The History of Sicily

Houses of Aragon and Castile (1377-1516)

Frederick IV had only one child, Maria (1363-1401). Upon his death in 1377, rule of the island was divided over four “vicariates,” each under the control of a baronial family. Thirteen years later, Maria was kidnapped by another baron, who was not a member of that group, and she was brought to Barcelona, where she was married to Martin (1374-1409), the son of the future king of Aragon’s King Martin I (1356-1410). In 1392, Maria’s husband attacked Sicily, but only two of the four vicars chose to fight. The Spanish tricked one of these, the Chiaramontes, into a parlay at Monreale, where the parties were to discuss terms. Instead, the Chiaramontes were arrested, the Baron himself later beheaded. The leader of the second group still in the field realized that the Spaniards were too strong, and he left the island. By 1396, Martin was in complete control of Sicily, but the barons still exerted a significant influence.

When Martin I died, he was succeeded by, of all people, his father, who became Martin II of Sicily, thereby unifying Sicily and Aragon under one crown. However, only one year later Martin II died and, in 1412, representatives from the Spanish kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia elected Ferdinand (1380-1416), Martin’s nephew, to rule Sicily. Ferdinand died four years later, his son, Alfonso V of Aragon (1396-1458), taking the throne.

In 1421, Joanna (1328-1282), the childless Queen of Naples, named Alfonso her heir, but in 1435, upon Joanna’s death, another claimant came forward: Louis of Anjou. Again, the Spaniards were victorious, and by 1443, Alfonso was recognized as king of both Sicily and Naples. A successful monarch, Alfonso founded the University of Catania, built a Greek school in Messina, and became a patron of the arts. Upon his death in 1458, the crown of Naples went to his illegitimate son Ferdinand (1423-1484), while John II of Aragon and Navarre (1397-1479), Alfonso’s brother, ruled Sicily from Spain through his viceroy.

John II’s son, Ferdinand II (1452-1516) assumed the throne of Spain in 1479. It was through his marriage to Isabella (1451-1504) that Spain was finally unified; in 1492, the last Arab outpost of Granada was added to the realm. Besides unifying the country and financing Columbus’s voyage, however, Ferdinand and Isabella introduced the Inquisition into Spain and its colonies, including Sicily. The effect of their decree to force all Muslims and Jews to convert to Christianity caused many of them to emigrate, thus depriving Sicily of many merchants, financers, tradesmen, and doctors. The monarchy remained impassive to the Sicilians’ pleas that the decree be rescinded, and the island suffered.


Column from Palermo Cathedral, Displaying a Page from Koran