1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles I. (King of Naples)

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CHARLES I. (1226–1285), king of Naples and Sicily and count of Anjou, was the seventh child of Louis VIII. of France and Blanche of Castile. Louis died a few months after Charles’s birth and was succeeded by his son Louis IX. (St Louis), and on the death in 1232 of the third son John, count of Anjou and Maine, those fiefs were conferred on Charles. In 1246 he married Beatrice, daughter and heiress of Raymond Bérenger V., the last count of Provence, and after defeating James I. of Aragon and other rivals with the help of his brother the French king, he took possession of his new county. In 1248 he accompanied Louis in the crusade to Egypt, but on the defeat of the Crusaders he was taken prisoner with his brother. Shortly afterwards he was ransomed, and returned to Provence in 1250. During his absence several towns had asserted their independence; but he succeeded in subduing them without much difficulty and gradually suppressed their communal liberties. Charles’s ambition aimed at wider fields, and when Margaret, countess of Flanders, asked help of the French court against the German king William of Holland, by whom she had been defeated, he gladly accepted her offer of the county of Hainaut in exchange for his assistance (1253); this arrangement was, however, rescinded by Louis of France, who returned from captivity in 1254, and Charles gave up Hainaut for an immense sum of money. He extended his influence by the subjugation of Marseilles in 1257, then one of the most important maritime cities of the world, and two years later several communes of Piedmont recognized Charles’s suzerainty. In 1262 Pope Urban IV. determined to destroy the power of the Hohenstaufen in Italy, and offered the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, in consideration of a yearly tribute, to Charles of Anjou, in opposition to Manfred, the bastard son of the late emperor Frederick II. The next year Charles succeeded in getting himself elected senator of Rome, which gave him an advantage in dealing with the pope. After long negotiations he accepted the Sicilian and Neapolitan crowns, and in 1264 he sent a first expedition of Provençals to Italy; he also collected a large army and navy in Provence and France with the help of King Louis, and by an alliance with the cities of Lombardy was able to send part of his force overland. Pope Clement IV. confirmed the Sicilian agreement on conditions even more favourable to Charles, who sailed in 1265, and conferred on the expedition all the privileges of a crusade. After narrowly escaping capture by Manfred’s fleet he reached Rome safely, where he was crowned king of the Two Sicilies. The land army arrived soon afterwards, and on the 26th of February 1266 Charles encountered Manfred at Benevento, where after a hard-fought battle Manfred was defeated and killed, and the whole kingdom was soon in Charles’s possession. Then Conradin, Frederick’s grandson and last legitimate descendant of the Hohenstaufen, came into Italy, where he found many partisans among the Ghibellines of Lombardy and Tuscany, and among Manfred’s former adherents in the south. He gathered a large army consisting partly of Germans and Saracens, but was totally defeated by Charles at Tagliacozzo (23rd of August 1268); taken prisoner, he was tried as a rebel and executed at Naples. Charles, in a spirit of the most vindictive cruelty, had large numbers of Conradin’s barons put to death and their estates confiscated, and the whole population of several towns massacred.

He was now one of the most powerful sovereigns of Europe, for besides ruling over Provence and Anjou and the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, he was imperial vicar of Tuscany, lord of many cities of Lombardy and Piedmont, and as the pope’s favourite practically arbiter of the papal states, especially during the interregnum between the death of Clement IV. (1268) and the election of Gregory X. (1272). But his ambition was by no means satisfied, and he even aspired to the crown of the East Roman empire. In 1272 he took part with Louis IX. in a crusade to north Africa, where the French king died of fever, and Charles, after defeating the soldan of Tunis, returned to Sicily. The election of Rudolph of Habsburg as German king after a long interregnum, and that of Nicholas III. to the Holy See (1277), diminished Charles’s power, for the new pope set himself to compose the difference between Guelphs and Ghibellines in the Italian cities, but at his death Charles secured the election of his henchman Martin IV. (1281), who recommenced persecuting the Ghibellines, excommunicated the Greek emperor, Michael Palaeologus, proclaimed a crusade against the Greeks, filled every appointment in the papal states with Charles’s vassals, and reappointed the Angevin king senator of Rome. But the cruelty of the French rulers of Sicily drove the people of the island to despair, and a Neapolitan nobleman, Giovanni da Procida, organized the rebellion known as the Sicilian Vespers (see Vespers, Sicilian), in which the French in Sicily were all massacred or expelled (1282). Charles determined to subjugate the island and sailed with his fleet for Messina. The city held out until Peter III. of Aragon, whose wife Constance was a daughter of Manfred, arrived in Sicily, and a Sicilian-Catalan fleet under the Calabrese admiral, Ruggiero di Lauria, completely destroyed that of Charles. “If thou art determined, O God, to destroy me,” the unhappy Angevin exclaimed, “let my fall be gradual!” He was forced to abandon all attempts at reconquest, but proposed to decide the question by single combat between himself and Peter, to take place at Bordeaux under English protection. The Aragonese accepted, but fearing treachery, as the French army was in the neighbourhood, he failed to appear on the appointed day. In the meanwhile Ruggiero di Lauria appeared before Naples and destroyed another Angevin fleet commanded by Charles’s son, who was taken prisoner (May 1284). Charles came to Naples with a new fleet from Provence, and was preparing to invade Sicily again, when he contracted a fever and died at Foggia on the 7th of January 1285. He was undoubtedly an extremely able soldier and a skilful statesman, and much of his legislation shows a real political sense; but his inordinate ambition, his oppressive methods of government and taxation, and his cruelty created enemies on all sides, and led to the collapse of the edifice of dominion which he had raised.