Gothic Quarter

The Sicilian Vespers

The Vespers and its meaning for Catalonia

In 1282 Charles of Anjou, brother of French King Louis the Holy, was the most powerful ruler in the Mediterranean. At this moment he was both King of Sicily, Jerusalem and Albania, count of Provence, Forcalquier, Anjou and Maine and ruler of Achaea, Tunisia and senator in Rome. Charles' plans were now to make its power permanent by the conquest of Istanbul.

During the fourth crusade (in 1204) Constantinople had become a Latin kingdom, but already in 1261 it had fallen in Byzantine hands. With the conquest of Constantinople, Charles would become emperor of a new Roman empire. In the spring of 1282 his boats were waiting in the ports of Sicily and he was ready to attack Constantinople during the month of April

Charles subestimates Catalonia and Constantinople

However, Charles seems to have sub estimated his enemies, and he realized only too late that Giovanni di Procida, the King of Aragon and Catalonia, Pere III, and the emperor of Constantinople, Michael VIII Palaeologos, had made a conspiracy. This conspiracy would now start a war between Europe's great powers: the Sicilian Vespers.

During a sermon one afternoon in the Trinity Church of Palermo, a French official, Drouet, treated a Sicilian woman badly. Her husband took a knife and killed Druet. This event triggered a massacre on the French on the island - the Sicilian population rebelled against the French officials on the island and at the end of the day at least 2000 French were dead.

The French were pulled out of their houses. In order to find out if they were Sicilian or French they were forced to pronounce a difficult sentence in local Sicilian language.

Pere III strikes against the French

The Aragon-Catalan king, Pere III, now sailed to Tunisia. Officially, he went there to start of a crusade against the infidel Muslims. But by the Tunisian coast Pere was close to Sicily. Being the husband of Constanza (who came from the Hohenstaufer family), he could be crowned as lawful heir to the Hohenstaufen kings, who had been at the island during the 12th and 13th century. This, however, would bring him into direct battle with Charles of Anjou. A battle in which the Aragon-Catalan royal power ended up drawing the longest straw, thanks to the brilliant navigator Roger de Lluria and the army of the almogaveres.

Verdi's opera, the Sicilian Vesper, retells the story of the Catalan royal family, which put an end to French domination in the late 1200’s and prevented the Roman the ingestion of Constantinople.

Runciman, Steven
          The Sicilian Vesper. A history of the mediterranean world in the later thirteenth century. Cambridge University Press, 1958. (A classic publication that have not been surpassed since its publication more than 50 years ago).

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