Alfonso IIAlfonso, Duke of Calabria, later Alfonso II, King of Naples
(Source Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

When Ferdinand I, King of Naples, died, the French King, Charles VIII, was preparing to invade. As Clara Erskine Clement describes the ensuing conflict:

Had Ferdinand lived, he would have avoided war with France, if possible; but Alfonso [II], who was as much hated as his father had been, was of a proud and determined character, and prepared to defend himself against his enemy. He made an alliance with Pope Alexander, and together they proposed friendship to the Sultan Bajazet, and advised him to attack the French, warning him of the plan that Charles VIII. had made against Constantinople. The Sultan considered the threatened danger as too distant to demand immediate attention, and declined the alliance with the Holy Father and the King of Naples.

Meantime Charles built a fleet at Genoa, and equipped an army in Dauphiny, hiring many Swiss and German mercenaries. His preparations were made so leisurely that the Italians under the command of Don Frederick, son of King Alfonso, began hostilities by an attack on Genoa, but were easily repulsed by French soldiers led by the Duke of Orleans.

Charles VIII

At length, in August, 1494, Charles VIII. crossed the Alps, and made what might almost be termed a triumphal march to Naples, where he was welcomed as a deliverer, Alphonso II. having fled to Sicily, and his son, Ferdinand II., called Fernandino, to whom he had resigned the Neapolitan throne, to Ischia. It was not long, however, before the Neapolitans, who had confidently looked for good government under the French monarch, found that they were little better off than they had been under the Aragonese. While Charles was not the oppressive tyrant that Ferdinand I. and Alphonso II. had each been, in turn, he placed little value upon the kingdom he had so easily acquired. The French officers were insolent to the Neapolitans, and, from Charles down to his hired soldiers, the army was devoted to riotous living and all kinds of dissipation. The principal Neapolitans were disgusted and angry at the high-handed manner in which Charles made large grants of land to his followers, and conferred on them
the desirable offices in the kingdom.

In his passage through Italy, Charles had, in one way and another, incurred the enmity of all the rulers with whom he had come in contact. The Pope, the Florentines, and even the Duke of Milan, who had invited him hither, were now equally anxious to be rid of his presence in the peninsula. Ferdinand of Spain, and Maximilian, King of the Romans, each had their reasons for wishing Charles on the other side of the Alps, and a league between all these powers was speedily formed against the French monarch.

The knowledge of this league determined Charles to return to France ; this he did with but few and slight hindrances, reaching his own country fourteen months after he first entered Italy, having left the Count of Montpensier with several captains and a small army to rule the Neapolitans, and complete the conquest of their country. As neither reinforcements nor money were sent to the French troops left in Naples, they soon considered themselves deserted and forgotten, and became utterly demoralized.

Turning to Alfonso’s flight from Naples and his cultural and religious benefactions:

As Alfonso II. had been king less than a year when he fled to Sicily, he erected no monuments to his reign, and escaped at the menace of danger as if chased by the ghosts of those he had put to death. His stepmother urged him to remain but three days, that he might complete a whole year as sovereign. But so cruel a man could not be courageous, and he went, taking with him much wine of many
sorts, which he dearly loved, and seeds to plant a garden which he intended to make. At Messina he lived with the monks of Mount Oliveto, his favorite order; and until his death, in 1495, he fasted, prayed, and gave abundant alms, as if to atone for the frightful sins he had committed, if we may believe Commines when he says: “He considered himself no longer worthy to be king, he had been guilty of such crimes and cruelties. There never was a man more savage or worse than he, or more abandoned to debauchery.” On the morning of his birth a fiery meteor appeared in the heavens, and his grandfather predicted that he would bring ruin to his house and kindle a frightful war in Italy.

While still Duke of Calabria, Alfonso II. had fully indulged his love of building fine villas, surrounded by gardens and parks in which were fountains, and hedges of myrtle and citron, and roads for pleasure-riding. Doubtless the example of this prince excited that love of architectural enterprises which characterized the nobility, statesmen, and all Neapolitans of wealth at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Sant'Anna dei LombardiSant’Anna dei Lombardi, located in square Monteoliveto in central Naples
(Source: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

This sovereign was a great benefactor to the church and monastery of Monte Oliveto, also called S. Anna dei Lombardi. He adorned this church with numerous works of art; and as some most noble families vied with him in his pious work, Monte Oliveto became a treasury of the art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As Alfonso affected the Olivetan or White Benedictines more than any other order, it was not unusual for him to sit at their table in the refectory, where he was always welcome. He lavished revenues and lands on this monastery, and his monument in their church is the work of the celebrated Giovanni da Nola. In the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre there is a singular group in terra cotta, rather coarsely conceived and executed, by Guido Manzoni, called Modanino. It represents Jesus Christ in the sepulchre, surrounded by six life-size figures, all kneeling. They are portraits of contemporaries of the sculptor; Alfonso is represented as S. John, and the figure next him is his son Ferdinand.