Who gives the Middle Ages a bad name? They were bad, but without them history wouldn’t have been so interesting. Again like my article on the Top 5 Medieval People, this list is completely arbitrary. The villains of the medieval age are in my opinion:
Innocent IV – the implacable enemy of Frederick II. Innocent’s political ambitions tore Italy apart and prevented Frederick from fulfilling his (possibly enlightened) political ambitions.
John of Gaunt – the younger brother of the Black Prince, and terrible as a military commander (although a stickler for the rules of chivalry and not bad in single combat), and venal and worse as a politician and stand-in for his dotard father Edward III.
Bernard Gui – the famous Inquisitor and author of Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis is an easy target as a hate figure – the archetypal oppressor and symbolic of what is always wrong with the Middle Ages – dogmatic, cruel repression. His reputation is cemented by being the baddie in Umberto Eco‘s The Name of the Rose.
William the Conqueror – gave us an Anglo-Norman aristocracy, French speaking until the fourteenth century to rule over us. Would England have been less riven by class divide if the English hadn’t been subject to a French ruling class for so long?
Henry V – a great tactician on the battlefield and a leader of men, but was his ambition to conquer France really a good idea? Consigned England to humiliating defeat at the hands of the French, and the disastrous Wars of the Roses.
A bit controversial maybe? I’d love to hear your comments.
Frederick II Hohenstaufen is famous for defying the Papacy and trying to create a unified Holy Roman Empire based on his Kingdom of Sicily. However, the infighting between the different factions in Italy and the antipathy and opposition of the papacy made this aim all but impossible. The Siege of Palma, which together with Milan was one of the most hostile cities opposing Frederick II, marked a turning point in the war, from which the Emperor would never recover.
According to the Annals of Parma Frederick II had an army of 10,000 men at this battle.
Frederick set up his fortified camp opposite the smaller part of the city of Parma on the left bank of the Torrente Parma. The camp was famously called Vittoria. From here Frederick’s forces could lay waste to the area around Parma and seek to prevent reinforcements. Frederick’s likely strategy would have been to starve Parma into submission.
The city not surrounded. To cut off the city completely would have required forts of circumference of five miles with approx 40,000 men needed to guard them. Even if forts had been placed at points around the city it is likely that a force larger than the one Frederick had available would have been required. The English chronicler Matthew Paris states, however, that there were a number of castles around the city, bearing the name Vittoria, so maybe Frederick did engage in this strategy.
Unfortunately I have been unable to find any historical or archaeological sources that describe the possible location of Frederick’s camp. Looking at modern maps of Parma it would appear that the terrain around Parma apart from the river that cuts through it was fairly level undulating hills, so it is unlikely that any particular geographical features played a large party in the position of his camp or the battle.
It seems that the siege was not being particularly successful as Parma had significant forces available. For instance the Mantuans brought assistance via the river Po to the north. However, Matthew Paris in his chronicle does related that the Parmese were suffering and that they even asked Frederick for peace, an offer that he rejected, warning them that they must use there corn sparingly as he would not give them any more while he lived.
In the winter of 1247-1248 Frederick released the contingents from Bergamo, Pavia, Tortona and Allesandria and detached some of his troops to Treviso and Allesandria.
The forces Remaining were 1,100 horse and 2000 foot from Cremona, and Saracen archers. With a total of maybe 5000.
When the Parmese sallied out on 18 February 1248 Frederick was hunting with probably around 500 horsemen. The Parmese intended to move up the Po against Frederick’s son Enzo. Half of their forces did so and the other half became embroiled in an unintended battle with the Imperial forces. Again Matthew Paris is at odds with this version of events, he claims that the Parmese knew Frederick was absent, and that they planned the attack at this time to move against his camp. One expects that this could be true as surely they would be able to see Frederick leave with his large hunting party.
The Imperial forces lost and the Parmese entered the camp of Vittoria. Parmese claimed 1500 Imperials killed and 3000 captured. The Placentine annals say only 100 knights and 1500 foot soldiers were killed or captured however. One of the dead was Frederick’s minister Thaddeus de Suessa. Frederick also lost his treasury and other items of his baggage.
Could Frederick have succeeded in starving Parma if he had not suffered the ill-luck of being absent when the Parmese sallied? The Parmese did not know of his absence and Frederick’s forces engaged without any real orders apparently. If Frederick was there it is quite probable that defeat would not have occurred and that the siege would have been maintained.
Been awhile since I have posted unfortunately due to illness over the last week or so. Progress on the writing has therefore been very slow. However, I did manage to read through Dante’s De Vulgari Eloquentia. Quite useful on his opinion of Frederick’s court and also all the differences in dialects in Italy, plus an examination of the canzone form.
I might be slowing down the current research on the Stupor Mundi project, doing bits and pieces when I can, but mainly I will be concentrating on a top secret self-publishing venture over the next few weeks. I am hoping that this won’t take too long out of my writing career, but also I’m hopeful that it might make a little bit of money too!
I spent some of the weekend working out where I should start on the Stupor Mundi project. My conclusion is that I should concentrate on the most important sources first. In the past I think I made the mistake of starting outward and working in, so trying to build up a complete understanding of the period by reading secondary and primary texts connected with the period but not directly on the subject of the novel. I’ve decided to deal with my primary sources first and then read elsewhere if needed.
So my first priority is the biography of Piero della Vigna by Huillard-Breholles. This is in French so my first job is to translate it.
After that I want to look at the poems attributable to Piero and the other poets of the Sicilian School, I think this will provide a good indication of how they thought. My current reading points to more sophistication in some of them than one might think for that period.
Following on from that are things like the Constitutions of Melfi, the letters written by Piero not covered in Huillard-Breholles, the hunting treatise of Frederick, and then probably the biography by Kantorowicz, especially as he and his descendent are characters in the book.