The Normans ranged out from their initial settlement in Normandy during the 10th and 11th centuries. By the 11th century, the Normans were gaining power in southern Italy where the weak Lombard lords sought to hire them to fend off attackers. In time, Normans established a veritable power base in southern Italy.
By the second half of the 11th century, Normans had begun taking control of Sicily away from the reigning Muslim rulers. By the end of the century, Normans effectively had the control of the whole island. Norman leaders Roger I and later his son, Roger II proceeded to carve a Norman Kingdom of Sicily. Normans continued to rule Sicily directly until the end of 12th century.
Invasion of Sicily by Roger I
Roger I led the Norman attempt to take control of Sicily in the 11th century. Roger, together with his brother Robert Guiscard, first entered Sicily from Reggio and took control of Messina. He then proceeded to take control of Palermo with a Norman army. Roger was able to win a significant victory against Muslim forces in Sicily in 1068 at Misilmeri. By 1086, Syracuse had surrendered to Roger’s forces. His control over all of Sicily was cemented when Palermo also fell to the Norman control in 1091.
Norman Kingdom of Sicily
After gaining the control of the whole Sicily, the region was styled into a Norman kingdom under Roger II, son of Roger I. The kingdom was relatively independent of papal authority and it consequently came in conflict with Pope Innocent II. Innocent instigated Holy Roman Emperor and the Byzantine Emperor to attack Sicily.
The armies of the two emperors proceeded to wrest Sicilian lands away from Roger II but couldn’t sufficiently dent the Norman control over Sicily. Eventually, Innocent II had to accept Roger’s right to Sicily. The reign of Roger II was significant in that he enacted many laws which were aimed at centralising the government. Despite numerous challenges to his authority, Roger II concluded his reign with a successful Norman hold over Sicily.
Decline of Norman Sicily
By the time Roger II’s son, William I took control of the reign, the barons all over island were growing powerful and had begun to demand more autonomy from the crown. William I crushed the baronial rebellions but the discontent of powerful barons all over Sicily continued to fester.
The matters came to a head when William I died and the crown passed to a regent since William II was a minor at the time. Until William II reached the age of majority, Norman Sicily was in the midst of instability and continuous turmoil. When William II finally ascended to the throne, he was able to usher in two decades of relative peace and prosperity for the island.
End of Norman Sicily
William II died without any heir. This effectively brought an end to the direct and complete control of the Normans over the island. His death was followed by continuous wrangling over the right to the throne of Sicily. Ultimately, the rule of Sicily passed to the Hohenstaufen Frederick II who eventually also became the Holy Roman Emperor.