The First Neapolitan Republic
When one thinks of Neapolitan Republic, the mind quickly turns to 1799 and the Republican outgrowth in Naples of the French Revolution, a drama starring Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson, Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel, Ferdinand and Caroline, etc. Yet, there is another Neapolitan Republic—the (shades of Venice!) Serenissima Real Repubblica di Napoli of 1648, complete with her own Most Serene Doge.
background, read the entry on Masaniello's
Good. Away we go. You will need a cast of characters
Masaniello out of the way, the restoration of civil
order seemed in the making. That was deceptive.
Concessions wrung out of viceroy d'Arcos having to do
with taxes left deeper social unrest untouched.
Masaniello's revolt had dramatically shown the existence
in Naples of various factions: on one side were the
supporters of the Spanish vice-realm (obviously the
Spanish aristocracy); on the other side not just the
peasant masses—still ostensibly loyal to their Spanish
king—but a growing number of businessmen, merchants and
others in the small Neapolitan middle-class, who were
The revolt had
started on July 9, 1647, and by July 16 Masaniello was
dead. But by the middle of August, it was evident the
people who had taken to the streets were largely still
out in the streets and unhappy. They and Masaniello had
had two intermediaries between themselves and the
viceroy: Giuglio Genoino and
Cardinal Filomarino. Neither was able to
placate the revolutionaries, who now had elected another
leader to replace Masaniello, a Neapolitan gunsmith,
named Gennaro Annese.
21, the revolutionary forces attacked the Spanish garrison
at Santa Lucia and drove the defenders out. It was more
than a symbolic victory; the loyalist troops had been
defending the Royal Palace and the considerable number of
Spanish civilian nobility in the area—and were beaten by
the rebel force. Also, the rebels now controlled one major
military installation in the city, the massive Carmine
fortress at the south-eastern approach to the city along
the port. A real civil war had broken out.
day, Spanish ships in Naples shelled the city, at which
point viceroy D'Arcos
managed to get a truce while he worked on placating the
rebels. This involved caving in to new demands on taxes
and granting more local autonomy to the people. It was a
ploy to buy time. At the beginning of October, the real
Spanish fleet showed up, commanded by John of Austria, the
bastard son of King Phillip IV of Spain. They took back
the center of the city near the palace, but the rebels
remained in control of the perimeter, the high ground on
the hills of Posillipo, Vomero and Capodimonte.
16, the rebels proclaimed an "end to loyalty to the
Spanish Crown" and appealed for foreign intervention. That
appeal—obviously to the French—is indeed strange when
viewed against the backdrop of the times. The Thirty Years
War was just grinding to an agonizing end (by the Treaty
of Westphalia, signed in October, 1648).
Thirty Years War remains one of the grisliest
episodes in the history of human conflict; it was a series
of wars, really, that squandered the resources and
progress of an entire generation in Europe and cost the
lives of about one-third the population of central Europe.
From the chaos of religious strife, the war had "evolved"
in its last decade into a war of attrition between France
and the forces of the Holy Roman Empire, meaning the
Hapsburgs of Spain and Austria. The complexities of the
Thirty Years War are beyond the scope of this entry, but
it would be fair to say that at its conclusion France had
emerged as a great power while the power of Spain had
decreased. It does not follow from that, however, that the
French would feel comfortable enough to move on Naples —or
would even want to, for that matter— or that Spain would
not defend its Neapolitan vicerealm.
Frontispiece of Partenope Liberata (below). The book describes the "heroic revolution of the people of Naples to remove themselves and the kingdom from the intolerable yoke of the Spanish." The title uses the ancient name for Naples and is meant to evoke Tasso's famous epic, Gerusalemme Liberata, written in the previous century. Note the dedication to Guise (Italianized as Guisa) and the reference to him as the "Duce" of the "Serenissima Real Republica." [Sic. The spelling with one b of "Repubblica" is archaic.]
22, perhaps misjudging Spanish willingness to defend
Naples, the rebels proclaimed the existence of the "Royal
Republic of Naples." It was to be under the protection of
the King of France, with Henri II of Lorraine, 5th
Duke of Guise, who had volunteered his services to
Annese, as Protector. Actually, he was to be the "doge,"
in analogy to the Republic of Venice. (Publications of the
day— illustration, right—referred to the "Serenissima"
Neapolitan Republic—further analogy to Venice, la
Serenissima.) Guise was descended from the Angevin
rulers of Naples, who had been forced out of the kingdom
two centuries earlier. On November 17, in the presence of
Cardinal Filomarino in the Cathedral of Naples, Guise
swore allegiance to the Royal Republic.
was, from all accounts, a lackluster dud who enjoyed no
prestige at all in the French court, to which he would
presumably have to turn for help. (He had actually been an
enemy of Richelieu and been sentenced to death at one
point.) His outrageous personal life had given rise to the
popular jibe that he had "left his betrothed in France,
his wife in Flanders, his whore in Rome and would leave
his hide in Naples." He also got no support from the
astute French prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, Richelieu's successor.
(Mazarin was of southern Italian origin; his birth name
was Giulio Mazzarino. He was the negotiator who brokered
the end of the Thirty Years War.) Mazarin had no Italian
policy to speak of. He was in favor of a strong France,
but not at the expense of another war with Spain.
Thus, if the Duke of Guise was expecting immediate intervention from France in the face of the Spanish fleet moored in the bay and the considerable number of Spanish troops still in charge of the main body of the city, he was in for a disappointment. Indeed, the French court held Guise in such low esteem that when French ships got to Naples in December, the admiral in charge of the fleet was less concerned with engaging the Spanish militarily than in trying to find out who was in charge. The problem: no one. There were now two people trying to run the show: one, the new "doge"; two, Annese, the military commander of the city, who had called for French help in the first place. A third party, the collective nobility still quite loyal to the Spanish crown, sat and bided their time. The Duke of Guise was proving to be singularly arbitrary and ineffective in his dealings with the people, and he totally alienated Annese. By February, there was a strong anti-Guise conspiracy in Naples even among the "pro-French."
meantime, the Spanish had replaced viceroy d'Arcos with
John, the commander of the fleet that had just arrived.
While political indecision and infighting went on within
the new Royal Republic, John consolidated his support
among the large number of the nobility still loyal to
Spain. He also enlisted Filomarino as a go-between to
Guise. John offered to repeal the hated taxes and offered
a general amnesty. Then, in mid-February, the rebels
attacked Spanish positions in the city and failed. It was
The break came when a new viceroy was appointed: Inigo Velez de Guevara, Count of Ognate, Spain's ambassador to the Holy See. He landed at Gaeta in April with troops and joined those from the fleet of John and came in from the north, meeting little resistance. Guise had managed to alienate what little support he had within the city. The revolution had run out of steam. The re-rulers of Naples, the Spanish —John of Austria and viceroy Ognate— were surprisingly lenient when they were back in charge. They executed Annese (reneging on their promise to spare him if he gave up), but no vindictive bloodbath ensured. The city was tired.