Naples:life,death &
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Number 74 in this series. Link to all items here.


Maria d'Enghien (1367-1446)

    

Countess of Lecce! Princess of Taranto! Queen of Naples! —beautiful, intrepid and just. Holy halberd, Bat Knight! I keep falling for lovely and powerful women in the history of southern Italy. (That tells you more about me than you want to know; indeed, it tells ME more about me than I want to know!) Forget Sichelgaita and Maria Sophia (at least for now, but I reserve the right to be fickle). Here it is 600 years later, and they have been holding yearly reenactments in Taranto since 1998 of Maria d'Enghien’s marriage in that city. What kind of women inspires that sort of devotion? I don’t know, but I’m sure she looked exactly like the delightful woman chosen for the 2008 version (photo, right, by Nicola Calembo.)


With the passing of the original Norman dynasty that had ruled Sicily and southern Italy, and then the passing away of their successors, the Hohenstaufens (most prominent of whom was Frederick II), the entire territory in theory passed to the Angevin dynasty when they took over the kingdom in 1266. They moved the capital to the city of Naples, where by the early 1300s they finished the Castel Nuovo (Maschio Angioino) and then the Sant' Elmo fortress as symbols of their power. Yet the conquest was not solid at all; the new rulers of the south promptly lost the vast island of Sicily to the Aragonese after a revolt known as the Sicilian Vespers. (That division of the south into Sicily and mainland gave rise to the familiar expression, “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.”) Furthermore, on the mainland there was a constant and complicated power struggle between the two Angevin dynastic lines: the Angevins (from Anjou, a place-name in France) and those of Durazzo (an Albanina place-name). The whole 200 years of Angevin rule in southern Italy, with the exception of a brief, enlightened period in the early 1300s under Robert “The Wise”, was a mess fraught with intrigue, civil war, and plays for power by contending parties.

Part of that struggle involved the marriage in 1384 of the above-mentioned light of my life and countess of Lecce, Maria d’Enghien, to Raimondo Orsini Del Balzo (called “Raimondello”), Prince of Taranto, one of the wealthiest feudal lords of his times. The consolidated territories of both parties took up about half the entire Angevin Kingdom of Naples. Neither husband nor wife was bound to the Angevins or Durazzos and, thus, their holdings amounted to a large feudal state within the kingdom.

There followed about 20 years of, by most accounts, tranquility and benevolent rule in this principality within the larger kingdom of Naples.  Raimondello then made the mistake of allying himself with the Angevins, who were plotting to regain the power they had lost some years earlier to Charles III of Durazzo. This provoked Charles' son and successor, Ladislas of Durazzo (1276-1314), the ruler of the kingdom, into invading the principality in 1405. A year later, Raimondello was killed, leaving his wife, Maria, solely in charge of a besieged territory and holed up in the city of Taranto. Her forces withstood the siege and she gained the romantic reputation throughout Italy of the lone queen valiantly holding out against a powerful enemy. (Indeed, Ladislas was ambitious; he appropriated papal lands for his own use, invaded the city of Florence and even lay claim to the throne of Hungary.) After a year of failing to take Taranto, Ladislas went to plan B: he proposed marriage. That worked and Maria d’Enghien thus became the queen of Naples in 1407.

Ladislas is thought to have been poisoned in 1414. He had no heirs, so at his death the throne passed to his sister, Joan II. (She is the exception to what I said about being in love with powerful women in southern Italy; compared to Joan II, Lady MacBeth was Goldilocks.) Joan imprisoned Maria; she was freed only through the intervention of Joan's husband, James II, Count of La Marche. Maria even had her lands restored to her, and she returned to them, where she lived until 1446. Sources say that during her first “round” of rule with Raimondello as well as her short period as queen of Naples and the remainder of her life back in Lecce, she was widely admired, even beloved. She was also responsible for a remarkable piece of legislation in her principality: a legal code called the Statuta et capitula florentissimae civitatis Litii [modern Italian: Lecce], a code of jurisprudence that regulated commerce among citizens and watched over public safety and morality. No taint of treachery or 15th-century skulduggery has ever attached to her name. I wish I were 600 years younger.

 

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