italy_16thDetail from a map of Italy at the end of the Sixteenth Century showing the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily.

When the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V retired to a monastery, he left the empire to his brother Ferdinand I and his Spanish and Italian possessions to his son, Philip II. Clara Erskine Clement describes the king’s relationship with the kingdom of Naples:

During forty-four years this king had eight viceroys and two lieutenants in Naples, no one of whom remained five entire years. We shall not rehearse the reasons for these changes, nor the special acts of these officials in detail. So much had been accomplished under Toledo, that in a certain sense the responsibilities of the viceroys were much lessened, especially as the Consejo de Italia, at Madrid, for the oversight of Spanish interests in Italy, actually governed the Italian provinces. The viceroy and the Consiglio Colaterale at Naples simply executed the orders received from the Spanish capital. When the viceroy was a man of great ability, he sometimes changed this condition of things; but, as a rule, he and his council of five the majority being Spaniards were guided by the higher authority of the council at Madrid.

Even so, the viceroy at Naples had immense power, since the ministers of the principal departments were Spaniards, and at the palace of the viceroy the offices for the administration of justice, finance, and war were centred. Thus, so far as the Neapolitans were concerned, the whole government was concentrated in the viceroy, no matter who directed his policy.

The reign of Philip II. was a dark epoch in the history of Naples. All sorts of abuses were practised. The offices conferred by the king were dependent upon the recommendation of the viceroy, and were sold by him. This led to the most cruel oppression. The taxes were enormous, as the men who bought offices wrung the price of them from their vassals; houses were frequently unroofed, and the beams sold to pay the taxes. The people, driven to despair, became robbers and murderers; and although the number of executions and severe punishments was greater than in Spain and the rest of Italy combined, yet the crimes were not lessened.

The cruelties practised by the nobles on their own estates made them seem to be all powerful, but the severity shown them in matters that came within the control of the viceroy gave them the aspect of slaves. Lippomano, sent from Venice on a mission to Naples in 1575, says:

“In more important concerns, especially when the matter comes before the viceroy, justice is well administered, particularly when there is question of the nobles seeking to oppress their inferiors. Then their privileges do not help marquises, dukes, and princes: they -are imprisoned for debt; and in criminal cases the torture is applied to them with more severity than it would be to their inferiors. The reason of it is this: that the endeavor is to degrade the nobility, and set an example to others; and also that, in the case of law proceedings against the nobles, a rich harvest is brought into the treasury of the king, the viceroy, and the officers ; but the world believes that justice is the same at Naples for great and small. A still greater evil is the many imprisonments that take place, from worldly favor and worldly motives, which could not happen if only authentic information was attended to. For the smallest debts tardy payers are imprisoned, by which the tribunal always gains ten per cent. No asylum is of any use, as little so as in criminal cases.”

In military affairs Naples was singularly oppressed. The wars to which she was forced to contribute money and soldiers had, with very rare exceptions, no bearing on her interests. The Neapolitans, commanded by their own leaders, were sent to fight in all parts of the great territory of Spain, while Naples was occupied by foreign troops. The soldiers when sent out of the kingdom were often in a frightful condition, as may be seen from this report by a Tuscan agent in Naples :

“Six companies of soldiers embarked in so pitiful a condition that, before they get to Genoa or Gaeta, they will most of them be thrown into the sea, corpses. . . . One was, if I may be allowed to say it, without a shirt, another without shoes; for they had sold everything to appease their hunger. Many had fallen away to such a degree that, instead of wearing their rifles and swords at their side, they were obliged to use them as supports.”

Pope_Paul_IVPope Paul IV (Source: Wikimedia)

The quarrels between Philip and Paul IV., a Neapolitan, who hated the Spaniards and desired to see the French again in Naples, encouraged the Duke of Guise to attempt its re-conquest in 1557; but the Duke of Alva made his success impossible, and the story of the whole affair resembles that of another famous Frenchman who, with forty thousand men, “marched up a hill, and then marched down again.” The results at S. Quentin and Gravelines compelled the French to make a treaty with Philip II., and to disturb Naples no more.

The religious questions and differences which distracted Naples during the reign of Philip, constantly agitated the people; and although cardinal legates were sent from Rome to Naples, and a resident nuncio was appointed for the latter city, and Neapolitan ambassadors were again and again in conclave with the Pope, no agreement resulted. But the religious houses at Naples were constantly increasing and becoming more firmly established. The Dominicans, Camaldolesi, Capuchins, and Servites, all of the older orders, attained a firmer footing; while the Theatines, founded by Gian Pietro Carafa before he became Paul IV., the Jesuits, the bare-footed Carmelites, the Theresenians, the Fratelli della Carita, the Sommayli, and the Oratorians, all had their churches, monasteries, and other institutions in Naples.

Naturally the personal character of the viceroy had its influence. We have seen that under Toledo no attention was given to science and letters, and this is also true under the viceroys of Philip II. Their chief aim was the increase of their revenues, which during the second half of the sixteenth century amounted to 30,000 ducats a year. In addition to their legitimate dues they averaged as much more from the sale of offices and presents; and it may well be surmised that a portion of their enormous charges for the so-called “secret expenses” found its way into the pocket of the viceroy. We can see the force of the words of the elder Olivarez: ” One ought not to wish to be Viceroy of Naples, to avoid the pain that one should feel at leaving it.”

Under Philip II., the Mole at Naples was improved; the new arsenal erected and the barrack built which now, after several transformations, is the National Museum, or Museo Borbonico; the Strada di Chiaja was begun, and a new road constructed from Fuorigrotta to Pozzuoli. Slight changes and small improvement when compared with those of the preceding reign !

Philip was devoted to the idea of founding a universal Christian monarchy. He was ambitious of controlling England and ruling France; he alleged his claims as heir to Burgundy and Provence ; he coveted the North of Europe, and constantly endeavored to repulse the Turk from its eastern and southern coasts; the acknowledged Spanish monarchy which he desired to rule absolutely, was composed of such conflicting elements as could never be peacefully united ; Naples, Palermo, Cagliari, Mexico, Lima, Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia were under his viceroys; Lombardy, the Netherlands, and Franche-Comt6 were ruled by his governors. Under such conditions it is not strange that he did nothing well; that no portion of his domain prospered under his care, and that the provinces were reduced to beggary. In some of them, whole villages were actually deserted; the fields were uncultivated, and the population largely decreased. In the midst of such conditions it is not difficult to comprehend the violent hatred of the Neapolitans for their Spanish masters.

Philip IIPortrait of Philip II by Titian in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples
Source: Flickr / Richard Mortel / Creative Commons)

Philip II. did not visit Naples, and the most important memento of him existing there is his portrait by Titian in the National Museum. It is a replica of that by the same artist which was sent to England in 1553 to forward the suit of Philip for the hand of Mary Tudor. The original is now in Madrid; but this in Naples, and others, are not inferior, since they were made by the same great master.