© by David Taylor
The Angevin rule of southern Italy following the death of Robert the Wise in 1343 to the beginning of Spanish rule almost exactly a century later was marked by everything we might like to associate with the late Middle Ages: plots and counter-plots, courtly love, betrayals and intrigues, battles, sieges, bullying barons and long-suffering serfs.
Robert was succeeded by his young granddaughter, Joanna of Anjou. She had been married at the tender age of seven to Andrew (aged 6) of the Hungarian branch of the House of Anjou but, although it had been made clear that the prince would remain only her Consort and have no claim on the crown, Andrew soon made known his demands to be crowned along with Joanna. The delay in the coronation created by this demand so destabilized the kingdom that in 1343 the Pope intervened to annul Robert's will and sent his Cardinal to take control. Unpopular as this move was, it calmed the situation sufficiently for the Pope to allow Joanna to be crowned in Santa Chiara in August, 1344.
Once established, Joanna resisted further interference in her rule. This apparently included a plot to remove her troublesome husband through a staged hunting accident. Forewarned by the Queen's cousin, Charles of Durazzo, Andrew managed to escape. Nevertheless, shortly afterwards, following a banquet in the Castle of Aversa, Andrew was called from his chamber on urgent business only to be assaulted, hanged from the window by a silken cord and dropped, lifeless into the garden.
Joanna claimed to have slept throughout the murder and her reluctance to investigate her husband's death prompted the Pope and the governors of Naples to organise an inquiry. The Pope, perhaps fearing that he too would be implicated when Louis of Hungary came seeking vengeance for his brother, ruled that not even Joanna should be exempt of punishment if proven guilty.
The perpetrators of the plot were finally punished when agitated crowds formed around Castel Nuovo demanding their names and extracting them through public torture of Raymond of Catania, who had issued forth with armed men to quell the crowd only to find himself overwhelmed. Joanna, remarried to Louis of Taranto and still suspected by many of conspiring against her husband, desperately sought diplomatic means of stopping the Hungarian avengers. Nonetheless, in 1347, Louis marched against Naples, finding support for his cause as he approached his objective. Joanna fled to her French domains leaving her family to make their own way to freedom, and instructions to the city not to offer resistance. Charles of Durazzo remained in the city, assuming, after his attempts to stop the hunting plot against Andrew, that he should have nothing to fear. Instead he found himself condemned to death and his fellow princes imprisoned. Louis then unleashed his troops on a defenceless Naples and the city was sacked and pillaged. When the main body of Hungarians finally withdraw from the city they took much of the city's wealth with them and left some of their number behind to occupy the principal castles. Their continued presence made it difficult for Joanna to re-establish herself upon her return in 1348. Louis was to return on a second expedition but this one failed at the walls of Naples as the city was this time prepared to defend itself.
Queen Joanna, widowed again in 1360 made an unfortunate marriage into the Aragonese family but, widowed yet again in 1375, had her fourth and final husband chosen for her by the Pope. The German groom, Otto of Brunswick was a fine warrior who led the Neapolitan army with great courage and a firm hand and looked set to establish peace in the realm until Joanna threw in her lot with the anti-Pope against Pope Urban VI. Having backed the wrong side, she found herself excommunicated and her rule declared void. The Pope offered the crown to Louis of Hungary who declined and passed it to his nephew, Charles of Durazzo.
Charles was solemnly crowned King Of Sicily (Sicily was still the official name of the kingdom despite Sicily itself being firmly in the hands of the Spanish House of Aragon) and Jerusalem in Rome, 1381, and one month later marched on Naples to claim his throne. Otto of Brunswick marched the Neapolitan army to the confines of the Papal State to hold Charles' progress whilst Joanna sought aid from France. Otto found himself fighting a rearguard action back to Naples and the narrow streets of the city became a battlefield on which Otto was finally defeated at great cost both to the combatants and to innocent citizens. Queen Joanna had no further recourse other than to surrender, and she and Otto were imprisoned in Castel dell'Ovo, from where Joanna was transferred to Castle Muro in Lucania where she died, suffocated, some would have it, at the order of Charles.
Charles III's reign lasted for five years until 1386, during which time he was at pains to refortify the castles of the city and gain the trust of his subjects. Both were essential as means of keeping his rival for the throne, Louis of Anjou, at bay. Pope Urban VI chose this period to transfer his residence to Naples, the better to be able to influence affairs of state but found strong resistance to his interference in the Royal Prerogative and eventually deemed it wiser to remove from Naples for his own safety. By 1385 Charles had also become King of Hungary following the death of Louis but the aggressive king met an early death there in a trap laid for him by the widowed queen of Hungary.
For Charles' Queen, Margaret, and his heir, Ladislaus, there followed ten years of virtual exile in Gaeta whilst Naples witnessed an intense power struggle involving Pope, Anti-Pope and parties supporting different claimants to the throne. Ladislaus returned to make his claim in 1394, attacking Naples with an army of 10,000. It took months of fighting, though, before Louis II of Anjou surrendered the city to him. Ladislaus ruled until his death in 1414, when the crown passed to his sister Joanna II.
This queen's reign was to prove the last of the Houses of Anjou and Durazzo. Already 43 when she took power, she inherited a kingdom of a most warlike and turbulent character. Even within the court at Naples the intrigues reached such a state that the Queen had her husband a virtual prisoner and her favourites and lovers did little to keep their roles secret. The Barons took opportunity to increase their own power bases and generally developed further the tendency to give their allegiance to whomsoever had the balance of power at that moment. Between 1419 and 1421, Joanna II, under extreme pressure from opponents to her rule, looked towards the Spanish of Sicily for aid and thus gave them their long-awaited opportunity to gain a foothold in the mainland capital. Twenty years of pacts and plots later the death of Queen Joanna II in 1435 created a power vacuum in which the Angevins and the Aragonese declared open war on each other, the outcome of which was the beginning of the rule of Alphonso the Magnanimous of the House of Aragon and the reuniting of the two realms of Naples and Sicily.Keeping Up With the Joans]