In the heart of the dark, hulking Castel Nuovo, known locally as the Maschio Angioino (Angevin Keep), is the Hall of the Barons. Some 28 meter high, the impressive medieval ribbed vaulted roof ‘fuses ancient Roman and Spanish late-Gothic influences‘. The walls, bare today, were originally frescoed by Giotto in around 1330 with images of ancient heros: Samson, Hercules, Solomon, Achilles, Caesar etc. It’s still a striking space, designed to shock and awe visitors to this Royal Palace.
But the Hall was also the site of a bloody wedding massacre 500 years ago, a real medieval counterpart to the fictional slaughter of Game of Thrones. Peter Robb picks up the story. The protagonists were:
….southern Italy’s richest and most powerful men, arriving sleekly in the company of bejewelled wives, sisters, daughters and eager hot-eyed sons, each family surrounded by its tight squad of functionaries and security men.
They came ostensibly to celebrate the wedding of the son of Count Sarno, a hugely wealthy self-made man, to the granddaughter of Don Ferrante, Duke Ferdinando I of Naples, over sixty, ‘mercilessly severe and utterly treacherous towards his enemies‘ and with his fleshy face ‘a mask of power‘. Also in attendance was Ferrante’s own royal secretary Antonello Petrucci, a self-made lawyer and now chief administrator of the kingdom of Naples, together with his sons.
What added ‘a certain piquancy‘ to the event was that Sarno and Petrucci had been involved in a plot against Ferrante in a struggle for power between the feudal and royal families. And they had proven more loyal to the Baron class into which they had been ennobled than to the man who had enabled their rise. Still, on this day of celebration in 1486, all that previous unpleasantness seemed a distant memory. Ferrante had pardoned the plotters, had hunted with them and had conceded to some of their demands. And this wedding would now clinch the peace and seal Sarno’s rise into the nobility. He:
was so taken and enthusiastic that without thinking further he took his daughter and young sons to Naples. And to add to the celebrations he also took almost all the gold, silver and jewelry accumulated in the course of his life…[on] the day of the wedding he was moved to tears of tenderness.
Petrucci, his family and intimates, were also gathered arrived. Music played and together they waited for the Duke. Alas he, and the bride to be, never came. You can guess what happened next. Like Games of Thrones, shouts rang out, troops appeared and doors were slammed. Sarno’s tears of tenderness turned quickly to despair as the wedding turned to horror and:
..amazement turned to fear and pain and nothing was heard but friends’ moaning, relatives’ weeping, servants’ complaints and women’s indignation.
The wedding guests –men, women and children — were flung into ‘the castle’s deepest and most fearsome prisons‘ to become the subject of grisly legends: being fed to Ferrante’s pet alligators in the moat, being thrown into the sea from the ramparts, being left to starve and then embalmed in a personal museum of mummies, or just ‘disappeared’.
A few lucky ones were released once they handed over their wealth to the Duke. However Count Sarno, Petrucci and his sons were horribly executed after a show trial, their various body parts displayed to deter similar opposition to the Duke, and their lands and those of other errant Barons raided and seized. Machiavelli later wrote , quoting Ferrante, that the barons should have borne in mind that:
men often behave like certain small predatory birds, who are so eager to pursue their prey…that they fail to notice another large bird about to kill them from above.
Or in short, Duke Ferrante, like the Lannisters, sent his regards.
Castel Nuovo picture by Flanerie Feminine. Barons Hall picture from Wiki.