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Rather little attention has been given to the crusade that led to the French conquest of the kingdom of Sicily in 1266. Partly this is because crusading historians have preferred, until the later twentieth century, to concentrate on crusades to Jerusalem; but it is also because the conquest has frequently been portrayed as a disreputable French land grab at the expense of the local population. In recent years there has been a modest reaction against extreme expressions of either of these views. In relation to the 1266 crusade, more emphasis has been placed on the responsibility of the papacy for initiating the crusade, on the unpopularity of Frederick II in Sicily and Southern Italy (hereafter Regno) in the latter years of his reign, on the number of aristocratic exiles who fled the Regno in the reign of Frederick II's illegitimate son Manfred, and on the extent of support Charles enjoyed in certain areas after his conquest in February 1266. The outbreak of the Sicilian Vespers rebellion against Charles in March 1282 was interpreted in the past as a total condemnation of Charles's endeavours. It certainly was a severe blow to them. But the loss of the island of Sicily which followed that rebellion did not prevent the survival of the Angevin dynasty in Southern Italy until 1435. It cannot totally have lacked underpinnings. The verses written at the time shed some light on the social cement that bound the French in this episode, and therefore they deserve re-examination.
The conquest was authorized by two successive popes, Urban IV and Clement IV, as a crusade against the tyranny of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, which had been denied the right to rule at the first council of Lyon in 1245. The crusaders came from all over France and also from Provence, where Charles of Anjou was count. Although the Provençaux made up only about a quarter of his army, they were more prepared to settle in the Regno once conquered, and several important families put down roots there. Among the settlers were two distinguished troubadours, Sordello and Bertran d'Alamanon. It might therefore be expected that the conquest and the exploits of the conquerors would be commemorated in Occitan verse.
The life of Philip of Chieti, begun in Flanders but spent chiefly in southern Italy, provides a good example of continuing loyalties across distance. It shows, first, that family ties in the thirteenth century could survive geographical separations to a surprising degree, at least where aristocratic males were concerned. Second, political constraints imposed in one society could and did have an impact on another society; and, incidentally, heroism and self-sacrifice could often go unrewarded and do little good to anyone. The background to his life was the conquest in 1266 by Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis IX, of the Regno, the kingdom of Sicily and southern Italy.
The hero of the story, whom I shall refer to as Philip of Chieti, but who was usually called Philippe de Thiette in French sources, and Filippo da Chieti in Italian, was the fifth son of Guy of Dampierre, count of Flanders, by his first marriage. The date of Philip's birth is unknown, but it was probably around 1262 or 1263. According to the seventeenth-century historian of the counts of Flanders, Olivarius Vredius, Philip's parents intended him for the church. He was consequently sent to Paris where, when studying, he met Charles of Anjou, by now king of Sicily. According to Vredius, Charles was much impressed by his lively intelligence, his good appearance and his considerable stature. He therefore negotiated with Guy of Dampierre to lure Philip from his studies to a military career in Sicily. Behind this late legend there is at least some truth.
In the chapter on visitors to the Regno, it was stressed that the great majority of those Frenchmen about whom we know something came south for purposes of fighting, whether by way of religious obligation or in order to get valuable military experience. During the whole of the period 1266 to 1302, there were in southern Italy and Sicily either rebellions to be suppressed or wars against the Greeks or the Aragonese to be prepared for and then fought. Charles of Anjou was the most admired military leader of his age. To take service under him – or to a lesser extent under his successor Robert d'Artois – was to acquire skills and also reputation that would stand a man in good stead once he had returned home. (It follows that, after Robert d'Artois went back to France in November 1291, fighting in the Regno lost some of its appeal to French soldiers.)
Gathering an army to fight far from home involved organisation and paperwork that attacking one's neighbour in France did not. Methods of recruitment to the crusades of Outremer had changed vastly over the nearly two centuries between the first crusade of 1097–1100 and the Tunis crusade of Louis IX in 1270. By the time Louis IX planned his second expedition, he appreciated that he needed to be surrounded by men on whose loyalty he could rely, who were also trained in the arts of warfare.
The financial drain from France to the Regno will have affected more Frenchmen than any other aspect of the enterprise begun in 1265. Conquests come expensive, and conquerors naturally try to put the costs on to as many shoulders as possible. In their efforts to exploit all conceivable sources of revenue, Charles of Anjou and Charles II were aided by the pope, by various Italian bankers, and by a small number of faithful French lords. France could not be made to pay as much per head as Provence or the Regno; but it was squeezed in every feasible way, often with the support of the crown. So great was the effect of the initial outpouring of capital from France for the expedition of 1265–66, both in terms of ecclesiastical taxation and in terms of the money individual crusaders brought with them, that this flow has been seen as a factor contributing to the decline of the Champagne fairs, which had been the focal point of most French trade with Italian merchants since the second decade of the thirteenth century.
The initial victim of the financial drain was the French church. As a condition of attempting to eliminate the Hohenstaufen from the Regno, Charles of Anjou was promised in 1264 by Urban IV a tax of a tenth on the property and goods of the French church for three years.
As with medicine, so with law: much of the most interesting work was conducted, both in Naples and in Paris, at the royal court or in the most important courts of each country rather than within the law faculties of the universities. Lawyers in royal service have left fuller records of what they did than have physicians. But they were less likely than were physicians to leave identifiable traces of what they borrowed from where. Therefore this section is a rather loose one. Its argument is that French royal law became increasingly similar to that of the Regno in the period 1266 to c.1305, and that the facts are compatible on occasion with direct borrowing. In cases where this cannot be stated with confidence, because alternative hypotheses are also plausible, it is still worth considering possible influences from the Regno because they may yield some fresh insights on the French legal scene.
The Regno became, under Frederick II, the beacon for the legal development of western Europe in the later thirteenth century. Within a relatively compact area, the emperor was able to create his own version of law to a degree unthinkable anywhere else before 1250. Conscious as he was of the historical role of Roman emperors in legislating, it was as king of the Regno that he fulfilled this role in a thorough-going way.
As a preliminary to discussing the influence of Regno institutions and culture on France, some picture must be drawn of the kind of life led by the French who came down to the Regno, in order to assess what their opportunities were for meeting the locals or understanding the new world in which they found themselves. Clearly such opportunities were very unequally distributed. Those who had the richest cultural exchanges with locals were those who were least likely to return to France, because they had married local women and settled down in one of the towns of the Regno. Therefore they could not be very useful conduits for influence, the subject of this book. On the other hand, the majority of fighting men, who came down only for a year or two, had much more limited intercourse with the locals; they necessarily formed their impressions on a rather partial view of society. Only a small number of lay and ecclesiastical office-holders had the chance to penetrate quite deeply into this intriguingly different political, cultural or ecclesiastical set-up. But that small number comprised men and women who wielded authority when they returned to France.
Members of a large number of other French aristocratic families spent time in the Regno and either then returned to France carrying with them at least some noticeable influence from their time abroad, or decided to remain where they were, keeping in touch with their relations in France, and offering temporary hospitality to visiting members of their extended families in their new homes. One thing many of the greater families to be discussed here had in common was an interest in the eastern Mediterranean well before Charles of Anjou's conquest of the Regno. For such families, the disappearance of the Hohenstaufen and the emergence of the Angevins as the ruling house in southern Italy and Sicily channelled their dreams in slightly new directions; but it did not alter those dreams themselves. In practice, many of these found themselves doing more for Charles and his successors than the Angevins were prepared to do for them. By contrast, other lesser families who had been intimately bound up with the Angevin dynasty before the conquest and came to the Regno purely to follow their lord usually found their services reasonably well rewarded.
Of the families of the higher aristocracy, the most distinguished were the Courtenays who had been major figures in European society from 1216, the date at which Pierre de Courtenay became Latin emperor of Constantinople.
Charles of Anjou's conquest of the Sicilian Regno in 1266 transformed relations between France and the kingdom of Sicily. This original study of contact and exchange in the Middle Ages explores the significance of the many cultural, religious and political exchanges between the two countries, arguing that the links were more diverse and stronger than simply the rulers' family connections. Jean Dunbabin shows how influence flowed as much from south to north as vice versa, and that France was strongly influenced by the experiences of those who returned after years of fighting in the Regno. As well as considering the experiences of notable crusading families, she sheds new light on the career of Robert II d'Artois, who virtually ruled the Regno for six years before returning to France to remodel the government of Artois. This comparative history of two societies offers an important perspective on medieval Western Europe.
The chief concern of this book is direct links between the Regno and northern France. But a brief section must be devoted to those areas that belonged to the Angevins, either within or on the borders of what Louis IX would have recognised as his realm. These, Anjou and Maine, Provence, and Tonnerre, were all places in which Frenchmen, either inhabitants or visitors, might make contact with customs or ideas that originated in the Regno. None of these was particularly important as a channel of communication, and two (Anjou and Maine and Tonnerre) did not fulfill this role for long. But all may well have been more influential than the surviving record shows; and all had at least some impact.
Anjou and Maine
Although Anjou and Maine did form an indirect channel of communication, and we shall deal with this aspect later, it also offers a case study of an area of northern France that felt the impact, direct and strong if brief, of the adventure in the Regno. Charles became count of Anjou and Maine in August 1246 through the gift of his brother, Louis IX. He had been established there for twenty years before the battle of Benevento, and seems to have been a reasonably popular figure.
The route between Paris and Naples came to be very well trodden in the years from 1266 to 1305. Long-distance travel in the middle ages was never comfortable nor particularly safe; brigandage by land and piracy by sea always threatened. But this was not, by contemporary standards, a difficult journey. That Charles of Anjou had already been count of Provence for twenty years before he became king of the Regno was the crucial fact in easing the traveller's way. After 1271 (the date of the death of Alphonse of Poitiers), a Parisian might travel through land belonging either to the king of France or to the count of Anjou (Charles) until he got to the Italian border. This route would take him through northern France, then across the Loire at Tours and then south to Languedoc. The alternative way, taken by Gui de Dampierre in 1270, was through Burgundy and then down the Rhône to Provence. Each of these was well protected and provided with inns; royal coinage was accepted everywhere. The traveller probably entered Provençal territory at Avignon, or perhaps Tarascon. Here he would have to exchange his gold or his livres parisis for Count Charles's money, which he might well be unwilling to do, especially when the effects of debasement were clearly felt on the coinage of Provence. But he would still be protected by comital officials on his path to Marseilles (or just occasionally Nice), and there were comital stables at which he could rest his horses.
The Capetian dynasty has long enjoyed a reputation for brilliance in the forging of an image of kingship. From the earliest years of political weakness, the family had striven to elevate its status by casting kingship in a sacral aura. It might therefore seem pointless to speculate that the French kings could owe anything to their cousins in the Regno, who after all only obtained their crown during the reign of St Louis, the king noted for doing more than any other French ruler to enhance the reputation of the office he fulfilled. Yet there is at least one aspect of thinking about later medieval French kingship which was consciously formed by Charles of Anjou, and which came to have a profound effect on later generations: that of the beata stirps (saintly lineage). Since Charles was already king of the Regno before any sign of this development appeared, it seems reasonable to ascribe it to his experience beyond the borders of France, and to the connections his family had made with the Hungarian royal family, where beata stirps was already well entrenched.
In 1269, Charles began negotiations with Stephen V of Hungary to secure a double marriage with the Hungarian royal family; his eldest son Charles was to marry Maria, Stephen's daughter, and Stephen's son Ladislas – the future Ladislas IV – was to marry Charles's daughter Isabelle. In defence of his choice, Charles described Stephen as ‘a valiant, strong prince, descended from a line of saints and great kings’.
That the French kingdom might be indebted to the Regno in administrative practices should arouse no surprise. Whether by deliberate innovation to make central government more efficient or by a pragmatic response to circumstances that pushed him in the same direction, the emperor Frederick II had created a body of civil servants in the localities of his realm and channels of communication between them and his court that appear to have been reasonably efficient in carrying out his orders. Charles of Anjou maintained or restored Frederick's work. Most historians have regarded the governmental inheritance of the Angevin kings in the Regno as far in advance of (in the sense of being more bureaucratic than) what prevailed in France in 1266. Given the exposure, on occasion prolonged, of many French administrators to the courts of Charles I and Charles II, some copying is therefore almost to be expected. In a context like this, the historian is bound to wonder, for example, whether the increasingly dirigiste line taken by Philippe III towards foreign merchants in France was a reflection of what he had seen in Charles of Anjou's realm. But wondering is far from knowing. And the differences between the two kingdoms make long-lasting effects of exact copying hard to achieve.
Between 1266 and about 1305, messengers flew almost ceaselessly between the royal court at Paris and the royal court in Naples. Sometimes the two courts were in complete harmony; more often there were minor strains between them; only occasionally (as in 1303, when Charles II solidly backed Boniface VIII after Anagni) did a temporary breach occur. But even then, there was cause for negotiation, for an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters. For almost the whole of the reign of Philippe III (1270–85), contact was regular; and although Philippe IV (1285–1314) was less closely involved in the fate of the Regno than his father, and his own interests coincided less easily with those of Charles II than his father's had with Charles I's, there were still many urgent matters to be discussed between them. So in Paris, major events in the Regno were regularly commented on, as is attested in the chronicle of the Saint-Denis monk Guillaume de Nangis.
Charles of Anjou's conquest of the Regno would not have been possible without the consent and active support of Louis IX (1228–70) of France. There have been those who thought it was given reluctantly; but few modern historians follow this line. By the time Charles set off in 1265, Louis was convinced that the Regno must be in safe hands before Outremer could be given the help it so desperately needed.