Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry April 2005

Don Pedro de Toledo

Don Pedro Alvarez de Toledo was born in 1484 near Salamanca in what was not yet the modern nation state of Spain. By the time of his death in 1553, not only did Spain exist, but the New World was upon us and the Spanish Empire encompassed the globe. It was a time that saw Copernicus, Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, the Counter Reformation, warrior Popes, and the Sack of Rome. In Italy, it was also a time of massive French invasions of the peninsula as well as the constant fear of invasion by the Turks. In Naples, add Vesuvius and the plague, and you have yourself some breathtaking times, to say the least.

Spain came into possession of the kingdom of Naples in 1503 but did not solidify her grasp until the final, failed attempt by France in 1529 to take the kingdom. For the first three decades of the century, a succession of inconsequential viceroys ruled the kingdom of Naples. By 1530, petty disputes, power brokering and general infighting among the local barons in and around Naples—still lords of their own fiefdoms—caused Charles V, the king of Spain and now the Holy Roman Emperor to send a viceroy to Naples who could take charge.

Don Pedro was such a person. (Portrait, above, is by an anonymous artist.) His arrival as viceroy in Naples in September of 1532 marked a fundamental change in the history of the kingdom and its capital city. The 20 years of his viceroyship were marked by political readjustment and social, economic and urban change. In spite of the intransigence of never-say-die feudalism, don Pedro converted the city from a medieval tangle into the largest and best-defended city in the Spanish Empire.

Naples had just been through the plague of 1529, which took, by some estimates, as many as 60,000 lives; thus, Don Pedro's immediate concern was for the decaying structure of the city. In 1534, he started paving roads and began the first expansion beyond the confines of the old city by building new and elegant residences at Santa Chiara, just west of the ancient Roman wall of historic Naples.

  Titian's portrait of Charles V
In 1535, Charles V paid an imperial visit to Naples to see the beginnings of new defensive fortifications in the face of the always imminent Turkish threat (not defeated until the famous battle of Lepanto in 1571, well after don Pedro's time). 

The plan was ambitious and went on for years. It meant knocking down or expanding the old city walls; for example, at the northwest corner of the old wall (where the National Museum now stands) don Pedro extended the old north wall all the way up the hill to the Sant'Elmo fortress and then down the other side to the sea. It meant building an entirely new wall along the sea front from the Maschio Angioino to the Carmine fortress. It meant modernizing all the fortresses along those walls, as well as building up fortifications just up the coast at Baia and on the island of Ischia. The goal was to make not just the city of Naples, but the Gulf of Naples, invulnerable —and eventually, of course, the entire vice-realm. That latter plan included an ambitious project to make the Volturno river (in the extreme north of the vice-realm) navigable, a plan that never came to fruition. [Complete details of the urban renovation are in De Seta, bibliography below.]

Don Pedro was devoted to making Naples a part of the greater Spanish imperial plans of Charles V. Thus, he even encouraged a foreign merchant class at the expense of locals. Merchants from Tuscany and Genoa did thriving trade within the city and kingdom. You can still see reminders of that, for example, in the name of the Teatro dei Fiorentini, a theater founded by the Florentine community in Spanish Naples. There were churches that served the Florentine community, the Genoese community, etc.

The "Vicaria" in the early 1600s    

The viceroy was ruthless in dealing with leftover feudal barons in the outback and encouraged their moving into the city within easy grasp of a central authority. This breaking-up of large land holdings started a general trend to urbanization as both the landed class and the landless peasant class poured into Naples. By 1550, the population was around 200,000, second only to Paris in all of Europe. By that time, Don Pedro had drained the swamps around the city and increased the walled city limits in area by one-third. Within the city, he strove for centralization, moving all courts and tribunals onto the same premises, Castel Capuano—also known as the "Vicaria"— (where they remained until the quite recent move to the new skyscraper Hall of Justice at the Centro Direzionale).

He expanded the Arsenalethe naval shipyards—considerably. He built the vice-royal palace (approximately where the Bourbon Royal Palace now stands). To guard that original building, he quartered troops in a dozen blocks of barracks, a square grid of streets lined with multi-storied buildings—unique in Europe for its time. (Today, that section of Naples is still called the Spanish Quarter.) Don Pedro also instituted summary execution for petty theft on public streets and made it a capital crime to go armed at night in the city. In short, he wasn't kidding about building a city that an emperor could visit.

Besides priming Naples for the great age of the Baroque, Don Pedro is widely remembered as the viceroy who tried to institute the Inquisition in Naples in 1547 —and failed. As a simple statement of fact, that appears to have happened, but the reasons for it are a bit murky.

Some sources claim that Naples was a center of Protestantism in the form of adherents of Juan de Valdez (c.1500-1541). The Spanish historian Francisco Elias de Tejada, however, says plausibly that the group was very small and not even made up of Neapolitans [Tejada, below]. Thus, they couldn't have represented any sort of home-grown threat to Roman Catholic orthodoxy. It is also true that Naples was the home of a number of "academies": the Pontanian; the Sereni, the Incogniti; the Ardenti. These were essentially discussion groups where literati and scholars sat around and chewed the intellectual fat. No doubt they discussed Martin Luther, the Inquisition, Copernicus —all that— but there is no evidence at all that they were a nest of heresy that would require the offices of the Inquisition to stamp out.

[Also, see "More on Juan de Valdéz"]

A few months before announcing that the Spanish Inquisition would be setting up shop in Naples, don Pedro closed the academies and forbade them from meeting or publishing. When the official announcement of the Inquisition finally came in May of 1547, the protest was immediate, turning violent very quickly with troops squaring off against the populace in the streets. This was not a "popular" revolution (as one might view the Masaniello revolt of a century later). Considerable numbers of landed nobility and officials in and around Naples and Salerno supported the protests and promptly protested to Charles V against "abuse by the viceroy"—don Pedro. [Ample details of the noblemen and gentry involved in the protests are found in Storia di Napoli, bibliography, below.] Naples had just been through 15 years of city-building, every brick of which was paid for by increasing taxes. Neapolitan property owners knew that the Inquisition had a reputation for confiscating the wealth and property of those whom it questioned. Luigi Amabile [cited in Tejada] says, "Undoubtedly, confiscation of assets was the main reason that everyone in Naples was set against the Inquisition."

It is also good to look at the character of the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V was a devout Catholic, but he was a strong emperor. It had taken him years to build Naples, the largest city in the Spanish Empire, into a bulwark against  threats of Turkish invasion. There is not the slightest doubt that he was more concerned with that than with ensuring religious orthodoxy, especially if it meant setting up religious tribunals above his own civil ones and fragmenting the city and vice-realm socially. It is also the case that the Papacy and Charles V did not get along very well. Charles was convinced that the Papacy was constantly conspiring with France against him; also, Charles' army was responsible for the Sack of Rome in 1527. Thus, a number of things taken together may have been responsible for Charles calling off the inquisition.

The long and the short of it is that don Pedro, upon the order of the emperor, backed down. At first, this seems like some sort of a popular blow against absolutism, a type of Magna Carta affair that wrung concessions from the monarch. That would be a gross over-interpretation of what happened. Calling off the Spanish Inquisition in Naples was a pragmatic move by the emperor to insure stability in Naples. Benedetto Croce [bibliography, below] notes that the revolt, indeed, set the stage for a less drastic version of the Spanish Inquisition, the Universal Roman inquisition, instituted in Naples under a later viceroy with little protest.

Don Pedro's time had clearly come and gone. In 1552, Charles V calmed the populace even more by sending Toledo off to Siena to handle some local problem. The viceroy died in Florence the following year. In spite of Don Pedro's religious zeal, his reputation as a city-builder has stood the test of time. The city of Naples still bears his stamp in countless places. He is entombed in the church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli (photo, above).

[There is a separate entry on the earlier Medieval Inquisition in Naples.]

Sources cited:

Amabile, Luigi. Il santo Officio della Inquisizione in Napoli, S. Lapi, Città di Castello 1892; [photostatic reprint]: Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli. 1987.

Croce, Benedetto. Storia del Regno di Napoli. Bari. 1915.

De Seta, Cesare. Le Città nella Storia d'Italia: Napoli, "Il Viceregno" , pp 106-128. Editore Laterza, Roma- Bari. 1981.

Storia di Napoli, vol 5 (pp. 47-70),  Società Editrice Storia di Napoli.

Tejada, Francisco Elìas. Napoli Spagnola, vol. 2. Controcorrente, Napoli, 2002.
(Original: Nàpoles hispanico. Madrid. 1958.)

additional note:

This website of historical coins  carries this interesting description of a coin:

"The reverse of this coin celebrates a happy conclusion to a series of disorganised revolts culminating in the serious uprising of 1547 in response to the attempt made by the Viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo to introduce heavy taxation and the Spanish Inquisition into the kingdom of Naples. Though quelled by force, dissension remained, and a Neapolitan embassy was sent to plead with the emperor to intervene. In exchange for 100,000 ducats, Charles V formally undertook to never allow The Office of the Holy Inquisition to be introduced again."
I have been unable to trace the source of that claim that Charles V was bribed into calling off the Inquisition in Naples.

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