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REVIEW ARTICLE

REFORM AND REVOLUTION IN THE


EARLY MODERN MEZZOGIORNO

1
Rosario Villari, La rivolta antispagnola a Napoli: le origini, 15851647 (Bari, 1967),
trans. James Newell with the assistance of John A. Marino as The Revolt of Naples
(Cambridge, 1993).
2
Roger Bigelow Merriman, Six Contemporaneous Revolutions (Oxford, 1938).
3
For anthologies of contributions to this debate, see Trevor Aston (ed.), Crisis in
Europe, 15601660: Essays from Past and Present (London, 1965); Geoffrey Parker and
Lesley M. Smith (eds.), The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1978).
4
Peter Burke, The Virgin of the Carmine and the Revolt of Masaniello, Past and
Present, no. 99 (May 1983); Rosario Villari, Masaniello: Contemporary and Recent
Interpretations, Past and Present, no. 108 (Aug. 1985); Peter Burke, Masaniello: A
Response, Past and Present, no. 114 (Feb. 1987). A revised and rather longer version of
Villaris article was published as Revolt of Naples, Afterword 1.
5
Burke, Virgin of the Carmine and the Revolt of Masaniello, 3.

Past and Present, no. 224 (August 2014)


doi:10.1093/pastj/gtu005

The Past and Present Society, Oxford, 2014

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Nearly fifty years have passed since Rosario Villari published La


rivolta antispagnola a Napoli. In his foreword to the English translation of 1993 Peter Burke said of the book that it had established
itself as a classic of modern Italian historical writing.1 The
Neapolitan revolt of 16478, whose origins Villari explored in
that volume, was one of Merrimans six contemporaneous revolutions2 and, as such, took its place alongside other European
upheavals of the 1640s as a manifestation of that general crisis of
the seventeenth century which was the subject of such animated
debate in the pages of this journal.3 It also generated in these same
pages a mini-debate of its own, with Villari questioning aspects of
Burkes interpretation of the so-called revolt of Masaniello, and
pointing out that Masaniello participated for only ten days (from
7 to 16 July) in a revolution which lasted about nine months.4
Both Burke and Villari were agreed that, as Burke pointed out,
the last word on the revolt of 1647 is very far from being said, in
spite of the researches of Villari himself as well as those of
Michelangelo Schipa, his predecessor in the work of dispelling
some of the myths that had gathered around Masaniello and his
rise to fame.5 Villaris book stopped short at the revolt itself, and
from the time of its publication hopes were expressed that the
author would produce a sequel. More than forty years later we

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6
Rosario Villari, Un sogno di liberta`: Napoli nel declino di un impero, 15851648
(Milan, 2012). This review article draws on an essay that I wrote for a volume published in Villaris honour, John H. Elliott, Naples in Context: The Historical
Contribution of Rosario Villari, in Alberto Merola et al. (eds.), Storia sociale e politica:
omaggio a Rosario Villari (Milan, 2007).
7
E. J. Hobsbawm, The General Crisis of the European Economy in the
Seventeenth Century, Past and Present, no. 5 (May 1954); no. 6 (Nov. 1954).
8
Villari, Revolt of Naples, p. x.

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are at last presented not exactly with the eagerly anticipated


second volume but with a massive new work, entitled Un sogno
di liberta`, which incorporates The Revolt of Naples, although with
important additions and revisions. It moves on, however, beyond
the concluding chapter entitled Anarchy in the original volume,
to examine in some 250 new pages the rebellion and its outcome.
The publication of Un sogno di liberta` therefore offers an unusual
opportunity to follow the evolution of a historian and a subject.6
Like all good historical works, The Revolt of Naples reflected the
historiographical priorities and the political and social concerns
of the period in which it was published. In common with many
others, Villari, a politically active Marxist, was preoccupied by
the social and economic problems of an underdeveloped Italian
Mezzogiorno. He planned and wrote his book, which was
designed to shed light on the origins of those problems, in a
historical climate heavily influenced by Fernand Braudel, with
his aspiration after total history, and in which, under the influence of Marxist and marxisant historians, economic and social
explanations tended to be paramount in the interpretation of political events. Eric Hobsbawms article in this journal in 19547 had
established the picture of the seventeenth century as one of general economic crisis, and it was around that crisis that much of
the debate over the revolutions of the middle decades of the
seventeenth century was conducted. The Revolt of Naples picked
up on these themes, and Villari acknowledged in the preface to the
first, 1967, edition of his book the stimulus he had received in
particular from the writings of Braudel and Hobsbawm; Vicens
Vives and Chabod; Porshnev; Cipolla.8
The presence on this list of the names of Vicens Vives and
Chabod, both of whom had a deep interest in the history of the
state, is an early indication that Villari was far from being an
exclusively social and economic historian. Much of The Revolt
of Naples is concerned with the character and implications of
Spanish rule for the kingdom of Naples, and in that sense it

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285

Ibid., 152.
In recent years Italian historians have been joined by Spanish colleagues in the
reappraisal of the history of Spanish Naples. For a listing of their joint contributions
since 1994, see Aurelio Musi, Limpero dei vicere (Bologna, 2013), 734 n. 1. For a
useful overview of historical reinterpretations of the Neapolitan uprising as seen from a
late twentieth-century perspective, see Francesco Benigno, Specchi della rivoluzione:
conflitto e identita` politica nellEuropa moderna (Rome, 1999), ch. 4. Giuseppe Galassos
two massive volumes Il regno di Napoli: il Mezzogiorno spagnolo, 14941622 (Turin,
2005) and Il regno di Napoli: il Mezzogiorno spagnolo e austriaco, 16221734 (Turin,
2006) constitute an admirable survey of the history of Naples set within a wider,
Hispanic, context.
10

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forms part of a long-standing debate among Italian historians


about the allegedly negative character of the long period of
Spanish domination. But, while the book is primarily conceived
in terms of political and institutional history, the underlying story
is that of the devastating economic and social impact of Spains
exploitation of the viceroyaltys resources. These resources could
only be extracted with the assistance of the Neapolitan nobility,
and the concessions made for this purpose by the Crown to an
unruly baronage resulted in a feudal reaction, or, in Villaris word
of choice at the time, the refeudalization of the Neapolitan countryside. The feudal reaction in turn unleashed in the countryside
in 16478 a massive upheaval that he describes in the concluding
paragraph of his book as essentially a peasant war, the largest and
most dramatic in western Europe in the seventeenth century.9
Since the publication of The Revolt of Naples in 1967, other
historians, Italian and non-Italian, have made significant
contributions to our knowledge and understanding of Naples
and Neapolitan society in the viceregal period.10 In particular
they have come to appreciate that, as Villari demonstrated in
The Revolt, Neapolitan history in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries cannot properly be treated in isolation, but needs to be
related at every point to that of the Spanish monarchy as a whole.
Neapolitan manpower and money were essential to the military
effectiveness and international standing of Spain, but, as Villari
also made clear, Naples under Spanish rule enjoyed elements of
autonomy, of which its nobility and its togati its juristbureaucrats were adept at taking advantage. As a result of the substantial amount of new work and new thinking of recent years, we
now possess a more sophisticated understanding of the workings
of the relationship between Naples and Spain than at the time
when Villari first began his researches. Meanwhile, Villari himself

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11
Notably Rosario Villari, Elogio della dissimulazione: la lotta politica nel Seicento
(Rome, 1987); Rosario Villari, Per il re o per la patria: la fedelta` nel Seicento con Il
cittadino fedele e altri scritti politici (Rome, 1994). For a comprehensive bibliography
of his publications, see Merola et al. (eds.), Storia sociale e politica, 1129.
12
Villari, Un sogno di liberta`, 274.

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has been publishing widely on a variety of historical periods and


topics, with some particularly notable contributions on seventeenth-century political culture.11 Un sogno di liberta` can therefore
be seen as a continuation and enrichment of his earlier work on the
origins of the Neapolitan revolt, and as a summation of his ideas on
the subject after many years of investigation and reflection.
One of the most striking differences between The Revolt and
Un sogno di liberta` is the dedication of considerably more space in
the latter to the revolt of the countryside. In a historiography
dominated by the story of the tax revolt in the capital, far less
attention has been devoted to what was happening in 16478 in
the kingdom of Naples as a whole. Although the story of the
rural upheaval was sketched out in The Revolt, it now acquires a
long chapter to itself, under the title The Insurrection of the
Provinces. There were twelve provinces in all in the kingdom
of Naples, and this chapter is a novel and important contribution,
based as it is on fresh research and bringing together much previously scattered information to build up a coherent and plausible
reconstruction of the course of events across southern Italy. The
amount of space dedicated to the rural upheaval finds its justification in the thesis that informs Villaris general interpretation of
the Neapolitan revolt: that the traditional depiction of the revolt
as essentially an urban uprising in the city of Naples against the
fruit excise (gabella della frutta), led by a deranged fish vendor,
Masaniello, has concealed its true scope and meaning. This depiction, he contends, was put about by the Spanish government
and its partisans at the time of the revolt itself. Its effect was to
gloss over the uprisings in the kingdom as a whole, and promote a
narrow reading of the revolt as the characteristic response of an
uncontrollable urban mob to new taxes and rising prices. This
official interpretation then passed into historical writing, leaving
in the shade the political movements, institutional problems and
social conflicts that determined the origins and development of
the revolution.12 In other words, the image of the short-lived
revolutionary leader Masaniello, so powerful in the minds of his

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13
Refeudalization appears as a subheading in Villari, Un sogno di liberta`, 288. In
Villari, Revolt of Naples, 2545 n. 131, the author discusses the objections to his choice
of the word, which led his critics to assume that he believed in a previous process of
defeudalization.
14
Villari, Un sogno di liberta`, 2967, 275.

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contemporaries, also cast its spell over generations of historians


and continues to do so to this day.
Placed alongside the urban uprising, the rural revolt, or
conjunction of local revolts, now appears as a much more wideranging and complex phenomenon than it appeared in The Revolt.
The passage in that book about this being an essentially peasant war has disappeared, as, for the most part, has the word
refeudalization. Villari was criticized at the time of the original
publication for the use of this word, although the realities that
prompted him to choose it remain unchanged, and he exposes as
forcefully as ever the savage character of the exercise of baronial
power.13 Not all this power was traditional. The ranks of the old
feudal nobility were swollen by recent recipients of domains,
powers of jurisdiction and local dues alienated by the Crown in
compensation for actual or anticipated services.
In discussing the attitude and behaviour of the nobility, Villari
makes the important point that, in the kingdom of Naples at least,
urbanization did not automatically lead, as it frequently did in
other parts of Europe, to an enhancement of the power of the
state. Nor did it lead to any significant alteration in the relationship between the capital city and a countryside that continued to
be dominated by the barons and their bandit gangs. By the same
token, however, their domination of the countryside gave the
nobility no inducement to join forces with other social groups
in demanding a greater degree of autonomy or actual independence from Spain. Viceroys were naturally aware of the social and
political dangers posed by the existence of an over-mighty nobility. Yet, if this power undermined the power of the Crown, it also
gave Madrid an important long-term advantage. Neapolitan
nobles were perfectly aware of how much they had gained from
the Crowns perennial shortage of money, and their political
stance in the course of the revolt reflected this knowledge.14
If Villaris book provides new insights into the behaviour of the
nobility, it is especially illuminating on the movement of rural
protest to which that behaviour gave rise. The point of greatest
novelty here is the closeness of the relationship between the rural

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15
Noel Malcolm, Reason of State, Propaganda, and the Thirty Years War: An Unknown
Translation by Thomas Hobbes (Oxford, 2007), 301, with a useful short bibliography at n.
1; Brendan Dooley (ed.), The Dissemination of News and the Emergence of Contemporaneity
in Early Modern Europe (Farnham, 2010). For examples from the British Isles, see
Michael Braddick, Gods Fury, Englands Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars
(London, 2008). Villari remarks in Elogio della dissimulazione, 612, on the lack of
studies of Italian broadsheets and pamphlets (most of which circulated in manuscript
form) compared with those available for other parts of Europe.
16
Villari, Un sogno di liberta`, 3501.
17
Ibid., 373.
18
Ibid., 356.

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and urban movements in 16478. In recent years historians


have examined the ways in which newsletters and ephemeral publications served to create a more informed public opinion in early
modern societies,15 and news of events in the city of Naples was
quickly disseminated through the provinces, where local elites
merchants, clerics, urban proprietors and members of the professional classes seized the initiative and made contact with the
leaders of the popular movement in the capital.16
The activities of these local elites, on which Villari casts a strong
light, tend to complicate and qualify the traditional picture of the
revolt of the Mezzogiorno as simply a massive peasant uprising
against baronial abuses, as The Revolt seemed to suggest. Rather
than being a society composed of little more than extortionate
nobles and oppressed peasants, the kingdom of Naples included
significant urban groups drawn from the professional classes. The
members of these groups were well informed both about the history of Naples and about the contemporary world. A chronicler
observed that every city in the kingdom could boast of having
huomini letteratisimi who were active in the political and administrative life of their communes. The communes, guided or led by
them and acting through local parliaments, chose delegations to
present in the capital what were effectively cahiers de doleances.
Their cry was for liberta`, initially envisaged as the elimination of
baronial abuses and a reversion to royal jurisdiction of lands and
communes alienated by the Crown.17 In practice, as Villari
writes, this was a general mobilization of the provincial population that brought the relationship of feudalism and the state to the
centre of the realm. The leaders of the populace in the city of
Naples, by inviting and welcoming the provincial delegations,
were in effect attempting to bring the whole kingdom together
in a general programme of reform,18 although for this reader at

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19

Ibid., 3512.
Villari, Elogio della dissimulazione; Villari, Un sogno di liberta`, 275.
21
For surveys of the debate and its development, see J. H. Elliott, Spain, Europe and
the Wider World, 15001800 (New Haven, 2009), ch. 3; AHR Forum, The General
Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Revisited, American Historical Review, cxiii (2008);
The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Journal of
Interdisciplinary History, xl, 2 (2009).
20

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least the extent of the identity between the aspirations of city and
countryside is difficult to assess. Fear must have been a dominant
initial reaction to the news from the capital and to outbreaks of
local unrest. Communal governments were dominated by nobles
and landowners,19 and if they initially found it expedient to go
along with the general demand for reform, their long-term concern was to protect their own economic and social interests. This
was an age of dissimulation, as Villari himself has reminded us,
and the nobility of the kingdom, with a few exceptions, were, in
his words, uncontaminated by the separatist fever that gripped
other European provinces of the Spanish monarchy.20
It is clear that Villaris new account of the Neapolitan insurrection, while incorporating his reactions to the observations and
findings of his Italian colleagues and critics, represents a widening
and deepening of his knowledge as a result of his own researches
in libraries and archives. But it may legitimately be asked how far,
if at all, it reflects and illuminates the changes that have overtaken
historical writing in the nearly fifty years since the publication of
his Revolt of Naples. While the abandonment of the term refeudalization is clearly a response to his critics, the general outlines
of his interpretation are both implicit, and often explicit, in his
earlier account of the subject. Feudal power, and its extension as a
consequence of the massive exploitation of Neapolitan resources
by the Spanish Crown, lie at the heart of his story now, as then.
Yet in Un sogno di liberta` the balance of the story has shifted in
ways that reflect the wider historiographical changes of recent
decades. In this new account the economic and social emphasis,
so strong in the Marxist and marxisant works of the 1950s and
1960s, as also in the earliest discussions of the general crisis of the
seventeenth century, remains as strong as ever. But the general
crisis debate has moved on since the 1960s, in ways that reflect
the emergence of new historical themes and approaches.21 The
1970s saw a reaction against the dominant economic and social
interpretations of the past and a revisionist movement that would

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22
For composite monarchy, see J. H. Elliott, A Europe of Composite
Monarchies, Past and Present, no. 137 (Nov. 1992), repr. in Elliott, Spain, Europe
and the Wider World, ch. 1.
23
For the impact of climatic and environmental change on the seventeenth-century
European and non-European world, see Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate
Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven, 2013); chapter 14
of this impressive work tells the story of the Neapolitan revolt, and speaks of the impact
of the poor grain harvests of 1647 and 1648 on the fortunes of the young republic.
24
Villari, Un sogno di liberta`, 362, 357.

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seek to restore the primacy of political history. At the same time,


the concept of composite monarchy as an organizing principle for
early modern states did much to extend discussion beyond the
confines of narrowly conceived national history.22 Moreover, the
linguistic and cultural turn and the emergence of gender studies
have shifted the balance of interests in the community of historians, while the rise of global and environmental history has now
added a whole new dimension to old stories.23
Villari has kept abreast of these developments in his approach to
the past. In Un sogno di liberta` he draws attention to the participation of women in the various movements of protest and revolt a
participation extensive enough for the viceroy to find it necessary
to issue a prohibition on their inclusion in the delegations sent by
the provincial communes to the capital.24 The most significant
change between his earlier and his new reconstruction of the
revolt is to be found, however, in the emphasis now placed on
the political environment of the Spanish monarchy and the political culture that informed the programme of the rebels and
reformers. Villari always displayed an interest in these themes,
but, in tune with the historiographical changes of the past few
decades, social and economic interpretations of the revolt have
yielded ground in his writing to the political and intellectual.
In line with this evolution of his interests, the story of reform
and attempted reform becomes central to the book as a whole,
and it is for the protagonists of reform, whether they came from
Madrid or from Naples itself, that his strongest sympathies are
reserved. He is particularly sympathetic to reforming, or wouldbe reforming, viceroys, most notably the great duke of Osuna,
viceroy from 1616 to 1620, who was determined to curb the
power of the nobility, in part by giving the popolo a greater say
in the political equation. He is also sympathetic to the duke of
Medina de las Torres, viceroy from 1637 to 1644, the period
when Spains war with France was reaching its climax and the

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25
Giovanni Antonio Summonte, Historia della citta` e regno di Napoli, 4 vols.
(16012, 16403).

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Spanish monarchy faced possible disintegration, following the


revolts of Catalonia and Portugal in 1640. But if the book has a
hero, it is the Neapolitan lawyer Giulio Genoino, who, although
already prominent in The Revolt, never really comes into his own
in that book because it stops on the threshold of revolution.
Genoino has always attracted the attention and interest of historians of the revolt, but Villari gives us a vivid sense of the man
himself and his activities, from May 1619, when, as Eletto del
popolo, he appears officially on the political scene and makes
common cause with Osuna until 1647, when, now in his eightieth
year, he is taken into custody by the viceroy, allegedly for his own
protection, and dies in Menorca in January 1648, en route for
exile in Spain. Little is known about Genoinos intellectual background and formation, but he emerges in Villaris book as the
lifelong champion of a programme of monarchical reform.
Like the early Tommaso Campanella he has no thought of independence from Spain, but sees the kingdom of Naples as an integral part of the composite Spanish monarchy. His vision is of a
reformed capital and kingdom, in which the power of the Crown
is more effectively exercised in the interests of the population as a
whole, social justice is upheld, and greater popular representation
in city government restores an alleged historical balance between
nobility and people that in recent times had been heavily tilted in
favour of the nobility. Genoino, as presented by Villari, remains
true to this ideal of moderate reform throughout his life, acting as
an intermediary between the viceroy and the leaders of the popular uprising, providing the rebels with a coherent programme of
demands, and linking the urban and rural movements of protest.
Villari traces the ideal of moderate monarchical reform back to
the later sixteenth century, and to contemporaneous historical
writing designed to prove the existence of a democratic medieval
Naples, a semi-autonomous city and kingdom in which the social balance was maintained by a parity of political representation
between nobility and people. One of the most influential
productions of this historical movement was the History of the
City and Kingdom of Naples,25 the work of the late sixteenth- and
early seventeenth-century historian Giovanni Antonio Summonte.
Under the influence of this and other writings, Neapolitan rebels

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26

Villari, Un sogno di liberta`, 4947.


Guido Bentivoglio, Della guerra di Fiandra (16329) and Relatione delle provincie
unite (1611), of which new editions were published in Italy and elsewhere between
1629 and 1647.
27

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and reformers, like those of the Netherlands in the 1560s or their


European counterparts in the upheavals of the 1640s, sought to
legitimize their activities by appeals to the past and the deployment
of constitutionalist arguments drawn from a semi-mythical history.
Genoinos constitutionalist reform movement, however, with its
demand for parity of representation for the people, fell victim to
factional and personal feuds, the strength of passion on both sides,
and the determination of the nobility and Crown alike to restore
their shaken authority. Villari shows in close detail how, under the
pressure of events, the programme of constitutional reform under
the auspices of the Spanish monarchy was swept aside by a movement in favour of an independent republic. It is illuminating to see
how, as happened in other seventeenth-century societies, the
Dutch example served as an inspiration to the rebels and
reformers. The revolt of the Netherlands and the triumphant
emergence of the Dutch Republic did much to make independence
from Spain a thinkable proposition for Neapolitans.26 Many of
them had seen something of the Netherlands for themselves
when serving as soldiers in Spains army of Flanders, while members of the elite are likely to have been well acquainted with
Cardinal Bentivoglios History of the Wars of Flanders and his
Relations of the United Provinces of Flanders.27
As Villari points out, Bentivoglios work contained numerous
references to liberty and the love of liberty, which he depicted
both as natural to the inhabitants of the Netherlands and
as the fundamental reason for the ability of the Dutch to
break free from foreign domination and transform their native
land from one inhabited by simple fishermen into a new centre
of economic and political power. The lesson of the Netherlands
had recently been reinforced by the Catalan and Portuguese
revolts. If the Dutch, the Catalans and the Portuguese could
throw off the shackles of Spain, why could not Neapolitans do
the same? Revolution was contagious, as Merriman suggested,
and as the debate over the general crisis makes clear.
The imitation of Catalonia and Portugal, however, was no
guarantee of success. Both needed outside help to sustain
their revolts. Like the Catalans seven years earlier, the

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Neapolitan rebels, faced by the prospect of a Spanish reconquest,


turned to the French for assistance, only to find that, in spite of
(and partly because of) the intervention of the maverick duke of
Guise, the French were unable to save them.
In constructing his analysis of the failure of the revolt, as in his
exploration of its origins, Villari consistently looks to the international, and more specifically to the Spanish, context for a story that
has all too often been confined to the city of Naples and its kingdom. He shows in particular how closely the fortunes of Naples
were shaped by the fluctuating fortunes of Spain itself, and its
waning international power. There was a continuous interaction
between Naples and Madrid, which sometimes assumed unexpected forms. Un Sogno, for instance, contains an entire chapter,
which is not to be found in The Revolt, on the marriage in 1636 of
the newly appointed viceroy, the duke of Medina de las Torres, to
one of the most eligible brides in Europe, the Neapolitan Anna
Carafa, princess of Stigliano. Medinas first wife, who had died in
childbirth, was the daughter of the count-duke of Olivares, and his
former father-in-law seems to have been taken aback by a decision
which had obvious implications for the relationship between the
viceroy and the Neapolitan nobility. The marriage, as Villari
shows, overshadowed Medinas tenure of power.
The MedinaStigliano marriage is not an immediately obvious
episode for inclusion in accounts of the origins of the revolt of
Naples, and its presence here testifies to the breadth of Villaris
approach. While the general outlines of the story he tells may well
be familiar, he has given it greater range and depth than it has
previously been accorded, and has analysed with subtlety and skill
the complexities of a highly complex movement from its early
origins to its final collapse. His book has a strong cultural component, at least where political culture is concerned. Some readers, however, may regret that he has little to say about symbolic
representations of royal and viceregal power or rituals of popular
protest, like those discussed by Peter Burke in his article on the
Virgin of the Carmine. The influence of symbolic anthropology
and the impact of the New Cultural History have enabled historians in recent years to gain new insights into the workings of power
and protest in early modern societies. Their absence here may
give the impression that Un Sogno is cast in a rather traditional
mode, and indeed this would hardly be surprising of a work that

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28

For recent works on the rituals of power and protest in viceregal Naples, see
Gabriel Guarino, Representing the Kings Splendour: Communication and Reception of
Symbolic Forms of Power in Viceregal Naples (Manchester, 2010); John A. Marino,
Becoming Neapolitan: Citizen Culture in Baroque Naples (Baltimore, 2011). It should
be pointed out, however, that in Revolt of Naples, 236, Villari described and discussed
the ritual involved in a lynching that occurred in a previous revolt, that of 1585.

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incorporates, even if in revised form, a book originally published


in 1957.28
This surface impression, however, belies the value and importance of Villaris achievement. What he has done is to trace, in
impressive detail and by means of a brilliantly sustained historical
narrative, the complicated interplay between a movement, similar
to that found in other mid seventeenth-century revolts, for moderate reform within a traditional political and social framework,
and a more radical movement of protest that gathered force under
the pressure of events and swept its supporters along into uncharted and increasingly dangerous waters. Revolution replaced
reform, and revolution, in turn, led to savage repression. The
tragedy of the revolt of Naples is that, caught between the determination of the Spanish Crown to reassert its authority by force
and the determination of an unruly and irresponsible nobility
to cling to its power and privileges, neither moderate reform
nor radical revolution appear, in the light of Villaris analysis, to
have had any realistic chance of success. This was, and remained,
a deeply fractured society.
Villaris book, written with the heart as well as the head,
impressively demonstrates the extent of the tragedy. The great
uprising of 16478 may have put a brake on Spanish fiscalism
in the second half of the seventeenth century, but in the end, as
Villari shows, neither the revolt nor its failure did anything to
solve the eternal problems of the Mezzogiorno. If anything,
they aggravated them. The great revolt of the countryside, following hard on the heels of Masaniellos assassination in July
1647, developed into a savage round of violence and counterviolence. Rebels hunted down their baronial oppressors and
their agents and clients. For their part the barons, infuriated
by the concessions to popular demands made by a weakened
viceroy, turned on the reformist leaders and the instigators of
rural revolt, butchering and massacring with abandon. The populace responded in kind, only to be confronted, as the balance of

REFORM AND REVOLUTION IN THE MEZZOGIORNO

295

29

Villari, Un sogno di liberta`, 506.


Ibid., 351.
31
See the panoramic survey of Naples and Neapolitan society in the years up to
1700 in John Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples,
16801760 (Cambridge, 2005), 7083; for the academies and intellectual life, see
ibid., 1019.
32
Ibid., 333.
30

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power tilted in favour of the Crown, by a wave of brutal repression


conducted by royal and baronial troops.29
It is to be regretted that Villari does not tell us something of the
aftermath to the horrifying events that he depicts so vividly, or
explore their long-term implications for the Mezzogiorno. As he
indicates at one point, many of the more cultivated members of the
local elites were persecuted and slaughtered for their participation
in the revolt.30 What were the consequences for the kingdom of
Naples of the suppression or elimination of what appears to have
been the most dynamic and creative sector of Neapolitan society?
The history of Naples in the second half of the seventeenth century
reveals a kingdom condemned to decades of political and economic stagnation. Although, thanks in particular to the activities
of the capitals academies, there was a limited but significant intellectual stirring in the last quarter of the century, post-revolt Naples
lacked the innovators and creative thinkers capable of realizing the
hopes nurtured by the generation of the 1640s of transforming
their patria into a second Dutch Republic.31
Reformist hopes revived briefly when the War of the Spanish
Succession on the death of Carlos II of Spain in 1700 brought
about the replacement of Spanish by Austrian dominion. But it
was only after the kingdom unexpectedly acquired independence
from foreign rule in 1734 and secured its own monarch in the
person of Carlo Borbone (the future reforming monarch Charles
III of Spain) that Genoinos moderate and monarchical reform
programme once again became a feasible proposition. Shortly
after the coming of independence a young lawyer, Giovanni
Pallante, saw in the turn of events, as Genoino had seen almost
a century before him, an opportunity for the reform of the kingdoms institutions and its economic life. Like the reformers of the
1640s he too believed that Naples had the location, resources and
people to make it worth fifty Dutch Republics.32
The short-term legacy of the great uprising of 16478 was in
large part tragic, and Villaris book beautifully analyses the causes

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NUMBER 224

of the tragedy and explains its character. But the great revolt so
much more than simply Masaniellos revolt left a longer-term
legacy in the form of a host of memories that would simultaneously haunt and inspire succeeding generations. Even more importantly, however, it left them with the dream that gives this book
its title: the dream of liberty.
J. H. Elliott

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Oriel College, Oxford