roger ii of sicily

Adelaide del Vasto

Countess Consort of Sicily and Queen Consort of Jerusalem

Born c. 1075 –  Died 1118 

Claim to fame: became regent of Sicily in her mid-20’s and later entered into a bigamous marriage with Baldwin I of Jerusalem

From an illustrious family, Adelaide (also known as Adelasia or Azalaïs) became the third wife of Roger I of Sicily when she was in her early teens, and bore him two children. After Roger’s death in 1101, Adelaide became regent at the age of 26. She received much praise for her leadership by suppressing rebellions, employing local officials, respecting the ethnic diversity of Sicily and donating generously to local Greek monasteries. A Greek and Arab charter from 1109 describes Adelaide as “the great female ruler… protector of the Christian faith.” Though she continued to play a role in governance, Adelaide’s regency ended when her son Roger II reached his majority in 1112.

In 1113 Adelaide agreed to become the third wife of King Baldwin I of Jerusalem on the condition that the kingdom would pass to her son if the new union produced no children. Unbeknownst to Adelaide, Baldwin was still considered married to his previous wife whom he had abandoned, leading to his condemnation by Pope Paschal II and the annulment of his marriage to Adelaide in 1117.

Adelaide returned to Sicily and died the following year. Roger II was so outraged by his mother’s treatment that he never forgave the Kingdom of Jerusalem and refused to assist the Crusader states.

The Normans - A Timeline
  • 911: According to later writer Dudo of Saint-Quentin, in this year the king of the Franks, Charles the Simple, grants land around the city of Rouen to Rollo, or Rolf, leader of the Vikings who have settled the region: the duchy of Normandy is founded. In return Rollo undertakes to protect the area and to receive baptism, taking the Christian name Robert.
  • 1002: Emma, sister of Duke Richard II of Normandy, marries Æthelred (‘the Unready’), king of England. Their son, the future Edward the Confessor, flees to Normandy 14 years later when England is conquered by King Cnut, and remains there for the next quarter of a century. This dynastic link is later used as one of the justifications for the Norman conquest.
  • 1016: A group of Norman pilgrims en route to Jerusalem are ‘invited’ to help liberate southern Italy from Byzantine (Greek) control. Norman knights have already been operating as mercenaries here since the turn of the first millennium, selling their military services to rival Lombard, Greek and Muslim rulers.
  • 1035: Having ruled Normandy for eight years, Duke Robert I falls ill on his return from
  • a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and dies at Nicaea. By prior agreement, Robert is succeeded by his illegitimate son William, the future Conqueror of England, then aged just seven or eight. A decade of violence follows as Norman nobles fight each other for control of the young duke and his duchy.
  • 1051: Duke William visits England. His rule in Normandy now established, and newly married to Matilda of Flanders, William crosses the Channel to speak with his second cousin, King Edward the Confessor of England. The subject of their conference is unknown, but later chroniclers assert that at this time Edward promises William the English succession.
  • 1059: Pope Nicholas II invests the Norman Robert Guiscard with the dukedoms of Apulia, Calabria and Sicily. The popes had opposed the ambitions of the Normans in Italy, but defeat in battle at Civitate in southern Italy in 1053 had caused them to reconsider. In 1060 Robert and his brother Roger embark on the conquest of Sicily, and Roger subsequently rules the island as its great count.
  • 1066: Edward the Confessor dies on 5 January, and the throne is immediately taken by his brother-in-law Harold Godwinson, the most powerful earl in England, with strong popular backing. Harold defeats his Norwegian namesake at Stamford Bridge in September. But on 14 October William’s Norman forces defeat Harold’s army at Hastings. William is crowned as England’s king on Christmas Day.
  • 1069: The initial years of William’s reign in England are marked by almost constant English rebellion, matched by violent Norman repression. In autumn 1069 a fresh English revolt is triggered by a Danish invasion. William responds by laying waste to the country north of the Humber, destroying crops and cattle in a campaign that becomes known as the Harrying of the North, leading to widespread famine and death.
  • 1086: Worried by the threat of Danish invasion, at Christmas 1085 William decides to survey his kingdom – partly to assess its wealth, and partly to settle arguments about landownership created by 20 years of conquest. The results, later redacted and compiled as Domesday Book, are probably brought to him in August 1086 at Old Sarum (near Salisbury), where all landowners swear an oath to him.
  • 1087: William retaliates against a French invasion of Normandy. While attacking Mantes he is taken ill or injured – possibly damaging his intestines on the pommel of his saddle – and retires to Rouen, where he dies on 9 September. Taken to Caen for burial, his body proves too fat for its stone sarcophagus, and bursts when monks try to force it in. His eldest surviving son, Robert Curthose, becomes duke of Normandy, while England passes to his second son, William Rufus.
  • 1096: Following a call to arms by Pope Urban II in 1095, many Normans set out towards the Holy Land on the First Crusade, determined to recover Jerusalem. Among them are Robert Curthose, who mortgages Normandy to his younger brother, William Rufus, and William the Conqueror’s notorious half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux. Odo dies en route and is buried in Palermo, but Robert goes on to win victories in Palestine and is present when Jerusalem falls.
  • 1100: Having succeeded his father in 1087 and defeated Robert Curthose’s attempts to unseat him, the rule of William II (‘Rufus’, depicted below) seems secure. But on 2 August 1100, while hunting in the New Forest with some of his barons, William is struck by a stray arrow and killed. His body is carted to Winchester for burial, and the English throne passes to his younger brother, Henry, who is crowned in Westminster Abbey just three days later.
  • 1101: Roger I of Sicily dies. By the end of his long rule, Count Roger has gained control over the whole of Sicily – the central Muslim town of Enna submitted in 1087, and the last emirs in the southeast surrendered in 1091. He is briefly succeeded by his eldest son, Simon, but the new count dies in 1105 and is succeeded by his younger brother, Roger II.
  • 1120: On 25 November Henry I sets out across the Channel from Normandy to England. One of the vessels in his fleet, the White Ship, strikes a rock soon after its departure, with the loss of all but one of its passengers. One of the drowned is the king’s only legitimate son, William Ætheling. Henry responds by fixing the succession on his daughter, Matilda, and marrying her to Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou.
  • 1130: Roger II is crowned king of Sicily, having pushed for royal status in order to assert his authority over the barons of southern Italy. A disputed papal succession in 1130 has provided an opportunity and, in return for support against a papal rival, Pope Anacletus II confers the kingship on Roger in September. He is crowned in Palermo Cathedral on Christmas Day.
  • 1135: Henry I dies in Normandy on 1 December, reportedly after ignoring doctor’s orders and eating his favourite dish - lampreys. His body is shipped back to England for burial at the abbey he founded in Reading. Many of his barons reject the rule of his daughter, Matilda, instead backing his nephew, Stephen, who is crowned as England’s new king on 22 December.
  • 1154: King Stephen, the last Norman king of England, dies. His death ends the vicious civil war between him and his cousin Matilda that lasted for most of his reign. As a result of the Treaty of Wallingford, which Stephen was pressured to sign in 1153, he is succeeded by Matilda’s son Henry of Anjou, who takes the throne as Henry II.
  • 1174: King William II of Sicily begins the construction of the great church at Monreale (‘Mount Royal’), nine miles from his capital at Palermo. The building is a fusion of Byzantine, Latin and Muslim architectural styles, and is decorated throughout with gold mosaics, including the earliest depiction of Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170.
  • 1194: Norman rule on Sicily ends. Tancred of Lecce, son of Roger III, Duke of Apulia, seizes the throne on William’s death in 1189; on his death in 1194 he is succeeded by his young son, William III. Eight months later, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, husband of Roger II’s daughter Constance, invades Sicily and is crowned in Palermo on Christmas Day. The following day, Constance gives birth to their son, the future Frederick II.
  • 1204: King John loses Normandy to the French. The youngest son of Henry II, John had succeeded to England, Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine after the death of his elder brother, Richard the Lionheart, in 1199. But in just five years he lost almost all of his continental lands to his rival King Philip Augustus of France – the end of England’s link with Normandy.
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Interior of the Capella Palatina, commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1132, following the Norman conquest of Sicily. Built for a Roman Catholic ruling dynasty, decorated in Byzantine-style mosaic and with an arabic vaulted ceiling (muqarnas) constructed by muslim craftsmen, the Capella embodies Sicily’s multi-ethnic and multi-faith makeup during the 12th century.

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Constance of Hauteville was the sole heiress of the Norman kings of Sicily. She was Queen of Sicily from 1194 to 98, first jointly with her husband, Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, from 1194 to 1197, and later with her infant son Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. As the wife of Henry she also bore the title of Empress Consort of the Holy Roman Empire from 1186 to 1197.

Constance was the posthumous daughter of King Roger II of Sicily by his third wife Beatrice of Rethel and was born on 2 November 1154 in Palermo. Constance was not betrothed until she was 30, which is unusual for a princess whose marriage was an important dynastic bargaining chip. This later gave rise to stories that she had become a nun and required papal dispensation to forsake her vows and marry (this version is also supported by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, Paradiso, Canto III, lines 109-120).

The death of her younger nephew Henry of Capua in 1172 made Constance heiress presumptive to the Sicilian crown, after her elder nephew King William II, who did not marry until 1177, and whose marriage remained childless. Abulafia (1988) points out that William did not foresee the union of German and Sicilian crowns as a serious eventuality; his purpose was to consolidate an alliance, with an erstwhile enemy of Norman power in Italy. But it is unclear why he delayed so in finding a husband for his aunt.

Nevertheless, in 1184 Constance was betrothed to Henry of Hohenstaufen (the future Emperor Henry VI), and they were married two years later, on 27 January 1186.

The papacy, also an enemy of the emperors, would not want to see the kingdom of southern Italy (then one of the richest in Europe) in German hands, but Henry pressed Pope Celestine III to baptize and crown his son: the Pope put him off. Nor would the kingdom’s Norman nobles welcome a Hohenstaufen king. William made his nobles and the important men of his court promise to recognize Constance’s succession if he died without direct heirs. But after his unexpected death in 1189, his cousin (and Constance’s nephew) Tancred of Lecce seized the throne. Tancred was illegitimate, but he had the support of most of the great men of the kingdom.

Constance’s father-in-law died in 1190, and the following year Henry and Constance were crowned Emperor and Empress. Constance then accompanied her husband at the head of a substantial imperial army to forcefully take the throne from Tancred. The northern towns of the kingdom opened their gates to Henry, including the earliest Norman strongholds Capua and Aversa. Salerno, Roger II’s mainland capital, sent word ahead that Henry was welcome, and invited Constance to stay in her father’s old palace to escape the summer heat. Naples was the first time that Henry met resistance on the whole campaign, holding well into the southern summer, by which time much of the army had succumbed to malaria and disease and the imperial army was forced to withdraw from the kingdom altogether. Constance remained in Salerno with a small garrison, as a sign that Henry would soon return.

Once Henry had withdrawn with the bulk of the imperial army, the towns that had supposedly fallen to the Empire immediately declared their allegiance to Tancred, for the most part now fearing his retribution. The populace of Salerno saw an opportunity to win some favour with Tancred, and delivered Constance to him in Messina, an important prize given that Henry had every intention of returning. However, Tancred was willing to give up his negotiation advantage, that is, the Empress, in return for Pope Celestine III legitimising him as King of Sicily. In turn, the Pope was hoping that by securing Constance’s safe passage back to Rome, Henry would be better disposed towards the papacy and he was still hoping to keep the Empire and the Kingdom from uniting. However, imperial soldiers were able to intervene before Constance made it to Rome, and they returned her safely across the Alps, ensuring that in the end, both the papacy and the kingdom failed to score any real advantage in having the Empress in their custody.

Henry was already preparing to invade Sicily a second time when Tancred died in 1194. Later that year he moved south, entered Palermo unopposed, deposed Tancred’s young son William III, and had himself crowned instead.

While Henry moved quickly south with his army, a pregnant Constance followed at a slower pace. On 26 December, the day after Henry’s crowning at Palermo, she gave birth to a son, Frederick (the future Emperor and king of Sicily Frederick II) in the small town of Iesi, near Ancona. Constance was 40, and she knew that many would question whether the child was really hers. Thus she had the baby in a pavilion tent in the market square of the town, and invited the town matrons to witness the birth. A few days later she returned to the town square and publicly breast-fed the infant (as you can read in Giovanni Villani’s chronicle).

Henry died in 1197. The following year Constance had the three-year-old Frederick crowned King of Sicily, and in his name dissolved the ties her late husband had created between the government of Sicily and of the Empire. She adopted very different policies from those of her late consort. She surrounded herself with local advisors and excluded the ambitious Markward von Anweiler from a position of power and attempted to restrict him to his fief in Molise. She made no mention of any claims to the German kingship and empire when her son was anointed and crowned at Palermo, May 1198; Constance made warm overtures to the new pope Innocent III, abandoning the long-contended principle that the king was the apostolic legate, a central principle of Norman autonomy in the regno. Faced with the dangers that surrounded any child-king, Constance placed Frederick under the protection of Pope Innocent III. She expected him to be raised as a Sicilian, and to be nothing more than King of Sicily, without distracting claims to Germany or even to the title “King of the Romans” to which her brother-in-law Philip of Swabia was acclaimed by the Roman nobles. That he became much more than that could not be predicted when she died in late November 1198. In her will she made Innocent, who was the child’s feudal suzerain, his guardian, a reminder to all of the inviolability of his inheritance.

Frederick II became one of the most powerful and significant monarch of the European Middle Ages. During his life he became King of Sicily, King of the Romans, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Italy and King of Jerusalem. Frederick was also an avid patron of science and the arts: he played a major role in promoting literature through the Sicilian School of poetry.

The Normans are most famously remembered as the last conquerors of England. But they conquered another island too – Sicily. In 1059, around the First Crusade, some Normans were given title to Sicily by the pope, partially because he wanted someone to take if from the infidel Muslims and partially because he wanted the Normans to stop raiding his lands. (The mosaic is Roger II, son of the conqueror Roger I, being crowned King of Sicily on Christmas Day 1130. Before that he had been a paltry Duke.)