Session 3: Hostages & Captive Taking in the High Middle Ages
That’s No Way to Treat a Lady! Hostage or Captive: What’s the Difference?
Annette Parks (University of Evansville)
This paper was an introduction to a piece on captivity vs. hostageship. Medieval contemporaries looked harshly on the treatment of hostages, particularly women and children. This paper examines the hostageship of Helena, Wife of King Manfred of Sicily, 1258 – 1266. They had 5 children together. She was separated in honourable captivity until her death in 1271. This punishment was meted out by Manfred’s rival, Charles, King of Anjou after he killed Manfred in battle in 1266. This paper seeks to provide a background to Helena and her children.
The Papacy’s inaction in her captivity - Henry crowned King of Sicily in 1254 but when he died, his son was a toddler and his Kingship came under papal supervision. A true contest of wills began. Manfried established himself as the true ruler of Sicily. He rallied a coalition of Saracens to his aid and he was able to outmaneuver the papacy and reinforce his position. The papacy schemed to have him removed. Manfred extended his power through the mainland through war and strategic coalitions. The Pope was isolated, nervous and powerless while Manfried stretched his power into the Balkans.
Helena was married to Manfried in 1258. The Queen and her children were being pursued by Charles and his agents. Once captured, Helena was separated immediately from her children and she never saw her sons again. Her treatment was the norm of the time except for the removal of her children. She could not be let loose as a remarriage would make her dangerous. “Honourable captivity” meant she kept her furniture and goods. Her children taken from her were ages 5, 4 and 2, so one must question if this captivity was indeed “honourable”.
Helena’s daughter, Beatrice, had some semblance of a normal life after she was released in 1281. She managed to marry and have children. By 1284, many assumed that Manfried’s sons were long dead since no one outside of their gaolers had seen them for over 20 years. Allowing them to live, even in truly horrible conditions, was considered an act of mercy since they could’ve easily been killed. Elite hostages and captives were kept under an understood code of behaviour.