Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Medieval Italy - The Queen of Naples IX

Peter IV of Aragon
Problems Arise
James was damaged physically by his 14 years as a prisoner of Peter IV of Aragon. James had been kept in an iron cage in Barcelona. Knowing of James’ ill-health, Robert of Taranto made a power play, seizing a castle in lieu of a claim for part of Maria’s unpaid dowry. James was too ill to fight as his wife’s champion;

‘The king suffers from Tertian fever. The doctors increased the prescriptions in view of the malicious nature of the times and the epidemic which has already caused the death of many people.’[i]

Robert also fell ill and Joanna was able to settle the crisis by giving Maria three cities and a castle.

It did not take long for Joanna to discover that James was mentally damaged by his prolonged incarceration in a dark cramped cell. He was prone to violent episodes; although he had signed an agreement that he would be excluded from the governance of Joanna’s kingdom, James demanded that he be ceded control of Naples. The resultant furore left Joanna horrified as Bertrando de Meyshones, the Archbishop of Naples informed the pope;

‘She fears the king as her husband and dreads him as the devil…..he is eccentric by nature and like mad, as his words and deeds show, alas! only too much, and it would be much worse if he came to drink any wine.’[ii]

Il Vespri Siciliani

James IV of Majorca
Despite his illness James refused to sleep in any bed bar Joanna’s. James conspired with his brother-in-law John II the Margrave of Montferrat, to bring the White Company to Naples to support a revolt against Joanna. By December the mercenaries had infiltrated the northern edges of the kingdom.

Joanna hid James’ insanity for over six months but a very public display of domestic violence on 4th January 1364 caused a scandal throughout Naples. In this disastrous situation Joanna was given both public and private support by her sister Maria and Robert of Taranto.

It was while these aggravations at home were accruing, the situation in Sicily became grave. The Catalan party had been gaining in strength since Joanna’s coronation. The offer of Margherita as Frederick’s wife had been ignored and the young claimant was married to Constanza, daughter of Peter IV of Aragon.

Constanza died in the summer of 1363 when the plague erupted again in Sicily and Frederick was once again offered Margherita as a wife. Frederick preferred marriage with Jeanne, Duchess of Durazzo, her older sister, second in line to the Neapolitan throne and the wealthiest woman in the kingdom; a match approved of by Urban.

Suitors Galore

Louis II of Bourbon
The proposed match did not suit Cardinal Guy who believed that Jeanne should marry one of his nephews as promised by Louis of Taranto. Jeanne had plenty of other suitors; Count Louis of Navarre and Louis II[iii], Duke of Bourbon. To see off these more exalted suitors Cardinal Guy sent his nephew Aimon III de Geneve to Naples to woo Jeanne. Joanna indicated that if the more illustrious suitors didn’t come up to scratch;

‘And if our lord the pope should approve of the lord Aimon, she would for her part be content.’[iv]

Cardinal Talleyrand was not prepared to see his niece married off to the impoverished nephew of a rival and hastily took measures to ensure that such a marriage did not take place.

When Jeanne sent messages to Frederick warning him about the peace negotiations conducted by Niccolo Acciaiuoli, she and the senior members of her household were arrested. One of Jeanne’s conduits of information was the Archbishop of Naples who Joanna could not act against; he wrote to Cardinal Guy begging him to have Urban assign a legate to run the kingdom.

On 16th January 1364 Jeanne, in an audience before her aunt, her uncle, her mother, consented to marry Frederick. The following day Cardinal Talleyrand died and Urban immediately reversed his previous decision and ordered that Jeanne was to marry Aimon. At the end of April Urban excommunicated Joanna and Maria for failing to allow Jeanne to marry whomsoever she so pleased.

Sicilian Affairs

The peace negotiations between those Sicilians supporting Joanna and those supporting Frederick broke down with the pope’s change of mind about the marriage. On 1st June Frederick’s troops took Messina and the Neapolitan court turned on the Archbishop of Naples in fury.

They sent a sharply worded grievance to Urban who responded by sending a legate to Naples and excommunicated Maria and Joanna (again) in the event that they didn’t hand Jeanne over to the legate. The legate fled the kingdom after publishing the excommunication bulls. Despite the bulls of excommunication Jeanne was betrothed to Louis of Navarre on 23rd November 1365[v] and the couple were married on 19th June 1366.

‘The Lord Louis of Navarre entered Naples with three galleys and the next day married the Lady Jeanne, duchess of Durazzo, and that same night slept with her.’[vi]

The Neapolitan rule of Sicily had been brief and eventually Joanna was forced to agree terms with Frederick and his supporters in 1372.

Changing Times

Certosa of Galluzzo
In January 1365, having resumed sharing a bed with James, the 39 year old Joanna became pregnant again. In February Urban revoked the bull of excommunication, but Joanna miscarried in June. In despair Joanna turned to the church for solace and wrote to Urban suggesting that he move the papal court to Naples[vii]. Urban replied that he planned to return the court to Italy

On 8th November Joanna lost one of her strongest supporters, with the death of Niccolo Acciaiuoli, her Grand Seneschal. His body was transported to Florence where he was buried in the Certosa of Galluzzo[viii] Niccolo was replaced by Niccolo Spinelli, a former ambassador to the papal court.

The beginning of 1366 saw the departure of James, who was unhappy at his exclusion from government. He hoped to find supporters in his quest to regain the kingdom of Majorca. Joanna cannot have been sorry to see him go, but the loss of her sister Maria, on 20th May, must have been a blow.

A new Start

Urban V
On 20th July 1366 Urban announced the return of the papal court to Rome, a momentous announcement. The transfer didn’t begin for another nine months; the papal states were not completely pacified despite Cardinal Albornoz’ efforts[ix] and Rome itself was a shadow of its former glory. The papal palaces were uninhabitable and St Peter’s Basilica was in ruins.

Urban’s decision to return was opposed by the majority French faction in the Sacred College, concerned about leaving the luxury of Avignon for the ruins of Rome they cried;

‘Oh, wicked Pope! Oh, Godless brother? Whither is he dragging his sons?’[x]

and not least by Charles V[xi], king of France. On 18th September Naples, in league with Florence, Pisa and Siena, committed to send 650 horsemen and 650 foot soldiers to fight the marauding free companies in Rome, the chief of which was the perfidious Englishman John Hawkwood.

When, in April 1367, Urban left Avignon he was accompanied by only five members of the College of Cardinals. He arrived in Genoa in May and Hawkwood’s company was lined up on the shoreline in array. Urban was intimidated into sailing off and landing at Corneto[xii] on 4th June, from where he made his way to the eternal city arriving. Architects, masons, stone cutters and carpenters descended on Rome. Urban spent 15,569 florins[xiii] on the papal palace.

James’ Machinations

Joanna paid a state visit to Rome in March 1367 and on 17th was presented with the Golden Rose. While it was a great honour, some protested that it was never meant to be given to a woman.

James taken prisoner
Just before receiving the award Joanna had been informed that her husband had been captured and was being held for ransom. James had got involved in the struggle for the throne of Castile between Pedro the Cruel[xiv] and his half-brother Henry the Bastard.

Influenced by the Black Prince James had joined Pedro’s cause and, too ill to depart, had been captured following the evacuation of Valladolid.

‘King Henry advanced towards him, and said: “King of Majorca, you have been our enemy, and have entered our kingdom of Castille with a large army; for which reasons we lay our hands on you, and make you our prisoner, or you are a dead man.”’[xv]

Aware of Joanna’s ambivalence towards her husband, Urban wrote urging her to ransom him. Joanna’s treasury had not yet recovered from the exigencies of the wars that had ravaged Naples over the past decades. 60,000 golden doubloons[xvi] was the value placed on James’ life who returned to Naples in 1369.


Chronicles – Froissart, Penguin Classics 1968

The Holy Roman Empire – Friedrich Heer, Phoenix 1995

Joanna – Nancy Goldstone, Phoenix 2010

Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011

Hawkwood – Frances Stonor Saunders, Faber & Faber 2004

A Distant Mirror – Barbara Tuchman, MacMillan London Ltd 1989

The Flower of Chivalry – Richard Vernier, The Boydell Press 2003

[i] Joanna - Goldstone
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Who seems to have inherited the madness inherent in the Valois family
[iv] Joanna - Goldstone
[v] Failing to win the heart and hand of the heiress, Aimon departed on a crusade to Constantinople
[vi] Joanna - Goldstone
[vii] The return of the papacy to Rome had long been desired, but the citizens of Rome were notoriously aggressive and had only recently agreed to the pope’s return
[viii] A Carthusian monastery
[ix] Albornoz died on 24th August 1366
[x] Hawkwood – Stonor Saunders
[xi] John II had died in 1364, still a prisoner of the English
[xii] Now Tarquinia, 64 miles north-west of Rome
[xiii] In 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £9,676,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £308,300,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £3,765,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xiv] A cognomen given him after coming to the throne when he had his half-brother’s mother Eleanor de Guzman executed
[xvi] On the assumption that Spanish doubloons, like most other European currencies, were similar in value to pounds; in 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £34,960,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £1,221,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £14,920,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com

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