The Battle of Benevento, near Benevento in modern-day Southern Italy was fought on this day in 1266 between the troops of Charles of Anjou and Manfred of Sicily. The Papacy had been in conflict with the Imperial house of Hohenstaufen over their rule in Italy for a long time. At the time of the battle, the Hohenstaufen ruler in the Kingdom of Sicily, which included Sicily and southern Italy, was Manfred, illegitimate son of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. While the rightful heir to the kingdom was Frederick’s legitimate grandson Conradin, he was young and inexperienced. Taking advantage of speculation of Conradin’s death, Manfred had abdicated the throne in 1258. Pope Urban IV sought to steal the Kingdom from him, and in 1263, concluded a secret treaty with Charles of Anjou, giving him the Sicilian throne.
The battle began in the morning of February 26 when Manfred advanced his Saracens across the bridge to fight. They drove off Charles’ infantry, but retreated with his first battle. Manfred’s first battle then crossed the bridge and counter-charged. At first, the German mercenaries seemed unstoppable as their armour repelled all blows, and Charles was forced to commit his second battle. The Germans continued to advance, but then the French discovered that the new plate armor did not protect the armpits when the arm was lifted to strike. The Germans were defeated quickly.
Manfred’s troops were forced to defile across the single bridge over the Calore to reach the field. By the time his second battle had crossed the bridge, Charles had ordered his third battle to charge them on both flanks and they were swiftly annihilated. Upon the defeat of the Italians, most of the nobles in Manfred’s third battle deserted him, leaving only the king and a few faithful followers. After exchanging the royal surcoat with his friend Tebaldo Annibaldi, Manfred and his followers charged into the fray and were slain. The narrow bridge acted as a bottleneck, causing many to be killed or captured. Only 600 of the 3,600 horsemen escaped.
The destruction of Manfred’s army marked the collapse of Hohenstaufen rule in Italy.