Our thanks to Dr Charles D. Stanton for this wonderful introduction to the incredible story of Roger of Lauria, whose triumphs during the War of the Sicilian Vespers remain unparalleled. But who was he, and what was the War of the Vespers? Well, read on here, then see the longer version in the September issue of the Medieval Herald eNewsletter and look out for Dr Stanton’s great new book which will introduce this naval genius to the wider audience his story deserves.
Roger of Lauria (c. 1250 – 1305): ‘Admiral of Admirals’ could just as well have been entitled The Tale of the Forgotten Admiral and the Throne of Trinacria. Such a romantic rendering would be justified by the fact that the historical record of the Aragonese admiral’s exploits during the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282-1302) reads more like fanciful fiction than an actual accounting – a real-life Game of Thrones, if you will. All the ingredients are there: a multifarious cast of compelling characters, including several kings and popes; the quest for the crown of a fabled kingdom of great power and wealth, involving ancient empires and legendary realms; epic battles on land and sea, full of copious quantities of courage, cowardice and cruelty – all resulting in a spellbinding saga of triumph and tragedy, presided over by a hero for the ages. Yes, it all sounds like shameless sensationalism – except that it’s all true.
Roger of Lauria could easily be regarded as the ‘Forgotten Admiral’, because, outside of the cloistered corridors of academia centred on the medieval Mediterranean, his storied career has become lost to common knowledge – this despite references to his martial prowess at sea in such literary masterpieces of the era as Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. Yet, the Calabrian noble’s tactical genius as a naval commander remains unexcelled in the history of maritime warfare. He notched no less than six signal victories at sea during the 20-year span of the War of the Vespers, while executing a series of devastating raids on enemy territory with almost total impunity. In so doing, he thwarted the imperial designs of one of the great military minds of the period, Charles of Anjou (brother to King Louis IX of France), and changed the course of Mediterranean history forever. His exploits remain esoteric only because the war in which he fought was upstaged by a wider, longer conflict that raged in northern Europe during the same general timeframe. Renowned medieval maritime historian, John Pryor, explains: ‘Lauria’s fame has been diminished by the minor place awarded to the War of the Vespers by modern medievalists and by its overshadowing by the Hundred Years War.’
This guest post is written by Dr Charles D. Stanton, a retired US naval officer and airline pilot; he gained his PhD at the University of Cambridge.