The 'Sicilian Vespers', the famous uprising in Palermo against the rule of Charles of Anjou, is merely the centrepoint of the work. As the subtitle says, this is far more sweeping in its content, covering Europe in the second half of the thirteenth century and the complexities of European politics of the time. Both well researched and well written, it's of the same high standard as all of Sir Steven Runciman's works, and is quite rightly regarded as a classic of history writing. Anyone with a remote interest in European history should read it.
This is a mighty educational book that starts in earnest almost a century before the 1282 'Sicilian Vespers' bloody uprising against Charles of Anjou (the rebellion itself is dealt with in just a few pages in fact). It educates the reader about the Hohenstaufen & their arguments with the papacy, about the Angevins, about the interminable quarrels between Ghibellines and Guelfs, and last but not least about the Byzantine angle (Charles's dream was to conquer Constantinople, and it was Byzantine gold that helped to pay for the uprising).
To me, the story was not always easy to follow, but I have to blame my own lack of knowledge of this period. Given the dynastic nature of medieval power politics, you just need some working knowledge of which families were in power where, to make the story easily digestable. This is not made any easier by the aristocratic habit of recycling the same first names again and again. Having said this, as a total rookie in medieval history I learned a lot from this book and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone remotely interested in the period.
Wow, what a fabulous book. This is written with such fantastic enthusiasm. The story it tells appears so vividly in my mind - it hasn't left me since I finished reading. I read the entire thing in a very short space of time, too... for me anyway.
I understand that there's a bit of a split concerning Runciman, but just going on this book, I find him most endearing. But I do know of his faults, and indeed the frankly bizarre pro-Sicilian sentiments at the end were a little distracting. But whatever, I can easily look past minor qualms and enjoy the bigger picture - It's very easy going and fluid. I look forward to reading more of his work.
Wonderful narrative history in the old manner. It explains the failures of the human beings involved as well as maintining a good pace. Almost like a novel except it is based on fact and not conjecture and invented conversations.