In her 1894 book, Naples, the City of Parthenope and its Environs, author Clara Erskine Clement [Waters] (1834-1916) goes through the history of the Italian city, discussing the various surviving buildings that were constructed by successive monarchs over the centuries. Let’s follow her and see what has survived to the present! What today we call the Kingdom of Naples did not come into existence until the 1280s after the Sicilian Vespers split the Kingdom of Sicily into two sections. Clement begins the second chapter of her book before that split, with reign of Frederick II, who became king of Sicily (which then included Naples) in 1198 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1220.

Kingdom of SicilySource: Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

The Kingdom of Sicily was established in the wake of the Norman conquest of Sicily and southern Italy in the eleventh century. In 1130 the Norman ruler, Roger II, was crowned King of Sicily. By the time of his death in 1154 he had united all the areas conquered by the Normans under his rule. Norman rule continued until the invasion of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI in 1194. Henry, son of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, was a member of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. He claimed the kingdom in right of his wife Constance, the posthumously born daughter of Roger II. Henry and Constance’s son, Frederick II, eventually succeeded his parents as King of Germany, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor. A remarkable ruler who was called the Wonder of the World, he was crowned King of Sicily at the age of two. Raised in Sicily, he absorbed its cosmopolitan culture and was always more interested in his Sicilian Kingdom than his German one. As Clement writes:

His life was passed amid contentions and quarrels with different Popes, and he was accused of being a traitor to the Church and to his people. But these matters had little or no effect upon his reign in Naples and Sicily, where he must have found more abundant recompense for his cares and anxieties, and greater personal happiness in the early years of his sovereignty, than elsewhere in any portion of his life. He not only founded the University of Naples and laid the foundation of the Italian language, but he interested himself in the universities of Bologna and Salerno as well; he encouraged native literature by his own writing of Italian poetry, and generously devoted himself to the intellectual upbuilding of the kingdom of his birth.

University of Naples Federico IIUniversity of Naples Federico II

The University of Naples Federico II (Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II), named for its founder, was established in 1224. The world’s oldest state university, it continues today as one of the oldest academic institutions in continuous operation. Hohenstaufen rule over Sicily did not last long after Frederick II’s death in 1250. As Clement relates:

Frederick II. was succeeded by his son Conrad, whose reign of four years was a period of violence. This king devoted himself to contending with William of Holland for the imperial crown, and made his illegitimate brother, Manfred, his regent in Italy; although hated by Conrad, Manfred bravely and faithfully defended his brother’s rights against Pope Innocent IV. At Conrad’s death, his infant son, Conradin, became king, and Manfred continued to govern in his name, and in 1258, on a rumor of the young king’s death, was himself made King of Naples and Sicily, and crowned at Palermo in August of that year.

Manfred made an alliance with the Ghibellines which largely increased his power, but he was continually under the displeasure of the Popes, and led a stormy and turbulent life. Early in his reign he was forced to fly from the curses of the Pontiff to the protection of the Saracens whom his father had placed at Lucera. His journey was full of danger; leaving Venosa at midnight, with but few attendants, — one of whom, Niccolo di Giansilla, wrote an account of the adventure, — he encountered a frightful storm, and would have been lost but for a chance meeting with some huntsmen of his father’s, who guided him to a deserted hunting-lodge which had belonged to the late Emperor. Manfred was here securely hidden from his pursuers, and gained some hours of repose while his garments were dried before what he termed “a royal fire.”

Castle of LuceraCastle of Lucera, Source: Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Next morning the huntsmen conducted him to the castle of Lucera, and one of them, speaking in Arabic, announced to the Saracens that the son of their Emperor came to them for protection. These Infidels were enthusiastic in their loyalty to Manfred; but the keeper of the fortress, who held the keys, was his enemy, and refused him admission. At this point a Saracen directed Manfred’s attention to a gutter made for the passage of rain-water beneath the gate. Manfred threw himself from his horse and had entered the ditch, when the garrison, enraged at seeing their prince thus humiliated, rushed to the gates and burst them open; and Manfred, remounting his horse, was led triumphantly into the city, where he was received with demonstrations of respect and affection, as the son of their beloved Emperor.

In 1260 Manfred had successfully invaded the Papal States, after being excommunicated by Urban IV., and had conquered all Tuscany. He now found time to devote himself to the improvement of his kingdom, as his father had done; and, like the great Frederick, Manfred knew how to gain the affection of his people. He commenced the construction of the port of Salerno, and founded the beautiful city of Manfredonia, to which he gave the celebrated bell, — the largest in Italy, — the tone of which surpassed all others in its rich sweetness. He established schools in the principal cities of his kingdom; and at his splendid court, of which he was the brilliant centre, scholars and poets were made welcome.

Coronation of Manfred of SicilyCoronation of Manfred as King of Sicily in 1258, Source: Wikimedia Commons

But the battle of Benevento, in 1266, where Manfred was defeated by Charles I. of Anjou, ended his life, and the sovereignty of his house in the kingdom of Naples. Before the battle Manfred sent ambassadors to treat with Charles, who dismissed them with this message: “Tell the Sultan of Nocera that I will send him to hell, or he must place me in paradise.” There were traitors among the nobles surrounding Manfred; and when he saw that he was losing the battle, he resolved to die in the midst of his friends rather than survive the overthrow of his kingdom, which, in the short period of sixteen years, he had defended against four Popes.

As he put on his helmet, the silver eagle which surmounted it fell on his saddle. “This,” he exclaimed, ” is a sign from God. I fastened it there myself, and its fall is no accident.” He spurred his horse into the thick of the fight, and, having no distinguishing badge, was slain as a common soldier, and his body was not found for several days. At length some attendants recognized it, and placed it on an ass which they led before the victorious Charles, who assembled his noble prisoners in order to make its identity certain. The aged count, Giordano Lancia, threw himself on the corpse and covered it with kisses, crying, “Alas, alas, my lord, my lord good and wise! Who has thus cruelly taken thy life?” The French soldiers were so moved that they begged Charles to bury Manfred honorably; but he refused their request because the dead king was under the sentence of excommunication, and his body was thrown into a pit at the foot of the bridge of Benevento. Every French soldier placed a stone above it, as a mark of respect to their fallen enemy; and this pile was afterwards called the “Rock of Roses.” But the Archbishop of Cosenza, with the authority of Clement IV., disinterred the body and scattered it to the winds of the Abruzzi.

Manfred was defeated in 1266 by Charles of Anjou, who had received the Kingdom of Sicily by a papal grant in 1262. As Clement writes: “The story of Manfred, which is immortalized by the pen of Dante, has never lost its interest; while the insatiable cruelty of Charles of Anjou has left an indelible stain upon his reign, in some respects brilliant and notable.”