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The Normans
(Part 3)

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Rulers of the South

by
Francis Marion Crawford

published by MacMillan & Co. Ltd.
New York and London
1900

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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The Mafia

(Vol. II) In Later Times

p334 My task is almost ended. I have traced the story of the south from the times of the first Greek settlements to the establishment of the house of Aragon on the Sicilian throne, through a period of about two thousand years, endeavouring to spare the reader all unnecessary names and dates, the accumulation of which has made the history of Italy so difficult a study for persons of ordinary memory. In the few remaining pages I shall briefly explain the succession of events that led directly from the coronation of Peter of Aragon to the sovereignty of Charles the Fifth, requesting the reader to remember that this part of the story of the south is a history in itself, which alone would fill a great space, but that it is also an important part of that history of Italy which exists, indeed, in several hundred volumes written in all languages, but which unfortunately does not exist as a single book in one tongue.

The first result of the war of the Sicilian Vespers was that two sovereigns called themselves kings of Sicily, namely, those of the house of Aragon, who remained in possession, and those of the house of Anjou, who never recovered what Charles had lost. The kingdoms were therefore called the 'Two Sicilies,' the one being the island and the other the mainland, with Naples for its capital, and they continued to be p335so called even after they were finally united under Ferdinand the Catholic, who was the Second of Sicily, the Second of Aragon, the First of united Naples and Sicily, and the Third of Naples.

The next matter to be understood is that the kingdom of Sicily under the Aragonese kings was often given or left by them to their sons and brothers as a separate and independent monarchy. King Peter left it to his second son, James, who only became king of Aragon when his elder brother died, and he in turn gave Sicily to his younger brother Frederick, whose direct male descent failed, and whose great-granddaughter Mary married the heir of Aragon, who became Martin the First of Sicily, but died childless, leaving Sicily to his father, Martin the Second of Sicily. But the father had no other children, and at his death both Aragon and Sicily went to the son of Martin's sister, who had married King John of Castile, the Norman blood descending three her alone, as it had descended through Constance, Manfred's daughter, to all the house of Aragon and Castile, and to 'Mad Joan,' the elder sister of Katherine of Aragon, Henry the Eighth's unhappy queen; and by 'Mad Joan' it descended to Charles the Fifth and all the house of Austria.


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Statue of Saint Urban
at La Cava

This fragment of genealogy will serve to show how the kingdoms of the Two Sicilies became involved in the history of Europe, and how the succession to them p336became disputable, since the whole imperial house of Austria is descended from the same 'Mad Joan.' It is hard to imagine anything more confusing, for after her all the royal claimants were equally Hapsburgs, since they were all descended from her husband, Philip of Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria, the sole progenitor of the Austrian emperors and Spanish kings that came after him, and, by the marriage of Anne of Austria with Lewis the Thirteenth of France, the ancestor of all the Spanish and Neapolitan Bourbons, who are of the house of Austria only by the female side, their male progenitor having been Philip, the younger brother of the 'Second Dauphin,' and a grandson of Lewis the Fourteenth of France. After the conquest of Sicily by Peter of Aragon, and the establishment of the Angevin dynasty in Naples, the principal causes of disturbance lay in questions of succession, so far as Sicily was concerned, and, for Naples, in the relations of that kingdom with the Holy See, which were not by any means always friendly. The great Roman houses of Colonna and Orsini, whose history is so closely connected with that of the popes in the middle ages, fought across the borders of the kingdom of p337Naples, and more than once the Colonna took refuge in the south, while the Orsini lorded it in Rome; but sometimes also the Orsini got possession of great lands in the southern country, and their ancient arms are conceived over the doors of more than one old castle in the wild mountains of the Basilicata. To name one only, Muro was theirs, — the vast stronghold in which Joan the First at last paid for her many crimes with her life, a place which few have visited, but which gives a far better idea of the existence led by the barons of the fourteenth century than any castle I have examined.

Joan the First of Naples came to the throne in the year 1343, being at that time a beautiful girl sixteen years of age. She was the granddaughter of good King Robert, surnamed the Wise, who was himself the grandson of Charles of Anjou, and whose only son, Joan's father, died before him. She was already married to the young Andrew, brother of the king of Hungary, and it had been understood that when she succeeded to the throne her husband was to take the title of King of Naples; but when the coronation took place, the cardinal legate who performed the ceremony crowned Joan only, to the mortification and disappointment of Andrew and his many Hungarian courtiers. The latter were a cause of dissension between their master and the queen; they brought the manners and bearing of a half barbarous nation to a court that had at first astonished the south by its magnificence, and which p338had reached a high degree of civilization and outward refinement since the days of its first king. In strong contrast to these rough Hungarians, who were insolent when they were sober, and dangerous when they were drunk, Joan saw around her her numerous cousins of the Durazzo line, who all enjoyed the dignity of princes of the blood, and the chief of whom, Charles of Durazzo, had married Joan's younger sister Mary. It was natural, perhaps, that the queen's antipathy should increase daily; and it was equally natural, on the other hand, that Andrew should feel himself slighted and injured because he had not received the promised crown; and in the meanwhile the princes secretly plotted, each hoping to obtain it for himself. In those times it was almost inevitable that such a condition of things should end in a tragedy, and it was not long in coming.

In the year after Joan's coronation, Andrew's friends at Avignon succeeded in persuading Pope Clement the Sixth to consent to his coronation, and to give his consent a practical shape by ordering the ceremony to take place at once, and by sending a cardinal legate to Naples to perform it. The princes understood well enough that if Andrew were once crowned their own chances would be gone; Joan detested her husband, and let it be understood by Charles of Durazzo that she would be glad to be rid of him. Whether she actually suggested the murder or not, it is not easy to say; it is generally believed that she did, and she p339suffered for it in the end. It was clear to those who wished Andrew's death that it must take place quickly, and it is quite certain that Joan was well aware of the plot.

The chronicle of Este gives a full list of the conspirators, and describes the murder as follows, saying that in order to plan it they met together beforehand in a certain castle by the sea. They then came and told the queen that the deed could not be done in Naples, where Andrew was too well guarded, and the queen, whom the Latin chronicle rarely mentions without an epithet which I shall leave to the imagination of the reader, persuaded the king to go with her and spend the month of September in Aversa, inviting all the conspirators to accompany them. The conspirators there agreed with the two chamberlains that the latter should open the door to the king's chamber when they desired it; and the queen consented to these things, and on the appointed night they entered. Then Beltram, the son of a natural son of King Robert, and the principal conspirator, seized the king by the hair; but the king dragged himself back and said, 'This is a base jest.' Then Beltram tried to throw the king, but the king seized his hand between his teeth, and did not let go until he had bitten the whole piece out. But Beltram's companion slipped a noose round the king's throat, and the two together drew it and twisted it so that he died. Having done this, they thought of burying p340him in a stable; but as they were carrying his body down the stairs, they fancied that they heard some of the knights coming, and being afraid, they brought the body back to the hall above and took counsel how they should hide it. At last they threw it out of the window into the pleasure garden, and then each went to his own room. Now the nurse of the dead king, who had come with him from Hungary, and who always suspected that some harm would befall him through the princes who lived at the court, went into the king's room, and there she saw the queen sitting beside the bed, but she did not see the king. She inquired of the queen saying, 'Where is my master?' The queen answered, 'I know not where he is; thy master is far too young!' Then the nurse, perceiving that she was ill-disposed, left the room, taking a light to search for her master, and looking towards the pleasure garden, it seemed to her that she saw a miraculous light there, which was intended to reveal the crime. She saw the king himself lying upon the grass, and thinking him asleep she went back to the queen. 'My lady,' said she, 'the king sleeps in the garden.' The queen answered, 'Let him sleep.' But she knew that he was dead. The nurse, who loved him not a little, went into the garden and saw him dead on the grass, strangled by the noose, and with his boots on, of which one was white and the other red, and one of his leathern hose was embroidered with gold, but the other p341was black. In the king's mouth she found the piece of Beltram's hand which he had bitten out. Then the nurse began to weep most bitterly, and by the sound of her weeping the crime was known. So the queen and her friends mounted their horses and returned to Naples, and caused the king's body to be brought thither and buried by night.


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Castel Nuovo, Naples

The chronicle of Este distinctly states that Charles, Duke of Durazzo, and the princes of Taranto, one of whom Joan afterwards married, were not among the conspirators, and that in the riot which took place on the next day, they led the people to the grave, and exhumed the body in order to be sure of the king's death, and then painted an image of him on a banner, with the noose round his neck, and besieged the queen and the murders, probably in the Castel Nuovo, which still overlooks the arsenal. Although they p342burned the doors and almost forced an entrance, they were driven back, and at last sent an embassy requesting the queen to give up the traitors. This she flatly refused to do, and the ambassadors remained shut up in the castle. But she, being young and badly frightened by the storm she had raised, at last consented to give up the conspirators with the exception of Beltram and his father; and the sea-gate of the castle was opened, and the conspirators were taken out and put on board of two galleys to be removed to the Castel dell' Uovo; but as the governor of the castle had no orders from the queen he refused to admit them, and they were shut up in Duke Charles's own prisons. Beltram and his father escaped to the castle of Sant' Agata, near the summit of the pass between Garigliano and Sparanisi, but the duke besieged them, took them alive, and brought them back to Naples, where they had the privilege of dying by poison, as being the son and grandson of King Robert. The other conspirators were tortured and hanged, and one of the ladies who had taken part was burned alive. The queen alone escaped, remaining in her castle all the time. The chronicle of Este speaks of Charles of Durazzo as if he had been quite innocent of Andrew's death, but Muratori says that he was believed to be the 'manipulator of this great iniquity.'

It is not to be supposed that any kingdom could hold together under such a sovereign as Joan the p343First, and her long life was spent in frantic efforts to keep her throne, and in attempting to counteract each crime she committed by one still more enormous. She could not save herself by allowing Charles of Durazzo to execute her husband's murderers, nor by marrying her cousin Luigi of Taranto, nor by obtaining a formal acquittal for herself in Rome. She was obliged to escape by night in a galley before the advance of the Hungarians, who were led to vengeance by their king, the murdered Andrew's brother, and she took refuge in her own Provence, where she was, nevertheless, confined like a captive, because the Pope distrusted her. The king took Aversa, and treated with the princes, and they dined at his table but after dinner, says the chronicle, the king made his men take their arms, as if he meant to ride over to Naples, and then he suddenly asked to see the passage whence his brother's body had been thrown. Standing there, he turned to Charles of Durazzo and accused him of the deed, and the Hungarian soldiers killed the duke where he stood, and threw his body into the garden: and the king sent the other princes to Hungary, where they were imprisoned. During nearly forty years Joan fought, intrigued, murdered, and fought again, adopted Lewis of Anjou for her successor, and perished miserably at last in Muro, by the order of another Charles of Durazzo, who at last got her kingdom and held it, and left it to his children. p344They died childless, the last being another Joan, called the Second, who adopted first one successor, Alfonso of Aragon, and then another, René of Anjou; and Alfonso took all, whereby the house of Aragon united the Two Sicilies under one crown.

Not long after the first Joan's death at Muro, the throne of Sicily was shaken by the mad attempt of Bernardo Cabrera, the old Count of Modica, to marry the widowed queen by force, and seize the kingship. Martin the First had died childless, and was succeeded by his father, while his widow, the young and beautiful Blanche of Navarre, became vicar and lieutenant of Sicily. Then the elder Martin died also, and for more than two years the throne remained vacant, until Ferdinand the First, the son of Martin's sister, was crowned as the only legitimate successor. Meanwhile, six other claimants aspired to the crown, and the confusion was indescribable. Cabrera was not one of them, for he could boast of no royal blood; he was Count of Modica, Grand Justiciary of the Kingdom, and one of the greatest nobles in Sicily; but he had conceived a mad passion for Blanche, and he believed that by marrying her he could grasp the crown.

A parliament was held in Taormina, and certain propositions were formulated by the wisest men there; old Bernardo Cabrera opposed them all, claimed the right to ruled Sicily in virtue of his high office, and at once formed a party among the barons, ever anxious for p345change. He swore loudly that he did not mean to persecute the queen, who would not resign her lieutenantship of the kingdom, and that he meant to hold the country for the crown of Aragon; but he won over the captain of the queen's troops, and before long he besieged her in her castle at Catania. He sought an interview with her under a truce, and she, says the old Jesuit historian, Francesco Aprile, agreed to speak with him from the high poop of the galley, he standing below her on a bridge. In this ridiculous situation the count, 'intoxicated by his insane love and boundless ambition, implored the queen to marry him.' Then with a scornful smile, at once in surprise and complaint contempt, she answered only, 'Oh, you rotten old man!' Thereupon she turned away at once to Torres, to whom the galley belonged, and bade him put to sea; and she sailed away to Syracuse for greater safety. But Cabrera, furious at the insult, and more madly in love than ever, pursued her thither, and besieged her again in the old castle of the Marsetto on Ortygia, between the great and the small harbours. He battered the walls with siege engines, and in vain attempted to get in, and at last, in impotent rage, he pelted the stone walls with mud and garbage. She was at last rescued by John Moncada and Torres, who arrived in the latter's galley at night, and fell upon Cabrera so suddenly that the old man fought for his life in his white nightcap. Queen Blanche was conveyed on board p346the vessel during the fighting, and the galley set sail for Palermo.

Even there she was not safe. She lodged in the great Chiaramonte palace, now the palazzo dei Tribunali, and once the seat of the Inquisition. Cabrera landed at Trapani, and advanced stealthily through his own possessions by way of Alcamo, enjoining the utmost secrecy upon his vassals, and guarding all the passes and roads, lest any one should warn the queen of his approach. He rode out of Alcamo at midday, and reached Palermo at dead of night, when the whole city was sleeping. But, cautious though he was, the clanking of his men's armour in the street waked the queen. In her nightdress, her hair in wild confusion, she was covered rather by darkness than by any garments, says Aprile. Letting themselves out of the palace by a postern, she and her damsels fled at full speed along the shore, till they reached the old harbour, where Torres's galley was moored. Though it was January, the terrified women waded out as far as they could towards the vessel, and called out with tears, in desperate anxiety, till Torres himself was wakened by their cries, and sent a boat off to bring them on board. He instantly weighed anchor and sailed to the strong castle of Solunto, a few miles to the eastward of Palermo. He had saved the queen a third time with the same galley.

Cabrera entered the Chiaramonte palace a few minutes p347after the queen had escaped. Her bed was still warm when he entered her room. 'I have lost the partridge, but I have her nest!' he cried, as he threw himself upon the couch and furiously kissed the pillow where the queen's head had lately lain.

A fourth time he besieged her in Solunto, but she was not without friends, and they sent word to Cabrera that he must cease to persecute her, and they appeared in arms to enforce their message. One day, when the count was examining the trenches with which he had surrounded the castle, he was suddenly surrounded and taken by the queen's friends, and before long he found himself a close prisoner in the strong castle of Motta Santa Anastasia, which had been built by Count Roger in old times. He was locked up in a disused rain-water cistern, and he was no sooner installed than the rain, which fell heavily at that season, was turned in upon him. The guards pretended not to hear his cries, the water rose from his ankles to his knees, and from his knees to his waist, till his prison pallet was floating beside him in the dark; then at last the water was turned off, and the wretched Cabrera was dragged out and transferred to a noisome den of vermin in a high part of the castle. There he was constantly attended by a soldier, whom he attempted to win over, and to whom a thousand pieces of gold were actually paid by the count's friends. But the soldier had kept his master well informed, and when the count was allowed to p348escape, as he thought, by climbing down a strong rope hung from his window, he dropped into a net which had been previously arranged to catch him, and in which he remained exposed to the view and contemptuous jests of the whole garrison. He must have been glad that the beautiful Blanche of Navarre could not see him in such an undignified situation. When his enemies were weary of mocking him, he was taken back to his prison, and kept there until the election of Ferdinand the Just.

This event took place in the year 1412, and put an end at once to the dissensions that distracted Sicily and to the claims of the other six aspirants to the throne. It put an end also to the independence of the Sicilian kingdom, and henceforth the latter was ruled by viceroys until modern times, excepting during the short reign of Victor Amadeus of Savoy.

It was soon to be united with that of Naples, for Ferdinand's son, Alfonso the Magnanimous, claimed and held the inheritance left him by adoption by Queen Joan the Second, the last of the Angevins; and though at his death the kingdoms were divided between his son and his brother, they were before long to be permanently united under Ferdinand the Catholic, Alfonso's nephew.

Old Aprile says that when Sicily was united with Castile she was one of the fairest jewels set in the crown of Spain, and that the union was the special p349work of Divine Providence. With Ferdinand's conquest of the Moors and of Granada we have nothing to do, but the date of his final victory is that of a serious outbreak against the Jews in Sicily. As usual, the Hebrews were accused of having caught and crucified a Christian child on Good Friday; and the chronicle, to which those who please may lend credence, asserts that the deed was discovered because the body was thrown into a well of which the water was stained with blood, and that, by a miracle, the water rose suddenly and deluged the streets with a red stream. The natural consequence was a massacre of the Jews, and their synagogue was converted into a church. This was neither the first nor last time that such persecution took place in Sicily.

It was at this time that Charles the Eighth conceived the idea of seizing the kingdom of Naples, and his incessant wars in Italy, in which Gonzalvo de Cordova, who led the Spanish armies, earned the surname of the Great Captain, led directly to the treaty of Granada made in 1500 between King Ferdinand and Lewis the Twelfth of France, Charles's successor. By that agreement the two sovereigns allied themselves in order to take the kingdom of Naples from Frederick the Fourth, who was King Ferdinand's first cousin once removed. Ferdinand's chief ground for this act of spoliation was that the unfortunate King Frederick of Naples had invoked the help of the Turks against his enemies. It p350was agreed, therefore, that Ferdinand, who was already king of Sicily, should have Apulia and Calabria, and that Lewis the Twelfth should take Naples with its royal title, the latter being readily confirmed by Pope Alexander the Sixth, the too famous Borgia Pope. Gonzalvo de Cordova was at that time the vassal of King Frederick, and in order to escape the charge of treason he immediately renounced the territory of Monte Sant' Angelo in the kingdom of Naples. The success of the joint armies of Gonzalvo and the Duke of Nemours was all that either could desire, but it was impossible that their respective sovereigns should long remain in accord, and the captains soon quarrelled about the boundaries of the conquered provinces. The French having occupied Melfi, Gonzalvo de Cordova retorted by seizing places already taken for King Lewis, and he established himself in Barletta, and soon inflicted a defeat upon his enemies, taking prisoner the Duke of Nemours' colleague. It was at this time, in the year 1503, that the famous encounter took place known in history as the Sfida di Barletta, in which, on the thirteenth of February, thirteen Italian knights fought as many Frenchmen in tournament in the sight of both armies, and beat them.

The celebrated fight was brought about in the following manner. The account I give is taken from Zurita's 'Annals of Aragon,' and seems to be as accurate as any. It chanced that in a skirmish near p351Barletta a number of the French were taken prisoners, and among them was a certain knight, called de la Motte; and while he was captive, he began to boast that the French were better men than the Italians, whereupon a great discussion arose, and the Italian knights went to Gonzalvo de Cordova, begging him that they might have a chance of defending their national honour, which they considered that de la Motte had assailed. The result was that thirteen Italian knights, chief of whom was Ettore Fieramosca of Capua, met an equal number of French champions, on the understanding that each vanquished knight should pay one hundred ducats for his liberty, and lose his horse and arms. The Duke of Nemours could not or would not give surety that the lists should be undisturbed, but Gonzalvo replied that he would protect them, and marched out all his army, horse and foot, to a place five miles from Barletta and encamped there, between Andria and Corato. A monument marks the spot to‑day.a For the Italians, Prospero Colonna appeared as second; the French chose for theirs the most honourable knight of any age, the famous Bayard; the judges marked out the ground, and the tournament began. It was a windy day and the gale was in the Italians' favour, as the parties rode at each other, first at a foot pace and then at a trot. Zurita says that they hardly broke into a canter as they met; nevertheless, all the lances were broken on both p352sides, but most of the French knights dropped the stumps of theirs. Not a horse was killed, not a knight was thrown, and they at once attacked each other with short arms, some using their axes, and some their swords, as they pleased. The French defended themselves stoutly, but the Italians fought so valiantly and with such perfect agreement among themselves, that in the space of one hour — not six, as some have said, — the French were driven across the line and therefore forced to surrender. One of their knights lay dead on the field, and one was severely wounded, but only one of the Italians was slightly hurt. The French champions were led back to Barletta by their victors with huge rejoicings, and the thirteen Italians supped at Gonzalvo de Cordova's own table.

The moral effect of such a victory was great, and the success was followed shortly by a more substantial one in the great battle of Cerignola, where the Duke of Nemours died of his wounds; and in the following year the last of the French were driven to take shelter in Gaeta, which more than once, and even in 1860, was the last refuge of those who had held Naples. The unfortunate King Frederick died of grief, and Ferdinand the Catholic was master of all southern Italy.

The early death of his only son had been regarded as a calamity by almost all civilized nations; but, if the young prince had lived, the greatest of all Spanish monarchs, Charles the Fifth, would never have reigned. p353He was Ferdinand's grandson by Joan the Mad, whose handsome husband, the heir of the Empire, died at the age of twenty-eight from drinking too much iced water after a game at ball, an excess to which Aprile gives the name of intemperance. The infant Charles, therefore, became the heir of the Empire as well as of Spain, the Low Countries, Southern Italy, and Sicily, besides all that had been discovered of America, and he was by far the greatest sovereign in the world. I may appropriately close this brief sketch of the southern successions by giving some account of the monarch whose strong hand has left its indelible impress upon Sicily and the mainland.

Charles was six years old when his father died, and his mother, it is said, was so distracted by her grief that she never recovered, but buried herself in the convent of Tordesillas, entirely shutting herself off from all human intercourse; and there she lived to old age, and died when the great emperor was in his fifty-sixth year. He was sixteen at the death of his grandfather Ferdinand, and his vast dominions were practically governed and held for him by the inexorable regent, Cardinal Ximenes, during the few months the latter still had to live; before long the young king stood alone and fought his own battles.

Some idea of the unsafe condition of Italy during that time may be formed from the fact that, in 1516, Pope Leo the Tenth was very nearly carried off a prisoner by p354Barbary pirates while spending a few days at Civita Lavinia, near Albano. The famous pirate Barbarossa, whom the Italian peasants still confound with the Emperor Frederick the First, was master of the seas and made raids upon the southern coast at his pleasure. Deserted villages, still standing in a maze of thorns and creepers, bear witness to his deeds, while the strong beacon towers built all round the coast, each in sight of the next, show what Charles the Fifth did to ward off such attacks. When he came to the throne, Italy was distracted by wars within and threatened by whole fleets of corsairs; the young Francis the First of France, mad with ambition and self-esteem, had inwardly resolved to take the south for himself, and Henry the Eighth of England was ready for any quarrel, with the Holy See, with France, or with the Empire, while his minister Wolsey laboured to keep the peace. There was room for a great king in such times, and Charles the Fifth won the battle of Mühlberg and reached the climax of his career after a reign of thirty-one years, in the very year in which Francis the First and Henry the Eighth breathed their last. He began life with a conception of his duties as emperor and his rights as king which belonged to the middle ages rather than to the Renascence; he considered that, while the seat of the Empire was in Germany, the reason for its existence lay in Italy, and that, as the arbiter and defender of the Christian faith, he must hold the position and wield p355the sceptre which had been Charlemagne's. The vastness of his possessions was a foundation upon which he had some right to build great hopes of such a universal monarchy. He was but twenty years of age when he was crowned emperor at Aix,º and he chose for his motto the words 'Plus oultre,' which may be interpreted to men that he began life with the intention of extending his dominions, his power, and his influence until the end. The principal adversary whom he found in his way was Francis the First, whose personal courage led him to believe that he could accomplish anything, while his unsuspicious vanity made him fancy that all men were his friends who were not his open enemies. Francis was sure of the support of Pope Leo the Tenth and of Henry the Eighth; the former, says the modern French historian, M. H. Gaillard, joined forces with the imperial army, united Parma and Piacenza with the States of the Church, and died of his joy over the achievement. Henry the Eighth lent Francis nothing but the offer of an arbitration, and in the following year allied himself with the emperor in an attack upon Picardy and Guyenne. To make matters worse, Charles, the Constable of Bourbon, betrayed Francis and treated with Henry the Eighth to divide France with the latter. The plot was betrayed to the king, but his position was already most desperate, and, though he repulsed the English in Picardy, and their vanguard only eleven leagues from Paris, and although he repelled p356the attack of the Spaniards in Navarre, he was obliged to retreat on the Italian side of his dominions with the loss of the incomparable Chevalier Bayard, and was unable to check the constable's career. The latter renewed and strengthened his relations with Henry the Eighth, and besieged Marseilles, whence he was driven with difficulty by the emperor's general, the Marquis of Pescara, the husband of the celebrated Vittoria Colonna; but it was impossible to keep the imperial army together in the face of the hostile population, and Francis again penetrated into Italy to renew his efforts at conquest. Charles the Fifth, however, was not so easily beaten; the remnants of his army took possession of Pavia and other strong places, while his captains reorganized their men. In the decisive and famous battle of Pavia the reckless young king was completely defeated and taken prisoner, and was carried away to a memorable captivity in Madrid, where Charles at first refused to see him, and shut him up in a dismal prison, in which there was but one window. The position hitherto occupied by France in European politics was gone, but the emperor had not yet won Italy. The French, in alliance with the Venetians under the command of Andrea Doria, commanded the Mediterranean, and the new pope, Clement the Seventh, taking the side of France, let loose upon Italy the 'Black Bands' of Giovanni de' Medici. But the emperor was always slow in his movements, and after his liberation from Madrid Francis was less ardent for fight. The situation, p357which might have lasted a long time, was unexpectedly changed by the temerity of the constable. With no hope of a reconciliation with Francis, and well knowing that he could not expect a crown from Charles the Fifth, he resolved to carve out a kingdom for himself, allied himself with the Lutheran captain, Froudsberg, and after seizing Milan marched southwards upon Rome. He was killed in the assault upon the city, but his troops avenged his death in the fearful sack of Rome, of which the whole blame was afterwards laid upon Charles the Fifth. Roused at last, the emperor put forth all his strength. Before long the French were completely driven out of Italy, Charles the Fifth was crowned at Bologna by the Pope who had lately been his enemy, and the latter was rewarded by the reëstablishment of his kindred, the Medici, in Florence. The emperor now turned against the Turks in a war which was dignified by the name of a crusade, a Spanish army landed at Goletta, and Tunis opened its gates after a month's siege. Francis naturally took advantage of this war to renew his attack upon Italy, and easily took possession of Piedmont; furthermore, he announced his intention of conquering Flanders. By the treaty of Cambrai he had lost the suzerainty of the latter province, but he now had the assurance to summon 'Charles of Austria, his vassal,' to appear before him in Parliament, and on the emperor's non-appearance solemnly confiscated his territories for treason.

p358 The conquest of Tunis had produced few results; Barbarossa and his pirate squadrons were still the terror of the Mediterranean, and Francis did not hesitate to ally himself with an infidel corsair in the hope of at last gaining some permanent advantage against the emperor. At the same time Francis had some success in Italy. Henry the Eighth, however, and the Protestant princes of Europe allied themselves with Charles against a fellow-sovereign who had called Moslems to his aid. Henry the Eighth besieged Boulogne and Montreuil, the emperor found himself marched across France, and the end was a treaty which the French king might look upon as a reconciliation, but which finally established the supremacy of Charles. Henry had taken Boulogne, for which he demanded a large ransom; Francis was forced to sign a treaty, or reconciliation, with him also, and died soon afterwards, worn out by the fatigues, emotions, and disappointments of his unhappy career.

This, in a few words and so far as the possession of Italy is concerned, is the history of the memorable struggle between Charles the Fifth and Francis the First which contributed so large an element to the general disturbance of Europe at that time. Throughout it all, we see the great emperor, always calm and self-reliant, delaying rather than hesitating, and always examining his own policy beforehand with cool judgment, never surprised, never at a loss, never swerving p359from his original conception of the Holy Roman Empire, moderate in victory, patient under defeat, and in almost every way the model that a strong sovereign should imitate. He found the south distracted by parties, riddled by conspiracies, and disturbed by popular revolutions. When he came to the throne Naples and Sicily were looked upon by more than one sovereign of Europe as a possible prey, to be fought for on the mere chance of a conquest. When he died they were the possessions of the house of Austria, and they remained so even when the succession to the crown of Spain became an object of contention on the failure of the direct line in 1700, and when thirty years later the Bourbons of Spain drove out their Austrian cousins. It is as impossible to imagine Sicily without Charles the Fifth, as it is to think of it without King Roger, and in the present condition of the country the monuments of the Austrian far outnumber those left by the Norman. From thousands of churches, castles, and palaces all over the country the huge stone shield that bears the quartered arms of Spain and Austria, with the imperial eagle, proclaims the lordship of Charles's successors; and there is perhaps not in all Sicily one church that is not the last resting-place of some great Spanish noble. From Charles's time the architecture of the south lost all its independence and originality, and the art of the Renascence, after overspreading the nobler works of the p360Norman and the Saracen, brought in its train the barbaric horrors of the late 'Barocco.' The exquisite church in which Peter of Aragon was elected by the Sicilian barons was lined with gaudy panels of coloured marbles, plastered with hideous scrolls, and adorned with obese cherubs that are not indecent only because they are impossible. The noble cathedral was degraded by the superimposition of an Italian dome, as inappropriate to its architecture as a Chinese pagoda upon Mount Sinai, and few other buildings of beauty escaped the triumphant and destroying march of corrupted taste. It is only in very recent times that some individuals have tried to reconstruct on a smaller scale the dwellings of the Saracen-Norman times, and the result is so pleasing as to make one wish that the Italians of the mainland would follow the example set by Sicilians, instead of constantly inventing new shapes of terror.

This same debasement of style in the south is witness, however, to the aggrandizement of Spain under Charles's successors. The Renascence was spontaneous in Florence and natural in Rome, but in south it was imposed by force. Venice, Lombardy, Tuscany, and Rome never submitted so long to entirely foreign domination as Naples and Sicily did, and have therefore retained something distinctly individual in their art. It is unjust to say that the south submitted because it was weaker, morally and physically, than the p361north; the south was better worth winning and holding, and greater armies came against it, led by greater men, from Augustus to Roger the Great Count, and from Henry the Sixth to Gonzalvo de Cordova. While the north was divided into many small states, the south was held together in a single kingdom by the strong hands of Spanish kings, and the vastness of the Spanish domination made revolt seem impossible. Even when the south was separated from Spain, the Spanish Bourbons were its kings, and the people still felt that in some way they belonged to the greater kingdom of the West, while their rulers ruled them in the same old way, and while the court still derived its elaborate manners, its corrupt customs, and its execrable taste from the mouldering remnants of what Charles the Fifth had made.


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Cloister of the Moorish castle
at Ravello, near Amalfi

It is all changed now, and the new influence is almost wholly commercial; but in Sicily the seed of a civilization has remained which may not be blasted by progress. There are men who are filled with a tender and discerning love for the beautiful that lies so near the surface, and their counsels are often followed; the frightful incrustations of Barocco ornament are being carefully removed from the Martorana, the noble Norman altar rail and fragments of mosaic have been unearthed from the cellars where they lay for centuries and have been carefully restored, and the original church once more appears in its true beauty. In the p362Palazzo dei Tribunali, whence Blanche of Navarre escaped from Cabrera on that winter's night long ago, windows of matchless grace have been found and once more opened, the light of day again falls through long-hidden traceries of stone, and the grand carved ceilings, rich with all the heraldry of knightly times, have been again uncovered. No modern hand has rudely changed the outline of the Zisa palace, and the worst of the Spanish ornaments have been effaced in the great hall of the bath, where the water still fills the little tanks in the marble floor. Everywhere throughout Sicily the artistic feeling is conservative and good, while on the mainland things go from bad to worse; and it is only here and there, as at Ravello, the lovely Moorish castle above Amalfi, that an alien hand had arrested decay and warded off improvement. In the later development of things, the mainland has not yet lost its Spanish character; but Sicily's native strength is beginning to show itself again, and if there is a resurrection in store for Italian architecture and Italian art, I venture to say that it will begin in Palermo or some Sicilian city, and not in Florence, which has become a manufactory of pretty facsimiles, nor in Rome, where art is given over to foreigners and architecture to contractors; and if any such renewal of life is to come, I think it will proceed from Saracen or Norman beginnings, and not from anything left by Charles the Fifth and the Spanish kings.


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First court of the museum, Palermo


Thayer's Note:

a The sfida (or disfida) is of course reënacted every year; the official website of the Disfida di Barletta has full details, including photos of the monument.


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Page updated: 20 Apr 08