On Easter Tuesday March 30, 1282, at the first bell of Vespers, the populations of Palermo and Corleone rose up against King Charles of Anjou and his agents. The resulting bloody massacre remains known as the Sicilian Vespers. A major fact in the history of Sicily, it is yet another avatar of the competition of several European aristocratic families for the control of this strategic island.
Sicily, a coveted island
Indeed the position of the latter in the center of the Mediterranean, allows its owner to control the lines of communication leading from the Levant to Western Europe, a first-rate trade route. On the other hand, it is an excellent starting point for any expedition to the Holy Land, at a time when the idea of the Crusade is still very present within Christian monarchies.
The Sicilian revolt against Charles of Anjou is part of the broader rivalry between the latter and the ambitious King of Aragon Peter III. Indeed Charles, brother of Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) did not obtain the crown of the kingdom of Sicily (which then extended over current Sicily, but also over a good part of the south of the Italian boot, i.e. the Kingdom of Naples), only recently (in 1268) thanks to the mandate entrusted to him by the Pope to drive the Hohenstaufen family from the throne.
Now it turns out that Peter III is the husband of the daughter of the last King Hohenstaufen of Sicily: Manfred. He therefore maintains (more or less) legitimate ambitions on the latter's throne. The Aragonese knows that he can count on the support of the elites and of the Sicilian population, whose new French masters hardly respect the particularities.
The massacre of Sicilian Vespers
Charles I of Anjou, king of the Two Sicilies, provoked the hatred of the Sicilians by increasing taxes and placing the island under French rule. On Easter evening, the inhabitants of Palermo revolt against their oppressors. Their action is followed in other towns, until almost all the French in Sicily are massacred.
Thus shortly after the massacre of Vèpres, a fleet unloads an Aragonese army which will finish driving the partisans of Charles from the island. It is the beginning of a merciless confrontation between the house of Anjou and that of Aragon which will continue in various forms until the XVIth century, since it will serve in particular as justification for the first wars of Italy.
- History of Sicily, by Jean-Yves Frétigné. Fayard, 2009.