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There are 2 entries on this page: 1. Aragonese Naples   2. Lucrezia d'Alagno

Aragonese Naples

"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 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 (pictured below, right). 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 back home 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 Castile). (See image, below. Note that the Crown of Aragon extended even into Greece.)   

statue of Alfonso : Sculptor Achille D'Orsi (1845-1929), the third of 8 erected in 1888 on the west facade of the royal palace to
represent the chronological succession of dynasties of the kingdom of Naples

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, Ferrante, 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 (as Ferdinand I) and, in spite of extreme hostility on the part of the feudal lords in the kingdom (part of which included a long war called the "Barons' Revolt), 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. 

[To: The Spanish Viceroyalty]

2. added April 24, 2017                

Lucrezia d'Alagno – almost a fairy tale, almost a queen

In his Storie e leggende napoletane [Neapolitan Stories and Legends, originally published in 1919], Benedetto Croce begins his tale of Lucrezia d'Alagno with this:

From reading the documents that remain from the Aragonese court, in around 1448 we see (and maybe even people at that time were just beginning to take note of it) that something new was happening in the  life of the conqueror of Naples, Alfonso of Aragon. Something radiant and fascinating, sweet and voluptuous, was taking over and changing the life and habits of the sovereign, as seen from his new preferences for certain solitary places out in the countryside and from the great attention he paid to members of a certain family. There was, from all accounts, the strong presence of a woman in his life. The king was happily spending his time out in a hitherto little-known hamlet on the slopes of Vesuvius that bore the name of the tower put there to defend it, "Torre Ottavo" or "Torre del Greco"; that's where ambassadors from the Italian republics and kingdoms and from abroad now had to go if they wanted to find him.   (my translation-jm)
Above:  Part of a tour of the Angevin Fortress says 
  that this is a portrait of Lucrezia. It is not. It may be
 Vittoria Colonna, by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
but he called it simply, Portrait of a Woman. It will have
to do. If the king doesn't want you to paint
his girl friend,
you are not going to paint his girl friend.
  It's still nice, though.

Croce then continues with the tale of a strange love story between the 18-year-old Lucrezia d'Alagno and the 54-year-old monarch. Lucrezia is surely the least remembered of all the women who have either ruled in southern Italy or been close to the men who have. She was one of seven siblings and was born around 1430, which made her 18 in 1448, when Croce starts his tale. Her family's home was modest but pleasant, set amidst gardens in Torre del Greco on the slopes of Vesuvius near the sea. Her father, Cola d'Alagno, was a captain of the guard in nearby Torre Annunziata and came from noble lineage. They were comfortable but not wealthy, not even well-off, so it was said.

Alfonso the Magnanimous by Vicente Juan Nasip (1507-1579)

The first encounter between Lucrezia and her sovereign must have been by chance, perhaps on the streets of the capital city, Naples. They say she was a stunning beauty, pale, with long hair, intelligent and strong-willed but diplomatic. She just knew what she wanted and what she wanted was the king. For the next 10 years (until his death in 1458) she had, by all accounts, this very powerful ruler
totally wrapped around her little finger. And by no accounts did he ever complain about it. Alfonso had lived apart from his wife, Maria of Castile, for the better part of thirty years. She stayed in Spain, and his brother acted as regent over Alfonso's domains there. At one point in Naples, three or four years before he met Lucrezia, he sired an illegitimate son, Ferrante (called Ferdinand I in history books) whom he made his heir to the throne of Naples (which, indeed, happened upon Alfonso's death). Alfonso had soldiered most of his life, had fought his battles, and now he was simply struck by lightning. He spent as much time as possible at Lucrezia's family home in Torre del Greco where he had a room in the residence as well as living in the tower on the cliff overlooking the sea. Or he would hold court out in the other direction in Pozzuoli or Baiae amidst the relics of ancient Rome. All the while he showered great wealth, gifts and concessions upon Lucrezia and all of the d'Alagno family.

There was nothing secret about any of this. He conducted affairs of state, but her presence was a constant. They were openly affectionate in the presence of others, not seeming to care who saw them embracing. She was accepted as his companion. Even the Holy Roman emperor Frederick III just had to see this remarkable woman for himself and showed up with his own queen at her residence in Naples. Lucrezia always behaved like the queen she wanted to be and was treated as such. She used her position to acquire wealth and property for herself and her family. (The king gave her the island of Ischia!) Members of her family were elevated in rank, some even acquiring fiefs. It was said that if you wanted something from the king, you had to go through Lucrezia. But she knew how to moderate herself. When the emperor came calling on that occasion, Lucrezia knew her place in the pecking order: Mrs. Emperor was first, the king's daughter-in-law, Ferrante's wife and future queen was second, and she, Lucrezia happily came in third. 

They wrote poetry about her--

in Latin:
Quantum Rex proceres, quantum Sol sydera vincit,
tantum Campanas superat Lucretia nymphas.

[As the King surpasses the nobles, as the Sun conquers the stars, so Lucrezia surpasses the maidens of Campania." ]
By Antonio Beccadelli [1394–1471], known as il Panormita ("The Palermitan"), poet and friend of Alfonso.

Most of the poetry was in some form of Spanish of the day, including one by the Castilian poet Caravajales, who had accompanied Alfonso to Naples. Caravajales spoke of Lucrezia's purity, a, no temiendo / el furor de grandes flamas...
[a virgin, with no fear of / the fury of the great flames]

It may be that because of such worshipful verse she acquired an almost religious reputation of purity; the relationship with the king was passionate, yes, but—at least according to local lore—almost certainly platonic

Croce points out that it makes no difference what the real truth about Lucrezia was. She seemed to be about "beauty and empire" he says. Whether she was a schemer or not, out to enrich herself or not, was mostly irrelevant. The important thing was the impression she made among the populace as well as at court. She was surrounded by Spanish gentlemen, poets, scholars, and the aristocracy, all of whom were still willing subjects of their distant queen, Maria of Castile and who were willing to transfer some of that loyalty to a new queen. It was totally favorable. Or almost. There was ill feeling not from Ferrante, the future king, but rather from his wife, Isabella of Clermont. The people may have wanted a queen, but Isabella figured they would have one soon enough—her, and she didn't like being upstaged by a charismatic charmer. But in the minds of the people, that had already happened, anyway; that's all anyone talked about—the king marrying one of his subjects. True love right from a fairy tale.

Spoilsport Callixtus III. 
The Spaniard in
the works.
The obvious problem was that the king and his queen consort wife back home could not divorce. There was no such thing. Solution? Seek an annulment from the pope, Callixtus III, a Spaniard and related to Alfonso. No one really knows who first suggested the idea to Alfonso, but if you guess Lucrezia, that's not a bad guess. The king then sent the young love of his life off to Rome for an audience with the pope. She went like a queen in an entourage of 500 horses and ample ladies and lords in attendance. She was received in kind, royally, by the vicar of Christ. Royally with all the trimmings. Except one. No annulment. That would be a sin, and apparently the pope told Lucrezia that he had no intention of “winding up in hell with both of you.” That was in October of 1457. They had had nine good years.

Alfonso had waited in Capua for her and rode north to meet her as she returned with the bad news. Now the fairy tale ends abruptly. They consoled each other for eight more months. Then Alfonso died in June of 1458. (The ultimate irony was that his legitimate spouse back in Spain died two months later!) Things went downhill for Lucrezia quickly. She paid her due respects to her new king, Ferrante (Alfonso's son) then dressed in mourning black and talked of entering a convent.

Two things then happened: one, Ferrante (probably at his wife's prodding) started to expropriate Lucretia's property and wealth. Alfonso, in spite of his boundless generosity towards Lucrezia, had left her out of his will. It's hard to view that as oversight. Feel free to speculate. My guess is that in the mid-1450s Alfonso was pushing 70 years of age
—that was old. He was intoxicated with Lucrezia, but he may have been concerned with the future of his line. Lucrezia already had a lot of property and a fleetload of jewelry) Two, the barons in the realm, who remembered the good feudal life under the previous Angevin dynasty revolted against the new king; an Angevin army landed to support the barons and there ensued an agonizing six-year war, ultimately won by Ferrante. At the beginning of the war, Lucrezia had a choice to make. At first she swore she was loyal to the Aragonese kingdom; then, the tides of war turned in favor of the Angevins and Lucrezia went over to them, even offering one of her castles to a revolutionary baron. When the final battle, however, went to the Aragonese, the whole revolt collapsed; the barons were done and Lucrezia, who had committed treason, made a run for it. She fled to the Dalmatian coast under the protection of the Republic of Venice, then returned to Italy in October of 1464 to Ravenna. Finally she “surrendered” to Ferrante by letter, saying she wanted to live in her kingdom again and would be willing to live anywhere in the kingdom as long as it wasn't near the queen. Ferrante wasn't as vindictive as he might have been. He said he would pay her a small pension and she could live in some place like Bari on the coast of Puglia, but she could pretty much kiss her wealth good-bye. She was outraged and decided to stay in Ravenna selling off her jewelry little by little to live. Then she moved to Rome near Piazza San Marco. Croce says she didn't seem to have suffered in poverty. She gave her niece a significant amount of money as a wedding gift and in her will left money to her relatives and the San Domenico monastery in Naples.

She was known as Madama Lucrezia in the quarter of Rome where she lived. Croce writes that the legends about her persisted even at the time of his writing his tale. (1919). There is still (2017) a large bust (right) of a woman at the corner of Palazzo Venezia, near where she lived and now 100 yards from the great national monument to the first king of united Italy, Victor Emanuel II, in Piazza San Marco. It is actually an ancient Roman statue, but has been called “Madama Lucrezia” for centuries.

Lucrezia d'Alagno died in 1479. She was approximately 50 years old. She was entombed in the Dominican church of St. Mary Above Minerva (sic). Croce says that “...the tomb and tombstone with epitaph disappeared long ago...” but he cites a four-line epitaph in Latin from a 19th-century source (a collection of such epitaphs that had been copied and had survived) that seem to refer to Lucretia:


If you want to know who I am, my name is Lucrezia/
My homeland was sweet Parthenope [Naples]/
I had everything and kept my honor without blemish/
I finished my life in Rome and here I lie.

There is a small street named for her in Naples, supposedly near her residence in the heart of the ancient Greco-Roman city.

  F. M. Apollonj Ghetti, "Madama Lucrezia quasi una regina", in Donne di ieri a Roma e nel Lazio, «Lunario Romano VII»,   Roma, Gruppo Culturale di Roma e del Lazio, 1978, pp. 15-53.
  M. A. Causati Vanni, "Lucrezia d'Alagno: madama parlante", in Roma: ieri, oggi, domani, nº 68, June 1994.
  Benedetto Croce, "Lucrezia d'Alagno", in Giuseppe Galasso (ed.), Storie e leggende napoletane (con relativa nota   bibliografica), Milan, Adelphi, 2001, pp. 89-120.  

Many thanks to Selene Salvi for her assistance.    

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