Post-classical history

Charles I of Anjou (1226-1285)

Count of Provence (1246-1285), king of Sicily (1266-1285), and claimant to various Frankish principalities in Outremer and Greece.

Charles I of Anjou was born in March 1226 as the youngest child of King Louis VIII of France and Blanche of Castile. Through marriage to Beatrice, daughter of Count Raymond Berengar IV, he became count of Provence in 1246. In the same year he was invested with the appanages of Anjou and Maine by his brother King Louis IX of France.

Pope Clement IV invests Charles I of Anjou as king of Sicily, late thirteenth-century fresco. (Archivo Iconograpfico, S.A./Corbis)

Pope Clement IV invests Charles I of Anjou as king of Sicily, late thirteenth-century fresco. (Archivo Iconograpfico, S.A./Corbis)

As a result of extensive negotiations with Popes Urban IV and Clement IV, Charles was invested on 28 June 1265 with the kingdom of Sicily, with the goal of overthrowing the reigning king, Manfred of Staufen. Charles was crowned on 6 January 1266, and fought a successful campaign, which culminated in the defeat and death of Manfred at the battle of Benevento on 26 February 1266. Charles was then forced to defend his newly acquired kingdom against Manfred’s nephew, Conradin, but succeeded in defeating the young Staufen claimant in the battle of Tagliacozzo on 23 August 1268 and had him executed on 29 October of that year. Charles was now ruler of the island of Sicily as well as of the southern Italian mainland. In order to stabilize his rule, the king exiled all of the pro-Staufen partisans and nominated only Frenchmen for higher positions in the military and civil administrations; the financial administration of the kingdom was mainly in the hand of Italians from the cities of Amalfi and Ravello.

Soon after the conquest of the kingdom of Sicily, Charles became involved in affairs on the eastern coast of the Ionian Sea, because he had inherited rule over territories acquired as the dowry of Manfred’s Greek wife. These consisted of the island of Corfu (mod. Kerkira, Greece) and the strip of the Albanian coast from Durazzo (mod. Durrës, Albania) in the north to Butrint in the south. Charles was even acclaimed as king of Albania in 1272, but his real power there remained more or less limited to the maritime cities of Durazzo, Vlorë, Sopot, and Butrint. On 24 May 1267 the prince of Achaia, William II of Villehardouin, threatened by the Byzantine advance in the Peloponnese after 1261, ceded to Charles direct rule over the principality of Achaia after his death. Three days later Baldwin II, the dethroned Latin emperor of Constantinople, also recognized his sovereignty over the principality and over Manfred’s Epirotic dowry, in exchange for the promise of military help in the reconquest of Constantinople.

In 1270 Charles was obliged to take part in the crusade of his brother Louis IX against Tunis, although at the time he was already planning an expedition against Byzantium. After the death of the French king during the crusade, Charles succeeded nevertheless in concluding a very advantageous treaty with Abû ‘Abd Allâh Muhammad al-Mus- tansir, emir of Tunis (November 1270). This agreement guaranteed him the payment of a lump sum of 70,000 ounces of gold and an annual tribute of 2,777 ounces of gold.

In the following years Charles continued with his plans for the reconquest of Constantinople and continuously sent troops and foodstuffs to Greece and Albania, hoping to realize his dream of an Angevin hegemony over the Mediterranean. An important step in this direction was the acquisition of the rights to the kingdom of Jerusalem from Mary of Antioch on 15 January 1277 in return for a down payment of 1,000 gold pieces and an annual rent of 4,000livres tournois (pounds of the standard of Tours). Although the king nominated Roger of Sanseverino and Odo Poilechien as his baillis (regents), his rule in Palestine was never fully recognized, and his representatives were unable to stop the advance of the Mamlûks under Sultan Qalâwûn.

In the long term, Charles’s involvement in the affairs of Outremer only harmed his attempts to establish an Angevin hegemony in the Mediterranean. He wasted his efforts on diverse fronts instead of concentrating his forces on the defense of his Greek possessions and the reconquest of Constantinople. After the death of Prince William II (1 May 1278), the principality of Achaia did in fact fall under direct Angevin rule and was subsequently governed by regents. However, an attempt by one of the king’s captains in Albania (Hugh of Sully) to advance against Constantinople by land in 1279 failed completely. As a consequence of this disaster, Charles concluded an alliance for a combined attack by sea and by land against the Byzantine Empire with Venice and the titular Latin emperor, Philip of Courtenay, on 3 July 1281 at Orvieto.

Charles’s wider Mediterranean ambitions forced him to place an increasingly heavy burden on his subjects in the kingdom of Sicily. This, together with his restriction of the powers of the nobility and the actions of pro-Staufen expatriates, led to the uprising known as the Sicilian Vespers on 30 or 31 March 1282. This was followed by the secession of the island of Sicily from Angevin rule and the intervention of Peter III of Aragon, who was recognized by the Sicilians as their new king. Left in possession of the southern mainland of Italy, Charles tried in vain during the last years of his life to reconquer Sicily, his dreams of subjecting the Byzantine Empire already shattered. He died on 7 January 1285, in Foggia, and was succeeded in the kingdom of Naples by his son Charles II.

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