The House of Aragon (Naples)

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The House of Aragon
From 1396 - 1516


Alfonso was born in Medina del Campo, Castile, eldest son of the king's younger brother Ferdinand (known as Ferdinand of Antequera after capturing that city from the Moors) and his wife, the great heiress Eleanor of Alberquerque. He was sixteen when his father was chosen as King of Aragon, thus exchanging the role of 'a rich Castilian prince for that of a poor Aragonese king' (Bisson). The lands of the crown of Aragon were made up of two kingdoms, Aragon and Valencia, the principality of Catalonia, and the islands of Sicily, Sardina, Malta and the Balearics.

Alfonso married his cousin Maria of Castile in 1415. In the following year, his father died and he became king at the age of 20. He struggled to control the corts (parliaments) of his new kingdoms, particularly in Catalonia, and battled to control the ambitions of his brothers in Castile.

In 1420, Alfonso saw an opportunity to expand into Naples. The Queen of Naples, Joanna II, had been engaged to his younger brother John, but had married James of Anjou. Joanna had no children and was past childbearing age, and in 1421, she was persuaded to adopt Alfonso as her heir. Alfonso journeyed to Naples, which he entered in 1421, but he and Joanna quarrelled and she named Louis III of Anjou as heir instead. On his death, she replaced him with his brother Rene, father of Margaret of Anjou, who became the wife of Henry VI of England.

On Joanna's death in 1435, Alfonso commanded a fleet which captured Capua and besieged Gaeta, but he was defeated by a Genoese fleet and captured, along with his younger brothers John and Peter. Taken to Milan, he managed to convince Duke Filippo Maria Visconti to support him in opposition to the French-backed Rene. In 1438, Alfonso besieged Naples, but the siege failed and his brother Peter was killed in the battle.

Alfonso's fortunes improved after his rival's general, Jacob Caldora, was killed. He gradually conquered the southern part of the kingdom and captured Naples itself in 1442. Rene returned to Provence and Alfonso made his triumphal entry into the city on 26th February 1443 - the magnificent triumphal arch built for this still exists (pictured right).


Alfonso wisely left many Neapolitan institutions untouched and under local control, but preferred to surround himself with courtiers and counsellors from Castile and Aragon, including Alfonso Borja, the future Pope Callistus III. Although he spoke Italian as well as Catalan and Latin, Alfonso's primary language for both speaking and writing remained Castilian Spanish.

Alfonso was a keen patron of the arts, and shared the rising enthusiasm for the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. He collected ancient texts, and was especially fond of the works of Livy. He also sponsored humanistic scholars, including Lorenzo Valla, who became his secretary, and Giovanni Pontano. Alfonso was fond of music and patronised musicians and poets. He restored the Castelnouvo, importing Spanish craftsmen to lay beautiful mosaic pavements. He collected jewels and silverware, and impressed visitors with the magnificence of his court. All this helped to earn him his nickname of 'the Magnanimous'.


Alfonso's marriage to Maria of Castile was childless. After he left for Naples in 1435, he never saw her again - despite repeated promises either to return to Aragon or have her brought to Italy, he found her too useful in Aragon. Maria acted as Alfonso's llochtenant, or governor, in both Catalonia and Aragon, as did his brother John. Maria was an effective and resourceful politician who managed to keep the peace in his Spanish kingdoms.

Alfonso had three illegitimate children by various mistresses. His son Ferrante by his mistress Geraldine Carlino was brought to Naples in 1438 and was groomed as his heir. His daughters Maria and Eleanor married into the Italian nobility. In his later years, Alfonso fell in love with a young Neapolitan lady, Lucrezia d'Alagno. It was widely rumoured that Lucrezia used the same tactics as Anne Boleyn, refusing to become the king's mistress until he obtained a divorce. Lucrezia acted as de facto Queen of Naples and in 1457, she visited Pope Calixtus III (the king's old friend Alfonso Borja) in an effort to persuade him to agree to annul the king's marriage, but without success.

Alfonso died of pleurisy on 27th June 1458 at the age of sixty one. His hereditary Aragonese kingdoms, including Sicily and Sardinia, were left to his brother John, while his conquered kingdom of Naples passed to his son Ferrante. Although John seems to have accepted this without complaint, the risk remained that the legitimate line of Aragonese kings would seek to reclaim it (which indeed transpired in the reign of John's son Ferdinand).


Ferrante's marriage to Isabella of Taranto in 1444 brought him considerable lands in southern Italy. They had six children, two of whom, Alfonso and Frederick (Federico), became kings of Naples. Their daughter, Eleanor (Leonora), married Ercole I d'Este of Ferrara and was the mother of Alfonso I d'Este, third husband of Lucrezia Borgia. By his second marriage to his cousin Joanna of Aragon, he had one daughter, also called Joanna, and a son who died young. Ferrante also had nine illegitimate children who married into the Italian nobility.

Ferrante was fortunate that Pope Calixtus III, who had vehemently opposed his succession in Naples and who was the feudal overload of the kingdom, died in August 1458. The next Pope, Pius II recognised Ferrante's claims, but the Angevin threat and counterclaim remained. In 1460, Rene's son John of Lorraine invaded Naples and defeated Ferrante at the Battle of Sarno. But with the help of the Albanian leader Skanderbeg, he was able to defeat his enemies and re-establish his authority by 1464.

Ferrante's kingdom faced a further invasion in 1480 when an Ottoman army captured the port of Otranto. The following year, his eldest son Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, succeeded in ousting the Turks, who were disheartened by the death of their Sultan, Mehmet II. The Angevin barons continued to plot and in 1485, they rose against him under the leadership of Francesco Coppola and with the support of Pope Innocent VIII. Ferrante made a deal with the rebels under the promise of an amnesty - having quelled the revolt, he then treacherously murdered them.

By 1493, Ferrante was aware that Charles VIII of France, heir to the Angevin claims, was planning to invade Naples. His efforts to persuade the other Italian princes, which by then included Pope Alexander VI, met with limited success. However, with Spanish help, he was able to form an alliance with the Pope and arrange the marriage of his granddaughter Sancia to the Pope's son Joffre.

Ferrante died on 25th January 1494, aged about 68. Ironically, in view of his macabre hobby, his mummified body has remained in a good state of preservation to this day. Its examination by medical experts in 2006 showed that Ferrante died of colon cancer.


Alfonso II had many of his father's vices but few of his virtues. He was brutal, cruel and promiscuous, and showed little of the political skill displayed by his father. In previous wars, such as the recapture of Otranto, he had shown himself a capable soldier but even this skill seems to have deserted him when the French invaded.

One of his few positive qualities was his interest in the arts, particularly architecture. He was tutored by his grandfather's protegee Giovanni Pontano, who wrote a treatise on princely virtues for him (apparently, without any positive effect). Alfonso built two magnificent villas, La Duchesca and Poggio Reale, the last of which was decorated with beautiful frescoes. It was also famed for its wonderful gardens, laid out in the Moorish style with fountains, fishponds and shaded avenues.

Alfonso married Hippolyta Sforza of Milan, by whom he had three children including his heir Ferrante. He also had two children by his mistress Troila (or Truzia) Gazzelo - a daughter, Sancia, and a son, Alfonso, both of whom married into the Borgia family.

Joffre Borgia and wife Sancha of Aragon

Alfonso's daughter Sancia and her husband Joffre Borgia

Alfonso benefited from his father's alliances with Pope Alexander and with Spain which culminated in the marriage of Sancia to the Pope's youngest son, Joffre Borgia. This took place in Naples in May 1494. The ceremony was performed by Cardinal Juan Borja-Lanzol, the Pope's cousin, who who also crowned Alfonso as king. The marriage of Joffre and Sancia was not a success - Joffre was two years younger than his wife, amiable but weak-willed, whilst Sancia was headstrong and promiscuous. Called to Rome in 1496, Sancia became embroiled in affairs with both of Joffre's brothers, Cesare and Juan.

When the long-threatened invasion of Charles VIII finally materialised, Alfonso went to pieces. Ignoring the advice of his stepmother and counsellors, he abdicated and fled to Sicily. He died in a monastery near Messina on 18th December 1495 at the age of forty seven.


On his father's hasty abdication in January 1495, Ferrante (also known as Ferrandino or Ferdinand) found himself king of Naples at the age of 24. Stronger and more resolute than Alfonso, Ferrante tried to resist but was undermined by the treachery of the Angevin barons, and Naples fell in February. Fleeing to the island of Ischia with his family, Ferrante was denied entry by the castellan and was forced to kill him. He then withdrew to Sicily.

The formation of the Holy League by his cousin Ferdinand of Aragon gave Ferrante the chance to win back his kingdom. His initial efforts resulted in defeat at the Battle of Seminara on 28th June 1495, despite the help of the Spanish general Gonsalvo de Cordoba.The arrogant conduct of the French had alienated most of the populance, and Ferrante was welcomed with enthusiasm when he returned to the city of Naples on 7th July 1495:

'(he was) received by the multitude with great cries of joy, the women showering him with flowers and perfumes from their windows; indeed many of the noble ladies ran into the street to embrace him' (Francesco Guicciardini, History of Italy).

Ferrante received a dispensation from Pope Alexander to allow him to marry his father's half-sister Joanna - although his aunt, she was seven years his junior. By the middle of 1496, aided by de Cordoba, who had reorganised his armies and improved efficiency, Ferrante had ousted the French from the whole kingdom. However, Ferrante became ill, probably with malaria, and died on 7th September 1496, at the early age of 27. Brave, popular and capable, the subsequent history of Naples might have been different had he lived.


Born in 1452, Frederick was the younger son of Ferrante I, and succeeded to the kingship on the death of his nephew Ferrante II Frederick had married Anne, daughter of the Duke of Savoy, by whom he had a daughter, Carlotta. After her death, his second marriage to Isabella de Balzo gave him a son and heir, Ferrante, and several daughters.

Having four kings in less than three years had not helped the stability of the kingdom and by the time Frederick succeeded to the throne, the writing was on the wall. In character, Frederick was quiet and amiable - not the qualities needed in a crisis. Charles VIII had not given up on his Italian ambitions and despite his previous support of his Neapolitan cousins, Ferdinand of Aragon was biding his time, disguising his own claims 'with Spanish astuteness and patience' (Guicciardini). There were rumours of secret negotiations prior to Charles's death in 1498.

On 21st July of that year, Frederick's nephew Alfonso married Lucrezia Borgia. Frederick gave Alfonso and Lucrezia the Duchy of Bisceglie. Alfonso was young, handsome and kind, and Lucrezia fell deeply in love with him and he with her. This aroused the jealousy of her possessive brother Cesare, and as the Borgias turned to a French alliance, Alfonso's position grew dangerous. Having initially fled Rome, Alfonso returned and on 15th July 1500,he was attacked and seriously wounded. Nursed back to health by Lucrezia and his sister Sancia, he was strangled by Cesare's henchman Michelotto Corella.

Frederick's refusal to allow his daughter Carlotta to marry Cesare angered the Pope, who was no doubt delighted to ratify the secret Treaty of Granada (11th November 1500) by which Louis XII, the new King of France, and Ferdinand of Aragon agreed to oust Frederick and divide the kingdom of Naples between them. The pretext for this piece of realpolitik was that Frederick was attempting to seek help from the Ottoman sultan.

Unable to resist these mighty powers, Frederick sought refuge in France, where he was treated well by Louis and given lands. He died there in 1504. His son Ferrante, Duke of Calabria was less lucky - taken as a prisoner to Spain, he remained in captivity for the next twenty five years. On his release, he married Ferdinand's widow Germaine de Foix and ruled Valencia with her as Viceroy and Vicereine. He died childless in 1550.


Predictably, the French and Spanish forces soon quarrelled. Initially trapped in Barletta, Gonsalvo wisely resisted the taunts of the French until he recieved reinforcements from Spain. He then captured their supplies at Cerignola and forced a battle in which the French were defeated. Further victories, including the Battle of Garigliano (1503) gave Spain control of the kingdom by the beginning of 1504, and Louis agreed to a truce on 30th January (for more detailed information on the kings and the wars between Spain and France, go to International Relations, France and Spain and Naples).

When threatened with the loss of control of Castile following the death of his wife Isabella (26th November 1504), Ferdinand concluded a further treaty with Louis in the following year. By its terms, he married Louis' niece Germaine de Foix, in whom Louis vested his claim to Naples.

Temporarily ousted from the government of Castile by his son-in-law Phillip, Ferdinand and Germaine journeyed to Naples in July 1506. He removed the Castilian viceroy de Cordoba, overhauled the machinery of the Neapolitan state, and decisively settled the long-running problem of the treacherous Angevin barons and the Orsini and Colonna by restoring their estates.

Ferdinand might have remained in Naples and governed Aragon through Viceroys as his uncle Alfonso had done, but the sudden and rather suspicious death of the Archduke Phillip restored him to the government of Castile. He left his cousin John of Aragon as Viceroy - in 1508, he was replaced by Ramon Cardona, widely rumoured to be one of the Ferdinand's illegitimate sons. Efforts to introduce the Inquisition to Naples were wisely discontinued in the face of local opposition, although a partial expulsion of Jews was carried out (Jews had previously been expelled from many Italian states, including Florence in 1494)

Ferdinand had restored much-needed stability and good governance to Naples, and the power of Spain protected the kingdom against the Ottomans, who made no further attempts to invade Italy. The anniversary of his death (23rd January 1516) was a day of mourning in Naples until well into the eighteenth century. Ferdinand had considered leaving Naples to his younger grandson and namesake, but renewed French aggression under the new King Francis I led him to add it to the vast inheritance of his elder grandson Charles V. The wars in Italy would continue for many years under Charles and Francis, but there would be no serious threat to Spanish control of Naples, which continued for the next two and a half centuries.


History of Italy, Francesco Guicciardini
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

The Medieval Crown of Aragon, Thomas Bisson
Lucrezia Borgia, Sarah Bradford
The King's Other Body: Maria of Castile and the Crown of Aragon, Theresa Earenfight
The Spanish Kingdoms, Volume 2, Jocelyn Hillgarth
The Borgias, Michael Mallett
Alfonso the Magnanimous, Alan Ryder
The Wreck of Catalonia, Alan Ryder

Internal Links:

Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie (Historical Profile)
Alphonso II of Naples (Character)

The House of Aragon (Naples)

Coat of Arms - House of Trastamara
Crown of Aragon

Alfonso the Magnamanimous (I of Naples)

Alfonso V of Aragon,
called Alfonso I of Naples,
1396 - 1458)

In 1452, the future Pope Pius II described the king as:

'lean in body; pale in complexion; jovial in manner; with a hooked nose, bright eyes, dark hair turning grey cut just above his ears; medium in height, very frugal in his eating and drinking''

triumphal arch

Triumphal Arch erected to mark the ceremonial entry of Alfonso I in 1443 at Castlenuovo, Naples

Ferrante I, King of Naples
(c. 1425 - 1494)

Ferrante was the only son of King Alfonso. He was born somewhere between 1423 and 1431 in Aragon, with a birth date of around 1425 being the most likely. His mother was Geraldine Carlino, whom Alfonso also brought from Spain to Naples. In the absence of any legitimate children, Alfonso trained Ferrante to be the heir of Naples.

In looks, Ferrante did not resemble his father - he was short, heavily-built and very dark in complexion, whilst the Trastamara kings of Aragon had fair skins and dark auburn hair. He was so dark-skinned that some observers suggested that his father was a Valencian Moor (very unlikely) or that his mother had Moorish ancestors (which is possible).

Ferrante was also unlike his father in personality. Whilst Alfonso had been ruthless when he had to be but was generally courteous and even-tempered, Ferrante was cruel, treacherous and vindictive. He murdered his enemies and had some of their bodies mummified and kept in a private museum so that he could show them to anyone considering betraying him as a warning.

Joanna of Aragon

Joanna of Aragon (1454 - 1517), second wife of Ferrante I

Joanna of Aragon was born in Barcelona in June 1454, the daughter of John (brother of Alfonso of Naples) and his second wife, Joanna Enriquez, and sister of Ferdinand of Aragon. Her father became king of Aragon in 1458. He was emeshed in a bitter feud with his eldest son Charles and refused to declare him his heir. On Charles's death in 1461, Catalonia fell into a bloody civil war that lasted ten years. From about 1472, Joanna acted as llochtenant (governor) of Aragon for her elderly father.

Ferrante was allied with his uncle John, and in 1476, Joanna became his second wife. They had one daughter, Joanna (Giovanna), who married her nephew Ferrante II and was later courted by Henry VII of England.

Joanna tried to dissuade her stepson from abdicating in 1495, and followed him into exile in her brother's kingdom of Sicily. She returned to Naples when it was reconquered by Ferrante II with Spanish aid, but helped to ensure that key fortresses were held by Spain. She was on poor terms with the next king, Frederick, who suspected her (probably correctly) of plotting with her brother. As a result, Joanna and her daughter left Naples for Spain in 1499, and she was made Vicereine, or Governor, of the kingdom of Valencia, an office which she carried out with skill and acumen.

When her brother Ferdinand left Barcelona for Naples in May 1506, Joanna and her daughter went with him. She chose to remain in her adopted home when Ferdinand returned to Spain in the following year. She died in Naples on 9th January 1517 at the age of sixty two.

Alfonso II


Ferrnate II of Naples

FERRANTE II (1469 - 1496)

sestino of Frederick IV of Naples

Coin of Frederick IV, last independant king of Naples

Ferdinand II of Aragon



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