Torricella Peligna Feudal Land

The Università battles against the oppressive Baron Celaya


By Domenico Pettinella                    Caption: (Reproduction of the map has been authorised by the National Library of Naples.)

The Università[1] fought against Baron Celaya[2] who oppressed the poor hard-working citizens.

Two manuscripts, kept in the Apostolic Library of the Vatican[3], provide evidence of the presence of Lombards[4] and Normans[5] at Torricella Peligna. The first, dated 1097, is an act with which Maliero di Palena donates to the Monastery of Letto, in the hands of its Abbot Oderisio, the Church of Saint Venanzio, situated at Torricella, with all its goods and belongings, together with those of Saint Giusta "de Caprasellis". The giver, attended by Norman witnesses, each of whom is described as a soldier "miles"[6], discloses the motives and aims of the donation: the motives - are consistent with it being dignified and worthy before God to build and repair Churches by providing them with goods; the aims - to help achieve salvation both of his own soul and of those of his dear ones.

The other document, dated 1308, describes the recognition by King Charles[7] of three brothers, Rogerio, Gentile and Andrea, "faithful soldiers" of Torricella, of the right, deriving from the Lombard right, over the "Casale"[8] of Torricella and over that of Pizzo Superiore[9].

The penetration of the Normans into Southern Italy, with the introduction of Feudalism, brought political confusion to the primitive rural society of these zones. The seed and the elements of Feudalism developed and consolidated into the political and social organization that carried on up to the 19th century. The Norman "miles" belonged to an upper band of the ruling class. The Catalogue of Barons[10] names people such as Ruggero Borrello, the son of Maniero de Palena; Odeisio de Ydris, as "tenenti" in "domo" of Torricella, Palena, Lama, Taranta and Pizzoferato. The term "domo", which is only used for Abruzzo in the Catalogue of Barons, represents a condition and quality of these feuds, which belonged to Vassals of noble line "Casati". Pennadomo and Monterodomo are toponyms that belong to the feudal history of the Aventine Valley.

Over the course of centuries a succession of various Lords and Barons have owned the feudal lands of the Aventine Valley and Torricella – and amongst those to be remembered are some from Sulmona such as the Tabassi.

The Università (the Town Council of today) was a special society, living alongside that of the feudal Lord. He, often the true Master, with the complicity of the administrators of the Università, who were too submissive or even without scruples, proudly and firmly usurped the rights and goods of the Università, thus oppressing the poor vassals. This took place in Torricella during the period in which Celaya, Duke of Canosa, was the Baron who ruled this Land (17th Century). In order to make a living, the citizen-vassals were craftsmen, shepherds, (at Torricella they also worked the wool, making clothes called "Tarantole"[11] and there were many wool carders there), and carried out commerce and agriculture. In particular they grew wheat, maize, vines and vegetables, selling the excess of that needed for the local people to the population of Palena.

Phenomena which often alternated, such as famine, plague and epidemics, had negative consequences on the citizen’s economic and social condition and also on their demographic constituency. The overall resident population, for each epoch, can be deduced from the number of fiscal nuclear families, an effective survey for taxation, calculating for each nucleus 4 or 5 persons and bearing in mind that some people without a holding would not have been included in the census. In 1532 there were 60 families; in 1554 there were 74; in 1624 there were 159; in 1669 there were 102; and in 1732 there were 225. The relationship between the Università and the Baron was made difficult and strained due to lawsuits and quarrels (see "Amici di Torricella", Anno 1o, No 2, May 1989, page 3). The lawsuits brought by the Università against the Baron ended up before the Sacred Council (The Tribunal) in Naples.

The Università held out to restore ancient rights for itself and communal goods for the citizens – the lack of enjoyment of these had caused serious material consequences to their lives and to their social relationships.

In the next issue (of this journal) we shall refer to the quarrels between the Università and the Baron and to the consensual proposals put by them to the Baron, which he then accepted, as was decided by public debate in the General Parliament of the autumn of 1699.

[1] Università - All the inhabitants of a city or a castle; the modern day equivalent would be the Town Council or Municipality i.e. the "Comune".

Not 25 miles from Torricella Peligna is one of the similar types of mountain village, called Pescocostanzo, which also had a similar Civic Università which carried out a number of important functions, such as:- protection of citizens; administration of both civil and criminal justice, including collection of taxes and fines; directly controlling rural and urban building & planning policies both for new buildings and for restoration of old ones; controlling the performance of public duties; regulating some functions of the clergy; providing education of the young; pious works and social assistance including setting up a poorhouse and a hospital; taking initiatives towards founding religious institutions. Since the two villages are very similar in most respects, it is highly conceivable that the functions of their two Universitas were similar too.

[2] Baron Celaya – family name of the Baron, Duke of Canosa, who was the feudal Lord and Master, "owner" of the land belonging to Torricella in the seventeenth Century; he was an oppressor of the poor, hardworking citizens

Don Alfonso Alaya, Duke of Canosa – various spellings e.g. Celaya, Celaia.

A Baron or Duke was a person who owned a "castro", a vast piece of territory with ample authority over it - such as rights of war, of justice and of minting money.

The word baron is derived from an old French word baro meaning "man" in the sense of a "vassal".

Baron is a title bestowed by various rulers of Europe, Tonga, Japan etc. In the British peerage system, Barons rank lowest, coming after viscounts. A female of baronial rank is a baroness. A baron may hold a barony (plural baronies).

[3] Apostolic Library of the Vatican - The Apostolic Vatican Library, founded by Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455), houses 1.6 million antique and modern printed volumes specializing in the fields of paleography, history, art history, classical literature and philology. It also contains 8,300 incunabula (books printed before 1501, of which 65 are printed on vellum), 150,000 manuscript and records volumes, 300,000 coins and medals, and more than 100,000 prints.

30th Oct 2002 - Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has been tapped by Pope John Paul II to provide public online access to the Vatican's Apostolic Library, which will include posting images of manuscripts that previously have only been accessible to professional scholars and professors.

[4] The Lombards (Latin Langobardi, alternative name Longobards found in older English texts), were a Germanic people originally from Scandinavia. They were known to the Romans from as early as AD 98, when the historian Tacitus mentioned them in his Germania.

In 568 they invaded northern Italy under their king Alboin, but were unsuccessful at conquering any city with walls. They broke off sieges of most cities they tried to take and settled for what they could find in the countryside. They established a capital, Pavia. When they entered Italy, the Lombards were pagan, although some became Arian Christians, they did not enjoy good relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Gradually, as they remained in Italy, they adopted Roman titles, names, and traditions, and converted to orthodoxy.

The last Lombard to rule as king of the Lombards was Desiderius, who ruled until 774, when Charlemagne conquered the Lombard kingdom, and then in an utterly novel decision took the title "King of the Lombards" as well. Before then the Germanic kingdoms had frequently conquered each other, but none had adopted the title of King of another people. Charlemagne took part of the Lombard territory to create the Papal States.

The Lombardy region in Italy, which includes the city of Milan, is a reminder of the presence of the Lombards.

Despite a frequently supposed derivation from "long beards", nowadays the name is generally considered to have come from a preferred weapon of the Lombards in war: the "long halberd" or long-bearded axe.

[5] Normans - The Normans ("Northmen") were Scandinavian invaders (especially Danish Vikings) who began to occupy the northern area of France now known as Normandy in the latter half of the 9th century AD. Under the leadership of Hrolf Ganger, who adopted the French name Rollo, they swore allegiance to the king of France (Charles the Simple) and received the lower Seine area from him in 911 which they later expanded to become the Duchy of Normandy.

The Norman people adopted Christianity and the French language and created a new cultural identity separate from that of their Scandinavian forebears and French neighbours.

Norman culture, like that of many other migrant communities, was particularly enterprising and adaptable. For a time, it led them to occupy widely dispersed territories throughout Europe.

Norman Conquests in the Mediterranean - Opportunistic bands of Normans successfully established a foothold far to the south of Normandy. Groups settled at Aversa and Capua, others conquered Apulia and Calabria. From these bases, more organised principalities were eventually able to capture Sicily and Malta from the Saracens.

The Normans in Italy - The Normans began to settle in southern Italy around the beginning of the eleventh century AD. They rapidly assimilated Christianity and the customs of the native population; their prowess as mercenary warriors enabled them to accumulate territory, such as Aversa which was granted to them by the Duke of Naples in 1030. This allowed more immigrants to settle in the South. One of these was Tancred de Hauteville who, with his twelve sons, founded the Norman state in the South. One of his sons, Robert Guiscard, was responsible for the capture of Calabria using an early form of guerrilla warfare. His youngest son Roger initiated the conquest of Sicily, which was then completed by his son, who was crowned King Roger II in the cathedral at Palermo in 1130.
At first the Normans faced opposition from the papacy, but overcame this by defeating Pope Leo IX (1049-1054) at the Battle of Civitate in 1053, after which their control of the South was accepted and legitimised by Pope Nicholas II in 1059. They proved themselves to be able rulers. Although few in number, they retained firm but harmonious control of their territory, and ran their Kingdom, Sicily, efficiently. Their secret was to involve the various races who made up the population of the south, Saracens, Italians, Greeks and Frenchmen, in the process of government, whilst at the same time allowing each to retain most of their individual characteristics and identity. Thus, for example, the Norman fleet was run by Greeks, and the fiscal system was based on the Arab model. Superimposed on all this was an absolutist central state, based on feudalism imported from Normandy, with princes of various sorts holding land and position on a grant from the King. This resulted in a state strong enough to prevent the disintegration which took place in most of the rest of Italy, and also strong enough to withstand challenges for the best part of a century from within and without, from the papacy and from the empires of the East and the West. Indeed Roger II, during his 24-year reign, managed to conquer Malta and parts of Libya.
Decline eventually came as the result of a succession crisis, on his death in 1189, King William II had no legitimate male heir. This enabled the German emperor Henry VI to impose imperial rule on the kingdom of Sicily.

[6] miles – militis - Latin – soldier, infantryman, army troops

[7] King Charles - King Charles II of Naples - Charles II "the Lame" (1248 - 1309) was King of Naples and Sicily, titular King of Jerusalem (a short-lived Kingdom established in the 12th Century by the First Crusade), and Prince of Salerno (a town and province in Campania, Italy).

He was a son of Charles I of Naples (1227 – 1285) (posthumous son of King Louis VIII of France, Charles I was created Count of Anjou by his elder brother, King Louis IX in 1246, thus founding the second Angevin dynasty).

In 1261 Charles II was made ruler of Sicily, but in 1266, in return for expelling Manfred, (son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II), Pope Clement IV made him King of Naples too.

Charles II was captured in 1284 by Ruggiero di Lauria in a naval battle at Naples. When his father died, Charles II was still a prisoner of Peter III of Aragon, "Peter the Great", King of Aragon and Valencia (1239 - 1285); (Peter the Great had become Peter I of Sicily from 1276 after the expulsion of the French; his navy had defeated the invading French crusade and his armies had crushed the retreating French Crusaders in 1285).

In 1288 King Edward Longshanks (1239 - 1307), (King Edward I of England, known as "Longshanks" and also "Hammer of the Scots", famous for conquering Wales and for keeping Scotland under English domination, had become King in 1272 after the death of his father King Henry III of England) mediated to make peace, and Charles II was liberated but he was only allowed to retain Naples alone. Sicily was left instead to the Aragonese. As part of the peace, in order to punish Peter the Great for having invaded Sicily, Charles was also supposed to persuade his cousin, Charles of Valois, third son of Philip III of France, in exchange for twenty thousand pounds of silver, to renounce the kingdom of Aragon (which had been given to him by Pope Martin IV).

Charles II was then released, leaving three of his sons and sixty Provençal nobles as hostages; he promised to pay 30,000 marks and to return as a prisoner if the conditions were not fulfilled within three years. He went to Rieti, where the new Pope Nicholas IV immediately absolved him from all the conditions he had sworn to observe, and crowned him king of the Two Sicilies in 1289; the Pope also excommunicated King Alfonso III of Aragon (1265 -1291) (called "the Liberal", son of Peter III of Aragon).

Charles of Valois, in alliance with Castile, (a former kingdom of Spain) prepared to take possession of Aragon. Alfonso III of Aragon, being hard pressed, had to promise (a) to withdraw the troops he had sent to help his brother James, (James II of Aragon, was also James I of Sicily; the second son of Peter III of Aragon, who was also Peter I of Sicily) in Sicily, (b) to renounce all rights over the island, and (c) pay a tribute to the Holy See. Alfonso died childless in 1291 before the treaty could be carried out, and so James took possession of Aragon, leaving the government of Sicily to their third brother, Frederick, (Frederick III (1272 - 1337) King of Sicily, third son of King Peter III of Aragon and Sicily).

Peter III died in 1285, leaving Aragon to his eldest son Alfonso III of Aragon and Sicily to his second son James. When Alfonso died in 1291, James became King James II of Aragon, and his brother Frederick was then made Regent of Sicily.

The new Pope Boniface VIII (elected in 1294 at Naples under the auspices of King Charles II), mediated between Charles II and James, but a most dishonourable treaty was signed: James was to marry Charles’s daughter Bianca and was promised the investiture by the pope of Sardinia and Corsica, whilst leaving the Angevin a free hand in Sicily and even to assist him if the Sicilians resisted.

An attempt was made to bribe Frederick into consenting to this arrangement, but, being backed up by his people he refused, and afterwards he was crowned King of Sicily.

The ensuing war was fought on land and sea but Charles II, though aided by the Pope, by his cousin Charles of Valois and by James, was unable to conquer the island of Sicily, and his son the prince of Taranto (a city and port in Apulia, on the west of the heel of Italy) was taken prisoner at the battle of La Falconara in 1299.

Peace was at last made in 1302 at Caltabellotta. Charles II gave up all rights to Sicily and agreed to the marriage of his daughter Leonora to King Frederick; the treaty was ratified by the pope in 1303. Charles spent his last years quietly in Naples, which city he improved and embellished. He died in August 1309, and was succeeded by his son Robert the Wise.

The marriage in 1270 of Charles II to Maria of Hungary, the daughter of King Stephen V of Hungary, brought the Angevin line to the Hungarian throne. Charles II’s first-born son Charles Martel, married Klementia von Habsburg, daughter of Rudolph I, Holy Roman Emperor, and this couple were the parents of the later King, Charles I of Hungary. Thus descendants of Charles II "the Lame" ruled Hungary continuously from 1308 to 1395.

[8] Casale – a hamlet, a small village, especially one without a church

[9] Pizzo Superiore - an agricultural community near Palena

[10] Catalogue of Barons - (Catalogus Baronum) is an early 12th Century record, a list of all the Barons in the Southern regions of the Italian Peninsula, (corresponding to the Kingdom of Naples, but not including Sicily) drawn up in the early 1150’s and revised about 20 years later by the Norman Kings William I, the Bad (1154-1166) and William II, the Good (1166-1189); it also covers the Barons’ feudal rights and duties – it can be regarded as Italy’s Domesday Book.

The Catalogue of Barons was drawn up primarily for military motives; the King needed soldiers to send to the Holy Land for his Crusades and to defend his realm, so he needed to know which places he could depend on to provide them; according to the numbers of inhabitants was calculated how many men at arms each place could provide. In those days one soldier was assigned for every 24 families (each family on average was calculated as having 5 people).

Interestingly the surnames of the "new" aristocracy are based on local toponyms (names derived from a place or region) i.e. from places they owned in Italy, rather than Normandy. Most of these knights were of minor families of Normandy’s nobility (some might not even have been of the landed class, but rather adventurers in search of fortune); the more important noble families sent their sons to conquer England, not Italy.

[11] Tarantole – good quality woven woollen cloth, from Majellan sheep – made from the 15th Century through to the present day

© Amici di Torricella

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca

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