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Cavagna’s Southern Italian Collecting

While the geographical range of Count Cavagna’s library was most strongly focused on northern Italy, where he lived and worked as a government official, his library did include works from and about southern Italy, including several sixteenth- and seventeenth-century histories of Sicily and its key cities. Congiura de i ministri del re di Spagna contro la fedelissima ed esemplare città di Messina (1676-1677) is a lavishly illustrated three-volume work written during the midst of the rebellion of 1674-1678 in Messina, an important port city in northeast Sicily. The Kingdom of Sicily was under Spanish rule, with Palermo in western Sicily as the site of the Spanish viceroy’s central government and its accompanying prestige and profit. Messina, however, had substantial autonomy and was ruled by a Senate of six magistrates, with the straticò, who commanded the Spanish garrison and enforced the king’s laws, as the city’s only directly appointed royal official. Conflict over petitions for the viceroy to spend equal time in Messina was one of the factors that led to rioting and tensions in Messina before the rebellion.

Riots in 1672 resulted in the victory of the straticò and the merli faction against the Senate’s supporters, the malvizzi. In 1674, however, the malvizzi successfully rioted and overthrew the city’s Spanish garrison. Engraved plates in the second volume of Congiura de i ministri del re di Spagna include views of the fortresses which the Spanish and merli initially occupied during the rebellion and the city’s attacks. One of these plates shows the mine that was used against the palace where the straticò had retreated, leading to his surrender and retreat to the Spanish-held Fort Salvador on the harbor. When the Spanish responded to the rebellion with a blockade of the city, Messina sought assistance from the French to avoid re-conquest. An engraving in the third volume depicts the French Duke of Vivonne’s fleet against the Spanish blockade in February 1675. The French won the battle and brought relief to the city. The independence of Messina from Spanish rule, however, did not long outlast the publication of the third volume of Congiura de i ministri del re di Spagna in 1677. By 1678 the French king gave orders to withdraw from Messina: the city was surrendered to the Spanish and lost all of its former privileges. SH

Romano Colonna, Giovanni Battista. Prima[-terza] parte della congiura de i ministri del re di Spagna contro la fedelissima ed esemplare città di Messina: racconto istorico. (In Milano : Nella stamperia dell’ illustriss. ed eccellentiss. Senato, per Matteo la Rocca, 1676-1677)

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