Kingdom of Sicily

gigatos | June 6, 2022


The Kingdom of Sicily was a sovereign state that existed from 1130 to 1816, or until the establishment of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Formed in 1130, under Roger II of Altavilla (merger of the County of Sicily and the Duchy of Apulia and Calabria) and lasting until the early 19th century, its sovereignty was ensured by the long-lived Parliament based in Palermo. For this reason it is considered by several scholars to be the prototype of the modern European state.The new state insisted, in addition to Sicily, on all the territories of the Mezzogiorno, attesting itself as the largest and most important of the ancient Italian states; its jurisdictional structure was well defined since the promulgation of the Assizes of Ariano in 1140-1142.

As a result of disagreements with Manfred of Swabia, a member of the imperial Hohenstaufen family that had succeeded the Altavilla, Pope Clement IV appointed Charles I of Anjou as the new Rex Siciliae on Epiphany Day 1266. But the heavy fiscalism imposed by the rulers of the Angevin-derived dynasty and the widespread discontent among all layers of the island”s population led to the Vespers revolt; the Ninety Years” War between Peter III of Aragon, related to the Hohenstaufen, and the Anjou followed. Defeated, on September 26, 1282, Charles of Anjou finally left Sicily alone in the hands of the Aragonese, who with Frederick III of Sicily gave birth to the autonomous ruling House of Aragon of Sicily.

The signing of the Peace of Caltabellotta (1302) was followed by the formal division of the kingdom into two: Regnum Siciliae citra Pharum (known in modern historiography as the Kingdom of Naples since 1805) and Regnum Siciliae ultra Pharum (Kingdom of Sicily, which, for a time, from 1282 to 1416, was also known as the Kingdom of Trinacria). From 1412 the kings of the Aragonese dynasty ruled the “Kingdom of Sicily ultra” as a viceroyalty.From 1516 the kingdom of Sicily with Charles V passed to the Habsburgs of Spain, ruled by a viceroy, until 1713 (de facto until 1707). The kingdom with Charles of Bourbon between 1734 and 1735, was ruled in personal union with the kingdom of Naples, and so by his successors, until legal unification in December 1816, with the establishment of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

With the Norman conquest of Sicily, previously occupied by the Arabs, who had established an emirate there, the Grand County of Sicily, founded by the Norman progenitor Roger I in 1061 by the Altavilla family, was born. The Normans introduced a new political-social system, the feudal system, into Sicily.

In 1085, Count Roger added half of Calabria to his possessions, and in 1091 he conquered Malta. Having completed the conquest of Sicily with the fall of the last Arab stronghold of Noto, in 1097 Roger convened in Mazara the first assembly of what was to become one of the world”s oldest parliaments-Faroese and Isle of Man).

It was his successor, Roger II, who in 1121 extended rule over Amalfi and Gaeta, parts of Naples, Taranto, Capua and Abruzzi, and in 1127 also over the Duchy of Apulia and Calabria.

It is from 1130, with the convening of the Curiae generales in Palermo, in the Royal Palace, for the proclamation of the Kingdom of Sicily, that we can speak of the Sicilian parliament, the first parliament in the modern sense of a sovereign state.

Historian Alexander Telesino attributes to Palermo circles the idea of a “constitutional coup d”état”: it began to be suggested to Roger II, insistently and with confidential speeches, that he with God”s help ruled over all the provinces of Sicily, Calabria, Apulia and the other regions reaching almost as far as Rome, should no longer bear the ducal honor, but ennoble himself with the honor of the royal fastigium. Roger took these suggestions into consideration, assembling outside the city of Salerno a council of very knowledgeable and expert churchmen, as well as princes, counts, barons, and other persons whom he knew to be trustworthy, submitted the secret and unforeseen matter to their consideration, and they approved of his being promoted to royal dignity in Palermo. The duke returned to Sicily proclaiming in all his provinces of his lands that whoever held dignity, power and honors were to flock to Palermo on the day of his coronation, which took place on Christmas night 1130.Archbishop Romualdo II Guarna gives, albeit more concisely, the same version of the event: “Postmodum baronum et populi consilio apud Panormum se in regem Sicilie inungi et coronari fecit.”

Historian Falcone Beneventano and Roman sources attribute the birth of the Kingdom of Sicily to an affair involving, in 1130, Pope Innocent II and his Antipope Anacletus II, both successors of Honorius II, as well as Roger II of Altavilla, Count of Sicily and Duke of Calabria and Apulia since 1128 at the hands of Honorius II himself.

According to this version of events, on the night of February 13-14, 1130, Pope Honorius II (Lamberto Scannabecchi) died and, immediately, within the College of Cardinals, the struggle for succession between the same two factions that had already clashed, a few years earlier (1124), on the occasion of Scannabecchi”s election was rekindled. The sixteen cardinals belonging to the Frangipane family, led by Cardinal Aimerico, elected Cardinal Gregory Papareschi as pope, who took the name Innocent II. The other fourteen cardinals, headed by the Pierleoni family, elected Cardinal Pietro Pierleoni who took the name Anacleto II as pope. A short time later the Pierleoni managed to converge on himself the approval even of some of the cardinals who had elected Papareschi, thus gathering the majority of the College”s votes and accrediting himself, consequently, as the legitimate pontiff.

Because Innocent II did not intend to renounce the tiara, a real schism opened up within the Church of Rome that ended up involving mainly non-ecclesiastical elements, namely some of the great states of Europe, such as England, France and Germany, which, together with most of Italy, supported Innocent II. Pope Anacletus II, also targeted for his Jewish origins and completely isolated asked for the support of the Normans of Duke Roger II, to whom he offered the royal crown in return. The Altavilla dynasty, to which the duke belonged, had already conquered Sicily, making it a pivotal point in the trade and economy of the world at the time.

The Duke did not miss the opportunity and concluded, on September 27, 1130, a full-fledged military alliance with the Pope, as a result of which the latter issued a Bull consecrating the Count of Sicily, as well as Duke of Calabria and Apulia, Rex Siciliae: “Anacletus concedit Rogerio universas terras, quas predecessores Roberto Guiscardo et Rogerio filio eius dederant”; then, on September 27, he granted the duke royal power: “We therefore grant, bestow and allow, to you, to your son Roger, to your other sons who according to your dispositions are to succeed you in the kingdom, and to your descendants, the crown of the kingdom of Sicily and Calabria and Apulia and of all the land that we and our predecessors bestowed and granted to your predecessors the dukes of Apulia, the remembered Robert Guiscard and Roger his son; and we grant that you shall hold the kingdom and the entire royal dignity and royal rights in perpetuity, so that you shall hold and lord them in perpetuity, and we establish Sicily as the head of the kingdom.”

The Curiae generales proclaimed him king of Sicily, after which, on Christmas night of the same year, resuming a ceremonial already seen back in the year 800 at the coronation of Charlemagne, he was crowned in Palermo, Prima Sedes, Corona Regis et Regni Caput, as Roger II, Rex Siciliae, ducatus Apuliae et principatus Capuae.

King Roger

The Kingdom of Sicily was born on Christmas night in 1130, and was placed in the hands of the son of the man who had conquered Sicily from the Arabs. The Kingdom of Sicily was born under the banner of the Norman dynasty of Altavilla and included not only the island of Sicily, but also the lands of Calabria and Apulia. Roger II reuniting the whole of the South under his authority created the third among the great states of Europe.

Innocent II, however, considering himself legitimate pontiff, promulgated an excommunication against Anacletus II and declared all his acts null and void. At a series of subsequent Councils-Reims (1131), Piacenza (1132), Pisa (1135)-he was recognized as legitimate pontiff by England, Spain, France, Milan, and Germany. On June 4, 1133 in St. John Lateran he crowned Emperor Lothair II.

By now Anacletus II could only count on the support of the city of Rome and the Normans of King Roger II. Since the schism between the two Pontiffs appeared irremediable, recourse to arms was game-changing, especially since Emperor Lothair was urged to do so by the constant interventions of Bernard of Clairvaux, a fierce enemy of Anacletus II.With Lothair”s descent into Italy, a conflict began between the Empire and the Normans that saw Roger gradually lose the territories of peninsular Italy. Having reappeared Lothair in October 1137, Roger recaptured Salerno, Avellino, Benevento and Capua. Naples, too, after a year of siege, was forced to capitulate in 1137 and precisely because of Lothair”s restart.

In December 1137 Emperor Lothair died, and a few months later, on January 25, 1138, antipope Anacletus II also died. The Pierleoni family elected a new antipope in the person of Cardinal Gregory with the name of Victor IV, but the latter”s renunciation in May 1138, three months after the election especially at the urging of Bernard of Clairvaux, gave the go-ahead for the full legitimization of Innocent II, who was also recognized in May 1138 by cardinals loyal to the Pierleoni family. Thus had ended the schism within the Church of Rome.

In early 1139 the Lateran Council took place, which confirmed the illegitimacy of Anacletus II and the nullity of all his acts. The Council again reiterated the excommunication against the antipope and Roger. After that the pontiff himself at the head of a strong army moved against Roger. But the Sicilian king”s superior military talents even led him to take Pope Innocent as a hostage at Monte Cassino, who, noting that he could not hold his own against the enemy, had to confirm his royal crown. On July 27, 1139, near Mignano, the privilege was drawn up by which the elevatio in regem was confirmed, together with the annexation of the territory of Capua.

Roger II made the Kingdom of Sicily one of the most powerful and best-ordered states in Europe by giving it a legislative basis with the Assizes of Aryan, promulgated in 1140 in Aryan of Apulia, the body of law that formed the new constitution of the Kingdom of Sicily. He is also credited with the establishment of the Catalogus baronum, the list of all feudal lords in the kingdom, drawn up to establish closer control of the territory, vassal relationships and thus the potential of his own army. It was drawn up on the model of the dîwân al-majlis, introduced in Sicily by the previous Fatimid rulers to control the transfer of land ownership.

Later the Hautevilles devoted themselves to expanding their realm, annexing Naples to the north but also and especially various North African territories (Malta, Gozo and part of North Africa, including the Tunisian-Libyan hinterland between Bona and Tripoli) and Corfu. Around 1140 Tunis was subdued by Roger II. In 1146 a large Sicilian fleet under the command of George of Antioch, admiral of Roger II, sailed from Trapani and conquered Tripoli and coastal Tripolitania, which remained until nearly the end of the century under the Kingdom of Sicily.

Roger II thought of establishing in these possessions a “Norman Kingdom of Africa” in the so-called Ifriqiya with the intention of uniting it with the Kingdom of Sicily, but death in 1154 prevented him from doing so. In 1160 the Sicilians lost Mahdia and by 1180 the rest of Ifriqiyya.

William I

When Roger II died, his son William I succeeded him to the throne, and he soon faced a difficult political situation because of the threat from the Germanic empire brought by Barbarossa, that of the Byzantine empire brought by Manuel I Comnenus, and that of the papacy ruled by Adrian IV. In early 1155 news reached Manuel Comnenus that the barons of Apulia had never looked kindly on the Hauteville family and were planning to rebel. Rebelling against the king of Sicily, Count Robert of Loritello entered into an agreement with the Byzantine empire.

Frederick Barbarossa, who was in Ancona, was willing to side with the Byzantines, but his barons refused because of the arid climate and the diseases that had affected the troops. The first city to fall was Bari, which quickly surrendered; at Andria William”s Sicilian army was decimated.Pope Hadrian IV was content to follow the progress of the Byzantines in the Kingdom of Sicily, as he thought he could more easily extend the borders of the Papal States. On September 29, 1155, the Pope joined the Byzantines in war and marched off with his army.In no time the Byzantines and the Pope conquered all of Apulia and Campania. William I did not resign himself and reorganized his army, and with only one battle lost to the Byzantines, all that had been done in a year was undone.

With the loss of the conquered territories in Africa (1160), relations with the nobles soon soured again. Matteo Bonello, initially loyal to the Sicilian crown of Palermo, was sent to Calabria as ambassador to King William I to seek a diplomatic solution. During the mission, however, he would change his orientation and lead a revolt (composed of the Calabrian and Apulian nobility) against the king. On November 10, 1160, he reached as far as Palermo and in the streets of the Sicilian capital captured and executed in public the admiral of the kingdom, Maione of Bari. King William was forced, in order to quell the revolt to declare that he would not arrest Bonello; the latter retreated to Caccamo and reorganized a conspiracy against William himself. Having captured the ruler, the conspiracy eventually included the conquest of Palermo, but Bonello for obscure reasons did not move his troops. Betrayed, Bonello was captured by the king and locked up until his death. The revolt in Palermo having failed, Roger Sclavo, allied with Tancred, count of Lecce and future king of Sicily, hurled himself at the Saracens, the king responded and confined them outside the kingdom: Tancred repaired to Byzantium, Roger perhaps went to the Holy Land.

William II

When William I died in 1166, his son William II the Good, just 12 years old, ascended the throne under the guardianship of the queen mother. The king managed to enjoy a period of relative stability and appeasement in relations between the different factions of the kingdom. In 1172 William II reformed the Magna Curia, divided the institution into Magna Curia rationum, the supreme financial body, and Magna Curia with functions as the High Court of Justice. In 1176 Alfano di Camerota, archbishop of Capua, was sent to negotiate a marriage with the daughter of Henry II of England to establish an alliance between the Hauteville and Plantagenet families. The mission was carried out successfully, and the princess was taken to the capital. In Palermo on February 13, 1177, William married Joan Plantagenet (1165-1199), sister of Richard the Lionheart. After the death of Manuel I Comnenus (1180), the designated heir Alexius II was assassinated and the throne usurped by his uncle Andronicus I Comnenus. William II took the opportunity of the arrival at the court in Palermo of an individual claiming to be Alexius II to attack Byzantium. The expedition, under the command of Tancred, landed at Durres in June 1185 and reached Thessalonica, which was taken on the night of August 23-24; Byzantium also seemed within reach when Isaac II Angelo took the place of the incapacitated usurper Andronicus and the Byzantine army reorganized against the Sicilian attack. At the end of the summer the great Sicilian fleet had to return to the island.

Meanwhile, William II initiated negotiations with Emperor Frederick I aimed at the marriage union of his aunt Constance and Emperor Henry VI”s son, a marriage that was celebrated in Milan on January 27, 1186. Despite the young age of William and his wife Joan, no descendants were born from their union; the possibility of no descendants was expressly provided for in the marriage contract for the wedding of Henry VI Hohenstaufen and Constance of Hauteville, the last daughter of Roger II and William”s aunt, who would have been given the Kingdom of Sicily in the event.

William”s reign was particularly fruitful for the arts in Sicily. Among the works initiated by William it is worth mentioning the Cathedral of Monreale, built beginning in 1174 with the approval of Pope Lucius III, and the Abbey of Santa Maria di Maniace, strongly desired by Queen Mother Margaret. The splendid construction of the Zisa, begun by predecessor William I, was also completed under his reign. Notable building interventions also had the Cathedral of Palermo.

Tancred and the end of the Hauteville dynasty of Sicily.

Tancred, who was in exile in Byzantium for the conspiracy against King William the Bad, returned to Sicily only in 1166 after William II the Good assumed the throne. When William the Good died (1189), as there were no direct descendants, the problem of succession arose. Upon death without direct descendants, William II would name his aunt Constance of Altavilla as heir and oblige the knights to swear allegiance to her. Part of the Palermitan court, also hoping for papal support, sympathized with Tancred, however illegitimate, the last male descendant of the Altavilla family. Pope Clement III, who frowned upon the Swabians, approved in November 1189 the coronation of Tancred in Palermo as king of Sicily.

When Henry VI, husband of Constance of Hauteville, succeeded his father Frederick Barbarossa in the throne (1191), he immediately decided to reconquer the Kingdom of Sicily, supported also by the fleet of the Pisan Republic, which had always been loyal to the emperor. However, the Sicilian fleet managed to beat the Pisan fleet, decimate Henry”s army, and capture and imprison his aunt Constance in Salerno. For the Empress”s release Tancred demanded that the emperor come to terms with a truce agreement; however, the truce was never made again, as, on the way to Rome, the convoy was attacked and the Empress freed.

In August 1192 Tancred had his son Roger married to Irene Angelo (1180-1208), daughter of the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelo. Roger III designated to succeed him to the throne died in December 1193 at the age of 19; William III was designated in his place. Tancred died at the age of 55, in February 1194, of an unspecified illness, while engaged in a campaign in the peninsular part of the kingdom to reduce his vassals of the imperial faith to obedience. He was thus succeeded to the throne by William III, only 9 years old, under the regency of his mother Sibyl. In July 1194 Emperor Henry VI set out to descend to the peninsular part of the kingdom to conquer it (which he claimed having married Constance of Hauteville), then proceeded to Sicily, landing with his army in Messina, which was put to the sword. In exchange for the throne, William and his mother were offered the county of Lecce, but a few days later (on December 28) Henry accused Sibyl of plotting and had her, her son, her daughters and all the nobility loyal to them arrested. William III was deported to Germany, where he lived in a state of semi-prison until his death in 1198 at the age of 13.

The kings of the Altavilla dynasty of Sicily

Henry I

On December 25, 1194, after seizing the throne and subduing Sicily with the support of the Genoese and Pisan fleets and by force of arms, Henry VI was crowned king of Sicily with the name “Henry I of Sicily.” The day after the coronation, his wife Constance of Altavilla gave birth in Jesi to the long-awaited heir, Frederick II, who was given the name Frederick Roger in honor of his two illustrious grandfathers “Frederick Barbarossa of Hohenstaufen” and “Roger II of Altavilla.” Despite the ease with which he had won the Kingdom of Sicily, Henry VI used atrocious cruelties; even William III”s uncle, Count Richard of Acerra, a veteran of the crusade was imprisoned.

Empress Constance, torn between the role of wife of a feared and hated figure and that of descendant of a family beloved by the Sicilian people, developed a kind of hatred for the Germans. Henry had a sense that his power, however enormous, lacked unity, and he saw the birth of the heir as the right opportunity to realize a project of organicity. In 1196 the emperor decreed the ferocious execution of Richard of Acerra, following which he believed he had uncovered yet another plot against him, suspecting Pope Celestine III was also involved. Henry played his hand and ordered bloody repressions and mass executions, the climate of terror that gripped Sicily only eased with the emperor”s sudden death. On the night of Sept. 28-29, 1197, he died of a flare-up of an intestinal infection, possibly as a result of poisoning by his wife, who survived him little more than a year.

Frederick II

Henry VI died prematurely in 1197 in Messina, and was succeeded by the still infant Frederick II (his mother Constance ruled for him as regent until the death of the last Queen Altavilla of Sicily in 1198.

Then Frederick II on May 18, 1198, when he was only four years old, was crowned King of Sicily and entrusted to the guardianship of Pontiff Innocent III. The Pontiff”s main concern was to keep the Empire and the Kingdom of Sicily distinct, so he entrusted the young king to a regency council, recognizing his succession to the Sicilian throne, while in Germany he supported Otto IV of Brunswick, a Guelph candidate opposed to Philip of Swabia, Frederick”s uncle. From 1201 to 1206 Frederick, under the tutelage of Marcovaldo and then William of Capparone received a royal education, although some authors, argue that he was raised by the poorer Palermo people, self-taught in all forms of culture.

In 1208, at the age of 14, Frederick II emerged from papal guardianship and directly assumed power in the kingdom of Sicily. That same year Philip of Swabia was assassinated, and Otto was given the imperial crown, but when he failed to keep the pacts made with the pope earlier, the pope began to support the succession rights of the young Frederick, who was elected King of Germany and King of the Romans in 1212. Being aware of his political weakness, Frederick agreed to limit the crown”s interference in the affairs of the Sicilian Church and granted wide autonomies to the great lords of the Empire (Golden Bull of Eger, 1213). Having defeated Otto at Bouvines, Frederick was crowned King of Germany in the Palatine Chapel in Aachen. As a condition for ascending the throne, Frederick II promised Innocent not to unite the Empire and Kingdom of Sicily into a single state entity. Frederick gave no indication that he would abdicate the Kingdom of Sicily, although he maintained his firm intention to keep the two crowns separate.

He had therefore decided to leave the Kingdom of Germany to his son Henry, while retaining supreme supervisory authority as emperor. Being of Sicilian mother and having been educated in Sicily it is likely that he felt more Sicilian than German, but more importantly, he was well aware of the potential of his kingdom. Frederick was immediately pressed by the new pope to follow through on his promise to call the crusade; the pontiff felt that the only way to bind Frederick was to make him emperor, and on November 22, 1220, the Swabian was crowned emperor in St. Peter”s in Rome by Pope Honorius III. Circumventing Pope Honorius III”s continued demands that he undertake the crusade, he was excommunicated for delaying his departure for the Holy Land (1227), Frederick, having kept his crusade vow, obtained the cession of Jerusalem from the Sultan of Egypt and was crowned King of Jerusalem in 1229. This positive outcome of the passagium he led, however, was overshadowed by the crusade that the Pope turned against him precisely for agreeing with an “infidel.” Forced to hurry back to Italy to counter the papal army, he reached an agreement (Peace of Ceprano, 1230) whereby he renounced his right to confirm bishop appointments in Sicily in exchange for the lifting of his excommunication. In the diatribe between pope and emperor, meanwhile, the cities of the Lombard League had inserted themselves and the centuries-old division between Guelphs and Ghibellines had resumed.

Taking advantage of a period of peace, the ruler devoted himself to the internal affairs of his dominions. He conducted intense legislative activity in Capua and Catania in 1220, Messina in 1221, Melfi in 1224, Syracuse in 1227 and San Germano in 1229, centralizing power in his own hands by taking them from the feudal lords who had previously usurped them. In August 1231 in the Castle of Melfi Frederick II, with the help of his trusted notary Pier della Vigna, issued the Constitutiones Augustales (also known as the Constitutions of Melfi or Liber Augustalis), a legislative code of the Kingdom of Sicily, based on Roman and Norman law, considered among the greatest works in the history of law. It was to result in a centralized, bureaucratic and tendentially leveling state, with characteristics that historians have deemed “modern..” Two years later he tightened anti-heretical legislation by equating heresy with crimes of lese majesty.

He was also concerned with forming a class of educated officials who could take charge of public affairs by founding the University of Naples. He also fostered the Salerno medical school, Europe”s first and most important medical institution in the Middle Ages. Palermo and the court became the center of the Empire, and thanks to the patronage of the king (called for his culture Stupor mundi), it became an important cultural hub, a meeting point of Greek, Arab and Jewish traditions. Here the Sicilian Poetic School was born with the first use of the literary form of a Romance language, Sicilian, anticipating the Tuscan school by at least a century. Among the most important exponents of the Sicilian school was Jacopo da Lentini, originator of the sonnet. Many historians-as Santi Correnti writes-have seen in Frederick the political anticipation of the “figure of the Renaissance prince” or of “Risorgimento nationalism.”

In the military sphere, the sovereign took care to establish a number of royal chambers (factories and arms depots) in the main strongholds of the kingdom: at Ariano, Canosa, Lucera, Melfi, Messina and in Palermo itself. In fact, his reign was characterized by struggles against the Papacy and the Italian communes, in which he won victories or yielded to compromises, to be remembered the remarkable victory Frederick achieved in November 1237 over the Lombard League at Cortenuova, winning the Carroccio, which he sent as tribute to the pope. The following year his son Enzo (or Enzio) married Adelasia of Torres, widow of Ubaldo Visconti, judge of Torres and Gallura, and Frederick named him King of Sardinia. Sardinia had been promised in succession to the pope, who immediately hurled an excommunication against Frederick during Holy Week. To prevent the council from solemnly confirming his excommunication he blocked the land routes to Rome and had two cardinals and many prelates captured. Imperial troops reached as far as the gates of Rome, but on August 22, 1241, the elderly Pope Gregory IX died and Frederick, declared diplomatically that he was fighting the pope but not the Church (he was still under excommunication), and retreated to Sicily. Pope Innocent IV decided that the subjection of Lombardy to the empire could not be accepted, and convened the council that not only confirmed Frederick”s excommunication but even deposed him by turning to Frederick”s enemies in Germany to have another emperor appointed. In 1250 Frederick fell victim to a severe abdominal condition, possibly due to neglected illness, during a stay in Apulia; according to Guido Bonatti, he was poisoned instead. His death was followed by struggles over succession to the throne.

Manfred the last king of the Swabian dynasty

Frederick II in his will named his second-born son Conrad IV universal heir and his successor on the imperial throne, the throne of Sicily, and the throne of Jerusalem, and left Manfred the Principality of Taranto with other minor fiefdoms, and in addition the lieutenancy of the kingdom of Sicily. In October 1251 Conrad moved to the peninsula where he met the imperial vicars, and in January 1252 he landed at Siponto, then proceeded with Manfred in pacifying the kingdom. In 1253 they brought the rebellious counties of Caserta and Acerra back under their control, conquered Capua, and in October finally Naples. On May 21 Conrad died of malaria, leaving his son Corradin under the guardianship of the pope. The papacy, which continued to frown upon the establishment of the imperial house of Swabia promised the kingdom to Edmund the Hunchback provided he occupied the kingdom with an army of his own. Manfred, however, thanks to the fine diplomatic skill inherited from his father, concluded an agreement with the pontiff, which saw the papal occupation with a simple reservation of the rights of Corradino and his own. Manfred, not feeling secure before the pope, enlisted a large army to wage war against the papal army, which he defeated near Foggia. During 1257 the war proceeded advantageously for the Swabians, Manfred routed the papal army and tamed internal rebellions.

As word of Corradino”s death spread in 1258, probably through Manfred”s own doing, the prelates and barons of the kingdom invited Manfred to take the throne, and he was crowned on August 10 in Palermo cathedral. This election was not recognized by Pope Alexander IV, who therefore deemed Manfred a usurper. Between 1258 and 1260 the power of Manfred, who had become the leader of the Ghibelline faction everywhere, spread throughout the peninsula, his power also increased by the marriage of his daughter Constance to Peter III of Aragon (1262). Manfred, however, was excommunicated, and in 1263 the French Pope Urban IV offered the crown to Charles I of Anjou, brother of the French King Louis IX. The latter promoted a military expedition to conquer the kingdom. Manfred was defeated in the decisive battle of Benevento on February 26, 1266. The Sicilian and Saracen militias together with the Germans strenuously defended their king, while the Italian militias abandoned Manfred, who died fighting with desperate valor.

The kings of the Swabian dynasty of Sicily (Hohenstaufen)

Charles, having conquered the kingdom, no longer convened the Sicilian parliament, eliminated much of the nobility suspected of loyalty to the previous dynasty and replaced its exponents with far more trustworthy petty feudal lords who had descended with him into the kingdom from France. He therefore chose foreign government officials, with the exception of tax collectors, and the trade that with the Swabians had been handled by Sicilian, Apulian, and Neapolitan merchants soon passed into the hands of Tuscan merchants and bankers. The ruler in his governing action contributed to aggravating the impoverishment of the peasants and the overbearingness of the feudal lords in the countryside. The latter, accustomed to a kind of noble anarchy derived from the feudal tradition to which they were accustomed, did not know how to adapt to the bureaucratic-administrative customs of the Norman-Swabian era in use in the South. It is no coincidence that it was during the reign of Charles I that it was during the arrival of his barons that the character of disloyalty to the throne, violence and arbitrariness typical of the southern aristocracy became established. This situation soon led the exasperated nobility to seek a liberator, who was soon found in the person of Conrad of Swabia, son of Conrad IV, grandson of Manfred and last descendant of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. In 1268 Corradino tried to regain the crown, but was defeated at the Battle of Tagliacozzo, eventually ending up beheaded in the Market Square in Naples. Buried in the Church of the Carmine in Naples, his young age and death kept his memory alive. After Corradino”s death, Charles preferred to reside in Naples, which became the main center of the Terra di Lavoro and capital after the Sicilian Vespers of 1282.

Charles continued the policy of his predecessors: he too aspired to control the whole of Italy and to hegemony in the Mediterranean basin. Initially, precisely as a function of this hegemonic dream, he joined the last crusade organized by his brother Louis IX of France. Having failed the expedition to North Africa, the king sought to build a solid network of foreign political alliances with the Papacy (in Rome he was granted the title of senator), with Guelph Florence, whose bankers granted him a privileged line of credit, and with Venice. With the lagoon city he agreed on the partitioning of the Adriatic Sea and the Balkans: as a function of this he tied himself by family ties with the Kingdom of Hungary, having his son, Charles II, marry the daughter of Stephen V. Charles also ran for the empire and made claims for the Hierosolymitan throne.

Although he was recognized as the leader of the Guelph party, the Papacy frowned upon Charles”s enterprise. Even it seems that Rome rapprochement with the Orthodox Church, under the pontificates of Gregory X and Nicholas III, was necessary to prevent the Angevin from posing as a defender of Latin Christendom. To do so actively thwarted his designs to reconquer Constantinople. The Guelphs themselves were viewed with suspicion, since they were guilty of being more committed to gaining power in their cities and imposing a lordship of Charles there than defending the freedom of the Church of Rome. With the accession to the papal throne of Martin IV, a pope more favorable to him, the king of Sicily was able to set up a plan to conquer the Byzantine Empire.

Sicilian Vespers

But that plan remained on paper as an uprising, known as the Sicilian Vespers, broke out in Sicily on March 29, 1282. Meanwhile, the Sicilians, faced with the alliance between the Papacy and Angevins, offered the crown of Sicily to Peter III of Aragon, turning the insurrection into a political conflict between the Sicilians and the Aragonese on one side and the Angevins, the Papacy, the Kingdom of France and the various Guelph factions on the other.

The causes of the Sicilian insurrection lay in the strong discontent with the Angevins. It was caused both by the decision to transfer the capital of the kingdom to Naples and by the unpopularity of the new government, which was reducing the country to misery. The situation precipitated when, according to historical reconstruction, a French soldier named Drouet disrespected a Sicilian woman. The gesture, immediately avenged by her husband, who killed Drouet, sparked an insurrection that immediately spread from Palermo throughout Sicily.

It is said that the Sicilians, in order to detect Frenchmen disguised among the commoners, resorted to a shibboleth, showing them chickpeas (those who were betrayed by their French pronunciation (sciscirì) were immediately killed. According to tradition, the Vespers was organized in great secrecy by leading members of the Sicilian nobility, such as Giovanni da Procida, Alaimo di Lentini, Gualtiero di Caltagirone and Palmiero Abate. The Sicilians swore allegiance to the Catholic Church, and rejection of new submission to a foreign king, while declaring themselves a confederation of free communes (Communitas Siciliae). The success of the communitas Siciliae depended essentially on the consent of the Church; it must have been well known that the pope had an ancient and well-established political relationship with the Kingdom of France (he himself was French) and with Charles of Anjou.

The kings of the Angevin dynasty of Sicily

Charles I (1266-1282)

The Wars of the Vespers

As events precipitated, the Sicilians sought help from Peter III of Aragon, who, as the husband of Constance II of Sicily, daughter of Manfred, considered himself holder of the crown of Sicily and arrived on the island on August 30, 1282, in September he girded himself with the crown of the kingdom, under the name Peter I of Sicily, leaving his wife Constance II as regent, and returning to Aragon.

This involvement widened the conflict; Pope Martin IV and the French king Philip III sided with the Angevins. Against Peter, Pope Martin called a crusade, at the head of which Charles I”s nephew, the French king Philip III the Bold, was placed. However, the deaths of the protagonists in 1285 (Martin IV, Peter III, Philip III and Charles I) caused the war to become endemic and protracted. A first attempt to settle the conflict was made in 1295 at Anagni under the auspices of the Holy See: the new king James I, interested in restoring relations with the Pope, pledged to Charles II of Anjou to cede Sicily to him upon his death. The Sicilians, however, foreseeing a return under the hated Anjou, rose up and offered the island”s crown to James”s brother Frederick, who, invested by the Sicilian Parliament and the Voluntas Siculorum was crowned King of Sicily in Palermo Cathedral under the name Frederick III.

The first phase of the conflict ended in 1302 with the Peace of Caltabellotta, which established the division of the kingdom into two: Regnum Siciliae citra Pharum (Kingdom of Naples) and Regnum Siciliae ultra Pharum (also known, for a brief period, as the Kingdom of Trinacria), with the condition that Frederick III would continue to reign under the title of king of Trinacria, and that upon his death the crown would revert to the Angevins. The latter, however, in 1313 claimed the title of king for his son Peter, and changed the title to “king of Sicily” creating the absurdity whereby there were two kingdoms of Sicily and two kings of Sicily, this provoked the inevitable Angevin reaction and the resumption of the war that dragged on until August 20, 1372 when it ended after a full ninety years with the Treaty of Avignon signed by Joan of Anjou and Frederick IV of Sicily and with the assent of Pope Gregory XI.

The Kingdom of Trinacria

In 1285 with the death of Peter I, his second son, James the Just succeeded him on the throne of Sicily as James I, while, as eldest son, Alfonso III succeeded him on the throne of Aragon and Valencia and in the Principality of Catalonia. In 1291 upon the sudden death of Alfonso III, James, his successor then ascended the throne of Aragon, leaving the lieutenancy in Sicily to his brother Frederick, who immediately showed himself very attentive to the demands of the Sicilians. On June 12, 1295, James I and Charles II of Anjou sought a way out of the Vespers conflict with the Treaty of Anagni, which handed Sicily over to the pope, who in turn would give it back to the Angevins in exchange for the kingdoms of Sardinia and Corsica. Thus the Sicilians felt betrayed and abandoned and in this context the Sicilian Parliament, meeting at the Ursino Castle in Catania, elected Frederick disowning James as King of Sicily. The parliament on January 15, 1296, recognized him as Frederick III King of Sicily.

The official coronation took place, March 25, 1296, in Palermo Cathedral. Frederick resumed the War of the Vespers, then Boniface VIII, in early 1297, summoned both James II and Charles II of Anjou to Rome and spurred them to reconquer Sicily according to the Treaty of Anagni. Frederick III managed to withstand the offensives launched by many European countries: the Kingdom of France, the Papacy, the Angevin Kingdom of Naples, Italian Guelph cities and the Kingdom of Aragon, and in 1302, with the Peace of Caltabellotta, he was recognized as King of Trinacria.

In 1313 the war between the Angevins and Sicily resumed; the following year the Sicilian parliament, disregarding the agreement signed in the Peace of Caltabellotta, confirmed Frederick with the title of king of Sicily and no longer of Trinacria, and recognized his son Peter as heir to the kingdom. In 1321, Frederick had his son Peter crowned as co-king and his successor, drawing the ire of Pope John XXII, who hurled the interdict on Sicily and lifted it only in 1334. Frederick was succeeded by his son Peter II in 1337; his brief reign was marked by sharp contrasts between the crown and the nobles. On August 15, 1342, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Ludovico, under the guardianship of his mother, Elisabetta of Carinthia, and his uncle, Giovanni, who became regent, which caused great political instability and economic crisis in the island. Ludwig died in 1355 stricken by the plague when he was only 17 years old. Frederick IV succeeded his brother Ludovico, under the guardianship of his sister, Euphemia, who was appointed regent. Frederick IV will be most remembered for finally ending the dispute against the Angevins, rulers of Naples, after a good ninety years of mutual wars, with the Treaty of Avignon in 1372. Queen of Naples Joan I renounced her formal rights over Sicily by accepting a fait accompli, henceforth the continental South would also be officially called the Kingdom of Naples. Upon the death of Frederick IV, at the age of thirty-six, his daughter Mary of Sicily inherited the crown of the kingdom of Sicily under the guardianship of Artale I Alagona; this was ruled illegal, as Frederick III prohibited succession by female line.

In 1392 she married Martin the Younger, considered by the Sicilians to be a usurper, since their union was the result of Mary”s abduction by William Raymond III Moncada with the secret approval of Peter IV of Aragon. With Mary”s death in 1401 the Aragonese-Sicilian dynasty became extinct. That same year Martin I repudiated the Treaty of Avignon and ruled Sicily alone, no longer considering himself a vassal of the Kings of Naples. On May 21, 1402, in Catania, he married in second marriage, Bianca of Evreux, who became queen consort of Trinacria. With the death of Martin I, his father Martin I of Aragon became king of Sicily under the name Martin II. For lack of heirs, this line of succession caused the end of the independence of the kingdom of Sicily. For a brief period the seat of the kingdom was Catania. On the death of Martin II (1410), there followed a period of uncertainty called the interregnum, which lasted two years.

Union with the crown of Aragon and viceroyalty

By the Compromise of Caspe in 1412, the Cortes decided that Ferdinand el de Antequera, infante of the Castilian lineage of Trastámara who was proclaimed king on June 28, 1412, would be sovereign of the crown of Aragon and king of Sicily. Blanche of Evreux was appointed by King Ferdinand I of Aragon as queen with the title of vicar of the island kingdom. For a short time the Sicilians hoped to return to having their own court, as Martin I married Bianca, and then some Sicilian nobles tried to offer as consort to the queen, Niccolò Peralta. In 1416 Bianca became queen of Navarre, resulting in the island permanently losing its independence as a kingdom to become a viceroyalty.

When Ferdinand I died on April 2, 1416, Alfonso the Magnanimous reigned, the latter, seeing that the Sicilians, because of their thirst for independence, would like to elect his brother John, governor on behalf of his father, as king of Sicily, recalled him to court and sent him to Castile to help his other brother, Henry of Trastàmara.

Alfonso also united the kingdom of Naples to the crown of Aragon and united it even if only formally under the crown of rex Utriusque Siciliae since papal investitures and kingdoms had now become two. He established in Catania, in 1434 the oldest university in Sicily (Siciliae Studium Generale). Alfonso V, upon his death, left the Kingdom of Naples to his illegitimate son Ferdinand while all other titles in the crown of Aragon, including Sicily, went to his brother John. In 1458, John was crowned king of Sicily in the castle of Caltagirone and became John II, king of the crown of Aragon, I of Sicily.

Many Sicilians attempted to push John II”s son Charles of Viana to the throne of Sicily, but he refused, preferring to maintain a good relationship with his father. John neutralized any risks by declaring the perpetual annexation of the kingdom to Aragonese rule, and subsequently by a policy of broad concessions to the privileged classes. In 1469, John succeeded in marrying his son, Ferdinand the Catholic to Isabella the Catholic, heir to the throne of Castile. Upon his father”s death on January 20, 1479, Ferdinand became king as Ferdinand II of Sicily. After an unsuccessful attempt to extend the Tribunal of the Inquisition from Spain to Sicily in 1481, Ferdinand II created the Tribunal of the Inquisition in October 1487, and the first deputy inquisitor, Friar Augustine La Pena, whose appointment was approved by Pope Innocent VIII, was sent to Sicily. The apostolic inquisitors of the Holy See”s Inquisition were already operating on the island, although in less rigorous ways than those of the Spanish Inquisition. On June 18, 1492, an edict by Ferdinand the Catholic unconditionally mandated that Jews must leave Sicily forever within three months on pain of death, erasing an ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity that had been integrated into island life for centuries. Ferdinand died on January 25, 1516, and the Crown of Aragon was inherited by his nephew Charles V of Habsburg, who assumed the title of King of Spain, and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, also inherited the kingdom of Sicily under the title of Charles II of Sicily.

Kings of the Aragonese Dynasty of Sicily or Trinacria (House of Barcelona)

Kings of the Crown of Aragon and Sicily (Trastámara)

From 1415, Sicily hosted a first viceroy although it was only formal, as the island kingdom was still ruled under the tutelage of Bianca of Evreux, who would leave the island the following year. This was to be a period of great decadence, marked by the misrule of the various viceroys who succeeded one another in the chair, many popular uprisings, sometimes even bloody ones, such as the one in 1516 against Ugo Moncada called the “Stone of Malconsiglio.”

With the death of Ferdinand the Catholic in 1516, his nephew Charles V of Habsburg inherited the throne of Sicily and that of Aragon, concentrating all of Spain in his hands, he was able to boast the title of King of Spain. In 1530 he assigned the island of Malta as a fiefdom to the Knights Hospitallers, separating it forever from Sicilian history.

In 1535 he arrived in Sicily from the Tunis expedition against the Barbary corsairs. He attended the session of the Sicilian Parliament in which he summarized Sicily”s crucial role in the war against the Ottomans. He ordered impressive fortification works in the major centers, and In 1548, Ignatius de Loyola founded the world”s first Jesuit College in Messina, later to be transformed into the Messanense Studium Generale i.e., the University of Messina. In the reign of Philip II of Spain, I of Sicily, the danger of raids influenced every aspect of administration, justifying high taxation and costly garrisons of land and warships.

City senates were established in the main cities of the island, from Palermo, to Messina.

In 1583 there was a new administrative subdivision: after the Valleys the territory was divided into 42 Comarche (later 44). Established by viceroy Marcantonio Colonna. Among the main functions of the comarche was tax administration: the state town, capital of each of them, in fact, was the seat of the “secreto,” or royal official who superintended the collection of taxes. Among the functions of the office of this figure was also the census of the population of the comarca: on the basis of the censuses, in fact, the distribution of the tax burden on the inhabitants of the district itself took place.With the Sicilian Constitution of 1812, the comarche were then replaced by 23 districts, reorganized from 1816 into seven provinces.

Popular uprisings

The period of Philip IV of Spain, III of Sicily was characterized by a general economic crisis at the European level. The crisis reached its peak so much so that people”s revolts increased in number and intensity, in 1647 it was Palermo”s turn, in 1674 Messina and then Catania.

The apex of the revolution was reached with the Palermo insurrection. The anti-Spanish revolt, which took off in May 1647, was initially led by Nino La Pelosa, but he was soon arrested, while Giuseppe D”Alesi, managed to escape and arrive in Naples where he witnessed the Masaniello uprising.It was then in the following August, still in Palermo, that D”Alesi resumed the revolt against the Spaniards, first organizing a court conspiracy, which was, however, discovered because of the presence of two spies. Subsequently he was elected by the people as captain general, with this title he assembles men, assaults the royal armory and with these weapons goes to the conquest of the royal palace succeeding at first to drive out the viceroy and brings together artisans and nobles to discuss a new statute for a kingdom under the control of the Sicilians themselves. The Sicilian nobles, however, did not remain happy with this new statute and organized new riots under the false accusation that he wanted to cede Sicily to the hated French. D”Alessi was beheaded and his collaborators were killed.

The anti-Spanish revolt in Messina, with the support of French King Louis XIV, broke out in 1674. Among the triggers were the revocations of historic privileges the city enjoyed, so much so that it contended with Palermo for the role of capital of the kingdom, and a number of famines and plagues that worsened the living conditions of the people of Messina. The city became a French protectorate. In 1678, however, with the signing of the peace of Nijmegen between France and Spain, the French abandoned the city of Messina, which suffered a cruel Spanish reconquest.

From the Bourbons of Spain to the Habsburgs

During the monarchical period of Charles III, Sicily was devastated by the Val di Noto earthquake of 1693, which razed dozens of towns to the ground. The need for reconstruction brought to the island a number of designers, artists and architects, who contributed to the birth of the Sicilian Baroque. In 1700, with the death of Charles, Philip V of the Bourbons of Spain ascended the throne. With the Peace of Utrecht, which ended the War of Spanish Succession, Sicily was assigned to Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy.

In 1711 the Liparitan Controversy gave rise to a conflict between the Sicilian monarchy and the papacy that lasted for many years. The viceregal period on behalf of Spain ended in 1713 because of the War of the Spanish Succession.

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht recognized the Duchy of Savoy as annexed to the Kingdom of Sicily; having extinguished the male branch of the Savoy, the kingdom would return to the crown of Madrid. On December 24, after a lavish ceremony in Palermo Cathedral, Duke Victor Amadeus II and his wife Anne-Marie of Orleans received the royal crown. With Victor Amadeus then, the House of Savoy obtained the royal title. After the Battle of Francavilla in 1719, Victor Amadeus retained sovereignty over Sicily until 1720, when, from Vienna came a proposal to join the now-signed Quadruple Alliance in exchange for the title of King of Sardinia. With the Treaty of the Hague in 1720, Sicily returned to the Habsburg dominions, this time under the dependencies of Austria.

The kingdom and the island of the same name, as a result of the events of the War of the Quadruple Alliance, would be administered by viceroys on behalf of the Habsburgs of Austria from 1719 to 1734 when they would be ceded, as part of the treaties resulting from the War of the Polish Succession, to Charles III of Spain.

Charles III

In August 1734, the Kingdom of Sicily, like the Kingdom of Naples before it, was invaded by the Spanish troops of Charles of Bourbon, founder of the Bourbon dynasty of Naples. The troops of the infante of Spain defeated the Austrians without encountering strong resistance (except at Messina, Syracuse and Trapani, which held out for more than six months), removing Sicily from Austrian rule, and on July 3, 1735, Charles was crowned in Palermo Cathedral as king of Sicily.

The constitution of the new Bourbon monarchy formally freed Sicily from the status of viceroyalty, which returned to being an independent state, although, in fact, in personal union with the Kingdom of Naples. The coronation took place while part of Sicily was still under Austrian control; this rapidity was imposed on him by the need to recognize claims to the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples, as they were considered by the Holy See to be fiefdoms of the Church.

The coronation in Sicily led the Sicilian nobility to believe that the king wanted to set up residence in Palermo instead of Naples, however, after a week had passed, Charles left for the continent, fixing his court in Naples, and this choice caused a climate of disappointment that reinforced the old division between Naples and Sicily. In Palermo he left as Viceroy the Duke of Montemar, commander of the Spanish expeditionary force.

The new ruler”s policy was under the banner of reforms: these were geared toward modernizing the administration and treasury and encouraging trade. In particular, however, the king implemented interventions aimed at limiting ecclesiastical and baronial power. The baronage, in fact, had acquired functions and powers proper to the crown, which the sovereign intended to reappropriate. Reforms in Sicily gained a certain consensus when Charles chose Prince Bartolomeo Corsini as viceroy of the island; his policy had a “constitutional” feel, which was highly unusual for that time, which enabled him to act as a mediator between government directives and the objections of the island”s ruling class. Nevertheless, the king”s reformist policy was strongly opposed by the aristocratic class and suffered a heavy setback, so much so that the ruler had to abandon it, and the last years of his reign were characterized, paradoxically, by an entirely opposite philosophy of government.

Ferdinand III

In 1759, upon the death of his brother Ferdinand, Charles became King of Spain, while the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples were assigned to his third-born son Ferdinand, just eight years old. The regency council to which young Ferdinand III of Sicily was entrusted resumed the old reformist project, which continued after the sovereign came of age. As was the case with his father, Ferdinand was supposed to take an oath to respect the constitutions and privileges of the kingdom, but this did not happen since he was still a minor. When he came of age, the regent Bernardo Tanucci decided, as he was opposed to baronial power in the island, that the king would not take any oath; this was a source of conflict between the ruling family and the Sicilian nobility. Of particular note was the requisition and subsequent sale of the rich land holdings of the suppressed religious order of the Society of Jesus. Approximately 34,000 hectares were auctioned off and part of it was taken from the baronage and reserved for small farmers: more than three thousand of them were allocated portions of land.

This social policy aimed at the redistribution of land to poor peasants represented the first serious attempt to reform and colonize the southern latifundia, constituting the most substantial land reform operation implemented in Italy during the 18th century. The new reform plan was also heavily opposed by the barons. The crown”s response was to oust the Sicilian nobility from its primary role in governing the country, relegating it to a secondary position. An anti-baronial orientation, which became, later, anti-Sicilian, took hold, leading to support for a policy in which Naples had full supremacy over Palermo. All this would later influence the role of the “Sicilian party” in the fate of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In 1774 the new viceroy of Sicily was Prince Marc”Antonio Colonna; he, a Neapolitan by adoption, interrupted the custom whereby the viceroy was chosen from non-Neapolitan circles. The Sicilian barons and Queen Maria Carolina sided against Marquis Tanucci, and to the satisfaction of the Sicilian nobility, Tanucci abandoned his post. Maria Carolina replaced him with Marquis Beccadelli, whose policies ended up damaging the Sicilian baronage. In 1795, Sicilian patriot Francesco Paolo Di Blasi, an advocate of republican and independence ideas and proponent of human rights, was arrested, tried and executed on charges of conspiring to establish a Sicilian republic.

The new Constitution and the end of the reign

With the Napoleonic conquest (Napoleonic Wars) of the Kingdom of Naples, Ferdinand III, who had retained control of Sicily, partly thanks to the support of England, was forced to abandon the continental capital and take refuge in Palermo in 1798. He returned to Naples after agreements with Napoleon in 1802, but because of the French invasion of the kingdom of Naples he returned to Palermo in 1805 in particularly frigid weather. The role played by the British in governing the island was extremely invasive, but at least it was instrumental in the granting of the new Sicilian constitution desired in 1812 by the Sicilian parliament, which was influenced by the aspiration for freedom and modern constitutionalism that separated Sicily from Naples for good, a constitution inspired by the English model. The new constitutional charter, invised by Ferdinand, according to Acton, ended up becoming an excellent propaganda tool for the Bourbons, while it was deplored by many of the nobles who had voted for it when they realized that it took away their former power.

Following Napoleon”s defeat, with the Congress of Vienna, the ancient borders of European states were almost all restored. Ferdinand regained the continental kingdom, but lost sovereignty over Malta, leaving Palermo in 1815. In December 1816 he reunited the two kingdoms of Further Sicily and Lower Sicily into a single state, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, roughly restoring the borders of the ancient kingdom of 1282. Under the name Ferdinand I, the Bourbon ruler assumed the title of King of the Two Sicilies. The abandonment of the personal union of the two kingdoms and the fusion of them into a single state entity, where from 1817 Naples assumed the role of sole capital, had, therefore, as a consequence the suppression of the Kingdom of Sicily, the Constitution and the loss, for Palermo, of the central seats of government and the de facto closure of the Sicilian Parliament, causing discontent in Sicilian public opinion. Nicolò Palmieri wrote a polemical essay to King Ferdinand I, in which he declared, “From 1816 onward, Sicily had the misfortune of being erased from the roll of nations and losing all constitution. We demand the independence of Sicily, and the votes are not only of Palermo but of the whole of Sicily, and the majority of the Sicilian people have pronounced their vote for independence.” From the suppression of the kingdom popular uprisings started, with the first uprisings in 1820.

The kings of the Bourbon dynasty of Naples

The uprisings of 1820

The formal suppression of the Kingdom, which was subjugated to Naples and obliterated by the Bourbons, sparked a protest movement throughout the island, and on June 15, 1820, the independentists rose up (into the hands of the insurgents fell some 14,000 rifles from the Palermo arsenal) led by Giuseppe Alliata di Villafranca, who was acclaimed president of the state council. A government was set up in Palermo (June 18-23), headed by Prince Paternò Castello, which restored the Sicilian Constitution of 1812, with British support. On Nov. 7, 1820, King Ferdinand sent an army (about 6,500 soldiers, which were added to the same number garrisoned in the eastern part of Sicily not in revolt) under the orders of Florestano Pepe (later replaced by General Pietro Colletta), which quickly recaptured Sicily through bloody struggles and re-established absolute monarchy, resubduing the island to Naples. More revolts, this time in eastern Sicily, erupted in 1837.

The revolution of 1848

On January 12, 1848, an anti-Bourbon revolutionary movement, led by Rosolino Pilo and Giuseppe La Masa, took off first in Palermo and then throughout Sicily. Sicily was declared independent, while the Bourbon army, facing weak resistance, withdrew from the island.On January 23, the General Committee met, whose leaders were Sicilian patriots Vincenzo Fardella di Torrearsa, Francesco Paolo Perez and Ruggero Settimo (president), Mariano Stabile (general secretary) and Francesco Crispi, who was to receive special responsibility for setting up the barricades. On March 25 the Sicilian Parliament, presided over by Vincenzo Fardella di Torrearsa, was reopened after about 30 years, and a constitutional government was installed. A decree passed by Parliament on April 13 declared the Bourbon monarchy forfeited.

On July 10, 1848, the new constitution was proclaimed declaring:

Within the parliament the political orientation was in sharp contrast. There were monarchists and republicans aspiring to an independent island, federalists to an Italy confederated into many states, and unitarians, but all eager to free Sicily from the Bourbons. On May 27, the Trinacria, placed at the center of the Italian tricolor, was adopted as the island”s symbol by the Sicilian Parliament:

Michele Amari (Minister of Finance in the government) would write in 1851 that Domenico Scinà “with a bitter smile” asked the young men in his circle if they too had been infected by Italic hysteria.

The rebirth of the Kingdom of Sicily

On July 10, 1848 Mariano Stabile declared to the lower house that France and England would recognize Sicily”s independence as soon as the new king was elected. On July 13, the Kingdom of Sicily was proclaimed.The new government offered the crown of the kingdom to the Duke of Genoa, Alberto Amedeo of Savoy, younger brother of the future king of Italy, under the name Alberto Amedeo I of Sicily, who, however, engaged in the first war of independence, refused it.

At the end of August an expeditionary force of the Bourbon army with 16,000 men, commanded by Carlo Filangieri initiated the siege of Messina. During the two months of fighting in Messina there were seven separate major phases of bombardment by Bourbon artillery on the city, as well as violent infantry battles. The bombardment and fires set drew protests from the foreign diplomats present, namely the consuls of Belgium, Denmark, France, England, Holland, Russia, and Switzerland.

In the early months of 1849 from Messina the Bourbon army began the reconquest of the island.On April 7, after bitter fighting, Catania was retaken, and on May 14, 1849 Filangieri regained possession of Palermo, while the Sicilian leaders went into exile. The last independent state of Sicily thus lasted 17 months.


  1. Regno di Sicilia
  2. Kingdom of Sicily
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