Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Normans in Italy: The time of crisis 1046-1054

The transition from mercenaries to legitimate rulers was not accomplished easily. The Normans were faced with a series of problems and opponents in the middle of the eleventh century.

Legitimating Aversa and Melfi 1045-47

A little before the middle of the 11th century, the political scene in southern Italy was still unstable. It was only because of the help of his Norman contingents that Guaimar of Salerno succeeded in establishing control over Gaeta, Salerno and Capua and proclaimed himself, in open defiance of the Byzantines, duke of Apulia and Calabria in 1043. His attempts to achieve unity were doomed to failure.  After the death of the Norman, Rainulf I, in 1045, he failed to impose one of his followers on the throne of Aversa and Rainulf’s nephew, Rainulf II Trincanocte briefly succeeded.  The arrival of German emperor Henry III, in 1047 put an end to Guaimar’s dreams of glory and he abandoned claims to be duke of Apulia. Capua was taken from him and returned to Pandulf IV, its legitimate prince and he put under his suzerainty the counties of Aversa and Melfi.  Aversa and Melfi were now two of the most important Norman principalities, whose legitimacy was recognised by the most powerful princes at the time. Emperor Henry III officially invested Drogo of Melfi and also Rainulf II of Aversa.

The conquest of southern Italy is associated with the destiny of the Hauteville brothers, but the Drengots, another Norman family also had an important role to play. The Lombard principality of Capua was the one most influenced by the politics of Rome, and, above all, by the decisions of the Montecassino abbots. Between 1038 and 1047, it was invaded and annexed by Guaimar IV of Salerno, thanks to his Norman mercenaries but was returned to its legitimate ruler. It became the primary objective of Richard Drengot of Aversa, the third member of the family to hold the neighbouring county of Aversa, in theory for the account of the duke of Salerno. Richard Drengot became prince of Capua in 1050, but was not able to exercise real power until 1052, after a long series of skirmishes, and thanks to the support of abbot Desiderius of Montecassino. His legitimacy was thus established, and after his death, in 1078, six princes of his lineage held the principality of Capua and the county of Aversa, the first Norman establishment in Italy. Robert Guiscard had to come to terms with them and it was only just before reuniting under the same crown the whole of the Mezzogiorno, that Roger II, the nephew of Robert Guiscard, annexed the lands of Drengot in Capua and Aversa in 1129. 

The rise of Robert Guiscard

The history of the constitution of Melfi and the conquest of Mezzogiorno are finely tied to the destiny of one family, that of the Hautevilles. It was the sons of Tancred de Hauteville who administered the territories of the counties of Melfi: Drogo (or Dreux) succeeded his brother William Iron-Arm, then Drogo by Humphrey and Humphrey by Robert Guiscard. Another brother, Roger, under the authority of Robert Guiscard undertook the conquest of Sicily.

Their father, Tancred de Hauteville, a nobleman from a modest domain in the centre of the Cotentin in Normandy, near Coutances, too poor to hand down a patrimony to his fourteen children, who would all play, to different degrees, a role in the history of Mezzogiorno: William Iron-Arm, count of Apulia from 1042 to 1046, Drogo, count of Apulia from 1046 to 1051, Humphrey[1], count of Apulia from 1051 to 1057, Geoffrey, count of Capitanate and Serlon, of whom we know little. His second wife, Fresende, who had numerous sons: Robert Guiscard would be duke of Apulia, Calabria and Sicily (1057/59-1085), Mauger, count of Capitanate, William, lord of Principate (a land on the border of the principality of Benevento). Alfred, Hubert, Tancrede are not as well known. The youngest, Roger, would be count of Calabria and Sicily and father of Roger II, king of Sicily in 1130. Of his daughters, it is known that one, Fresende married Richard of Aversa in Italy, mother of Jordan I, count of Capua (1078-1090), and another was the grandmother of Sibyl of Conversano, who married the duke of Normandy, Robert Curthose, on his return from the Crusades in 1100.

The brother who left the longest lasting mark on the history of Italy was Robert, whose nickname the Guiscard, (the Cunning), gained in Calabria, and reflects his main trait of character. Born around 1025, his elder brothers had already settled in southern Italy, before he joined them with a small group of comrades-in-arms, in 1047, just after the death of William Iron-Arm. His brothers, averse to share their recently acquired spoils, welcomed him coolly. He thus became a mercenary and served with the prince of Capua, Pandulf IV. Eventually his brother sent Robert to the base that the Normans had already established at Scribla in northern Calabria with the assignment of harassing the Byzantine troops. When he was not helping his brothers, Robert, in order to survive, fell into brigandage and the population did not welcome his presence. Robert left his ‘eagle’s nest’ in Calabria when his brother Humphrey died in 1057 to succeed him at the head of the Apulian county of Melfi. In order to reinforce his political position locally, he married a Lombard princess, Guaimar IV of Salerno’s daughter, Sichelgaita, who gave birth to a son, Roger Borsa, who was to inherit the duchy of Apulia. For the marriage, which favoured his ambitions, Robert had to repudiate his first union with Alberada, aunt of his compatriot Gerald de Buonalbergo. Bohemond, his child with Alberada, nonetheless, stayed loyal to his father during his campaigns against the Byzantine Empire but only received the town of Tarento as legacy. He would try to gain a principality in Antioch during the First Crusade (1095-1100) pushing ever further the ambitions of the Normans in Italy.

The crisis of 1051-53

The continued expansion of the Normans in the late 1040s to the north into the duchy of Benevento and south in the direction of Calabria led by Robert Guiscard resulted in growing opposition. Benevento was vulnerable to Norman advances and by the early 1050s two powerful leaders had established themselves not far from Benevento: Count Hugh led the ‘Beneventan Normans’ and Gerald de Buonalbergo led the ‘men of Telese’ in an area to the north-west and west of Benevento. A third Norman, Radulfus des Moulins had established himself further north in the vicinity of Boiano, in an upland valley to the north of the Monti del Matese. Gerald de Buonalbergo proved an important ally of Robert Guiscard: he offered his aunt Alberada[2] (his father’s presumably much younger sister) and then proposed to serve with him to some 200 knights. With these substantial reinforcements, Robert made immediate gains in Calabria.

Pope Leo IX (1048-54) came to southern Italy in the early months of 1051, visit Salerno and Capua before going to the shrine of St Michael on Monte Gargano. He was profoundly shocked by what he saw. The Normans were cordially detested by the native population largely because of their brutal and destructive warfare. Leo begged the Normans to abandon their oppression of the poor and also accused them of attacking churches. It was, however, events in Benevento that brought matters to a head. The city and its rulers refused to submit to the emperor Henry III in 1047 and Pandulf III proved equally unwilling when Leo came to the city in 1050 seeing him as an imperial ally (the emperor was his cousin). Leo then renewed his predecessor’s excommunication of the Beneventans. Norman attacks near the city itself led to the townspeople expelling Pandulf and his officials and asked the pope to take on the rule of the city. In April 1051, the citizens swore fealty to the pope and in July Leo visited Benevento and removed its excommunication taking over the city in the emperor’s name. Drogo and prince Guaimar were summoned by the pope who insisted that the Norman attacks on Benevento should stop. Drogo agreed but he was unable to control his fellow Normans and the attacks continued. This shows how limited Drogo’s authority was as count of Apulia. Drogo was assassinated on 10th August 1051 at Montillaro, near Bovino by some local inhabitants and was succeeded as leader of the Apulian Normans by his brother Humphrey.

Drogo’s assassination demonstrated both the unpopularity of the Normans and how far the situation in southern Italy was, from Leo’s perspective, out of control. Drastic action was needed to restore order and Leo decided that a military solution was needed. The Byzantine empire, equally affected by the Normans had sought an alliance with the German court in 1049. In March 1051, Argyrus[3] returned to Bari as the new catepan and opened negotiations with the pope for an anti-Norman alliance. Pressure on the northern Byzantine border from the Pechenegs and attacks by the Turks from the east made it unlikely that Argyrus brought military reinforcements with him in 1051 and William of Apulia suggests that he may have tried to hire the Normans as mercenaries against the Turks.  It took a further two years for the anti-Norman coalition to come to fruition. Guaimar IV of Salerno was still closely linked with the Normans and flatly refused to co-operate and, as yet, support from the imperial court was not forthcoming. However, Guaimar’s rule was rocked by a revolt in his subject city of Amalfi and then on 3rd June he was assassinated along with his younger brother Pandulf. His death appears to have had little to do with his links with the Normans; rather he fell victim to a conspiracy at his own court led by his four brothers-in-law. However, they made the mistake of allowing the prince’s brother Guido to escape and he appealed to Humphrey de Hauteville for support. Within a fortnight, the dead prince’s son Gisulf had been installed as prince and forty of the rebels including the four ring-leaders had been killed. Amatus of Montecassino says that the Normans ‘became Gisulf’s knights and were invested by his hand with the land that they held’. This did not mean that the Apulian Normans recognised Gisulf as their lord but was recognition that a number of Normans either already held or were now granted land in the principality of Salerno. More importantly, it meant that in the short-term Salerno remained neutral in the approaching showdown with the pope.

Despite the potential threat facing them, the Normans continued their attack. In 1052, Richard of Aversa besieged Capua and allowed himself to be bought off. Count Humphrey launched a pre-emptive strike against the forces of Arygrus and decisively defeated them at Siponto. This strengthened Leo’s determination to do something about the ‘Norman problem’ and he spent Christmas 1052 with the German emperor at Worms. The campaign of 1053 was the only concerted attempt to defeat the Normans in southern Italy. The anti-Norman coalition may have been broad but it was the failure fully to combine its forces that led to its defeat.  Leo returned to Rome in March 1053 but the substantial force the emperor Henry III had dispatched was recalled. The only German reinforcements were some several hundred Swabian troops, drawn from Leo’s own relations and connections. Indeed, there is evidence that the expedition was not popular in Germany.  At the end of May, Leo travelled to southern Italy with a substantial army composed of troops from the principality of Capua, from the Abruzzi, the Lombard counties in the northern Capitanata as well as some troops from Benevento. William of Apulia also suggests that Leo had recruited troops from the marches and duchy of Spolento. The intention was to march into Apulia and join forced with the Byzantine troops under Argyrus.

This threat compelled the Normans to unite under the overall command of count Humphrey. In addition to the combined forces of the Apulian Normans, support came from their principal competitors Peter and Walter, sons of Amicus, Normans from the Benevento region, count Richard of Aversa and his troops and those of Robert Guiscard from Calabria. William of Apulia estimated some 3,000 cavalry but little infantry. They confronted the pope’s army near the river Fortore, not far from Civitate, in Capitanata as it was vital to prevent Leo’s army joining up with the Byzantine forces and their Apulian auxiliaries further south. Initially, the Normans tried to negotiate: the size of the papal army, a reluctance to fight against the pope and a serious shortage of food made negotiation seem attractive. Their main ploy was to offer to hold their lands as papal vassals. These broke down according to William of Apulia through the arrogance of the Germans and especially the papal chancellor Frederick of Lorraine. The Normans, short of food had either to fight or disperse. They chose to fight. The battle took place on 17th June 1053. The German contigent put up a bitter resistance to the Apulian Normans and to Guiscard’s troops from Calabria. However, Richard of Aversa routed the left wing of the Italian forces and then attacked the Germans from the rear. The papal army was annihilated. Like Hastings thirteen years later, Civitate was a decisive military victory and meant that there was no hope of expelling the Normans paving the way for their conquest of the rest of southern Italy. It represented the ruin of Leo’s policy in southern Italy and was a dire warning against the papacy becoming directly involved in secular warfare. The citizens of Civitate promptly surrendered Leo IX to the Normans and he was imprisoned and kept captive for ten months in Benevento.

It took some time for the effects of the defeat to become apparent and for papal policy towards the Normans to change. Negotiations continued between the pope, the German emperor, the catepan Argyrus and the imperial court in Constantinople in early 1054. Any likelihood of the anti-Norman coalition being revived was effectively compromised by the vehement opposition of the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius. He distrusted Argyrus and his negotiations with the emperor and was embroiled in an increasingly acrimonious dispute over matters of religious difference with the papal legation led by Humbert, cardinal bishop of Silva Candida dispatched by Leo in early 1054. The papal embassy ended did nothing except widen the religious divide between east and west. The deaths of several of the leading anti-Normans effectively brought any attempt to recreate the anti-Norman alliance to an end. Leo IX died in April 1054 and there was a considerable delay before a successor was chosen. Constantine IX died in January 1055 and this was followed by a long period of political instability at Constantinople. The emperor Henry III died in October 1056 leaving a small boy as his heir with a long minority in prospect.


[1] Humphrey was born in Hauteville-la-Guichard, Normandy and died in 1057 at Melfi in Apulia. He led the Norman conquest of southern Italy after the deaths of his older brothers William and Drogo and succeeded them as count of Apulia (1051). Arriving in Italy c. 1035, Humphrey fought in Sicily and Apulia, in southern Italy, becoming count of Lavello in 1045. Six years later, as count of Apulia, he married the sister of Guaimar IV of Salerno. In 1052, after pro-Byzantine forces murdered Guaimar and seized Salerno, Humphrey helped Gaimar’s brother, the Duke of Sorrento, to recover the throne for Guaimar’s young son. Humphrey also played an important role in the decisive battle of Civitate (1053), in which the Normans defeated a papal army. Pope Leo IX was taken prisoner, and on his release and return to Rome in 1054, Humphrey escorted him as far as Capua, north of Naples. Humphrey designated his half brother Robert Guiscard as successor and guardian of his infant son Abelard, but on Humphrey’s death Robert seized Abelard’s lands, thus becoming the greatest landholder in southern Italy and laying the foundation for his own power.

[2] The link between Gerald de Buonalbergo and Guiscard remained strong even when Guiscard later repudiated his wife on the ground of consanguinity. Most historians have assumed that this was simply an excuse and that his real motive was a political marriage with a Lombard princess as a means of speeding up his conquest of the south.

[3] He had spent some five years in Constantinople and played a prominent role in suppressing a rebellion in 1047. He was now a trusted Byzantine official.

No comments: