Simanaitis Says

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TOMMASO ANIELLO, Masaniello, for short, was a Neapolitan fisherman who led a populist revolt against Habsburg Spain in 1647. So far, so good. However, he was destined to be dissed by one of our Founding Fathers.

Tommaso Aniello, 1622–1647, aka Masaniello, Italian fisherman, populist activist against Habsburg Spain, Captain-General of the Neapolitan People, ruled briefly until his assassination by the people in 1647. Portrait attributed to Onofrio Palumbo, c. 1647.

After fomenting the people of Naples into a revolt of Habsburg Spanish rule, Masaniello proved less than successful in his role as Captain-General of the Neapolitan People. This title was given to him by Rodrigo Ponce de León, 4th Duke of Arcos, made Viceroy of Naples by Spain’s King Philip IV to put down the populist uprising.

Rodrigo was evidently less successful as well, at least in the short term.

The Revolt of Masaniello in the Piazza del Mercato, by Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Viviano Codazzi, 1648.

According to Wikipedia, when Masaniello was entertained by the viceroy, “partly owing to the strain and excitement of the past days, partly because he was made dizzy by his astonishing change of fortune, or perhaps, as it was believed, because he was poisoned, he lost his head and behaved like a frenzied maniac.”

He may even have overestimated the revolt crowd size.

Wikipedia offers more details: “Masaniello rapidly and uncannily echoed the irrational behavior of his populist Roman predecessor, Cola di Rienzo, 300 years before.”

Other irrational behavior for another day.

The Wikipedia tale continues: “After escaping from house arrest on 16 July, Masaniello went to the Church of the Carmine where the Archbishop was celebrating mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel. Blaspheming, Masaniello denounced his fellow-citizens. He was again arrested and taken to a nearby monastery, where he was assassinated by a group of grain merchants.”

My research is unable to determine the particular beef of these grain merchants. It can be noted, though, that by April 1648 Habsburg Spanish rule was reinstated.

All this would be arcane Neapolitan history, were it not for the American Revolution almost 130 years later.

Thomas Paine, 1737–1809, English-born American patriot, philosopher, a United States Founding Father, author of Common Sense, 1776. Portrait by Laurent Dabos, c. 1792.

In his essay Common Sense, 1776, Founding Father Thomas Paine summarized the colonies’ striving for independence. In particular, he wrote, “It is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool and deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance. If we omit it now, some Massanello [sic] may hereafter arise, who laying hold of popular disquietudes, may collect together the desperate and discontented, and by assuming to themselves the powers of government, may sweep away the liberties of the continent like a deluge.”

Common Sense, 1776, by Thomas Paine, one of his many political pamphlets.

Common sense. Not always an abundant quality today. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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