Targa casa natale di Masaniello, Il Demiurgo, 2008


Masaniello in 1647 led a popular uprising against taxes on foodstuffs, the riot lasted 10 days, ended with the murder of Masaniello and with the establishment of the ephemeral Royal Neapolitan Republic.

Tommaso Aniello D’Amalfi said Masaniello was born in Naples, Vico Rotto al Mercato on 29th June 1620. His father Francesco D’Amalfi was a fisherman, his mother Antonia Gargano was housewife. Following in the footsteps of his father also Masaniello made the fisherman and sold his merchandise to the Piazza Mercato, which was the city’s commercial center.

Tommaso Aniello had two brothers and one sister: Giovanni, Francesco, who died as a child and Grazia.

Often Masaniello, to evade the taxes on fish, carrying his wares directly to the home of his clients, but he had been repeatedly discovered and arrested as a smuggler. This, coupled with his natural charm, made him popular among the common people of the Piazza Mercato.

Spain, of which Naples was a viceroy, was bogged in a series of armed conflicts, the most important of which was the Thirty Years War, and it was in dire need of money to meet the costs of war. The weight of the heavy taxes that “arrendatori” (collection agents) claimed on foods was an unbearable level for the lower classes. At that time also the tax on fruit was re-established, it was the food of choice of poor families for its low cost.

The wife of Masaniello, Bernardina, was surprised with the flour hidden in a sock and she was imprisoned for eight days on charges of smuggling, Bernardina was released in exchange for a fine of 100 crowns.

This episode was that awakened in Masaniello desire to rebel against these abuses. Through his friend Marco Vitale, he met Julius Genoino, a very elderly priest with a history of tribune of the people, who had inculcated in Masaniello ideas of freedom for the people.

The new viceroy, Rodrigo Ponce de Leon Duke of Arcos, driven by growing economic needs of the motherland, had no qualms about increasing the tax burden, so it was easy to Masaniello harangue the crowd and push them to revolt against the tax collectors.

On 6th June 1646 a large group of peasants, led by Masaniello, assaulted the bench of collection agents in Piazza Mercato destroying it; on 30th June a group of rioters, armed with sharp reeds, slipped below the Royal Palace, shouting imprecations threatening towards the nobles.

On 7th July 1946, a group of citizens, near the church of Sant’Eligio, went to support some greengrocers, led by the brother in law of Masaniello Maso Carrese, who refused to pay the taxes. The rich merchant Andrea Naclerio tried to calm tempers, though siding with the tax collectors, this caused a brawl and Naclerio killed Carrese.

At this point, the revolt broke out, a crowd of peasants led by Masaniello went to the Royal Palace and the invaded having knocked out the Spanish soldiers and German mercenaries who were guarding. The Viceroy Ponce de Leon was just in time to escape and take refuge in the Castel Sant ‘Elmo. From there he moved to Castel Nuovo (Maschio Angioino) not feeling safe.

From the castle, the Viceroy asked the cardinal Ascanio Filomarino to intercede with the people promising the abolition of fees, but Giulio Genoino, that despite its considerable age moved the threads of the revolt, asked for the restore of an old privilege granted to the Neapolitans by Carlo V in 1517, which gave people equal representation and equal division of fees between them and the nobility. Cardinal Filomarino proposed his mediation.

Meanwhile the rebels hunted down the tax collectors, and burned several palaces of the nobility, that was an active part in the collection of taxes. They burned the palace of the chief tax collector, the hated Jerome Letizia, the house of Naclerio followed the same fate, Naclerio was after shot by the rebels.

Documents relating to the privilege granted to the Neapolitans were slow to be delivered; There were several attempts by the authorities to hand over documents false or incomplete. Finally, on 9th July, under the threat of guns that the rebels had obtained at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, documents were handed over to the Cardinal.

On 10th July, a gang of 300 rogues, sent by the Duke of Maddaloni, mingled among the crowd in the Basilica del Carmine, where Masaniello read the “privilege” act. Suddenly bandits railed against to kill him, but the crowd broke in saving him, lots of the bandits were killed, some of them confessed the name of the principal. The brother of the Duke of Maddaloni, Don Giuseppe Carafa, was killed and beheaded by insurgents for revenge.

On the same day a Spanish fleet under Admiral Doria arrived from Genoa at anchor in the Bay of Naples. Masaniello fearing that they wanted to attack the rebels, ordered them to get off and not to approach the coast.

On 11st July the people began the festivities for the victory against the viceroy and the Neapolitan nobility; Masaniello, which was received at court with great celebrations, was named  “Capitano generale del fedelissimo popolo napoletano” General Captain of the faithful people of Naples.”

The humble fisherman, appointed General Captain, began to show signs of mental imbalance. Among other acts of madness, he proposed to transform the Piazza Mercato in a port with a bridge to connect it to Spain. He ordered the executions of many of his opponents, even against the advice of Julius Genoino.

On 16th July 1647, accused of treason by his madness and commoners, he took refuge in the Church of Carmine, not feeling safe at his house. He ascended the pulpit and delivered his last speech. After stripped began to fidget.

The cardinal Filomarino then had him locked up in a cell of the convent. Some “capitani delle ottine”, including a friend of Masaniello, Michelangelo Ardizzone, corrupted by the Spaniards, came to him. Recognizing them, Masaniello opened them the cell. He was killed by musket shots, then he was beheaded, the head was brought to the Viceroy as evidence of the murder. The murderers received various rewards in exchange from the Spanish crown.

The next day the populace of Piazza Mercato became aware of the serious mistake made by the betrayal Masaniello. All the taxes were restored. Some traders of the square, repented of what had happened,  went to retrieve the body of Masaniello who had been thrown into a ditch, they sewed back the head, and brought the body into the Carmine church to celebrate a worthy funeral.

With the consent of the viceroy, who did not want other disorders, a royal funeral was celebrated by Cardinal Filomarino, the coffin was carried in procession through the city of Naples with the Cardinal in the lead followed by all priests of the city and dozens of thousands of people persons; flags in mourning were exposed to Palazzo Reale; at night the procession returned to the Carmine church where the coffin was buried.

The revolt was not appeased by the death of Masaniello, it continued under the guidance of Gennaro Annese. It resulted in the establishment of the Royal Neapolitan Republic (Reale Repubblica Napoletana), which lasted from 22 October 1647 to 5 April 1648 under the leadership of the French Henry II of Lorraine, Duke of Guise, who was appointed king and   of the captain of the people Gennaro Annese. It was the only example of monarchical republic, where power was divided between the captain of the people who held the civil power and the king who was the military leader.

In 1799, King Ferdinando IV of Bourbon, for fear that the tomb of Masaniello could be an example for the riots that broke out in Naples in that year, he transferred the tomb from the Basilica del Carmine and scatter his remains.

(Photo at the top: Targa casa natale di Masaniello, Il Demiurgo, 2008)