The SICILIAN VESPERS (Italian : Vespri siciliani; Sicilian : Vespiri
siciliani) is the name given to the successful rebellion on the island
Sicily that broke out at
Easter , 1282 against the rule of the
French-born king Charles I , who had ruled the Kingdom of
1266. Within six weeks, three thousand French men and women were slain
by the rebels, and the government of King Charles lost control of the
island. It was the beginning of the
War of the Sicilian Vespers .
* 1 Background
* 1.1 The Papacy versus the House of
* 1.2 Charles of Anjou and Sicilian unrest
* 2 The uprising
* 3 Immediate aftermath
* 4 Aragonese intervention
* 5 Michael Palaeologus\' Commentary
* 6 Sources
* 7 References in culture
* 8 Other uses of the term
* 9 Notes
* 10 External links
* 11 References
THE PAPACY VERSUS THE HOUSE OF HOHENSTAUFEN
The rising had its origin in the struggle of investiture between the
Pope and the
Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperors for control over
especially the Church's private demesne known as the
Papal States .
These lay between
Hohenstaufen lands in northern
Italy and the
Hohenstaufen Kingdom of
Sicily in the south; the
Hohenstaufen also at
the time ruled Germany.
Pope Innocent IV excommunicated Frederick II and declared him
deposed, and roused opposition against him in Germany and Italy. When
Frederick died in 1250, his dominion was inherited by his son, Conrad
IV of Germany . A period of turmoil followed Conrad's death in 1254,
and the Kingdom of
Sicily was seized by Manfred, King of
Frederick's illegitimate son, who reigned from 1258 to 1266.
Manfred had no involvement in German politics, where the interregnum
lasted longer and there was no emperor until 1274. He first styled
himself as vicar of his nephew
Conradin , Conrad's son. However,
following a false rumour that
Conradin was dead, Manfred later had
himself crowned as king. He wished for a reconciliation with the
papacy, which may have explained his support for the landless Baldwin
II, Latin Emperor . However,
Pope Urban IV and later
Pope Clement IV
were not prepared to recognize Manfred as lawful ruler of
first excommunicated then sought to depose him by force of arms.
After abortive attempts to enlist England as the champion of the
Papacy against Manfred, Urban IV settled on
Charles I of Naples
Charles I of Naples as
his candidate for the Sicilian throne. Charles invaded
defeated and killed Manfred in 1266 at the
Battle of Benevento ,
becoming King of Sicily. In 1268 Conradin, who had meanwhile come of
Italy to press his claim to the throne, but he was
defeated at the
Battle of Tagliacozzo and executed afterwards. Charles
was now undisputed master of the Kingdom of Sicily.
CHARLES OF ANJOU AND SICILIAN UNREST
Charles regarded his Sicilian territories as a springboard for his
Mediterranean ambitions, which included the overthrow of Michael VIII
Palaiologos of the
Byzantine Empire , and the capture of
Constantinople , then the richest city in the western world. Unrest
Sicily because of its very subordinate role in Charles's
empire — its nobles had no share in the government of their own
island and were not compensated by lucrative posts abroad, as were
Charles' French, Provençal and Neapolitan subjects; also Charles
spent the heavy taxes he imposed on wars outside Sicily, making Sicily
somewhat of a donor economy to Charles' nascent empire. As Steven
Runciman put it, " saw themselves now being ruled to enable an alien
tyrant make conquests from which they would have no benefit"
The unrest was also fomented by
Byzantine agents to thwart Charles's
projected invasion, and by King
Peter III of Aragon
Peter III of Aragon , Manfred's
son-in-law, who saw his wife Constance as rightful heir to the
The church of the Holy Spirit in Palermo.
The event takes its name from an insurrection which began at the
Vespers , the sunset prayer marking the beginning of the
night vigil on
Easter Monday, 30 March 1282, at the Church of the Holy
Spirit just outside
Palermo . Beginning on that night, thousands of
Sicily's French inhabitants were massacred within six weeks. The
events that started the uprising are not known for certain, but the
various retellings have common elements. The only town in
to join the rebellion was a small village called
Sperlinga , which
protected French soldiers in a castle excavated in sandstone.
Steven Runciman , the Sicilians at the church were
engaged in holiday festivities and a group of French officials came by
to join in and began to drink. A sergeant named Drouet dragged a young
married woman from the crowd, pestering her with his advances. Her
husband then attacked Drouet with a knife, killing him. When the other
Frenchmen tried to avenge their comrade, the Sicilian crowd fell upon
them, killing them all. At that moment all the church bells in Palermo
began to ring for Vespers. Runciman describes the mood of the night:
To the sound of the bells messengers ran through the city calling on
the men of
Palermo to rise against the oppressor. At once the streets
were filled with angry armed men, crying "Death to the French"
("moranu li Franchiski" in
Sicilian language ). Every Frenchman they
met was struck down. They poured into the inns frequented by the
French and the houses where they dwelt, sparing neither man, woman nor
child. Sicilian girls who had married Frenchmen perished with their
husbands. The rioters broke into the Dominican and Franciscan
convents; and all the foreign friars were dragged out and told to
pronounce the word "ciciri", whose sound the French tongue could never
accurately reproduce . Anyone who failed the test was slain… By the
next morning some two thousand French men and women lay dead; and the
rebels were in complete control of the city.
Leonardo Bruni (1416), the Palermitans were holding a
festival outside the city when the French came up to check for
weapons, and on that pretext began to fondle the breasts of their
women. This then began a riot. The French were attacked, first with
rocks, then weapons, and all were killed. The news spread to other
cities leading to revolt throughout Sicily. "By the time the furious
anger at their insolence had drunk its fill of blood, the French had
given up to the Sicilians not only their ill-gotten riches but their
lives as well."
There is also a third version of the events that is quite close to
Runciman's, varying only in the minor details. This story is part of
the oral tradition on the island up to the present time. This oral
tradition cannot be verified, but is of interest to sociologists.
According to the legend,
John of Procida
John of Procida was the mastermind behind the
conspiracy. It seems that he was in contact with both Michael VIII
Peter III of Aragon
Peter III of Aragon . They were all three later
Pope Martin IV in 1282.
After leaders were elected in Palermo, messengers spread word across
the island for the rebels to strike before the French had time to
organise resistance. In a fortnight the rebels gained control over
most of the island, and within six weeks it was all under rebel
control, except for
Messina which was well fortified, and whose
leading family, the Riso, remained faithful to Charles. But on 28
April it too broke into open revolt and, most significantly, the
islanders' first act was to set fire to Charles's fleet in the harbor.
It is reported that upon hearing of the fleet's destruction, King
Charles exclaimed "Lord God, since it has pleased You to ruin my
fortune, let me only go down in small steps."
Charles' Vicar Herbert and his family were safely within castle
Mategriffon , but after negotiations the rebels granted Herbert and
his family safe conduct to leave the island upon a promise that they
never return. After the restoration of order in the city, the townsmen
announced themselves a free commune answerable only to the pope. They
elected leaders, one of whom was
Bartholomaeus of Neocastro who was
prominent in the unfolding events and would later chronicle much of
the revolt in
Historia Sicula , an important if sometimes
contradictory source of information for historians. Again
significantly, the leaders' next act was to send word, via a Genoese
merchant named Alafranco Cassano, to the Emperor Michael advising him
that his nemesis Charles had been crippled. Only thereafter were
ambassadors sent to
Pope Martin IV pleading for each city on the
island to be recognised as a free commune under the sole suzerainty of
the Holy Church. The islanders were hoping for status such as enjoyed
by Venice , Genoa, Pisa and other cities, free to form their own
government, but morally answerable only to the pope who would hold a
vague and unstable suzerainty. However, the French pope was firmly in
Charles' camp and he directed the Sicilians to recognize Charles as
their rightful king. But Martin underestimated the Sicilians' hatred
of the French, and especially of Charles, who ruled from Naples rather
than Palermo, where he could have seen the suffering caused by his
officials. Charles' island officials were far removed from his
oversight; he did not see the avarice, the rape, theft and murder, nor
did he see the high taxes levied against the meager possessions of the
peasants, which kept them impoverished, but made no improvement in
Peter III Aragon, in
Sicily during Vespri siciliani (1282). We
can see him accompanied by his wife and her royal maids, to claim her
legal rights to the throne. "Arrivo Aragonesi" (Biblioteca Vaticana)
After the pope refused the rebels' pleas to allow the status of free
communes, the Sicilians sent for
Peter III of Aragon
Peter III of Aragon , whose wife
Constance was Manfred, King of
Sicily 's daughter, Henry VI, Holy
Roman Emperor 's great-granddaughter and the sole surviving heir of
Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor , who was not in captivity and was in
a position to assert her rights. Peter III championed his wife's claim
to the entirety of the Kingdom of Sicily.
Prior to the Vespers, Peter III constructed and outfitted a fleet for
war. When the pope asked why he needed such a great war fleet, Peter
stated that it would be used against the followers of
Islam along the
northern coast of Africa, because he had legitimate trade interests
there and needed to protect them. So when Peter received a request for
help from the Sicilians he was conveniently on the north coast of
Tunis , just 200 miles across the sea from the island. At
first, Peter feigned indifference to the request of the Sicilians and
their plight, but after several days to allow a proper showing of
deference made for the pope's consumption, he took advantage of the
revolt. Peter ordered his fleet to sail for Sicily, landed at Trapani
on 30 August 1282. While he marched towards Palermo, his fleet
followed close by the coastal road. Peter III of Aragon's involvement
changed the character of the uprising from a local revolt into a
European War. Peter arrived at
Palermo on September 2 and initially
he was received by the populace with indifference, as merely one
foreign king replacing another. However, after
Pope Martin made plain
his orders for the populace to accept Charles, Peter promised the
islanders that they would enjoy the ancient privileges they had had
under the Norman king, William II of
Sicily . Thereafter, he was
accepted as a satisfactory second choice and was crowned by
acclamation of the people at the cathedral in
Palermo on September 4,
thus becoming also Peter I of
With the pope's blessing, the counterattack from Charles was not long
in coming; his fleet from the
Kingdom of Naples
Kingdom of Naples arrived and blockaded
the port of
Messina and made several attempts to land troops on the
island, but all were repulsed.
MICHAEL PALAEOLOGUS\' COMMENTARY
Years later, in his autobiography, Michael VIII wrote: "Should I dare
to claim that I was God's instrument to bring freedom to the
Sicilians, then I should only be stating the truth." But as Runciman
observes, with or without
Byzantine gold, it was the proud people of
Sicily alone who fought against their armed oppressor; and "However it
may have been plotted and prepared, it was that one March evening of
Palermo that brought down King Charles' empire."
* Runciman, Steven, The Sicilian Vespers, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1958, ISBN 0-521-43774-1 .
Lu rebellamentu di Sichilia , lu quale Hordinau e Fichi pari
Misser Iohanni in Procita contra Re Carlu is still located in the
Central Library in Palermo. Whether it is a contemporary narrative or
not hinges on the interpretation of one word in the text. Runciman (p.
329) describes these words as "putirini", the first person plural, vs
"putirisi" the impersonal tense.
* The earliest narrative source for the
Vespers is the Sicilian
Lu rebellamentu di Sichilia , written perhaps as early as
1287. It credits
John of Procida
John of Procida with organising the overthrow of the
French and portrays him in a positive light. Two later Tuscan Guelph
Liber Jani de Procida et Palialoco and the Leggenda di
Messer Gianni di Procida , possibly relying on the Rebellamentu or the
Rebellamentu's lost source, follow it in stressing John's involvement,
but they portray him in a more critical light. The Liber, as its title
suggests, emphasises John's negotiations with Michael VIII
* Besides these there are two Florentine chronicles of importance.
The Leggenda was once thought to be a source for the
Nuova Cronica of
Giovanni Villani , itself a source for the Vespers.
Brunetto Latini ,
in his Tesoro, similarly adopts the Sicilian version of events, which
includes the earliest version of the rape. The Tuscan Liber turns the
rape story around, suggesting the Sicilian woman had pulled a knife on
her French suitor when his friends came to aid him.
Vespers (1846), by Francesco Hayez.
* The Catholic Encyclopedia . A description of all prayer 'Offices'
is given therein… Vespers, Matins, Laudes… etc.
* Jordan, L'Allemagne et l'Italie, at pp. 219–221. This is the
best source of the blasphemous and cunning character of Frederick II
* Bäthgen, Die Regentschaft Papst Innocenz III im Konigreich
Sizilien describes Frederick's minority. See also Van Cleve, Markward
of Anweiler; and Luchaire, Innocent III, vol. III; and Rome et
l'Italie, pp. 153–204. Jordan, (supra) at pp. 272–74 discusses the
origin of the Geulf and
Ghibelline factions. See also,
Hefele-Leclercq, Historie des Conciles vol VI, I, pp. 6–9.
* Chalandon, Historie de la Domination Normande en Italia, vol. I,
pp. 189–211, 327–54. These are excellent sources describing the
Norman Conquest of
Sicily by the Guiscard family. For their
rule in Sicily, see vol. II, passim.
REFERENCES IN CULTURE
* The massacre of the French garrison of
Bruges by the city's
populace in 1302 was termed "
Bruges Matins " in tribute to the
* The present (but composed in 1847 and set to music in 1848)
National anthem , "Il Canto degli Italiani", popularly known
as "Fratelli d\'Italia " ("Brothers of Italy"): "Il suon d'ogni
squilla / i vespri sonò" (with reference to the past uprisings of the
Italian people against foreign rulers, occurring again in these
* Reflecting the dual significance of the events to both France and
Giuseppe Verdi 's
Les vêpres siciliennes was originally
written for the
Paris Opera but is usually performed in the Italian
I vespri siciliani .
Francesco Hayez painted a series on the Sicilian Vespers,
beginning in 1821.
OTHER USES OF THE TERM
* In 1594, when the French King Henry IV was taking some tedious
peace negotiations with the Spanish ambassador in France, bored with
the unwillingness of the Spaniards to accept his terms, he stated that
the King of Spain should behave with more humility, for if not, he
could easily invade Spanish territories in Italy, stating that "My
armies could move so fast that I would have breakfast in Milan and
dine in Rome." Whereupon the Spanish ambassador replied "Now then, if
that is so, Your Majesty would surely make it to
Sicily in time for
* Having previously arranged the murder of mafia boss Joe Masseria
on 15 April 1931 in order to consolidate organized crime in New York
Salvatore Maranzano , mafia boss
Lucky Luciano then ordered
the murders of Maranzano and those cappos of Maranzano and Masseria
whom Luciano saw as threats. These murders allegedly occurred on
September 10, 1931 which marked the end of the
Castellammarese War in
New York City
New York City and in mafia parlance is known as the Night of the
Sicilian Vespers. This was later proved to be mostly a myth in mafia
culture as no hard evidence exists that all these murders – outside
of Maranzano and a few others – actually occurred.
* Sicilian-born brothers David and Francis Rifugiato named their
short-lived band "The Sicilian Vespers" after this event. They
released one album on
Profile Records in 1988.
* Operation Sicilian
Vespers (1992–98) , an internal security
operation involving the collaborative forces of the Italian Armed
Forces and local police in the fight against the mafia in Sicily
* ^ Crowe The History of France Vol1, pp.287
* ^ Possien Les Vêpres siciliennes, ou Histoire de l'Italie au
XIIIe siècle, pp.123
* ^ Runciman, Steven (1958). The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the
Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. pp. 26ff. ISBN 0-521-43774-1 .
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, pp. 16ff.
Pope Alexander IV literally shopped around for a buyer for the
crown of Sicily. In 1256 King
Henry III of England
Henry III of England agreed to buy the
crown for his son Edmund for 135,541 German marks. He raised secular
and church taxes in England and paid the
Pope 60,000 marks, but could
raise no more. The people and clergy of England refused to be taxed
any further to enable an English prince to sit on the Sicilian throne.
On December 18, 1258
Pope Alexander issued a bull releasing Henry from
his obligation to buy the throne, but he kept the 60,000 marks already
paid (cf. Runciman, Chapter 4)
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 212.
* ^ "Sicilian Vespers". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved
* ^ Because the city's borders have expanded over the centuries,
the church is now within the city limits.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 115.
* ^ Tournatore, Matteo G. C., Arba Sicula (Sicilian Dawn), Journal
of Sicilian Folklore and Literature, Vol XXV, Numira 1 & 2, pp. 47ff.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 218.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 220.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 219.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian
Vespers p. 216, citing Nicholas Specialis,
Historia Sicula, pp. 924ff.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 214.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 201.
* ^ See Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 227, citing Bartholomew of
Neocastro, Historia Sicula, p. 24.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 228.
* ^ M. Palaeologus, De Vita sua Opusculum, 9, IX, pp. 537–38.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 256.
* ^ Pirenne 1915 , p. 146-147.
* ^ Runciman, Sicilian Vespers, p. 287.
* ^ Critchley, David (2009). The Origin of Organized Crime in
New York City
New York City Mafia, 1891–1931. New York: Routledge.
ISBN 0-415-99030-0 .
* ^ allmusic ((( Sicilian
Vespers > Overview )))
* ^ CD Baby: THE SICILIAN VESPERS: The Sicilian Vespers
* Historia Sicula