of gold to their backs. Three days they sought Manfred's body among the festering slain; and on the third day a peasant found it, and tied it upon an ass, and hawked it through the French camp, offering to sell it for money; but when it had been recognized by some of the nobles whom Charles had taken prisoners, he commanded that it should be buried in the ditch beside the bridge. Even there the brave man's bones were not allowed to rest in peace, p309 for, though the ground was not consecrated, it was the property of the Church, and the Bishop of Cosenza therefore caused the body to be dug up again and dragged away beyond the river Verde.
Thus died Manfred; and when he was dead the Saracens of Lucera went over to Charles, and Naples sent her keys, and in the castle of Capua Charles found a great treasure, all in pieces of gold. But when he commanded that scales should be brought with which to divide the wealth exactly, a certain knight of Provence pushed the great heap of gold pieces into three equal divisions upon the marble floor with his foot and spurred heel. 'One for my lord the king,' he said, 'and this for the queen, and this other for your knights.' And so it was done. Charles entered Naples in triumph, and it is recorded that he first brought thither the love of show and luxury that have distinguished it ever since, and that the common people cried out in an ecstasy of sheer delight at the procession of splendid gilded cars, and at the richly clad maids of honour, and at the great show of triumph that meant death to Conradin.
Now Charles of Anjou, having disposed of his enemy in one great victory, found himself in peaceful possession of the south, and at once he took the Guelph side, and led armies to Tuscany, and joined in the unending quarrel; wherefore the Ghibellines sent urgent letters to young Conradin, now nearly sixteen years of age, p310 bidding him to come and conquer Sicily, and take possession of his own. He set out with a few thousand men and reached Verona, calling himself King of Sicily, and the Pope lost no time in excommunicating him for this arrogance. Most of his troops deserted him at once, on account of his poverty, but his friends raised his standard in Sicily, and the island rang with his praises; for the French yoke was heavy. But though the patriotic party gained an advantage here and there, the end was not far off. In the beginning of 1268 Conradin ventured to leave Verona, and riding southwards he found more than one of the restless Tuscan cities ready to throw off Charles's authority. Charles prepared to meet him, but was himself at odds with the Saracens of Lucera, who had discovered the character of the master to whom they had readily submitted, and who was obliged to besiege them in their city. Meanwhile Conradin reached Rome, and was received with splendour by his friends, in spite of the papal excommunication. The Pisans sent him twenty-four galleys, with which, sailing southwards, he beat back the vessels sent against him by the Angevin; and Ghibellines flocked to his standard from all parts of Italy. Conradin now marched up by land with a vast host, and there were few who did not predict his complete success. On the twenty-third of August, 1268, the decisive battle was fought in the plain of Tagliacozzo, not many miles from Lake Fucino. Charles, fearing the superior numbers p311 arrayed against him, fought with all the coolness and skill he could command, and while his main force attacked the enemy, he withdrew to a little eminence, where he watched the battle with the chosen reserve of five hundred knights. A wise old captain more than once prevented him from rushing in at the wrong moment, and Charles sat quietly on his horse, though he saw how the ranks of his army were broken by the Ghibellines' furious charge; but when Conradin's army was broken up into small bodies that pursued the French hither and thither, certain of victory, and when, indeed, that victory seemed almost sure, then the crafty old Alardo touched Charles upon the arm, and said that the time was come, and that he should win the field. Then he led his five hundred knights at furious speed, for their horses were fresh, and fell upon the disordered troops of his enemy, hewing them in pieces, and turning the day in a moment. Conradin and the young Duke of Austria and two other friends escaped when they saw that all was lost, and riding desperately reached Astura, on the Maremma shore; there they hired a little boat, hoping to escape into Tuscany; but Frangipane, the lord of that castle, guessed who they were, and seized them, and basely sold them to the Angevin king.
The end of the house of Hohenstaufen was at hand. Of the Emperor Frederick's descendants, six were alive at the time of the battle of Benevento, whose claims p312 might be dangerous to his throne, namely, Conradin and Manfred's five children. Of the latter, Constance, the eldest, was out of danger, being married to Peter of Aragon; of the girl Beatrice we know nothing; the three sons, Henry, Frederick, and Anselm were Charles's prisoners after the decisive battle, and they died in a miserable captivity in Apulia. Ten of Frederick's children and grandchildren died in prison, or by a violent death. One of his granddaughters, a daughter of Enzo of Sardinia, married that famous Ugolino della Gherardesca who was starved to death with his sons and grandsons in Pisa. The shade of King Tancred was perhaps appeased by such an atonement for Henry the Sixth's bloody deeds.
The last act of the great tragedy was played in Naples, on the twenty-sixth or the twenty-ninth of October, for the authorities do not agree, in the year 1268. Determined to destroy every possible claimant, Charles of Anjou ordered Conradin and his fellow-captives to be tried by Robert of Bari, Grand Protonotary of the kingdom, and the infamous judge of an infamous king condemned the imperial boy and his noble companions to death, as 'traitors to the sovereign, contemners of the Pope's commands, and disturbers of the public peace in Italy.' Conradin's claim to the succession was just, and he and his friends were prisoners of war; to put them to death was a solemn and atrocious murder.
p313 On the appointed day the sentence was executed. Charles of Anjou, determined to see the end of his helpless enemy with his own eyes, came in state to the market-place, where the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine now stands, and his throne was placed upon a platform overlooking the scene, and on the stones a great piece of scarlet velvet was spread out, whereon the men were to die. There stood young Conradin, a fair-haired boy of sixteen years, fearless as all his race, and the young Duke of Austria and six others, and the executioner beside them.
Then Robert of Bari, Grand Protonotary, stood up by order of the king and read the sentence in a loud voice; but when he had finished, Robert of Flanders, the king's own son-in‑law, gravely drew his sword, and he came and stood before the Grand Protonotary and said, 'It is not lawful that you should condemn to death so great a gentleman.' And when he had said this he pierced the protonotary through and through, so that the sword ran out behind him, and he fell dead, with the written sentence in his hand. Then a great silence fell upon all the multitude, and upon the king, and Robert of Flanders sheathed his sword and went back to his place; for neither then nor afterwards did any one dare to lift a hand against him for what he had done.
So while the judge lay dead before the throne, the execution began; and the young Duke of Austria bent p314 his neck to the stroke, and when his head fell Conradin took it in his hands and kissed it, for they had been as brothers, and he laid it reverently beside the body. Then he drew off his glove and threw it among the people, and cried out that he left his kingdom to Frederick of Aragon, the son of Constance, and his cousin; and when he had asked pardon of God for his sins he knelt down without fear, and his head was struck off, and after him died all his companions. Their bodies lay long upon the scarlet velvet, and Charles commanded that a common ditch should be dug there, in the market-place, to bury them; and afterwards a porphyry column was set up to mark the spot; and now they lie in the Church of the Carmine.
But some who saw that deed took the boy king's glove, and by and by they brought it to Peter, king of Aragon, young Frederick's father, and he swore to avenge the blood of Conradin; and though the atonement was begun by other hands, he kept his word, and Charles of Anjou cursed the day whereon he had gone out to see an innocent boy die by the executioner's hand.
But he had not yet fulfilled the measure of his cruelties. At the news of Conradin's death, Sicily rebelled against him, and he put down the rebellion with such wholesale massacres of the people and such cruel executions of their leaders as even Sicily had seldom seen; and he left a French army there p315 with orders to keep the people down by terror; and neither the protestations of Pope Clement the Fourth nor the entreaties of his brother, Saint Lewis of France, could prevail upon him to stay his wrath, for he was afraid. He also destroyed Lucera, and drove out the Saracens who survived the siege.
Two years after Conradin's death, Saint Lewis set out upon the seventh and last Crusade, and took Tunis by storm, and waited there for Charles of Anjou to join him. But Charles would not set out, and the good French king perished of the plague, with many of his army; and when the remains of the crusaders' fleet were driven upon the rocks and wrecked near Trapani, Charles robbed the survivors of all they could save, alleging that a law of King William authorized the kings of Sicily to seize all wrecks with their cargoes. For a time the body of Saint Lewis lay in Palermo, but afterwards it was taken to France by his son, King Philip, and only his heart is buried in the cathedral.
During fourteen years Charles of Anjou ruled his kingdoms of Sicily and Apulia with every species of violence and exaction; tax followed upon tax, impost upon impost, and tithes both ordinary and extraordinary, the slightest delay in payment being followed by ruthless confiscation. The cities were held by French garrisons under general instructions to inspire fear, to extort money, and to impose instant obedience to the p316 king's decrees. The wives of respectable citizens were nowhere safe from Charles's licentious officers, and the women and maidens of the people were at the mercy of a ribald soldiery. More than once the Sicilians appealed to the popes against Charles, and more than one pontiff exhorted him to a milder conduct; but the Angevin was in a fever of conquest, he dreamed of ruling all Italy, he planned the conquest of the East, and he brought about the election of Pope Martin the Fourth, who was his humble servant and creature.
There lived at that time a certain noble of Salerno, brought up in the school of medicine for which that city remained famous for ages, a man of letters, of singular wisdom, and a very skilled physician. This man was John of Procida; he had been closely attached to the person of the Emperor Frederick the Second, and I find his name among the witnesses to that emperor's will. After the death of Frederick, he had been faithful to Manfred, and after the fall of the house of Hohenstaufen Charles of Anjou confiscated all his goods. He might have lost his life also, had he not retired in good season to the court of Aragon in Barcelona, where he was well received by King Peter and by Queen Constance, Manfred's daughter. He found the king well enough inclined to avenge Conradin and to undertake the conquest of Sicily, but the enterprise was a great one, and he was not provided with means to enter upon it. John of Procida promised to find money. p317 Though he must have been at that time more than sixty years of age, he travelled through all Sicily in disguise, seeking out and ascertaining as nearly as possible what pecuniary help was to be obtained for the impoverished land. It needed no long time to assure him that Sicily was ripe for a revolution, but John was too wise to underestimate Charles's power; from Sicily he went on to Constantinople, and without difficulty persuaded the Emperor Paleologus that, in order to defend himself against the attack which Charles was planning, the best plan was to bring on a civil war in the Angevin's own dominions. The Emperor of the East promised large sums of money to Peter of Aragon for this purpose, and with unwearying energy John made his way at once from Constantinople to Rome; he was received in a secret audience by Pope Nicholas the Third, who was an Orsini, who was believed to be hostile to Charles, and who promised great things, but unfortunately died before the great scheme was ripe for execution.
Peter of Aragon now prepared a fleet and an army on pretence of invading the Saracens in Africa. At the instigation of Charles, the Pope, on receiving news of this armament, sent an embassy to King Peter, inquiring what his intentions might be; but the crafty monarch answered that if one of his hands should reveal his secrets to the other, he would cut it off. On receiving this reply Charles contented himself with reminding the p318 Pope that he had always looked upon Peter of Aragon as a miscreant, and in Muratori's graphic language he fell asleep, forgetful of that old proverb which says, 'If some one tell thee that thou hast lost thy nose, feel for it with thine hand.'
We do not know whether the final outbreak of the revolution, which had been so long and skilfully prepared, took place precisely as John of Procida had intended; but when it came it was sudden and terrible, as few revolutions have been, and the Sicilian Vespers will be remembered so long as men love liberty, and history records their deeds.
Column in the cloister
Cloister of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo
Unarmed as they were, with such small knives as some chanced to have, with sticks, with stones, and with their naked hands, the Sicilian men did their work quickly; but the Frenchmen howled for mercy, and were mostly killed upon their knees. When they were all dead, the men took their weapons and went back in haste towards the city with their women, and the cry that meant death was heard afar off and went before them. No Frenchman who met them lived to turn back, and when they were in doubt as to any man's nation, they held him with the knife at his throat and made him say the one word 'Ciceri,' which no Frenchman could or can pronounce. It was dusk when the killing began in Palermo, and when the dawn stole through the blood-stained streets not one of the French was alive, neither man, nor woman, nor child. The reign of Charles of Anjou was at an end, and from that day to this no man has been king of Sicily who had not some Norman blood.
The Sicilian Vespers took place on the thirtieth of March. The example of Palermo was followed within the month of April by Messina, where the French were p322 almost all massacred, and the fortresses seized by the population. Charles was at Orvieto, instructing his creature, Pope Martin the Fourth, says Muratori, in the art of governing the world; but Villani tells us that when he heard the news from Palermo, he raised his eyes to heaven and prayed that since his good fortune had begun to wane, 'he might be suffered to fall by small degrees.' He reached Naples before he heard of the rising in Messina, and at once ordered that the fleet he had gathered for invading the Eastern Empire should proceed to Messina, while he himself hastened to the straits by land, at the head of the cavalry. A hundred and thirty-three ships weighed anchor; the land forces numbered five thousand horse, and he crossed to Sicily at the end of July and laid siege to Messina. An apostolic legate entered the city, and his eloquence prevailed upon the inhabitants to propose terms of surrender; but Charles rejected them with scorn and attacked the walls, which were defended with the courage of despair by men who feared and execrated their assailants.
Palermo raised the Pope's standard and sent ambassadors to Martin the Fourth, who dismissed them with energy and with threatening words. The defenders of Messina again offered to surrender upon honourable terms, and the legate in vain did his best to persuade King Charles to mercy. He bade Messina deliver up eight hundred p323 hostages, to be dealt with at his pleasure, and submit to all the fiscal impositions and extortions he had practised hitherto. The Messinians answered that they would die, sword in hand, rather than obey. Beside himself with rage, Charles ordered a general assault, which was repulsed with frightful carnage. And so the siege went on for a whole month.
Meanwhile the nobles of Palermo decided upon the final step. They had revolted from Charles, their advances had been rejected by the Pope, they could not hope to resist the Angevin without help; they met in the small church now called the Martorana, and they elected Peter the Third of Aragon, the husband of Manfred's daughter, to be king of Sicily, and his descendants after him. On the thirtieth of August, 1282, exactly five months after the Sicilian Vespers, Peter of Aragon landed at Trapani, with fifty galleys, eight hundred cavalry, and ten thousand men-at‑arms, all trained soldiers, for he had been fighting the Moors in Barbary. But when he came to Palermo, after five days, the people thought ill of his knights, from their appearance, for their armour was all tarnished and their accoutrements black with campaigning, and their cloaks were threadbare, and the light infantry men were ill clad, and all were sunburnt and thin; and in their hearts the people did not believe that such men could deliver them from King Charles. Peter held a parliament, however, and promised the nobles that he p324 would maintain all the laws and customs of William the Good.
The two Catalan chronicles of Bernat Desclot and Ramon Muntaner give the most circumstantial accounts of what followed. They have been published in the original Catalan language, in Barcelona. The Neapolitan historian, Tomacelli, seems to have had access to them in manuscript, but I cannot find that they have been translated.
Peter called out every fighting man in Sicily above fifteen and under sixty years of age to help him against Charles, and sent to him two knights as ambassadors, and they were tolerably well received by a party of skirmishers, who led them to the enemy's camp. They and their squires were roughly lodged, however, in a church, without mattresses or blankets, and they slept on some hay that was there. Charles sent them two bottles of wine, six loaves of very coarse black bread, two roast pigs, and a kettle full of boiled cabbage and fresh pork. In the morning the king sent for them, and they delivered their message. 'My lord Charles,' said the spokesman, 'our king of Aragon sends us to you. That you may believe we are his messengers, behold this credential letter he has given us.' 'It is well,' said Charles. 'Speak what the king of Aragon sends you to say.' The ambassador presented King Peter's letter. Charles was seated on a couch covered with rich silks; he laid the letter beside him unopened. p325 'My lord Charles,' said the ambassador, 'our lord the king of Aragon sends us, and bids you deliver up to him the land of Sicily which is his, and his son's, and which you have too long most wrongly held. And the people of Sicily, who are grievously oppressed by your rule, have asked help of the king of Aragon. Wherefore the king has determined to help them, they being his people and of his lands.'
The message did not lack distinctness. When King Charles heard it, he was much surprised, and some minutes passed before he answered, and he gnawed with his teeth a little staff he held in his hand. When he had thought a long time he answered: 'Sirs, Sicily belongs neither to the king of Aragon, nor to me, but to the Church of Rome. I desire you to go to Messina, and to bid the men of the city, from the king of Aragon, that they make a truce with me for eight days, until we shall have talked with you, and you with us, of those things concerning which we have to speak.' 'Sir,' said the ambassadors, 'we will do this willingly; and if they will not, it shall not be of our fault.'
With that they left the king and went before the city of Messina, and called to the men on the wall, and the men inquired what they wished. 'Barons,' said the spokesman, 'we are ambassadors from the king of Aragon, and we would speak with your captain, Sir Alaymo.' When the me heard this, they went and told it to Sir Alaymo, their captain; and he came at once p326 and went upon the wall, and asked of the messengers what they required. 'Are you the captain of Messina?' they asked. And he answered: 'Surely, I am indeed the captain of Messina. Why ask you this?' And they told him, and gave their message. 'Surely,' answered the captain, 'I do not believe that you are messengers from the king of Aragon, and for your false words I will not have peace or truce. See that you depart at once and go your way.'
They came and told this to King Charles, and he bade them rest until the next day, promising to take counsel and give them an answer. But on the next morning they learned that he had secretly crossed the straits to Calabria during the night, and three knights came and bade them return to Palermo for King Charles would send his answer at his leisure. They knew, however, that Peter of Aragon was already in Randazzo, only two days' ride from Messina, and they found him there and told him all.
Charles had either fallen into his own trap, or had meant to abandon the siege. When it was known that he had left Sicily a great part of his army became disorganized, many took to the ships and sailed over to Reggio, and the people of Messina sallied out against those that remained and killed many of them, and the rest slew all the horses and burned all the flour and wheat they could not take with them, and escaped. On the very day when the messengers reached Randazzo, p327 a man came spurring towards evening, bringing news that Charles's army had disappeared, and so King Peter rode down and entered Messina without striking a blow. His fleet also arrived from Palermo, and when forty of Charles's galleys sailed out of Reggio, on the fifth day, fourteen Catalan ships attacked them and took twenty-one, and sank others, and put the rest to flight, and brought back many prisoners and a vast spoil; for Charles had met his match, and more, and he had been driven from Italy forever.
King Charles could not have seen the fight in which his galleys were lost, as it took place to the west of Scylla while he was at Reggio; but his rage knew no bounds when he heard the news, and he immediately conceived a treacherous plan for drawing King Peter into an ambush on pretence of single combat. He began by sending messengers to his adversary with instructions to deliver a formal insult, and that their persons might be safe he disguised his messengers as preaching friars. He sent them across the straits by night in a boat, and coming before the king they boldly told him in Charles's name that he had not entered Sicily like a leal and true man, but that he had entered it treacherously, as he should not. But when the king of Aragon heard these words he broke into a laugh, and pretended to attach no importance to the message. 'Sirs,' said he, 'I will send my messengers together with you to King p328 Charles, to know from his own lips whether what you say be true.' He chose out certain honourable knights of high birth and bearing, and bade them go with the messengers, and when he had instructed them he commanded them that, if the king confirmed the message, they should deal with him as with any knight who should attack their faith and honour, for he would do battle with Charles, hand to hand. The knights went over to Reggio and delivered their message. Then Charles remained in thought for a while, and said, 'Whether you say that I have said it or not, I say it now, that he has entered Sicily treacherously and unjustly, and as he should not.' Therefore the messengers of the king of Aragon answered and said: 'Sir we answer you these words by the command of the king of Aragon and Sicily, our lord, and we tell you that any man who says that the king has entered Sicily treacherously and unjustly, speaks falsely and disloyally. And he says that he will fight you, hand to hand, and he gives you the choice of arms, which shall be as you please.'
Charles was enraged at this answer, and his barons besought him not to be angry, nor to answer without taking counsel; and thereupon they led him away thence, and took him into a room, and there he held a council with his barons and returned to his senses; and he answered that he would not fight the king of Aragon in single combat, but that he would fight p329 with a hundred knights against a hundred. And his object in thus answering was that wherever the combat took place he should be allowed to bring with him enough men to get possession of King Peter by some treachery. Immediately after this, further messages were exchanged, and it was decided that the contest should take place at Bordeaux, which belonged to the king of England, who would insure neutrality and safety for all those who came to fight.
The sequel to this celebrated challenge is better known than the details which led to it, and which I have translated literally from the Catalan chronicle. Charles went to Bordeaux, indeed, but with such a force that the English king's governor would have been powerless to save King Peter. The latter was in p330 Catalonia, but was too wise to fall into the snare, and yet too honourable not to appear in the lists. The story of his secret ride through Spain reads like a chapter from the 'Morte d'Arthur,' which, like similar fictions of the age of chivalry, was doubtless imitated from the real chronicles. The story tells how King Peter reached Bordeaux in disguise, with three knights, in the company of a merchant whose servants they all pretended to be, the king himself being fully armed under his disguise. The king passed for the rich merchant's major-domo, and ordered supper at the inns, and the three knights served their supposed master at table. Near Bordeaux they left two of the knights with good horses in case of need. When they reached the gates the king stayed without, and one of the knights went in on foot and sought out King Peter's official representative, who had gone to Bordeaux openly, and bade him tell the seneschal to go out from the city, saying that a messenger from the king of Aragon was there, desiring to speak with him. And the seneschal did so, taking four French knights with him, and the Catalan ambassador, and a notary of the city. Peter did not reveal his identity, but ascertained from the seneschal that Charles had prepared the lists under the walls where a gate led directly into them from the fortress; and also that the king of England had commanded him, the seneschal, to give up the city entirely to King Charles p331 during his stay, and that if Peter appeared in the lists, he would most certainly be taken prisoner. While they were talking they had ridden to the place, and when they were within, Peter set spurs to his horse and rode up and down the enclosed field. Then, riding back together, the king drew the seneschal aside, and asked him whether he should know the king of Aragon if he saw him; and the seneschal; answered that he should know him well, for he had seen him at Toulouse, and that the king had done him great honour, and had made him a present of two horses.
Then King Peter drew back the hood from his face, and said, 'Look at me well, if you know me, for I am here, the king of Aragon; and if the king of England, and you in his name, can insure my safety, I am ready to do battle, with a hundred knights.' When the seneschal knew the king, he wished to kiss his hand, but the king would not; and the seneschal implored him to escape at once, lest he should be deceived and taken by his enemies. Then said the king, 'You shall make me a letter for a testimony that I have been on the appointed day at Bordeaux, in the lists where the battle was to be fought, and that you have told me that you cannot assure my safety, and that whereas the country was to have been neutral, the king of England has delivered it over to King Charles.' The seneschal answered, 'Surely, this is true.' Then the notary who had p332 been brought out of the city drew up the statement, and the French knights were called to witness it, and when they asked where the king of Aragon was, he showed himself to them, and they were much amazed, and bowed low, taking off their caps, and would have kissed his hand, but he would not suffer it. So he rode away towards Bayonne, and its near evening; and when the seneschal and the knights had returned into the city, the sun had set, and King Peter was many miles away.
It would be a pleasant task to tell the history of the war that followed the Sicilian Vespers, from the graphic chronicles of Bernat Desclot and Ramon Muntaner. Their simple accounts of men, things, and battles bear the stamp of truth and the sign manual of the eye-witness. Therein may be found in detail the bold deeds of Roger di Lauria, King Peter's famous admiral, and all that brave Queen Constance did with his help to hold Sicily while Peter himself was fighting against the king of France on his own borders, and against his own brother James of Majorca; and how at last the Admiral Roger defeated the king of France and drove him from the walls of Gerona. And at last, after much brave fighting, and having secured the succession of all his dominions, including Sicily, to his sons, King Peter of Aragon passed away peacefully, after a long illness, on the eve of Saint Martin's Day, in the month of November, in the year 1285. His great p333 enemy, Charles of Anjou, had died in Foggia in January of the same year, while preparing a formidable army with which to invade Sicily, while the French were attacking King Peter in Catalonia. He left his kingdom at war with Sicily and his eldest son Charles a prisoner in the hands of Queen Constance. Nor was the young prince's captivity without danger; Pope Martin the Fourth had sent legates to Messina to negotiate for his liberation, and as they could not obtain it on the terms they demanded, they pronounced the major excommunication against all the Sicilians and the royal house of Aragon. Three years had not passed since the general massacre of the French, and the people of Messina now rose in tumult and attacked the prisons where the French prince and his companions were confined. Crying out for vengeance for the death of Manfred and Conradin, they heaped up wood against the prison doors, and more than sixty French nobles perished miserably in the flames. The young prince, now Charles the Second, was saved, we know not exactly how, but some say that he had been secretly removed from the prison and sent to Catalonia before the attack. Soon after this Pope Martin the Fourth died also, having, as Muratori says, emptied the treasury of his excommunications upon all Ghibellines, and upon chanced to be the enemy of his master, Charles of Anjou.
a Lest the text mislead, King William's splendorous tomb was built nearly four hundred years after his death:
Tomb of William II in the cathedral of Monreale.
Photo © Albert Hickson 2017, by kind permission.
The inscription reads:
Givilielmo · II · cognomento · Bono · regi · Siciliae · qvi · vixit · annos · XXXVI
templvm · hoc · Virgini · dei · genitrici · statvit
coenobivm · illi · conivnctvm · exstrvxit
magnificentissimis · donis · et · vectigalibvs · ditavit
Montemregalem · a · Lvcio · III · Pont · Max · metropolim · constitvendam · cvravit
Siciliam · tribvtis · levavit · pacis · et · ivstitiae · cvltor · fvit
vt · ivstissima · sic · ex · sententia · semper · bella · confecit
sanctam · sedem · apostolicam · contra · eivs · hostes · omni · ope · et · consilio · ivvit
obiit · anno · salvtis · ∞ · CXXCIX
Don · Lvdovicvs · de · Torres · archiepiscopvs · ne · tantvs · rex · sine · Honore · iaceret
principi · optimo · et · religiosissimo · p[osvit] · anno · ivbilei · ∞ · D · LXXV
In honor of William II surnamed the Good, King of Sicily, who lived 36 years.
Here is an account of the translation of the King's remains to his new tomb, as given in Giovan Luigi Lello's Descrittione del Real Tempio, et Monasterio di Santa Maria Nuova di Monreale (Rome, 1596), p130:
Deuendosi mutare il corpo del Rè dal suo deposito, l' Arciuescouo lo fece disfare in presenza sua, & di tutta la città di Monreale, cantandosi fra tanto l' officio de' morti, & si scoperse vna cassa di legno, doue erano l' ossa del Rè, co' i capelli lunghi, & di pelo rosso, che non gli erano anchora caduti, inuolte in vn drappo di seta, & subito furono riposte in sacristia, & rinouata la cassa, ornata, & dipinta vi furono di nuouo tornate à collocare. Poi à 25 d' Agosto doppo hauer l' Arciuescouo cantato pontificalmente il vespero de morti, uscendo i monaci, canonici, & clero co' i suoi lumi accesi in processione da vna porta della Chiesa, il Capitano, il Pretore, & i Giurati della città, cauarono la detta cassa con l' ossa del Rè dalla sacristia, & portandole sopra le loro spalle le condussero per la piazza con molta quantità di torcie intorno, & ritornando per l' altra porta della Chiesa finalmente le riposero nel nuouo sepolcro; furono à ciò presenti il Vice Rè Marcantonio Colonna, il Conte di Vicari gran Giustitiero, il Principe di Paternò, Fabritio Colonna, Don Carlo d' Aualos, & infinita moltitudine d' ogni sorte di persone, che vi concorsero.
Since it was necessary to move the body of the King from the place of his entombment, the Archbishop had the tomb taken apart in his presence and that of the entire city of Monreale, while the Office of the Dead was sung; and a wooden chest was uncovered in which were the bones of the King, with long red hair that had not yet fallen out, the bones being wrapped in a silk cloth; and they were immediately placed in the sacristy; and the chest being restored, decorated, and painted, they were placed in it once again. Then on August 25th, after the Archbishop had sung the pontifical Vespers of the Dead, the monks, canons and clergy exiting a door of the Church in procession with candles lit, the Captain, the Praetor, and the Magistrates of the city removed the said chest with the bones of the King from the sacristy; and bearing them on their shoulders carried them thru the piazza surrounded by a great quantity of torches; and returning thru the other door of the Church laid them finally to rest in the new sepulcher; present were the Viceroy Marcantonio Colonna, the Chief Justice the Count of Vicari, the Prince of Paternò, Fabrizio Colonna, Don Carlos de Avalos, and an immense concourse of every kind of people.
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