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History of The Kingdom of Sicily (1130 -1861)

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The Kingdom of Sicily existed in the south of modern Italy from 1130 to 1861. It included the actual island of Sicily, and also, at different times, southern Italy with Naples and, until 1530, Malta. After 1302, it was sometimes called the Kingdom of Trinacria. In certain periods of history, it belonged to the Spanish kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1816, it was united with the kingdom of Naples, called the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. In 1861, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies became part of united Italy.

The Kingdom of Normans

The Normans invaded Sicily in 1061, and defeated the Arabs, and by 1090, completely controlled its territory. In 1127, the Duke of Apulia, of Norman descent, united with William II, and Sicily was put under the rule of his cousin, Count of Sicily, Roger II. Roger supported the antipope of Anaclet II and was crowned last as the king of Sicily at Christmas of 1130.

In 1139, according to the Minyan treaty, Pope Innocent II recognized Roger as a king. Admiral George of Antioch conquered North Africa, a result of which was Roger receivingd the unofficial title of “King of Africa”. The Roger fleet also inflicted several significant defeats on Byzantium, making Sicily for almost one hundred years the leading maritime power in the Mediterranean.

The son and heir of Roger, Wilhelm I the Wicked, died in 1166, leaving his young son on the throne. A regency was established, and the country was beset by quarrels that nearly destroyed the dynasty. This lasted until the independent rule of the young King Wilhelm II, the further reign of which was marked by peace and prosperity. When he died in 1189, there were no heirs, and the kingdom was again plunged into chaos.

In 1190, the throne was captured when the German Emperor Henry VI of Hohenstaufen, married to Constance, daughter of Roger II, intervened and the kingdom in 1194 passed to the German Emperors of the Hohenstaufen dynasty.

The Power of the Hohenstaufen

King Friedrich II continued legal reform, begun by his grandfather, King Roger II. The result of the reforms in 1231 was the Melbian Constitution, known under the Latin name Liber Augustalis, a set of laws which not only was a significant step forward for its time, but also served as a model for the codes of laws in Europe for many years.

The Kingdom of Sicily was the first European state with a strong centralized royal power, free from feudal strife. It proclaimed the primacy of written law over feudal customs. With minor modifications, Liber Augustalis formed the basis of Sicilian law until 1819. Friedrich II also built Castel del Monte, and in 1224,, founded the University in Naples, one of the first in Europe, for many centuries the only university in Southern Italy.

He was succeeded in 1250 by Emperor Conrad IV, much more engaged in wars in Germany than his Sicilian kingdom. He, however, appeared in Naples in 1253, took the city and soon after he died on the way to Germany. The heir in 1254 was his two-year-old son Conradin. In reality, during this time, Sicily was ruled by the illegitimate son of Frederick II, Manfred of Sicily, who, after spreading false rumors about the death of Conradin in 1258, declared himself King of Sicily.

Pope Clement IV did not recognize the rights of Manfred to the kingdom and “transferred” his brother to the King of France, Louis IX, who entered the throne after the death of Manfred in 1266.

In 1266, Sicily was under the rule of Count of Anjou. Discontent with the power of the French, who did not care about the country, led in 1282 to an uprising known as the Sicilian Vespers, and the subsequent War of the Sicilian Vespers. The insurgents, realizing that they could not stand alone against Charles of Anjou, sent messengers to Pedro III of Aragon, offering him the Sicilian crown. Pedro accepted the offer and on August 30, 1282, led a huge army and on September 4, 1282, he was crowned as King of Sicily.

Aragon Dynasty

On August 31, 1302, the Caltabellot Treaty was concluded, which recognized as King of Sicily Federigo II, but only until his death. In 1314, Federigo appointed his son Pedro the heir of Sicily, and in 1328 made him his co-ruler. After the death of Federigo, the royal power in Sicily weakened. A number of areas of the island were controlled by barons virtually independent of the central government. After the extinction of the Sicilian branch of the Aragon dynasty, the kingdom was annexed to Aragon. And in 1435, the kingdom of Naples was joined to Aragon.

Habsburgs, Bourbons and the Savoy Dynasty

After the unification of Castile and Aragon in Spain, the title of “King of Sicily” was worn by the King of Spain. In 1713, following the results of the Utrecht peace, Sicily passed Savoy. In 1735 the Spaniards reconquered Sicily and Naples, and so she again returned to the Bourbons.

In 1799, the Naples Kingdom was conquered by Napoleon, who proclaimed the Parthenopean Republic. Under British pressure, the kingdom was returned to King Ferdinand, but transformed into a constitutional monarchy. A bicameral parliament was formed, sitting in Palermo and Naples.

In 1805, Ferdinand sided with the Third Coalition. After the defeat of the Russian-Austrian army at Austerlitz and the withdrawal of Austria from the war, Ferdinand, without waiting for the French troops, again fled to Sicily under the protection of the English fleet. In 1806, Napoleon, by his decree, deposed the Bourbon dynasty that extended only to the mainland of the kingdom – in Sicily, Ferdinand continued to rule.

After the Congress of Vienna and the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, in May 1815, Ferdinand again became King of the Kingdom of Naples.  Ferdinand declared on December 8, 1816, the unification of the two kingdoms in a single state of Naples and Sicily, becoming the Kingdom of Both Sicilies.

Sources:

  • European Commission presentation of The Normans Norman Heritage, 10th-12th century
  • Houben, Hubert. Roger II of Sicily: A Ruler between East and West
  • Norwich, John Julius. The Kingdom in the Sun 1130-1194
  • Matthew, Donald. The Norman Kingdom of Sicily
  • Chaytoe, HJ A History of Aragon and Catalonia
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