History – The Sicilian Vespers Part I

It all began at Vesper on March 31, 1282, the 2nd day of Easter, in the churchyard of the Church of San Spirito in Palermo. A reconstruction of the story tells of the following episode: Under the pretext of searching for hidden weapons, a French soldier, Drouet, examined a young noblewoman in a highly disrespectful manner. The noblewoman was accompanied by her husband, who – of course – reacted with anger. Thus the revolt had broken out. Mutually, the Sicilians called the hated French “tartaglioni”, tribes, because they spoke so poorly Italian. Now the Sicilians demanded that the French say the word “cicero”, and if they could not, they were murdered. During the evening and the following night, the Sicilian hunt for the French developed into a regular massacre.

At sunrise, Palermo declared itself independent. Soon the uprising spread to other cities: Corleone, Taormina, Messina, Siracusa, Augusta, Catania, etc. Carlo d’AngiĆ² tried in vain to appease the rebels with a promise of numerous reforms. Eventually, he decided to intervene with 75,000 men and 200 ships. He set out from Catona-Gallico, north of Reggio, and at the end of May he arrived at Messina; but his dream of regaining power over the island came to naught when a fleet of the king of Aragon, summoned by the Sicilians as liberators on 30 August, called at Trapani.

The Aragonese paid well to help, as Pietro III of Aragon now took control of Sicily. – It’s reminiscent of something you’ve heard before, right? – The French king fled to Naples, and the southern Italian part of the empire was separated from Sicily. A marriage between a royal daughter from Aragon and the Spanish king Carlo V led in 1516 to Spanish rule over the island. The Spaniards remained on the island until 1713, and this is tasted in the Sicilian diet. It was the Spaniards who introduced the Sicilians to foods such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and cocoa. So far so good; but the Spanish government gave no improvements to the Sicilian people. Instead, it became another period of oppression and poverty. The Spanish kings plundered the island, from which they, among other things. removed many art treasures and works written by the Arabs. Feudalism continued, and the Spanish barons depleted the island in order to obtain wealth for themselves. The aristocracy used their immense wealth to build luxury palaces where they lived a life of luxury instead of investing. Today, these palaces are seen in several places. The following page shows a few examples.

While the Spaniards lived the sweet life, many Sicilians died of starvation. And then the plague came to the island. The terrible time is depicted in the fresco of the Triumph of Death (Trionfo della Morte) from the middle of the 15th century in the Palazzo Abbatelli in Palermo.

The last Spanish king of Sicily was Philip V, who with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 had to cede the island to Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy. By the time Spanish rule ended in 1713, the richest and most fertile island had become the poorest in Europe! Vittoria Amadeo II was an autocratic king and warrior from the Savoy, Prince of Piedmont and also held a wealth of duke and marquis titles. He now became king of Sicily until 1720, after which he became king of Sardinia.

The Utrecht Agreement stated that Sicily was still a feudal state under Spain and that if the male branch of the Savoy family became extinct, Sicily would return under the Spanish crown. It came in 1734, when Carlo of Bourbon became regent and took the name Carlo III. He chose Palermo as the city of government and introduced the Sicilians to i.a. bullfighting, which became a staple even up in the 19th century.

Sicily was linked more closely to the Italian mainland when Carlos’ son, Ferdinand III came to the throne in 1759, for he chose Naples as the city of government. Throughout this century, however, the political power of Sicily was heavily dependent on a dozen baronies who had enormous political influence. During the Napoleonic Wars (1804-1815) Ferdinand was forced to leave Naples and flee to Palermo, but in 1815 he returned and in 1816 founded the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and changed his own name to Ferdinand I. The name of the kingdom was an attempt to satisfy the Sicilians, for the changes in fact meant that the few privileges they had had were removed. This led to a general dissatisfaction that became the basis of Risorgimento, Italy’s collection.

The dream of liberating itself from Bourbon autocracy was very strong and there were many revolts in the years from 1816 to 1860; but the Sicilians had no luck in obtaining freedom. Therefore, they supported Giuseppe Garibaldi when he and his thousand men, also called Red Shirts, or simply the Thousands, on May 11, 1860, landed in Marsala.
On May 15 at Calatafimi, the Thousand won with difficulty the first battle against approx. 2,000 Bourbon soldiers. In the meantime, the Thousand had become approx. 1,200 when part of the local population joined the army.

Aided by the public uprising, Garibaldi won again in Palermo after a few days of fighting that stretched from 27 to 30 May. On July 20, the Bourbon troops were defeated at Milazzo, after which Garibaldi continued to the continent. In 1861, the Kingdom of Italy became a reality and the Kingdom of Sicily was united with it.

History - The Sicilian Vespers Part I