THE SICILIAN VESPERS
 PHILIP, St. Louis's eldest son, stayed at Tunis for
about two months after his
father's death. He then made peace with the Turks and
set sail for France, taking
with him the body of the dead king. From the beginning
it was a sad voyage. How
could it be otherwise when King Louis was dead?
Before the fleet had been long at sea, a great storm
arose and destroyed a large
number of the ships. Then Philip's wife, who had been
thrown from a horse shortly
before, fell ill and died. It was indeed a sad company
of crusaders which at length
in 1271 reached France.
Philip III. was named the Bold. It is said that he
gained the name when he was a
child. For one day, seeing his mother. Queen Margaret,
shrink back at the sight of
some fierce-looking Saracens, the little prince had
drawn himself up, saying
bravely, "I am not at all afraid." The king would
scarcely have been called the Bold
from his deeds after he became a man.
King Philip was neither wise nor strong. His uncle,
Charles of Anjou, who was
restless and ambitious, attracted more interest and
attention than his quiet nephew.
While Charles was ruling over Naples and Sicily, and,
proving himself more powerful
than any prince in Italy, Philip was living quietly at
home, ruled by his favourite,
Peter de la Brosse.
Peter had once been the king's barber, but Philip had
made him a noble. The more
powerful he became, the more the nobles hated him.
 The favourite was always to be seen at the king's
councils. The barons wished
he were anywhere but there, for they knew that if Peter
did not approve, their
schemes would soon be set aside and forgotten.
The king, you remember, had lost his wife on the way
home from Tunis. Four years
later Philip had married again, and the new queen, Mary
of Brabant, having great
influence over the king, did all she could to lessen
the power of the favourite, for
she hated Peter as much as did the nobles.
Peter, on his side, had no love for the queen. When
Philip's eldest son, the queen's
step-son, took ill and died, the favourite dared to
whisper to the king that Queen
Mary had poisoned the prince, that her own child might
in time wear the crown of
At first the king listened to Peter, but he was soon
ashamed that he had done so,
for he knew his wife could not do so cruel a deed.
The queen herself did not rest until the favourite was
punished. She and the barons
watched Peter closely, and at length accused him of
treason. After that even the
king could not save him. Peter was condemned as a
traitor and hanged. The people
were not pleased at the fate of the favourite, for he
had been one of themselves;
but the nobles, so an old chronicler says, "took
pleasure in witnessing his
Charles of Anjou, the king's uncle, was, as I told you,
King of Naples and Sicily.
He was harsh and proud, "neither smiling nor speaking
much," and the gay Sicilian
people, as well as those who dwelt in Naples, hated
their French king and his
followers. At length they determined, whenever an
opportunity came, to turn Charles
and the French out of their country.
Easter 1282 dawned, while the anger of the Sicilians
was still smouldering. The
trees were already green, the air warm, as the bells
rang that Easter day in the
town of Palermo for vespers or evening prayer.
 The Sicilians, clad in their holiday gowns,
trooped to the service.
Among the crowd were French soldiers, whom Charles had
commanded to keep order. But
instead of doing their duty, the soldiers behaved so
rudely to the people that the
Sicilians bade them begone.
"These Sicilians must carry arms or they would not dare
to speak so insolently," said the soldiers one to another, and they began to
search the peasants. One beautiful maiden they handled so roughly that she
fainted. Quick as thought her lover drew his dagger and stabbed the French soldier to
This was the opportunity for which the Sicilians were
waiting. At once a cry arose,
"Death, death to the French!" and in a transport of
fury the Sicilians fell upon the soldiers, and not one escaped alive. Then the crowd,
too maddened with rage to know what it was doing, stormed the houses in Palermo, and
killed all who were not Italians.
Throughout the island the rebellion spread, and every
Frenchman that was found was
put to death. We still shudder as we read of the "Sicilian
Vespers," for so the
massacre was called, because it began as the vesper
bells rang for evening prayer.
When Charles of Anjou, who had been in Naples, heard
what had happened, his anger
knew no bounds. With a large force he at once set out
to punish the Sicilians.
They, knowing themselves defenceless against Charles,
offered the crown of Sicily to
Pedro, King of Aragon, and begged him to come to their
help. Pedro's own kingdom of
Aragon was in the north of Spain.
Pedro accepted the crown which the Sicilians offered
him, and at once sent
ambassadors to Charles bidding him withdraw his troops
In his rage Charles gnawed the top of his sceptre;
nevertheless, he withdrew to
Naples, vowing to return to take vengeance on his foes.
 Meanwhile, Pedro defeated the French fleet, and
took Charles's son prisoner.
Rage and sorrow together threw Charles of Anjou into a
fever from which he never
recovered He died in 1285.
When Philip the Bold heard that his uncle was dead, he
determined to carry on the
war with Pedro. He therefore attacked him in his own
kingdom of Aragon.
But the town Philip besieged was hard to take, and
while the king waited with his
army beneath its walls, his fleet, with provisions for
the army, was destroyed! His
soldiers, too. were already suffering terribly from the
heat, so Philip determined
to go back to France.
With his army worn out by fever and want of food, it
was no easy matter to recross
the Pyrenees. As the soldiers struggled homewards, the
king heard that the remnant
of his fleet had been destroyed. Disappointed and
ashamed, Philip fell sick and died
before he reached France.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics