Charles III of Valois (1270 - 1325): Decameron, I.1

Charles III was the third son of Phillip III of France, the father of Phillip VIII, and uncle to three kings (Louis X, Phillip V, and Charles IV). Although he never became king, Charles III gained the title of Count of Valois in 1285, and Count of Aragon and Maine in 1290. During his life, he unsuccessfully sought the rule of no less than four other kingdoms, those of Aragon, Sicily, Constantinople and the Holy Roman Empire.

At the request of Pope Boniface VIII, Charles undertook several important diplomatic missions in 1300. First, he sought to subdue the strife between the Black and White Guelph factions in Florence. Second, he attempted to aid Charles II of Naples in his war against Frederick III of Aragon in Sicily. In exchange for these services, Boniface promised to help secure his election as Emperor.

Unfortunately, Charles failed at both his missions. Favoring the Black Guelph party in Florence, he did nothing to stop their brutal and violent attack on the Whites, which finally resulted in Black dominance of Florence and the exile of influential Whites, including Dante. Despite the French troops' numerical advantage, Charles was unable to help them defend themselves against the guerrilla tactics of the opposing forces in Sicily. Finally, in 1302, Charles was forced to accept a humiliating peace agreement with Frederick III, conceding possession of Sicily (as well as his own daughter) to his rival.

In the first tale of Day One, Charles of Valois is referred to by the nickname "Senzaterra" (Without Land) that he earned as a result of his failed Sicilian campaign. While the story of the deceitful Ser Cepperello is unfolding in France, the reader is led to understand that Charles of Valois is occupied in his equally false "peace" mission in Florence. Chronicler Giovanno Villani attests that these two shameful episodes in Charles' life, both of which occurred during his Italian sojourn, became a conventional subject of ridicule for Florentines of the time.

(R.P./N.S.) Adapted from Manselli, Raoul. s.v. Carlo di Valois. Vol. I. Enciclopedia dantesca, Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1970-78. pp. 838-840; Toynbee, P. Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968. pp. 128-130.