René_d'AnjouKing René and his army from the Vigiles de roi Charles VII, 1484
(Source: Wikimedia)

Joanna[II]’s death [in 1435] was the signal for wars and contentions for the throne of Naples between the French and Aragonese claimants, in which a large part of Europe was involved, which continued seventy years and ended in its becoming a Spanish possession.

After the death of Louis III, titular King of Naples, who was the chosen heir of Queen Joanna II, she left her kingdom to Louis’ brother, René of Anjou. René was the son of King Louis II of Naples, who had opposed King Ladislaus of Naples, and grandson of Louis I of Naples, who had been the husband of Joanna I. The quotation above is by Clara Erskine Clement from her book Naples, the City of Parthenope and its Environs (1894). She goes on to describe the events that followed Queen Joanna’s death:

Alfonso of Aragon claimed the Neapolitan throne; butthe Republic of Genoa, under the direction of the Duke of Milan, declared itself in favor of René of Anjou, who was at this time the prisoner of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in the Tower of Bar at Dijon. When his inheritance of a kingdom under the will of Queen Joanna was made known to him, the joy it might have brought him under other circumstances was turned to bitterness by the fact of his imprisonment, which his added importance would tend to make more rigorous.

As René feared, so it proved. The Duke at once transferred his prisoner to Bracon, and determined, now that he had a king in his power, to push to the last possible sou the price of his ransom, and to profit as much as he might by this change of circumstances. It may easily be understood that René was excited almost to madness by his desire for freedom, that he might possess and enjoy his brilliant heritage on the Bay of Naples, as well as add to the glory and riches of the House of Anjou. The representations of the Neapolitan ambassadors convinced him that no time could be lost if he wished to prevent the King of Aragon from seizing Naples, and he determined immediately to send his wife, Isabella of Lorraine, as his regent, with full powers for peace or war. The letters which named her the Lieutenant-General of her husband were signed at Dijon in 1435, four months after the death of Joanna.

The tedious and complicated course of events which led to the liberation of René is not to be recited here, neither will we recount the mingled success and failure which attended the rule of Queen Isabella during the weary months of her husband’s confinement. Not until May, 1438, did King René first feast his eyes on the marvellous panorama of the Bay of Naples and the Mediterranean Sea, which formed the southern boundary of his new inheritance. While the unequalled natural beauties satisfied his artistic nature, and the souvenirs of classic ages appealed to his scholarly instincts, the sight of the Spanish flag floating from the Castel dell’ Ovo and the Castel Nuovo reminded him that this heaven-endowed heritage could not be peacefully enjoyed until conquered through fierce and bloody battles.

On landing, Isabella met him with their youngest son; while the eldest, John, with his wife, disembarked at the same moment. This family reunion excited the quick sympathy of the Neapolitans, who rent the air with sincere shouts of welcome. A better acquaintance with the person of their new sovereign served but to increase their enthusiasm. René, not yet thirty years old, and already so experienced in the chances and changes of human life, was affable in bearing, and possessed of such personal charms as could not fail to recommend him to his impressionable subjects. They attended him to Castel Capuano, where Queen Isabella was residing ; and three days later he made his triumphal entry into Naples on horseback, and assumed his seat upon the throne of the kingdom. The enthusiasm of his reception knew no bounds. De la Marche tells us that the people embraced each other and cried out, “The war is ended! ” when, alas! the war was about to begin.

Jacopo_CaldoraJacopo Caldora (Source: Wikimedia)

The renowned general, Jacopo Caldora, soon presented himself to King René, who reviewed the troops he had brought with him. He offered his soldiers to his sovereign, but pleaded his own age as a reason why he should retire from active service. But René so well knew the worth of his counsel that, far from consenting to his retirement, the king conferred on Caldora the full command of the military affairs of his kingdom, thus gaining an opportunity to examine and reorganize the civil administration of the government.

René instituted important reforms in the conduct of the University of Naples, of the Certosa of S. Martino, and the Congregation of S. Martha. He made new and just laws relative to commerce, duties, and taxes, and, so far as he was able, rewarded those who had assisted Queen Isabella in her struggle to maintain his authority until he could gain his freedom and take the reins of government in his own hands. King René was not long permitted to occupy himself with civil affairs; in August, but three months after his arrival in Naples, he found it necessary to go, with all the troops that he could muster, to the assistance of Caldora in the Abruzzi, where he was opposed to Alfonso with an army much larger than that of the Neapolitans. Hostilities, which endured for some months, first in the mountains, and finally at Naples itself, resulted in the defeat of the Aragonese, who were driven into Calabria, leaving Naples and the surrounding country in the control of King René.

At this point the friends and allies of the two claimants to the Neapolitan kingdom endeavored to negotiate a peaceful solution of the quarrel which should put an end to their wars, and bring good government and prosperity to both Sicily and Naples; but each one of the powers claiming to be interested in these objects had its own ends to gain, and, in fact, pursued them in preference to the measures which might have resulted in the good of all.

After long and futile arguments on one side and the other, in November, 1441, Alfonso regularly besieged the city of Naples, having previously, while René awaited the conclusion of the negotiations for peace, skilfully worked his way here and there in the disputed territory, and by one means and another prevailed on many towns to favor his cause. Francesco Sforza and Antonio Caldora, son of the famous Jacopo, had both proved traitors, of the blackest dye, to the cause of René.

In spite of all his discouragements, the French prince displayed undaunted courage and a character of the noblest type. Could he have relied on any outside aid, his personal valor and daring deeds, if imitated by but a handful of his followers, might have turned the tide of events in his favor. But the Duke of Milan feared lest the power of France should be too largely increased; Charles VII. was engrossed with the English and his own affairs to the exclusion of the cause of his brother-in-law, and, indeed, he had never ceased to hold amicable relations with Alfonso of Aragon ; Pope Eugenius IV. was rendered almost powerless by the divisions in the Church ; the mercenary captains were unfaithful to their engagements ; the Venetians were no reliance for René; the aid which the Genoese could give him was insufficient ; and of equal importance with any one, or perhaps more than one, of these unfortunate conditions, was his want of money.

Finally, seven months after the beginning of the siege, after heroic efforts to repulse the enemy almost single-handed, he embarked, with the few followers who wished to share his fortunes, on some Genoese galleys, and, landing at Pisa, made his way to Florence. Here an element of comedy was mingled with the tragedy of his experiences, when the Pope solemnly conferred on him the crown of the kingdom which he had already lost.

Thus, after nearly four years of almost incessant warfare, was the reign of the House of Anjou ended in Naples. René persisted in styling himself the King of Naples, and so long as he lived indulged the dream of reclaiming the throne he had lost. To this end he used all the diplomacy at his command, as well as his own troops and those of his son. If he failed to recover his throne, his race had conferred a vast benefit on France ; for the reign of the House of Anjou in Naples during one hundred and seventy-five years had secured to the French that power in Italy which endured, in greater or less degree, for centuries after the failure of the Angevine princes.