(2 Apr. 1285–3 Apr. 1287)
To exclude outside pressures the cardinals at Perugia acted swiftly on Martin IV's death in that city, and four days later unanimously elected Giacomo Savelli, cardinal deacon of Sta Maria in Cosmedin, to succeed him. Born in 1210 of aristocratic Roman lineage, once a student at Paris, a canon in Châlons-sur-Marne and rector of Berton in the Norwich diocese, he was created a cardinal by Urban IV in 1261. He was a grand-nephew of Honorius III, whose name he adopted. Although his choice indicated the desire to loosen the Angevin connection, he and his family had enjoyed excellent relations with Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily (1266–85), and he had been a member of the commission which in 1265 invested him with the Sicilian throne. In Rome his election was enthusiastically received, and he was crowned there (a privilege denied to Martin IV) on 20 May—his brother Pandulf was Roman senator at the time of the conclave. Elected senator for life, he used Pandulf as his deputy, who reestablished order in the city with a strong hand. Through Honorius' firmly conciliatory methods peaceful conditions were quickly restored in the papal territories, especially Romagna, and he was able, elderly as he was and racked with arthritis, to reside undisturbed in Rome, first in the Vatican and then in a new palace he built on on family lands on the Aventine.
The most urgent political task facing Honorius was Sicily; here he decided, following the wishes of the French majority of cardinals, to continue Martin IV's policy of trying to retrieve it for the Angevins. He therefore gave financial and moral backing to Philip III of France (1270–85) in his so-called crusade to take possession of Aragón, from which Martin had purported to depose King Peter III (1276–85) on his acceptance of the crown of Sicily, and rejected the attempts of Edward I of England (1272–1307) to mediate. The crusade proved a disaster, and in late autumn 1285Philip III and Peter III both died. In the new situation Peter's eldest son succeeded to the throne of Aragón as Alfonso III (1285–91), while his younger son James became king of Sicily (1285–95). It was expected that Honorius would now release Alfonso from excommunication, especially since he had ratified the armistice between France and Aragón arranged by Edward I, but he refused to do so. He insisted that Sicily belonged to the house of Anjou, and excommunicated James when he had himself crowned at Palermo on 2 Feb. 1286. He was furious when Charles of Anjou's heir, Charles II of Salerno (1285–1309), who had been taken prisoner by Peter III of Aragón, renounced his title to Sicily in favour of James in order to obtain his freedom, and he refused to accept the treaty of Barcelona (Feb. 1287) under which he agreed to do so.
Despite all the curia's efforts, Sicily was lost to the Angevins. Honorius had to be content, Charles of Anjou being dead and his heir a prisoner of war, with taking steps to re-establish, as overlord, orderly government in the mainland portion of the kingdom after the oppressive rule of the French. This he achieved by issuing two bulls on 17 Sept. 1285, the one regulating the rights and privileges of the clergy, the other the civil administration in all its aspects. Meanwhile, reverting to the policy of Gregory X, he resumed contact with his emperor-designate, Rudolf I of Habsburg (1273–91). His coronation was fixed for 2 Feb. 1287, but here again Honorius met with disappointment, and because Rudolf could not make the journey to Rome in time had to agree to a postponement. At the diet of Würzburg (16–18 Mar. 1287) the legate he sent to make alternative arrangements, John of Tusculum (a relative and the only cardinal he created), met with a rebuff from the German prelates and princes who, in their fear that their freedom of election might be curtailed, bluntly rejected all requests for financial contributions. The embassy had to leave Germany in disarray, and Rudolf's coronation was again postponed; it was in fact never to take place.