Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry May 2003

The Spanish Viceroyalty — The Second Hundred Years

by David Taylor ©

Naples entered into its second century as a Spanish Viceroyalty with the worsening of those conditions that had marred the first. The population continued to grow, fed by continual migrations from the agricultural heartland of the South; bad harvests and consequent famine were common, and disease an ever-present problem; the cost of living rose alarmingly, likewise taxation. Those who prospered were, as often as not, foreigners given privileges by the ruling Spanish.

It was not until 1616 that there arrived a viceroy willing to even begin tackling the problems afflicting the city. It may be, that the young viceroy Pedro Fernandez de Castro did more to stimulate the cultural life of the city with his six years of holding a gay court and his noteable learning.

Generally, though, the socio-economic conditions of the Vicerealm continued to deteriorate throughout the entire first fifty years of the century and not until the brief but popular reign of Antonio Alvarez de Toledo (1622-29) were any serious attempts made to resolve the commercial and monetary crisis of the vicerealm. The task was taken over by his successor, the Duke of Alcalà, who attempted to solve the perennial problem of grain supplies and storage for the city. His moves were popular  but failed to halt a series of bad harvests and grim famine.

As viceroy followed viceroy, the general condition of the city failed to improve as, in addition to the various natural disasters that continued to hit the city, taxation continued to soar and the Spanish continued to make demands on the Vicerealm in respect to its role as a military base. In 1646, to govern a population already pushed to its limits, there arrived the Duke of Arcos, who, soon finding himself under pressure to send one million ducats back to the coffers in Spain, imposed a tax on the sale of fruit and, in doing so, wafted into flame the revolt that had been smouldering for years.

In the turmoil that followed this move two men came to the fore: a fisherman from Amalfi  by the name of Tommaso Aniello  but who has gone down in history as Masaniello (image, above); and Giulio Genoino, a priest, scholar, and thinker who had known the inside of the city gaols for his views — this latter a quality that gave him credence with the lower classes of the city.

On Christmas Eve 1646, a mob surrounded the coach of the viceroy as he made his way to mass at St. Carmine. Under menace from the crowd, the viceroy promised to remove the new tax but, once safe in his palace, felt safe to do nothing of the sort until, six months after the unfulfilled promise, the revolt finally arrived.

On July 7, 1647, trouble flared in the market place of St. Eligio and, as the disturbances spread, Masaniello came to the fore and led the mob to storm the Royal Palace. As Masaniello hurriedly attempted to organise his followers, Genoino stepped into the position of true leader. Having waited for years for this opportunity, he lost no time in drawing up a political programme  demanding political representation equal to that of the nobility for the population, and a reinstatement of the privileges given the city by the Emperor Charles V, exempting the city from all but the most essential taxation. Genoino knew of the document through having read it and was therefore able to see through the false documents which the viceroy dug up to play for time. And whilst Genoino worked to establish rights for the population by official channels, Masaniello had had himself elected Captain of the People and, on the same day that a general assembly of the population was called to ratify the reforms demanded, Masaniello met with the viceroy.

It seemed that things were progressing well for the reformers, but, as the demands for change were coming almost exclusively from the lower classes, ignorance and disorganization were to play their part in ensuring the ultimate failure of the movement. Masaniello and Genoino no longer saw eye-to-eye and the latter's control of the former was weakening as the Captain's power and popularity went more and more to his head. This popularity began to wane as the poor man's megalomania became apparent. Genoino began to search for means to curtail Masaniello's power; in the end, it would seem that Masaniello made a good job of removing himself, storming into the church of the Virgin of Carmine on the day sacred to that lady and inveighing against those present that he had been betrayed. Those present, infuriated at the accusations, dragged him from the pulpit and butchered him.

Meanwhile, into the administrative breech stepped a Spanish fleet of forty sail commanded by John of Austria, illegitimate son of the King of Spain. A Neapolitan delegation met the eighteen-year old admiral to explain the negative role played by the viceroy in fomenting the troubles. The viceroy was in fact removed from office within three months of that day.

The situation was not as yet completely calm as moves were being made from within the city to ask protection of the French. In response to this the Frenchman, Henry Duke of Guisa, successfully avoided the Spanish fleet to land near Naples and be welcomed into the city by a tumultuous crowd. Meanwhile, one Gennaro Annese, self-ordained 'generalissimo' of the Neapolitan militia had stepped into Masaniello's shoes. Following a meeting between these two, there came the proclamation of the Peaceful Royal Republic of Naples under their command. This new turn of events, with a French nobleman in on the act, caused deep concern in Madrid, especially as the Frenchman took increasing precedence over Annese, establishing himself apart in the Palace of Caracciolo in San Giovanni a Carbonara. By the 22nd of February, 1648, the count felt himself strong enough to oppose John of Austria in a show of arms. The attempt failed and the situation became even less clear as now the city's nobles began to side with the Spanish and the lower classes dithered over their allegiance. Increasingly isolated, and despite his oath to fight for the population of Naples, the Frenchman withdrew towards Nisida. John of Austria and the new viceroy, Count Ognatte, felt able to offer a full pardon to all those involved in the revolt and found resistance only from the camp of Gennaro Annese.

With peace seemingly established, John withdrew his forces, leaving the viceroy to rule with a strong hand, picking out for imprisonment those who wanted to continue the insurrection. In 1656, the uneasy peace was broken by the arrival of a French fleet off the Neapolitan coast, landing troops at Castellamare and pushing without success towards Torre Annunziata. This example of threat to Spanish rule plus yet another period of pestilence and famine pushed the city into further revolt and disorder until, to cap it all, the city was hit by earthquake in 1659.

Spanish rule was, though, to continue for another 48 years with viceroy succeeding viceroy, and each to a greater or lesser extent expected to confront the perennial problems of banditry, feudalism, disease, famine and other natural disasters. Amongst these viceroys, one worthy of mention is the Count of St. Stephen, Francisco of Bonavides, whose attempts to resolve the vicerealms monetary problems and combat banditry were greatly appreciated.

Soon after the reign of this viceroy, the death of the King of Spain, Charles II, in October 1706, with no direct heir opened up a war of succession which naturally involved Naples. The nobles of the city tried to take advantage of the situation to liberate themselves of the yoke of Spanish rule in favour of the Austrians - also claimants to the throne. Sensing that 200 years in the hands of at best greedy, if not downright corrupt Spanish noblemen was coming to an end, they expressed a desire to have Charles of Hapsburg at the head of an independent Realm of Naples and took his side in his struggle against Philip of Bourbon. Encouraged by this choice, the Hapsburgs chose Italy as the stage for their fight for the crown. They were also helped in their designs by the Pope's recognition of their hereditary right to rule over Naples.

Philip V visited Naples in an attempt to re-establish the Spanish presence but despite a display of excessive piety was unable to impress a city that had long felt the need for a change. The failure of the blood of St. Gennaro to liquefy in the royal presence did little to further his cause!

By 1706 the lower classes had also taken up the call for Austrian rule. As a measure against this eventuality (and the approaching Austrian troops) the viceroy toyed with the idea of sending the entire population of the city outside the city walls, but before anything of the sort could be done he was forced to flee to Gaeta where, anyway, he fell prisoner to the Austrians, whose entry into Naples was completed on 7th July, 1707.

[To next in history series: Austrian Naples.]    [An additional item on Masaniello.]

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