In front of the Ligny Tower, you can find the Malconsiglio rock (literally “bad advice”). There, the sea is often restless and infested with jellyfish (therefore, unless you are a skilled swimmer, we do not advise you to try to reach it).
A similar advice must have been given more than 700 years ago to John of Procida. At that time, Sicily was under the domination of the Anjou family, which John deeply hated as he swore allegiance to Frederick II of Swabia and his successors. In fact, he was his doctor and advisor, while also being the tutor of his son, Manfredino, and a close friend of Conradin of Swabia, last descendant of this family. The latter was beheaded in Naples, in 1268, when he was only 16 years old. Legend has it that before being beheaded, Conradin threw his gauntlet to the crowd that had come to see his execution. Hidden in the crowd was Giovanni da Procida, who picked it up and swore to retaliate against the obnoxious French.
And he saw a glove fly across the stage
On the livid crowd; and it was not seen
Who picked it up. But the doomsday
When the Vespers thundered like Archangels
Of the Sicilian Towers, they then saw the glove
Almost a living hand, grasping the rope that
Called the Anjou mockers in front of God.
Aleardo Aleardi – Conradin of Schwabia
Modern example of a conspirator, John of Procida travelled throughout Europe to convince the sovereigns to endorse his plans of vendetta. He went to Rome, Constantinople, Aragon and even reached Trapani.
There, on March 30th 1282, after swimming across the restless sea in front of the Ligny Tower, he met on the small rock Palmerio Abate, cousin of the famous Saint Albert, Alaimo of Lentini and Gualtiero Caltagirone.
Many historians still disagree about this story, but that is how the legend goes:
The conspirators agreed to start the rebellion. At that time, Sicily was divided into 3 administrative regions, called “valli”. They appointed Palmerio Albate to lead the revolt in the “Val di Mazara”, Alaimo of Lentini for the “Val Demone” and Gualtiero Caltagirone for the “Val di Noto”.
That night, during the time of the Vespers’ prayers, on the parvis of the Holy Spirit church of Palermo, Drouet, a French soldier, was harassing a young woman, Imelda, by groping her under the false pretext of performing a body search. Her husband tried to defend her by grabbing the sword of the soldier and ended up killing him.
It is possible that it was actually the young woman who had deliberately provoked the poor French soldier in order to fulfill the wicked plan of her father, John of Procida. However, it seems the story was spread around differently in order to upset the Sicilians, who wanted to defend one of theirs and use this as a starting point for the rebellion.
This marked the beginning of the “French hunting”. Riots arose the next day, April 1st (although it was not an April fool) in Trapani, Marsala and Mazara, and the day after in Agrigento and Licata, as well as in all the rest of Sicily.
The carnage was ruthless. The French tried to hide among the people. When the Sicilians caught a suspect, they presented him with chickpeas, asking what they were called. The correct answer in Sicilian dialect, ciciri, was impossible for the French to pronounce due to the rolled “r”. Of course, once exposed, they were immediately disposed of.
In Trapani, the young French governor was imprisoned by Riccardo Abate, brother or close “relative” of Palmerio, who replaced him with Bernardo Abate, another “relative”, Riccardo and Bernardo Passeneto, Silurno Ferro and Alfonso Graffeo. Palmerio Abate decided to join the temporary government of Palermo.
The time of the Anjou, never appreciated by the Sicilians, was over. Of course, Charles of Anjou did not help as he not only confiscated all the properties of his opponents, but also moved the capital from Palermo to Naples, on the mainland.
Yet, instead of governing themselves, the Sicilians expressed a will to be governed by a foreign king. They found him in the person of Peter III of Aragon, who arrived in Trapani on August 30th. A few days later, in Palermo, he was crowned King of Sicily, marking the beginning of the Aragonian domination.
The promise of John of Procida and his conspirator-friends, who met on the Malconsiglio rock, was finally completed…
* Note: this was translated with the help of a lovely young French lady who was quite shocked by the negative image and actions perpetrated against the French, and who wishes to protest … She also wishes to highlight that the Sicilians replaced 1 French by 5 Trapanese