Charles of Anjou arrived victorious in Naples in 1266 to begin the two centuries of Angevin rule of southern Italy, which established Naples as a European capital and continued the tradition of the southern monarchy whilst the rest of Italy was fragmenting into city communes and states.
Having defeated and killed
the Swabian ruler Manfred in battle, Charles quickly
began to secure his position by imprisoning all
supporters of the imperial designs of the Teutons. There
remained, though, one obstacle to his safe
establishment on the throne of Naples and Sicily:
Corradino. This legal heir to Frederick II lived
out of harm's way in Germany but within a year,
Corradino, still only fourteen years old, was marching
through Italy to claim his birthright. Their armies met
in decisive battle at Tagliacozzo, on the border between
Abruzzo and Lazio and a defeated Corradino, attempting
to flee Italy, was taken prisoner in Terracina and
brought to Naples.
Charles needed to
establish his kingship and knew that whilst the young
pretender lived, he would be a rallying point for the
pro-imperial Ghibelline party. The young Corradino was,
therefore, unceremoniously beheaded in Piazza del Mercato in
Naples. It was an act which shook the mediaeval world
but it was politically decisive and undertaken in the
knowledge that no opposition would be forthcoming from
the Church, which had, after all, invited Charles into
Italy precisely to remove the Swabian presence.
Now able to concentrate on his kingdom,
Charles I transferred the capital from Palermo to
Naples. This allowed him to be closer to the center of
his interests, which included being a Roman Senator,
lands in Provence and a desire to expand to the East.
The decision conferred great prestige on Naples and
placed it on equal footing with the other major European
capitals in terms of trade and as a diplomatic centre.
This prestige would be matched by the monuments which
the Angevin Kings and Queens bestowed upon the city. On
the negative side, the Neapolitans discovered that it
was expensive to maintain a king and his court,
especially as large sections of the
population—principally the church and the wealthy — were
exempt from taxation. The brunt of the cost had to be
born by the less-wealthy sections. Added to this was the
predilection, shared by the first three kings in the
line, to amass wealth and debts.
Charles I's expansionist
plans were rudely upset when, in 1282, the revolt known
as the Sicilian
Vespers took place. Much of the Charles'
attention was taken up in trying to reconquer Sicily,
which had elected Peter of the Spanish House of Aragon
as its King. Not only did the Angevins long fail to
retake Sicily but at times risked finding themselves on
the receiving end. The skillful Admiral of the Sicilian
fleet, Roger of Lauria, even managed to take Ischia and
Capri and, despite the intervention of the Pope and
Philip III of France on the side of the Angevins,
managed to draw Charles (heir to Charles I) into a naval
battle just outside the Bay of Naples. Charles had
disobeyed his father's orders to stay within the port
and protect the city from attack. He had ample time to
dwell upon the sense of obeying one's father for the
Neapolitan fleet was utterly destroyed and Charles taken
prisoner. (Also see this link
for more on the Sicilian Vespers.)
Coming to the end of his life, Charles found that, other than having to negotiate for the release of his son, many of his southern territories were rallying around the Aragonese banner. Tired and disenchanted, he passed away in 1285 having declared his nephew, Charles Martello, heir in the absence of Charles. Peter of Aragon also died soon thereafter.
Charles II was finally
released in 1289 but another six years were to pass
before he was finally able to obtain a truce with the
Aragonese. As a result of this truce the Aragonese
became recognizably allied to the Angevins and there
followed a period of pacts, negotiations and
inter-family marriages, all aimed at resolving the
problem of Sicily. Robert, heir and third born son of
Charles II (the first died and the second, Ludwig, took
the cloth and was eventually canonized) and his sister
were married to Sancia and Sancio, the children of King
James of Sicily. With the two royal houses now linked by
marriage, Charles II was able to consider that a long
and complicated period of struggle had ended and felt
free to pay a long-postponed visit to his territories in
Provence. On his return to Naples in
1308, he died and was succeeded by Robert.
Crowned King of Sicily and Naples in August, 1310, Robert proved to be the most highly thought of amongst the Angevin rulers. A dignified and coherent king, he led the pro-church Guelph party, with a religious zeal that often verged upon bigotry (in private he was often less than saintly, occasionally needing calling to order for his womanizing), in a period when the Ghibellin party was pressurizing for a return of an emperor. Many of their Ghibellin hopes rested on Arrigio VII of Luxemburg, who was indeed crowned emperor and then quickly declared himself an ally of Frederick of Sicily. Inclement weather, in the form of flooding and Clement V, in the form of an excommunication, prevented Arrigio from immediately attacking Naples. The threat was finally removed by Arrigio's death in August, 1313.
King Robert's role as protector reaped him great prestige and riches in the form of subsidies from Florence and other Guelph communes. Robert and, consequently, Naples had opportunity to develop in status and wealth. In the course of his reign he also became indebted to some of the most illustrious Florentine bankers, repaying them in kind with import permits, and mortgage rights on income from taxes and import duties.
Funds were made available for an invasion of Sicily but the landing carried out in 1314 failed so abysmally that several years were to pass before anyone seriously thought of another attempt, especially as Robert had to concern himself with further troubles from the north, this time in the form of Ludwig of Bavaria, a new manifestation of the Ghibellin party's determination to have a new Holy Roman Emperor.
By the time of his death at the beginning of 1343, Robert had established himself a superb reputation. "The wise King Robert", "the new Solomon", "the peace-maker of Italy" may have failed to live up to the hopes of those who thought he might achieve the unification of Italy, but he had built largely on those advantages established by the first two Angevin Kings. Naples was now beginning to look like a mediaeval capital due to the splendid buildings and monuments bestowed by these monarchs, who freely availed themselves of craftsmen and artists from the great artistic centres of mediaeval Italy. Many traders and craftsmen from other Italian states and overseas had also set up operations in and around the capital city, adding to its vitality.
Within the reigns of these
three kings, building had begun or was nearing
completion on some of Naples most important monuments,
including Maschio Angioino
(greatly modified in mid-15th century), the Church of Saint Eligio, The Duomo, San Lorenzo, Santa Chiara (location of
Robert's magnificent funeral monument) and San Martino. Indeed, much of the
splendour of medieval (and modern) Naples stems from the
first part of the Angevin rule, and although kings and
queens of the line were to rule until the end of the
century, it was of these kings, and Robert in
particular, that writers and historians would continue
to write longingly about for the next century — harking
back to the days of Robert the Wise, when Petrach was
presenting himself before the King, and Boccaccio was
wandering around the Court, spurning his native
Florence, "devoured by innumerable cares" for the
inspiration of "happy, peaceful, generous and