Ferdinand IIFerdinand of Aragon, painted by Michael Sittow

The first result of the war of the Sicilian Vespers was that two sovereigns called themselves kings of Sicily, namely, those of the house of Aragon, who remained in possession, and those of the house of Anjou, who never recovered what Charles had lost. The kingdoms were therefore called the ‘Two Sicilies,’ the one being the island and the other the mainland, with Naples for its capital, and they continued to be so called even after they were finally united under Ferdinand the Catholic, who was the Second of Sicily, the Second of Aragon, the First of united Naples and Sicily, and the Third of Naples.
–Francis Marion Crawford, The Rulers of the South (1900)

With Frederick of Naples and Louis XII of France out of the picture, Ferdinand of Aragon now ruled both the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples. They would continue under Spanish rule for three centuries, while remaining separate kingdoms. Clara Erskine Clement describes Ferdinand’s rule:

The treaty of Lyons, which put an end to the French and Spanish war, was signed in the spring of 1504; and Gonsalvo [Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba] remained in Naples, conducting the affairs of the kingdom as Viceroy, until the autumn of 1506, when Ferdinand visited that city. Meantime there had been occurrences of vast interest and importance in Spain, with which we may not here especially concern ourselves. [His wife] Queen Isabella [of Castile] had died; Philip had reigned, and passed off the earthly stage; Joanna was hopelessly mad; Ferdinand had married the young niece of Louis XII., and now came to Naples, not so much to visit his new kingdom as to satisfy himself of the loyalty of the Great Captain, which he had been led to suspect.

Joanna the Mad was Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter. She succeeded her mother as queen of Castile, reigning from 1504 to 1555. Ferdinand II, who was king of Aragon, sought to become regent for his daughter in Castile [he had earlier ruled Castile jointly with his wife as Ferdinand V], but the Castilian nobles feared him and instead recognized Joanna’s husband, Philip I, as king in 1506. Philip died suddenly before the year was over.

At Genoa, Gonsalvo met his sovereign; and at Portofino, while on their journey to Naples, they received the news that Philip had died a few days after Ferdinand had sailed from Barcelona. The Castilians sent messages imploring the king to return to them at once; but he continued his course towards Naples, and was everywhere received with enthusiasm. When he reached the capital, he was welcomed with every possible honor and shouts of joy. An old chronicler, Los Palacios, described the entry into Naples, and Prescott thus relates his story:

“The monarch was arrayed in a long, flowing mantle of crimson velvet, lined with satin of the same color. On his head was a black velvet bonnet, garnished with a resplendent ruby, and a pearl of inestimable price. He rode a noble white charger, whose burnished caparisons dazzled the eye with their splendor. By his side was his young queen, mounted on a milk-white palfrey, and wearing a skirt or undergarment of rich brocade, and a French robe simply fastened with clasps, or loops of fine wrought gold.

“On the mole they were received by the Great Captain, who, surrounded by his guard of halberdiers, and his silken array of pages wearing his device, displayed all the pomp and magnificence of his household. After passing under a triumphal arch, where Ferdinand swore to respect the liberties and privileges of Naples, the royal pair moved forward under a gorgeous canopy, borne by the members of the municipality, while the reins of their steeds were held by some of the principal nobles. After them followed the other lords and cavaliers of the kingdom, with the clergy and ambassadors assembled from every part of Italy and Europe, bearing congratulations and presents from their respective courts. As the procession halted in various quarters of the city, it was greeted with joyous bursts of music from a brilliant assemblage of knights and ladies, who did homage by kneeling down and saluting the hands of their new sovereigns. At length, after defiling through the principal streets and squares, it reached the great cathedral, where the day was devoutly closed with solemn prayer and thanksgiving.”

Gratified as Ferdinand was by all these demonstrations, he turned, as soon as possible, to the serious affairs of the kingdom. He instituted various reforms; called a parliament in which important questions were settled; oaths of allegiance to his daughter Joanna and her posterity were made; the Angevine proprietors were re-established in their old estates by a decree, which was, however, almost ineffectual; and, in a word, the Neapolitans were disappointed and dissatisfied with this king, from whom they had hoped so much, and who had, in fact, burdened them with new imposts. But finally, just before leaving the city, he granted the request of the people for the re-establishment of the University, which somewhat soothed their outraged feelings.

ceriñolaThe Great Captain observes the corpse of the Duke of Nemours after the Battle of Cerignola. Painting by Federico Madrazo

Ferdinand was ably seconded by Gonsalvo da Cordova in all that he undertook, and he could not fail to see how much the people loved the great soldier. But in spite of this knowledge; in spite of the fact that the conquest of Naples and the defeat of the French were due to this general; in spite of the good service he had rendered his country and the masterly qualities he had displayed, both as soldier and ruler, Ferdinand appointed a new viceroy, and took the Great Captain with him on his return to Castile. Each year, for three years, he made a similar change; and when he died, in 1516, Naples had little reason to mourn his death. Prescott says:

“Gonsalvo remained a day or two behind his royal master in Naples, to settle his private affairs. In addition to the heavy debts incurred by his own generous style of living, he had assumed those of many of bis old companions in arms, with whom the world had gone less prosperously than with himself. The claims of his creditors, therefore, had swollen to such an amount, that, in order to satisfy them fully, he was driven to sacrifice part of the domains lately granted him. Having discharged all the obligations of a man of honor, he prepared to quit the land, over which he had ruled with so much splendor and renown for nearly four years. The Neapolitans in a body followed him to the vessel; and nobles, cavaliers, and even ladies of the highest rank lingered on the shore to bid him a last adieu. Not a dry eye, says the historian, was to be seen. So completely had he dazzled their imaginations and captivated their hearts by his brilliant and popular manners, his munificent spirit, and the equity of his administration, qualities more useful, and probably more rare in those turbulent times, than military talent.”

After the death of Ferdinand, Naples passed nominally into the hands of the mad Joanna of Castile, to be transferred, a year later, to the great Charles V., to remain for many years under his memorable government.