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"The purpose of this blog is to generate discussions about historical issues. Students, enthusiasts, and friends are all welcome to join by reading and participating with comments. I hope to generate interest in history and offer help to the perplexed." Caleb Johnson

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Familial Exploits of the d’Hauteville Brothers

We are all familiar with the illustrious exploits of William, Duke of Normandy, who conquered the main Island of Britain in 1066. But before their conquest of England, the Normans had already established themselves as a dynamic and mobile force in 11th century Europe. One family in particular distinguished themselves as leaders, explorers and conquerors, they were the d’Hautevilles. The custom of primogeniture was not kind to the eleven younger sons of Tancred d’Hauteville. His petty estate was left to the eldest son and the younger brothers were obliged to look abroad in order to secure their fortune. The first to leave France was William, one of the older brothers. He was enticed by news that the Byzantine Empire was planning the recapture of the Island of Sicily. He took part in the campaign, leading a contingent of Normans to fight alongside the Byzantines. He proved himself in battle and gained the nickname Ironside for his massive strength. The exploits of William Ironside encouraged his brothers and other Normans to seek their fortunes in the central Mediterranean. Eventually Robert, called Guiscard for his craftiness, was able to conquer the whole of southern Italy with a capital at Naples. He harbored ambitions for the conquest of the Byzantine Empire itself, but was foiled in these plans when the Byzantines paid the Venetians to destroy his naval capacity. Despite this setback, the conquests continued. Upon the death of Robert Guiscard, his brother Roger attempted the conquest of Sicily. The aborted Byzantine campaign left the Island in chaos and ripe for conquest. Roger was able to subdue the island and was granted the title “King of the two Sicilies” by the Pope. Robert Guiscard’s son Bohomond found himself cheated out of an inheritance, so he continued the familial practice of conquest abroad. He ended up joining the first crusade to Jerusalem and in the process swore allegiance to the same Emperor his father had warred against. He eventually captured the Biblical city of Antioch and founded his own principality. Thus the d’Hautevilles had spread their legacy from Normandy to Sicily, Naples, Constantinople, and Antioch. It is a wonder that one family could have shaped the setting of Medieval Mediterranean politics, but they did. It is perhaps a testimony of the confusion of the times and a tribute to the Norman strength of arms. The legacy of the d’Hauteville brothers doesn’t directly affect us today, but Medieval Europe was certainly altered by their dynamic ambitions.

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