Charles V Empire map

After the death of Ferdinand II of Aragon, the kingdom of Naples passed to his daughter, Joanna, and to her son Charles, who ruled the large territories in the posession of the Hapsburg dynasty. He was Charles I of Spain, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles II of Sicily and Charles IV of Naples. The period of his reign in Naples is extensively described by Clara Erskine Clement:

From 1127, when Roger II. established a monarchy in Naples, to the partition of the kingdom in 1500, the actual sovereigns had oftentimes resided in their capital, and viceroys had been appointed only when the heirs to the throne were too young to rule, or in the absence of the monarchs themselves; but after the treaty of Granada, during two hundred and thirty-four years, no sovereign of Naples resided there, and a long series of viceroys represented the Spanish, the Austrian-Spanish, and the German-Austrian rulers, who were sometimes kings of Naples only, and again of both Sicily and Naples.

The story of Naples from 1516 to 1527 is a confused account of a certain part in the events which principally concerned a trinity of Popes, Julius II., Leo X., and Clement VII. During these years the French and Spaniards were striving for power in Italy; but no French troops invaded the Neapolitan territory until 1527, when the last important effort was made to establish the claims of the House of Anjou, then vested in the descendants of Violante, daughter of the bon roi René, and represented by the Count of Vaudemont.

When, in 1528, the great Marshal Lautrec entered the peninsula with his army, his success in overthrowing the existing government seemed almost a foregone conclusion. The people, worn out in body and spirit by Spanish oppression, were glad of any new master. In the Abruzzi they even went out to meet the French, and welcomed them as friends; while the Spanish viceroy, Don Ugo de Moncada, imputed no treachery to the barons who raised the French standard in Naples itself. Capua and other cities yielded to Lautrec, and he proceeded to blockade Naples on the east. Thus far all was well with the army of Francis I.

But now the Prince of Orange, Captain-General of the Imperial Roman Army, appeared on the scene. He fortified the heights of S. Martino, which, with the monastery and the castle of S. Elmo, commanded the city and shut off all enemies from the west. Moncada and Orange disagreed in a way that might have resulted in the advantage of the French, had not the former fallen in a battle at Capo d’ Orso.

The siege was prolonged; the heat of midsummer engendered fevers; the soldiers died by thousands, and Lautrec himself fell a victim to disease in the middle of August. All thought of the conquest of Naples was abandoned, and under the command of the Marquis of Saluzzo, the miserable remnant of the French troops reached Aversa, where they encountered the Prince of Orange. Most of the French officers, as well as the Italians who had joined them, were made prisoners of war. Many soldiers were slain, others fled to the Abruzzi and escaped; but after a few days no Frenchman could be found in the Neapolitan

Philibert of Orange was viceroy for a single year; but in that time he so divided the properties of the Angevines between the Aragonese whom he favored, that it required the extinction of but one more family, the Sanseverini of Salerno, to complete the final destruction of the Angevine element, and make Naples the absolute possession of Spain. Thus it resulted that when Don Pedro de Toledo the greatest viceroy of them all assumed his place, in 1532, no such questions as had troubled his predecessors, concerning the rival claimants to the throne, remained to embarrass him, and during two centuries Spain ruled supreme in this enchanting land.

pedro de toledoDon Pedro de Toledo

Few men have been confronted with a more serious problem than that which awaited Don Pedro de Toledo when he reached Naples. In the light of our knowledge of what he did and of his methods of action, we cannot doubt that from the beginning he set himself the task of creating a prosperous and well-ordered Spanish province out of the wreck of a kingdom long harassed by the wars and claims of the royal houses which had contended for its possession. The whole country had been laid waste, and the people greatly reduced in numbers by plagues of war and pestilence were in a semi-barbarous state. Many towns had been entirely destroyed, and others so desolated that utter extinction might have proved a blessing in comparison with their misery and the impossibility of restoring them to their former estate. The great families who belonged to Naples by right of birth and inheritance had been exiled, impoverished, and humiliated beyond endurance; while those who had no claim on the respect or affection of the Neapolitans had achieved riches and usurped dignities. No human ties seemed to bind one to another; oaths were no longer respected; misery, discord, violence, and hatred reigned supreme ; no laws were enforced, and no standard of conduct, public or private, existed in all the kingdom.

Toledo, Marquis of Villafranca, had been trained to deeds of courage as a soldier, and to an understanding of statesmanship from his boyhood, by constant association with King Ferdinand and Charles V. He was forty-eight years old when he assumed his office at Naples, and at once turned his attention to the reformation of the laws and the establishment of competent tribunals of justice. He very soon transformed the old Castel Capuano into a grand court-house, where the different tribunals could be held, as they are to this day, while the prisons, located below the courts, have been abandoned.

Toledo’s legal reforms were far too numerous to be mentioned; [….]

The second great evil was the insecurity to life and property in Naples. The vilest outrages were of constant occurrence, and were largely the work of the banditti in the employ of the nobility. Toledo punished with death those who broke into houses in the daytime by means of ladders, and those found with arms upon their persons from late evening until morning. In these matters he was no respecter of persons ; and one of the first to be executed for entering by ladder was a young nobleman, Col’ Antonio Brancaccio, who was simply bent on a love adventure.

The anger and disgust of the nobles, who found that the viceroy showed them no favors, were equalled only by the satisfaction of the people, when, for the first time, the crime of a nobleman was estimated as equally reprehensible with that of a peasant. In eighteen years 18,000 persons were hanged in Naples alone; and yet, when the establishment of the Inquisition was attempted, Toledo gave it as his opinion that even against that institution itself false witnesses would be numerous. Alicarnasseo, in his Life of Don Pedro de Toledo, says: ” On one occasion, when the viceroy was in Siena, the Academy of the Intronati made a feast for him, and he hesitated not to say publicly, “I had rather be a member of your academy and be guided by such worthy women, than go to Naples to annihilate a pack of robbers in order to keep the favor of my sovereign.”

The lawlessness of the time exposed the towns on the Neapolitan coasts to great suffering. Turks, and other barbarian pirates, roamed the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas at will, while earthquakes and volcanic eruptions added their horrors to the devastations of man. These convulsions of nature destroyed Pozzuoli in 1538, after the whole coast had been desolated by pirates. The towns on the Bay of Gaeta were demolished. Ischia and Procida were destroyed by fire; while on the coasts of Calabria and Apulia, not only had the cities been plundered and desolated, but great numbers of the people had been carried into slavery.

(Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

Toledo did much for the rebuilding of Pozzuoli, and made great exertions to induce the inhabitants to return to their deserted city. He built castles and fortresses along the entire coasts from Terracina round to the upper part of Apulia. These towers are still seen, some in ruins, others in a state of greater or less preservation, a few still serving as watch-towers. He built the castle of Baiae now used as a garrison to protect the shores of the lovely bay below, and, in short, executed many remarkable works for strengthening the defences of the kingdom, outside of all that he did for the capital itself.

When fortifications were built, they must also be maintained and garrisoned, and this demanded a vast amount of money; when the sums sent to the Emperor Charles V. to aid in carrying on his constant wars were added to what was needed at home, the total amount of taxes paid by the Neapolitans is simply amazing. It is not surprising that the first outbreak of the people under Toledo’s rule was occasioned by increased taxation. It was promptly quelled. The plebeian leader was imprisoned; and when his release was demanded, he was hanged at evening, from a window of the Palace of Justice, and torches placed on each side the corpse, that all might see which way rebellion led. The next day the principal revolutionists were executed, the taxes were not lessened, and the people submitted; but Don Pedro de Toledo was no longer popular.

An attempt to establish the Inquisition aroused the hatred and indignation of the Neapolitans of all classes. They had submitted to a censorship of the press, to the extinction of the Academy of the nobles, to an edict against theological discussions and the reprinting of theological books such as had issued from their presses for twenty years ; but when spies were to be authorized and the Spanish Inquisition introduced, the very name of which inspired absolute terror, the entire populace flew to arms as with a common impulse. Don Pedro rode through the city threatening punishment to the disturbers, who had heretofore been of the common people, but were now joined by the nobles; Toledo summoned the Spanish infantry from Pozzuoli to Naples, and a bloody fray succeeded between the soldiers and the people. When Don Pedro appeared, not a hand was raised to salute him, and he was driven to a fury which was not lessened when the populace assembled at the summons of the bells of S. Lorenzo, and resolved to obey Don Pedro de Toledo no longer, and to send ambassadors to the Emperor. A deputy was in great danger of being hurled from the top of the spire when he endeavored to dissuade the people from sounding the bells, which might be construed as treason ; they also planted the imperial banners on the belfry, and formed a procession which passed through the principal streets, crying, “Union, union, in the service of God and the Emperor, and of the town!” The Marquis of Pescara, still a child, bore a crucifix at the head of this procession, in which all conditions of men were mingled; and any one who would not join it was henceforth suspected as a traitor.

Don Pedro treated the whole matter lightly, and assured the ambassadors that if they went on account of the Inquisition only, he could promise them that it would not be established; he then added, “But if you go as my accusers, depart at once, with the blessing of God.” When he learned that they were about to obey him, he said jocosely to those about him, “We will henceforth let time run merrily, my lords, for I have no longer any care, since I am no more the Viceroy of Naples.”

In reality he was most uneasy, and especially so because the barriers between the nobles and the people, always a great reliance for autocrats, were being broken down. The people, too, had shown that they did not mean rebellion against Charles V.; their demonstration was against Toledo, and in opposition to the institution of the dreaded tribunal; their war-cries were: “pain and the kingdom; life to the Emperor, death to the Inquisition!”

There were now almost daily quarrels between the Spanish troops and the citizens, and the condition of Naples was most alarming. Shops were closed, and all business suspended; courts were no longer held; many of (the principal inhabitants fled ; adventurers delivered exciting orations in the streets; and only by the most heroic exertions of the deputies were the people restrained from pointing the heavy cannon kept at S. Lorenzo on the Castel Nuovo, from which the artillery had opened on the town.

At length one of the ambassadors to the Emperor returned, bringing messages of comfort to the Neapolitans. The Emperor would pardon their offences if they at once laid down their arms, and assured them that he had never intended to establish the Inquisition in their midst.

Charles VCharles V, by Titian

It was humiliating to the people to submit anew to Don Pedro de Toledo, but it was done. The viceroy was not too exacting, and appeared not to know that far fewer arms were surrendered at Castel Nuovo than the insurgents must have had: He informed the courts that, save thirty-six men, who were excluded from the amnesty, none would be tried for past offences. In the end but one man was executed; the others were warned and escaped. But the result of this insurrection was most disastrous to Naples; it had endured but a month, and in that time two thousand men had fallen and one hundred and fifty edifices had been destroyed. In the midst of these losses the Emperor confirmed the title of “most faithful” to the city of Naples, and at the same time fined it one hundred thousand ducats.

The visit of Charles V. to Naples in 1535, three years after Toledo had assumed his place there apparently satisfied the Emperor as to the conduct of the kingdom under his viceroy. Charles complimented Toledo, and told him that he did not find him as bad as he had been painted; and from this time no complaints against Toledo had weight with the Emperor.

In honor of this visit the Porta Capuana was made the most ornamental gate of Naples. The statue of its builder, Ferdinand I. of Aragon, was removed, and sculptures in marble, by Giovanni da Nola, were added; its handsome round towers, of which we have spoken, were found to be a worthy support for its new ornamentation.

Palazzo_GravinaPalazzo Orsini di Gravina (Source: Wikipedia)

It was on the occasion of this visit that Charles admired the half-finished Orsini or Gravina Palace, now the General Post and Telegraph Office. To the Emperor’s compliments Orsini replied, ” It is your Majesty’s when finished; and on account of this answer neither that duke nor his descendants attempted its completion. This edifice is of interest because it shows the condition of Neapolitan architecture at the close of the fifteenth century, when it was begun as a rival to the celebrated Palazzo Sanseverino.

At that period architecture was a passion with the wealthy at Naples, and it is much to be regretted that so few works of that era still exist, and these are by no means in their first estate. Gabriele d’ Agnolo, one of the first to introduce the classical revival into Naples, built the Orsini Palace. On the frieze the Duke had an inscription, announcing that he built the palace for himself, his family, and all his friends. These hospitable words have disappeared, and the whole structure is much disfigured by the most objectionable “modern improvements.”

Interesting as the life of Don Pedro de Toledo is, it cannot here be given in detail. Charles V. knew that he owed the security of the crown of Naples to his viceroy, as well as the large revenues which enabled him to prosecute his designs in other countries; and yet it was through the bidding of the Emperor that Toledo lost his life. When the Republic of Siena revolted, Charles chose Don Pedro to command the army sent for its subjection. At Leghorn the viceroy was seized with what is now called pneumonia; the physicians, unable to cope with the disease, explained that Leghorn, being under the influence of Neptune, had too severe a climate for an inhabitant of Pozzuoli, which was within the province of Vulcan. Toledo was removed to Pisa, and then to Florence, where he died, in February, 1553.


His tomb is at the back of the high altar in the church of S. Giacomo degli Spagnuoli, erected by Toledo in 1540. This tomb is called the masterpiece of Giovanni Merliano da Nola, who evidently intended to make this monument to his patron as sumptuous as possible. A sarcophagus rests on a richly decorated pedestal, at the corners of which are four graceful female figures, representing Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance. Three sides of the sarcophagus are filled with bas-reliefs, representing the achievements of the viceroy in the wars with the Turks; the fourth side bears the inscription. Statues of Don Pedro de Toledo and his wife, in the attitude of prayer, surmount the sarcophagus. The whole work is carefully and elaborately executed, although the bas-reliefs are confused and overcrowded; and the Neapolitans may congratulate themselves that it was not removed to Spain, as was at one time intended.

While the love of art had largely increased among the Neapolitans, the frequent changes and disturbances which occurred in their government previous to the reign of Charles V., had rendered any essential enlargement or improvement of the capital quite impossible. After 1530 it grew rapidly larger, gaining, as was estimated, a third in thirty years. A large part of its improvement was accomplished and much more inaugurated during the twenty-one years when Toledo was viceroy; two miles were added to the circumference of Naples, and the population was much increased, while the bustle and crowds in the streets indicated industry and prosperity. . . . .

Many of the lesser improvements so-called of Don Pedro de Toledo were most important. He paved the streets for the first time, and cleared away corners and angles which interfered with cleanliness and ventilation. He drained swamps near Naples, and converted them into profitable fields; and not the least of his labors, from which great benefits resulted, was the wholesale destruction of ancient covered passages and porticos, which were not only filthy, disease-producing labyrinths, but also afforded concealment to thieves and cut-throats, who made them places of terror by day, and emerged by night to commit all sorts of grievous crimes. . . . .

Unfortunately, there are associations of another sort connected with the memory of Don Pedro de Toledo. That he completed the ruin of Baiae by levelling all that remained of the Roman temples and villas, as well as the churches and dwellings of more modern days, in order to get material for the grand, massive castle which he there erected, is unpardonable from the standpoint of the antiquarian and barbarous to every artistic sense. But his cruelties especially in the persecution of the Protestants in Calabria were so horrible as to make him hateful, even now, when more than three centuries have rolled out a perspective in which many noble deeds of the same period are quite imperceptible.

“The evil that men. do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.”

At the desire of the Pope, Toledo marched in person with a special commission from the Inquisition, and at S. Sisto, La Guardia, and Cosenza perpetrated such atrocities as can scarcely be named. Neither women nor children were spared the most shocking tortures; and one man, who was covered with pitch and burned in the square of Cosenza, may even be said to have been more mercifully murdered than many others who suffered such cunning tortures as fiends only could devise.

But Toledo accomplished the work that his sovereign expected of him, and that he had set himself to do; he left Naples a Spanish province, completely under the iron rule of Spanish policy. The important posts in fortresses and castles were held by Spaniards; the reforms of the government projected by Ferdinand were carried to completion by Toledo ; in fact, at the death of the great viceroy, Charles Y. could congratulate himself that his rule over the Neapolitans was firmly established, and in good faith he was bound to admit that this result had been brought about by the wise and faithful service of Don
Pedro de Toledo. . . . .

Soon after the death of Toledo, Charles V. retired to the monastery of Yuste, and his son, Philip II., reigned in his stead.