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A softer approach – or when Edward I did his peace dove act

Edward I of England is one of those historical characters that tend to inspire a lot of ambivalence. This man, who chose to have “Hammer of the Scots” inscribed on his tomb was many things: dutiful son, loving husband, harsh conqueror, efficient ruler, capable warrior, devout Crusader, ruthless when he felt wronged—and once upon a time he also expended three years in an effort to create a lasting peace between Aragon and France.  Not exactly a role we’re accustomed to see Edward Longshanks play, but this just goes to show the complexities of the man.


It all started with the Sicilian Vespers, an uprising in Sicily aimed at Charles d’Anjou, who some decades earlier had invaded Sicily and defeated the previous king, Manfred before proclaiming himself king of Sicily. So far all well and good: after all, for most people the guy at the top did not really matter, as long as he did his thing and left them alone. Except Charles d’Anjou had plans. Big, big plans. I blame that on being the brother of St Louis and therefore having this huge need to prove himself. Whatever the case, Charles wanted more lands, and the best way to finance all those expansionist plans was to tax the people he already controlled. Heavily. Which may be why the Sicilians finally decided they’d had enough of the Angevins and rebelled.

Pedro and Constanza sweeping in to help…

Obviously, nothing is quite that simple. Still, in 1282, Sicily rose in rebellion and who would sweep in to help the beleaguered rebels if not Pedro of Aragon with his wife, Constanza of Sicily? In return for their help, the Sicilians agreed to recognise Pedro and Constanza as their king and queen. For Constanza, this was a personal matter.  Her daddy was the Manfred who died fighting Charles d’Anjou. It was her little brothers Charles had imprisoned under terrible conditions—legend has it that the little boys (the eldest was four at the time of Manfred’s death) were kept in chains and in more or less permanent darkness. Some even say Charles had the boys blinded. So yes, Constanza felt entitled, one could say, and Pedro was more than happy to oblige, seeing as Sicily would make a nice little addition to his territories.

Now, not everyone was delighted by the Aragonese annexation of Sicily. Obviously, Charles was incensed. Here he was, building a new Angevin dynasty and that rat of an Aragonese king was stealing a piece of his empire from him! Charles’ nephew, Philippe III of France was equally upset. And the pope was so angry he likely stumbled over the words excommunicating Pedro. Why would the pope care? Because Charles, being a savvy man, had made Sicily a papal fief (which he, obviously, held from the pope).

The long and the short of it was that everyone went after the Aragonese. In Italy, Charles d’Anjou had his power base in Naples. He, however, was elsewhere, raising more troops and ships to take on Pedro of Aragon, and so his son, Charles of Salerno, was left in charge, with strict instructions from dear Papa NOT to take on the Aragonese navy, so ably led by Roger de Lauria.

You all know how sons are: eager to prove themselves, and Charles Jr was no exception. Having concluded that de Lauria had much fewer ships than he had, he went after him. It did not end well, and now Charles d’Anjou had not only lost Sicily, he’d also lost his son and heir to the Aragonese. Not that he seems to have been unduly worried about Charles, seeing as he supposedly made a comment along the lines that “who loses a fool loses nothing”.

It fell to the French—eagerly cheered on by the pope—to do something about this. Philippe mustered his army, determined to conquer Aragon. The pope blessed the campaign and gave it the status of a crusade. He even bankrolled the whole thing—with monies intended to finance a “real” crusade to the Holy Land which King Edward I of England was to lead. This didn’t exactly please Edward who had been looking forward to leading a crusade to aid the beleaguered Christians in the Holy Land.

All of this plays an important role in my Castilian Saga, a sequence of events that culminate with the French attempt to invade Aragon—just as my Robert and his Noor are in the vicinity.

Pedro III, victorious

The Aragonese Crusade did not at all go as planned. No French victory, instead in 1285, Pedro led his men to victory at Col de Panissars, and weeks later, Philippe III was dead.
As was Pedro.
In France, the young king was not even out of his teens, but Philippe the Fair was to prove quite the antagonist (to more or less everyone. I mean, think about the Templars! And yes, you can read more about all that here)
Pedro was succeeded by Alfonso, his eldest son who was twenty.

Alfonso inherited a mess. His country was still beleaguered by enemies, he did not have the ful support of his noblemen, and the Sicilian matter was as infected as ever. He did not help things by invading Mallorca and wrenching it from his uncle, Jaime of Mallorca, but I do believe he felt entitled to punish his uncle for betraying his father in the recent war with France. Jaime retreated to Perpignan where he sat bleating about how unfair all of this was. (No, I do not like him much. I have a problem with brothers who betray each other)

Alfonso also inherited a captive: Charles of Salerno. As Charles d’Anjou had also died in 1285, Charles Jr was now the king of Naples and ruler of a lot of other places.  He was also the cousin of Edward of England, who was suddenly thrust into the position of peacemaker. The pope, Philippe of France, Alfonso—they all looked to the English king to somehow draft a peace agreement.

Edward doing homage to Philippe

Edward had to go to France anyway, to do homage for Gascony, in itself likely something he did not like having to do. And as to negotiating a peace, he may not initially have been all that enthusiastic, but he was fond of his cousin and did not want him to rot away in captivity. As an aside, Charles of Salerno was kept in relative comfort, as most noble prisoners were, the glaring exception being Manfred’s three little sons who were so cruelly treated by Charles Jr’s dad. But hey, we can’t fault the son for the acts of his father, however biblically correct that would be.

Other than freeing his cousin, Edward also had another pressing issue to solve. His eldest surviving daughter, Eleanor, was betrothed to Alfonso of Aragon, but so far the pope had forbidden the union, citing the unresolved issue of Sicily as his reason. Princess Eleanor was now in her late teens—a bit long in the tooth, almost—so sorting her marriage was somewhat urgent.

Alfonso wanted a lasting peace. He wanted Charles Jr to recognise Aragon as rulers of Sicily, thereby undermining the pope’s position. He wanted peace with his cousin, Philippe IV of France. He needed the treaty to concentrate on his internal affairs and the incessant conflicts with Castile. And oh, yes, he wanted to wed Eleanor—this expressed as something of an afterthought.

Charles Jr wanted his freedom back. Desperately. So desperately that he was happy to offer his young sons as hostages in his stead.

Philippe IV of France wanted some sort of compensation for his baby brother, Charles de Valois. After all, for a very, very short while, Charles hoped to be king of Aragon—especially after a makeshift crowning in Girona with a hat instead of a crown.

The pope wanted Sicily back.

Clearly, Edward had his work cut out for him. It did not take the capable English king long to negotiate a truce between France and Aragon—not that any real fighting had taken place since 1285, but still: a truce was a good thing.

Once the truce was in place, Edward could move on to the far more complex issue of negotiating a treaty. Alfonso knew that his main bargaining chip was Charles of Salerno. He refused to give up Sicily—now ruled by Alfonso’s younger brother, Jaime—and knew he had to push through several safeguards to stop Charles de Salerno from reneging on his promises.

Somehow, Edward managed to convince Philippe IV to allow him to negotiate on his behalf—and to drop his demand that his brother be compensated for his “loss” of Aragon. It seems as if young Philippe never supported his father’s campaign against Aragon. Maybe he didn’t like making war on family—Alfonso was Philippe IV’s first cousin.

Charles of Salerno

Alfonso drove a hard bargain. Yes, he’d be willing to release Charles of Salerno, but in return he wanted hostages—three of Charles’ sons, including his heir, plus 60 first-born sons from Provence—and demanded the astronomical sum of 50 000 marks as surety. Should the treaty convert to permanent peace after three years, the hostages and the money would be returned. Should Charles not deliver on his promises, which included recognising Jaime of Aragon as King of Sicily, the money would be forfeited as would all of Provence.

The treaty was signed in Oloron Saint-Marie in 1287. Unfortunately, it required ratification from the pope, and at present there was no pope, the cardinals seemingly incapable of choosing a replacement to Honorius IV who’d died back in April. Even more unfortunately, Philippe IV was seriously displeased at the thought of Provence ending up under Aragonese control. “It
won’t,” Edward told him. “Not if my cousin upholds his side of the treaty.”
“And how is he to do that if the pope refuses to ratify it?” Philippe asked. A valid question…

With no pope, the treaty sort of hung suspended. Edward and his court remained in Gascony. Charles of Salerno remained an Aragonese captive. Alfonso concentrated on reinforcing his authority in Aragon. Philippe IV grew from strength to strength while silently deciding that in his opinion the popes had way too much power and had to somehow be curbed.

In February of 1288, a new pope was elected and one of Nicholas IV’s first actions was to declare the Treaty of Oloron Sainte-Marie null and void. Edward was back on square one.

Whatever one may say about Edward Longshanks, he was definitely tenacious (Not, necessarily, a quality that was much appreciated by the Welsh or, some years into the future, by the Scots) He immediately initiated new negotiations, but Alfonso was insulted by the pope’s dismissal of the previous treaty and it took several meetings to iron out the details of a new treaty. Among other things, Edward handed over 23 000 marks to Alfonso, promising him a further 7 000. This was a massive disbursement, but “fortunately” for Edward, he had ways to compensate himself—he squeezed close to 20 000 marks out of the Jews living in Gascony. (A year later, he’d expel all Jews from Gascony, and in 1290, he did the same to the English Jews, any property left behind confiscated by the crown)

Other than the total of 50 000 marks, Alfonso repeated his insistence on hostages, but this time, he made things even more complicated. Charles was to deliver his three sons, 60 hostages from Provence, 20 from Marseille—a total of 83 hostages, all in all. This would take time for Charles to arrange, so he had three months in which to deliver all these people. In the previous treaty, Charles’ pledge to deliver the hostages had been good enough— Alfonso had the leverage of appropriating Provence unless his terms were met. This time, Alfonso refused to release Charles unless Edward provided hostages for the hostages Charles was to collect. I know, I know: very complicated.

Edward now had to find 76 hostages. Most of these he found among his lords in Gascony—the father of a certain Piers de Gaveston was one, as was Gaston de Béarn. Some, were men much closer to the king—personal friends, even—like John de Vescy and Otto Grandeson.

In October of 1288, King Edward, accompanied by his wife and a veritable army of future hostages crossed the Pyrenees to Canfranc in Aragon. There he was met by Alfonso, and a couple of days later, Edward returned to Oloron Sainte Marie, accompanied by Charles of Salerno, but with 76 of his own subjects left behind as hostages. I don’t think this sat well with him. There is evidence both Edward and Eleanor were very concerned for the well-being of the hostages and their families, with gifts of food sent to many of the families.

Charles, however, was overjoyed. He was free! Except that his freedom came at the expense of others, especially his young sons, whom he’d not seen for four years.

There followed three months of anxious waiting. Charles de Salerno proved to be as good as his word, returning to Gascony with the requested hostages in February. Crossing the Pyrenees in February was no walk in the park, and at the top of one of the passes Edward had a huge wooden cross erected. Maybe he wanted to leave a reminder behind, a sort of “Edward was here”. After all, over the last few years this English king had done more than his fair share of traipsing back and forth over the border between Gascony and Aragon.

In March, the English hostages were back home. Edward and his court rejoiced and could at last plan the trip home to England, where the king had not set foot since 1286. He had completed his mission: the Treaty of Canfranc had ensured the release of his cousin and hopefully everything else would sort itself.

Unfortunately, everything else did not sort itself. The Treaty of Canfranc was as toothless as its predecessor, and the pope refused to approve anything that did not recognise Sicily as a papal fief. It would take another ten years and many, many turns before the infected matter of Sicily was finally sorted. By then, Alfonso was dead and Aragon under Jaime II had turned its back on Sicily, desperate for peace with Naples and the pope. Not that the Sicilians or their new king were about to give up—but that, I think, will have to wait for another post!

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