Tax Collection Offices Explode in Naples

Some excerpts from The Carafas of Maddaloni: Naples under Spanish dominion () concerning a successful tax revolt in :

It is easy to conceive how ill the people spoke of the taxgatherers, who, by their severity and roughness in their daily treatment, kept up perpetual quarrels and ill-will with the equally rough populace, who therefore tried to deceive them. On one beautiful summer night the custom-house in the great market-place flew up into the air. A quantity of powder had been conveyed into it by unknown hands, and in the morning nothing remained but the blackened ruins. It had been intended by this action to oblige the viceroy to take off the taxes; but, without loss of time, in an opposite building a new custom-house was established. The collectors were only the more angry and unmerciful, and every day seemed to bring the outbreak nearer.

Thus the morning of , approached. It was Sunday, and a number of fruit-sellers, with carts and donkeys and full baskets, came into the town very early from Pozzuoli, and went as usual to the great market. Scarcely had they reached it when the dispute began. The question was not so much whether the tax was to be paid, as who was to pay it. The men of Pozzuoli maintained that the Neapolitan dealers in fruit were to pay five carlins on an hundred weight; the others said that it was not their business: thus the disturbance began. Some respectable people who foresaw the evil hastened to the viceroy, who commissioned Andrea Naclerio, the deputy of the people, to go immediately to the market-place, and restore peace. Naclerio was getting into a boat to sail to Posilipo, where he intended to spend the day with his colleagues belonging to the association of nobles, when he received the order. He turned back, coasted along the shore of the Marinella, and got out by the tanner’s gate, near the fort which takes its name from the church of the Carmelites. Here a different Sunday scene awaited him from that which he had promised himself in the fragrant and shady gardens. The market was filled with riotous people, and the uproar was so much the worse because Masaniello, with his troop of Alarbes, had met there in the morning for a grand review. The people of Pozzuoli, of bad fame since the days of Don Pedro de Toledo, quarrelled and protested; the Neapolitans were not a whit behind them in fluency of speech. The tax-gatherers would listen to no remonstrances, and insisted upon the payment. Andrea Naclerio tried in all ways to obtain a hearing and to appease the tumult. He said to the Pozzuolans that they ought to pay, that the money would be returned to them: they would not. He demanded to have the fruit weighed; he would pay the tax out of his own purse: this also they refused. The tax-gatherers and sbirri now lost all patience. They fetched the great scales, and wanted to weigh the fruit by force. Then the venders pushed down the baskets, so that the fruit rolled along the ground, and called out to the people, “Take what you can get, and taste it; it is the last time that we shall come here to the market!”

From all sides boys and men flung themselves upon the baskets and the fruit. The signal was given for an insurrection. The tax-gatherers drove the people back; the people made use of the fruit as their weapons. Andrea Naclerio rushed into the thickest of the crowd; the captain of the sbirri and some of the respectable inhabitants of the adjacent tan quarter hastened hither, and bore him in their arms out of the knot of men who in one moment had increased to a large mass; for idle people had flocked thither from the neighbouring street, from the dirty and populous Lavinaro, as well as from the coast. The deputy was rejoiced to reach his boat, and made the rowers ply vigorously that he might bring the news of the tumult to the palace. But the populace proceeded from fruit to stones, put to flight the tax-gatherers and sbirri, crowded into the custom-house, destroyed the table and chairs, set fire to the ruins as well as the account-books, so that soon a bright flame rose up amidst the loud rejoicings of the bystanders.

Meanwhile Andrea Naclerio had reached the palace. He related the whole proceeding to the viceroy, and pointed out to him at the same time that only the abolition of the fruit tax could appease the people. The Duke of Arcos resolved to try mildness. Two men of illustrious birth, who were more beloved by the crowd than the others, Tiberio Carafa, Prince of Bisignano, and Ettore Ravaschieri, Prince of Satriano, repaired to the market-place as peacemakers. Naclerio was not satisfied with this; he feared that Don Tiberio would, in his kindness, promise more than could be performed, and so only make matters worse. What he had foreseen happened. When Bisignano reached the market and found the crowd still wild with rage, he announced that the viceroy would not only abolish the fruit-tax, but all the other gabelles: they might make merry and be satisfied.

The rioters listened. A promise from the viceroy of the abolition of all the gabelles — that was worth hearing. Masaniello had kept quiet during the assault upon the deputy and the tax-gatherers, and to a certain degree had acted as mediator. “Now,” he exclaimed, “we will march to the palace.” The great mass of the people followed him; another troop surrounded Bisignano, who would gladly have freed himself from his wild escort, and trotted his horse when he came to the king’s gate; but they soon reached him again, and so much forgot the respect due to his rank, that they laid their hands on him and compelled him to accompany them to San Lorenzo, the residence of the superior town magistrate. Arrived here, they cried out for the privileges of Charles Ⅴ., an idea instilled into them by Giulio Genuino, who, disguised and with a long beard, made one of the procession, and was the soul of all the intrigues that were hidden under the wild impulses of the masses. Don Tiberio Carafa esteemed himself fortunate to escape from his oppressors; he crept into a cell, and went to Castelnuovo, from whence he repaired to Home, so exhausted from the scene he had witnessed that he died mad not long afterwards.

Meanwhile the far more numerous band was on its way to the royal palace. Drummers marched in advance. Masaniello had mounted a horse, and held up a banner, some of his followers were provided with sticks, and others armed with poles. They had in their haste seized upon any implements that they could find; numerous lads, old guards of the leader, accompanied the strange procession. Whistling and making a blustering noise, most of them in rags and barefooted — a genuine mob, who soon became aware how much was left to their will and discretion. The duke was in the palace, and with him many of the nobles belonging to the town, who advised him to strengthen his Spanish guard immediately; but he would not, whether from fear of irritating the people, or because he did not consider the danger so imminent. The grand master of the horse, Don Carlo Caracciolo, with Don Luis Ponce de Leone, a cousin of the viceroy’s and governor of the vicarial court, were standing on one of the balconies at the moment when the crowd reached the square before the palace, and Masaniello waving his banner three times before the royal guard, called out “Long life to the king of Spain! Down with the gabelles!” — a cry which was repeated by thousands of the people. Caracciolo went down, and began to talk to the people. They remained standing; they complained of the oppressive taxes; they complained of the bad bread; they held him out pieces of it; he might judge for himself whether it was food for men or for dogs. They urged above all the deposition of the Eletto, on whom, as usual, the blame was laid that things were not more prosperous.

At first affairs went on tolerably well. With great dexterity Don Carlo kept the crowd away from the entrances, whilst he corresponded by means of his vassals with the viceroy, who consented to Naclerio’s deposition — to the abolition of the duties on fruit and on wine. Now the audacity of the crowd increased. Why not ask for more when everything was granted to them? The flour-tax also! Caracciolo objected; things could not go on so. But in the same moment new masses of many thousand men crowded into the square, uttering wild noises. The negotiator was obliged to give way, and had only time to inform the viceroy that he might withdraw into Castelnuovo.

The protesters rushed the palace and pushed past the outnumbered German bodyguard. The Duke of Arcos tried to address the crowd to make concessions but was unheeded. He fled as the crowd began to vandalize the palace “in the midst of wild rejoicings and laughter.”

The Duke of Arcos had descended the spiral staircase, when he perceived that the bridges of the castle were already drawn up, the portcullis let down. He believed that he could save himself by crossing the square to the opposite convent of the Minimi, as he imagined that the rebels were too much occupied with plundering the palace to attend to him. But he miscalculated. Scarcely had he reached the square, when he was recognised and surrounded. A knight of St. Jago, Don Antonio Taboada, was accidentally passing by, he succeeded in penetrating through the crowd to the viceroy, and lifted him into his carriage. The fescue of the Duke of Arcos turned upon a hair. One of the people, it is said Masaniello himself, wanted to thrust his sword into him, but the blow was parried by Don Emanuel Vaez. A runaway Augustinian monk seized him by the hair and screamed “Abolish the taxes!” The carriage could not go on. The horses pranced; some of the people seized the reins; the coachman was on the ground. Then many of the nobles pressed through the crowd, making themselves a passage partly by violence, partly by fair words — the Count of Conversano, the Marquises of Torrecuso and Brienza, the Duke of Castile Airola, the prior of Rocella Carafa, Don Antonio Enriquez, and Carlo Caracciolo — the viceroy was indebted to them for his rescue. They surrounded the carriage with drawn swords. The rebels had already taken the harness off the horses; two noblemen took possession of it, put it on as well as they could, and Caracciolo jumped upon the coachbox, fastened in the loose horses, whilst the other nobles remained at the door. But there was no getting further — the cries, the uproar, the mass of men increased every instant. So few against so many — if there was any delay no exit would remain. Don Carlo Caracciolo’s mind was quickly made up; he opened the doors of the carriage, dragged out the half-dead viceroy, seized him by the arm, whilst the rest of the nobles surrounded them, raising high their swords, and warding off the pressure of the mob. With the cry “Make room for the king!” they got through the crowd.

The duke was carried off to a convent by these noblemen, under continuing abuse from the mob, which then tried to storm the hastily-barricaded convent.

“Long life to the King of Spain! Down with the bad government!” This was the cry, echoed from a thousand voices. The Duke of Arcos showed himself at the window — he repeated that he would grant what was desired — he threw down a declaration signed by himself: nothing was of any avail. The rebels tried to get into the convent through the church; they threatened to drag the viceroy to the market. The alarm spread through the town. At this momentous crisis, the Cardinal Archbishop Ascanio Filomarino appeared.

The more important the part which the Archbishop of Naples acted during the revolutions of the kingdom, so much the more interesting is the account of it written by himself, in a letter addressed to Pope Innocent . “When I left my house ,” he writes on the , “to go to the Capuchin convent, I perceived that the viceroy was besieged in his palace by from fifty to sixty thousand of the people, who wished to extort by any means the abolition of the fruit-tax. This tax has agitated the minds of the people for some days: the crowd was alike exasperated against the ministers and the nobles, and threatened to plunder their houses, and even not to spare the convents, for it is said that from fear of an insurrection a great number of treasures, jewels, as well as plate, have been concealed in these last places. Upon this news I changed my purpose, and turned back towards the town by the gate of the Holy Ghost. On the way I met numbers of my acquaintance who were making their escape, and advised me not to go further, but to return home, which only stimulated me to hasten my speed. About a hundred steps from the palace of the nuncio (on the Toledo) I met a troop of armed men, who were marching on in the greatest excitement, whilst people streamed from all the adjacent streets. I expected kindness from this people, that I have always found full of respect and affection for their pastors, and amongst whom I saw many that were personally known to me. When I gave the crowd the blessing for which they longed so much, that they were unwilling to let me pass without it, and spoke kindly to the people, they replied that at all events the fruit-tax must be abolished. I assured them that I would stand by them, and willingly sacrifice my life for them, and labour for the abolition of this and of the other gabelles. They must be quiet, and let me act, they would certainly be satisfied. The further I proceeded the greater was the crowd, so that to get more space some of the leaders of the people, who were well inclined towards me, accompanied me and made room for me by making signs that I was on their side. Thus with great difficulty I reached the square before the palace, that I found full of frantic people. When I understood that the viceroy had taken refuge in the convent of the Minimi, I sent him word by one of my noblemen that I was arrived, but that he must submit to the people. I received for answer that the viceroy as well as the officers with him were extremely rejoiced at my arrival; and as I was getting out of my carriage to go into the convent, the Marquis of Torrecuso brought me a note written by the viceroy himself, in which he promised the abolition of the gabelles. After I had read the note, and communicated its contents to the people, I ordered them aloud, and in the presence of all, to pull down the custom-houses; and that on the next morning better and more substantial bread would be sold. I cannot describe to your Holiness how this order pacified and contented the people. When I returned to my carriage the crowd surrounded me; they knelt before me, they kissed my hands and my clothes; those who could not reach me, made signs at a distance with their hands and mouths. As I returned by the same road, I made it known everywhere that the gabelles were abolished, and that the bread would be better. This announcement had such an effect, that in the above-mentioned part of the town the tumult considerably subsided, and people’s minds were tranquil, and I desired the leaders of the mob to go into the other quarters of the town, there to proclaim the same good tidings, and restore peace.”*

But the cardinal deceived himself, and assisted perhaps even more than did Tiberius Carafa by his imprudence to increase the rebellion. The passions of the multitude once excited, evil-minded persons were not wanting who availed themselves of this excitement. Scarcely had the archbishop departed, when the uproar began again. Neither the Prince of Montesarchio, nor Don Prospero Tuttavilla, nor any others were able to restore peace, however lavish of their words. The populace attacked the Spanish guard belonging to the palace, broke in pieces their drums, smashed their pikes, and were so violent that the soldiers were obliged to fire. This produced an effect. Five or six of them fell, and the crowd dispersed in a wild flight. The viceroy had profited by the interval, going out by the back door of the convent, to reach a house situated on the slope of Pizzofalcone. Here he got into a closed sedan-chair, and, accompanied by many noblemen, went to the castle of St. Elmo over the bridge built by the Duke of Medina, which unites the hill of Pizzofalcone with that of San Martino. Part of the way the mountain was so steep that the bearers of the sedan-chair in which was the viceroy could not proceed. He was obliged to get out, and by a great exertion this corpulent man climbed the height. Other cavaliers attached themselves to this procession which met with no impediment from the masses of the people who had all moved down to the lower parts of the town. The Duchess of Arcos, into whose apartments the populace had penetrated, had fled with her children and servants, with her maids of honour and many other ladies of illustrious birth belonging to the town, into Castelnuovo. But the Spanish troops had left the neighbouring posts, too weak to be able to defend them against the mob, and all the army had assembled under the Prince of Ascoli in the park, which joins the palace as well as the castle, to maintain this advantageous post by their united efforts.

The night came — what a night! A hundred thousand men marched with loud cries through the town. The churches were open, and resounded with prayers for the restoration of peace. The Theatines and Jesuits left their convents and arranged themselves in processions, singing litanies to the Madonna and the saints, but the Ora pro nobis was overpowered by the fury of the crowd. Although the first forced their way down the Toledo to the palace, and the others penetrated to the great market-place, they were obliged nevertheless to withdraw without having accomplished their object. All the highwaymen and murderers, of which Naples was full, left their hiding-places. The first thing done was to break open the prisons and set the prisoners at liberty — all, excepting those confined in the prisons of the vicarial court, for the castle of Capuano inspired the rebels with respect, whether because of a very large imperial eagle of Charles Ⅴ., fixed over the portal, or because the garrison of the old fortress, together with the sbirri, stood with lighted matches behind the cross-bars, and threatened the assailants with a bloody welcome. The prisoners in the vicarial court now sought to set themselves free, and began by destroying the cross-bars with heavy beams; but some shots, which laid two of them dead on the ground, warned them to desist from their attempt. All the other prisons were cleared, and the archives and everything that could be found in them was burnt; the toll-booths throughout the town were demolished; the mob went from one gate to another. Everywhere the toll-gatherers had escaped — nobody thought of making any resistance, and as there were no more prisons to be broken open, no more customhouses to be destroyed, the populace began to attack the houses of those whom they knew had, by farming tolls or in any other way, become rich at the expense of the people. There was no mention of defence — the proprietors were glad to save their bare lives. Many rewarded with gold the services of the rowers, who conveyed them to a villa at Posilipo, or to any other place beyond the town. But the houses were emptied: first that of the cashier of taxes, Alphonso Vagliano. Beautiful household furniture, plate, pictures, everything that could be found was dragged into the streets, thrown together in a heap and burnt; and when one of the people wanted to conceal a jewel, he was violently upbraided by the rest.

* Lettere del Cardinal Filomarino, published by G. Aiazzi. Florence, (printed again at Palermo and other places). Pp. 379–393.

The Prince of Montesarchio was the first whom the viceroy sent as a messenger of peace… Montesarchio rode to the market-place provided with a written promise of the viceroy’s touching the abolition of the taxes. He took an oath in the church of the Carmelites that the promise should be kept: the people refused to believe him.

The rioting and thorough destruction of property continued on :

All the rich and noble persons who were concerned in the farming of tolls, as well as all members of the government, saw their houses demolished. … Above forty palaces and houses were consumed by the flames on this day, or were razed to the ground…

…To oblige the viceroy the Duke of Maddaloni rode once more into the market-place, carrying with him a manifesto, according to which all the gabelles which had been introduced since the time of Charles Ⅴ. were abolished, and a general amnesty granted for the crimes already committed.

The mob were not satisfied, now claiming that they also wanted more radical political reform in the form of these “privileges of Charles Ⅴ.” They instead took the Duke captive (he escaped and fled that night). The Viceroy and company finally dug up the document enacting these principles and entrusted archbishop Filomarino to take it to the rioters as a sign of their victory (and that they could please stop rioting now). By this time, though, the riot had developed a destructive momentum, and leaders had come forward to press for, and gain, even more political concessions.

The rioters certainly showed the power of the people over their rulers, who were forced to make significant concessions in order to regain authority. Soon after these events, the Neapolitan Republic briefly became independent.

I was struck by the detail that the rioters were careful to destroy rather than loot property (“when one of the people wanted to conceal a jewel, he was violently upbraided by the rest”). This reminded me of the Boston Tea Party, which was similarly harsh against anyone who tried to filch, rather than destroy, the imported tea.