After defeating King Manfred of Sicily at Benevento to enforce his
own claim to the throne of Sicily,
Charles of Anjou, brother of King Louis IX of France, unleashed a
savage rule upon his new subjects in Sicily and the southern portion
of the Italian peninsula. At great cost to his subjects, Charles--by
now known as Charles I of Sicily--pursued Manfred's grandiose plans
for the conquest of additional territory in present-day Greece.
Easter Sunday 1282, as Charles was preparing for a new military expedition
to Greece, the resentment of the Sicilians against their arrogant
Angevin French occupiers boiled over in Palermo. Ostensibly because
of an insult addressed by an Angevin French soldier to a young Sicilan
woman who was walking to Vespers service, the townspeople rebelled
and swiftly massacred all of the Angevin French soldiers in the city.
The revolt spread across the entire island with lightning speed. In
each town the surprised Angevin French were overwhelmed and annihilated.
In local legend the rebellion promptly became known as the Sicilian
Sicilian leaders who emerged in the aftermath of the Sicilian Vespers
realized that their period of freedom would be brief and that the
vengence of Charles I's forces would be terrible unless they were
able to attract a powerful foreign champion. They offered sovereignty
of the island to Peter III, King of Aragon, based upon the claim to
the throne that Peter had already asserted by reason of his marriage
to Manfred's daughter Constance. Peter, already embroiled elsewhere
in territorial disputes with Charles I and his brother King Louis
IX of France, happily rose to the challenge and assumed sovereignty
of the island of Sicily in defiance of both Charles I and his champion,
the Pope. The mainland portion of the former kingdom of Sicily remained
in the hands of Charles I (and, later, his son Robert), however, so
Peter III's domain extended only to the island of Sicily itself.
Upon the death
of Peter III in 1285, his realm in Spain and Sicily passed first to
his short-lived older son Alphonso III and then in 1291 to Alphonso's
devious and craven brother James II, who brought the spectre
of Anjou French rule back to Sicily.