adventure of the French in southern Italy began in 1501. King Ferdinand II of
Spain betrayed his cousin Frederick I, the last Aragonese of Naples,
subtracting the kingdom with the secret agreement with King Louis XII of
It determined a proximity between the Spanish and the French. The southern part of the kingdom of Naples remained under the control of the Spanish in contiguity with the kingdom of Sicily already of the Iberians. Naples, Campania and Abruzzo were under the control of the French. Louis d’Armagnac was appointed Viceroy of Naples by Louis XII.
The following year began the contrasts and clashes between the two entities that soon erupted into open conflict. The most significant episode of this war, made to win control of the kingdom, was the famous Challenge of Barletta.
The Barletta town was under French siege, defended by Spanish and Italian. A French nobleman, Charles de Chocques de la Mothe, was a prisoner of the Spanish but treated with the respect due to his rank. He insulted Italians present during a lunch, accusing them of treason.
The offended party challenged him in a clash between 13 Italian knights and 13 French knights to avenge the affront. On February 13 of 1503 the challenge took place in Sant’Elia, near Trani, at a neutral ground because the town belonged to the Republic of Venice.
The 13 Italians were led by Ettore Fieramosca of Capua, while the French were led by Charles de la Mothe. Italians faced them bravely, even though they were less battle-ready than their opponents. Courage and determination of Italians were decisive. They roundly defeated the French.
On April 21, 1503 there was the decisive battle in Seminara, near Reggio Calabria, between the Spanish and the French. The army of the latter was completely defeated. On April 28th Louis d’Armagnac was killed in the Battle of Cerignola. On May 16, the Great Captain of the Spanish, Consalvo of Cordova, entered Naples with his army.
Louis XII, after the death of Luigi d’Armagnac, appointed viceroy Ludwig II del Vasto, who never took his post since 1504, with the Treaty of Lyon, France finally abdicated Naples in favor of Spain.
Ferdinand II the Catholic, king of Spain and Sicily, also became king of Naples with the name of Ferdinand III. He appointed his deputy in Naples Consalvo of Cordova, who was the first Spanish viceroy in Naples.
Consalvo was already in Naples with his army since
13 May 1503. The impact of the population had not been happy since the Spanish
troops behaved like an occupying army. Every morning was found in the street a
few soldiers slaughtered at the hands of husbands and brothers of importunate
women, or by people who had suffered robberies and injustices by soldiery.
The Spanish government canceled the feudal power of the nobles, still live on the outskirts of the state. Consequently, the nobility preferred to leave now feuds beyond their control to centralize in Naples. They were intended to hold public positions profitable with which to continue to exercise power in the capital. In fact the centralized state needed public officials with education and leadership skills, things that were prerogatives of the nobles and of the few educated bourgeois.
Further opportunities were opening for young nobles in aristocratic families where until then the Cadets members were destined for a military career or clerical, to be entrusted with public office within the administration of the kingdom.
The six “Sedili” citizens, five of the nobles and one of the people gathered in one assembly, were transformed into the General Parliament of the Kingdom, the first case in Europe of a citizen assembly turned into a national parliament.
The viceroy Raymond of Cordova tried to introduce the Inquisition. There was a general opposition. For once commoners, bourgeois and nobles were united in rejecting the notorious Inquisition. There were riots and uprisings across the kingdom, all aware of the consequences that it would have. The full powers of that court allowed the judges, as well as sentencing corporal punishment, the requisition in favor of church of property and assets of everyone found guilty of something. Raymond of Cordova had to defer, giving up the Inquisition Court.
In 1526 Ugo Moncada was appointed Viceroy, brave men and valiant military. He was involved in so-called “wars of Italy”, in which the houses crowned of the great European powers, Spain, France and the Holy Roman Empire, were vying for dominance.
On 6 May 1527 the mutinous troops (Lansquenets) of the Holy Roman Empire, in Italy to oppose French and Spanish, invaded Rome putting the city on fire. The date of May 6 has marked the history and the memory of the Romans for the ferocity with which the German troops, formed from the most humble social classes, sacked the holy city, with killings, rapes, looting and destruction of works of art, not saving anyone and anywhere. Churches and convents, and all private and public institutions of the city were involved.
The French army, commanded by Viscount de Lautrec,
who had been circumvented by the Lansquenets in their advance towards Rome, to
close the gap against the Germans, headed for Naples with hostile intentions.
Reinforcements arrived soon in Naples from all parts of the kingdom to give a
hand to the city troops, commanded by Ugo Moncada.
The French army besieged the city. The French fleet prevented access from the sea. The walls and ramparts were able to stop the Lautrec’s troops, who were positioned on the hills surrounding Naples. In April of 1528 Ugo Moncada organized a small fleet and confronted the French fleet in Naples bay. He could not defeat the French fleet and lost his life in battle.
Philibert de Chalons d’Orange, new viceroy, began a kind of guerrilla war against the besiegers. This tactic was successful and, little by little, the city forces managed to get the better. Philibert de Chalons ordered to pollute the marshes under the Poggioreale hill with macerated hemp to give the coup de grace. The stench of hemp caused an epidemic among French. Lautrec gave up the siege retreating in town of Aversa.
In 1532 the king of Spain, Charles V appointed as viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo. Don Pedro, wise administrator, dedicated his Government to the renewal of the kingdom.
He faced the problem the judicial organization which suffered yet feudal order dating from the Middle Ages. He reorganized the Court of Vicaria and issued new laws to combat widespread corruption among judges, lawyers and professional texts who earned with false testimonies.
Don Pedro decided an extension of living spaces by building new walls to cope with the crowding of the city that counted 180,000 inhabitants. The city gate named Porta San Gennaro was moved forward and new city walls were built in a straight line up to Port’Alba gate, which replaced the old gate of San Antonello who was further back.
The expansion continued with the construction of the walls of the Porta Reale gate that was located on the current Via Toledo, at the intersection with Via Tarsia. Via Toledo (which is named as its builder Don Pedro de Toledo) was constructed covering the outer moat of the ancient walls. Accommodations of the Spanish soldiers were created in the west of Via Toledo, now called “Quartieri Spagnoli”.
The western walls were extended to Castel Sant ‘Elmo, and then to the Mashio Angioino. The southern walls between the “Forte del Carmine” and Maschio Angioino were moved forward, toward the sea, encompassing the buildings that had been built next to the beach.
Don Pedro dedicated himself to the fight against banditry and malfeasance. He made to wall up the Chiatamone caves which had become a refuge for prostitutes and pimps. This measure apparently was unsuccessful because up to second half of 20th century the traditional activities of the prostitutes was still thriving in via Chiatamone and the Spanish Quarter, where it had developed for the presence of the military barracks constructed by Don Pedro.
In 1571 Naples made his contribution to the
formation of the Christian fleet, put together by the “Holy League”,
promoted by Pope Pius V, to face the Turkish fleet that lorded in the eastern
Mediterranean. The fleet consisted of 243 units with 75,000 men. 30 of these
ships, with the admiral in command Giannandrea Doria, were armed by the kingdom
On October 7, there was a clash between the fleet of the Holy League and the Turkish one, stronger than 282 ships off the coast of Lepanto. The battle was hard but brief. The battle began at dawn, at midday the Turkish fleet had already been defeated with heavy loss of life, including the commander Ali Pasha, and with the capture of 150 ship and its crew.
The news of the Turkish defeat aroused great enthusiasm throughout the Christian world. As a thank it was instituted the Marian prayer on the first Sunday of October at 12am, corresponding to the time in which the victory of Lepanto was recorded, prayer that is still recited at the sanctuary of Pompeii. The church of S. Maria della Vittoria was built in the square “piazza Vittoria” of the Chiaia district in Naples, out of gratitude to the Virgin Mary.
A serious act of violence disturbed the city in 1590. The Prince Carlo Gesualdo di Venosa surprises the young and beautiful wife Maria d’Avalos in the nuptial bed with a handsome young lover, the Duke Fabrizio Carafa. Prince, aided by his servant, killed the two lovers. The two bodies were naked exposed on the steps of the Prince’s Palace, sited at Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, in plain sight of all the passers-by. The fact upset all the Neapolitans. It is said that since then the ghost of Maria d’Avalos wander about the halls of the palace which is now known as Palazzo di Sangro, as it was later inhabited by the di Sangro family, princes of San Severo.
In 1630 the Spanish painter Diego Velasquez and the Roman painter Artemisia Gentileschi came to Naples. The two, linked by friendship, had commissioned paintings by Maria Anna of Austria, Queen of Hungary. In Naples they attended the Massimo Stanzione painters and Jose de Ribera. Artemisia was interpreter of the Baroque Caravaggio painting movement that developed among the Neapolitan painters. Very young she had attended with his father Orazio, also accomplished painter, the workshop of Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio.
In the time of Spanish domination also Vesuvius made to feel its presence. On 16 December 1631 the volcano began to erupt from a side where ash and hot water flowed from a mouth, forming a boiling mud river, after a few days when small earthquakes had happened. Soon after there was the outbreak of the main mouth of gases, ash and lapilli. The pyroclastic flow reached the towns surrounding the volcano: Portici, Resina, Torre del Greco and Torre Annunziata, causing many casualties. In total there were three thousand deaths. The terrified inhabitants of Naples prayed for their salvation, going in procession towards Vesuvius with various statues of saints. The eruption fortunately stopped before reaching the town, at the locality of Pietrabianca (White Stone), which was since named Pietrarsa (Burnt Stone).
“Long live the King of Spain, stop to the
misgovernment” was the cry that marked the revolt that broke out in Naples
on July 7, 1646 because of the onerous unjust taxes on goods sold in the
citizen Market. Leader of the revolt was a young fisherman, Thomas Aniello,
nicknamed Masaniello, who lived near the Piazza Mercato (Marketplace).
The revolt, which was promoted by the most humble people and merchants, was able to enforce itself. The crowd of rioters invaded the Royal Palace, forcing the Spanish viceroy Rodrigo Ponce de Leon to take refuge in a hurry inside Castel Nuovo (Maschio Angioino).
The rioters managed to get by the Viceroy the abolition of heavy taxes on foodstuffs and the restoration of an ancient privilege for the division of taxes between the people and the nobility with the mediation of Cardinal Filomarino. After ten days, during which Masaniello was named General Captain of the people, the same began to show worrying signs of madness. He was killed in the convent adjacent to the church of the Carmine by his own comrades of revolt. Immediately after the uprising was eradicated, the powers were restored and the suspended taxes reinstated.
In 1656 a terrible epidemic of plague outbroke in the city, it seems to flow from Sardinia by some sailors. The authorities took immediate steps to limit contagion but, given the overcrowding due to the large population, about 350,000 inhabitants, the epidemic spread with extreme violence. Only 100,000 Neapolitans were alive after six months from the start of the epidemic. New cemeteries were created to accommodate the thousands who died from the disease. The authorities, driven by the clergy, thought only to the building of churches and statues of saints in thanksgiving for the end of the plague after the epidemic, rather than take advantage of the city’s evacuation to break down the most dilapidated neighborhoods and improve the urban situation.
The kingdom of Naples, after various vicissitudes that followed the death in 1700 of King Charles II of Spain, was involved in the dynastic wars between the main ruling houses in Europe. Charles had ordered in his will that the throne of Spain went to Philip of Anjou since he had no heirs. Philip’s grandmother was the sister of the same Carlo. The Habsburgs challenged Philip’s succession since Joseph I who reigned over Austria, in that thicket of relationships which had arisen between the European royal families, found the loophole to present himself as a legitimate pretender to the Spanish throne.
The viceroy of Spain in Naples, Luis Francisco de la Cerda y Aragon, Duke of Medinaceli, favoring the will of Charles II, named Philip V of Anjou King of Naples. On July 7, 1702 an Austrian army, commanded by General Daun, entered the city without a fight, even well received by people who hoped in vain that Naples became the seat of the sovereign, ending the string of Viceroy. Formally the Austrian viceroyalty began in 1707 and was completed in 1734. The 27 year of Austrian government went by without that nothing would change, except that the indifference of the Habsburg crown caused a worsening of the economic situation of the population, also burdened by taxes imposed to reimburse the expenses of war.
The people suffered for a famine that affected the kingdom between 1728 and 1730. The misery was very diffused that one day, in front of the pawnshop, where women pawned the kit sheets to meet small needs daily, many of these women were swept away due the large crowds, three of them died trampled.
In 1734, Elisabetta Farnese, wife of Philip V of Spain, as the last heir of the Farnese and Medici, had managed to get the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza and the title of Crown Prince of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to her son Charles. Carlo, taking advantage of some favorable circumstances obtained the kingdom of Naples and Sicily in exchange for giving up the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, and the renunciation of succession in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in favor of the Austrian Hapsburgs.
Finally the period of the viceroys ended with the arrival of Carlos III in Naples. Charles began the dynasty of the Bourbons of Naples, between light and shadow, the dinasty ruled until the unification of Italy.
(Picture at the top: Hugo de Moncada.)