Sicilian Vespers
The Sicilian Vespers is the name given to the successful rebellion on the island of Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 that broke out on the Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...

 of 1282 against the rule of the French/Angevin
Capetian House of Anjou
The Capetian House of Anjou, also known as the House of Anjou-Sicily and House of Anjou-Naples, was a royal house and cadet branch of the direct House of Capet. Founded by Charles I of Sicily, a son of Louis VIII of France, the Capetian king first ruled the Kingdom of Sicily during the 13th century...

 king Charles I, who had ruled the Kingdom of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily
The Kingdom of Sicily was a state that existed in the south of Italy from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816. It was a successor state of the County of Sicily, which had been founded in 1071 during the Norman conquest of southern Italy...

 since 1266. Within six weeks three thousand French men and women were slain by the rebels and the government of King Charles lost control of the island. It was the beginning of the eponymous War of the Sicilian Vespers
War of the Sicilian Vespers
The War of the ' Vespers started with the insurrection of the Sicilian Vespers against Charles of Anjou in 1282 and finally ended with the peace of Caltabellotta in 1302...


The Papacy versus the House of Hohenstaufen

The rising had its origin in the struggle between the House of Hohenstaufen, who in the 13th century ruled Germany and most of Northern Italy, versus the Papacy for control over Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, especially the Church's private demesne
In the feudal system the demesne was all the land, not necessarily all contiguous to the manor house, which was retained by a lord of the manor for his own use and support, under his own management, as distinguished from land sub-enfeoffed by him to others as sub-tenants...

 known as the Papal States
Papal States
The Papal State, State of the Church, or Pontifical States were among the major historical states of Italy from roughly the 6th century until the Italian peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia .The Papal States comprised territories under...

. The Papal States were considered a part of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

, and laid between Hohenstaufen lands in northern Italy and the Hohenstaufen Kingdom of Sicily in the south.
In 1245 Pope Innocent IV
Pope Innocent IV
Pope Innocent IV , born Sinibaldo Fieschi, was pope from June 25, 1243 until his death in 1254.-Early life:...

 even declared Frederick to be deposed and proceeded to rouse opposition to him in Germany and Italy. When Frederick died in 1250, his dominion was inherited by his son, Conrad
Conrad IV of Germany
Conrad IV was king of Jerusalem , of Germany , and of Sicily .-Biography:...

. Upon Conrad's death in 1254, followed a period of turmoil; eventually control of the Kingdom of Sicily was seized by Manfred, Frederick's natural son, whose reign lasted from 1258 to 1266.

Manfred had no involvement in German politics, where the interregnum lasted longer and there was no Emperor until 1274. He first styled himself as vicar of his nephew Conradin
Conrad , called the Younger or the Boy, but usually known by the diminutive Conradin , was the Duke of Swabia , King of Jerusalem , and King of Sicily .-Early childhood:Conradin was born in Wolfstein, Bavaria, to Conrad...

, Conrad's son. However, later Manfred had himself crowned as King, following a false rumour that Conradin was dead. Manfred wished for a reconciliation with the Papacy (which may have explained his support for the landless Latin Emperor Baldwin II
Baldwin II of Constantinople
Baldwin II of Courtenay was the last emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople.He was a younger son of Yolanda of Flanders, sister of the first two emperors, Baldwin I and Henry of Flanders...

). However, Pope Urban IV
Pope Urban IV
Pope Urban IV , born Jacques Pantaléon, was Pope, from 1261 to 1264. He was not a cardinal, and there have been several Popes since him who have not been Cardinals, including Urban V and Urban VI.-Biography:...

 and later Pope Clement IV
Pope Clement IV
Pope Clement IV , born Gui Faucoi called in later life le Gros , was elected Pope February 5, 1265, in a conclave held at Perugia that took four months, while cardinals argued over whether to call in Charles of Anjou, the youngest brother of Louis IX of France...

 were not prepared to recognize Manfred as lawful ruler of Sicily and sought to depose him by force of arms, since excommunication proved to be insufficient.

After abortive attempts to enlist England as the champion of the Papacy against Manfred, Urban IV settled on Charles of Anjou, as his candidate for the Sicilian throne. Charles invaded Italy and defeated and killed Manfred in 1266 at the Battle of Benevento
Battle of Benevento
The Battle of Benevento was fought near Benevento, in present-day Southern Italy, on February 26, 1266, between the troops of Charles of Anjou and Manfred of Sicily. Manfred's defeat and death resulted in the capture of the Kingdom of Sicily by Charles....

, becoming King of Sicily. In 1268 Conradin, who had meanwhile come out of age, invaded Italy to press his claim to the throne but he was defeated at
the Battle of Tagliacozzo
Battle of Tagliacozzo
The Battle of Tagliacozzo was fought on 23 August 1268 between the French, Provençal, and Italian forces of Charles of Anjou and the Italian, Spanish, Roman, Arab and German troops of the Hohenstaufen army, led by Conradin , the sixteen year old Duke of Swabia and claimant to the throne of Sicily...

 and executed afterwards. Charles was now undisputed master of most of Italy.

Charles of Anjou and Sicilian unrest

Charles regarded his Sicilian territories as a springboard for his Mediterranean ambitions, which included the overthrow of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, and the capture of Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, then the richest city in the Western World. Although his rule was quite just, unrest was simmering in Sicily, owing to the fact that the island played a very subordinate role in Charles's Empire - its nobles had no share in the government of their own island and were not compensated by lucrative posts abroad, as were Charles's French, Provençal and Neaplitan subjects; also the taxes were heavy but they were spent outside Sicily, on Charles's various wars, thus hurting the economy of Sicily. As Runciman put it, "They [the Sicilians] saw themselves now being ruled to enable an alien tyrant make conquests from which they would have no benefit"

The unrest was also being fomented by agents of the Byzantine Emeperor Michael Palaeologus who was desperate to thwart Charles's projected invasion of his Empire, and of the Aragonese
Kingdom of Aragon
The Kingdom of Aragon was a medieval and early modern kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula, corresponding to the modern-day autonomous community of Aragon, in Spain...

 king Peter III
Peter III of Aragon
Peter the Great was the King of Aragon of Valencia , and Count of Barcelona from 1276 to his death. He conquered Sicily and became its king in 1282. He was one of the greatest of medieval Aragonese monarchs.-Youth and succession:Peter was the eldest son of James I of Aragon and his second wife...

, Manfred's son-in-law, who saw his wife Constance as rightful heir to the Sicilian throne.

The uprising

The event takes its name from an insurrection which began at the start of Vespers
Vespers is the evening prayer service in the Western Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies of the canonical hours...

, the sunset prayer marking the beginning of the Night Vigil on Easter Monday, March 30, 1282, at the Church of the Holy Spirit
Church of the Holy Spirit
Church of the Holy Spirit or Holy Spirit Church may refer to:* Church of the Holy Spirit * Church of the Holy Spirit * Church of the Holy Spirit * Church of the Holy Spirit...

 just outside Palermo
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...

. Because the city's borders have expanded over the centuries, the church is now within the city limits. Beginning on the night of the Vespers, thousands of Sicily's French inhabitants were massacred within six weeks. The events that started the uprising are not known for certain, but the various retellings have common elements. Only a small village called Sperlinga protected French soldiers in a Castle excavated in sandstone

According to Steven Runciman
Steven Runciman
The Hon. Sir James Cochran Stevenson Runciman CH — known as Steven Runciman — was a British historian known for his work on the Middle Ages...

, the Sicilians at the church were engaged in holiday festivities and a group of French officials came by to join in and began to drink. A sergeant named Drouet dragged a young married woman from the crowd, pestering her with his advances. Her husband then attacked Drouet with a knife, killing him. When the other Frenchmen tried to avenge their comrade the Sicilian crowd fell upon them, killing them all. At that moment all the church bells in Palermo began to ring for Vespers. Runciman best describes the mood of the night:
Of interest is the report of a Shibboleth
A shibboleth is a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important...

 used by the native Sicilians to ferret out the Frenchmen.

In the version according to Leonardo Bruni
Leonardo Bruni
Leonardo Bruni was an Italian humanist, historian and statesman. He has been called the first modern historian.-Biography:...

 (1416), the Palermitans were holding a festival outside the city when the French came up to check for weapons, and on that pretext began to fondle the breasts of their women. This then began a riot, the French were attacked first with rocks, then weapons, killing them all. The news spread to other cities leading to revolt throughout Sicily. "By the time the furious anger at their insolence had drunk its fill of blood, the French had given up to the Sicilians not only their ill-gotten riches but their lives as well."

There is also a third version of the events that is quite close to Runciman's, varying only in the minor details. This story is part of the oral tradition on the Island up to the present time. However, as an oral tradition, it cannot be verified and is of little interest to historians, but is of much interest to sociologists.

Immediate aftermath

After leaders were elected in Palermo, messengers were sent to spread word across the island for the rebels to strike now before the oppressor had time to organise resistance. It took a fortnight for the rebels to gain control over most of the island, and within six weeks it was all under rebel control, with the notable exception of Messina as it was well fortified, and its leading family, the Riso, remained faithful to Charles. But on 28 April it too had broken into open revolt and, most significantly, the islanders' first act was to set fire to Charles' fleet lying in the harbor. It is reported that upon hearing of the fleet's destruction, King Charles realized how serious was his plight and exclaimed "Lord God, since it has pleased You to ruin my fortune, let me only go down in small steps."

Charles' Vicar Herbert and his family were safely within the castle Mategriffon
Mategriffon or Mategrifon or Mathegriffon was a medieval castle near Messina, Sicily, initially built as a wooden castle by Richard Ist, king of England and demolished before his departure in 1191 from Messina for the conquest of Cyprus...

, but after some time for negotiations the rebels granted Herbert and his family safe conduct to leave the island upon a promise that they never return. After the restoration of order in the city, the townsmen announced themselves a Free Commune
Medieval commune
Medieval communes in the European Middle Ages had sworn allegiances of mutual defense among the citizens of a town or city. They took many forms, and varied widely in organization and makeup. Communes are first recorded in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, thereafter becoming a widespread...

 answerable only to the Pope. They elected leaders, one of whom was Bartholomaeus of Neocastro
Bartholomaeus of Neocastro
Bartholomaeus of Neocastro was a Sicilian jurist, and author of a chronicle called the Historia Sicula, which covers the years from 1250 to 1293....

 who was prominent in the unfolding events and would later chronicle much of the revolt in Historia Sicula, an important if sometimes contradictory source of information to historians. Again significantly, the leader’s next act was to send word, via a Genoese merchant named Alafranco Cassano, to the Emperor Michael advising him that his nemesis Charles had been crippled. Only thereafter were ambassadors sent to Pope Martin IV
Pope Martin IV
Pope Martin IV, born Simon de Brion held the papacy from February 21, 1281 until his death....

 pleading for each city on the island to be recognised as a Free Commune under the sole suzerainty of the Holy Church. The islanders were hoping for status such as enjoyed by Venice, Genoa, Pisa and other cities, free to form their own government, but morally answerable only to the Pope who would hold a vague and unstable suzerainty. However the French Pope was firmly in Charles' camp and he directed the Sicilians to recognize Charles as their rightful King. However Martin underestimated the Sicilians' hatred of the French, especially Charles because he ruled their Kingdom from Naples rather than the traditional Palermo where he could have seen the suffering caused by his officials. Charles' island officials were far removed from his oversight; he did not see the avarice, the abusive behavior manifesting itself as rape, theft and murder, nor did he see the high taxes levied against the meager possessions of the peasants, which kept them impoverished, but made no improvement in their lives.

The Aragonese invasion

After the rebels' unsuccessful pleas to the Pope were met with a refusal of status as Free Communes, the islanders sent for Pedro III of Aragon whose wife Constance was Manfred's daughter, Henry VI's great-granddaughter; and the sole surviving heir of Frederick II who was not in captivity and was in a position to assert her rights. Pedro III
Pedro III
Pedro III may refer to:*Pedro III of Aragon *Pedro III of Kongo * Pedro III of Portugal...

 championed his wife's claim to the entirety of the Kingdom of Sicily.

Prior to the Vespers, Pedro III
Pedro III
Pedro III may refer to:*Pedro III of Aragon *Pedro III of Kongo * Pedro III of Portugal...

 had constructed and outfitted a fleet for war and upon the Pope's inquiry of the need for such a great war fleet, Pedro stated that it was to be used against the followers of Islam along the Northern coast of Africa as he had legitimate interests in trade there and he needed to protect them. So when Pedro received a request for help from the Sicilians he was conveniently on the North Coast of Africa in Tunis just 200 miles across the sea from the Island. At first Pedro feigned to be indifferent to the request of the Sicilians and to the plight of the Islanders, but after several days to allow a proper showing of deference made for the Pope's consumption, Pedro took advantage of the revolt. He ordered his fleet to sail for Sicily, landed at Trapani on August 30, 1282. While he marched towards Palermo, his fleet followed close by the coastal road. Pedro's involvement changed the character of the uprising from a local revolt into a European War. Pedro arrived at Palermo on September 2 and initially he was received by the populace with indifference, it was merely one foreign king replacing another; they much preferred a Free Commune under a vague suzerainty of the Pope. However, after Pope Martin made plain his orders for the populace to accept Charles, Pedro made a promise to the islanders that they would enjoy the ancient privileges they had had under the Norman King, William the Good. Thereafter, Pedro was accepted as a satisfactory second choice and was crowned by acclamation of the people at the Cathedral in Palermo on September 4, thus becoming also Peter I of Sicily.

With the Pope's blessing the counter-attack from Charles was not long in coming; his fleet from Naples arrived and blockaded the port of Messina and made several attempts to land troops on the island, but all were repulsed.

The role of John of Procida

According to the legend, John of Procida
John of Procida
John of Procida was an Italian medieval physician and diplomat.He was born at Salerno, educated in the Schola Medica as a physician. He was a noted physician for his age and received at professorial chair at this university...

 was the mastermind behind the conspiracy that led to the Vespers.

Michael Palaeologus's quote

Years later, in his autobiography, Michael VIII wrote: "Should I dare to claim that I was God's instrument to bring freedom to the Sicilians, then I should only be stating the truth.". But as Runciman observes, with or without Byzantine
Byzantine usually refers to the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.Byzantine may also refer to:* A citizen of the Byzantine Empire, or native Greek during the Middle Ages...

 gold, it was the proud people of Sicily alone who fought against their armed oppressor; and "However it may have been plotted and prepared, it was that one March evening of the Vespers at Palermo that brought down King Charles' empire."


  • Runciman, Steven, The Sicilian Vespers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958, ISBN 0-521-43774-1.

  • Lu Rebellamentu di Sichilia, lu quale Hordinau e Fichi pari Misser Iohanni in Procita contra Re Carlu is still located in the Central Library in Palermo. Whether it is a contemporary narrative or not hinges on the interpretation of one word in the text. Runciman (p. 329) describes these words as "putirini", the first person plural, vs "putirisi" the impersonal tense.

  • The earliest narrative source for the Vespers is the Sicilian
    Sicilian language
    Sicilian is a Romance language. Its dialects make up the Extreme-Southern Italian language group, which are spoken on the island of Sicily and its satellite islands; in southern and central Calabria ; in the southern parts of Apulia, the Salento ; and Campania, on the Italian mainland, where it is...

     Rebellamentu di Sichilia, written perhaps as early as 1287. It credits John of Procida
    John of Procida
    John of Procida was an Italian medieval physician and diplomat.He was born at Salerno, educated in the Schola Medica as a physician. He was a noted physician for his age and received at professorial chair at this university...

     with organising the overthrow of the French and portrays him in a positive light. Two later Guelph
    Guelphs and Ghibellines
    The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the split between these two parties was a particularly important aspect of the internal policy of the Italian city-states...

     Tuscan histories, the Liber Jani de Procida et Palialoco
    Liber Jani de Procida et Palialoco
    The Liber Jani de Procida et Palialoco is a medieval Tuscan history of the Sicilian Vespers. It focusses on the conspiratorial role played by John of Procida, cast as the villain. It was almost certainly written in Tuscany and is often considered synoptic with the Leggenda di Messer Gianni di...

     and the Leggenda di Messer Gianni di Procida
    Leggenda di Messer Gianni di Procida
    The Leggenda di Messer Gianni di Procida is a short medieval Tuscan history of the Sicilian Vespers, synoptic with another early Tuscan account, the Liber Jani de Procida et Palialoco. Both texts focus on the conspiratorial role played by John of Procida, who is cast as a villain...

    , possibly relying on the Rebellamentu or the Rebellamentus lost source, follow it in stressing John's involvement, but they portray him in a more critical light. The Liber, as its title suggests, emphasises John's negotiations with Michael VIII ("Palioloco").

  • Besides these there are two Florentine
    Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

     chronicles of importance. The Leggenda was once thought to be a source for the Nuova Cronica
    Nuova Cronica
    The Nuova Cronica or New Chronicles is a 14th century history of Florence created in a year-by-year linear format and written by the Florentine banker and official Giovanni Villani...

     of Giovanni Villani
    Giovanni Villani
    Giovanni Villani was an Italian banker, official, diplomat and chronicler from Florence who wrote the Nuova Cronica on the history of Florence. He was a leading statesman of Florence but later gained an unsavory reputation and served time in prison as a result of the bankruptcy of a trading and...

    , itself a source for the Vespers. Brunetto Latini
    Brunetto Latini
    Brunetto Latini was an Italian philosopher, scholar and statesman.-Life:...

    , in his Tesoro, similarly adopts the Sicilian version of events, which includes the earliest version of the rape. The Tuscan Liber turns the rape story around, suggesting the Sicilian woman had pulled a knife on her French suitor when his friends came to aid him.

. A description of all prayer 'Offices' is given therein… Vespers, Matins, Laudes… etc.
  • Jordan, L'Allemagne et l'Italie, at pp. 219–221; and Robinson, (infra) pp. 255–266. These are the two best sources of the blasphemous and cunning character of Frederick II as king.

  • Bathgen, Die Regentschaft Papst Innocenz III im Konigreich Sizilien describes his Frederick's minority. See also Van Cleve, Markward of Anweiler; and Luchaire, Innocent III, vol. III; and Rome et l'Italie, pp. 153–204. Jordan, (supra) at pp. 272–74 discusses the origin of the Geulf and Ghibelline factions. See also, Hefele-Leclercq, Historie des Conciles vol VI, I, pp. 6–9.

  • Chalandon, Historie de la Domination Normande en Italia, vol. I, pp. 189–211, 327–54. These are excellent sources describing the Norman Conquest of Italy and Sicily by the Guiscard family. For their rule in Sicily, see vol. II, passim.

Other uses of the term

  • In 1594, when the French King Henry IV
    Henry IV of France
    Henry IV , Henri-Quatre, was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France....

     was taking some tedious peace negotiations with the Spanish ambassador in France, bored with the unwillingness of the Spaniards to accept his terms, he stated that the King of Spain should behave with more humility, for if not, he could easily invade Spanish territories in Italy, stating that "My armies could move so fast that I would have breakfast in Milan and dine in Rome." Whereupon the Spanish ambassador replied "Now then, if that is so, Your Majesty would surely make it to Sicily in time for Vespers".
  • Having previously arranged the murder of mafia boss Joseph Masseria on 15 April 1931 in order to consolidate organized crime in New York City under Salvatore Maranzano
    Salvatore Maranzano
    Salvatore Maranzano was an organized crime figure from the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, and an early Cosa Nostra boss in the United States. He instigated the Castellammarese War to seize control of the American Mafia operations, and briefly became the Mafia's "Boss of Bosses"...

    , mafia boss Lucky Luciano
    Lucky Luciano
    Charlie "Lucky" Luciano was an Italian mobster born in Sicily. Luciano is considered the father of modern organized crime in the United States for splitting New York City into five different Mafia crime families and the establishment of the first commission...

     then ordered the murders of Maranzano and those capos of Maranzano and Masseria whom Luciano saw as threats. These murders occurred on September 10, 1931 which marked the end of the Castellammarese War
    Castellammarese War
    The Castellammarese War was a bloody power struggle for control of the Italian-American Mafia between partisans of Joe "The Boss" Masseria and those of Salvatore Maranzano. It was so called because Maranzano was based in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily...

     in New York City
    New York City
    New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

     and in mafia parlance is known as the Night of the Sicilian Vespers.
  • Sicilian-born brothers David and Francis Rifugiato named their short-lived band "The Sicilian Vespers" after this event. They released one album on Profile Records
    Profile Records
    Profile Records was a record label that specialized in many types of urban-oriented music, such as hip hop, active until 1996..- History :In 1980, at 23 years old, after working briefly for MCA, Cory Robbins was looking to start a record label. He invited his songwriter friend Steve Plotnicki to be...

     in 1988.
  • The title of one of Verdi's operas
    Les vêpres siciliennes
    Les vêpres siciliennes is an opéra in five acts by the Italian romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi set to a French libretto by Charles Duveyrier and Eugène Scribe from their work Le duc d'Albe, which was written in 1838 and offered to Halevy and Donizetti before Verdi...

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