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Margaret of Navarre (fl. 1154–1172)

Margaret of Navarre (fl. 1154–1172)

Queen of Sicily and regent of Naples and Sicily . Name variations: Margherita. Queen of Sicily, 1154–1166; regent, 1166–1172; death date unknown; daughter of Garcia IV, king of Navarre (r. 1134–1150), and Marguerite de l'Aigle (d. 1141); married William I the Bad (1120–1166), king of Naples and Sicily (r. 1154–1166), in 1150; children: William II the Good (1153–1189), king of Naples and Sicily (r. 1166–1189, who married Joanna of Sicily ); Henry.

The daughter of Garcia IV, king of Navarre, and Marguerite de l'Aigle , Margaret of Navarre married William, prince of Capua, son of Roger II, ruler of the Norman kingdom of Sicily. By the time Roger II died in 1154, William's older brothers were also dead, and he inherited the throne as William I, making Margaret the queen-consort. Margaret was one of the few queens of Norman Sicily who seems to have played a significant political role in the kingdom. In part this was because her husband's inertia gave opportunity to her ambition. He preferred the luxury and comfort of isolation in the palace and hesitated to make decisions. She drove him, for example, to take revenge on the assassins of his chief minister, Maion de Bari. Her husband's indecisiveness contributed to his nickname "William the Bad."

When he died in 1166, Margaret faced the challenge of governing as regent until her 13-year-old son William II was old enough to take the throne. She struggled to impose order on a nearly chaotic situation, with the European barons conspiring to undermine the monarchy's power and Sicily's myriad ethnic and religious groups (the island was a jumble of peoples from North Africa, the Near East, and Mediterranean Europe) contending with each other. Her status as "the Spaniard" made her an outsider. At first she ruled through the eunuch Peter the Saracen, distrusting the ambitions of most of the courtiers. Margaret wrote to France, requesting that her cousin Stephen of Le Perche come and help her defend the realm. Meanwhile, many of the nobles exiled by her husband returned to Sicily. In 1167, when Stephen of Le Perche arrived with a detachment of French knights, she made him one of her chief ministers and secured for him the archbishopric of Palermo. The appointment provoked more envy among the nobility, and intrigues and conspiracies beset Margaret and the government. One of the chief conspirators was her own brother Henry, count of Montescaglioso.

With the kingdom beset by conspiracies, riots, and assassinations, Margaret of Navarre's rule was precarious. An insurrection in 1168 forced Stephen of Le Perche into exile (he went off to the Holy Land, which apparently had been his original reason for visiting the Mediterranean). The arch-conspirator and cleric, Englishman Walter Offamilio (Gualtiero Ophamil), emerged from the rebellion as the effective power behind the monarchy. Having driven Stephen from Sicily, Walter had himself elected archbishop of Palermo. Margaret tried unsuccessfully to persuade the pope to block Walter's installation, and Offamilio effectively became head of the state council. The regency ended in 1172, when William II the Good reached the age to take the throne, diminishing Margaret's role. Along with his supporters, Offamilio, who had been one of William's tutors, continued to wield political power.

sources:

Chalandon, Ferdinand. Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile. 2 vols. NY: Burt Franklin, 1960.

Smith, Dennis Mack. Medieval Sicily, 800–1713. NY: Viking Press, 1969.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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