1902 Encyclopedia > Masaniello (Tommaso Aniello)

(Tommaso Aniello)
Leader of the revolt against Spanish rule in Naples in 1647

MASANIELLO (an abbreviation of TOMMASO ANIELLO or ANELLO) was the leader of the Neapolitan revolt in July 1647, For many years the Spanish Government, in straits for money, had exacted large sums from the Two Sicilies, although the privileges granted by Ferdinand and Charles V. had exempted them both from taxes on the necessaries of life and from all external payments whatever. Now, however, under Philip III. and Philip IV., the exac-tions, heavy in themselves, were made more oppressive by being farmed out to contractors, while the sums raised were usually conveyed to Spain and spent on purposes often hav-ing no connexion with Naples. Meantime the industrial classes were scourged by the excesses of the nobility and the lawlessness of banditti. At length, at the end of 1646, the duke of Arcos demanded a million ducats in gold ; and it was resolved after much opposition to raise it from fruit, one of the most important articles of food to a southern people. Petitions delayed but did not remove the tax; on June 6 a toll-house was actually blown up, but the viceroy did not give way. The discontent was fomented by Genovino, who had been chosen " elect of the people " (that is, of the district of the city where the common people had the right of voting) in 1619 by the duke of Osuna's influence, and had been employed by him as an agitator. After the duke's recall he had been long in prison, and then returned to Naples and became a priest. He selected for his purpose Masaniello, a fisherman' of Naples, then twenty-seven years old, well built, intelligent, and very popular in the city. He was so poor, we are told, that he was usually obliged to content himself with selling paper to wrap up the fish that others sold. He had special cause too for hatred to the taxes: his wife had tried to smuggle a bag of flour into the city as an infant; she had been imprisoned, and his scanty possessions had barely sufficed to pay her fine. The temporary success of a rising at Palermo had stirred the people to a sense of their power, and very little was wanted to produce an explosion. On July 16, the feast of S. Maria del Carmine, it was customary to make a sort of castle which was defended by one body of youths armed with sticks and stormed by another. Masaniello had been chosen captain of one of these parties, and got together four hundred young men, with whom he had already raised the cry of " Down with the taxes " when the crisis was precipitated by a quarrel. On Sunday the 7th a dispute arose in the market (on which Masaniello's house looked) whether the gardeners or the buyers of their fruit should pay the tax. Finally the owner of the fruit (said to have been a kinsman of Masaniello) upset his basket, saying he would sooner let the people have it for nothing than pay the tax. Masaniello came up ; the tax collectors were pelted with fruit and then witli stones, and the toll-house was burnt with cries of—" The king of Spain and plenty ; down with misgovernment and taxes." The viceroy attempted without effect to quiet the people by promises ; his carriage was surrounded, and he escaped with difficulty to St Elmo. Meanwhile the populace broke open the prisons, and released all charged with offences against the customs. In the evening, by advice of Genovino, a meeting elected officers, and decided on their demands. Masaniello was chosen captain, with one Perrone, who had been in the service' of Maddaloni, and at another time a captain of banditti, as his lieutenant. Next day the people went in search of arms ; many houses of persons who had made themselves obnoxious to the people, and especially of tax farmers, were sacked, and their contents burnt; but most of the historians of the time state that there were few attempts to appropriate anything, and those few were immediately punished. The duke of Maddaloni, a man of lawless life, but a decided opponent of the viceroy, was selected as a likely intermediary with the people. The latter demanded the original charter granted by Charles V., which was said to have wrongfully come into the viceroy's own hands, the removal of all taxes imposed since Charles V.'s death, and that the elect of the people should have as many votes as the representatives of the nobles. All was granted ; but the viceroy made entrenchments to guard the approaches to the castle. Next day the sacking of tax farmers' houses went on. The viceroy attempted to cheat the people by sending documents simply drawn up by himself; and then their rage burst out. Maddaloni was seized and given into custody, but escaped in the night by Perroue's connivance. The people were summoned to arms. The cardinal archbishop Filomarino, who did his best to mediate between the parties all through, came to them from the viceroy, and it was arranged that he should bring them the document. The seizure of arms went on, and Masaniello marching out of the city disarmed and took prisoners four hundred soldiers, while another body of people did the same with six hundred German mercenaries. On Wednesday Perrone made his appearance at the head of three hundred bandits partly mounted, and fired upon Masaniello, but without injuring him. The people rushed upon them, and they were killed almost without exception. Some confessed to having been instigated by Maddaloni, and a price was set upon his head. His brother Giuseppe Caraffa was found in a monastery and killed, and his head and foot were set upon pikes. A new elect of the people was chosen, Arpaia, who had been a partisan of Genovino's in the duke of Osuna's time, and had been condemned to the galleys. On Thursday Maddaloni's house was plundered and his property placed in a heap in the market under guard. The castle beiug short of provisions, Masaniello sent some as a present to the viceroy. The Neapolitan galleys, under Gianettino Doria, arrived the same day, and Masaniello refused permission to land or to come nearer than a mile to the shore, but sent provisions on board. In fact he was now undisputed master of the city, not only organizing the military force in it with surprising ability, but dispensing strict though severe justice. Often he sat inside his little house on the market, sword or loaded gun in hand, while petitions and complaints were handed to him on the end of a pike through the window; yet he still went barefoot, dressed as a simple fisherman. The people having assembled consulted together on the terms of agreement; it was settled by the advice of Genovino that Masaniello should show the articles agreed on to the duke at the palace (he would not risk himself in the castle), and that the viceroy should afterwards swear to them in the cathedral. Towards evening the procession set out, Masaniello in a dress of cloth of silver pressed upon him by the archbishop. An immense concourse of armed men, estimated at one hundred and forty thousand, lined the way or accompanied him. Before them went a trumpet proclaiming Viva it re di Spagna ed il fedelissimo popolo di Napoli, Before enter-ing the palace he exhibited the charter brought by the archbishop, and charged them not to lay down their arms till they had received the confirmation of their rights from the king of Spain. " If I do not return in an hour," he added, " wreck the city." He was received by the viceroy as an equal. All the conditions were agreed to, the chief being—that the elect of the people should have as many votes as the nobles; that all taxes should be removed except those already existing in Charles V.'s time ; that the viceroy should get the articles ratified by the king within three months; that no punishment should be inflicted on those who had taken part in the rising; and that the people should keep their arms till the ratification. On the Friday Masaniello dismissed most of his followers to their work, keeping a patrol of four men and a corpora/ in each street. Next day the ceremony in the cathedral took place; the duke of Canjano read the articles, Masaniello meanwhile correcting and explaining, and the viceroy solemnly swore to observe them. Then Masaniello tore off his rich dress; it was time, he said, to return to his fish. And indeed from this time began his ruin. For a week the care of a city, with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, had rested upon him; he had been general, judge, legislator, and during the whole time he had hardly slept or eaten, the latter through dread of poison; no wonder if the fisherman's brain reeled under all this. His justice had been severe, but hitherto it had struck men who deserved punishment, the oppressor, the robber, the hired cut-throat; henceforth every one who ventured to contradict him risked his life, and the only man who could persuade him to mercy was the good archbishop. Five hundred in all, it is said, were put to death by his order; though it is probable that they were few compared to the lives taken a short time afterwards by the viceroy in defiance of his plighted word. Next day in fact the duke set to work; Genovino was made president of the chamber in order to detach him from Masaniello, for which he was the more ready as Masaniello was no longer the tool he wanted. Genovino had already prevented the demand for the surrender of St Elmo, which could easily have been enforced, as the fort was not provisioned. Carlo and Salvatore Cataneo with two others offered to the viceroy to murder Masaniello, and he welcomed their services. On Sunday Masaniello gave orders for laying down arms and submitting to the viceroy, which were obeyed in some quarters of the city before they could be recalled. He tried in vain to get the viceroy to accompany him to Posilippo, where he drank deeply, and in reckless extra-vagance threw gold into the water to be dived for. Next day his violence continued ; he struck his followers in the street, and condemned several of his officers to death for not immediately executing his orders. He cut out the head from a picture of Maddaloni and set it on a pike. Vitale his secretary, sent on a message to the viceroy, talked of his intention to raise a million ducats for the king by means of forced gifts from the rich; Vitale was detained in the castle on some pretext, and on leaving next morning was killed by the people of the quarter, who had returned to their allegiance. On Tuesday the 16th, the feast of S Maria del Carmine. Masaniello went up into the pulpit, and in a wild harangue recapitulated his services. He knew, he said, his death was near at hand ; then tearing open his dress he showed his body emaciated by fatigue and want of food. After some more wild talk he was disarmed and confined in a cell in the monastery. There the quiet seems to have restored him ; but his assassins soon broke in ; he turned to meet them ; five shots were at once fired, and he fell dead. His head was cut off and carried through the streets, while his body was dragged about for a while and then buried outside the city. Next day some boys went and dug up the body, washed it, and took the head from the guard in charge of it. The Neapolitans forgot the excesses of the last few days, and only remembered the leader who had won them their great victory. People plucked out his hairs and preserved them as relics, some even prayed to him as a saint. All the priests of the city officiated at the funeral, and even the viceroy was represented by eight of his pages. (G. H. B.)

The above article was written by: G. H. Bianchi, M.A.

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