The conflict that would become known as the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282 – 1302) had its origins in political and territorial conflicts that had begun over fifty ears before the start of the war. The links below, listed in chronological order, look at the various causes for a vicious conflict that would smolder for twenty years.
Rome and the Hohenstaufens
The events that eventually brought the Crown of Aragon into direct conflict with the Count of Anjou and the papacy originated with the long struggle between various popes and the House of Hohenstaufen for control of Italy and Sicily. While on the face of it, the events which occurred after the death of Frederick II would seem to have little connection with what was transpiring on the Iberian Peninsula, in fact, the very success of the papacy and Charles of Anjou against the Hohenstaufens created a situation which virtually assured that the two ascendant powers in the Western Mediterranean would eventually collide. In order to understand the involvement of the Crown of Aragon in Sicily the relationship of Charles of Anjou and the papacy has to be examined.
When Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, died in December of 1250, Pope Innocent IV had every reason to rejoice. Frederick had represented a real threat to the papacy ever since he became emperor in 1220 over the objections of Pope Honorius III. The various popes who had combated the Hohenstaufens had seen the holding of both the Kingdom of Sicily, together with Lombardy and Germany, as both a direct threat and usurpation. With the Papal States hemmed in by the Emperor’s holdings and confronted with the resources the wealth of those lands could purchase, the papacy feared that the Emperor was in a position to crush the Holy See and return it to the state of submission to the Holy Roman Emperors which had existed prior to the reform of the church in the eleventh century. Moreover, the Kingdom of Sicily, or Regno, was seen as being part of the Holy See due to the homage and fealty Pope Anacletus received from Roger II for granting him the crown of the Kingdom of Sicily, Calabria, and Apulia in 1130. The Hohenstaufens had refused to acknowledge that the Kingdom of Sicily was a vassal state of St. Peter, and this, coupled with the immediate threat of encirclement, had resulted in continual papal hostility. Thus, when Frederick II died in 1250, Pope Innocent IV had reason to be pleased as it meant that one of the papacy’s most tenacious adversaries had been removed.
However, Frederick’s death did not remove the threat to the Holy See nor did it bring the Kingdom of Sicily under papal control. If Innocent IV hoped to take advantage of the situation, he was to be greatly disappointed. Conrad IV, Frederick’s eldest surviving legitimate son, moved swiftly, not only to gain the title of emperor but also to enter northern Italy and consolidate his power there. Innocent tried to outmaneuver Conrad and split Sicily from him by offering the kingdom to Conrad’s younger half-brother Henry, but this came to naught. Despite efforts by Conrad to reconcile with Innocent IV, relations had swiftly deteriorated to the point that by January 1254 the pope had excommunicated Conrad and was preaching a crusade against him, just as he done against his father. Despite this, Conrad proved a successful commander and, backed by money generated from taxes imposed in the kingdom, he was a position to pose a serious threat to the papacy. However, just as the pope was facing what appeared to be major crisis, in April 1254 Conrad fell suddenly ill and died. This unexpected change of fortune presented Innocent IV with an opportunity to split the Kingdom of Sicily from Germany, and he moved swiftly to take advantage of the situation.
Conrad IV had left behind a son, Conradin, but he was only a child and located in Germany away from the center of power in the south. Manfred, who as illegitimate son of Frederick II could never aspire to the title of Holy Roman Emperor, held the regency of the Kingdom of Sicily. Despite illegitimate birth, he had de facto control of the Kingdom of Sicily and was anxious to have his power confirmed. For Innocent, it appeared to be a golden opportunity to bring the old Norman kingdom back under papal control. With a certain amount of cynicism, both Manfred and Innocent agreed that Conradin’s feudal rights to the kingdom should be considered when he came of age, but Innocent then proceeded to grant Manfred the title of Prince of Taranto and confirm his power as regent in return for papal control of the kingdom. However, it is clear that the two parties had different concepts of what papal authority implied. Innocent appears to assumed that it gave him license to dismantle the old Norman governmental structure throughout the kingdom and to replace it with free communes and a papal bureaucracy. For Manfred, this situation was of course intolerable as it struck directly at his base of power. By November 1254 Manfred had rallied his forces and defeated the papal forces in southern Italy. The sudden turn of events had proved a shock to Innocent, and in December 1254 he fell ill while traveling in the Regno and died shortly afterwards.
Innocent IV was replaced by Alexander IV who proved totally unequal to the task of coping with such an energetic and capable ruler as Manfred. Though technically the regent for the son of Conrad IV, Conradin, Manfred moved quickly to consolidate his power. Between the time of Alexander’s election as pope and his death in 1261, Manfred not only was elected king of Sicily by the parliament of barons in 1258, but he had also reestablished the policies and administration of his father while at the same time relegating the papacy to virtual impotency. By the time Urban IV was elected pope in 1261 it was clear to the curia that if the issue of the Regno was to be resolved, the Holy See would have to find a royal supporter from outside the peninsula to champion their cause.
This was not a new idea. As early as 1252 Innocent IV had offered the kingdom to Henry III of England, followed by Charles of Anjou, in return for an astronomical amount of money. The English had objected to the price and Charles had been dissuaded by his brother Louis IX who believed that Conrad was the rightful ruler. However, Innocent and his successor Alexander were persistent, and by 1257 they had received a promise of 135,541 marks from Henry of England in return for the investiture of Henry’s son Edmund as King of Sicily. However, Henry’s barons had no intention of paying such an extraordinary amount of money in return for a kingdom from which they could expect little or no profit. In 1258, the barons of England had seen enough of the taxes imposed to pay for the new acquisition and forced Henry to renounce the agreement, despite having already paid 60,000 marks.
Enter Charles of Anjou
With the English crown out of the picture, the papacy turned again to Charles of Anjou. By this time, Charles of Anjou was an extremely powerful member of the royal family. Not only did he control the county of Anjou, but he had also solidified control of Provence, which he had acquired through marriage. Louis IX was hesitant and it was not until the arrival of the French pope, Urban IV, that negotiations turned serious. Between 1262 and 1263 the pope Charles of Anjou temporized, hoping to strike a peace with Manfred. However, by 1263 Urban had decided that negotiations were futile and turned to Charles of Anjou for support. The pope haggled for the best position he could get and came to terms with Charles. Urban promised Charles the crown of the Kingdom of Sicily, the preaching of a crusade against Manfred, and a promise by the papacy to block any attempt by Conradin to become emperor. He also granted Charles a three-year tithe on church revenues from France, Provence, and the Kingdom of Arles, and more importantly guaranteed the loans made to Charles by Italian bankers. In return, Charles promised to pay 10,000 ounces of gold annually to St. Peter and never to hold any office in Imperial Italy or the Papal States. Moreover, under the agreement he could not levy any taxes on the clergy and would have no say in ecclesiastical appointments. Finally, Charles could be deposed by the pope and if so could not demand any allegiance from his subjects thereafter.
On the face of it, the agreement the Pope made with Charles in 1263 appeared highly favorable to the papacy, but sober reflection on the situation may have made Urban realize he made a deal with the Devil. Charles realized the situation that Urban was in and, when he was offered the senatorship of Rome in 1264, he used it as an excuse to renegotiate the agreement. Charles demanded a rewriting of the original agreement that would render it essentially meaningless. Urban had no choice but to acquiesce, but before the agreement could be finalized, Urban died in October 1264. The whole incident reveals that, despite apologies for him, Charles was not about to let his piety or scruples prevent him from bettering his position, even if it were at the expense of Holy See.
If Charles of Anjou was concerned by the death of Urban IV, he had no reason to be. In February 1265 the cardinals elected the French Cardinal of Sabina who took the name of Clement IV. He unreservedly adopted Urban’s policies and urged Charles to begin his campaign immediately. On May 23, after having taken a ship from Marseilles to Ostia and alluding the fleet sent by Manfred to capture him, Charles entered Rome and was received by a jubilant crowd. Shortly afterwards he was invested with the Kingdom of Sicily. The appearance of Charles in Rome and his investiture not only took Manfred by surprise, but it also rallied the French nobility to Charles’s cause. By October, Charles had assembled a formidable force in Provence which marched swiftly through northern Italy and past Rome while Manfred, finally prodded into action, came north with his army. On February 26, 1266 the two armies finally met at Benevento. After a closely fought battle, Charles emerged victorious with Manfred dead along with 3,000 of the original 3,600 horsemen who went into battle with him. Among the dead at Benevento was the Baron Lauria. It is doubtful if Charles even knew of this or would have particularly cared, but in fact that death would set in motion a series of events which would create one of Charles’s most implacable and talented foes.
The victory at Benevento proved a windfall for Charles of Anjou. He quickly moved to assert his authority and by 1267 had firm control of the Piedmont in the north, while Florence recognized him as its overlord. With the support of the Guelf party, his influence in Lombardy and Tuscany increased to the point he was able to extract favorable loans from the bankers in the region. In the Kingdom of Sicily Charles approached the new acquisition much in the same manner he had his inheritance of Provence.
Custom dictated that a new ruler call the parliament of the barons and the people at Palermo and go through the pro forma act of being elected. Charles ignored this and simply sent in an army of adventurers and freebooters who proceeded to plunder areas that refused to support him. In fact, he would only visit Sicily once when returning to Naples from the 1271 crusade to Tunis. The island was divided along family and municipal lines and many used Charles’s intervention to settle old scores. In the end, large parts of the island were ravaged and several cities looted, including Augusta, which was burned to the ground by the invaders with the help of Messina citizens.
The Angevin forces were followed by Angevin administrators who rapidly took over the existing governmental structure. Charles’s ambitions required large sums of money, and he was determined to extract it as efficiently as possible. Charles did not change the Norman-Hohenstaufen governmental structure but instead left it intact and simply ran it with an efficiency that the populace had never experienced before. Almost immediately, Charles set about examining the titles of all of the nobility on the island. One of the concessions that he had obtained from the Pope was that all lands and titles granted by Frederick II and Manfred were invalid and the lands would be forfeit to Charles. Families that either received their grants from the Hohenstaufens or who could not produce their original deeds were forced off their ancestral lands and replaced by Angevins, while families with clouded titles had to pay extortionate sums of money to retain their holdings.
The coin struck by Charles in Sicily reads on the top face: “Charles, thanks to the grace of God, King of Sicily”. The reverse side reads: “Duchy of Apulia” and “Principality of Capua” (Musée des Médailles, Courseulles-sur-Mer, France).
Charles also began to impose the ‘general subvention’ on a regular basis without asking for permission from the parliament to impose the hated tax. The ‘general subvention’ had been imposed on a regular basis under Frederick II, so technically what Charles was doing was not different. However, he collected the taxes with a fervor previously not experienced by the population and even began to employ forced loans. It is true that Charles undertook a number of reforms, rebuilt roads and harbors, and undertook policies to stimulate trade, but these were designed to benefit the treasury by generating more revenue, and in any case virtually all of the improvements were made on the mainland, not in Sicily. In trying to pay his debts to the Tuscan bankers and to finance his new projects, Charles was alienating virtually every segment of Sicilian society, even those who initially supported him.
In applying the Conradinsame methodology to the Kingdom of Sicily as he had to Provence, Charles produced the same result. In 1268, Conradin moved south from Germany to claim his inheritance. He was born in Wolfstein, Bavaria, to Conrad IV of Germany and Elisabeth of Wittelsbach. Though heir to Conrad IV, the half-brother of Conrad, Manfred, had seized the throne in 1258 based on the false rumor of Conradin’s death. With Manfred dead and the kingdom ripe for revolt, Conradin saw his chance to regain his inheritance. Almost immediately, southern Italy and Sicily rose in revolt in support of him. Included in this revolt were most of the nobility who had survived the Battle of Benevento and whom Charles had spared, including the important Lancia family. Unfortunately, Conradin was too young and too poorly equipped to deal with someone of the stature and experience of Charles of Anjou, and in 1268 at Tagliacozzo Conradin was soundly beaten after a close battle. Following a show trial, Charles had the captured Conradin beheaded, an act which shocked even his supporters and gained Charles the reputation of being cruel and ruthless. Charles moved swiftly to crush any further resistance and began to confiscate the land of not only families who supported Conradin, but also those who had previously supported Manfred. These lands were handed to Angevin and Tuscon followers, while the replacement of local officials by Angevin administrators was accelerated. Many of the important families were forced to flee, and several, including the Lancia family, chose exile in the Crown of Aragon. Among others to escape the battle was John of Procida who eventually ended up in Aragon as Peter III’s chancellor in 1276. Through intimidation and coercion Charles appeared to stamp out any future source of rebellion, but his actions would not be soon forgotten, especially by the Sicilians.
The removal of the last Hohenstaufen claimant to the Kingdom of Sicily not only allowed Charles to tighten his hold on the region, but also permitted him to pursue another project that he had been developing. Since 1267 Charles had been preparing to launch an expedition against Constantinople in order to restore the Latin Empire there, which had been lost in 1261. However, the invasion of Conradin in 1268 had spared the Byzantine Emperor Michael Palaeologus from Charles’s attentions. By 1270 Charles was ready to try again but now another distraction appeared. His brother, Louis IX, was determined to go on crusade again, despite the previous fiasco in Egypt (1249 – 1252), and asked Charles to support him. It seems clear that Charles was less than enthusiastic about the venture but had decided to make the best of the situation. Over the objections of his councilors, Louis permitted himself to be persuaded by Charles that a crusade against Tunis was a better alternative than one directed towards Jerusalem. The Kingdom of Tunis, which had been obligated since 1158 to pay tribute to the King of Sicily, had used the death of Manfred as an excuse to stop payments. Charles saw the crusade as an opportunity to reinstate his authority in Tunis while fulfilling his obligation to go on crusade with his brother. Even then, Charles did not directly participate in the fighting until the Christian forces were in complete disarray, and his presence was demanded. Yet the result was not a decisive victory for the crusaders, primarily due to the death of Louis IX. The crusade finally ended in a negotiated peace that, other than paying for the expenses of the other crusaders, essentially benefited Charles. Among other things it restored the tribute to Charles and allowed his merchants free access to Tunis. The treaty was to last ten years but was renewed in 1280. However, Charles’s ambitions in the Maghreb would bring his commercial interests into conflict with another maritime power in the region. The miniature at the right depicts Charles of Anjou receiving ambassadors from Tunis (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France).
Charles and the Byzantine Empire
Unfortunately for Charles, the Tunis crusade proved costly with regards to his efforts in the Levant. On returning to Sicily his fleet was caught in a storm and severely damaged. Moreover, the Pope had died in the same year and the newly elected Gregory X was determined to resolve the conflict between the Latin and Eastern churches through negotiation if possible. Charles was able to insert himself into the Balkans and obtain the dubious title of King of Albania through a treaty in 1267 and family marriages with Guillame Villehardouin, prince of Achaia. However, Charles was continually restrained by the Holy See from more direct action, despite continually striving to convince the papacy to abandon the negotiations and call a crusade against Constantinople. By 1277 he was in direct conflict with Byzantine forces in Greece, and, through further political machinations, he had managed to become the King of Jerusalem by purchasing the title from the rightful heiress. It was such expenditures and the taxes to support them that Nicolas in Hell were bleeding the people financially and fermenting growing discontent.
Despite his successes and maneuvering, Charles had to suffer under two more popes who essentially followed Gregory’s policies of non-belligerence towards Constantinople. He was particularly upset with Pope Nicolas III’s familial machinations with the Rudolph I of Hapsburg. Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest he was discussing with John of Procida an alliance with Emperor Michael of Byzantium to actually overthrow Charles. Nicolas earned a reputation for corruption, particularly simony (sale of ecclesiastical offices). In his Divine Comedy, Dante would place him roasting upside down in the eight level of Hell in punishment for committing simony.
However, Charles’s fortunes seemed to change in 1280 with the death of Nicolas III. Charles had had enough of troublesome popes and interveneed directly in the next papal election by throwing in jail cardinals who disagreed with him. Intimidated by Charles the cardinals quickly elected Simon of Brie to the pontificate in 1281. His forced election was so controversial he had to be crowned at Viterbo, as Rome had become too danerous for him to enter. Simon was a true French patriot. He had been a member of the council of Louis IX and had been named chancellor and holder of the Great Seal in 1260, an office he held until his election as cardinal in 1261. He had operated as papal legate and was deeply entiwned in Sicilian politics. Unlike his predecessors, Simon, now called Pope Martin IV, was quite willing to accommodate a member of the French royal family. In July 1281 he excommunicated the Byzantine Emperor and openly made Martin IV arrangements with Charles of Anjou for a crusade against Constantinople in April of 1282.
Charles moved swiftly to prepare for the crusade and began to enlarge his already substantial naval force. We are not sure of the size of the fleet he had assembled by 1282, but he probably had over fifty galleys supported by another thirty to forty auxiliaries. The resources required to maintain a fleet of this size were staggering. All told, the cost of preparations for the fleet must have exceeded 50,000 ounces, which was a tremendous sum. To support the project Charles had to increase taxes. Between January 1, 1281 and December 18, 1281 the subvention increased from 72,305 ounces to 107,891 ounces. Even this increase would have been barely sufficient. Considering that this enterprise was absorbing at least fifty percent of the income of the kingdom, even after a forty-nine percent increase in the general subvention, it becomes apparent that the force Charles was assembling for his crusade was creating a financial burden the kingdom could not long bear.
As the year 1282 started, Charles appeared to be in unassailable position. He controlled Anjou and Provence in France, held the title of the King of Sicily and Jerusalem, and was in possession of a substantial portion of the Balkans. Not only had his substantial resources allowed him to assemble a formidable military force, but he also had the financial and moral backing of the papacy. To any onlooker, he would have certainly appeared as one of the most powerful potentates in Christendom. Yet in the spring of 1282 the very means that he had employed to bring him to this point would ultimately undermine his ambitions, and a rising maritime power in the Western Mediterranean, which he had virtually ignored, would move decisively to challenge the Angevin position.
While Sailing for Mallorca little controversy exists regarding the impetus driving papal and Angevin policies regarding Sicily, the expansion of the Crown of Aragon into the Mediterranean and the reasons behind it have generated considerable discussion. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Western Mediterranean witnessed the rapid rise and expansion of this previously rather insignificant Iberian state. That sudden rise to prominence brought the Catalan-Aragonese confederation into direct conflict with Charles of Anjou and the papacy.
The factors that turned the Crown of Aragon outward from the Iberian Peninsula evolved over time. The initial expansion seaward of the Crown of Aragon came with the invasion of Balearic Islands in 1229. These islands were strategically located on the trade routes of the Western Mediterranean. Under Muslim control, they had been a continual source of piracy problems for Catalonia. These reasons alone were sufficient impetus for the Catalan merchant community to back an operation against the islands with both ships and money.
King James I was also under pressure from the nobility, who wanted to increase their holdings by invading Valencia. In addition to expanding the kingdom’s trade and enhancing royal revenues, Mallorca presented an easy target compared to Valencia to the south.An attack against the Balearic Islands offered a chance to deflect the demands of the nobles while satisfying the crusading zeal of James I and others. The important aspect of this operation was that, unlike earlier raids, the money and ships for this operation came predominantly from the Catalonia. The fact was the crown had little choice. It had no fleet to speak of and had to rely on privateers licensed by the crown to control piracy and smuggling, which created its own problems (To learn more about the early Crown of Aragon fleet see: Export Control and the Rise of the Office of the Admiral). If the crown was going to take the Balearic Islands, it had to rely on the Ctatalans.
In many ways, the invasion of Mallorca and its aftermath were a microcosm of the social and political forces that came into play during the War of the Sicilian Vespers. The invasion went quickly and the crown rapidly divided up the spoils. The Aragonese nobility had been involved primarily because they anticipated gains from the expedition. However, the majority of land grants and concessions went to the Catalan nobility and merchant community. While this was logical, since the Catalans had provided the vast bulk of the logistic and monetary support for the operation, the Aragonese nobility was dissatisfied. In the future, its members would provide less than enthusiastic support for overseas adventures. This had serious consequences for the crown during the Sicilian entanglement.
The Invasion of Valencia
Following the taking of Mallorca, the expansion of the crown ceased until 1232, when James I finally decided to move against Valencia. The city of Valencia did not fall until Septemeber 28, 1238 after a long land and sea blockade. The conquest of the rest of the province took place fitfully for seven years until consummated in 1245. Because Aragon and Catalonia lacked large population bases, the expulsion of the large Muslim population in Valencia was never considered. Out of necessity, the crown granted a number of concessions to the local population which resulted in a Christian government ruling a predominantly Muslim society. The situation eventually led to the revolt of the mudéjars in 1276-77. The revolt was put down, but religious tensions and border conflicts with Castile kept the province in some turmoil. These conflicts had an unforeseen benefit. The constant turbulence produced a cadre of experienced fighters in the province who were later recruited by the crown to fight in Calabria and with the fleet.
The conquest of Valencia marked an important stage in the expansion of the Crown of Aragon and was recorded by James I in his Llibre dels Feyts. In the early thirteenth century, a series of treaties with Castile prevented Aragon from expanding farther south than Murcia. With the Treaty of Corbeil in 1258, the crown virtually abandoned all of its territory north of the Pyrenees to Louis IX, basically the acknowledgment of a long-standing fact. With expansion by the crown on the Iberian Peninsula virtually precluded, Catalan interests turned to Sicily and North Africa. Some historians have asserted that the invasion of Valencia was primarily driven by the Aragonese nobility, and therefore the acquisition of Valencia as a port was of little importance. Even if there were no major economic considerations involved in the conquest of Valencia, the merchant community benefited from the addition of the new port, and, by the time of the War of the Sicilian Vespers, Valencia had become a valuable source of men and material for the fleet.
The Crown of Aragon and North Africa
Up to this point, the Crown of Aragon probably did not possess any master plan for expansion into the Mediterranean. The invasions Mallorca and Valencia had been driven by two different political entities for different reasons. By early 1250, however, the Crown of Aragon had become an important maritime power in the Western Mediterranean. The crown not only gained control of much of the coastline along the eastern Iberian Peninsula, but also the Balearic Islands. The crown sat astride one of the most important trade routes in the region. Its interests in North Africa, and in Tunis, in particular, were also expanding. By 1253, the Catalans had established a fondouk in Tunis with its attendant consul, and the crown received up to 16,000 denarii from the Hafsid kingdom in trade revenues and tribute. Naturally, fondouk when Louis IX and Charles of Anjou launched a crusade against Tunis, the Catalans and James I supported the Hafsids with mercenary troops and signed a treaty of friendship in February of 1271. While none of this prevented the surrender of Tunis to the crusaders, the loss of the tribute became a source of friction between the Crown of Aragon and Charles of Anjou.
The intervention of Charles of Anjou in Tunis created a series of problems for the Catalans. In July 1276, James I died and his son Peter III came to the throne. Almost immediately, Peter tried to renew the tribute paid by Tunis. Between 1277 and 1279, Peter III sent Frederick of Lancia on a series of unsuccessful missions to Tunis, and a revolt in 1279 saw the loss of the fondouk. Fleets sent under Frederick of Lancia and Roger of Lauria reestablished the trade post in Tunis in that same year, but due to maneuvering by the King of Tunis the effort proved fruitless in restoring the tribute or the close relations between the crown and Tunis which had existed before the crusade of 1271. By 1281, Peter made it known that he intended to assemble a fleet to undertake a crusade against Tunis. The objective was obviously to restore the tribute and the lucrative trading rights the Catalans had previously enjoyed.
The friction which developed between the Crown of Aragon and the Angevin Empire was in part due to Charles of Anjou’s interference in what the Catalans and the crown considered to be their sphere of influence and economic affairs. But, a large part of the antagonism was caused by dynastic and even familial considerations. The House of Aragon had a long history in Sicily beginning with the marriage of Constance of Aragon to Frederick II in 1209. Her crown shows the Byzantine influence still in Sicilian culture at that time (left). The connection between Aragon and Sicily was renewed when James I married his son Peter to Constance of Hohenstaufen, the daughter of Manfred in 1261, a marriage opposed by the Holy See. After Conradin’s death in 1268, Peter asserted his claim to the throne of the Kingdom of Sicily and appears to have engaged in a number of diplomatic maneuvers in Germany and Lombardy to strengthen his claim.
Not only did the marriage ally the Crown of Aragon with the nominal king of Sicily, Manfred of Lancia, but it also immediately connected the crown to one of the most influential families in Sicily and southern Italy. The marriage also proved beneficial to the Lancias, and resulted in Frederick of Lancia’s appointment as an ambassador to Tunis and Conrad of Lancia’s rise to Admiral of the Aragonese fleet in 1268. Probably the most influential person at court, besides the queen, was John of Procida, doctor to Frederick II and Chancellor of Sicily under Manfred. Shortly after the ascension of Peter III to the throne, John of Procida was named Chancellor of Aragon, which gave him control over the foreign policy of the kingdom. While legends that Peter sent John of Procida to Constantinople and secretly to Sicily appear to be inaccurate, John was in contact with the Byzantine emperor, the Genoese and other groups in an effort to undermine Charles of Anjou. The king and these influential persons in the king’s court now had a vested interest in seeing Charles of Anjou ousted from the Regno. What is not clear is the relationship between the newcomers and the Aragonese nobility at court. The machinations of the Procidas and Lancias may have been resented, and this feeling was expressed later in the nobility’s increasing opposition to the Sicilian war following the start of hostilities and their demand in 1283 that all officials not born in Aragon be dismissed.
Catalan involvement in the Mahgreb was enough to create conflict with Angevin interests, but several factors pushed the Crown of Aragon toward involvement in Sicily. Despite the turmoil following the death of Frederick II, Sicily was still a major grain producer for the region, which with its strategic location, made it an attractive target for Aragon and Catalonia, both of which had difficulty meeting demands for basic food items. The problem was so serious that in 1271 James I had prohibited the export of grains and vegetables. Peter III rescinded part of the decree a decade later, but not the section concerning grain export. Control of Sicily had economic benefits for the Crown of Aragon. The island could provide grain for the Iberian kingdom. It would also give the Catalan merchant community control of the lucrative trade passing through the island and place them in a position to dominate the Mahgreb.
Probably the most telling evidence for the Crown of Aragon’s reasons for involvement in Sicily is the use the crown made of the island once it gained control. Peter and his successors exploited Sicily’s strategic location to impose their will on the Mahgreb and reinstate the yearly tribute, to funnel a substantial portion of the grain to Catalonia, and to feed the fleet that was enforcing the crown’s policies. The export taxes from the island also fattened the treasury. Peter III was undoubtedly driven by dynastic considerations, but he and his successors understood the strategic importance of the island. Control of Sicily meant control of trade in the Western Mediterranean. Their support and use of the fleet demonstrates that they understood that advantage very well. The crown may not have had an all-encompassing strategic plan when the expansion into the Mediterranean began, but, by the reign of Peter III, the value of Sicily was not lost on the court or the Catalan merchant community. Thus, the crown had every reason to become involved and few incentives for leaving Sicily to the Angevins.
A Volatile Situation
By the spring of 1282, various factors created a highly volatile situation in the western Mediterranean. A conflict might have been avoided had there been a powerful arbitrator in the western Mediterranean to interject itself between the parties. But by the late thirteenth century, no such entity existed and the resulting political vacuum virtually assured a war. Had France or the papacy been neutral, the conflict might have been averted, but the near pathological paranoia of the papacy toward the Hohenstaufen family had resulted in the insertion of one of the most powerful and ambitious men of the time into the region at the expense of papal spiritual and political authority. France was allied with Charles of Anjou and the papacy was highly sympathetic to the Angevins, if not directly controlled by Charles.
Charles of Anjou controlled what some have called an empire, but his heavy-handed management of the realm and the public unrest it generated, particularly in Sicily, undermined his authority. At the same time, an Iberian kingdom with dynastic and commercial designs on the very territories that the Angevins were struggling to control was expanding rapidly. The dynastic uncertainty in regards to Sicily following the death of Frederick II provided the final ingredient to an unstable mixture. These factors and the lack of any other powerful arbiter in the region, created an unstable concoction that needed only a spark to touch it off. On March 29, 1282, an Angevin soldier in Palermo struck that spark and ignited a vicious war that would rage for twenty years.