Basilicus Sicilia - A Hohenstaufen Sicily Timeline

Chapter 1: Stupor Mundi
The Reign of King Frederick I Hohenstaufen, Part One

Frederick Roger Hohenstaufen, in death as in life, is a polarizing figure. Grandson of the fearsome Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and the cunning Sicilian King Roger d’Hauteville, Frederick’s birth on December 26, 1194 was celebrated as no other contemporary. Renowned for his brilliance, his cunning, and his diplomatic skills, he is fondly remembered by Sicilians as the savior of the Kingdom from this disastrous reign of William the Lucky [1]. However, he is less fondly remembered in other circles. Dante later placed him in the deepest pit of Hell in his Inferno for his treachery to his lord and benefactor, the Pope.

The truth is that Frederick was, at the same time, a remarkably lucky and unlucky youth. Born into the confusing time after the absorption of the Kingdom of Sicily by the Holy Roman Empire, he was crowned King of Sicily when he was merely 2 years old, with his mother Constance as his regent. Having united Sicily with the Empire with her marriage, Constance resolved to free the Kingdom from German control, breaking all ties between the two states. Unfortunately, in 1198, the same year Constance dissolved all ties with Germany, she died. Frederick was sent to Rome, to be in the care of the Pope, but in 1200, Genoese ships ferried German troops into Sicily, marking the end of the island’s long resistance to Holy Roman arms [2].

Frederick was never formally deposed as King of Sicily, but he lacked any real power, and spent much of his youth wandering Palermo. In 1208, at the age of 14, Frederick’s youth was declared over, but the feudal marks of the Holy Roman Empire had left his barons and nobles with an over-mighty attitude toward their young King. Frederick began to make attempts to reign in his vassals, which predictably earned him their feelings of anger.

In 1210, Otto IV, the first Welf Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire invaded Frederick’s Italian territories, and showed every sign of conquering with the support of Frederick’s barons. More than anyone else, this frightened Pope Innocent III. Papal policy had always dictated that Sicily and Germany remain separate, giving the Pontiff leeway with both factions. However, given the choice between Otto and Frederick, Innocent had decided that a united Empire with a 16-year old at the head was better than 36-year old veteran [3]. Thus, at the Diet of Nuremberg in 1211, Pope Innocent III declared Otto IV deposed in absentia, and elected Frederick Hohenstaufen as the new Holy Roman Emperor.

Otto had been popular in Guleph lands in northern Germany and among the Southern Italian barons, but the cities of northern Italy and the lords of southern Germany chaffed under Imperial power. Although the meager force he could summon from his still-loyal vassals barely surpassed 5,000 men, support from the Pope and rebellious lords won Frederick a much larger force. Otto, meanwhile, sensed the danger and raced back to Mainz, while he ordered the passes through the Alps to be blocked for the winter [4].

Frederick was perfectly content to wait in Italy. Otto was surrounded on all sides by enemies - King Philip’s war to drive the English out of France was going poorly for the English-Holy Roman alliance, in the north King Valdemar II of Denmark was attacking the Empire, and, most pressingly, Pope Innocent III continued to support Frederick’s cause.

As the campaigning season of 1212 dawned, Otto was forced to end his blockade of the Alpine passes. He dispatched part of his force to fight off the Danes, and another to assist the forces of King John of England. Frederick was finally able to cross into Germany, accompanied by 1,000 Papal Guards with the Pope himself.

Innocent’s presence proved decisive for the campaign. In June, Welf forces smashed the main Danish force outside of Lubeck, freeing Otto of the danger from the north. Realizing that the Papal goal of keeping Palermo and Aachen separate, Innocent advised Frederick to avoid battle at every turn [5]. Frederick, still young and unsure of himself, listened, and for the next two years the sides waged a war of attrition.

Frederick almost universally got the better end, as Otto was forced to split his attention between fighting Frederick and King Philip of France. Thus, the Franco-Angevin War and the War of Holy Roman Succession continued with little action. In 1215, however, Frederick and Otto finally met in the field, outside of Mainz. Frederick, despite having more troops, was completely routed by the more experienced Otto’s forces, and began a long retreat to Italy [6].

Frederick returned to Sicily with bruised pride, and immediately set about righting many of the issues created in the succession crisis. Absentee or rebellious barons were stripped of their land and titles by a ruthless Frederick, targeting those who had supported Otto IV. By 1217, he had stocked the nobility of Sicily with his own supporters.

In 1218, Frederick extended an offering of a parlay to Otto, who had been busy thrashing the French along with John of England [7]. Honorius III (Innocent had died in 1216), who had, like his predecessor, swung back and forth in his support of the two claimants, invited both to Rome, where he would arbitrate a peace.

Frederick and Otto arrived in Rome in foul moods. Both had been betrayed, on various occasions, by the Pope, and both rightfully felt like the Pontiff’s puppet [8]. None of the three leaders appeared willing to budge - Frederick demanded his birthright title of Emperor, Otto demanded the same title, which Innocent had bestowed him with, and Honorius wanted Sicily and Germany to remain separate.

It is Frederick who makes the first move. Known popularly as the “Son of Apulia,” Frederick felt far more at home in Palermo than he expected to in Aachen. Thus, he offers to drop his claim to the Holy Roman Empire, so long as he remains the independent King of Sicily [9].

Otto immediately accepts, as such a peace would immensely favor him. Frederick adds the stipulation that Otto releases all Sicilian prisoners, while he must ransom (at a high price) all of his own prisoners. Otto grumbles, but doesn’t object, as he is still sitting as the undisputed Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick, meanwhile, immediately uses that money to prepare for an offensive campaign. Mahdia and the North African coast had once been parts of the Sicilian overseas territory [10]. Thus, in 1219, 15,000 men, supplied by Holy Roman and Papal gold, set sail for Mahdia.

The campaign goes off without a hitch. Frederick, at this point 25 years old, lead the army himself. Having learned about command since the disaster at Mainz, and at any rate faced with a foe caught off-guard with the speed of the attack, he managed to storm Mahdia and subdue much of the surrounding countryside. When an Almohad force finally arrived, they were seriously depleted by the need to keep a watchful eye on the Sultanate’s holdings in Spain, and were defeated in an ambush carefully laid by Frederick. A peace was hastily established, and at a stroke the Sicilians had reclaimed their overseas territories.

Upon returning to Palermo, Frederick began to work on his life’s great pleasure. In 1222, he chartered the creation of the University of Salerno. Shockingly (for the time), he allowed those studying medicine to dissect human corpses, a practice abhorred by the church. He richly endowed the university with books from across Europe, and it soon became the primary university of southern Italy (Bologna remained more prestigious in the north). He accompanied this endeavor with a renewal of King Roger I’s policy of questioning all ships entering a Sicilian port on their travels, creating a splendid map room in his palace in Palermo, filled with detailed maps from across the world.

Unfortunately, Frederick’s attention to his home Kingdom led to his disinterest with the world around him. In 1220, Pope Honorius III declared the Fifth Crusade, in an attempt to retake Jerusalem after the failure of the Third Crusade and the disaster of the Fourth. The crowned heads of Europe were encouraged to travel via the land route, through the Latin Empire of Constantinople. King John of England, King Philip of France, Emperor Otto of the Holy Roman Empire, and King Andrew II of Hungary al marched to the Holy Land. but noticeably absent was King Frederick of Sicily. Pope Honorius, already annoyed with the Sicilian King over the University of Salerno, demanded that Frederick join the crusade.

Frederick had become a convinced skeptic of the Catholic Church. While in Apulia, he had remarked “There grows your God,” when passing a corn field, which was unfortunately overheard by a bishop [11]. This only added to the general perception of Frederick as a religious skeptic; a view that Frederick himself did little to disprove. When the Fifth Crusade predictably fell to squabbling between John, Otto, Philip, and Emperor Robert I of Constantinople, Frederick smoothly pointed out to Honorius that committing his own troops would only fan the flames of this discord, particularly among Otto’s ranks. Begrudgingly, Honorius dropped the matter, although he did extract a pledge from Frederick to participate in the next crusade. By 1222, the Crusader armies had returned home in stubborn opposition to one another, cementing another defeated crusade.

Frederick, however, had more important matters on his mind. In that same year, his wife, Constance of Aragon, had died of malaria, leaving behind a young and sickly son, Henry, who passed away later that year [12]. Frederick, while grief-stricken, was also acutely aware of the importance of his spouse. The most politically attractive candidate was Marie de Courtenay, sister of the Latin Emperor of Constantinople and widow of the Emperor of Nicaea. In the Monreale Cathedral in Palermo, on August 2nd, 1223, Frederick and Marie were married.

The next five years of Frederick’s reign were largely spent in Palermo and Salerno, leaving his government in the hands of his former tutor Walter of Palearia. During this time, Frederick invited scholars from across Europe and the Middle East to his court. Greeks fleeing the wreckage of the Fourth Crusade and Arabs fleeing the advance of the fearsome Mongols were all welcomed with open arms, and invited to stay and study in Sicily. One visiting scholar from Bologna wrote of Frederick’s court in Palermo,

“The King surrounds himself with scores of Greeks and Saracens, who converse with the most learned men of Europe. The King himself seems able to speak to the wisest of the scholars about any topic he pleases, without appearing ignorant or lacking in knowledge. By this virtue, I am tempted to name him one of the geniuses of the world.”

Palermo rapidly rose to become one of the largest cities in Europe (it had a population skirting 90,000), and one of the most culturally dazzling. Constantinople had been wrecked by the Fourth Crusade, and Cordoba had become a backwater in al-Andalus, leaving it exposed to the force of Castilian arms. Thus, only Venice could claim cultural and demographic equality to Palermo in Europe. Only in Palermo could one learn Arabic, Greek, and Latin, making it the center for Medieval scholarship.

During the years between the Fifth and Sixth crusades, Frederick only entered the realm of foreign affairs once. In 1226, the cities of Milan, Verona, Venice, and Genoa - among many others - reformed the Lombard League, which had been defeated by Frederick’s grandfather, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The Lombard League immediately rose in revolt against Otto IV.

While the cities themselves were not likely to defeat Otto on their own, they found an ally in Frederick. The Sicilian King had guessed at Honorius’s play to keep the Empire and Sicily in a balance in Italy, and thus by supporting the Lombard League he could free himself from the threat of an Imperial Invasion without prior warning from the League. Thus, in the summer of 1226, Frederick marched for Milan at the head of 10,000 men.

When he arrived, Frederick found the situation immensely pleasing. With summer ending, Otto had been forced to let his troops return home for the harvest. Taking command of the situation, Frederick had the Lombard League forces keep a watchful eye over the passes through the Alps, putting Otto in the humiliating position of having to overcome an obstacle he himself had used against Frederick 15 years earlier. The only move made against Frederick was by the Pope, who had furiously excommunicated him. Frederick, a skeptic of religion anyway, ignored the Pontiff’s threats and continued his work.

When 1227 came, fresh news of a revolt in Bohemia again diverted Otto’s attention, and in the autumn of that year he sent a messenger to Milan, offering to agree to the League’s demands so long as Frederick returned to Palermo and swore not to interfere in Holy Roman politics again. This agreement was settled, and Frederick dutifully marched back to Palermo, where he resumed his studies. This would be the status quo until 1229, when Pope Honorius III died and was replaced by Pope Gregory IX, who called the Sixth Crusade, forcing Frederick back unto the international stage [13].

[1] - OTL’s William the Good (William II of Sicily)

[2] - Robert Guiscard, Duke Roger I, King Roger I, and King William I had all fought off Holy Roman attempts to assert the Emperor’s authority over the Kingdom.

[3] - Innocent had initially supported Otto as Holy Roman Emperor, in the hope that he would leave Frederick to rule Sicily. When Otto did no such thing, Innocent promptly switched sides.

[4] - Our first POD. OTL, Frederick beat Otto to Konstanz by a few hours, allowing him to gain legitimacy and ultimately overthrow Otto.

[5] - Popes had used the Normans to counterbalance the Germans since the days of Robert Guiscard. In fact, the title “King of Sicily” was granted to King Roger I for assisting one Pope against a rival claimant.

[6] - Our second, and much more recognizable, POD. With no decisive defeats, Otto has the stronger hand thanks to Guleph support.

[7] - This will be explained more thoroughly in the next update, which will focus on John of England.

[8] - Otto for his work in the Franco-Angevin War, Frederick for his disastrous soiree into Germany, both of which were prompted by Innocent.

[9] - Such an offer is, IMHO, not outside the realm of possibility. OTL, Frederick far preferred Palermo to Aachen, and seems to have been far happier as a Sicilian than as a German. With the Pope’s influence and a past defeat at Otto’s hands, Frederick is getting a better deal here than he would with prolonged warfare.

[10] - Mahdia had been abandoned during the reign of William I

[11] - The comment is OTL.

[12] - Constance’s death is OTL. Henry’s death, while not OTL, is based on his extended time in Sicily (he had been in Germany longer OTL), where malaria is more prevalent.

[13] - I had Honorius live 2 years longer than OTL.
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Looks good so far. I'll love to see what you do with it!

Thank you!

Huzzah for Sicilian North Africa! Perhaps it will last longer this time.

Thank you, as well! I'm planning on having Tunis and Mahdia remain central parts of the Kingdom of Sicily for the next few years.

And, since I was feeling creative, here's part 2 of Frederick's reign. Again, please tell me what you think of it.

Chapter 2: Stupor Mundi, Part 2
The Reign of King Frederick I Hohenstaufen, Part Two​

In 1229, Pope Gregory IX was elected to the Pontificate. A zealous guardian of Papal Supremacy, he found an excellent way to assert papal superiority was in a crusade. Thus, he called for the Sixth Crusades, with the goal of liberating Jerusalem, a goal that the Third through Fifth Crusades had failed to accomplish. Reminding Frederick of his promise to go crusading, Gregory found Frederick entirely opposed to the idea. Sicily’s economy was booming, returning to the prosperity of the days of William the Lucky. Furthermore, Marie had just given birth to her first child with Frederick, a girl named Katherine. Gregory discovered that Frederick had no intention of leaving Palermo to fight for a religion that he, at best, tolerated [1].

Furious over Frederick’s refusal, Gregory excommunicated him, which seemed to have little effect on the monarch [2]. Instead, Gregory turned to Aragon, Castile, France, and the Holy Roman Empire, as the Angevins were preoccupied in a civil war. In an effort to avoid the calamitous bickering of the Third and Fifth Crusades, and at any rate looking to assert Papal Primacy over the crowned heads of Europe, Gregory declared that the Crusaders would meet a Papal force at Genoa, and then set sail for Constantinople, where they would be joined by troops from Hungary and the Latin Empire of Constantinople. By personally accompanying the Crusaders, Gregory planned to prevent a hijacking of the Crusade similar to that used by the Venetians on the Fourth Crusade.

On August 4th, 1229, 60,000 troops from Aragon, Castile, Germany, France, Genoa, Milan, Venice, and the Papal States set sail for Constantinople. Among the leaders were two Princes (of Aragon and the Holy Roman Empire), one King (of France), one Pope, two Grand Dukes (from Castile and Milan), and two Doges (of Genoa and Venice). Thus, bickering began almost immediately. The Dukes and Doges of Milan, Venice, and Genoa immediately distrusted the Holy Roman force, and there was little love lost between the French forces who had so recently been bested by their Holy Roman “allies” at the Battle of the Seine. By the time the force arrived at Constantinople, Prince William of the Holy Roman Empire and King Philip of France weren’t on speaking terms [3]. This was only made worse with the arrival of the Hungarians, led by their King, which only added to the jockeying for power, and the Emperor of Constantinople’s refusal to commit troops to the Crusade while having to hold off both Nicene and Bulgarian attacks.

The Crusaders then took the overland route to the Holy Land. Harassed by Muslim raiders and the merciless Anatolian sun, by the end of the year the crusader force had split into three independent and antagonistic, if not openly hostile, forces, all less than 20,000 strong.

Frederick watched these developments with interest. Although he personally cared little about his excommunication, it had caused his barons to begin eyeing him with greater suspicion. Thus, in a bid to make himself seem to be a defender of Christendom, as well as to see the riches of the east. Thus, he set out with 10,000 troops in early 1230. Unlike the main crusade, he chose to sail to Cyprus, then on to Acre. Once he arrived at Acre, he discovered that the Pope, considering Frederick’s acts ones of aggression, since excommunicated rulers could not be crusaders.

Frederick, now excommunicated for his third time, made for an interesting crusader. Barred from the very religion he was fighting for, and at any rate a skeptic of that religion, he was still a shrewd negotiator and a competent, although not brilliant, strategist. He had brought horse archers from North Africa and crossbowmen from Italy, which composed half of his force and allowed him to use a double-screen tactic, eliminating attempted raids by the Muslim defenders.

Al-Kamil, the Ayyubid Sultan, panicked at Frederick’s sudden arrival, thinking that it heralded the arrival of a massive Christian force [4]. Thus, Al-Kamil resolved to negotiate with Frederick. The first messengers he sent were awed by the breadth and scope of Frederick’s knowledge, and two weeks later, when the Sultan arrived, he shared their sentiment [5]. Impressed by this man, and worried about the oncoming Crusaders and Mongols, Al-Kamil rapidly agreed to a peace. He would surrender Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth to Frederick, along with a strip of land along the Levantine coast, in exchange for the end of the crusade. Frederick agreed, on the condition that Al-Kamil send scholars of medicine, astronomy, and cartography to his court in Palermo.

Unfortunately, such an agreement had no authority to end the Crusade. At the news of the treaty, the French and Italian forces melt away, leaving the Pope with less than half of the army he started with. Although Jerusalem was technically in Christian hands, Gregory had no intention of allowing Frederick to remain King of Jerusalem. To drive his point home, Gregory excommunicated Frederick, again, and began to march on Jerusalem, supported by Otto IV.

At this point, however, Frederick couldn’t have cared less about the Pope. He was widely seen as the defender of Christendom, accomplishing a feat that the Crowned Head of Europe and even the Pope had failed to do. Riding this wave of popularity, Frederick offered to place Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem under Papal jurisdiction (although not the Levantine coast) for a substantial sum of money and the lifting of all three excommunications. Gregory, infuriated, accepted the deal nonetheless [6].

Thus, in 1231, King Frederick returned to Palermo in triumph. He had restored the holy City to Christian hands without the help of the rest of Europe, and was greeted with more good news: his wife, Marie, had given birth to a healthy baby boy the previous year, which she had named Roger.

Fredrick would have been perfectly content to return to seclusion within his Kingdom, but he had incurred the Pope’s wrath, and he would be forced onto the battlefield. In 1232, Gregory had assembled an army 20,000 strong, and, placing it under the command of John of Brienne, sent it to overthrow Frederick. To solidify his plan, Gregory incited a rebellion among the barons, hoping that the combined threats would be too much for Frederick [7].

Frederick responded by raising his own force, also roughly 20,000 men strong. At Brindisi, in late June, 1232, Frederick and John met in battle. Although John had the upper hand in Knights, the mobility of Frederick’s army, and his superiority at range, won the day for him. John was wounded by an arrow during the battle, which would ultimately cost him an arm, and the Papal army retreated.

Frederick had won the day, but nearly all of his Italian territories except for Calabria and the city of Salerno were in open revolt. Moving with lightning speed, Frederick ignored Apulia entirely and pacified 40 castles between Brindisi and Salerno. The next year, he continued his march, until he was on the outskirts of Rome in early September. For the fifth time, the Pope excommunicated Frederick, but like before he was unwilling to negotiate. Gregory frantically called for aid, but before any could arrive, Frederick offered Gregory a truce. If the Pontiff would stay on his side of the border and return all hostages, they would restore peace. Gregory agreed, although by all accounts the truce broke him, and by the next year he was dead.

Meanwhile, Frederick still had to deal with the situation in Apulia. Frederick calmly marched to Melfi, where he invited all the nobles of the realm to meet him. There, he showed them the Constitution of Melfi, a written Constitution outlining public law, judicial procedure, and feudal law [8]. It severely curbed the powers of the nobility, making it immensely unpopular, but through a mix of bribery, intimidation, and oration, he managed to procure the signatures of most of the nobles in the Kingdom of Sicily. Those who did not sign were labelled traitors, and forced to sign the Constitution of removed from power - and killed, if they resisted.

The Constitution of Melfi effectively made Frederick Europe’s first absolute monarch in the modern sense. While London or Aachen still had to deal with rebellious barons or over-mighty vassals, Palermo could now rest assured that the bureaucracy had bested the nobility. For Frederick, it was his final international adventure. Thoroughly exhausted by the fighting he’d done since his youth, Frederick chose to retire to Palermo, to raise his son and oversee his Kingdom.

The remaining 20 years of Frederick’s reign were significantly prosperous and boring. It is often referred to as Sicily’s Golden Age. The economy boomed, giving Frederick the income to create massive public works. Although Frederick left behind no great Cathedrals like William I or II, he did leave behind the Arx Fredericus Rogerus - the Citadel of Frederick Roger. A stunning mix of Greek, Italian, and Arabic architecture, it is famed for it’s Persian gardens, Roman bridge, Arabesque spires, and Greek Domes. The Royal Family of Sicily resides there even today.

Frederick’s other great contribution to Sicily was his regulation of the Sicilian language. Interested in the development of languages [9], he ordered the codification of the tongue spoken in his Kingdom. The result was the first recording of a unique language. Scholars have long debated the origin of the language, but modern etymologists believe it to be the basic structure of vulgar Latin, with French, Greek, and Arabic worlds substituted for the original Latin ones in many cases.

Frederick’s reign is certainly a controversial one. He defied the Pope, led soldiers on ultimately meaningless expeditions, and openly mocked Christianity. To modern residents of what was once the Holy Roman Empire, he is a symbol of all things anti-German, and often vilified. Dante included him in the deepest pit of Hell in the Inferno, and his holds the distinction of being the only man to ever be excommunicated five times. But to the rational [10] scholar, he is the ideal King. Fighting only when is necessary, he shunned the blind zealotry that characterized many of his contemporaries. He devoted himself to science and to the strengthening of his Kingdom. To many, that is all that can be asked of a ruler.

In 1250, Frederick died of an old war wound. He was succeeded by his son, the 19-year old Roger, who was crowned on Christmas Day as King Roger III. He came to power at the height of his Kingdom’s power. The immense popularity he enjoyed in the early years of his reign is due in large part to his father. Frederick had found Sicily subjugated to the Holy Roman Empire, and in his spectacular 64-year reign [11] he had restored the Kingdom to glory unseen since the days of King Roger I. Sicilian armies were victorious on every front; the Holy Roman Emperor and Pope had been cowed by his might, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem had been liberated by Sicilian troops.

There were certainly storm clouds on the horizon for Sicily. Of their immediate neighbors, not a single one was remotely aligned with Sicily. The Pope and the Emperor were both displeased with Palermo, and only through Frederick’s mix of military ability and diplomacy had he held the Kingdom together.

Despite these challenges, though, Frederick had left the Kingdom far stronger than he had found it. The strong economy and the Constitution of Melfi elevated the King far above his nobles, and the military successes of his reign made Sicilian arms feared across the Mediterranean.

Whatever can be said of Frederick Roger Hohenstaufen, good or bad, it cannot be denied that he was great. In an age where the experiences and politics of his youth would have normally prevented him from taking power, he made a name for himself. Like his ancestors, King Roger and Duke Roger and Robert Guiscard, he had proven that the Norman spirit had survived the German aggression. His brilliance, cunning, and determination make his epithet of “Stupor Mundi” entirely deserved. As it was, for 66 years, he was the Wonder of the World.

[1] - He is quoted as saying that three men deceived all of mankind: Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. That quote is OTL.

[2] - TTL, Frederick has already been excommunicated once - by Honorius - and OTL he was excommunicated a total of 4 times.

[3] - William is the OTL younger brother of Otto.

[4] - He had been correctly informed of the size of the main crusader army, but did not know of the discord among the various factions, and assumed that all 60,000 were firmly against him.

[5] - As in OTL.

[6] - It would have been unlikely for Gregory to do any better. Had he chosen to fight Frederick, he likely would have lost due to his army’s lack of cohesion, and had he simply returned to Rome he would have been seen as ineffectual and weak.

[7] - Such tactics were not new to attacks on Sicily - even Alexios Komnenos used this stratagem as early as 1081.

[8] - As in OTL.

[9] - As in OTL.

[10] - TTL term similar to OTL’s Enlightenment.

[11] - If his youth is included; 52-year if it isn’t.
Any news on Sicilian Africa in the mean time? The Norman dynasty seemed to have plans to turn into a settler colony and a base for expansion, but it didn't last long enough. What will Frederick do with it?
How far are you planning on taking this?

I'm not entirely sure how far I'll take it, but I'm hoping to get this TL at least to the Age of Exploration.

Any news on Sicilian Africa in the mean time? The Norman dynasty seemed to have plans to turn into a settler colony and a base for expansion, but it didn't last long enough. What will Frederick do with it?

I'm planning on having Roger III be a major expansionist, so Sicilian North Africa will play a fairly major role in his reign. In the meantime, here's a short update on Frederick's work in the region and the general information on it.

Chapter 3: The Return Overseas
Sicilian North Africa under King Frederick I

One of the few international actions taken by Frederick without prompting by the Papacy was his conquest (or reconquest) of North Africa [1]. With his victory, Frederick had awoken the old Norman dream of an overseas empire. After pacifying the area, Frederick preferred to leave it alone to develop naturally under Sicilian rule, while attempting to stimulate it economically.

Frederick’s reluctance to try and force Sicilian culture and Catholicism on his North African subjects was based on his admiration for Arabic cultures and his skepticism of Catholicism. Thus, while previous Sicilian Kings had considered mass colonization of the area with Sicilians, Frederick preferred different tactics. Offering free passage for the poor farmers working marginal land, he managed to bring an influx of Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox immigrants to his holdings. While the interior of Tunisia remained largely tribal due to the desert climate, the coast rapidly tied into the Sicilian trade network.

By far the greatest benefactor of Frederick’s policy was the city of Mahdia. Having become a minor port under the Almohads, Mahdia was revitalized by Sicilian control. It became the central hub of trade from North Africa, positioned between Marrakech and Alexandria. While it lacked the European trade routes that benefitted Palermo and Naples, it rapidly rose to become the pre-eminent city in Sicilian North Africa.

Frederick’s control of North Africa led to his development of another central feature of the Kingdom of Sicily: her navy. Under William II, the Sicilian navy was undefeated, and had singlehandedly supported the Crusader ports on the Levantine coast against the armies of Saladin. Frederick hoped to bring back such brilliance among the fleet. His first order of business was to begin rebuilding the fleet. The Sicilian Navy, which had once sent 250 warships to blockade Constantinople [2], had dwindled to a mere 100 vessels. Using timber from Sicily and North Africa, Frederick began the reconstruction of the fleet. Hiring experts from Venice and Genoa, he spared no expense in the creation of the Sicilian Navy.

By the end of Frederick’s reign, the Sicilian Navy comprised of 300 warships, docked in Palermo, Malta, Syracuse, Naples, Messina, Amalfi, Salerno, and Mahdia. The size and strength of Sicily’s fleets established a steady line of communication between the various parts of Frederick’s Kingdom. Such lines were needed in 1247, near the end of Frederick’s life. That year, the ambitious Emir of Alger decided to attempt to capture Sicily’s North African territories for his new masters, the Marinids [3]. Crossing the border with 20,000 men, the Emir ravaged the countryside, burning his way towards Mahdia.

The Emir had expected the Muslims of Sicily to rise up in his favor against the Christian monarch in Palermo. However, Frederick’s conciliatory attitude and the thriving economy of the region meant that no such defection occurred. The Emir had also counted on a delayed Sicilian reaction; thus, he was caught completely by surprise when a Sicilian army 27,000 strong met him in Bizerte. That force, accompanied by the 16-year old Prince Roger, smashed the Emir’s force, killing him and routing his army.

This victory had two main effects. The first was that it cemented Sicilian rule in Tunisia for the coming decades. The region would become a core of Sicilian power, and any future King would loathe to abandon it as William I had. The second effect was just as profound. The Bizerte campaign had whetted Roger’s apatite for battle. He had taken an active role in the battle, and upon his return to Palermo is said to have become immensely interested in past conquerers, particularly Hannibal Barca [4]. This interest in battle and conquest would go on to shape Roger’s reign as King Roger III.

[1] - Mahdia and the surrounding area had been conquered under King Roger I, and abandoned by King William I.

[2] - During William II’s campaign in 1185-1189.

[3] - The Marinids revolted in 1215, as OTL, and rapidly rose to power in North Africa, although the last almohad Sultan wouldn’t expire until 1269.

[4] - Roger had access to accounts of many historical generals due to his father’s collection of histories from across the known world.
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Chapter 4: The Two Kingdoms of France
The Reigns of John I of England and Philip II of France​

At the same time that Frederick Hohenstaufen took control of the Kingdom of Sicily, King John I of England was fighting to reconquer his lost lands in France [1]. Encouraged by the Pope, John forged an alliance with Otto IV of the Holy Roman Empire and the Count of Flanders. The Allied army struck first in Normandy, where they swiftly reconquered the region. Next, John swung south to Poitou, which Philip had largely abandoned in an effort to protect Paris from the Allied army.

However, Otto was unable to provide a large force due to his need to stave off his rival for the Empire, Frederick Hohenstaufen. For this reason, the Franco-Angevin war continued to be a stalemate for the next three years - the Allies weren’t strong enough to launch further attacks into Philip’s territory, and Philip wasn’t in a position to strike against the numerically superior Allied forces [2].

This period did see remarkable success for John, however. Campaigning in the virtually defenseless south-west of France, he subjugated Poitou and Aquitaine, and received submission from the Dukes of Brittany and Gascogne. Philip detached some of his forces to try and stop John’s advance into La Marche in 1214, but Philip’s need to garrison the castles of the Royal Domain led to a humiliating defeat at John’s hands.

In 1215, having received submission from Maine and Anjou, John linked back up with the Allied army. Although Otto was still absent, John felt confident enough to move on Philip’s domains. Feigning toward Paris, John abruptly marched on the County of Blois, which he hoped to subjugate before marching on Paris. In a forced march impressive for the time period, Philip managed to catch up with the Allied army at Chambord along the Loire river.

The Battle of Chambord was a bloody one. Philip’s army had the advantages of better command and more knights, but they had been exhausted by the forced march, and were outnumbered nearly 2-to-1 [3]. Philip managed to catch the English by surprise, launching a charge with all his remaining knights just as the Allies started to envelop his force, forcing the Allies back.

Although Philip held the field at the end of the day, making Chambord technically a French victory, the core of his army was left completely devastated. He had suffered nearly 5,000 casualties, including over 500 irreplaceable Knights. The Allies, on the other hand, lost 3,000 men. John gleefully pursued Philip, hoping to completely destroy his army [4].

Following the Battle of Chambord, Philip retreated to Paris, drawing John into his Royal Domain. In September 1215, Philip launched a final attempt at restraining the Allied advance. While the Allies were marching along the Seine, he staged an ambush, pinning the Allied army with their backs to the river. While it was a brilliant move, Philip had done too little, too late. The Allied force vastly outnumbered his own, and within the hour the ambush turned into a rout of Philip’s forces. The King himself made it back to Paris, which was dutifully besieged by the Allies.

Throughout the winter and spring, the Allies methodically reduced Paris’s walls. Finally, in April, King Philip sued for peace. John would reclaim the territories lost in the treaty of 1206, except the county of Auvergne, which would remain French. John agreed, and began to leisurely make his way back to Rouen. Events, however, would force him to move faster. The barons of England, angry over the crown’s extended use of their men, rose in revolt. The barons were soon at the gates of London, demanding that John abdicate.

The size and speed of the rebellion betrayed it’s underlying weakness. Every English King since William the Conquerer had faced revolts, but this one had no clear claimant to the throne. Thus, John, in a shrewd move, was able to disperse the rebel army. Writing to all the major barons separately, he asked whom he was to abdicate in favor of. The barons began to fight one another for the right to be King, and as quickly as the army had appeared, it disintegrated.

Although the flash and thunder of the rebellion had been dealt with, much of England remained in open revolt. After the campaigning seasons of 1216 and 1217, John discovered that the rebellion would be costly and time-consuming to put down. Thus, John invited the rebellious barons to a peace conference. There, they wrote and ratified the “Great Charter of Liberties,” the first written code of laws in northern Europe. It established, among other things, the right to a trial by jury, which marked a major step forward in English law. It also established a legal framework for the feudal society.

Interestingly, the Great Charter was only signed by English and Welsh barons. None of the nobles from John’s French or Irish domains signed the charter, technically making it only applicable to England and Wales. Such a state of affairs would come back later in Angevin history.

The title “Angevin Empire,” while not official for many years, was commonly used to denote John’s non-English territories. Although the dynasty had adopted the name Plantagenet, instead of Angevin, the territory was commonly known by the more French title of “Angevin.”

The use of Angevin to refer to the state was representative of a larger cultural shift that was going on. Much of the ruling class of the Kingdom was, if not French, then French-speaking, and John’s French territories proved to be the most culturally significant of the Kingdom. Under John, London was rivaled by both Bordeaux and Rouen as the chief city of the Kingdom, and much of the wealth of the Kingdom fell within the French areas.

John spent much of the rest of his life in England and Normandy, sorting out various affairs. In 1220, he joined the Fifth Crusade, but in an attempt to forestall any French attempts to land-grab, as they had done during the Third Crusade, he left sizable garrisons across his French territories. When the Crusade was abandoned in 1222, John made a point of camping at Chambord, well within Philip’s territories, as an insult to the French monarch.

By John’s death in 1231 [5], the Kingdom of England was the greatest power in Northern Europe, matched only by the Holy Roman Empire. The feudal underpinnings of the society had been weakened by the Great Charter, and the Kingdom was again on solid footing. With the ascension of his son, the 24-year old Henry III, the Kingdom appeared poised to enter a new Golden Age.

John’s legacy is a mixed one. He had nearly lost the Kingdom’s French domains, and had ravaged England during the Baron’s Revolt. But he had also introduced written law to England for the first time, and held together a nation that could very well have been torn apart. John was the polar opposite of his brother, Richard - Richard was a bad king but a chivalrous soldier. John, on the other hand, was anything but chivalrous, yet through his tireless work, he managed to keep the ancestral Kingdom of England together.

It is important to note the development of the Kingdom of France, the immediate and most influential neighbor of the Kingdom of England. Philip’s defeat in the Franco-Angevin war led to a massive revolt among Philip’s vassals. The revolt crystalized around Duke Raymond VII of Toulouse, who succeeded his father in 1220. The rebel force advanced on Paris, threatening the French capital for the second time that decade.

Philip gathered his army, which had yet to fully recover from the Franco-Angevin War, and marched out to meet Raymond’s rebel force. The numerically superior rebel force marched toward Philip’s force. Raymond, overconfident that Philip was broken after Chambord, charged forward pell-mell. Philip, having taken the high ground before the battle, threw back three successive charges from the rebel force. After the third charge, Philip leads a counter-charge, successfully routing the force. In that charge, a stray arrow struck Raymond in the neck, killing him instantly.

Following the defeat, the rebellion fizzled almost immediately. With Raymond’s death, Philip marched triumphantly into Toulouse, taking the title of “Duke of Toulouse” for himself. This concentration of power under King Philip caused grumbling among his barons, but the utter devastation of the revolt and the Franco-Angevin war led to few resources among the barons to try and revolt.

While the wars had caused mass destruction across France, it ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise. With the power of the nobility completely shattered, Philip was able to increase the power of the the middle class. While France was territorially reduced, it had kept it’s Mediterranean coastline, putting one of the most prosperous areas of the geographic region of France under Philip’s rule.

Philip’s rule was a period of centralization of France. While he was forced to work with reduced territory, he was still able to bring France together under his rule. Following the disastrous Franco-Angevin war, Philip’s reign seemed finished, and yet he managed not only to survive, but to forge his nation together. Even with her reduced territory, France would endure.

[1] - Philip of France and John of England had signed a truce in 1206 removing the English from France, but John had retained ambitions of reconquering the vast Angevin holdings.

[2] - OTL, in this time the Battle of the Bouvines would occur, where a numerically inferior French force would soundly defeat the Allied forces. This had the twofold effect of ending the war and destroying Otto’s (who was personally present) ability to resist Frederick. Without the Emperor’s presence, however, TTL Philip considered it too much of a gamble without enough potential reward to attack.

[3] - The initial figures are roughly 25,000 Allied forces to 13,000 French.

[4] - John is known as having a character flaw of “kicking someone when they’re down.”

[5] - He died fighting his barons OTL in 1216.
Chapter 5: The Nations of the Mediterranean
The Papacy, Venice, and the Nicene Roman Empire

Chapter 5.1: The Mistress of the Mediterranean
The Doges of Venice and a Quarter and a Half of the Roman Empire

The 13th Century was the first Golden Age for the Venetians. The Fourth Crusade had earned the Venetians three-eights of the Roman Empire, as per the treaty with the Crusaders, as well as free trade in all the former territories of the Empire. In Constantinople, the Venetians gave themselves the quarter around the Imperial Palace and St. Sophia, making the former vassal of the Caesars the master of their palace and cathedral.

However, much more important to the Serene Republic was the remaking of her image. The brilliant spires and domes of Constantinople had caught the imagination of the Venetians, and they began to build in ernest to make Venice a “City of Marble and Gold.” They adorned their city with the spoils of the Queen of Cities, including four bronze horses that had once adorned the entrance to the Hippodrome. The urban change was so spectacular that in 1227, an Arabic merchant, who presumably would have seen the great urban centers of Cairo and Baghdad, wrote that Venice,

“ ...overflows with all things great and stately. The city is not as populous as those cities under the great Sultan, but is infinitely more beautiful than any in the known world. Of my companions, those who knew only their dusty towns wondered if the city was some trick of the sea, a mirage, too great to be real.”

Of course, beautification, as all other things in Venice, came after business. With the concessions from the Fourth Crusade, the Venetians had an unbroken chain of trading posts across the Eastern Mediterranean. A merchant could sail from Palermo to Alexandria, then to Antioch, Athens, Trebizond, and finally Theodosia, without ever encountering a port where a Venetian inn, fortress, and harbor were not present.

Facilitating the immense Venetian trading empire were the lands fully subjugated by the Venetians. These included Istria and Romagna, the Dalmatian coast, Corfu, and Crete. From these territories came the men and materials needed to supply Venice’s great fleet. At any given time, the Most Serene Republic had 350 war galleys on standby, patrolling the trade routes and waters of the Republic. Should Venice ever require further naval forces, the Venetian Arsenal could turn out a fully rigged vessel in less than a week.

Such naval superiority would come in handy. In 1230, the armies under Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople were brushed aside by an invading Bulgarian army. With the Queen of Cities threatened, the Emperor frantically appealed for assistance. Venice obliged, sending a fleet of 50 galleys to support and arm the defenders of Constantinople. Unfortunately, the dilapidated and undermanned [1] Theodosian Walls proved insufficient to stem the Bulgarian tide. Worse, the native Greeks, preferring the Orthodox, if barbarous, Bulgarians to the boorish Latins, defected en masse.

With Constantinople directly threatened, Venice sent an additional 30 ships and 2,500 men to man the walls. While such an addition still left the Latins vastly outnumbered, it did seal the land walls from the invaders. Thus, Doge Jacopo Tiepolo entered negotiations with Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria. The two monarchs agreed to allow Bulgaria to carve out of the Latin Empire their own domains, taking Thesselonica and Thrace. Venice, however, was allowed to keep Constantinople, which they formally declared as their own. This effectively doubled Ivan’s territory, particularly with richer provinces, and gave Venice total control over Constantinople. Baldwin, for his work in plundering his own city, gained an estate in southern France. Finally, the Ecumenical Patriarch was given Mount Athos, which was an autonomous state. Freed from the overlordship of Venice, Patriarch Germanus II moved to Mount Athos, where he set up the Patriarchy’s new headquarters. Ivan Asen, for his victory, took the title “Emperor of the Bulgarians and Greeks.” [2]

The victory of the Venetians and their ownership of Constantinople captured their imagination. They began attempts to revitalize the city. Small Venetian merchants were encouraged to move to Constantinople, where they built small public works and brought trade back to the city. While the city was still dilapidated from the sack of the Fourth Crusade and the Latin Empire, the Venetian attempts at revitalization worked well, as shown by the use of the Hippodrome for public displays of horse racing, when it was nearly full of local spectators.

In 1223, Doge Jacopo Tiepolo signed a mercantile treaty with the Mongol Empire, which controlled more than half of the Caspian Sea coast. Although the treaty did little initially, it did give the Venetians massive trading rights within the Empire, which they expected to soon devastate the Geonese colonies along the Black Sea. By 1240, such a thing had occurred, giving the Venetians the satisfaction of wrecking their rival’s Black Sea trade empire.

Chapter 5.2: The Kingdom of God
The Papal States and the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Although there have been many crusades, only the First and Sixth were successful in conquering Jerusalem. Even then, Frederick’s “victory” in the Sixth Crusade was less military and more diplomatic. Although Frederick had secured Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem - the holiest Christian sites in the area - he hadn’t secured any hinterlands for those cities. Furthermore, the treaty had stipulated that walls couldn’t be built around Jerusalem, and while Bethlehem and Nazareth could have walls, the lack of a hinterland hamstrung attempts to fortify them [3].

In order to lift his excommunication, King Frederick offered those cities to the Pope, while the Levantine coast was to remain under Queen Isabella I. Pope Gregory IX grudgingly accepted the offer, which, while it did return the holy sites of Christianity to the Papal States, also gratified Frederick Hohenstaufen, who had been excommunicated three times. Along with that, the treaty stipulated that only the cities of Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem be given to the Papacy. While local merchants would still trade grain within those cities, it hamstrung Papal communication, and all but insured that the cities would fall in the event of a war.

Despite these problems, Pope Gregory IX profited greatly from his new possessions. He took a personal pilgrimage to all three cities, settling veteran Papal soldiers in them and making a pious show of submission. He secured routes from the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was under Queen Isabella I, to Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem, allowing for the Christian Pilgrims to land in Christian ports and then have routes to the holiest cities of the faith.

In Rome, Gregory accomplished similarly powerful feats. In 1234, Gregory, an accomplished lawyer, published the New Compilation of Decretals (Nova Compilatio decretalium), providing a basis for Papal legal theory. He also established the Papal Inquisition, in an attempt to place the fight against heresy under Papal control, instead of the bishops of Europe. Although the early Inquisition was unsuccessful abroad, it established a precedent that would lead to Papal power-projection across the world.

The last great action of Pope Gregory IX was his endorsement of the Northern Crusades. For years, Denmark, Sweden, and the Teutonic Order had been campaigning against the Latgallians, Selonians, Estonians, and more, smaller Orthodox states. With Pope Gregory’s support, the campaigns against smaller nations went well, although Novgorod managed to push back the Crusader forces. Between the Fourth Crusade and the Northern Crusades, Orthodoxy developed a complex of believing that Catholicism was as hostile a force as Islam.

Gregory died in 1241, leading to the election of Celestine IV [4] to the Pontificate. Gregory had overseen a period of expansion of Papal power. Only time would tell if his successors would continue the trend, or see the spectacular collapse of the power Gregory had so carefully built.

Chapter 5.3: The Remnants of the Purple
The Nicene Roman Empire

Following the calamitous Fourth Crusade, the Roman Empire splintered. The Empire’s Greek territories had fallen under the rule of the Latin Knights that had taken part in the crusade, left to languish under western rule. In Trebizond, the descendants of Alexios Komnenos ruled an independent state, holding out against the Turkish onslaught. The greatest of the successor states, though, was certainly the Nicene Roman Empire. Centered around Nicaea, a thoroughly Greek city that had a long, Roman history.

In 1206, Theodoros Laskaris had declared himself Emperor of the Romans, and began to centralize his territories. In an attempt to legitimize his claim to the Roman Empire, he appointed a Patriarch of Constantinople-in-exile, and began a building project in Nicaea. In 1211, an attempted Seljuk invasion of Nicaea was defeated by Theodoros, although a year later a Latin force defeated Theodoros’s, robbing him of his territory along the Sea of Marmara.

In 1222, Theodoros I died, leading to a succession crisis that resulted in the ascension of Baselios Ionnas III Vatatzes. Under Ionnas III, Ivan Asen II ended the Latin Empire of Constantinople after a mere 26 years. The two Emperors, Ivan Asen and Ionnas, made up the two most powerful Orthodox nations in the Balkans. In order to balance their power, Patriarch Germanus II was moved, with his consent, to an independent Mount Athos, where he would be free of either nation’s influence. Similarly, during Ionnas’s reign, the Mongols invaded the Seljuk Sultanate, crushing them at Kose Dag in 1242 and ending the threat of an eastern invasion for the Nicenes.

Although the Empire had been robbed of the half of its land and the ancestral capital of Constantinople, the Empire’s position did have a silver lining. The poisonous bureaucracy, which had so hampered the later Komnenian Empire, had been devastated by the Fourth Crusade, along with the great landowners of the Empire. Under Ionnas and his successor, Theodoros Megas, the lands of the Nicene Empire turned land over to a farmer-militia, which helped to revitalize the old Thematic system. By 1250, it is reported that the Nicene Emperors could raise 20,000 soldiers, a number that matched the empire before 1204.

In order to counterbalance the growing power of Venice, which was intensely hated within the Empire for its role in the Fourth Crusade, Ionnas formally allied with the Most Serene Republic of Genoa. Although the Genoese Black Sea trading empire had been devastated by the Mongols, they started to recoup their losses in the Empire. However, Ionnas made sure that the Italians were restricted further than they had been previously, allowing a Nicene Merchant Class to develop.

The 1240’s also marked the first European encounter with gunpowder, brought along by the Mongols during their Seljuk campaign. Although Nicene attempts to purchase the secret of gunpowder fell through with the Mongols, it did create a fearsome reputation for the weapons among the crowned heads of Europe, who shuddered at the thought of a weapon that could tear down the tall walls of their castles with ease.

The last great gift of the Nicene Emperors Theodoros I and Ionnas III was their restoration of the Nicene Navy. With the discovery of a text describing the composition of the infamous “Greek Fire” [5], the navy regained its fearsome edge. By 1250, the Nicene navy included 50 ships, a low number, but one bolstered by the fact that 5 ships were designated “Imperial Ships of Battle,” castle-style ships that towered over general ships.

[1] - Aside from 50-so personal retainers, Baldwin had, at most, 3,000 militia warriors by his side. This is less than half of the forces even Constantine XI had OTL.

[2] - A title he took OTL.

[3] - Similar to Frederick’s treaty OTL

[4] - Celestine will be the last OTL pope.

[5] - There are unconfirmed reports of Greek Fire use in 1204, making it plausible that the composition could be rediscovered.
Good updates.
Waiting for more.

I gotta admit, this is pretty grand.:)

Read it with great interest, well written

Thank you all! I'm glad this has attracted some readership. If you don't mind, I was wondering if you all liked the format I've been using, and if there were any places or people you thought I should mention that I haven't yet. I really appreciate any and all feedback :)!
Europe 1250.png
Here's a map of 1250. The areas that aren't colored are the same as OTL.

Europe 1250.png

Razgriz 2K9

Should probably take the time to cover any possible changes we may see regarding the Iberian peninsula. Though the PoD is after Las Navas de Tolosa, is there a chance the Almohads might bounce back?
Should probably take the time to cover any possible changes we may see regarding the Iberian peninsula. Though the PoD is after Las Navas de Tolosa, is there a chance the Almohads might bounce back?

I'll be sure to get into the changes in the Iberian Peninsula, but at this point little from the POD has actually effected the Iberian states. The Almohads probably won't be regaining their empire, but that's not to say that they will surely perish. I'll be sure to include some information on the Iberian states going forward, though.
Genoa being cut off from the lucrative Black Sea trade will probably be more inclined to look for new trade routes, perhaps early expeditions along the west African coast?