The Evil That Kings Do: Kingship, Tyranny and William I in Hugo Falcandus
By Francesca Petrizzo
Paper given at the 2015 International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds
Introduction: To the so-called Hugo Falcandus we owe the longest contemporary history of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, the Historia sive Liber de Regno, which has been transmitted to us with an Epistola ad Petrum believed to be by the same author. Covering a period from 1154 to 1169, the Historia, after a brief premise summarising the reign of Roger II, describes the period of the rule of his son William I and the minority of his successor William II.The Historia has been fundamental in establishing the traditional view of the personality and achievement of the kings of Norman Sicily. It is following the pseudo-Falcandus that Chalandon and Amari have ascribed to the second king of Sicily, one of two in history to be known as ‘the Bad’ after his death, a weak and tyrannical personality, a complete acquiescence to his infamous admiral Maio, and the incapability of living up to the standards presented by his father Roger.
It is undoubted that the author of the Historia has no love lost for King William, but I believe that under the first appearance of his presentation of William, Falcandus is doing more than simply condemning the reign of one king: an attentive reading of the text shows us that, far from pinning upon William alone the responsibility for the upset and discord which plagued his kingdom, Falcandus is conscious of several agents of change and revolt which make the life of the kingdom fraught, and against which the actions of the king are at best a bulwark, but never a lasting solution. The Historia therefore becomes not only an indictment of William’s reign, but a complex and pessimistic evaluation of the kingdom and the dynasty as a whole.