Manfred, King of Sicily

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Manfred, King of Sicily : biography

1232 – 26 February 1266

Manfred’s name was borrowed by the English author Horace Walpole for the main character of his short novel The Castle of Otranto (1764). Montague Summers, in his 1924 edition of this work, showed that some details of Manfred of Sicily’s real history inspired the novelist. The name was re-borrowed by Lord Byron for his dramatic poem Manfred (1817).

Kingship

Coat of arms of Manfred of Hohenstaufen The following year, taking advantage of a rumour that Conradin was dead, he was crowned King of Sicily at Palermo on August 10. The falsehood of this report was soon manifest; but the new king, supported by the popular voice, declined to abdicate and pointed out to Conradin’s envoys the necessity for a strong native ruler. The pope, to whom the Saracen alliance was a serious offence, declared Manfred’s coronation void. Undeterred by the excommunication Manfred sought to obtain power in central and northern Italy, where the Ghibelline leader Ezzelino III da Romano had disappeared. He named vicars in Tuscany, Spoleto, Marche, Romagna and Lombardy. After Montaperti he was recognized as protector of Tuscany by the citizens of Florence, who did homage to his representative, and he was chosen "Senator of the Romans" by a faction in the city. His power was also augmented by the marriage of his daughter Constance in 1262 to Peter III of Aragon.

Terrified by these proceedings, the new Pope Urban IV excommunicated him. The pope first tried to sell the Kingdom of Sicily to Richard of Cornwall and his son, but in vain. In 1263 he was most successful with Charles, the Count of Anjou, a brother of the French King Louis IX, who accepted the investiture of the kingdom of Sicily at his hands. Hearing of the approach of Charles, Manfred issued a manifesto to the Romans, in which he not only defended his rule over Italy but even claimed the imperial crown.

Charles’ army, some 30,000 strong, entered Italy from the Col de Tende in late 1265. He soon reduced numerous Ghibelline strongholds in northern Italy and was crowned in Rome in January 1266, the pope being absent. On 20 January he set southwards and waded the Liri river, invading the Kingdom of Sicily. After some minor clashes, the rival armies met at the Battle of Benevento on 26 February 1266, and Manfred’s army was defeated. The king himself, refusing to flee, rushed into the midst of his enemies and was killed. Over his body, which was buried on the battlefield, a huge heap of stones was placed, but afterwards with the consent of the pope the remains were unearthed, cast out of the papal territory, and interred on the bank of the Garigliano River, outside of the boundaries of Naples and the Papal States.

Manfred was married twice. His first wife was Beatrice, daughter of Amadeus IV, count of Savoy, by whom he had a daughter, Constance, who became the wife of King Peter III of Aragon; his second wife, who died in prison in 1271, was Helena Angelina Doukaina, daughter of Michael II Komnenos Doukas, ruler of the despotate of Epirus, who made this marriage to ally with Manfred after being attacked by him at Thessalonica. Helena and Manfred had five children: Beatrice, Frederick, Henry, Enzio and Flordelis of Sicily.

At the Battle of Benevento Charles captured Helena and imprisoned her. She lived five years later in captivity into the castle of Nocera Inferiore where she died in 1271. Manfred’s son-in-law Peter III became also King Peter I of Sicily from 1282 after the Sicilian Vespers expelled the French from the island again.

The modern city of Manfredonia was built by King Manfred between 1256–1263, some kilometers north of the ruins of the ancient Sipontum. The Angevines, who had defeated Manfred and stripped him of the Kingdom of Sicily, christened it Sypontum Novellum ("New Sypontum"), but that name never imposed.