The Early Normans in Southern
Drengot (?? - 1045), Norman
Adventurer and first Count of Aversa (1030).
With his brothers and 250 other Norman castouts and adventurers,
Rainulf established a protection business around
Monte Sant'Angelo and its
pilgrims in the late 1010s. The Byzantines (who
thought they were in charge) showed their displeasure by thrashing the Normans
in a battle close to Cannae (where Hannibal won his greatest
victory against Rome), after which the bedraggled Norman survivors headed west into
Lombard lands to lick their wounds.
Battered but not defeated, Drengot and the surviving Normans
regrouped and manoeuvred themselves within ten years into a position
where they had pretty much usurped the Lombards, and in the
process taken over a
lot of the properties of the Abbey of Montecassino. In 1030 Rainulf was acknowledged as the
first Count of Aversa - the
first formal Norman presence in Southern Italy.
In 1038 he got his own back by beating the Byzantines in battle,
and decided he was really a Prince. And in 1042, in an act
of poetic justice, his Norman mate from the other side (William
Bras-de-Fer - see below)
let him have
Monte Sant'Angelo after he had removed the
Byzantines from the east side of the country. Rainulf left no
sons, and it was the 9 Hauteville boys and their descendants
(below) who were to stamp a
lasting Norman impression on Southern Italy and Sicily.
A Norman keep
overlooks the Abruzzi village of Cesoli - a town on the other side of the 'hill' from
a similar Norman stronghold in Anversa degli Abruzzi (below).
The mountains and valleys of the Abruzzi
provided secure strongholds for many Norman war lords.
Anversa degli Abruzzi
Hauteville (early 1000s)
An unnoteworthy knight who lived in Normandy. 9 of his 12 sons travelled to Apulia and ended up
overthrowing the Byzantine rule there and spawning the Norman
Dukes of Apulia and Calabria and the
Kings of Sicily ( = Sicily + Southern Italy).
William ("Bras-de-Fer" or "Iron Arm"), Drogo and Humphrey
Sons of Tancred by his first marriage and successively Counts of
Robert Guiscard - Duke of Apulia (?1025 - 1085 (60))
Son of Tancred by his second marriage. Count of Apulia
(1057) after Humphrey died, then in 1059 he got Pope Nicholas to
sign the Treaty of Melfi. This recognized Norman
control over Southern Italy, and made Robert the Duke of Apulia,
the Duke of Calabria, and the Count of Sicily - the latter was
just a tad anticipative as it was not until 1072 that the forces of
Robert's youngest brother Roger rolled in to Palermo to end Arab
Bohemond I of Antioch (c1058 – 1111 (53)), also Prince of
Map source -
Son of Robert who, encouraged by his dad, developed seriously wider
geographic ambitions than Puglia, and had a go early on at
subduing Greece on his way to doing the same to Constantinople.
However, this failed, and it was to be the 90s before the big fella Bohemond,
at that stage attacking Amalfi with uncle Roger (below), met up
with groups heading out for the First Crusade.
the opportunities for personal power that the crusades presented, Bohemond raised his own army of South Italian Normans and joined
in, ending up as Prince of Antioch in the late 1090s.
Antioch though was very much a B team place, and Bohemond never cracked the mainstream crusader power base centred on Jerusalem.
Later he was to marry the dazzling
Constance, daughter of French King Philip I, but apart from this
his days in the sun were over, and he slipped from misfortune to
misjudgement, eventually dying "a broken man" (as they say) in
Bohemond did leave
behind an unusual and interesting mausoleum next to the
Cattedrale in Canosa (Puglia). This includes a set of
bronze doors dating from the early 1100s.
Roger I - Count of Sicily (1031 - 1072 - 1101 (70))
Youngest son of Tancred, brother of Robert - Invested by brother
Robert as Count of Sicily
in 1072 though it took several more years for him to establish
control of the whole island. But by the time he did, Roger
had a much tighter control over Sicily than his brother did over
the stroppy Norman warlords in Southern Italy. Roger had
three wives (serially) and 16 legitimate children (mostly
daughters), of whom his successor Roger II, born when his dad
was 62, was number 15.
Trani Cattedrale, the most
evocatively sited of the dozen or so Byzantine / Norman
cathedrals in Puglia, dates from 1099.
Norman Kings of Sicily
Book Gallery: Books on Sicily and Southern Italy
Map source -
Norman Conquests by
Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo,
which contains inter alia the Capella Palatina.
(1093 - 1105? - 1130 - 1154
By the end of Roger's
rule, "The Kingdom of Sicily" meant everything from Naples down
Link to the Palazzo dei Normanni, hub of
the Glittering Court of Roger II in Palermo, Sicily
Roger II was the 15th child of Roger I,
who took over after number 13 (Simon) lasted only 4 years as a child
Count before dying. Well actually his mum just kept on ruling
because it was 1112 before Roger was old enough to be allowed to rule by
himself. He was Count, then King of Sicily (only), then King of Sicily
( = Sicily + Southern Italy). He was also a
Knight Templar (though it is doubtful if he obeyed their rules of not washing
and wearing raw sheepskin underwear and he certainly did not
sign up to celibacy - he knew from his father and grandfather
that that was not the Norman way).
Roger II successfully arm-wrestled Popes, Antipopes, and Emperors of West
and East to achieve the position of the most significant of of
the Norman rulers in Southern Italy. He presided over the
(Christian / Islamic / Jewish) Court of Europe in the first half
of the 1100s, funded by one of the continent's richest economies and most successful navies
(some say the Jolly Roger flag was named after him - unlikely in
the Dom's view, but a good story).
Roger II built the
Chapel in Palermo,
encouraged (and had his mosaic portrait in) the parallel
La Martorana, and started the
His tomb is in the
Above: Tombs of Roger II
(back) and Frederick II in Palermo Duomo
Right (Left): Roger II (La
Right (Right): William II (Monreale
William I (The Bad) (?? - 1154 - 1166
Fourth son of Roger II (the
first three died pre 1154). Whilst he was a shadow of his
giant father, it is not clear what merited the title of "The
William II (The Good) (1153 - 1166 - 1189
Son of William I. Builder of the magnificent
Described by Ibn
Jubair, a traveller in Sicily in 1183-1185, as being surrounded by
Muslim women and eunuchs, speaking and reading Arabic and living
like "a Moslem king." He had actually married
one of the "Plantagenet Kids", Joan, in 1177. Their one
child died in infancy. Joan survived William, only to be
locked up by Tancred .....
The all over mosaiced Cathedral of Monreale
Tancred ( ?? - 1189 - 1194
( ?? )
of Roger II. Physically small, Tancred must have known his luck
was out when the awful French speaking Richard I of England + Army pitched up in
Sicily on their
third crusading way to the Holy
Land in 1190. Tancred must also have wondered
what he had been thinking when he had earlier
imprisoned Richard's favourite sister Joan.
got released (along with her dowry), then to complicate matters Mum
Aquitaine arrived with
Berengaria of Navarre - bride
to be for the gay Richard. Oh, and
Philip II + his French army turned up as well.
The foreigners smashed up a few things including
Messina, ate all the food, raped the women and generally made Sicilian winter life
hell till they all moved on in 1191 to make life hell for the
Muslims (all except Eleanor, who
went home -
she'd been there done that crusading wise).
More about what happened next to Richard and Joan ......
William III (1190 - ?? (??))
Second son of Tancred who got
to rule for only a few months in 1194 (aged 4) until the forces of Swabian Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI Hohenstaufen
(1165 - 1190 - 1197 (32)) (see below), bankrolled by the
humungous ransom he had extracted for the
release of English King Richard, prevailed.
What happened to William after he was exported to Germany is the
subject of several tales but no evidence!
Constance (1154 - 1194
- 1198 (44))
Daughter of Roger II (she
was actually born just after he died),
thought she should rule Sicily in her own right, but hubby
Emperor Henry VI Hohenstaufen knew otherwise. Constance
was 40 when she gave birth to Frederick (II), then died when he
was just 4 - but before that she did make
Innocent III his guardian
(which is maybe what made him into a long term enemy of the
Hohenstaufen Kings of Sicily
the legates of Palermo - 1100s codex
from "Sicily - Art,
History and Culture"
Emperor Henry VI (1165 - 1194 - 1197 (32))
Holy Roman Emperor from 1190 and King of Sicily from 1194 (see above), hubby of and joint ruler
for a short time of
Sicily (including Southern Italy) with older wife Constance (daughter
of Roger II - see
above). His dad was
Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa ("Redbeard") (1122 - 1155 - 1190 (68)), who drowned
in shallow water (interesting the detail that gets passed down
.... only shallow water eh ? .... makes you want to know more) on his elderly way to join the awful French
speaking Kings Richard I (England) and Philip II (France)
In a strange medieval twist of fate,
Barborossa's son Henry Hohenstaufen made a seriously huge pile of money by
capturing the nasty King Richard on his way home from the
Crusade, and selling
him back to England, who were stupid enough to pay up.
Bankrolled by the
humungous ransom he had extracted for the
release of King Richard Henry
moved to ensure that not just his wife but also his army took
over down south, and the annexation
of the then wealthy Kingdom of Sicily (= Southern Italy +
Sicily) added hugely to his
power and economic base. But he did not live long to enjoy it,
and also failed in moves to make the emperorship hereditary
(probably because he could not find a way of compensating the
electors for the loss of the huge bribes paid to them every time
there was an election).
Frederick II (1194 - 1215 - 1250 (56))
Frederick's coffin tomb in the Palermo Duomo
Son of Constance (hence King of Sicily from the age of 4) and Emperor Henry VI
(hence King of Swabia (German region) and eventually Holy Roman Emperor, though
that bit had to be bought).
Three wives and numerous
liaisons led to over 20 offspring.
Wife number 3 was Isabella of England, the daughter of the
King John (Lackland or Sans Terre as the
French liked to say) and sister of Henry
III of England.
and family on the stairway to the Ambo in Bitonto Cattedrale (Puglia)
Buried in a
magnificent porphyry coffin in the Palermo Duomo just to show that
he might have been Swabian and all sorts of other mean ugly things, but at
heart he was a Sicilian.
More about Frederick II
Castel del Monte
Eight sides, eight rooms on each floor, eight eight-sided towers, inland
from Barletta on
the only decent sized hill for miles around.
Emperor Frederick II built the Castel del
Monte in around 1240. It was one of around 200 fortresses that he
erected, but the only one that was not rectangular.
Its shape is amenable to all manner of esoteric, astrological and geometric
interpretations. Then again, it could have been just a geometrically
pleasing hunting lodge. It does not seem to have had a serious
military raison d'être, although its location on top of the only high hill
on a very big flat plain certainly gave it a dominating presence.
After the middle ages, the Castel del Monte enjoyed a life (and got knocked around a bit) as a prison,
and was later abandoned.
Nowadays it has been restored and is listed by UNESCO, and you can find it pictured on the obverse of the Italian Euro-Cent
Conrad IV (?? - 1250 - 1254 (??))
Conradin (?? - 1254 - 1258 - 1268 (??))
Manfred (1232 - 1258 - 1266 (34))
Illegitimate son of Frederick
II. An intelligent and fair ruler who was
patron of the Ghibelline cause (loosely speaking meaning that he
supported the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor against those of the
Pope (the Guelphs)), but he was supported by
fighters from the
city of Lucera in Puglia (set up by Frederick to take his forced
Muslim exports from Sicily) in dust-ups against Popes and Emperors (even though the Ghibellines,
as stated above,
were theoretically Emperor people). He also supported Ghibelline
Battle of Montaperti
where they seriously beat up Florence (ask anyone in today's
Siena about that!).
Manfred's second wife and
great love was Helena,
daughter of Michael II Komnenos Doukas, Ruler of Epirus, and
they were married in the
Hohenstaufen Castello in Trani
Theirs became a
celebrated love story (with five children and opera by
- what with him being killed
in 1266 at the battle of Benevento and her being betrayed (by the governor of
Trani Castello), separated from the kids and then wasting in prison until she died in 1271.
The centuries in the sun for
the south were over, except in the most literal sense. After the death of Manfred
in 1266, Sicily and Southern Italy went their
separate Kingdom ways into increasing poverty under imported rulers from France and
Spain, Holy Roman Emperors stayed up north, and the city republics
and Duchies of Tuscany and Northern Italy
continued to surge onwards and upwards.
Castello di Trani,