1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lauria, Roger de
LAURIA (Luria or Loria) ROGER DE (d. 1305), admiral of Aragon and Sicily, was the most prominent figure in the naval war which arose directly from the Sicilian Vespers. Nothing is really known of his life before he was named admiral in 1283. His father was a supporter of the Hohenstaufen, and his mother came to Spain with Costanza, the daughter of Manfred of Beneventum, when she married Peter, the eldest son and heir of James the Conqueror of Aragon. According to one account Bella of Lauria, the admiral’s mother, had been the foster mother of Costanza. Roger, who accompanied his mother, was bred at the court of Aragon and endowed with lands in the newly conquered kingdom of Valencia. When the misrule of Charles of Anjou’s French followers had produced the famous revolt known as the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, Roger de Lauria accompanied King Peter III. of Aragon on the expedition which under the cover of an attack on the Moorish kingdom of Tunis was designed to be an attempt to obtain possession of all or at least part of the Hohenstaufen dominions in Naples and Sicily which the king claimed by right of his wife as the heiress of Manfred. In 1283, when the island had put itself under the protection of Peter III. and had crowned him king, he gave the command of his fleet to Roger de Lauria. The commission speaks of him in the most laudatory terms, but makes no reference to previous military services.
From this time forward till the peace of Calatabellota in 1303, Roger de Lauria was the ever victorious leader of fleets in the service of Aragon, both in the waters of southern Italy and on the coast of Catalonia. In the year of his appointment he defeated a French naval force in the service of Charles of Anjou, off Malta. The main object before him was to repel the efforts of the Angevine party to reconquer Sicily and then to carry the war into their dominions in Naples. Although Roger de Lauria did incidental fighting on shore, he was as much a naval officer as any modern admiral, and his victories were won by good manœuvring and by discipline. The Catalan squadron, on which the Sicilian was moulded, was in a state of high and intelligent efficiency. Its chiefs relied not on merely boarding, and the use of the sword, as the French forces of Charles of Anjou did, but on the use of the ram, and of the powerful cross-bows used by the Catalans either by hand or, in case of the larger ones, mounted on the bulwarks, with great skill. The conflict was in fact the equivalent on the water of the battles between the English bowmen and the disorderly chivalry of France in the Hundred Years’ War. In 1284 Roger defeated the Angevine fleet in the Bay of Naples, taking prisoner the heir to the kingdom, Charles of Salerno, who remained a prisoner in the hands of the Aragonese in Sicily, and later in Spain, for years. In 1285 he fought on the coast of Catalonia one of the most brilliant campaigns in all naval history. The French king Philippe le Hardi had invaded Catalonia with a large army to which the pope gave the character of crusaders, in order to support his cousin of Anjou in his conflict with the Aragonese. The king, Peter III., had offended his nobles by his vigorous exercise of the royal authority, and received little support from them, but the outrages perpetrated by the French invaders raised the towns and country against them. The invaders advanced slowly, taking the obstinately defended towns one by one, and relying on the co-operation of a large number of allies, who were stationed in squadrons along the coast, and who brought stores and provisions from Narbonne and Aigues Mortes. They relied in fact wholly on their fleet for their existence. A successful blow struck at that would force them to retreat. King Peter was compelled to risk Sicily for a time, and he recalled Roger de Lauria from Palermo to the coast of Catalonia. The admiral reached Barcelona on the 24th of August, and was informed of the disposition of the French. He saw that if he could break the centre of their line of squadrons, stretched as it was so far that its general superiority of numbers was lost in the attempt to occupy the whole of the coast, he could then dispose of the extremities in detail. On the night of the 9th of September he fell on the central squadron of the French fleet near the Hormigas. The Catalan and Sicilian squadrons doubled on the end of the enemies’ line, and by a vigorous employment of the ram, as well as by the destructive shower of bolts from the cross-bows, which cleared the decks of the French, gained a complete victory. The defeat of the enemy was followed, as usually in medieval naval wars, by a wholesale massacre. Roger then made for Rosas, and tempted out the French squadron stationed there by approaching under French colours. In the open it was beaten in its turn. The result was the capture of the town, and of the stores collected there by King Philippe for the support of his army. Within a short time he was forced to retreat amid sufferings from hunger, and the incessant attacks of the Catalan mountaineers, by which his army was nearly annihilated. This campaign, which was followed up by destructive attacks on the French coast, saved Catalonia from the invaders, and completely ruined the French naval power for the time being. No medieval admiral of any nation displayed an equal combination of intellect and energy, and none of modern times has surpassed it. The work had been so effectually done on the coast of Catalonia that Roger de Lauria was able to return to Sicily, and resume his command in the struggle of Aragonese and Angevine to gain, or to hold, the possession of Naples.
He maintained his reputation and was uniformly successful in his battles at sea, but they were not always fought for the defence of Sicily. The death of Peter III. in 1286 and of his eldest son Alphonso in the following year caused a division among the members of the house of Aragon. The new king, James, would have given up Sicily to the Angevine line with which he made peace and alliance, but his younger brother Fadrique accepted the crown offered him by the Sicilians, and fought for his own hand against both the Angevines and his senior. King James tried to force him to submission without success. Roger de Lauria adhered for a time to Fadrique, but his arrogant temper made him an intolerable supporter, and he appears, moreover, to have thought that he was bound to obey the king of Aragon. His large estates in Valencia gave him a strong reason for not offending that sovereign. He therefore left Fadrique, who confiscated his estates in Sicily and put one of his nephews to death as a traitor. For this Roger de Lauria took a ferocious revenge in two successive victories at sea over the Sicilians. When the war, which had become a ravening of wild beasts, was at last ended by the peace of Calatabellota, Roger de Lauria retired to Valencia, where he died on the 2nd of January 1305, and was buried, by his express orders, in the church of Santas Creus, a now deserted monastery of the Cistercians, at the feet of his old master Peter III. In his ferocity, and his combination of loyalty to his feudal lord with utter want of scruple to all other men, Roger belonged to his age. As a captain he was far above his contemporaries and his successors for many generations.
Signor Amari’s Guerra del Vespro Siciliano gives a general picture of these wars, but the portrait of Roger de Lauria must be sought in the Chronicle of the Catalan Ramon de Muntaner who knew him and was formed in his school. There is a very fair and well “documented” account of the masterly campaign of 1285 in Charles de la Roncière’s Histoire de la marine française, i. 189-217. (D. H.)