Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact:Jeff Matthews

 entry Sept 2005

he 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.

For a background, read the entry on Masaniello's Revolt.

Got that? Good. Away we go. You will need a cast of characters (believe me):


MASANIELLO: dead revolutionary;

GIULIO GENOINO:  the original puppet-master pulling Masaniello's strings, a man who had spent the previous 20 years (some of them in prison) trying to better the lives of the people under the Spanish;

Cardinal FILOMARINO: the archbishop of Naples, he was popular with the people and trusted by Masaniello. Both before and after Masaniello's death he continued to mediate between the Spanish viceroys in Naples and the revolutionaries;

GENNARO ANNESE: Masaniello's elected replacement. Less flamboyant than Masaniello, but an able tactician and leader;

d'ARCOS: Spanish viceroy at the outbreak of Masaniello's revolt;

d'OGNATE: replacement viceroy for Arcos and eventual vanquisher of the Republic;

JOHN of Austria: son of the King of Spain, sent to put down the rebellion;

—the Duke of GUISE: first, last and only doge of the Republic.

With 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 increasingly anti-Spanish.

Cardinal Filomarino

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.

On August 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.

The next 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.

On October 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).

The 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.]

(The author, Donzillo, was a noted doctor and chemist of the day in Naples and was widely known for his writings in pharmacology.)

On Oct. 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.

The Duke 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."

In the 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 a stalemate.

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.

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