Manfred, the illegitimate son of Emperor Frederick II, King of Sicily, had a long history of regency and political influence in Sicily before his ascension to the Sicilian throne in 1254. During a period of political upheaval, the Sicilian barons requested that Manfred become their king and help them in their conflict with the papacy.
Pope Alexander IV, wishing to pry Sicily from the Ghibellines, excommunicated Manfred only four years later, and instead offered the Sicilian crown to Charles of Anjou. Charles came to Italy with a large force, and, once in Rome, was crowned senator and King of Sicily in 1265. Manfred, who was still active in the Sicilian cause, was defeated by the French army at Benevento, partly due to a lack of support by his allies, the Italian Ghibellines. The victory of the Angevin forces against this Imperial descendant and champion of the Ghibelline cause sent a shock through Italy, and turned the balance of power irreparably in favor of the Guelphs. Although he died valiantly in battle, Manfred was denied burial because of the papal ban.
In a treatise on the vernacular, Dante Alighieri praises Manfred's "nobility and rectitude" (De vulgari eloquentia I.xii.4) and, in the Commedia, describes him as "fairhaired and beautiful and of noble countenance" (Purg. III.106-110). The poet places the Sicilian king in Ante-Purgatory (III.103-145), where he has arrived by the benefit of a sincere, though late, repentance.
Manfred is mentioned by Boccaccio in two tales (II.6, and X.6); in both the dominant perspective is that of the Sicilians who were faithful to him. In X.6, an aged Charles I is asked to recall the offenses he and his troops inflicted upon the women of Manfred's court. The sympathetic tone of Boccaccio's portrayal seems to reflect a reading of Dante.
(R.P./N.S.) Frugoni, Arsenio. s.v. Manfredi. Vol. 3. Enciclopedia dantesca, Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1970-78. pp. 802-804; Toynbee, P. Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968. pp. 358-360.