Naples Revolt, 1647-1648

A.) Prehistory

Spain regarded herself a military power, but the many territories of the Spanish Empire - among them Milan, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia in Italy - did not produce sufficient revenue to finance the costs of almost permanent warfare. Spain was at war with the Dutch Republic 1621-1648, with France 1635-1659; in order to finance the struggle, the Spanish administration relied on extraordinary taxation, as well as on borrowing, thus burdening the Spanish territories with a huge, increasing debt. This excessive burden caused revolts in Portugal in 1640, in Catalonia in 1640 and in Palermo and Naples in 1647.
The Naples revolt had other causes, popular dissatisfaction with the rule of landowning barons and the failure of the government to maintain justice; the Spanish administration had heavily relied on the Neapolitan nobility, which in turn had abused her privileged position and established control over the courts, which they had turned into instruments of their interests. The city of Naples, at the time of the revolt, had a population of c. 300,000.

B.) The Naples Revolt, 1647-1648

Following a brief revolt in Palermo in May 1647, on July 7 1647 the Neapolitans, in protest against a new tax on the sale of fruit, rose in revolt. The rebels took up arms, turned upon tax collectors, nobles, besieged the Spanish garrison. The revolt was planned and organized by Tommaso Aniello, called MASANIELLO; he died ten days later, allegedly he was poisoned by the Governor d'Arcos when at his palace.
The rebellion spread to the countryside; the rebels demanded the abolition of the new taxes, as well as a reform in the administration of the city of Naples, which would break the hold the nobility had on the city council.
In October 1647 a Spanish fleet failed to reestablish Spanish rule; the rebels proclaimed a republic. Meanwhile the nobles in the countryside had raised a force and blockaded the city. Hopes on the French coming to the aid of the Neapolitans did not materialize. The rebels, on April 6th 1648, agreed to a return of the Spanish garrison; in the countryside, the nobles restored control over rebel communities.

C.) Legacy

After the revolt, the Spanish administration was more careful when it came to imposing new taxation, and consulted representatives of the third estate in such matters. As a consequence, the revenues of the Kingdom of Naples stagnated, the state, even in peacetime, hardly being able to balance the budget, and the interest on state debt taking a considerable share of the revenue.

July 7th, 1647: Masaniello's Naples revolt against Spain. (Tommaso Aniello), from History Today
Article Masaniello, from EB 1911, from Wikipedia, from Naples
La Rivolta di Guardiagrele nel 1647, from Il Dominio Spagnolo sul Regno di Napoli (The Revolt of Guardiagrele in 1647), in Italian
Anno 1647, from Cronologia, in Italian
Eta Vicereale, from La Storia di Napoli (Viceroyal Era, from The Story of Naples), in Italian
DOCUMENTS Special Collection : Naples uprising of 1647, from McGill Univ.
Medal : Oliver Cromwell and Masaniello, 1658, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
REFERENCE Geoffrey Symcox, The political world of the absolutist state in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, pp.104-122 in : John A. Marino (ed.), Early Modern Italy (Short Oxford History of Italy), Oxford : UP 2002

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on February 11th 2004, last revised on November 19th 2004

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