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main index ©Jeff Matthews entry Sept 2005
in the 1600s
was the best of times
decline of the Spanish Empire from the loss of the
Armada (1588) through the entire 1600s to its
ultimate demise in 1700 with the death of Charles II
is complex. Some of the factors (besides the
original loss of the Armada and subsequent loss of
naval dominance) were Spain's continuing wars with
the French, English and the Dutch in the early
1600s, her involvement in the Thirty Years War
(resulting in a disastrous defeat in 1643 at
the battle of Rocroy), and, most of all, her terrible
mismanagement of wealth from the New World.
The most important social/political event of the century—and, indeed, a reflection of the profound problems affecting Spain, herself, was The Revolt of Masaniello, but, by and large, the destiny of Naples in what might have been a "Golden Age" was shaped not by corruption, upper-class sloth or mismanagement of money, but by staggering natural calamities and pestilence.
1631, Mt. Vesuvius gave vent to a powerful eruption. By all accounts, it was a highly
explosive event that rivalled in intensity the famous
eruption that doomed Pompeii
and Herculaneum in the
first century a.d. Sources say that the eruption
destroyed most of the towns in the area of Vesuvius.
The event was so terrifying that it stoked the
creative imaginations of the great painters of the
day, primarily Micco Spadaro
(name in art of Domenico
Gargiulo, 1610-75). His "Eruption of Vesuvius
in 1631" (painting, right) shows the procession of the
populace, viceroy, church prelates and aristocracy.
They carry the bust of the Patron Saint, Gennaro, in a
show of penitence, invoking divine mercy.
earthquakes struck the kingdom of Naples in the 1600s.
The quake of 1660 destroyed many towns and villages in
Calabria. Closer in to the city—right in the
city, to be exact—the earthquake on June 5, 1688, was
frightful. People camped out for many days near the
Chiaia beach and in the open market squares and near
the Maschio Angioino. Due
to the risk of buildings
collapsing, streets were blocked off, and the city
could be crossed only by small carts.
The worst disaster to strike the
kingdom and city of Naples in the 1600s was the plague of 1656. The Black Death,
of course already had a long and inglorious history in
Europe, going back to the original European outbreak
in 1347 (presumably traced to China in the 1330s). The
population of Europe dropped from 75 million before
that outbreak to 50 million afterwards—truly
"apocalyptic" in the minds of many chroniclers of the
outbreaks have not been that devastating, but even
"lesser" outbreaks can have severe repercussions on
the life of a nation. The outbreak of the disease in
Naples occurred in January of 1656 when a Spanish
soldier who had arrived from Sardinia, was admitted to
the Annunziata hospital. The
alarm was sounded by Dr.
Giuseppe Bozzutto, who first diagnosed the
symptoms. His promptness was not appreciated by the
viceroy's government, which decided to imprison the
doctor for having spread the news. The plague,
however, can quickly spread its own brand of news.
When bodies started piling up, when provisions ran
low, when people started fleeing the city, the
government was forced to admit the outbreak.That was
in May. By August, the plague had run its course. It
had killed about half the city's 300,000 inhabitants
and at least that many again in the rest of the
is a further entry dealing with the 17th century