War of the Sicilian Vespers

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War of the Sicilian Vespers

A scene of the Sicilian Vesper by Francesco Hayez
Date30 March 1282 – 31 August 1302
The Mediterranean; primarily Sicily, the Mezzogiorno, Aragon, and Catalonia
Result Peace of Caltabellotta, House of Barcelona gains Sicilian throne
 Crown of Aragon
 Kingdom of Sicily Supported by:
 Byzantine Empire
Hafsid dynasty (Tunis)
 Kingdom of Naples
 Kingdom of France
 Kingdom of Mallorca
 Kingdom of Navarre Supported by:
 Republic of Genoa
 Papal States
 Kingdom of Castile
 Crown of Aragon (post 1295 Treaty of Anagni)
Commanders and leaders
Crown of Aragon:
Crown of Aragon Peter III of Aragon (1282–1285)  #
Crown of Aragon Alfonso III of Aragon (1282–1291)  #
Crown of Aragon James II of Aragon (1291–1302)
Kingdom of Sicily:
Kingdom of Sicily James II of Sicily (1285–1295)
Kingdom of Sicily Frederick III of Sicily (1296–1302)
Kingdom of Sicily Constance of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily Sicilian Parliament
Angevin Naples:
Charles of Anjou (1282–1285)  #
Charles II of Naples (1285–1302)
Robert II of Artois (1282–1302)
Kingdom of France:
Kingdom of France Philip III of France (1284–1285)  #
Kingdom of France Philip IV of France (1285–1290)
Independent French Princes:
Kingdom of France Charles of Valois (1284–1302)
Kingdom of Majorca:
Kingdom of Mallorca James II of Mallorca (1283–1295)

The War of the Sicilian Vespers, also shortened to the War of the Vespers, was a conflict waged by several medieval European kingdoms over control of Sicily from 1282 to 1302. The war, which started with the revolt of the Sicilian Vespers, was fought over competing dynastic claims to the throne of Sicily and grew to involve the Kingdom of Aragon, Angevin Kingdom of Naples, Kingdom of France, and the papacy.

Initially fought between Sicilian rebels and Charles of Anjou in Sicily and Southern Italy, the war expanded when Aragon invaded Sicily to support the rebels and claim the throne. After Aragonese successes, the war grew into the concurrent Aragonese Crusade as the Kingdom of France intervened against Aragon in Iberia. The crusade ended in defeat, but efforts to end the war failed despite several peace treaties. Aragon gave up the crown of Sicily in exchange for papal concessions in 1297, entering into an alliance with Angevin Naples and the papacy against Sicily, but the new alliance's campaign to invade Sicily saw no success. The war ended in 1302 in the Peace of Caltabellotta, by which Sicily became an independent kingdom ruled by the House of Barcelona.

The war resulted in the division of the old Kingdom of Sicily; the island of Sicily came to be ruled as the Kingdom of Sicily, while the mainland territories of the old kingdom became the Kingdom of Naples. The war led to an era of Aragonese expansion in the Western Mediterranean, as the kingdom gained suzerainty over the Kingdom of Majorca and Sardinia. Outlasting four kings and four popes, the twenty-year war showcased the decline of papal power in southern Europe and the rise of increasingly powerful kings in the late 13th century.


Papal concerns & conquest of Sicily by Charles of Anjou[edit]

The island of Sicily had been part of the Kingdom of Sicily, which also encompassed the southern Italian peninsula, since the early 12th century, when Roger II of Sicily defeated an alliance of Italian mainland barons and was elected king by the pope. Sicily was the heartland of the Hohenstaufen empire of Frederick II of Sicily, and became a much sought after possession for French, Italian and papal interests.[1][2] Control over Sicily was of particular interest to the pope; the island was vital to the defense of the Papal States, and the kings of Sicily officially held the kingdom as a vassal in the name of the Holy See.[1] When Frederick died the kingdom was passed to Manfred I of Sicily, his illegitimate son, who quarreled with the pope over his legitimacy as king.[1]

Lands of Charles of Anjou (Charles I of Naples) in the early 1270s. Charles' holdings in France, Italy, and the Balkans made him a major power in the Mediterranean, with some sources describing his state as an ‘Angevin Empire’.

At papal invitation, in 1266 the kingdom was invaded and conquered by Charles I of Anjou, a powerful member of the French royal House of Capet. King Manfred of Sicily was ousted and killed, and Charles' victory allowed him to establish the Angevin Kingdom of Sicily and Naples, giving him control of Sicily and most of southern Italy. Using the generational conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines as a political wedge, Charles expanded his influence throughout Italy, cobbling together a formidable feudal state and forcing treaties on many Italian cities. With Sicily and Naples under his control, Charles and his brother, King Philip III of France, were able to greatly increase French influence in the western Mediterranean.[3]

While Charles was consolidating his rule over southern Italy, he faced a foreign competitor; in 1268, Duke Conradin of Swabia claimed the crown of Sicily and invaded Italy with a multinational army. Conradin's invasion sparked some Sicilian towns to revolt against the Charles, before the former was defeated and captured by the Angevins at the Battle of Tagliacozzo. The sixteen-year-old Conradin was executed by Charles in 1268, extinguishing the Hohenstaufen line and earning Charles the enmity of much of the Sicilian population. With his immediate foes in Italy defeated, Charles began a new administration in Sicily that would better serve his interests; land confiscations were carried out to deprive Sicilian noblemen of their power, Frenchmen were given preferential status in government, French garrisons were established on the island, and the capital of Sicily was moved from the traditional capital Palermo to Naples, where Charles held court.[3] Over the next decade, Charles' rule over Sicily took on an oppressive character, with heavy taxes being levied on the populace to fund Charles' military campaigns. Charles had a longstanding ambition to act on the 1267 Treaty of Viterbo, which nominally gave him and his heirs the right to conquer large parts of the Byzantine Empire, and he had recently seized control of Corfu and Albania.[4]

Outside Sicily, other regional powers reacted to the conquest with concern. The papacy and Republic of Genoa feared growing Angevin and French power in the western Mediterranean, and so backed support away from Charles. King James I of Aragon was outraged by the conquest, as he had strong diplomatic ties with Manfred, and Aragon and Sicily had traditionally had friendly relations.[5] He retaliated to the Angevin conquest by crowning the overthrown Manfred's daughter, Constance, Queen of Sicily and marrying her to his son, Peter of Aragon, who would ascend to the Aragonese crown as Peter III of Aragon in 1276.[1][2]

Sicilian Vespers[edit]

Tensions between the French and the Sicilian populace continued to strain, and on Easter Monday 1282, at the Church of the Holy Spirit just outside Palermo, at evening prayer (vespers), a deadly riot broke out between Angevin soldiers and the Sicilian population. Accounts differ as to what sparked the riot; some sources note the harassment of a Sicilian women by a Angevin soldier, others cited an attack by a Frenchman on a bugher or priest.[6][1][7] The rioting spread throughout Palermo, which rose in revolt against the French. The revolt spread to the rest of Sicily and led to the massacre of four thousand Frenchmen over the course of the next six weeks. Rebels took control over most of the island; only the port city of Messina in eastern Sicily remained loyal to Charles. However, through the diplomatic errors of the city's vicar, Herbert of Orléans, Messina joined the revolt on April 28 under the command of Captain of the People Alaimo da Lentini [it]. Herbert retreated to the castle of Mategriffon and the crusader fleet stationed in the harbor was burned, greatly hampering Charles' ambitions in the Mediterranean.[1]

Taking advantage of the uprising, physician John of Procida acted to foment further dissent against the French and gather foreign support for the rebels. A loyal supporter of the late Manfred of Sicily, John had fled to Aragon after Charles' conquest of Sicily—with the Vespers rebellion underway, he now acted on behalf of Peter of Aragon, who had claimed Sicily for his wife, Queen Constance.[2] John travelled to Sicily to stir up discontent in favor of Peter, and thence to Constantinople to procure the support of Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, an enemy of Charles. Michael refused to aid the Aragonese king without papal approval and so John voyaged to Rome and there gained the consent of Pope Nicholas III, who was threatened by Charles' conquest of the Mezzogiorno, and so did not openly oppose an Aragonese intervention. However, Nicholas III died soon after and was replaced by Simon de Brie, a Frenchman and an ally of Charles, who supported Charles' weakening rule over Sicily.[1]

While Aragon maneuvered, Charles struck back at the rebels, raising an army in Calabria and laying siege to Messina.[1] The various factions that made up the Sicilian rebels were initially divided politically; some cities supported independence, others supported Peter of Aragon, while others requested papal protection. The papacy, however, rejected diplomatic overtures and threatened excommunication for rebels that did not surrender to Angevin authority, thus inadvertently driving many Sicilians into the pro-Aragon factions.[7][8] The leading cities of the island formed a parliament, which would go on to serve as the de-facto government of Sicily.[1][7]

Aragonese intervention in Sicily[edit]

Peter III of Aragon disembarks at Trapani, a miniature from the Nuova Cronica of chronicler Giovanni Villani

Opening moves[edit]

Soon after the Vespers revolt, the rebel-aligned Sicilians turned to Peter of Aragon for support against the Angevins and French. Peter's claim to the Sicilian throne through his wife, along with heavy pressure from wealthy Aragonese merchant communities, made an Aragonese invasion of Sicily a potentially profitable enterprise for Peter.[1] In addition, depriving Charles of the Sicilian throne would weaken the Capetian dynasty and France, which Aragon struggled against in northern Iberia.[1][5] After ten weeks of preparation and, using the prospect of a crusade as cover, Peter's fleet of 140 ships sailed for Collo in North Africa.[1]

The Aragonese fleet landed in Collo and soon received envoys from the Sicilian rebels. Accepting the offer of the Sicilian throne, Peter and his fleet then sailed for Trapani, landing unopposed before marching to Palermo to be crowned.[1] In early October, Aragonese troops forced Charles to lift his siege of Messina and the remaining Angevin forces abandoned the island.[1] Aragonese troops led by prince James of Aragon landed on the mainland, marching toward Reggio without resistance, but no large uprising against Charles took place in wider Calabria.[1] Charles' forces still controlled significant territories on mainland Italy, and newly elected (and decidedly pro-French) Pope Martin IV excommunicated the Sicilian rebels, the Byzantine emperor and the Ghibellines of northern Italy in November.[1] Most significantly of all, the pope excommunicated Peter of Aragon and his ruling House of Barcelona, depriving them of the Aragonese crown and giving the crown of Aragon to Charles of Valois, son of King Philip III of France and great nephew of Charles of Anjou.[1]

Aragonese successes & widening conflict[edit]

Peter pressed his advantage and by February 1283 he had taken most of the Calabrian coastline. On the defensive, Charles sent letters to Peter demanding they resolve the conflict by personal combat. Peter accepted and Charles returned to France to arrange the duel. Both kings chose six knights to settle matters of places and dates. A duel between monarchs was scheduled for 1 June 1283 at English-controlled Bordeaux – one hundred knights would accompany each side, and Edward I of England would adjudge the contest. However, the English king, heeding the pope, refused to take part.[9] Peter left Sicily and returned via his own kingdom to Bordeaux, which he entered in disguise to evade a suspected French ambush. No combat between the two took part, and Peter returned to Barcelona to stabilize his kingdom, while Charles returned to Naples to rally support in his southern Italian lands.[1][10]

While Peter and Charles had been pursuing justice by duel in France, the Catalan admiral Roger of Lauria continued the war in Italy on behalf of Peter. Lauria ravaged the Calabrian coast and kept up a strong naval presence, defeating several Angevin fleets. In the summer of 1283, Roger took Malta and defeated the Angevin fleet at the Battle of Malta. Roger then drew Charles, Prince of Salerno, son and heir apparent of Charles I, out of Naples' port in the summer of 1284. In the ensuing battle, Roger utterly routed Charles' navy in the Battle of the Gulf of Naples. Roger took the prince and 42 ships captive to Messina.[11] Though it maintained control over Naples and much of Southern Italy, the Angevin Kingdom lacked the funds and ships to launch a major counter offensive against Aragon, and with his son's capture, Charles had lost his heir. Charles died in early 1285, while Aragonese attention was diverted towards the war with France. With Charles dead and Peter distracted, Sicily became a secondary theatre in the conflict until the 1290s.[1][10]

Aragonese Crusade[edit]

Border conflict & politics[edit]

In light of Aragonese successes against the Angevins in Sicily, France looked to support its dynastic ally and take advantage of the conflict. The court of Philip III was split on war with Aragon, for while the pope had granted the Aragonese crown to a French prince, war would be costly. Philip had vowed that an attack on Charles in Sicily would be treated as an attack on France,[5] but the French nobility showed a reluctance to become involved and Philip was unable to respond to the Aragonese invasion in 1283.[12] By early 1284, however, Philip had chosen to declare war; while he had little interest in Sicily itself, he saw value in seizing Roussillon and Montpellier, and in helping save his uncle Charles from defeat.[1] Philip also hoped to expand his influence in northern Spain by securing the Val d'Aran and the Kingdom of Navarre, which was under his protection as per the Treaty of Orléans and nominally ruled by his son, Prince Philip the Fair.[1] To spur an invasion Pope Martin IV declared a crusade against Aragon, citing King Peter's excommunication and granting an indulgence to any man who died fighting against Peter.[12] Both France and Aragon prepared for war.[1][13]

Through the winter of 1283–1284, both sides continued their war preparations. Though he had been successful in Sicily, Peter of Aragon's war in the east had divided his kingdom's resources, and he faced an increasingly hostile political situation in Aragon as many nobles opposed his wars of expansion. After negotiations with a noble faction, Peter was forced to cede some of his rights as king and release noble prisoners in exchange for the manpower needed to defend Barcelona, his family's seat of power.[1] In France, Philip deployed the royal army to Toulouse and Navarra, while raising large sums of money from French merchants to pay for the war.[1]

In late 1283 King James II of Majorca, Peter's younger brother, announced his intent to support the French crusade and recognized their suzerainty over Montpellier, while also giving the French army free passage through the Balearic Islands and Roussillon. James and Peter had a longstanding rivalry (Peter had opposed James' inheritance of Majorca after the death of their father), with both brothers desiring each-others kingdoms. While Majorcan support for France eased the French invasion of Aragon, James' actions inadvertently upset Philip's ambitions; the French king had hoped to annex Roussillon from Majorca, but now found himself awkwardly allied to James and therefore politically unable to seize the territory.[1] Regardless of the Majorcan intervention, Philip resolved to move ahead with his invasion; on February 22, 1284, Philip's son Charles of Valois was crowned King of Aragon, a direct challenge to Peter.[1]

With the conflict now widening to include France, papal sanction was given to a war—crusade—which historian H. J. Chaytor describes as "perhaps the most unjust, unnecessary and calamitous enterprise ever undertaken by the Capetian monarchy."[11]

French invasion[edit]

Advance of the French crusader army into Aragon

In the summer of 1285, the French crusader army under Philip and Charles of Valois entered Roussillon. Contemporary chronicles listed a huge force of between 80,000–100,000 men, while more modern sources estimate the size of the army as being around 1,500 mounted cavalry and 6,500 infantry.[14][15] Regardless of size, sources have described the army as one of the largest assembled by France in the 13th century, possibly the largest French expedition into Iberia since the time of Charlemagne.[14] Though the French had James of Majorca's support, the local populace rose against them and did not allow a quick French passage. When the French army reached the city of Elne, the city refused to open its gates. Elne was valiantly defended by the so-called bâtard de Roussillon ("bastard of Roussillon"), the illegitimate son of Nuño Sánchez, late count of Roussillon. Eventually the city was overcome and brutally sacked, with the French then continuing their advance south. Local nobles conducted a scorched earth campaign against the French, prompting Philip to order his army to isolate any Aragonese garrison they encountered and continue south quickly, fearful of running out of supplies. Peter and the Aragonese army fell back from the frontier, not willing to risk attacking the larger French army - Peter was also awaiting the return of the men and ships he had fighting in Sicily.[1][12]

By late June 1285 Philip and the French army had reached Girona, laying siege to the city in the heat of the Catalan summer. Philip's army needed constant resupply, forcing the French to move supplies through contested countryside to their rear or to ship supplies by sea to the town of Roses, 20 miles from Girona. The Aragonese probed the French lines around Girona, and tried to cut the road to Rosas, but failed; Peter was still unwilling to risk an open battle with the French. While the respective royal armies maneuvered on land, clusters of armed merchant ships and Catalan pirates preyed on French shipping, conducting a successful guerilla war at sea. Frustrated by small squadrons of Catalans galleys raiding their supply lines, the French prepared to blockade Barcelona.[14]

In early September, the main Aragonese fleet under Roger of Lauria arrived from Sicily. On 3 September, his fleet attacked and decisively defeated a French fleet at the Battle of Les Formigues, giving Aragon control of the Catalan coast and cutting the French army's ability to resupply by sea. Lauria followed his victory with a raid on Roses, capturing many French ships in the harbor and seizing the main supply depot for the French royal army. Girona fell to the French on 7 September, but the victorious army was fast running out of supplies. The French held a ceremony to officially crown Charles of Valois 'King of Aragon' there, but without an actual crown, and the French army was by this time suffering from an outbreak of dysentery. By mid-September, Philip had decided to end the campaign and began to withdraw back towards the French border.[1][12]

As the French army withdrew, it suffered badly from attrition and guerilla attacks, while Philip himself was afflicted with dysentery.[5] The heir to the French throne, Prince Philip the Fair of Navarre, opened negotiations with Peter for free passage for the royal family through the Pyrenees, and Peter agreed, not wanting to risk a protracted war with France. The French army was not granted this stay and was attacked and routed at the Battle of the Col de Panissars. Philip himself succumbed to dysentery, dying at Perpignan in October. James of Majorca, unable to resist the Aragonese advance without French support, fled his lands and Mallorca was occupied by an Aragonese army late in the summer.[1][12]

Leadership changes[edit]

14th century fresco depicting the French siege of Girona in 1285

In Aragon, Peter died on 2 November 1285—thus, all three monarchs at the start of the conflict were dead by the end of 1285. Pope Martin IV was also dead, having been forced to flee Rome during a civil uprising, and then taken ill and died in March 1285. The new monarchs who had inherited the war had different priorities, but the end of the year marked a lull in the conflict.[1] Prince Philip the Fair of Navarre, now Philip IV of France, did not support the war with Aragon, and was more interest in dealing with domestic issues. Prince Charles of Naples, heir to Charles of Anjou, was a prisoner of the Aragonese, with his government managed by the late Charles' councilors. The regent of Naples, Robert II of Artois, proved to be a capable administrator and used Aragon's war with France in Iberia as an opportunity to rebuild the Angevins' battered armies and fleets.[16]

Peter of Aragon's kingdoms were split following his death, with the crown of Aragon passing to Alfonso III of Aragon and the crown of Sicily passing to James II of Sicily. The two monarchs hoped to consolidate the House of Barcelona's gains, and with annexing their uncle James' lands in Mallorca.[1] Alfonso was also engaged in a border war with Castile, threatening the western flank of a still-unstable Aragon.[1]

Angevin re-armament and diplomatic efforts[edit]

Intermittent warfare continued for several years, mostly in 1286 when Roger of Lauria raided Provence,[14] and notably at the Battle of the Counts off the coast of Naples in June 1287, but diplomatic complexities hindered peace. After the defeats of 1287, the Angevin kingdom—though still possessing a formidable army—began to seek a diplomatic accord with Aragon, while still preparing to wage war in Sicily.[16] Fears of Castilian, Genoese, Venetian, or Holy Roman intervention also drove the peace process forward; a tentative agreement was reached in 1288, and Charles of Naples was ransomed from Aragonese captivity, but Pope Nicholas IV annulled the peace treaty and demanded Philip and the newly-freed Charles invade Sicily.[1]

In Aragon, king Alfonso was beleaguered by internal troubles and there were fears that the powerful Aragonese nobility (previously opposed to war with France) would demand that he seize control of Navarre, still ruled by Philip, and thus war with France would break out again.[1] Sicily remained the key point of contention between the French/Papal parties and the House of Barcelona, but neither side was willing to abandon their claim.[1] A change came in 1290, when Philip bribed one of Charles of Anjou's heirs to give up his claim on Sicily, thereby freeing France's papal obligation to invade. Charles of Valois, whom the papacy had granted the throne of Aragon, was pressured to give up his throne in return for papal promises to grant him lands in Sicily and perhaps a throne in the future; he would continue to seek a crown as a semi-independent prince. In 1291, seeking to further cool tensions, Alfonso and pope Nicholas signed the Treaty of Tarascon, in which Alfonso tentatively agreed to not hold Sicily against papal wishes and to remove Aragonese troops from the island. James, the king of Sicily, was not a signatory, but was in support of cooling the conflict. However, Alfonso died less than a month after signing the treaty, rendering it void.[1]

Alfonso's death passed the crown of Aragon to James, who now ruled both Aragon and Sicily. Though he had been king of Sicily first, James was more interested in preserving the authority of the monarchy in Aragon, and so was willing to give up Sicily for a lasting peace with the papacy and France. However, the powerful Catalan merchant class, which had secured large trade concessions in Sicily, demanded the Aragon maintain some control over the island, and some Aragonese nobles had acquired fiefs Sicily and were remiss to give the island up to the Angevins. Complicating matters further, the Sicilians themselves (led by Queen Constance and the Sicilian parliament) were adamant that Sicily would not bow to papal or French rule.[1] With the issue still unresolved, James returned to Aragon to secure a peace with Castile, ordering an end to offensive action in 1293.[1] James met with Charles II of Naples in November 1293, with James agreeing to renounce his claim to the Sicilian throne in exchange for compensation and the expectation that his excommunication would be rendered void. However, no official peace treaty could be signed without papal approval, and no pope was in power at the time due to election disputes in Rome.[17]

Aragon changes sides, Sicilian resistance[edit]

Pope Boniface VIII, elected in 1295, was heavily involved ending fighting between Aragon and Angevin Naples. His diplomatic efforts remained heavily focused on enforcing the temporal power of the church and with securing the papal right to hold Sicily as a vassal state.

Election of Boniface VIII and Papal overtures to Aragon[edit]

The 1295 election of Pope Boniface VIII opened a path to peace, as Boniface was keen to resolve the Sicilian issue. Eager to strengthen the temporal and political power of the church, Boniface was adamant that Sicily be returned to Angevin rule and that Sicily once more become a vassal state to the Holy See, the pre-war political privilege the papacy held over Sicily. To accomplish this Boniface made diplomatic overtures to the Aragonese leadership, hoping to win their support for an Angevin restoration in Sicily and to divide them from their Sicilian allies. The elderly John of Procida, infante Frederick of Barcelona (younger brother of James of Aragon and viceroy of Sicily), and Roger of Lauria met with Boniface in Velletri, where the pope offered them terms for an Aragonese withdraw from Sicily. In addition to offering a draft of a peace treaty, Boniface offered the Aragonese leaders personal concessions; to Roger of Lauria, the pope offered to grant a papal fiefdom over the island of Djerba, while to Frederick he offered a marriage to Catherine de Courtenay, who nominally controlled territories in the Greek islands and had a claim to the throne of the Latin Empire.[17] According to some sources, the pope also offered Frederick an army and a papal sanction to invade the Byzantine Empire in exchange for the Aragonese prince's abandonment of Sicily.[17]

After negotiations resumed, James agreed to the 1295 Treaty of Anagni, by which he forfeited the crown of Sicily to the papacy and agreed to marry a member of Charles II's family, Blanche of Anjou, thus securing peace between Aragon and the Angevin kingdom. Aragon also took on Mallorca as a vassal, ending its military occupation but gaining effective control of the Kingdom of Majorca. Aragon also received substantial monetary compensation (12,000 livre tournois), Charles of Anjou was forced to give up his claim to the throne of Aragon, and the order of excommunication was lifted from James.[17] Boniface took the treaty to mean the end of the Sicilian rebellion and re-affirmed Charles II's right to rule Sicily, who began to plan a new invasion of the island to re-install Angevin rule.[1][18]

Crowning of Frederick III[edit]

Despite the changing diplomatic situation, the Sicilians objected to any return of Angevin rule over Sicily and so considered the treaty to be invalid. Led by Queen Constance of Sicily and the Sicilian parliament, the island prepared to continue the war. Pope Boniface's offer of a lucrative marriage partner for Frederick fell through, and soon after the Aragonese prince re-affirmed his desire to rule Sicily. In late 1285, Frederick announced that Aragon had abandoned the island and in December he was declared "Lord of the Island", pending a plebiscite to install him as king. After a gathering of its delegates in Palermo, in March 1296 the Sicilian parliament crowned Frederick as Frederick III, King of Sicily. Frederick, although still a prince of Aragon, resolved to defend the island.[17]

With Frederick's ascension as king, relations between Aragon and Sicily became more strained. Aragon was pressured by treaty to assist Angevin Naples and the papacy in reconquering Sicily, but James did not invade immediately, instead recalling all Aragonese and Catalans from the island. The rift between allies split the loyalties of many nobles; years of war and conquest had resulted in many wealthy nobles and merchants, notably admiral Roger of Lauria, possessing lands in both Aragon and Sicily. Aragonese and Sicilian crews often served on the same warships, and many Aragonese soldiers were garrisoned in Sicily. When James recalled his fellow Catalans from Sicily, thousands chose to stay loyal to Sicily and Frederick.[17]

As the year 1296 progressed, James became distracted in Iberia as Castile devolved into civil war, and so Frederick and his newly-independent Sicilian forces went on the offensive in Calabria, harassing Angevin forces. Pope Boniface demanded that James support the Angevin's war against Sicily, but James was in no rush to do so; instead, he attempted to schedule a series of peace summits with Frederick in an attempt to convince his brother to peacefully give up Sicily. Frederick countered his brother's overtures by consulting the Sicilian parliament on what the island kingdom's course of action would be. As it became increasingly apparent that Aragon, Angevin Naples, and the papacy would only accept the submission of Sicily, Frederick and the Sicilians furthered their military preparations to maintain Sicilian independence.[17]

Aragonese–Angevin−Papal coalition against Sicily[edit]

Aragonese–Sicilian admiral Roger of Lauria's capture of Prince Charles of Naples at the Battle of the Gulf of Naples in 1284. Originally a staunch enemy of Angevin Naples, Lauria would from 1297–1302 lead a combined Aragonese–Angevin fleet against Sicily alongside Charles' son, Robert of Naples.

In the summer of 1296 Frederick continued his offensive against Angevin forces in Calabria, capturing Catanzaro and Squillace, while Crotone rose up against the Angevin garrison and submitted to the Sicilians. However, disputes between Frederick and Roger of Lauria began to show during the campaign as the two disagreed on Sicilian strategy.[17] In October a small Sicilian squadron intercepted and routed an Angevin fleet trying to raid Ischia, enraging Charles II and causing him and Boniface to redouble their efforts to have James and Aragon re-enter the war on their side. After a final peace overture to his brother failed in February 1297, in March James travelled to Rome to confer with Boniface.[17] In Rome, James negotiated a new treaty in which he agreed to make war on his brother and Sicily in exchange for further compensation, namely money and a papal sanction to annex Sardinia and Corsica.[1][17] Roger of Lauria, now out of favor with Frederick, left Sicily to attend the wedding of Yolande of Aragon to Robert of Naples, a political marriage designed to bind Aragon to Angevin Naples.[17] Roger subsequently re-entered James' service and the king named him 'High Admiral for Life' of the Aragonese fleet.[17]

With their new alliances secured, Aragon and Angevin Naples prepared to go on the offensive against Sicily in 1297. With Aragon requiring time to re-deploy its navy from Iberia, Angevin Naples struck first, seeking to drive Frederick from Calabria. Led by Angevin general Pietro Ruffo and Roger of Lauria, the Angevin army marched on and besieged Cantanzaro, which the Sicilians had taken the previous year. Frederick dispatched a Sicilian army to relief the siege, and in the ensuing battle the Angevin army was defeated and forced to retreat.[17] Having secured his gains in Calabria, Frederick encouraged revolt in Naples, negotiated with the anti-papist Ghibellines of Tuscany, Lombardy, and Genoa, while assisting the House of Colonna against the pope. The Sicilian army had years of experience, and so was still a capable fighting force without Aragonese assistance.[1] Frederick also worked to build up the Sicilian navy, while in Naples the Angevins did the same.[17]

1298-1301 invasion of Sicily[edit]

By 1298, James had re-organized the Aragonese navy and was prepared to have Aragon re-join the war in force. A combined allied fleet of 50 Aragonese and 30 Angevin galleys was assembled in Naples, while the Sicilians were able to raise 64 galleys led by former Genoese admiral Corrado Doria.[19] To secure a beachhead on Sicily, James (who commanded the Aragonese-Angevin army) needed a secure port for the allied fleet to use during the winter months. In the summer of 1298 the allied fleet sailed to and captured Patti in northern Sicily, but an attempt to push inland was abandoned in the face of local resistance. Later in the summer, the allied force embarked on a major campaign to capture Syracuse, succeeding in capturing several nearby towns and laying siege to the city. However, Frederick and his commanders kept up a successful campaign of guerilla warfare, using cavalry raids to strike isolated Angevin garrisons and supply lines. Winter set in and cost both sides valuable manpower through attrition, while Patti rose in revolt and expelled the allied garrison.[19] Roger of Lauria led a ground force to retake Patti, but a small fleet sent to help relive the fortress was surprised and defeated by a Sicilian squadron, costing the allied fleet 16 ships and granting the Sicilians near-parity with the Aragonese-Angevin fleet.[19]

In March 1299, James was forced to lift his siege of Syracuse. Though the allies retained control over several costal towns, the siege had sapped Aragonese-Angevin manpower and supplies. James sent out peace feelers to Frederick, but was rebuffed by his brother, who also had a relative of Roger of Lauria's executed.[19] James sailed for Naples and then Barcelona, returning to the theatre in May with a fresh army.[19] By July a second allied invasion fleet was ready to depart Naples. Sailing to northern Sicily, the fleet rounded the Cape of Orlando and landed at the town of San Marco d'Alunzio. The allied fleet, again headed by Roger of Lauria, took up defensive positions on the beach. Frederick and the Sicilian fleet arrived soon after to disrupt the invasion, and despite being outnumbered, attacked the allied position. In the ensuing Battle of Cape Orlando on 4 July, the Sicilian fleet suffered a major defeat, granting the allies command of the sea. James - having been informed of growing unrest in Catalonia - returned to Aragon soon after the victory, leaving Lauria and the Angevins to continue the war in Sicily.[19] Some sources have alleged that James, tired of expending Aragonese resources fighting a fellow member of the House of Barcelona and his former subjects, intentionally shifted his attention back to Iberia and away from Sicily, and James would never return to the theatre.[19]

Prince Philip of Taranto, Charles II of Naples' second son, led the western Angevin army until being captured at the pivotal Battle of Falconaria in 1299.

Having secured a beachhead on Sicily, the Angevins began landing troops on the island. Led by Charles' son Robert and Roger of Lauria, the Angevins spread out to seize control of towns and fortresses. The Angevin army moved to besiege Randazzo, but faced stiff resistance and so proceeded south along the western edge of Mount Etna, marching south towards the key port city of Catania. As they advanced across the countryside, the Angevins captured several towns while also decimating the fiefs of those nobles known to support Frederick. Catania was soon besieged, and after several weeks an internal coup resulted in the city being occupied by the Angevin army. A major victory for the allies, the fall of Catania resulted in several nearby towns also surrendering to Robert and Roger of Lauria. The loss of the city also forced Frederick to relocate his court, as the Angevin position in Catania threatened Syracuse and Messina. Retreating to the central highlands of Sicily, Frederick chose the city of Enna as his base of operations. Frederick's new position in the central Sicilian highlands moved him away from the larger costal cities, but also strengthened his internal lines of communication, as from Enna's commanding plateau he was able to send out forces to counter the Angevins wherever they chose to attack.[20]

Having captured Catania and isolated Messina and Syracuse in the east, the Angevins now prepared an invasion of western Sicily, hoping to catch Frederick's remaining forces in a pincer. In November 1299 a second Angevin army led by Charles' second son, Philip of Taranto, landed on Sicily and besieged Trapani. Faced with a choice of waiting in heavily-fortified Enna to be trapped between the eastern and western Angevin armies or going on the offensive, Frederick consolidated his forces and marched to attack Philip in the west. Philip, unable to capture Trapani, marched to besiege Marsala; the two armies encountered each other near the city, and in the ensuing Battle of Falconaria the Angevin army was routed and Philip captured.[20] The battle was a major victory for Frederick and boosted the morale of the Sicilians. With the western Angevin army destroyed, Roger of Lauria and Robert in the east were forced to stop their advance until spring, with Roger sailing to Naples to collect reinforcements.[20]

In February 1300, an advance force of 300 Angevin knights, lured by the promise of a weak fortress at Gagliano, were destroyed in a Sicilian ambush at the Battle of Gagliano, further blunting Robert's ability to advance in Sicily.[20] While the ground campaign stalled, on 14 June 1300 Roger of Lauria and the allied fleet defeated the Sicilians at the Battle of Ponza, crippling the Sicilian navy and relegating it to small-scale attacks.[1][20] The allied fleet sailed to the south coast of Sicily, raiding towns and castles but failing to land additional allied troops.[20]

Map detailing the Angevin campaign (1298–1302) to invade Sicily.

In early 1301 Robert, frustrated by the stalemate on land, took command of half of the allied fleet while Roger maintained the other half. In July a deadly storm struck both fleets, resulting in the loss of nearly 30 galleys.[21] The loss of ships and skilled crews to weather and disease sapped allied naval power, and an abortive attempt to besiege Syracuse also resulted in the loss of several ships. With any westward movement blocked by Frederick's armies, the Angevins chose instead to strike north towards Messina, laying siege to the strategically important city in August. The allied fleet blockaded the city, while Angevin soldiers burned the countryside that fed the populace. Realizing the need to relieve Messina, the Sicilians conducted two overland campaigns to open a supply line to the city, the second commanded by Frederick himself, while a small flotilla under the command of Roger de Flor harassed Roger of Lauria's blockading fleet.[21] The Sicilian resupply missions kept up morale in the city, and while famine devastated the population and Sicilian garrison, Messina refused to surrender. Seeing that Messina could not be starved into submission and facing a blistering series of small Sicilian attacks, Roger and Robert agreed to withdraw all Angevin soldiers to the port of Catania.[21] A peace compact was brokered between Frederick and his sister Yolanda, which the Angevins agreed to abide by.[21]

Invasion of Charles of Valois[edit]

The Castello di Caccamo in Caccamo, western Sicily. Rugged terrain and fortified towns posed a major challenge to invading armies during the War of the Sicilian Vespers.

In 1302, Prince Charles of Valois marched into Italy at the behest of Pope Boniface. Acting independently as a French prince, he received significant financial backing from the papacy and the French court, using his army to crush supporters of the anti-papal Ghibellines in Tuscany and Florence. Once in Naples, Valois signed an accord with the pope and Angevins offering him support for a future venture to restore the Latin Empire if he were to successfully conquer Sicily. In the summer of 1302, the peace combat between Sicily and Angevin Naples expired, allowing the Angevins to begin providing men and ships to Valois' invasion force.[21] Faced with Charles of Valois' large and professional French army, Frederick chose to fortify coastal towns and scour the countryside of food, planning to wear down the invaders in a war of attrition.[21]

The allied fleet, now laden with Valois' army, landed at Termini on the northern coast, encountering no resistance. While Roger of Lauria raided the coastline near Palermo, the Valois army first waited for resupply, and then marched inland in an attempt to seize the Sicilian heartland. The army besieged Caccamo, but found it too well defended, and so moved on to Corleone, which also resisted Valois. Seeking to resupply his army by sea, Valois then marched to Sciacca on the southwest coast of Sicily, arriving in July. As the allied army moved, Frederick and the Sicilians shadowed them through the countryside, choosing not to engage them directly. Disease, famine, and the hot Sicilian summer devastated Valois' army, which was unable to break through the defenses at Sciacca; by August 1302, Valois chose to send envoys to Frederick to discuss peace. In mid-August, Valois agreed to evacuate the island, and the Angevins agreed to evacuate their remaining garrisons in eastern Sicily in return for Frederick withdrawing his forces from the Italian mainland.[21] With Charles of Valois defeated, Charles II unable to mount a successful invasion, and James being unconcerned with invading, all sides began to seek peace.[1][21]

Conclusion and Peace[edit]

Peace of Caltabellotta[edit]

On 19 August, the Peace of Caltabellotta was signed. The treaty confirmed Frederick as King of Sicily and Charles as King of the Mezzogiorno, known thereafter as the Kingdom of Naples.[1] In May 1303 the pope ratified the treaty and Frederick paid him tribute to smooth the peace process. Marriage was also arranged between Frederick and Charles' daughter Eleanor. A clause in the treaty mandated that Frederick's throne would pass to the House of Anjou upon his death, and Frederick agreed to provide military assistance to Charles of Valois if he moved to invade Byzantium.[1]

Now recognized as king over Sicily, Frederick adopted the title of King of Trinacria, but to keep the Ghibelline legacy of the Staufer alive he subsequently preferred to call himself "King" without any territorial reference in his chancellery acts from 1304 to 1311, then used "King of Sicily" from 1315 to 1318, and struck coins throughout his reign as rex Sicilie.[22]


The War of the Sicilian Vespers, and the several treaties drawn up to end it, would continue to effect regional politics for decades. Aragon had gained and then given up the crown of Sicily, but its gaining of mercantile interests in Sicily and control over Mallorca and Sardinia (annexed by Aragon in 1323)[23] made it a major power in the Mediterranean.[1] The crownlands of Sicily itself had been split between Sicily and Naples, with different dynasties ruling each half. Frederick III's crown was not restored to the House of Anjou on his death, and so the House of Barcelona maintained rule of the island until the 15th century.[1] The kingdoms of Sicily and Naples would remain separate until 1734, when the crowns of both kingdoms were held by Charles III of Spain, and would remain politically separate until the formation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1815.[24]

The Catalan Company, a mercenary company formed by veterans of the war, would play a major role in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean.[25]

Using the chaos of the war as cover,[1] the Republic of Genoa declared war on its rival Pisa, crushing the Pisan fleet at the Battle of Meloria in 1284, sending Pisa into decline and temporarily establishing Genoa as the pre-eminent naval power in the Western Mediterranean.[26]

The war, fought between Christian powers over claims to European thrones, is seen by some sources as a sign of the end of the Crusading era, and an indicative sign of the degradation of papal powers over excommunication and indulgence.[27][28]

Popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av Schneidman, J.Lee (December 1969). "Ending the War of the Sicilian Vespers". Journal of Peace Research. 6 (4): 335–347. doi:10.1177/002234336900600404. ISSN 0022-3433. S2CID 110273792.
  2. ^ a b c Chaytor, H. J. A History of Aragon and Catalonia . 1933. Chapter 7, pp. 102-3.
  3. ^ a b Welsh, William E. (2016). "Papal strongman: Charles of Anjou". Medieval Warfare. 6 (2): 20–23. ISSN 2211-5129. JSTOR 48578551.
  4. ^ Riley-Smith, Jonathan (2005) [1987]. The Crusades: A History (2 ed.). New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. pp. 222–223. ISBN 0-8264-7270-2.
  5. ^ a b c d Shneidman, J. L. (1960). Aragon and the War of the Sicilian Vespers. The Historian, 22(3), 250–263. JSTOR 24437629
  6. ^ de Salas, F.J. (1864). Marina Española de la edad media: Bosquejo histórico de sus principales sucesos en relacion con la historia de las coronas de Aragon y de Castilla por F. Javier de Salas (in Spanish). Tip. de T. Fortanet. p. 537. Retrieved 2021-10-27.
  7. ^ a b c Runciman, Steven (1958). The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-60474-2 pp. 221
  8. ^ Abulafia, David (2000). "Charles of Anjou reassessed". Journal of Medieval History. 26 (1): 93–114. doi:10.1016/s0304-4181(99)00012-3 ISSN 0304-4181 S2CID 159990935
  9. ^ Chaytor, p 104.
  10. ^ a b Runciman, Steven (1903-2000) (1958). The Sicilian vespers [Texte imprimé] : a history of the Mediterranean world in the later thirteenth century. Internet Archive. Cambridge : the University press.
  11. ^ a b Chaytor, p. 105.
  12. ^ a b c d e Strayer, J. R. (January 1953). "The Crusade against Aragon". Speculum. 28 (1): 102–113. doi:10.2307/2847183. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2847183. S2CID 162708245.
  13. ^ Bradbury, Jim (2007). The Capetians : kings of France, 987–1328. London: Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-2491-4. OCLC 458294179.
  14. ^ a b c d Stanton, Charles D. “France's Crusade Against Aragon (May–November 1285).” In Roger of Lauria (c. 1250–1305): “Admiral of Admirals,” NED-New edition., 177–197. Boydell & Brewer, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvd58tqg.17.
  15. ^ Chaytor, p 106.
  16. ^ a b Stanton, Charles D. “Battle of the Counts (23 June 1287).” In Roger of Lauria (c. 1250–1305): “Admiral of Admirals,” NED-New edition., 198–209. Boydell & Brewer, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvd58tqg.18.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Stanton, Charles D. “Switching Sides (December 1293–April 1297).” Roger of Lauria (c. 1250–1305): “Admiral of Admirals,” NED-New edition, Boydell & Brewer, 2019, pp. 236–55. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvd58tqg.21. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.
  18. ^ Tyerman 2019, p. 353.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g Stanton, Charles D. “ARAGON’S INVASION OF SICILY AT ANJOU’S BIDDING (1298/1299).” In Roger of Lauria (c.1250-1305): “Admiral of Admirals,” NED-New edition., 256–70. Boydell & Brewer, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvd58tqg.22.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Stanton, Charles D. “LAURIA’S LAST GREAT CAMPAIGN (SUMMER 1299–SPRING 1300).” In Roger of Lauria (c.1250-1305): “Admiral of Admirals,” NED-New edition., 271–88. Boydell & Brewer, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvd58tqg.23.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h Stanton, Charles D. “ENDGAME (SPRING 1301–SUMMER 1302).” In Roger of Lauria (c.1250-1305): “Admiral of Admirals,” NED-New edition., 289–301. Boydell & Brewer, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvd58tqg.24.
  22. ^ Bresc 1986, p. 779.
  23. ^ Casula, Francesco Cesare (1994). La Storia di Sardegna (in Italian). Sassari: Carlo Delfino Editore. ISBN 978-88-7138-084-1. Pg. 303-304
  24. ^ "Two Sicilies* - Countries - Office of the Historian". history.state.gov. Retrieved 2023-08-10.
  25. ^ "Catalan Company (DBA 165)". 2009-02-08. Archived from the original on 2009-02-08. Retrieved 2023-03-29.
  26. ^ Lane, Frederic Chapin (1973), Venice, a Maritime Republic, Johns Hopkins University, ISBN 0-8018-1445-6. pp. 73-78
  27. ^ Runciman, Steven (1987-12-03). A History of the Crusades. CUP Archive. ISBN 978-0-521-34772-3.
  28. ^ Purcell, Maureen (2022-03-07). Papal Crusading Policy 1244-1291: The chief instruments of papal crusading policy and crusade to the Holy Land from the final loss of Jerusalem to the fall of Acre. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-47740-7.
  29. ^ Olson, Kristina (2019-01-01). "Legacies of Greed and Liberality: Angevin Rulers in Dante and Boccaccio". Studi sul Boccaccio.
  30. ^ Novacco, Domenico (31 March 1959). "CONSIDERAZIONI SULLA FORTUNA DEL TERMINE « MAFIA »". Belfagor. 14 (2): 206–212. JSTOR 26106878.
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The Rebellamentu di Sichilia, a Sicilian tract of 1290, is available online in three editions:

The Vinuta di lu re Iapicu in Catania, another Sicilian history, by Atanasiu di Iaci, is available online:

The contemporary Catalan chroniclers:

  • Bernat Desclot, Crònica, ed. Ferran Soldevila, Jordi Bruguera and Maria Teresa Ferrer i Mallol, Barcelona 2008
  • Ramon Muntaner, Crònica, ed. Ferran Soldevila, Jordi Bruguera and Maria Teresa Ferrer i Mallol, Barcelona 2011 (English tr. Anna Kinsky Goodenough, Chronicle of Muntaner, London 1920)

Note also: