William III of Sicily

William III

A near-contemporary depiction of William (far left) with his father (far right) and brother (middle).
King of Sicily
Reign February  October 1194
Coronation January/February 1194
Predecessor Tancred
Successor Constance with Henry I
Born ca. 1186
Palermo, Sicily
Died ca. 1198
Alt-Ems, Swabia,
Holy Roman Empire
House House of Hauteville
Father Tancred, King of Sicily
Mother Sibylla of Acerra

William III (ca. 1186  ca. 1198), a scion of the Hauteville dynasty, was the last Norman King of Sicily, who reigned briefly for ten months in 1194. He was overthrown by his great-aunt Constance and her husband Emperor Henry VI.

Life and reign

He was the second son of Count Tancred of Lecce and his wife Sibylla of Acerra. When in 1189 King William II of Sicily died childless, Tancred, an illegitimate son of the Norman duke Roger III of Apulia gained the support of Pope Clement III to be crowned King of Sicily, denying the rights of his aunt Constance, daughter of late King Roger II.

At the age of four, shortly after the death of first his older brother Roger and then a few weeks later of his father (February 20, 1194), William was crowned king by Pope Celestine III in Palermo. His mother Sibylla acted as his regent.

However, Constance's husband, the Hohenstaufen emperor Henry VI claimed the throne of Sicily in right of his wife. Even before Tancred's death he had been laying plans to invade, and his resources had been further augmented by the ransom he had received for the release of King Richard I of England.

Overthrow and death

The torture of William III of Sicily, Giovanni Boccaccio: De Casibus Virorum Illustrium, 15th century ed.

In August 1194 Henry marched against Sicily. Sibylla was unable to organize much effective resistance. By the end of October Henry had conquered all the mainland parts of the kingdom and crossed over into the island of Sicily. On November 20 Palermo fell, William and his mother fled to Caltabellotta Castle.

Henry offered Sibylla generous terms: William was to retain the County of Lecce, the home territory of his father before he had become king, and was also to retain the Principality of Taranto in turn for renouncing the royal crown. With that agreement reached, William, his mother and his sisters watched while Henry was crowned King of Sicily on December 25 (Constance was not crowned due to being in labour with Henry's son Frederick II in Iesi). Nevertheless, four days later, an alleged conspiracy against the new king was uncovered, and many of the leading Italo-Norman political figures were arrested and sent to prison in Germany, including William and his family.

While his mother and sisters were eventually released and lived in obscurity in France, nothing is known for certain of William's subsequent fate. He is said to have been blinded,[1] castrated, or both. According to some sources he died in captivity at Alt-Ems Castle a few years later, others claim that he was released and became a monk. Another theory is that he later returned to Sicily under the alias Tancredi Palamara. Henry's son, Emperor Frederick II (who was also king of Sicily) discovered Tancredi Palamara in Messina and had him executed in 1232. However, referring to several letters by Pope Celestine III, the date generally accepted for his death is 1198.


William's heir was his younger sister, whose precise name is unclear but has been given variously as Mary, Elvira, Albiria or Albinia, Blanche (died after 1216). Exiled in France, she was married firstly in 1200 to the French count Walter III of Brienne who was sometimes advanced as pretender of the Sicilian throne against Frederick II, and was briefly Prince of Taranto and Count of Lecce in right of his wife. He temporarily gained support by the pope and backed by several Italian nobles (among them the young Francis of Assisi) was able to occupy large parts of Apulia against a Sicilian army under Chancellor Walter of Palearia. However, in 1205 he was finally defeated by Frederick's liensman Dipold of Schweinspeunt at Sarno, was captured and died in prison soon afterwards.

At the same time Elvira (Mary) gave birth to his son, Walter IV, who only received the French County of Brienne, as his Sicilian inheritance had confiscated because of his father's rebellion. He later went to the Holy Land and became Count of Jaffa.


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  1. The practice of blinding potential claimaints to the throne and in this way rendering them ineligible is well-attested in the Byzantine Empire, which formerly ruled Sicily and retained some involvement in the island's affairs
William III of Sicily
Born: ca. 1186 Died: ca. 1198
Preceded by
King of Sicily
Succeeded by
Henry I
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