The signal was given for an insurrection. The tax-gatherers drove the people back; the people made use of the fruit as their weapons.
Continuing Masaniello’s Revolt At Naples,
our selection from The Carafa of Maddaloni Naples under Spanish Rule by Alfred Von Reumont published in 1851. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in twelve easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Masaniello’s Revolt At Naples.
Time: July 7, 1647
At that festival it was the custom to build a castle of wood and canvas in the middle of the market-place, close to which, as already has been described, was the church and convent of the Carmelites, and this castle was besieged and defended by troops of the people. The great mass of the assailants was formed out of a band of lads of the lowest class, about four hundred in number, who painted the greatest part of their bodies and their faces black and red; their tattered clothes gave them an oriental appearance. They were armed with sticks, and called the company of the Alarbes, perhaps an Arabian name. They were drilled by Masaniello, and considered him as their chief.
It is easy to conceive how ill the people spoke of the tax-gatherers, 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 July 7, 1647, 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 should 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 a hundredweight; the others said 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 them 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 neighboring 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 noise 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 amid 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.
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