on History of Naples and Southern Italy
-Given in Sorrento-2000
afternoon. My name is Jeanne Manfredi and today I'm going
to talk to you about Naples and Southern Italy beginning with
the Middle Ages --that exciting Medieval period-- and about what
happened in the centuries to follow, up to the time of the reunification
of Italy in 1860, and about all the dynasties that ruled in Naples
as well as the other forces that molded this part of the country
and about how some of those forces influenced and helped to form
our own present day civilization.
to get a bit of perspective, let's set the stage for a few minutes
and see what went before and what came after.
living in Italy for the past 18 years, I find I have a new perception
of time. We Americans often think of a house that is over 150
years old as either an historic monument or as a wreck that needs
to be torn down, and we regard 1492 when Columbus sailed for the
New World as almost ancient history. Here, on the Bay of Naples,
in 1492 the Italian Renaissance was ending, and ancient history
meant when the Greeks first settled down around here in about
800 BC, and about two centuries later founded the city of Neapolis,
the New City, that we know as Napoli or Naples.
Greeks ruins at Paestum
don't know if you have had a chance to stroll around Sorrento
as yet, but while you are here I hope you will go into the Public
Garden --theVilla Comunale-- where you can stand on top of the
cliffs where you'll get a spectacular panoramic view of the Bay
of Naples .
from left to right, first you'll see the Island of Ischia in the
distance, then the lower lying island of Procida, then Cape Miseno,
the beginning of the mainland, and straight across the bay, there
is the city of Naples. Going around more to your right, you'll
see Mt. Vesuvius, looming up against the sky.
imagine almost 2000 years ago standing on this same spot, watching
Vesuvius blow its top --literally-- in 79 AD and burying the cities
of Pompeii and Herculaneum that lay at its feet. There is
a wonderful first hand account of that tragic time; in fact, it
is the only first hand account that has come down to us, written
by a young Roman, Pliny the Younger who was living in Naples at
the time with his mother and his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who was
in charge of the Roman fleet. Pliny the Younger describes how
his uncle was so intrigued by the phenomenon and also alarmed
for his friends who lived at the foot of Vesuvius, decided to
set sail and see what he could see. By this time no one could
see very much for flames were shooting up into the sky and clouds
of ash were obscuring the sun. Pliny the Elder and his crew found
they couldn't get near Pompeii or Herculaneum so they sailed on
further around the Bay to the town of Stabaie, now known as Castellammare
Roman tunnel in Naples
decided to spend the night in Stabaie, but before dawn he
and his friends were awakened when the house began to fill up
with ash. Here is an excerpt of what happened next: "They had
to go out then with pillows tied on their heads to protect them
from the storm of stones falling all around them."
goes on to tell how they went down to shore hoping to take to
their boat but found that the waves were too high and rough. Pliny
the Elder lay down on the beach and called for water. Then, "came
more flames and strong fumes of sulfur, he raised himself
up and instantly fell back down and died, suffocated by the noxious
vapor, for he always had a weak throat." Pliny the Younger goes
on to describe how he and his mother tried to flee along with
all the other panic stricken people of Naples, surrounded by darkness
punctuated by flames and falling ash. It truly must have seemed
like the end of the world.
still standing on our cliff, let's jump forward almost 1500 years
to the middle of the 1500s, and imagine watching the Turkish pirates
sail around the point into the little fishing village down below
us, the Marina Grande, then the main port of Sorrento. After ferociously
sacking the city, they began to sail off with all the nuns and
virgins they could find, as well as with the pride and joy of
Sorrento, the church bell. Now, the story goes that then the patron
saint of Sorrento, Sant'Antonino-- a very old Dark ages saint--
worked another miracle. As the pirates were sailing off, San'Antonino
blew up a great storm and the Turks, to lighten their load, threw
the church bell overboard into shallow water. Thus, Sant'Antonino
saved the church bell! I guess the nuns and virgins went on to
the slave markets of Africa. Obviously, nuns and virgins were
a dime a dozen in those days, but church bells were hard to come
Saracen Tower along the coast, south of Naples
on our cliffs one last time, leap forward another 450 years
to our own time and to an event of which adventure films are made.
If you looked slightly to your left you would see a beautiful
yellow villa that is built atop and into the cliffs overlooking
the sea. During WWII, Benedetto Croce, the famous Italian philosopher,
lived in this villa. Croce was a leading anti-Fascist, so he was
living here under a sort of house arrest. The Mussolini government,
because of his worldwide reputation, left him alone, as long as
he was quiet. But, now it was 1944, and the Mussolini government
was deposed. Italy had changed sides, the Allies had landed
in Sicily, in Salerno and in Anzio, and the Germans were occupying
Sorrento. They were also occupying Ischia but the Allies had Capri.
Now, Croce was not so safe any longer for the Germans were not
noted for their tolerance towards anti-fascist philosophers. Thus,
one dark night, coming from Capri, a small boatload of British
Commandoes rowed silently beneath the villa, under the noses of
the German sentries, climbed the rough steps hewn into the
cliff, gathered up Croce, and just as silently took him back to
safety on Capri.
let's leave our cliffs and come to the main focus of this talk,
starting with the time between 450 AD and 1450 AD, the Medieval
historians think of the Middle Ages as two halves. The first half
--or the High Middle Ages starts about the middle of the 5th century
AD, when the last Roman Emperor finally gave up (By the way, he
then came to live in Naples.) to 1000 AD when the world didn't
end as predicted after the first millennium. The Low Middle Ages
then goes from the year 1000 to the middle of the 15th century,
the beginning of the Renaissance. (It always seems to me that
it should be the other way around, but so be it.)
first half is also known as the Dark Ages. How dark were they
really? Certainly there were gleams of light here and there, but
all in all, they were pretty dark. It is frightening to remember
how quickly civilization, with all its attendant skills, can be
forgotten and almost lost. The British historian, Kenneth Clark
put it best when he said, "We got by, by the skin of our teeth."
were depopulated, agricultural methods were degraded, classic
manuscripts were destroyed, many lost forever, others only recovered
only after centuries of being lost. No one except a very few could
read any longer, and baths were a thing of the past. In fact,
the early Christian church considered bathing as possible proof
that you were still addicted to the old pagan gods. So, if you
were truly holy, you were also truly smelly. No wonder they used
so much incense in those old cathedrals.
the 8th Century, the Popes in Rome were feeling squeezed by
the last of the barbarian tribes to invade Italy, the Lombards,
who were now ruling a greater portion of the country, while the
so-called Roman Empire of the East --meaning the Byzantium Greeks
in Constantinople-- were losing ground in the Northern part of
the country although they were still lords of most of the South,
the Pope called on Charlemagne for help. Charlemagne as the most
powerful ruler in Europe, King of the Franks, an empire that included
what is now France and Germany. He really deserved his name, Charles
the Great. Under his reign, we had what is called, the Carolingian
Renaissance, for learning was encouraged and appreciated for the
first time in centuries. Charlemagne himself was probably the
only ruler in Europe who could read. He learned as an adult, but
evidently he never could get the hang of writing. Charlemagne
marched into Italy, routed the Lombards and the Greeks, and confirmed
the "Donation of Pepin" the great gift of land that his father,
Pepin, had given to to the Pope, land that was to become the Papal
States. At Christmas time in 800, while the the Pope was returning
the favor by officially anointing him in the old St. Peter's,
the Pope surprised all, some said, including Charlemagne, by also
anointing him as the Holy Roman Emperor. That was to have disastrous
consequences for both their successors in the centuries to come.
The only tower standing in Naples from before 1000 a.d.
let's look at what was happening here in the South by the
year 1000. The three forces who clashed interminably were the
Lombards, who had all moved south by then, The Byzantines who
still claimed the whole country, and the Arabs who had conquered
Sicily in the 800s. then there was the papacy whose lands bordered
the South and who claimed spiritual overlordship over all, and
the Holy Roman Emperor, up in Germany by this time, who claimed
temporal overlordship over all.
was quite happy with its Byzantine owners. Constantinople allowed
it to have its own Duke, and what could be better if you have
to be ruled by an outsider than that outsider is very far away.
Besides, Naples had Greek roots. The Mediterranean had always
been its front and back yard, one leading to the East and Africa,
the other to France and Spain.
came a new indomitable force to be reckoned with --the Normans--
not too far away from being the rapacious Vikings who had settled
down in the North of France to which they gave their name, Normandy.
They first came as adventurers and mercenaries, joining up with
first one side and then the other. But, they had two qualities
the others lacked. They were not only fearless, they were born
administrators and they believed in using the rule of law, to
their own advantage, of course. Thus, began the First Norman Conquest,
over 20 years before their more famous cousin, William the Conqueror
landed in England in 1066.
the Conquest of Southern Italy had finished, two brothers were
playing the starring roles. Robert, called the Guiscard, meaning
like a sly fox, and his younger brother, Roger de Hauteville (Altavilla
soon had a grand opportunity to get a better claim on the country
by marrying into a leading Lombard family. Sichelgaita was the
sister of the Prince of Salerno, and, by the way, also the niece
of the Duke of Sorrento. She was very educated by the standards
of the times. Supposedly, she sometimes attended lectures at the
School of medicine in Salerno. As an aside, this famous School
of Medicine was the first Medical School in Europe. Legend has
it that it was founded by a Greek, a Jew, an Arab and an Italian.
There is certainly no doubt that there was a renascence of medical
lore brought to the West by Jewish and Arab scholars about this
to Sichelgaita, who was not only a good catch, she was also
one of the most colorful women of the Middle Ages. From the time
of their marriage she very seldom left Robert's side. When he
rode out to do battle --and he was more often than not doing just
that-- Sichelgaita rode out, too, clad in armor like any knight.
One on occasion, when their troops began to run away from an attack,
Sichelgaita charged after them with her sword raised high above
her head and her long blond hair streaming out from underneath
her helmet. Obviously, the men were more afraid of her than they
were of the enemy for they did an about face and ran back to the
battle. Other times when Robert had business elsewhere, she ran
the show. What makes her even more amazing is that at the same
tome she also managed to have 10 children.
the time Robert died, he and Roger had control over all of Southern
Italy, even though Naples was still halfway independent and theoretically
still tied to Byzantium. Plus, they had conquered Sicily from
after Robert's death, Roger became heir to all his titles, and
upon his death they went to his young son, Roger II. Then, for
all intents and purposes, his mother ruled the country for over
10 years until Roger grew to manhood. Later, Roger II supported
Pope Anacletus against Pope Innocent.-- There were 2 claimants
to St. Peter's at the moment, which was not unusual. There were
Popes and anti-Popes galore throughout these centuries. Once there
were 3 at the same time. In exchange for his support, Roger made
a deal to get himself anointed King of all of Southern Italy and
Sicily. The Pope even gave him Naples, even though it was never
his to give away.
now begins the Kingdom of the South, the Golden Years for Southern
Italy, and for civilization. For the first Renaissance had
begun --the 12th Century Renaissance.
historians look on this 12th Century Renaissance as even more
important than the one we know best, the 15th Century one. Civilization
made such giant strides out of the dark. The cities began to prosper
as trade increased. Also, the food supply greatly increased as
agricultural skills, such as deep plowing and crop rotation were
learned, and new lands were cleared. It was the tome of the beautiful
Romanesque churches, and the even more beautiful Gothic architecture
was beginning. Old Greek and Roman manuscripts were being translated,
often from Arabic or Hebrew, into Latin. Aristotle was rediscovered.
And, prose and poetry began to be written not only in Latin but
also in the vernacular. It was the time that Abelard taught reason
and logical thought in France.
with this Rise in Learning, it was also a time of the rise in
Institutions. This was exemplified by the founding of the great
Universities, such as Paris, Oxford and Bologna. The University
is uniquely a Middle ages invention. While ancient Greece and
Rome certainly had Higher Learning, it was never organized in
such a fashion. Since the Carolingian Renaissance there had been
church schools? The great monasteries, such as nearby Monte Cassino
had famous schools, but, of course, mainly to benefit their own
ecclesiastics. Certainly, the famous School of Medicine in Salerno,
founded in the 900s was the avant-garde of those to come
centuries later. At the beginning of the 1100s, the Cathedral
Schools were flourishing, the one at Chartres perhaps being the
most renowned. In fact, the newly formed University of Paris grew
out of the Cathedral School of Notre Dame, growing out of it almost
literally by expanding onto the Petit Pont crossing the Seine
and spreading out into the Left Bank, which from this time began
to be called the Latin Quarter, for Latin was the common language
of the students. Oxford and Bologna, however, evolved independently.
the early part of the 1200s other great universities were founded,
such as Montpelier in the South of France and Salamanca in Spain.
A group from Oxford broke off and started Cambridge, just as a
breakaway group from Bologna started the University of Padua.
was during this period that the University of Naples was also
founded. It began by importing Masters from Bologna to teach thereby
encouraging scholars from the Kingdom to stick close to home.
Frederick II, founder of the University of Naples
a student, once you had passed all your rigorous examinations,
you were ready for your "Commencement". We still use that term
for our own Graduation ceremonies, but it originally meant that
you were ready to begin teaching. I think it is amazing to realize
that these greatest of universities during this Medieval Renaissance,
and have continued to be among the greatest for over 800 years
and are all still flourishing today.
large cultural change that took place during the time of the 12th
Century was a change in attitude towards women. It was a civilizing
change, one that had impact on all women in the centuries
to come, and, it still does. This was the beginning of chivalry
and the institution of Courtly Love. It all started in that part
of Southern France that gave us at the same time the songs of
the troubadours and the first poetry written in the vernacular,
which in this case was Provençal. Every knight worth his
salt had a lady, a real one, that he loved and worshiped- -not
his wife, of course, for marriages were not made for love in those
days. This love was not supposed or expected to be consummated.
(Even so, some of those knights may have had high hopes.)
Love and the Age of Chivalry also coincided and were greatly influenced
by the rise of the Cult of the Virgin Mary. One popular phrase
of the day, exalting the Virgin Mary, says, "A God in Heaven,
a Goddess on Earth". Now we know that putting a woman on a pedestal
may have its limitations for both parties, but for civilization
it was a step forward. It had a gentling effect on these often
brutish, rough and ready times, and on the fighting knight. How
did real women fare in this society? For the upper class or middle
class woman, whose father supplied a dowry and chose her husband
as well, she usually married very young, as young as 13 or 14
at times. Often her husband was also very young, so even if love
was not expected on either side, some couples did grow up together
and develop feeling for one another. There is a touching letter
written by a young husband to his wife that he signed, Your Married
the Lady of the Manor, when her husband went off to the war or
the Crusades or to court, often for months and sometimes years
at a time, she was expected to look after things at home and to
see that all his feudal rights and duties were observed.
the peasant woman, she had perhaps more equality, but a much more
arduous life. She shared all the work in the fields, except the
heavy plowing. In some jobs she had an exclusive, such as the
care of the small farm animals and chores such as milking.
lot of women of all classes didn't marry for there weren't
enough men to go around, what with the interminable warfare, the
crusades, and, the church siphoned off quite large numbers into
the monasteries or into the priesthood, although some priest did
marry way up into the 13th Century.
was employment for women in the ever-growing cities; certain jobs
in the cloth trade were reserved for women. For example, spinning
cloth was always a woman's work and many an unmarried woman earned
her bread by spinning. That's why, we still today often refer
to an unmarried woman as a "spinster".
to our Southern Italy-- The new kingdom had its brilliant
capitol in Palermo --and it was a brilliant capitol-- and an enlightened
one. Greek, Arab and Jewish scholars were welcomed and encouraged.
It was a government that included all these diverse groups, often
as ministers, and there was religious tolerance. The only restriction
seems to have been that if you did convert to Christianity, it
was a crime to change your mind.
did this unique kingdom do for our civilization? Lots! Many of
the classics from ancient Greece and Rome were rediscovered and
re-translated thank to the encouragement and support of Roger
II and his sons and his grandson. This included not only classic
literature, but philosophic and scientific treatises as well.
For instance, at the beginning we were talking about that old
Roman, Pliny the Elder. Besides being Admiral of the Fleet, he
was much better known as a very prolific writer. Most of his books
have been lost and gone forever, but his huge work on "Natural
History" was rediscovered and translated during this time. After
Roger's death, the Kingdom passed to his surviving son, William
the Bad, and after his death to his son, William the Good.
is not always very fair when it comes to judging its leaders --as
you may have noticed even in our own time. In this instance, I
think it was carried away by a pretty face, for William the Bad
was really pretty good, and William the Good, who looked like
an Adonis, was really pretty bad. Not bad meaning evil, but bad
meaning stupid. He gave away the store, in this case, the Kingdom.
through these years of Norman rule, the Popes had mixed feelings
about these Norman upstarts who they nevertheless had to depend
on at crucial times to protect them from either the Byzantium
Greeks or from the Roman populace who rose up against them from
time to time. Most of all, the Normans were a curb against the
power of the Holy Roman Emperor who had control of Northern Italy
and might pose a threat to the Papal states that stretched across
the middle of the country. Their greatest fear was that the Emperor,
who always had his covetous eyes on the South, would succeed in
conquering the South and the Papal States would be squeezed out
of the middle.
the Good who also feared the Emperor, and who was always afraid
the Emperor would invade at any time, one day had what he considered
a brilliant idea. He would bring his young aunt Constance, King
Roger's youngest daughter, out of seclusion- possibly from a nunnery
--and marry her to Henry VI of Hohenstaufen, the son of the Holy
Roman emperor. I can just imagine the Pope in Rome when he heard
the news, ranting and raving about that "cretino"; that "idiota"
from the south.
and his wife, the sister of Richard the Lion-Hearted, produced
no offspring, so when William died young, the very thing the Pope
had feared came to pass. Henry, claiming the throne in his Norman
wife's name, marched in and conquered the South. However, when
he was being crowned in Palermo, his wife was not at his side.
Constance, at age 40 was pregnant, so she was making her way down
from Germany. At Iesi, a town on the Adriatic side, her time came.
Now, because of her age Constance wanted to forestall any rumors
that the child wasn't really her own, so she had a large tent
erected in the main piazza and invited any matron of the town
who wished to come witness the blessed event. Thus was born one
of the outstanding men of the Middle Ages --or perhaps of any
age-- Frederick II. His contemporaries called him "Stupor Mundi",
the Wonder of the World.
father, Henry, didn't last very long, much to the relief of his
subjects for he wasn't a very nice man, and his mother died a
year later when Frederick was still a small child. Constance did
do what she could to protect her child, she made the Pope his
guardian. While he was growing up in Palermo, he was educated
but not particularly pampered or cosseted. In fact, he was left
pretty much alone to roam the streets of his exotic capitol, and
he learned from everything he saw and from everyone he met. Most
of all, he learned to depend on himself.
main thing the Pope didn't want was that Frederick should ever
go to Germany and be confirmed as the Holy Roman Emperor, as successor
to his father, which would mean he would rule the city states
of the North while at the same time being King of southern Italy
and Sicily. But, as soon as Frederick became an adult, that is
exactly what happened. From then on it was warfare, waged by the
Pope either trying to promote rebellion in the North of by excommunicating
Frederick from time to time.
Frederick left his eldest son as his stand-in up in Germany
and spent all of his time in his Southern Kingdom which he greatly
preferred. His was the most advanced court in Europe, and perhaps
the wealthiest. Certainly it was the most tolerant-- which was
another reason the Pope was so antagonistic. Frederick enjoyed
all the diversity of his peoples. His personal bodyguard was essentially
Saracens who were intensely loyal. He gave them a town in Apulia,
Lucera, and built them a mosque. He declared another town in Apulia,
Altamura, as a safe haven for Arabs and Jews outside of Sicily,
where they had always been accepted.
also gave his people a Constitution, the first constitution since
Roman Justinian's code of laws; one that guaranteed the common
people certain rights and protected them against the abuses of
the feudal barons. For this, the Pope excommunicated Frederick
again, accusing him of weakening feudal ties. Also, it was at
this court that for the first time in Italy poetry was written
in the vernacular, evidently some of it by Frederick himself.
He certainly wrote a very scholarly book on Falconry that was
used a reference work for centuries.
an aside, I know that many travelers seldom come south of Rome.
I think southern Italy is one of the undiscovered treasure troves
of Europe, at least as far as most American tourists are concerned.
Aside from the wonders around the Bay of Naples, there is Apulia,
the region right across from here on the Adriatic side with its
beautiful Romanesque churches, such as the one at Trani, which
I think is the most lovely cathedral in Italy. And, there are
castles galore. One of the most marvelous ones is Frederick's
Castel de Monte, a true architectural sculpture. It sits on a
high hill out in the middle of nowhere with a panoramic view of
the countryside. It is octagonal in shape with 8 towers which
also have 8 sides. To anyone venturing into Apulia, it is well
worth a side trip. Sicily is spectacular with its Greed temples
and Byzantine mosaics. The Palatine Chapel in the Norman palace
in Palermo is encrusted with brilliant mosaics. When the French
author, Guy de Maupaussant visited it he said it was "like stepping
into a jewel".
died in 1250, still engaged in the battle with the papacy. He
had been excommunicated again which is why Dante in his "Inferno",
even though he was personally sympathetic, left him in Hell. Manfred,
the son who succeeded him, got to go to "Purgatory".
before Frederick's death, and especially afterwards, the Pope
had been trying to tempt either the King of France or the King
of England to invade and conquer the South. At one point the King
of England toyed with the idea of it for his son, but the one
who really liked the idea was Charles of Anjou, the brother of
the King of France. So Charles raised an army as did the Pope
and they ended up defeating and killing King Manfred at the battle
of Benevento in 1266. The Pope then anointed Charles King of southern
Italy and Sicily and Charles declared Naples as his new capitol.
Thus the Angevins took the South.
Pope did win his battle, but at the tremendous cost of weakening
the Papacy. Not too many years later, the Pope and the Cardinals
were driven out of Rome and fled to Avignon where they stayed
for 70 years, often under the thumb of the French king. Meanwhile
back in the Kingdom of the South, with the rise of Naples, Apulia
and Sicily declined in importance. Also tolerance for diversity
was fast disappearing. It was still a rich kingdom and Naples
was still an intellectual center. The University of Naples, which
Frederick had founded, still flourished --as it still does today.
Sicily did not remain part of the Kingdom for long. The Sicilians
never took to their rather arrogant French masters, so one evening
when a French soldier insulted a local girl, they rose up and
massacred the lot of them. That historic and bloody event is called
"The Sicilian Vespers". Shortly afterwards the Sicilians, feeling
they needed some outside support, offered the crown of Sicily
to Peter of Aragon from Spain, who had married Manfred's daughter.
The Kingdom no longer included Sicily and would not do so again
for over a 100 years. Before losing Sicily, Charles had had ambitious
plans to conquer new land across the Adriatic and, at that very
moment was preparing to invade North Africa. You could say he
was a bit bitter, but he was also pragmatic for his comment was,
"Lord God, since it has pleased You to ruin my fortune, let me
only go down by small steps".
Castel dell'Ovo, the Egg Castle
Naples there are two splendid medieval castles, called the
Castel dell'Ovo and the Castel Nuovo, the Egg Castle and the New
Castle. The Egg one which juts out into the sea, was built by
William the Bad in the 1100s and the New one was built by Charles
of Anjou in the late 1200s. The reason that first old fortress
is called the Egg is because it is said that the Roman poet, Virgil,
who was sometimes regarded as a magician by the Middle Ages, buried
an egg on that spot, and if the egg ever breaks, Naples will cease
are many stories connected to these two old castles, some of which
are rather bloody. One prisoner who must have despaired inside
the Egg was the young 16 year old grandson of Frederick II, Conradin.
All Europe was shocked when King Charles had this young boy publicly
beheaded in the Market Square in Naples.
a ruthless man, was determined to leave no possible heirs
of Frederick free to claim the throne. One of his prisoners who
was held in the Egg for many long years was the younger daughter
of King Manfredi. After the death of her father, she had been
captured along with her mother. They had been imprisoned in the
castle of nearby Nocera for some years until the mother finally
died. Beatrice was then moved to the Egg.
later, when Charles was away seeing to his other lands in France,
for he still had Anjou and he had acquired Provence by marriage,
he left his poor benighted son, the future Charles II in charge
with strict orders not to engage in battle with the Aragonese
of Sicily if they attacked during his absence. Charles II was
a very insecure diffident young man who was scared to death of
his awesome father. When the Aragon king of Sicily sent his admiral,
Roger of Lauria, to besiege the islands around Naples, Charles
II was faced with such a dilemma. He was finally out-finessed
and was captured. Now the Admiral had another mission given to
him by King Peter and his Queen which was to rescue the Queen's
young half-sister, Beatrice. The Admiral then told the Neapolitans
that if they ever wanted to see their Prince Charles alive they
must release Beatrice. So, after 18 years of captivity, Beatrice
sailed away from the Egg and, let's believe, she lived happily
king Charles returned to Naples he was furious. He obviously didn't
have a great deal of fatherly feeling. He remarked about is son,
"Who loses a fool, loses nothing. Why isn't he dead for disobeying
poor Charles II, came the best Angevin of them all, King Robert
the Wise, the Philosopher King. He held court in the new Castle
and it was a very intellectual court. Robert not only supported
the University of Naples, he often attended the lectures given
there. He also commissioned many translation of newly discovered
classics and collected a fine library. It is well to remember
that when we talk of medieval libraries we aren't talking about
the voluminous libraries of our time, or even ones as large as
many of our home libraries. Fifty to one-hundred books would have
been considered quite substantial.
his own time, King Robert was renowned for his learning. When
one of the greatest of all Italian poets, Petrarch, was a young
man and wanted to be granted the laurel wreath of a poet, he came
to Naples to be examined by Robert. Another most famous writer,
Petrarch's contemporary, Giovanni Boccaccio, lived in Naples for
a time and was often at King Robert's court. Boccaccio was also
a courtier in Naples during the reign of Queen Giovanna I. His
best known work, the "Decameron" was supposedly dedicated to the
young queen. Queen Giovanna I was one of the last of the Angevin
line. (There was a second Giovanna not long afterwards.)
in Sorrento, if you once more stood on the cliffs and looked
at the nearest point of land, and if you had super vision, you
could see the ruins of an old Roman villa, and what is known locally
as "The Baths of Queen Giovanna"--"I Bagni della Regina Giovanna".
This lovely spot is made by the sea coming in under an arch of
rocks to form a wonderful natural swimming pool. Local legend
has it that the Queen was such a nymphomaniac that she took one
lover after another, often times brought one out for a dip, and
when she had had her way with him, threw him off the cliff.
was a much maligned queen during her whole reign. We think of
gossip columnists and yellow journalism as belonging to our own
time. But the Middle Ages, and perhaps every Age since the beginning
of recorded history, has had its counterpart of the national Enquirer
or the vilifiers of Talk Radio or even the propaganda of the the
so-called responsible Press. Throughout the Middle Ages, there
were chroniclers, record keepers, the historians of the time,
who spread terrible rumors against any leader of the opposition.
I think too often some past historians have either been much too
uncritical of any old scribe or else have been much too titillated
by all that salacious gossip that has been passed down through
Giovanna! One event that was taken as absolute proof of her depravity
happened when Bridget of Sweden came to visit. Bridget reported
she was scandalized by the colorful dress and by that noisy bunch
at court. Worst of all, when she was in her room that night, she
had a vision -- she called it an ecstatic vision-- where she saw
Queen Giovanna doing all sorts of sexual acts, again and again.
Well, that proved it! Particularly, since this pious young woman
was made a saint shortly afterward. (You just have to wonder exactly
what an "ecstatic vision" entails.)
luck never changed. In the end, she was besieged in the new Castle
by her nephew, Charles of Durazzo. After promising her a safe
conduct if she surrendered, he had her bundled off to a castle
in Basilicata and there had her smothered to death with a pillow.
of Anjou was the last unlucky Angevin to rule the kingdom. He
was overthrown by Alfonso, the Aragon king of Sicily. Now for
the first time in over 100 years the Kingdom was reunited once
again. It was now, also the first time it was officially called
"The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies".
like many of his predecessors, was a learned man. He particularly
loved the works of Livy and anything that smacked of ancient
Rome. Before he made his official triumphal entrance into Naples,
he caused a large hole to be made in the city walls so he might
drive his Roman chariot through the breach, and through the street
of the city all the way to the New Castle. A lovely, white, carved
marble arch made to commemorate his victory still stands over
the entrance to the castle.
Maschio Angioino, the New Castle
Alfonso came his illegitimate son, Ferrante, a very disagreeable,
sadistic young man. After making peace with some of the rebellious
nobles of the realm, he invited them all to dinner in the New
Castle. After a sumptuous feast, for dessert he called in
the soldiers who killed some of them and threw the rest in the
dungeons. Supposedly, Ferrante kept a crocodile or two swimming
around in the moat outside for fast and easy executions.
successor, Alfonso II did patronize the Arts, but he seems to
have inherited the same propensity for cruelty. They called him
"Dio delle Carne" Perhaps, that could be loosely translated as
"God of Beastly Habits". After came Ferrante II, and then the
last of the Aragon dynasty, Federigo, who was defeated by his
the next couple of centuries --1516 to 1713-- the kingdom
was ruled by Spanish Viceroys, appointed by the Spanish Hapsburg
kings. It was almost a feudal land during these centuries. The
taxes were oppressive and the government tended to be ever more
repressive. The nobles were encouraged to leave their large estates
and settle down in the capitol to a life of luxury in their grand
palaces Obviously, the barons were much easier to control in the
city and there was much less chance of rebellion.
few statistics that are fascinating and illuminating: In 1723,
in the Kingdom, the Church owned 2/3rds of the landed property,
the nobles owned 2/9ths and that left 1/9th for the rest of the
people. At the beginning of the 17th Century, Naples had a population
of over 300,000, making it the second largest city in Europe,
after Paris. By the end of the 1600s, it was still about the 4th
Spanish Viceroys were replaced by the Austrian Viceroys, appointed
by the Austrian Hapsburg kings. They ruled the kingdom for 21
years from 1713 to 1734 until Charles III, the son of the Spanish
Bourbon king, was given the throne as part of the '"rearrangement"
of Europe by the great powers after the War of the Polish Succession.
Neapolitan Bourbons had a long reign from 1734 to 1860. The First
one, Charles III was certainly the best and the brightest. During
his 25 years as king he built the San Carlo Opera house, the Royal
Palace in nearby Caserta --said to rival Versailles-- and also
the lovely Capodimonte which now houses Naples magnificent Art
the death of his father, Charles sailed off to become King
of Spain, leaving his young son, Ferdinando to rule the kingdom.
He also left an older son in Naples who was, to put it in clinical
terms, "crazy as a loon". Very wisely he left an able administrator
in charge, Tanucci, to help, or lead, the young Ferdinand. Unfortunately,
Ferdinand IV (later known as Ferdinand I) was not very well educated.
His parents were afraid too much study would overtax his brain
and he might end up as "bonkers" as his older brother.
and his successors lived and ruled during often tumultuous and
dramatic times in history. With the exception of Charles
III, they could, not too unjustly, be called the "Boring Bourbons".
Ferdinando I's main pleasure in life was hunting in the royal
Preserves outside of Naples where he could bang away all day at
any thing that either flew or walked on four legs.
married a very industrious woman, Maria Carolina, daughter of
the Empress of Austria Maria Theresa and sister to Marie Antoinette.
For many years, Maria Carolina, first with the minister, Tanucci,
and later with another famous minister, Acton, in effect, ruled
the kingdom, although Ferdinando did have absolute veto power
which he exercised from time to time. Twice during his long 65
year reign, they had to flee to Sicily. They fled the first French
invasion in 1799.
French Revolution had a tremendous impact on political thought
throughout Europe. Even though in the Kingdom its republicanism
never filtered very far down into the ranks of the common people,
there grew up among the more progressive minded educated men and
women a great yearning for political reform and for an end to
absolute monarchy with its often despotic laws. At the time of
this first French invasion, after the Bourbons fled to Sicily,
a Republic was established in Naples, the Parthenopean Republic,
so called after the name of the first Greek city to be built on
the site before Naples, the city of Parthenope.
the Republic lasted less than a year before the Royal Forces,
with the help of the English Admiral Nelson, defeated it and hung
most of its leaders. Ferdinando and his Court returned to Naples
until 1806, when once again they were forced to flee to Sicily
after Napoleon invaded and conquered Italy. Napoleon installed
his brother, Joseph Bonaparte as king in Naples. But, after a
couple of years, Joseph went off to become king of Spain, and
Napoleon's brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, became king. Actually,
Murat did manage to institute some much needed reforms into the
kingdom, but all was undone when he and Napoleon were defeated.
Once more the Bourbons returned to rule in Naples.
son, Francesco I, succeeded to the throne, but only lived to reign
for 5 years, before his son, Ferdinando II became king. Ferdinando
II was a hail fellow-well met sort. Hunting was still the family
addiction. The king couldn't speak Italian. He spoke only Neapolitan,
which was the official language of the court. Ferdinando's nick
name was the "Bomba", meaning "Bomb", supposedly stemming from
his plans for a bombardment that never came off. Looking at his
portraits, it seem perhaps he should have been called a "Bomb"
because he was so big around he looked as if he were about to
in all, Ferdinando II was a fairly popular king, although
his rule was far from an enlightened one, but then, he wasn't
a very enlightened man. He did try to do some things to improve
the lot of his people. He built the first railroad in Italy, and
he also built the coast road from Naples to Sorrento and on to
Amalfi. Before this road, travelers usually had to go by boat
to towns down the coast.
last Bourbon king was the ill-fated young man, Francesco II, whose
reign only lasted a year before he was defeated and forced to
flee into exile forever. For now, in 1860 Garibaldi, one of Italy's
greatest patriotic heroes, marched into the South. For it was
the historic time of the Risorgimento, the Unification of Italy
into one nation. Thus the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies ceased to
be. Naples was no longer a royal capitol. However, it remains,
for many of us, a splendid, exciting city, one of the oldest and
historically rich cities of Europe, and one of the most beautiful.