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Monarchs: Kings and Queens of Sicily
by Luigi Mendola

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The Norman lion of Sicily and England.At the dawn of the Middle Ages, in the waning years of the Western Roman Empire, following a brief occupation by Vandals and Goths, Sicily came under the rule of the Eastern or "Byzantine" Roman Empire, whose imperial capital was Constantinople (Byzantium, now Istanbul). Their Sicilian capital was Syracuse, from whence one Byzantine Emperor actually ruled for a few years. At first the "Byzantine Empire" was solid, but over time Constantinople's internecine turmoil left its western provinces under-protected, and by the eighth century, with Islam on the march westward, Sicily was vulnerable. A series of ninth-century incursions brought the Arabs (Saracens and Moors) and Berbers of northern Tunisia to Sicily, where these Muslim peoples established several emirates, the most important being based at the formerly Punic city of Bal'harm (Palermo). Owing token fealty to their lords the Fatimids and Kalbids, these emirs controlled Sicily until the arrival of the Normans at Messina in 1061. Led by Robert "Guiscard" of Hauteville and his younger brother Roger, these adventurers finally captured Palermo in an epic battle by land and sea a decade later - in the meantime a few of their knights fought at the Battle of Hastings, in England, in 1066, where their naval experience at the Strait of Messina proved an asset and perhaps even a deciding factor.

Thus began Sicily's multicultural Golden Age under a series of inspired monarchs descended from the Hautevilles, an era culminating with the death of the remarkable Frederick II, Roger's great grandson, in 1250. Until then, and indeed for a few years afterward, the Kingdom "of Sicily" encompassed most of the Italian peninsula south of Rome. Only after the War of the Vespers (in 1282) did Naples emerge as a royal capital with its own sovereign. The fact that both Charles of Anjou (in Naples) and his rival Peter of Aragon (in Palermo) claimed the Sicilian crown contemporaneously led to the phrase the Two Sicilies. Over time, owing partly to dynastic inheritance, the twin realms - insular Sicily and peninsular Naples - were occasionally ruled by the same monarch, at once King of Naples and King of Sicily (and sometimes, as it happened, also King of Spain or Holy Roman Emperor). Only in 1816 were the two nations formally united, or reunited, to form the state known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In 1861 this kingdom, then the most prosperous of the Italian states, was annexed to the new Kingdom of Italy.

Salic Law, and with it the principle of succession through male primogeniture, prevailed, but there were actually several queens of Sicily who, whether as regents during a son's minority or during a complicated interregnum, effectively ruled Sicily in their own right. Three that come to mind are Margaret of Navarre, widow of William I and mother of William II, from 1166, Constance, daughter of Roger II and mother of Frederick II, briefly from the death of her husband Henry VI in 1197, and young Mary of Aragon following the death of her father in 1377.

The Normans and Swabians brought feudalism and other European ideas to Sicily, in the process gradually latinizing the language and church while introducing such things as heraldry, thus integrating the island into the Latin, Papal "West," whereas for six centuries it had found itself in the Byzantine and Arab worlds.

In the list that follows, we've omitted pretenders. For example, under Papal auspices, Edmund "Crouchback" Plantagenet, son of Henry III of England, claimed the Sicilian crown from 1254 to 1263, but only from a distance. Until the eighteenth century, there was a strong hereditary basis for the legitimacy of most Kings of Sicily - Charles of Anjou's Papal appointment being the exception - even where this was tenuous. In particular, Constance, the wife of Peter of Aragon, was the daughter and universal heir of Manfred Hohenstaufen, an illegitimate but recognised son of Frederick II, so when her own son, James, became king of Sicily in 1285, he could rightly claim to have restored at least a few drops of Hohenstaufen blood to the Sicilian throne.

Kingship in Sicily was not much different from what existed elsewhere in Western Europe. Until 1392 their official residence was Palermo's Norman Palace; for a few centuries thereafter it was Steri Castle, which eventually became the viceroys' residence.

It was during the fifteenth century that the viceroys arrived, and henceforth Sicily's kings - who were also monarchs in Spain or elsewhere - rarely set foot on the island, though the arrival of the Bourbons in 1734 improved matters somewhat.

Sicily has been much contested over time, a fact reflected in the diversity of the dynasties who conquered the island kingdom. What shred of Sicilian sovereignty survived into the nineteenth century ended with the controversial Risorgimento movement and the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Here the reign of each sovereign is indicated. Numeration is based on reigns as Kings of Sicily, so Emperor Frederick II is listed as King Frederick I of Sicily, while Emperor Charles V is King Charles II of Sicily. See our timeline for specific events.

House of Hauteville (Norman) 1130-1194
1071-1101 Roger I, Great Count of Sicily (son of Tancred of Hauteville, of Normandy)
1101-1105 Simon, Great Count of Sicily (son of Roger I, died in childhood)
1105-1154 Roger II, King of Sicily (younger brother of Simon) crowned 1130
1154-1166 William I "the Bad" (son of Roger II)
1166-1189 William II "the Good" (son of William I)
1189-1194 Tancred I (illegitimate son of Roger, Duke of Apulia)

House of Hohenstaufen (Swabian) 1194-1266
1194-1197 Henry I (Emperor Henry VI)
1197-1198 Constance (daughter of Roger II), Regent
1197-1250 Frederick I (Emperor Frederick II)
1250-1254 Conrad I (son of Frederick)
1254-1268 Conrad II "Conradin" (son of Conrad)
1258-1266 Manfred (illegitimate son of Frederick II)

House of Anjou (French) 1266-1282
1266-1282 Charles I of Naples (son of Louis VII of France, brother of Louis IX)

House of Aragon (of Barcelona) 1282-1409
1282-1285 Peter I (Peter III of Aragon, son of James I)
1285-1296 James (son of Peter I)
1296-1336 Frederick II (younger brother of James)
1337-1342 Peter II (son of Frederick II)
1342-1355 Louis (son of Peter II)
1355-1377 Frederick III "the Simple" (younger brother of Louis)
1377-1401 Mary (daughter of Frederick III)
1395-1409 Martin I "the Younger" (son of Martin of Aragon, below) wed Mary
1409-1410 Martin II "the Elder" (father of Martin I, above, son of Peter IV of Aragon)

House of Trastámara (of Castile) 1410-1516
1410-1416 Ferdinand I, son of John I of Castile
1416-1458 Alfonso "the Magnanimous" (son of Ferdinand)
1458-1468 John (younger brother of Alfonso)
1468-1516 Ferdinand II "the Catholic," King of Spain, son of John II of Aragon

House of Hapsburg (Spain) 1516-1713
1516-1554 Charles II (Emperor Charles V), King of Spain, son of Philip I of Castile
1554-1598 Philip I (son of Emperor Charles V, above), Philip II of Spain
1598-1621 Philip II (son of Philip I, above), Philip III of Spain
1621-1665 Philip III (son of Philip II, above), Philip IV of Spain
1665-1700 Charles III (son of Philip III, above), Charles II of Spain

House of Bourbon (Spain) 1700-1713
1700-1713 Philip IV (son of Louis, Dauphin of France) Philip V of Spain,

House of Savoy (Piedmont) 1713-1720
1713-1720 Vittorio Amedeo, son of Carlo Emmanuele II, Duke of Savoy

House of Hapsburg (Austria) 1720-1734
1720-1734 Charles IV, son of Emperor Leopold I

House of Bourbon (Two Sicilies) 1734-1816
1734-1759 Charles V (later Charles III of Spain), son of Philip V of Spain (above)
1759-1825 Ferdinand III (from 1816 Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies), son of Charles
1825-1830 Francis I of the Two Sicilies, son of Ferdinand, above
1830-1859 Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, son of Francis, above
1859-1861 Francis II of the Two Sicilies (died in exile 1894), son of Ferdinand II.

About the Author: Historian Luigi Mendola has written for various publications, including this one.

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© 2012 Luigi Mendola and Best of Sicily