Regional History Part 2  1275 to 1700 A.D.   

by Thomas Frascella

Installment 2

  Following the execution of Joanna I in San Fele the House of Anjou continued its control over southern Italy. After helping to depose her Joanna’s nephew Charles Durazzo became King of the Kingdom of Naples in 1382. Charles’ reign however was brief as he died in 1386. Kingship then passed to Charles’ nine year old son Ladislaus. It should be noted that from the time that the House of Anjou came to power in southern Italy in 1275 there was a good deal of inter-marriage to other royal houses in Europe and in particular those in France, Hungary and in Spanish Aragon. As a result King Ladislaus found himself a claimant to the crown of Hungary in 1414. In attempting to perfect that claim Ladislaus was assassinated in Hungary in that year. Ladislaus died without children and the Crown of Naples then passed to his forty-five year old sister Joanna. Joanna, who was also childless became Joanna II of Naples.

  Who would succeed Joanna became an immediate issue with there being two principle hereditary claimants Louis of the House of Anjou in France and Alfonso who was King of Aragon in Spain and also King of Sicily. Joanna further complicated the political climate by naming Alfonso as her heir in 1421 initiating a brief military conflict between the rival claimants which ended in Louis being named her heir in the late 1420’s. When Joanna died in 1435 the conflict once again erupted between the two rival Houses. Ultimately, Alfonso prevailed and was crowned King of Naples in 1442. As Alfonso was already King of Sicily, his crowning as King of Naples reunited southern Italy and Sicily for the first time since it had been divided in 1282.  Most historians also mark this date as the beginning of the Italian Aragonese royal period and the beginning of southern Italy’s existence as a colony of Spain.

 For the remainder of Alfonso’s life he appears to have been much more interested in his Italian possessions than in Spanish Aragon. Alfonso set up a royal court in Naples, where he installed his mistress as consort and was content with having his brother John govern Spanish Aragon. It should be noted that southern Italy was considered the far more valuable possession at the time even with the dwindling trade revenue from the middle-east.

 The reign of Alfonso marks the introduction of nobility into southern Italy which either has Spanish origin or is directly related to Spanish Court interests. While the Borgia family is often cited as an example there are many others. Within our own society’s membership an example of an Italian family that has as its heritage Spanish nobility would be Joseph Tuccillo. The Tuccillo family was originally Spanish nobility centered in the area of Naples in the city of Afragola. If you go there today you will find a vibrant commercial hub city of about 60,000. In the center of the city across from a main square is an extensive structure Palazzo Tuccillo. Joe is San Felese on his maternal side and has been one of our group’s most ardent supporters through the years.

 * As an aside I would like to mention that it is my understanding that the City of Trenton is considering naming a public building for Joe in recognition of the decades spent before his retirement as the City’s Public Works Director and in recognition of his extraordinary service to his country as an infantry combat veteran of World War II.

  In the year 1453 the Muslim Turks succeeded in capturing the great Byzantine Capital of Constantinople. While the conquest did not mark the end of spice trade to Europe, the Turks effectively controlled the flow and pricing of trade moving forward. They also could dictate which merchants houses would be trading partners. As a consequence the merchants of northern Italy and in particular Genoa began to develop an interest in the exploration of the African coast which was then taking place by Portugal. The coast of Africa became a potential new source of spice and raw materials as well as a new non Muslim controlled pathway to Asia.

 On the night of December 4th 1456 between the hours of 10:00 pm and 3:00 am the most tragic event in San Fele and Potenza regional history occurred. At that time while everyone was asleep an extremely violent earthquake hit the region. In fact, modern studies suggest that over the course of a six month period the region was hit with what is now believed to be three massive earthquakes and numerous aftershocks. The second major earthquake occurred only a few weeks later on December 28, 1456.  Modern studies identify three separate earthquake centers within the region and characterize the event as the most geologically violent in the Italian peninsula’s history. Potenza because of its mountainous terrain has always been made up of primarily small villages and towns with few communities even approaching city size. The area is regarded as sparsely populated. However despite how spread out the villages and population is the death toll from this earthquake event is estimated at between 30,000 to 50,000 people. In San Fele the massive fortress at the top of Monte Castello which was begun by Otto the Great in 966 and expanded several times thereafter towered over the oldest portion of the village built directly below. On the night of the initial quake the walls of the fortress which in its final configuration was an octagon collapsed downward. The Church of San Sabastian and the old village were crushed in the avalanche of stone. Between 800-1200 people were killed in San Fele in this single nightmare of an event.  Reports that I have read indicate that the devastation was so complete that it was far easier to list the very little of what was left standing than to try to catalog what had been destroyed. On Monte Castello the only structure left was the stand alone bell tower of the old church.

 Unlike modern times the people of Potenza and San Fele were left largely to their own resources to survive. There was no central government in the sense we understand it to help them. In addition, King Alfonso was reaching the end of his reign and was concerned that Aragon would never accept his only son Ferdinand as King. Alfonso had no children by his marriages but had a son Ferdinand, known as Don Ferrante, an illegitimate child of his relationship with his mistress in Naples. Alfonso reached an agreement with his brother John that upon Alfonso’s death, John would become King of Aragon and Sicily and Ferdinand, Don Ferrante, would be King of Naples thus dividing southern Italy once again. Alfonso died in 1458 and the kingdom was divided as it had been agreed.

 Shortly after assuming Kingship of Aragon John began to lobby for the marriage of his son, also named Ferdinand, to Isabella heir to the throne of Spanish Castile, an event which occurred between the royal cousins in 1469. During this period the Turks continued to expand their Empire toward Eastern Europe and westward toward Greece and Italy. The merchant families of Genoa continued to increase their presence, influence and marriage connections, especially the Doria family, on the Iberian Peninsula. By the early 1470’s the Doria family had a number of significant land holdings and marriage connections in Portugal’s trade colonies along the African coast and some Genoa ship captains such as Columbus were marrying into Portugal’s minor noble families.

 In Italy, Don Ferrante’s rule was oppressive and harsh and did not have wide spread support among the hereditary southern nobility. As a result the Angevin’s began to try to reassert their influence and regain the region. War again broke out and Ferrante was only able to establish his authority and defeat the Angevin led forces with outside help in 1464. In 1480 a Turkish fleet attacked and captured the port city of Otranto, massacring most of the inhabitants of the city. Ferrante’s son Alfonso led an army which was successful in recapturing Otranto from the Turks and driving them off the peninsula. Even with this success the threat of Turkish invasion continued to grow. In 1485 there was an attempted revolt by the nobles traditionally associated with our region. The main conspirators were Francesca Coppola and Antonello Sanservino and the revolt had the backing of Pope Innocent VIII. The uprising was eventually defeated and although a truce was reached and a general promise of amnesty given to the nobles by Don Ferrante most of the nobles were executed.

 In Spain, Europe’s most powerful couple Ferdinand and Isabella were experiencing a high degree of success in their military campaign against the Muslim’s of southern Spain. After the fall of the last Muslim stronghold they enacted a royal edict requiring all non Christians in their Kingdom to either convert to Christianity or leave. The deadline was set at August 3, 1492. The edict not only affected Muslims but Jews as well. Since Sicily was a colony of Spanish Aragon the edict applied there. Jewish communities had existed in Spain and Sicily for over fifteen hundred years and there were great protests against the edict in Sicily which delayed the edict’s implementation by a year but couldn’t stop it. Many people have pointed out that the expulsion deadline in Spain is the same date that Columbus left on his voyage of exploration. It is estimated that in Spain and Sicily about half of the Jewish population elected to leave rather than convert. In Sicily it is thought that about fifty thousand Jews left most seeking new communities in Rome, northern Italy and Europe. Those Jews that remained and declared themselves Christian were referred to both in Spain and Italy as “Conversos”.

 Columbus’ first voyage in 1492 was one of exploration and was sponsored by the Spanish Crown. Columbus’ subsequent voyages were commercial ventures sponsored by commercial interests. The Doria family sponsored all of Columbus’ later voyages. Columbus made landfall on his second voyage in 1493 at a place today known as Saltwater Cove, Island of St. Croix American Virgin Islands. On board his vessel were representatives of the Doria family.


          Landing site of Columbus’ second voyage 1493
                     photo courtesy of Alan Di Sciullo


  In 1493 in the Kingdom of Naples Don Ferrante was in declining health and King Charles VIII of France determined that the timing was right to prepare an invasion. Don Ferrante and his son Alfonso were aware of the preparations and did not believe they had the resources to defend against such an attack. They tried negotiation but were unsuccessful. On January 25, 1494 Don Ferrante died. Recent examination of his mummy determined that he died of cancer. Charles VIII began his invasion later that year beginning a period known as the Italian Wars.



© San Felese Society of New Jersey

Contact Us         Home