Les Duchés de Naples et Sicile
The exit of Castille from the war, while not a grave setback to Charles' calculations on how to operate the war, did mildly trip up the planned French Italian offensive. Charles had not expected Castille to stay in the war for it's entirety, indeed he had hoped that Castille would walk away with Aragon's interior territories and not be around to force issues of it's own Italian ambitions to the table. However, to walk away with such a small parcel of land and leave so much of Aragon free to recruit soldiers to trip up the French momentum was not exactly what Charles had in mind either.
Still, he did not spite John of Castille. In the minds of the people of the time, the Black Death represented God's fury, and to have it invited upon you surely meant that the country had done something terrible to earn it. John had to switch gears, ceasing his focus from defeating Aragon to trying to calm the clergy, the nobility and the peasantry. If the country were to panic now, it would only cripple Castille's longer term goals.
With Castillian-held Aragonese territories now free, the men of France's armed forces had to move quickly. Soldiers that were readying themselves to invade Sardinia were quickly brought back to the mainland in order to capture territory held by Aragon. The swift action by the army allowed them to capitalize on the undefended and largely damaged fortresses that Castille had left behind, allowing for France to occupy the entirety of Aragon's Iberian territories in little over two years, with the last territory surrendered to French occupation on August 12th, 1460, with little to no conflict with 'armies' on the peninsula, save for scattered scouting bands and garrisons.
Indeed, compared to the other major action taking place in Castille, the slow French occupation of Aragon was relatively tame.
Henry IV, King of Castille-León
John II of Castille would live for several more months after the end of the War with Aragon, putting his limited abilities to use in attempting to combat the revival of the Black Death in Castille. Unfortunately, John's abilities were well and truly limited. The man himself had few skills or little intellect that he could apply to the problems facing his Kingdom, and the actions he could take would either have to be put through the various nobles whom had seized ever larger chunks of power for themselves or could only be done on local levels by said nobles due to the sheer size and spread of the Plague.
Of course, this had been as much John's fault as it had been that of the nobility. John's weakness as a king had given the nobility of Castille free-reign to expand their own powers to make up for what the king was lacking. With power so decentralized in the Castillian realm, it was only a matter of time before a great catastrophe shook the Kingdom that no single, or even group, of power-holders in the state could fix. The revival of the Black Death would run it's course, taking with it thousands upon thousands of lives before dieing off after a successful quarantine covering an area spanning the border with Portugal to Madrid and to the new border with Aragon would stop people outside of the infected area from contracting the deathly disease.
John II would not be one of the fortunate ones to escape the ravages of the Black Death: the King of Catille-León would die in the city of Madrid itself, a victim of the quarantine he himself had authorized. As such, the crown would be passed onto John's son: Henry IV (Enrique IV in Castille).
Henry IV was just as weak a king as his father was; utterly unskilled and weak, Henry's reign would have surely further weakened the central authority of the Castillian monarchy, leaving it a mere shell of what it had been beforehand.
Fortunately for the Kingdom of Castille, and unfortunately for Henry, his reign would be mercifully short.
Seeing that Henry's reign would have critically undercut the monarchy of Castille, three factions began to put their machinations into motion. Although these factions centered around a different figure-head, the hope of each was that they could select a monarch capable of ruling over the Kingdom of Castille and prevent it's slid into oblivion at the hands of the weak monarchs whom had come to the throne (and, it was feared, would continue to come to the throne).
The first faction was the pro-Castillian Trastámara faction that centered around the only current living heir to the throne aside from Henry: Isabella. The faction reasoned that Isabella, as the only other current living heir of the Castillian-branch of the House of Trastámara she was the only one appropriate to pick to succeed Henry (barring him producing a legitimate heir, which with the infamous accounts of adultery swimming about his wife, Joan of Portugal, it seemed unlikely). However, this faction's plans would have to be long-term as Isabella, at this time, was but barely seven years old.
The second faction began to rally around the current Queen, Joan of Portugal, hoping that she culd assume control of the country for her husband before being married to a more suitable nobleman. However, Joan's well known adulterous behavior, even absconding with men of the church, left hern ot only undesirable by the Catholic Church, but by much of the Kingdon itself. This faction was by far not only the weakest in and of itself, but carried with it the weakest of the claimants.
Eventually, a nobleman from the House of Trastámara in Aragon itself came forth, uniting behind him Isabella's faction and the other disaffected members of the nobility. Fernando de Trastámara, a very strong, capable member of the family based in it's Aragonese branch, suggested that, as the Castillian branch of the family was proving wanting at the time, it was time to temporarily supplant it with a different branch. Fernando was an excellent military leader, capable administrator and was born with a silver-tongue, easily making him one of the most attractive, and most likely to be able to force his way to the throne, of any of the claimants.
He further his own legitimacy by proposing that he adopt the young Isabella, promising that, upon his death, that she and her husband would take his place on the throne. This move allowed for the Castillian Trastámara's whom has gotten behind Isabella to throw their support to Fernando, given that his proposal placed him closer to the role of steward that King, and allowed Isabella the time to properly grow into the role they sought for her.
Of course, the problem with Fernando was that he was, indeed, of the Aragonese branch of the family. With the recent war against Aragon, much of the nobility in Castille were either hard pressed to support him or didn't do so at all. As such, on November 20th, 1459, Fernando and his supporters simply forced their way to the throne. Henry IV was forced to abdicate his throne in favor of Fernando in a prompt manner, as the only other option given to the rather weak king was a rather unpleasant death at the hands of the usurpers. The act of treason, as many in the Castillian nobility saw it, rocked the very foundation of the Kingdom, sparking riots and rebellion in what had already been a very fragile shell of a country left over from the Black Death. Previously Queen Joan quickly retreated back to Portugal, along with Henry IV, the two poking and prodding for rebellion and a return to the throne they were forced to give up until Henry's death two decades later.
Nonetheless, Fernando would be hailed as King Fernando V of Castille-León, and would serve as it's monarch from 1459 until his death when Isabella, his now adopted daughter, would reign with whomever she would marry. However, Fernando sought a legacy beyond that as merely the place-holder for his newly adopted daughter, a legacy that would produce one of the most powerful nations in Western Europe.
The Coronation of Fernando V, of course, was not nearly as pristine as much of the art of it would have us believe
The French compagnies d'ordonnance, as mentioned in previous chapters, were a reordering of the military structure of the French professional military created by Charles VII. The purpose of the compagnies d'ordonnance were to help organize what was the period's first western professional military force, allowing for a greater ease of sending supplies around, more efficient tactics for military action (which had provided France quite a few military victories in the Hundred Years and Franco-Catlan Wars) and to make the art of breaking through the castle walls of one's enemy far easier.
Of course, just because the compagnies d'ordonnance were created for this purpose, doesn't mean they were always able to fulfill it.
In 1457, just as it seemed the dual Castillian-French occupation forces were wrapping up Aragon's Iberian possessions, Charles VII ordered an immediate move towards setting the grounds for an invasion of Aragon's Italian possessions. While France was in no danger of Aragon regrouping it's forces in either Sicily or Sardinia in order to usurp French control of the Aragonese coastline, Charles did feel that there was the danger of Castille invading the Itallian territories first, taking the lion's share of the rich territory and leaving France with the scraps of what would remain.
The apple of Charles' eye for the initial invasion was the island of Sicily, one of the richest areas of the Italian peninsula (with the areas around the city of Palermo producing very rich sugar cane which would greatly boost French trade). Of course, Aragon would have garrisons on the island of Sicily ready to meet French forces, and France's navy, after the minor pounding it took in the Channel from the English Royal Navy, wasn't capable of the sort of mass-invasion it would take to conquer Sicily in one swoop.
Additionally there was the concern over Naples crossing over the Straits of Messina to support Aragon in Sicily, with the Neapolitan army numbering, at the time, in the ballpark of 10,000 archers, infantry and cavalry. With the only available French port to the Mediterranean still so very far away (for the French) from Sicily, it didn't seem likely that France could blockade the Straits of Messina long enough to occupy the island, on top of invading it.
So, France needed a base of operations for their invasion of southern Italy, one relatively insignificant when it comes to Aragon's determination to defend it and yet close enough for the invasion forces to be quickly ferried over to Sicily. The choice, the obvious one at least, was the islands of Malta just to the south of Sicily. It was going to be so simple: the invasion force, led by Jean Bureau, would take to the coasts of the island and eliminate the tiny garrisoning force outside of the walls of the various castles and forts on the island, lay siege and then take the island. By 1458, France would be ready to launch a massive invasion of Sicily and, from there, Naples, all the while the French navy could blockade the Straits of Messina while resupplying from Malta.
Unfortunately, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
The Aragonese forces on the island didn't give one inch to the French. Over the course of nearly four years French forces would have the terrain, the weather and even their own weapons turned against them as the defenders of the island pounded away at the invasion forces. One of the most notable casualties of the extended 'siege' was Jean Bureau: the English, nobles of Burgundy and traitorous French nobles could not slay this man, and yet a few thousand men on the main island of Malta did.
Eventually, after getting reinforcements once the initial invasion force reached an anemic number of men totaling around 1,400 infantrymen and archers accompanied by perhaps 200 knights, the island did fall to French occupational forces. The Siege of Malta would earn the island the rightful nickname of 'The Great Fortress', having withstood the siege of the French for 1,356 days. Such was the reputation of the island that, it would be a well-sought position in the Mediterranean for many powers, as a place to resupply ships and as a great fortress island.
An Ottoman Map of the Island of Malta, showing that even aside from it's other practical purposes the possibility of it's use as a point to launch raids against the Barbary Coast by Christian powers was enough to catch the eyes of even the Islamic world
The Fuedal System which had governed European government and politics since the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the settling of the vast and numerous barbarians and nomadic tribes had guided France through many different phases of it's being and many different conflicts. From the rise of the Frankish Kingdom, through the rule of the great Carolingian Empire, with one of the greatest rulers Europe had or will ever know in the form of Charlemagne, to the split of the empire, through the rise of the Capet Dynasty, into the fires of the Crusades and through the seemingly endless Hundred Years War, feudalism had been the governing creed of the Frankish and French nobility.
And yet, despite this history, France was perhaps one of the first places where feudalism would begin to die.
Certainly the Black Death had been the beginning of the end of feudalism, with the sudden lack of abundant workers making the labor of even a singular man so much more value, but there were a great number of other nails in the coffin of feudal government. One of many was the fact that, as the kingdoms of Europe grew larger, alongside the ambitions of their rulers, feudalism just didn't seem to make sense anymore. So many nobles, even spread out through a wide area, presented a threat to the central governing figure, either through conspiracy or, as Henry of Castille had just shown, through outright forced abdication or, as Fernando V of Castille was now being shown, rebellion.
So many figures to move through in order to get the machinations of government to start, so many different moving pieces, was making it difficult for any king of a realm larger than that of a county to exercise his will. For France, this was a particularly pointed problem, as many of the nobility were not only obstructive when it came to the machinations of the King, but were utterly incompetent themselves, nearly throwing themselves into bankruptcy every few years.
Roland swearing fealty to Charlemagne, the idealized image of feudalism in France, was quickly losing its relevance to France and her modern problems in the minds of Charles and his successors
The incompetence of the nobility was wearing thin on both Charles' patience and on France's treasury. The reason why Charles had accepted these nobles keeping out of the Franco-Catalan War was because it would save their economies the extra stress, keeping them from trying to beg him for money. Instead, seemingly, they were more dependent on his treasury than before.
Why, Charles could remember many of these nobles placing themselves against him in the Hundred Years War. Now they were reaching into his pockets, begging their 'true liege' to assist them in keeping their realms from going bankrupt, 'destroyed by the vile bankers in Florence and Genoa'.
So Charles, deciding to teach his collected nobility a lesson on handling their own realms, began writing up a very special deal for the next nobleman to come knocking on the kingdom's door for a handout from the treasury. When Charles VI de Valois of the Duchy of Provence came to him, claiming his realm was ready to go bankrupt, Charles VII readily agreed to give him a nice, lump sum of money to help him out.
All Charles VII asked in return was that he be allowed to absorb a few territories in order to help restore balance in the treasury to help ensure that the kingdom itself didn't go bankrupt in the process. Charles VI, figuring that his liege's demand, as they had been in the past, would be fair agreed to the terms.
Less than one month later Charles VI was evicted from his home and told to leave the realm of the Duke of Provence; Charles VII de Valois.
The title 'Duke of Provence' would be absorbed into the Crown soon after: Charles VII would be the last Duke of Provence
With the successful capture of Malta earlier in 1461, France now had it's much needed base of operations for the invasion of Sicily. With Aragon's Iberian holdings having completely fallen into French hands by 1460, the island of Sicily (and, to a lesser degree, Sardinia) were now ripe for the picking. Xaintrailles, one of the few remaining great soldiers of the Hundred Years War, was now tasked with invading Sicily, a stead and experienced hand needed, as the island had a garrison of 8,000 soldiers stationed there: Aragon's last stand, as it were.
In May 10,000 French soldiers were ferried to the islands that comprised Malta. The sheer number of soldiers, and the lack of number of French transports, would require the invasion take place in two parts. Xaintrailles would be sent ahead first to establish a beachhead near Messina, fortifying his position as best he could with 5,000 soldiers while the Aragonese forces, led by Sanç II himself, would march for them from Palermo.
As the battle would commence, the other 5,000 soldiers on Malta would be quickly ferried onto the island just behind Sanç's forces. The idea was that, hopefully, the two groups of 5,000 soldiers would be able to crush Sanç's forces between them, leaving his army crippled and the island of Sicily open to occupation. All the while the French navy would begin blockading the Straits of Messina, trying to keep the now 12,000 strong Neapolitan force from storming the island.
The plan went off with barely a hitch. The two forces of 5,000 men created a killing zone between then as Sanç, seeking at least one grand victory over the French, was all too eager to storm Xaintrailles line, even as the French Navy was coming into view off-shore. However, French losses on both ends of the killing field were greater than expected, allowing Sanç to escape from the killing field and begin a retreat to Palermo. The two halves of the French invasion force combined and Xaintrailles quickly pursued.
Although Sanç and Xaintrailles were very similarly skilled generals, it was Xaintrailles understanding of logistics, troop movement and how to navigate the terrain he was presented with that allowed him to outmaneuver Sanç before reaching the city of Palermo. On the 20th of June the last Aragonese army fell to the French, allowing for the eventual occupation of Sicily.
While the Franco-Catalan War (all pretenses of France merely doing this on Navarre's behalf having been lost) raged on in the western and central Mediterranean, several events were taking place across the Mediterranean. To the east, whilst the Ottoman Empire was thrown into the fires of civil disorder and instability, the Christian countries which had interests in the Near East were beginning to fortify their positions, in the hopes that they'd be able to keep the Turks at bay once, or hopefully if, the chaos would lift.
In Greece, the Kingdom of Morea and the Republic of Venice began to expand their holdings, Morea by invading the state of Athens while Venice annexed the island of Naxos, a long-time vassal-state of the Republic. The Knights of Rhodes continued appealing to the various princes of Europe, gathering more funds for the walls of their island and to expand their navy, whilst Cyprus, a Kingdom with distant, but nonetheless present, connections to France did much the same. Genoa increased the size of their patrols, partly to protect their merchant shipping but also, occasionally, to lend a hand to the Knights in the region.
While the Catholic world balked at the annexation of Athens by Morea, the tiny Orthodox kingdom would be forgiven by it's neighbors: the individual states that would try to fight against the Ottomans would often fall, with Hungary, much larger than the Christian nations that the Ottomans had previously fought with, being the first to repel the Turks. It stood to reason that a Morea with numerous alliances and a larger territory for itself could slow down the Turks far more effectively than the lonely city of Athens could. Ever since the loss of Constantinople, Christians were hardly picky about which states would act as a shield for the rest of Europe.
However, the Ottoman Empire, and their various puppets and allies, were not merely sitting back while Christianity fortified it's position.
Although much of the treasury had been wiped out by the wars against Byzantium, Albania and Hungary, there was still 'just' enough money for the Ottomans to help fund Islam's own version of the Knights of Rhodes, the Pirates of the Barbary Coast. The Berber pirates, based out of the North African coastal states such as Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia and Tripoli, were a constant threat to merchant shipping in the Mediterranean for Christian nations, often raiding Christian ports and otherwise disrupting other maritime activities.
France, with it's recent annexation of Provence and Italian ambitions, were certainly becoming more and more involved in the Mediterranean, making them a larger and larger target for the Barbary Pirates. Thus, with it's own treasury beginning to overflow from the spoils of wars and growing peace in the core of France, Charles took action against the pirates, setting up larger and more persistent patrols off the coasts of France.
Piracy was beginning to take it's toll on France, forcing Charles to begin funding new anti-piracy programs
As the 21st of October, 1462 came to pass Charles VII celebrated the 40th year he had claimed the title 'King of France' for himself. Although his coronation would not take place for another seven years, and much of northern France and the Aquitaine would be under English dominion, Charles was still recognized as King of France by many noblemen in his country on that date. Although the 40th anniversary held no specific celebratory customs, for Charles it did mark just how far in his reign he, and France, had come. Charles was now fifty-nine years old, a man entering the twilight of his life while France was a kingdom rapidly on the rise, burning forth from the ashes of Agincourt and the Treaty of Troyes to become a major power on the European continent once more.
Many monarchs would be gravely envious of Charles' accomplishments. Whether or not Charles made great gains in the Franco-Catalan War or not, France would find itself in a far better state when Charles would die than it was when Charles came to the throne. A professional army, an economy that was beginning to grow and a state of government running smoothly despite the stress placed upon it by multiple, terribly long wars, Charles could claim a part in each of these improvements through his numerous reforms, laws and victories.
Yet, the old king still felt like there was work to be done. So much so that the man had pre-emptively skipped any form of celebration in Paris in order to join his men in Sicily in May. Xaintrailles' death meant that Charles ws now one of the last great veterans of the Hundred Years War left to lead the army, and with 14,000 men waiting across the Straits of Messina to invade Sicily, Charles did not wish to leave such a delicate military situation to less skilled generals.
In the end, Charles plan relied on whittling down the Neapolitan forces, lead by Phillip I of Naples, through attrition. Ordering the French Royal Navy to abandon the Straits of Messina, Phillip would bring his soldiers across the straits and immediately try to retake Sicily for Aragon (or, possibly, for Naples itself). Once they were in now occupied territory Phillip would find militia, border guards and other unfriendly forces harassing him on his way to and at the fortresses and castles of Messina. Charles would wait patiently for the Neapolitan soldiers to drop to a more manageable number, before striking against them.
With November and winter rapidly approaching, and Phillip's men dieing by starvation or from slamming their heads against castle walls, Charles saw his moment to strike. The king donned his old armor, rode out with his men and prepared himself for one last great hurrah.
When the enemies were shattered in Messina, Charles began readying other armies to invade Naples, leaving the cleaning up of the last major enemy army to Marc de Rochemaure
To say that the major defeat in Sicily demoralized the citizenry of Naples was a massive understatement. Having been ruled by foreign-descendant monarchs (and monarchs based entirely out of another country) for such a long time, to see the first native-born and Neapolitan monarch completely destroyed in battle was the death-knell of the Neapolitan war effort.
Such was the decimation of their morale that many Neapolitan men of various stripes began to abandon their nation and join the French war effort. One such Italian, an engineer named Niccolò di Potenza, quickly approached Charles VII as his sieges around Naples were beginning and offered his inside knowledge on just how the castles and fortresses of the country were constructed, and just how they could be brought down. Niccolò's knowledge, plus the inherent talent the French had for siege warfare, allowed them to bring the Kingdom of Naples to its knees in less than a year.
With all of Aragon and all of Naples now under his control, Charles was now ready to enforce the peace that he had plotted since Castille's exit from the war. The terms were as simple as they were brutal: Phillip was to abdicate the throne of Naples in favor of a member a nobleman in Naples that was far more favorable to French interests in the region, said nobleman swearing allegiance to the King of France as Duke of Naples (although he would keep the title 'King of Naples' when outside of French courts).
Aragon would surrender to the County of Foix Roussillon, release the Kingdom of Sardinia from it's patrimony and cede to Charles the island of Sicily, which would be crafted into the Duchy of Sicily (Kingdom of Sicily outside of French courts), and ruled by a lesser member of the Borghese family, one of Phillip's brothers, in exchange for Phillip's abdication.
With all their lands occupied the noblemen of Naples and Aragon had no choice. On December 22nd Phillip of Naples agreed to France's terms, quickly followed by Sanç of Aragon on December 23rd. By Christmas Day Phillip II de Ricci was Duke of Naples and Peter IV de Borghese was Duke of Sicily.
Charles had achieved his goals in Italy and more in this war: the last war of his reign ended in a brilliant victory.
France c. 1463
Charles VII de Valois
By the Grace of God, King of France, Duke of Provence (Title Absorbed into the Crown) and Dauphin of Viennois (in absence of Louis de Valois)
~ Lorraine (Duke Jean II de Valois)
Treasury: 56 million ducats
GDP (estimated): 508.1 million ducats
Domestic CoTs: Paris 105.56
Army: 6,000 Knights (Armored Knights), 14,000 Men at Arms
Reserves (potential levies): 53,950
Navy: 5 Carracks, 2 Pinnaces, 2 Gallies, 5 Cogs
Tradition: 32.20% Navy: 0.00%
Prestige: First (54)
Reputation: Very Bad (14.9)