Nobility a constant phenomenon in almost all forms of political society, since the most remote times of history, is the existence of more or less numerous groups of families constituting a privileged class, which according to times and circumstances tends to centralize in power is in its own hands, or it is limited to exercising a more or less preponderant influence on the political direction of the social organization to which it belongs.

This class is represented by the nobility, which therefore can be defined as the set of individuals or families, constituting, in the sense indicated above, a special social class completely distinct from the others.

The Nobility of Italy reflects the fact that medieval "Italy" was a set of separate states until 1870 and had many royal bloodlines. The Italian royal families were often related through marriage to each other and to other European royal families. Prior to Italian Unification, the existence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (which before 1816 was split in Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of Sicily), the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma the Duchy of Modena, the Duchy of Savoy, the Duchy of Milan, the Papal States, various republics and the Austrian dependencies in Northern Italy led to parallel nobilities with different traditions and rules.

If we talk about sovereign houses in Italy we are talking about the House of Sforza, the House of Visconti, the House of Savoy, the House of Farnese, that of Medici, that of Gonzaga, that of the Este and that of Bourbon.  Hoding titles from princes and dukes, through marquises, counts, barons, patricians and other feudal titles. Let's say that there was not much agreement in the titles either. When the unification took place in 1870, the House of Savoy tried to unite, amalgamate, the different nobles and titles but legally it was not able to do so because many families adhered to their titles with force, although the granting dynasties no longer existed.

The truth is that the issue of Italian nobility is not at all simple because this situation means that on the one hand there is the Italian nobility and on the other the Roman nobility. The Popes have distributed titles and favors throughout the centuries and many families have remained united to the Vatican and there were even hard crossings at the time of the unification because it implied the end of the Papal States. From there the call was born black aristocracy, for mourning this situation.

The wigild (the amount of money fixed as compensation for the murder or disablement of a person, computed on the basis of rank) of the nobles in ancient times was several times greater than that of the free. From the principle of parity of birth between judges and judged, special tribunals for nobles originated in some part of Italy: and in fact in the agreements concluded in 1243 between Innocent IV and Frederick II it was expressly established that the nobles were judged by their peers, what Frederick II himself recognized as a right of the nobles of the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, and which the Aragonese kings recognized to the nobles of Sardinia.

In the empire, the special tribunal for princes and great dignitaries functioned in the presence of the emperor, a custom that was imitated in those countries governed by monarchy, where the nobility had greater importance. In Naples, where the nobles also claimed to keep their heads covered in the presence of the king, the magna curia judged civil and criminal cases of the counts, barons and other royal feudatories, instead a special commission composed of five or six knights of the seat he judged, by privilege granted by King Robert of Anjou to the city nobility of the seats, of the bloodless issues and fights that had arisen among those ascribed to the seats.

In Sicily there was a criminal forum made up of twelve nobles, who had to be deputies every year by the parliament to sentence in the trials against the owners of fiefdoms guilty of crimes carrying corporal punishment. From the time of Charles V the functions of the said forum passed to the Magna Curia. In Sardinia, not only the nobles, but also their families and their servants, whenever the crimes involved capital punishment or mutilation, had to be judged by their peers, that is, by the members of the military station. In Savoy and Piedmont the quarrels of the barons and the Banderese were judged by the resident council with the prince. Finally, even in Venice the nobility enjoyed a favorable condition: the patricians of that city recognized the common courts in civil matters in Venice, but outside Venice they were subject only to the representatives of the government; in criminal matters they could only be judged by the courts of Venice, where various laws of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries submitted them, both as accused and as an injured party, to the Council of Ten, which in less serious cases could delegate the Magistrate of blasphemy.

During the trial the nobles, in some states such as Spain, but not in France and Italy, at least in the Milanese and the Papal States, were exempt from torture. Even special prisons were requested for them, which do not seem to have ever been granted; but certainly the penalties that were inflicted on the nobles were usually less severe than those inflicted on the plebeians: they were given the prison for those same crimes for which the nobles were sentenced to relegation or deportation and deprivation of office; then the nobles could often pay for their crime with money, as established by the chapters of Charles of Anjou, the Venetian laws and the statutes of Amedeo VIII of Savoy. That if it happened sometimes that even the nobles had to pay the penalty for the crimes with their lives, they also had the right to certain respects: with the exception of the infamous crimes, the nobles were not hanged, but instead beheaded and it happened that for some noble it was adorned the gallows in a special way.

The nobility in the earliest time did not pass to children born out of wedlock, even if legitimized per subsequens matrimonium. Particularly rigorous in this regard were the provisions of the Venetian republic, which were not satisfied with removing in 1376 the right to belong to the Maggior Consiglio (Greatest Council) to anyone born to noble parents before marriage, but denied that right in 1422 even to legitimate children if the mother was of a vile condition. Succession in fiefdoms was also usually precluded to legitimate children. But later, after the application of the norms of Roman law, the effects of legitimization were made to depend on the words of the re-script that granted it, distinguishing legitimatio plena from that minus plena. In many vassal states of the empire, the faculty of legitimizing bastards in the broadest forms was delegated to the Palatine counts.

The Kingdom of Sicily in the Norman and Swabian age

The arrival of the Normans in southern Italy in the early 11th century triggered a complete change in the profile of the nobility. The new Norman rulers established their own network of counties and appointed their own followers as counts. There were numerous new appointments, and counts were frequently switched from one county to another, or dispossessed entirely as punishment for participation in the numerous rebellions organized against the Norman rulers.

The Nobility of Sicily and Naples is probably one of the oldest nobilities of the world, and one of the most interesting in terms of grandeur, prestige and history. This nobility had enormous and significant historical ties with Spain, Austria, France and the Holy Roman Empire. Several Kings of Spain were also Kings of Sicily and Naples. French Kings were Kings of Sicily and Naples. The relationship of this nobility with the Austrian Hapsburg Dynasty was very important too.

Naples and Sicily first became a united kingdom in 1130, when Norman adventurers conquered southern Italy. Naples ruled southern Italy and usually Sicily as well from the Middle Ages until Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Red Shirts overthrew the kingdom in 1860 and united it with the new Kingdom of Italy. Though often called the “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies,” this only became its official given name in 1816.

Constance Altavilla (Hauteville), daughter of Roger II, became the only heir of the Norman Kingdom.

In 1186 Constance Altavilla, daughter of Roger II and the heir of the Norman Kingdom, at the age of forty, married the 20 year old German Emperor Henri VI of Swabian-Hohenstaufen in Milan.

And this was the end of the Norman Kingdom after a little more than a hundred years. Their son was Frederick II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He had been brought up in Sicily during his whole life and therefore was more a Sicilian than a German. His splendid court in Palermo was the most brilliant in Europe, famous for its luxury and education.

The Castle of Lombardia in Sicily reached its highest prosperity under his rule, it was the life-centre of the Mediterranean. Frederick II inspired a moral unity among the different populations of the island: Arabs, Byzantines, Latins, Jews. All the sciences flourished under him: medicine, astronomy, mathematics and Latin letters. A Sicilian "school" of poetry was founded in Palermo, and it was the first in Italy to give poetry a common language which later developed into the famous "Stil Novo" (new style will influence part of Italian poetry up to Petrarch) of Tuscany.

The whole of European life was ruled from Palermo, and Sicilians never forgot this fact. When Frederick died in 1250, the heir of the Empire was his son Conrad IV. He was in Germany, fighting against the German Barons in open rebellion. So he left the crown of the Italian Kingdom to his half brother Manfred. The Papacy in the meantime claimed the Norman Kingdom as its own property, and the French Pope Clement IV offered the Kingdom to Charles Anjou, brother of French King Louis IX the Saint. Charles of course came quickly to Italy, and killed Manfred at Benevento in 26 February 1266.

The last Swabian was his son Corradino, only 15 years old. He was nominated by Sicilians to become their King, but he was killed by Charles Anjou in Naples. In order to punish Sicily, Charles sent down an army under the command of William à l'Envers, one of the most ferocious and cruel men among his officers. Four more years of brutal killings and blood: in 1270 the hated Angevin rule was imposed all over Sicily.

The capital of the Kingdom was then transferred from Palermo to Naples. Very heavy taxation caused hardship to the population, the best lands and public offices were assigned to the French, and a rebellion broke out soon after with the so-called Sicilian Vespers. It all started in Palermo on Easter Monday 1282. A French officer approached a young Sicilian bride and searched her with both hands, claiming she was concealing a weapon. Immediately pandemonium broke out, and any Frenchmen who could not pronounce correctly the word "Cicero", chick-pea, were executed. Probably, connected with this massacre, is the origin of the world "mafia".

The Sicilians chased the French out from everywhere, shouting: "ammazza li Francesi" (Kill the French!).

Seggi o Sedili - (Squares or Seats) Neapolitan nobility

A word of explanation about the “Sedili” (or “Seggi”, or “Piazze”) of Naples. These Sedili, or “Seats”,  functioned as the city’s main administrative units from the mid-13th century to the year 1800. In the developed period there were six in all, with nobles filling five of the Sedili and the ordinary citizenry the remaining one. The representatives of the Sedili, known as the “Eletti”, designated the Magistrati del Tribunale di San Lorenzo, who had a wide variety of civil responsibilities.

Starting from the year 1000, those Normans from the Holy Land began to arrive in the southern provinces of Italy who, with the help of local forces, defeated the Byzantines and the Lombards, uniting the various provinces under their dominion and forming a Kingdom.

This meant that some families came into possession of fiefdoms, receiving honors and glories that they passed down to their descendants.

In Naples, the new policy of exchanges and relations also had repercussions in the cultural, literary and artistic fields. The city lost that Byzantine and Arab oriental face favored by the domination of the Eastern Empire; from the autonomous Duchy, preserved during the Norman-Swabian period, it acquired a Western and European aspect.

As regards the administrative system, the recovery of the organization in Piazza or Seats is due to the Angevins. This body was created in 1268 in continuity with the Norman regions and the Swabian touches, thus granting this privilege to the local aristocracy.

Seggi o Sedili (The Squares or Seats) were synonymous with Piazza because the buildings that housed them stood in the widening of the public streets. For their architecture they were also called Theater, Loggia or Portico. The buildings that housed the seats became, over the centuries, sumptuous and adorned with their coat of arms and that belonging to the families that composed them and were continually embellished with frescoes and sculptures. They were built with a quadrilateral plan with arcades and large facing steps, with only one side closed where there was a meeting room for members. The latter were called Cavalieri di Seggio (Knights of the Seat). They dealt with public affairs relating to the seat which was a territorial area or a district. Voting to deliberate took place at the end of a free debate.

The official recognition of the functions of the seats is due to Manfred of Swabia, who established that one sixtieth of the rights of the land and sea Customs of the city of Naples should be shared among the noble Neapolitan patricians enrolled in the seats, for the dignity of the life that is took place in the territory of each seat.

Before the Angevin reform, the institute of seats was composed of larger seats which, at first, were the oldest neighborhoods that divided the city into four parts: Capuana, Forcella, Montagna and Nilo or Nido. To these were added those of Porto and Portanova.

The minor seats took their name from a noble family that had houses in that area, or from a nearby church. In total in Naples there were twenty-nine seats, between major and minor.

The Angevin reform begun by King Robert and carried out by Queen Giovanna considerably reduced the ancient privileges of the Neapolitan seats. Administrative power was reduced to a minimum and political power was annihilated. The minor seats were abolished and the families belonging to them were aggregated to the relevant main seat. In 1684 the ancient seat of Forcella was abolished and incorporated into that of Montagna. Following these measures, the number of Neapolitan seats was reduced to five, with the addition of that of the People, based in via della Sellaria, "in charge of the Market Gate and that of the Navy". The latter, suppressed by Alfonso of Aragon, was restored by Charles VIII.

They were distinguished in the following way:

  • Capuana, near the door of the same name that it was required to guard;
  • Nido, deformation of the original Nilo entry, was based at the Gate of Constantinople;
  • Forcella, from the place of the executions had as a symbol the letter Y in a gold field;
  • Montagna, in the via Capuana guarded the door;
  • Porto, transferred in the first half of the eighteenth century from the homonymous road to a more important site, near the church of the Ospedaletto, protected the Chiaia gate;
  • Portanova, also known as the Porta di Mare seat, was rebuilt for the second time in the eighteenth century on a design by Lucchesi

The first deputation, known as pecunia, collected the gabelles (taxes) and administered the assets of the second; the third was assigned to the external defense of the city and to the gathering of a militia of volunteers in case of danger. The fourth provided for internal defense, water supply and brickwork, ie the maintenance of the roads and buildings; the fifth deputation, in charge of the protection of citizens' guarantees, had the right to send, in case of need, ambassadors to deal directly with the sovereign. The sixth provided for relations with the monasteries; the seventh was responsible for protecting the city from the establishment of the Court of the Holy Office; the eighth, of the Mint, controlled the minting of coins; the ninth supervised the Annona (The organization and regulation of public nutrition by the authorities: councilor; also, the officials who assume responsibility for it, and the building where the relevant office is located) and the supply of oil and wheat. The people elected to the seat of the people had control over the sellers of the food market.

During the Spanish domination, the viceroyalty undermined the strength of this civic organization, fomenting rivalry not only between the classes, but also within the nobility itself. By claiming for himself the faculty of assigning to the seats both the new rising class and the landed nobility, eager to equate themselves with that city, Philip II favored the hostility of the "seat nobles" towards the "kingdoms" and the new cultural elite . This deprived the seats of those new forces more necessary than ever against the viceregal political disruptor.

The compactness of interests, both within the nobility and between the nobility and the people in the common goal of the good of the city, brought the success of the two classes to the success that was lacking, however, when the divided ideological positions opposed their aims; emblematic examples: the revolt of Masaniello, which lacked the support of the nobility and the events of the Neapolitan Republic which found the people alien and even hostile. On two different levels two utopias, that of the revolutionary fishmonger and that of a revolt, immature fruit for a long time of the declining century of the Enlightenment, which arose on the wave of the French revolution. It is certain that the arrival of the Bourbons in Naples in the early eighteenth century had begun a long period of legislative reforms which proved propitious to bring about radical changes in the Kingdom.

Charles III was the first king of an independent kingdom after two centuries of viceroyalty. Abolished by his order the viceregal pragmatic which, prohibiting the extra moenia palaces houses (Moenia Latin phrase that means outside the walls or outside the walls of the city), had lavishly crowded the center of the city, Naples began to expand towards the hills, towards the village of the Virgins, with the noble palaces of the de'Liguori and dei San Felice: in the crown, the royal casino would later become the Reggia di Capodimonte.

Other and countless were the works made by Charles III during his reign: the Royal Palace of Caserta, the Palazzo di Portici, the Fort of Granatello, the porcelain factory in Capodimonte, the Casina di Persano, the Herculaneum academy. In Naples: the obelisk of San Domenico, the San Carlo theater completed in 270 days, the obelisk of the Concezione del Gesù, just to name a few; Charles III financed the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

During his reign, he confirmed his privileges to the Neapolitan city so much so that in 1746 there was a new attempt, this time by Cardinal Spinelli, to establish the Court of the Inquisition, but the sovereign opposed swearing in the church of Carmine that the Tribunal would never have had its headquarters in Naples.

After Charles III left for Spain, the work of political-institutional change continued during the reign of Ferdinand IV who, until he came of age, was under the regency of Tanucci, whose policy had a great influence on the decisions of the new sovereign.

Among the many works carried out are mentioned: the construction of the first cemetery in Naples, which took place in 1762; the settlement of the islands of Ustica in 1760 and Lampedusa in 1765, which removed asylum from the Barbary pirates.

FERDINAND IV King of Naples, King of Sicily, King of Two Sicilies

FERDINAND IV. (1751-1825), king of Naples (III. of Sicily, and I. of the Two Sicilies), third son of Don Carlos of Bourbon, king of Naples and Sicily (afterwards Charles III. of Spain), was born in Naples on the 12th of January 1751. When his father ascended the Spanish throne in 175 9 Ferdinand, in accordance with the treaties forbidding the union of the two crowns, succeeded him as king of Naples, under a regency presided over by the Tuscan Bernardo Tanucci until his minority ended in 1767, and his first act was the expulsion of the Jesuits.

King Ferdinand IV had three theaters built: that of the Florentines, that of the Fund and that of San Ferdinando; the Granili factory, the botanical garden in Palermo, the English villa in Caserta, the construction site of Castellammare, the small port of Naples, the Royal Palace of Cardito and many roads to connect Naples with the provinces. He reorganized the Navy and the army, founded the Academy for learned weapons; he increased the economy of the Kingdom with the foundation of the Royal Sites and the silk colony of San Leucio.

In 1768 he established that a free school be opened in every municipality open to both sexes; by decree of the same year, he prescribed that in all religious houses there should be free schools for children; in each province the introduced a college to educate the youth.

Decree of 25 April 1800. Dissolution of the Naples Seats

On the waning of the eighteenth century, the French Revolution favored the expansion into the Kingdom of Jacobin ideas which significantly and negatively affected the latest political developments of the Bourbon monarchy. Following these events, the sovereign was forced to take refuge in Sicily twice with his family, helped by the nobles who remained loyal to him.

After the first humiliating exile, on 25 April 1800, returning to power, in consideration of what had happened up to then in Naples, Ferdinand IV made a series of reforms aimed above all at modifying the administrative structure of the Neapolitan city: he issued an edict in Palermo with which he suppressed the ancient seats of Naples, thus depriving the nobility of all its rights.

The Neapolitan aristocracy lost that relationship with the city. The full text of the royal decree of 25 April 1800 with which Ferdinand IV decided to dissolve the Seats of Naples, an ancient expression of Neapolitan city autonomy, is reported for use by scholars. Silvio Vitale called it "the most anti-traditional act of the Bourbon monarchy".

At the basis of this decision was the observation that the monarchy had proved unworthy of his trust. The nobles had to constitute that caste that should have given prestige to the state, but in 1799 those same nobles who had enjoyed the sovereign's trust had shown themselves totally indifferent to the fate of the dynasty and, consequently, had not given proof of the required loyalty, allowing a group of their representatives to attack the sovereign authority.

For these reasons, the Seats were abolished, together with the body of the Elected of the city of Naples, and the Supreme Conservative Court of the Nobility of the Kingdom of Naples was established, composed of seven members with the task of compiling the Book of the Neapolitan nobility in which the families were registered with royal assent. This was the first of a long series of similar structures of the nineteenth century, which would have had the task of maintaining the principles of honor, fidelity and value. The edict of 1800 was of great importance in the history of the southern nobility, as well as the law of 2 August 1806 which abolished feudalism, permanently transforming that caste endowed with privileges and its own representative bodies into a group of people and families, albeit with particular qualities, but lacking an institution capable of satisfying their needs and aspirations.

Thus the registers, in which the Conservative Supreme Tribunal collected the list of nobles while preserving their memory, became instruments of a systematic control exercised by a monarchy capable of evaluating qualities and merits, of recognizing skills and of dispensing offices and services in a more vexatious compared to the past. The attempts of the representatives of the seats to grant pardons to the noble republicans condemned to death were vain, who, making revolutionary ideals their own, sacrificed their privileges by paying with their lives for the progress of the ideas of freedom. Among the many we remember: Giuliano Colonna from Stigliano, Gennaro Serra from Cassano, Ettore Carafa from Andria, Ferdinando and Mario Pignatelli from Strongoli, Francesco Caracciolo, Eleonora Pimentel Fonseca, Luisa Sanfelice.

Deprived of its historical functions, the Neapolitan aristocracy lost that relationship with the city, in the name of which it had managed to avoid its disaster many times. The seats of the polling stations were incorporated into the state property and were reduced to houses and shops.

The nobles were thus deprived of the places of their cultural identity. To avoid the dispersion of anonymity, it was possible to attempt a reconstruction on the contrary of the lost wealth, through the transmission of those values: traditions / memories / religion, with which to confirm one's identity.

The fall of the House of Bourbon and the Kingdom of Naples ad the Two Sicilies

The aftermath of the Franco-Austrian War brought about a series of plebiscites in the northern Italian states. By going to the ballot box, the states voted to join Piedmont-Sardinia, with the ultimate goal of unifying the entire peninsula.

The formation of the modern Italian state began in 1861 with the unification of most of the peninsula under the House of Savoy (Piedmont-Sardinia) into the Kingdom of Italy. Italy incorporated Venetia and the former Papal States (including Rome) by 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).

Until the unification of Italy in 1861, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was the largest, most prosperous, wealthiest and populous of the Italian states. Nearly half of the world's Italians - in Italy and its diaspora - trace their roots to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The last dynasty to rule Sicily (and almost half of the Italian peninsula) as a sovereign kingdom is a branch of the royal houses of France and Spain. The Bourbons of the Two Sicilies are descended in the direct male line from Hugh Capet, Saint Louis and the Angevins, and more recently the Bourbons through Louis XIV.

Until 1816 Naples and Sicily were separate kingdoms, each with their own laws, customs, and constitutions. Between 1816 and 1848, the island of Sicily experienced three popular revolts against Bourbon rule, including the revolution of independence of 1848, when the island was fully independent of Bourbon control for 16 months.

Several rebellions took place on the island of Sicily against King Ferdinand II (reigned 1830–1859), but the end of the kingdom came only with the Expedition of the Thousand in 1860, led by Garibaldi – an icon of Italian unification – with the support of the House of Savoy and their Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

King Victor Emmanuel II, to unify the Italian states through war. ... In 1860, they marched into South Italy and the Kingdom of the two Sicilies and succeeded in winning the support of the local peasants in order to drive out the Spanish rulers. In 1861 Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed the king of United Italy —until 1946 when civil discontent led an institutional referendum to abandon the monarchy and form the modern Italian Republic.

Italian Noble titles are no longer recognized

With the entry into force of the Republican Constitution on 1 January 1948, the legal protection of noble titles ceased in Italy and a gray period of uncertainty began, overlapping between the judicial and administrative systems, the inclusion of different forms of self-protection, always waiting for the Parliament issued a rule on the suppression of the Consulta Araldica (Heraldic Council, the government agency which regulated the use of titles of nobility.....Article XIV paragraph 4), which was the state body in charge of heraldic and noble matters since its establishment with RD of 10 October 1869.

Since 1948, in Italy, the noble titles are no longer recognized although not prohibited, the effect of XIV transitory and final disposition of the Constitution of the Italian Republic, as confirmed by the Constitutional sentence 101 of 26 June 1967, will exclude from the Legal sphere, for which they have no relevance, isolating them in an area exclusively privatized.

The fourteenth transitory and final disposition of the current Constitution of the Republic of Italy did not intend to abolish noble titles, or even to forbid their use (Noble titles are not recognized. The predicates of those existing prior to 28 October 1922 are applicable as part of the name).

Today nobility

Today the nobility is no more than a historical memory and, with a few exceptions, it exists only as a hereditary distinction in those states that are governed by monarchy. However, it should be remembered that still in the English constitutional order the noble class still represents a fraction of the legislative power, since the first-born of families decorated with titles of nobility, constituting the pariah, are called to sit in the upper house by hereditary right. With the new constitutional systems, titles of nobility were maintained in the majority of monarchical states and the power to grant new ones was expressly recognized to the sovereign. However, it was evident that these concessions - and art. 71 of the French charter of 1814 expressly stated this - they constituted mere degrees and honors, without any exemption from the duties and duties of society.

With the entry into force of the Republican Constitution on 1 January 1948, the legal protection of noble titles ceased in Italy and a gray period of uncertainty began, overlapping between the judicial and administrative systems, the inclusion of different forms of self-protection, always waiting for the Parliament issued a rule on the suppression of the Heraldic Council (Article XIV paragraph 4), which was the state body in charge of heraldic and noble matters since its establishment with RD of 10 October 1869.

Reduced the Nobility for the abolition of all its rights and prerogatives a simple and historical reminder, and therefore the constant tradition which always kept awake in it the sacrosanct principles of duty and honor, it seemed appropriate to gather, evoking them from documents and from the ancient authors, the memories of the noble families of this southern part of Italy, because entrusted to the imperishable custody of history, they could at any time serve as a spur to the nephews to emulate the virtues of their ancestors, and as a just equal to the homeland to sift exactly the illustrious and magnanimous actions of his ancient and meritorious sons.