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The Continuity of Feudal Power, The Caracciolo di Brienza in Spanish Naples.

The stated theme of this book is "the continuity of social and economic power of the old feudal aristocracy [in the Kingdom of Naples during the Spanish period] and the persisting importance of its feudal character" (p.20). The author's objective is "to illustrate and discuss how this position was achieved and maintained through almost three centuries" (p.35). To accomplish this objective the Brienza family of the Caracciolo clan is studied by examination of documents from the family archives.

Among the topics considered are the "structure and evolution of an aristocratic patrimony", "the management of an aristocratic landed patrimony", "the feudal lord and his vassals", "aristocratic strategies for preservation of family wealth," and "the aristocracy and the Spanish rule."

The author asserts that, once established, feudal families in the Kingdom of Naples sought not to expand their holdings, but to preserve their patrimony. This they did by limiting marriage to one son in each generation, by establishment of entails and dowry funds, by shrewd use of litigation, and by using allodial and investment rather than feudal assets to dower daughters and provide for cadets. Their goal in administering their property was preservation rather than increase of income. The author concludes that for the Caracciolo Brienza this policy was successful: "By 1806 (and the end of Spanish rule), after 250 years in which the family had kept management and maintenance costs to a minimum the Caracciolo Brienza's feudal patrimony was worth more than ever before, and was free of debts, and produced revenues that allowed its owners to occupy more or less the same social position within the kingdom's elite that their elders had enjoyed since the mid-16th century' (p. 107).

The feudal powers of the Neapolitan aristocracy were maintained throughout the period because the Spaniards found them beneficial in maintaining order and stability and supplying money, supplies, and manpower needed for projects elsewhere in the empire. "Spanish rule benefited the old feudal aristocracy" (p. 232).

This volume has a number of features to recommend it. It is very clearly laid out with each chapter beginning with a clearly stated objective. It contains a very good summary of Neapolitan history to provide a context for the study. For the specialist the "Appendix of Sources" will be useful. It has a useful glossary of most of the Italian feudal terms used. Unfortunately words such as "Mezzogiorno," "allodial," and "derogeance" are not included, nor are they explained elsewhere. Similarly a Latin passage is left untranslated (p. 226). This will make the book less useful for the non-specialist.

Two typographical errors are noted. The "not" for "nor" (p. 40) is harmless, but the "cons" for "sons" (p. 166) could have interesting consequences if taken at face value.

A major problem with an exercise of this sort is that "a study of only one family can obviously make no more than tentative hypotheses on the entire aristocracy." This realization results in conclusions qualified by caveats such as "it is likely" (p. 55), "the third possible use" (p. 56), and "the high percentage ... may also represent . . ." (p. 61).

This book contains much information that will be of use to the specialist. Undergraduates and laymen will also find it to be useful, but challenging primarily because is reads much like a doctoral thesis, out of which it seems to have developed.
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Author:McCue, Robert J.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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