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Robert Guiscard

Robert Guiscard

Robert Guiscard was a Norman adventurer born in 1015. He was part of the conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily.

Born into the Hauteville family in Normandy, he went on to become Duke of Puglia and Calabria. He is described by historians as a brave fighter with a villainous mind, and cunning in his assaults while being overbearing and elegant in character.

After he came of age, Guiscard left Normandy with just five mounted riders and thirty footmen. He arrived in Langobardia in 1047, becoming the chief of a travelling thieving band. During this time, his brother, Drogo, now reigned the Hauteville family and was giving out land to the brothers. Guiscard returned home and was granted command of the fortress of Scribla. Dissatisfied with his brother’s meager offerings, he took control of the Castle of San Marco Argentano. During this time he married his first wife, Alberada De Macon.

Words of Guiscard’s actions spread to Pope Leo IX who subsequently decided to expel the Norman invaders. The Pop was defeated in a battle controlled by Humphrey, Guiscard’s brother. In the battle, Guiscard’s troops were held in reserve until, seeing Humphrey’s forces ineffectively charging the Pope’s center, he joined the fray and led them to victory.

Due to his ability, Guiscard succeeded Humphrey as Count of Puglia in 1057, beating his older brothers. He then continued the conquest of Puglia and Calabria, marrying his second wife, Sichelgaita in 1058. It is believed he was forced to separate from Alberada De Macon due to laws prohibiting marriage when couples were related to each other to certain degrees.

The new papacy, under the leadership of Pope Nicholas II, decided to recognize the Normans and secure them as allies. So, against the wishes of the Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Nicholas II invested Guiscard as the Duke of Puglia, Calabria, and later, Sicily. Guiscard shared the Pope’s hope, saying after, “by the Grace of God and St Peter Duke of Puglia and Calabria and, if, either aid me, future Lord of Sicily” .

Over the next twenty years, Guiscard undertook a series of conquests to win his Sicilian Dukedom. He began invasions with his brother, Roger, capturing Messina with ease after a nighttime raid. He then allied himself with other rivals of Sicily and they passed through the region, capturing smaller cities until eventually, Sicily fell. He become known as “Black Shirt Robert” during this time as the dyes in his clothes began to run in the heat, blending to become black.

Guiscard began his final campaign against the Byzantine Empire. He later passed the fight to his son, Bohemund, who subsequently lost it. On 17th July 1085, Guiscard took ill and died from fever alongside his knights at Atheras in Greece before he could bring an end to his many conquests. He was buried in the Hauteville family mausoleum of the Abbey of the Santissima Trinita and Venosa. The town of Fiscard on Kefalonia is named after him.