Ferrante_I_of_NaplesFerrante/Ferdinand I of Naples, Source: Wikimedia

Alfonso V of Aragon and I of Sicily and Naples left Aragon and Sicily to his legitimate heir, John, and Naples to his illegitimate son, Ferdinand (also written as Ferrante). Clara Erskine Clement describes the place where Ferdinand was declared Alfonso’s heir in Naples:

The church of S. Lorenzo at Naples, built in 1266 by the first prince of the House of Anjou who reigned there, is rich in a variety of historical associations. The nave was almost entirely rebuilt three centuries after its foundation, but the portal and choir still preserve the Gothic architecture of the Angevine dynasty. Behind the high altar are the funeral monuments of the House of Durazzo, the second branch of the House of Anjou. They are elaborate in design and execution, and are attributed to Masuccio II.; but no reliable proof that they were his work now exists.

In the pavement, near the entrance, may be read the name of Giambattista della Porta, 1550-1616, famed as the discoverer of the camera obscura, and the originator of the plan of the encyclopaedia. In this church Boccaccio first saw the “Fiammetta,” whose beauty he celebrated, supposed to have been Mary, the natural daughter of King Robert; and in the monastery attached to this church the monks were happy in entertaining Petrarch as their guest.

It was in the chapter-house of S. Lorenzo that Alfonso I. after the Pope had legitimized Ferdinand held a great parliament of priests and barons, and, under the title of Duke of Calabria, proclaimed this son his heir to the Neapolitan kingdom. Ferdinand’s coronation occurred later at the Cathedral of Barletta. We have seen that his rights were disputed by John, the Angevine Duke of Calabria, who was invited to the contest by the Neapolitan barons who hated Ferdinand on account of his cruelties.

Like his father, King René, Duke John struggled to reclaim the Kingdom of Naples:

Duke John, who was the French Governor of Genoa and already had a footing in Italy, was quite ready to attempt the recovery of the throne which his father had lost, and King René encouraged his son to assume his rights and act in his stead.

The Duke of Calabria repeated the experience of his father in failing to obtain helpful allies. However, he landed at Castellammare, and many Neapolitan nobles hastened to range themselves under his banner. In July, 1460, near Sarno, he gained a brilliant victory over the army of Ferdinand, which, had it been followed up with energy, should have taken him triumphantly to Naples. But neither the Duke of Milan, the Medici of Florence, nor the King of France, was in favor of his cause; the Genoese, too, united with the Duke of Milan in opposing John, and the Pope, Pius II., was avowedly the friend of Ferdinand. In the face of such opposition the Duke of Calabria must have known that the hopes of his house regarding the throne of Naples rested on but slight foundations.

Nevertheless, he bravely continued his struggles until, at Troja, in 1462, he was defeated in a decisive battle, which endured six hours, and is celebrated as one of the fiercest struggles of the fifteenth century. John retreated to Castellammare, leaving three hundred prisoners and five hundred horses in the hands of his foes. Here many nobles surrounded the Duke; and the great condottiere, Piccinino, privately said to him,

“To-day, if you wish, you may be master of this kingdom.”
“And how?” demanded the Duke.
“Arrest all these men and send them to Provence. It is they who continue the war, arid without them you will have the advantage.”
“No member of my family has been a traitor,” answered the Duke, “and I will not be the first. If it pleases God that I shall be a king, I shall be; if not, let His will be done.”

In 1463 the Duke of Calabria intrenched himself in the island of Ischia, hoping always that France would come to his assistance ; but in this very year Louis XI. made an alliance with the Duke of Milan, and ceded to that noble his claims on Genoa, thus indicating that France might even become the friend of Ferdinand himself.

John returned to Provence in 1464, and two years later, the vacant throne of Aragon being offered to King René, the Duke was sent as lieutenant-general and commandant of the forces, to Barcelona, where he spent years in contention and warfare with John of Aragon. However, René, by one means and another, had made alliances and brought his plans to such a point, that, by increasing his army, in 1469 there seemed to be a prospect of success for the much tried Duke of Calabria, when suddenly, in December, 1470, he died at Barcelona. Poison was suspected, and the examination of his ‘body justified this theory of the cause of his death; but the author of the crime was never discovered.

After this terrible affliction, the ever persistent René, still claiming the titles of King of Aragon and Sicily, retired to Provence, where he lived nine years more, among those who loved him and called him the “good King René,” until, in July, 1480, ” the illustrious King René, this Prince of Peace and Mercy, rendered his soul to God amid the tears and sobs of all his people, and above all of those of his capital.” Fortunately, the passion of Rend for music, painting, and poetry served to make him forgetful of his defeats and misfortunes, which would have driven another sort of man to madness.

With the Angevin threat effectively removed after 1462,

during the succeeding twelve years, [King Ferdinand I] was engaged in plots and plans which allied him with the Milanese Sforza and the Florentine Medici, and enabled him to maintain his authority in spite of the disaffection of his subjects. Everything was accomplished by dishonesty and treachery; neither in Ferdinand, nor in his allies, nor in Pope Innocent VIII., did a spark of honesty exist.

After 1480, Italy enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. Ferdinand did face a threat from abroad:

In 1480 the Turks gained possession of Otranto, and Ferdinand assembled a great parliament of priests and barons at Foggia, to concert measures against the invaders. The Turks were repelled by the son of Ferdinand, afterwards Alphonso II.; and Ferdinand, fearing lest Taranto should also fall into the hands of the Mohammedans, cut through the rocky isthmus on which the city is situated, and thus converted its site into an island.

Clara Erskine Clement describes Ferdinand’s building projects:

During the thirty-four years of his reign, cordially hated as he was, Ferdinand I. conferred on Naples some benefits for which he should be gratefully remembered. He introduced the art of printing by inviting a German, Sixtus Reissinger, to set up his press in his capital; and other
Germans following Reissinger, printing was firmly established there during Ferdinand’s life. The first book which Reissinger printed at Naples may be seen in the Museo Nazionale; it is Bartolo’s “Lectura super Codicem,” and is dated 1471. The enormous benefits which the kingdom of Naples has enjoyed from the cultivation and manufacture of silk, also established by Ferdinand, are too well known to require more than a passing mention, while some of his public works still cause his reign to be honorably remembered.

Porta_CapuanaPorta Capuana in the Nineteenth Century, Source: Wikimedia.

Ferdinand built the massive Castel del Carmine, and from it extended the city walls to S. Giovanni a Carbonara. He fortified these walls with towers, curtains, fosses, and counterscarps, under the direction of Giuliano da Maiano, and opened several new gates, placing his own statue above each one of them. Some of these gates and portions of the old walls still remain. The Porta Capuana dates from 1484; it is of white marble, flanked by two handsome round towers, and is not only a noble monument to the art of Maiano, but is one of the finest Renaissance gateways still in existence. The towers are inscribed with the words “L’Onore” and “La Virtu,” and were called by those names; the statue of Ferdinand was removed from this gateway in 1535, when Charles V. passed beneath it to make his triumphal entrance into Naples.

As the name of this gate indicates, the road to Capua passed through it at the time of its building. Now the Corso Garibaldi runs outside it, leading from the sea to the Strada Foria, not far from the Botanical Garden. Here, too, near the gate are railway-stations, while far away stretch the Paduli, or marshes, which are the kitchen garden of Naples, where one crop succeeds another throughout the year. No other example of the Neapolitan architecture of the fifteenth century surpasses this gate in artistic interest; while the historical associations which connect it with the marching of armies, with triumphal processions, with coronations and jubilant festivals, as well as with scenes of sadness and sorrow, are too many to be even catalogued here.

Ferdinand also strengthened the Castel Sant’ Elmo, known in his time as the Castello di San Martino, and erected a lighthouse at the extremity of the Molo. With the aid of some of his barons, he continued the rebuilding of the cathedral, begun by his father; and in commemoration of this good work of the nobles, their arms are sculptured on the pillars of the church.

King Ferdinand faced a serious threat from France at the end of his reign:

In 1492 new disturbances arose. Pietro di Medici and King Ferdinand made an alliance against the Pope and the Duke of Milan, and the latter revenged himself by inviting Charles VIII. of France to prosecute his claim to the throne of Naples as the representative of the House of
Anjou. Ludovico Sforza succeeded in dazzling the eyes and blinding the judgment of the son of the cautious Louis XI., and in spite of the disapproval of his wisest counsellors he enlisted in a campaign that he was persuaded would make him the equal of the great Charlemagne in glory.

His first conquest should be Naples; the second, Greece; and continuing his triumphant course to the East, driving all enemies before him, the Holy Sepulchre and the city of Jerusalem should be rescued from the power of the Turks, and brought safely into the bosom of the Christian Church. Such was the sum of his anticipated triumphs.

Before entering upon so important an undertaking, Charles VIII. made many preparations which he believed would assure him success, the most momentous of which were treaties of peace with the sovereigns of England and Spain, the King of the Romans, and the Archduke Philip.

Ferdinand I. was greatly alarmed by the prospect of this invasion. He knew how heartily his subjects hated him, and how gladly they would welcome any change, since they could not be more oppressed than they already were. He hastened to make an alliance with Pope Alexander VI., promising to aid him in his chief ambition, the advancement of his children, but had secured no other allies, when, in the midst of these anxious preparations. early in 1494, “the old Fox of Aragon” died, leaving his kingdom to his son Alfonso II.

Fans of the Showtime series The Borgias may recall that King Ferrante had a private museum displaying the mummified remains of his enemies. Jacob Burckhardt wrote that

Besides hunting, which he practiced regardless of all rights of property, his pleasures were of two kinds: he liked to have his opponents near him, either alive in well-guarded prisons, or dead and embalmed, dressed in the costume which they wore in their lifetime.” Fearing no one, he would take great pleasure in conducting his guests on a tour of his prized “museum of mummies.

Returning to Clara Erskine Clement:

Ferdinand I. was buried in the sacristy of S. Domenico Maggiore, where, of the forty-five crimson sarcophagi ranged around the walls, ten contain all that remains of that number of his royal house. They are surrounded by the tombs of many famous men and women, among them being that of the Marquis of Pescara, the husband of the gifted and beloved Vittoria Colonna.

In the Museum at Naples there is a picture of the Beato Nicolas Martyr, which has been called by some writers a portrait of Ferdinand I. of Aragon; but I find no warrant for such a claim, which is certainly incapable of proof, especially as Tesauro, the artist to whom it is attributed, is said to have died in 1380.