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Normans of Sicily

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From the first half of the 11th century and throughout the whole of the 12th century, a social and religious rebirth gets underway in Europe, founded by the rediscovery of Christian roots. This was the century of the great Romanesque cathedrals, founded in the wake of the Carolingian and Othonian traditions. During this period, Normandy, Sicily and England made up three cultural poles, among the most well-known in terms of medieval architecture, producing works that still today bear witness to an original artistic spirit, associated with constructive techniques that offered a foretaste of Gothic structuralism.

After the year One Thousand, the Norman people drew their initial origins from within the region of the estuary of the Seine, where, thanks to the work of the famous leader Rollo, a Viking contingent was established with Rouen as its political core. Later on, this community managed to maintain a certain ethnic, cultural and social homogeneity, associated with Celtic traditions and artistic expressions. On the other hand, even prior to the Viking invasion, the flatland between Caen and Bayeux, in southern Normandy, housed several Saxon enclaves, each of which brought with it original cultural connotations associated with the Carolingian world. Celtic culture was therefore blended with popular architectural experiences and artistic expressions associated with the Benedictine monastic orders which were re-founded during the empire of Charlemagne.
During the first decades of the 11th century, Normandy therefore had quite a heterogeneous ethnic reality, the factions of which willingly entered into conflict. It was thanks to the work the Duke William, who would later become the conqueror of England, that disagreements came about within the region, with somewhat decided methods, progressively imposing a centralised government from 1048 to 1060 within all the territories he inherited from his father: Robert the Magnificent. The idea of a feudally based political centrality, in a century marred by widespread rebellion and anarchy, was later revealed to be a winning idea, linked to the Norman expansion in England and southern Italy.
During that period, some young people from the Cotentin peninsula, who had grown up hearing about the myth of the exploits of the ducal descent, and also seeking their own conquests, began a slow campaign of penetration in 1016, changing from pilgrims into mercenaries. They were the cadets of Tancred of Hauteville, a feudal lord who had commenced his own career at the service of the Duke Richard II, called the Good, father of Robert the Magnificent and grandfather of William, the future conqueror of England.
They took away entire regions, such as Calabria and Puglia from the Lombard-Byzantine dominion, also threatening expansion to Sicily. In the beginning they had strained relations with the Papacy but later on they became its protector and in their own way, diffusers of the faith.
Having freed Sicily from Saracen rule, with Robert Guiscard and Roger I of Sicily, the Hauteville family began building new churches, which, while they were imprinted with the lexicon from their land of origin, they also syncretically welcomed the great Byzantine artistic experiences.
During Christmas of the year 1130, Roger II, son of Roger the Great Count, was crowned in Palermo, King of Sicily, Calabria, Puglia and prince of Capua, with the prior consent of Pope Anacletus II. He consolidated his kingdom by fighting against the German Emperor Lothar and the same Norman feudatories.  The disagreements with the Pope also returned, but peace was made definitively in 1140 keeping the apostolic legatine.

Roger II was succeeded by his son William I at the age of 34 years. His investiture was recognised by Pope Adrian IV, who saw the King of Sicily as a bastion against the excessive power of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.  The years of the reign of William I are marked by numerous revolts and palace conspiracies.
William I dies in 1166 and is succeeded by his thirteen year old son William II. Given his age, the kingdom was governed by the Queen Mother Margaret of Navarre. The turmoil continued during her reign, so much so that the Queen called upon her cousin Stephen du Perche from France to help.
He appointed a famous religious man of the time to act as the young sovereign’s tutor: Stephen of Blois and later the Englishman Walter of the Mill, who would go on to become Archbishop of Palermo.
In 1171 William reached adulthood and the reign of Margaret came to an end. The construction of the Cathedral of Monreale, a masterpiece of medieval art and architecture, got underway.
In the years that followed, the court of Palermo occupied a prominent place within the Euro-Mediterranean zone. The population of its kingdom was made up of Sicilians of ancient origin, but also Lombards, Arabs, Jews, Byzantines, French, English and Slavs, with enclaves of Venetian, Genovese and Pisan merchants, all of whom were cohabitating in a more or less peaceful manner despite the crusades.  Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett, approached the King of Sicily and Queen Margaret for help, he was in conflict with Henry II who was claiming the power to nominate English clerics.  Later on, William married Joan, daughter of the same Henry II, who was devoted to Beckett who had become a martyr.
William, called the Good, died in 1189 without leaving any heirs. In the meantime, his aunt Constance, the posthumous daughter of Roger II, had gone on to marry Henry VI, son of Frederick Barbarossa. By virtue of this marriage, Henry claimed the crown of Sicily, but the Sicilian people protested, preferring the Norman Tancred of Lecce, nephew of Roger II.  Tancred re-established order and peace in Sicily, as in the rest of Southern Italy. He defeated Henry VI in Naples, after he had returned to Italy to conquer the kingdom of Sicily. Subject to an agreement with the Pope, he stipulated alliances with the Emperor of Byzantium.
He died in 1194 and was succeeded by his very young son William III with the regency of his wife Sibyl, but during the same year, Henry laid Sicily to waste and took the crown from the last of the Hautevilles.
With the coronation of Henry VI Hohenstaufen, Christmas 1194 marks the end of the era of Norman Sicily and the Swabian era commences. 

Henry is crowned Emperor and is tainted with accusations of cruelty towards the Sicilians and the young William III, he dies in 1197, leaving his son Frederick-Roger, later Frederick II (Stupor Mundi) as the heir to the throne.
Frederick, the Emperor of the Sacred Roman Empire from 1215, who is in constant conflict with the papacy, will put an end to the Saracen ethnicity in Sicily, deporting them to Lucera. He will however remain the protector and promoter of letters and sciences, anticipating the Renaissance in the court of Palermo, where, according to Dante Alighieri, the Italian language took shape thanks to the work of local prose writers and poets.
Frederick is succeed by Conrad IV, born of the marriage with Isabelle, daughter of John of Brienne, king of Jerusalem, but after just four years of reign, he dies in 1254.
His two year old son Corradino is destined for succession, his brother Manfredi therefore becomes the ruler and he is crowned king of Sicily in 1258.  Pope Urban IV appoints Charles of Anjou King of Sicily and he defeats Manfredi and has him killed in Benevento in 1266.   Following this he will also have Manfredi’s three children killed.
The Sicilians do not welcome the dominion of Anjou and call Corradino back to the throne of the Island, but after a few enticing successes in battle, he is captured by the forces of Anjou and executed in August 1268.