| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
| link to a Google search page HERE
main index © Jeff Matthews entry Apr 2003
"I wonder how they got
in!" people would say. It had worked for the
Greeks against the Trojans and it had even come off
once before in this very city of Naples back in the
6th century when the Byzantine general, Belisarius,
sneaked his men past the city walls through an
aqueduct. Now it was going to work again; Alfonso's
cohorts within the city opened the passage and let
the invaders in. And just as under Belisarius, the
subsequent sacking and pillaging was atrocious, but
Naples was now rejoined to Sicily, unifying the
Kingdom of Two Sicilies for the first time in two
hundred years. Afterwards, Alfonso went back outside
so he could enter the city officially on February
26, 1443 in a golden chariot and sheltered by a
canopy held by 30 disgruntled Neapolitan noblemen.
That entry is memorialized in the Aragonese victory
arch over the entrance to the Maschio Angioino, the
Angevin Fortress. It was a task the nobles did not
like, for a king they did not like, at the beginning
of a dynasty they would not like. Shortly
thereafter, Alfonso left his Spanish holdings to his
brother and dedicated himself full-time to his own
Aragonese dynasty in Italy.(Technically, the kingdom
of Naples was part of the Crown
of Aragon, a little-remembered term. It was a
loosely connected and vast sea-faring
confederation united by allegiance to the king of
Aragon. It was short-lived (because the nation state
of "Spain" was about to form by the fusion of the
houses of Aragon and Castille). (See image, below.
Note that the Crown of Aragon extended even into
Neapolitans always considered Alfonso (image, above) a foreigner, particularly because of his habit of surrounding himself with only his own countrymen and giving them the choice positions at court. Apparently, towards the end of his life he changed his mind about this and passed on to his son a few bits of advice: avoid the Spanish, lower the taxes and keep on good terms with the princes in Italy, especially the Popes. Alfonso was regarded as a cultured person; he founded an excellent library, and artists, poets, philosophers and scholars were an integral part of his court. In the field with his troops, he lived the same life as his men and exposed himself to danger in battle with no regard for his own personal safety. They say he also went among the common people incognito to find out how things were going. He liked to listen rather than talk and claimed to be a simple person, once saying he would have been a hermit if he had had his choice in life.
Because of his patronage of the arts he became known as Alfonso the Magnanimous. He also started the total rebuilding of the Angevin Fortress, fallen into ruin since its completion in the late 1200s; he paved the streets of the city, cleaned out the swamps and greatly enlarged the wool industry that had been introduced by the Angevins. In spite of his pretensions to simplicity, he was addicted to splendor. At a Neapolitan reception for Frederick III of Germany, the order of the day to all the artisans in the Kingdom was to give Frederick's men whatever they wanted and send Alfonso the bill. Then they all went hunting in the great crater known as the "Astroni" in the Phlegrean Fields and had a banquet at which wine flowed down the slopes and into the fountains for the guests. Parties, however, did not prevent Alfonso, by the time of his death in 1458, from also having developed the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies into the foremost naval power in the western Mediterranean.
Alfonso's illegitimate son, Ferrante, succeeded him and, in spite of extreme hostility on the part of the feudal lords in the kingdom, succeeded in strengthening the monarchy at their expense. He also drove the Angevin fleet from Ischia, their last stronghold in the area. Ferrante countered baronial hostility most violently. To show the barons that feudalism was truly dead he made a lot of them dead, by doing things such as inviting them to weddings and then arresting, jailing and executing a number of them. They say that some were fed to a crocodile that prowled the dungeon. (A skeleton of one such reptile hung over the arch in the Castle until quite recently.) He even mummified some of his late enemies and kept them on display in the dungeon of the Castelnuovo (the alternate name for the Maschio Angioino, meaning, simply "New Castle", thus distinguishing it from the older Castel dell'Ovo, the Egg Castle).
A sigh of relief went up from the landholding class when Ferrante died in 1494 after 28 years on the throne. It had been a time of intrigue which included on-again/off-again relations with the Church and even a short-lived treaty with the feared Turks who were raiding up and down the Italian coasts. The point of the treaty had been to warn the rest of Italy to the north not to take the Kingdom of Naples for granted. (The Ottoman Turks had just overrun the Byzantine Empire and were threatening Rome, itself.)
The French reappeared with designs on the throne of Naples. Under Ferrante's successor, Neapolitan resistance to the French was utterly ineffective and the French, under Charles VIII, took the city virtually unopposed; indeed, they were welcomed by most of the nobility, who sensed a chance to recoup their losses. Their toadying didn't work. The French pillaged the city, anyway, and dispossessed a number of the nobles. Charles, however, suddenly found himself cut off: The Papal State, Milano, and Venice—which had just let Charles pass through unhindered on the way to Naples—suddenly formed an alliance behind and against him. Charles had to fight his way back home, attempting along the way, and failing, to bribe the Pope into crowning him King of Naples. The jibe by historians is that the French brought two things back from their Italian campaign: the Renaissance and syphilis, one of which history has dubbed morbus gallicus in their honor.
France then tried something else: the proposal of an Alliance to Ferdinand of Spain against Spain's own Aragonese relatives in Naples, by virtue of which the Kingdom of Two Sicilies would cease to exist and be divided between Ferdinand and Charles. This would effectively give them both one less rival realm in the area, as well as squelch the heresy that it wasn't nice to carve up one's own cousins. Ferdinand went for it and even Machiavelli, himself, later said that Ferdinand had certainly needed no lessons from anyone in ruthless princemanship. The pact of Granada was signed on 11 November 1500; the Kingdom was to be divided, with the capital, Naples, going to France. The French reentered Naples in July 1501. It now seemed, however, that both France and Spain had had their fingers crossed at the signing of the original treaty, so they had a war over it and Spain won. In May 1504 Spanish troops evicted the French and entered Naples, ending the Aragonese dynasty. The Kingdom, intact, became a colony of Spain.
Naples was now no longer the capital of its own realm. In a few year's time, with Charles V of Spain crowned Holy Roman Emperor, heir to the Caesars and Charlemagne, it would be part of an empire as it had been more than a thousand years earlier. True, the East had fallen and what was left of Christian Empire was all in the West, but after 1492 'West' meant something monumentally different in human history. The Empire had shifted, spreading from Europe to the Americas and on to the Pacific. The age of Empires on which "the sun never sets" had arrived.