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A short history of Bronte

The seven dukes of Bronte

(1799 / 1981)
 

 I° - Horatio Nelson (1799 - 1805)

Horatio NelsonAdmiral Horatio Nelson (29.9.1758 - 21.10.1805), son of Anglican pastor of Burnjam-Thorp (Norfolk), first Duke of Bronte. He obtained the title and the territory – “in perpetual” - in 1799 from the “grateful” Ferdinand of Bourbon, to whom he had saved the life and the throne.

He had expressed the intention to make of the estate “the happier place of Europe” hoping that all the Sicilians would have blessed the day in which he had been sent to them.

He started the restructure  of the ancient Abbey entrusting the job to Andrea Graefer, but he never did put foot in his Ducea.

After his death the feud passed to his brother William Nelson.

In spite of the fact that the admiral had a daughter (Orazia) from Lady Hamilton, and although the “Diploma of donation” of the feud concurred to name heir anyone he wanted, practically he left nothing neither to Orazia neither to her mother defined in his testament «widow of the honorable knight Guglielmo Hamilton, conferred with the title of the most honourable order of the bath».
 

 II° - William Nelson (1805 - 1835)

William NelsonWilliam Nelson (1757-1835), II duca di BronteThe reverend William Nelson (1757-1835), baron of the Nile and viscount of Trafalgar, older brother of the admiral, was elected heir with a testament of May 1803.

The Anglican Pastor, like Nelson, never even visited the Duchy, entrusting its management to several administrators (A. Forcella, B. and M. Barret and Filippo Thovez) who, for many decades, were the true undisputed owners of the large feud.

At is death the Duchy passed to his only daughter survivor.
 

 III° - Charlotte Mary Nelson (1835 - 1873)

Charlotte Mary NelsonCharlotte Mary Nelson (1787-1873), III duca di BronteCharlotte Mary Nelson (1787-1873), baroness of Bridport, granddaughter of Admiral Nelson, daughter of the reverend William.

She was, up to now, the only woman to bore the title of “Duchess of Bronte”.

She was the first to visit (even if for a short period) the large feud donated by king Ferdinand to her uncle Horatio and to bring also the flag and the surname of the Hood, (she was married, in fact, to Samuel Hood, second viscount of Bridport, offspring of famous and glorious ancestors of the English navy).

Accustomed to the luxury of London life, he ran away from Maniace, swearing that would never return.

He managed the feud entrusting it to the Thovez (Filippo, Enrico and William).

After the tragic facts of 1860, hoping to put an end to the “great argument” and the continuous tensions with the “brontesi”, he stipulated, with the lord mayor of Bronte A. Cimbali, a transaction yielding to the Common approximately half of its territory (mostly forests, “sciare” with little cultivable land).
 

IV° - Alexander Nelson Hood (1873 - 1904)

Alexander Nelson Hood, barone Bridport, IV Duca di BronteAlexander Nelson HoodAlexander Nelson Hood, baron Bridport (1814 - 1904), great-grandson of Nelson, son of Charlotte Mary Nelson, the III duke.

Married with a cousin of the duke Wellington (the winner of Napoleon), with him, beside “Nelson” appears for the first time, the name of “Hood”.

It was the Duke of the change, the colonizer; the first one to manifest interest for the immense feud, to improve it and to take care directly of its management (had visited the Duchy already in 1864).

Distrusting its administrators, (in that period alternated Samuel Grisley, mons. Fabre and Charles Beek), he sent to Maniace his eighth son Alexander (hardly seventeen years old, future 5th Duke) to live there stably and guard in loco the interests of the family.

To him the son has dedicated the obelisk in the highest point of “Sierra di Mergo”.
 

 V° - Alexander Nelson-Hood (1904 - 1937)

Alexander Nelson-HoodAlexander Nelson-Hood (was born the 28th of June 1854 and died in 1937 in its villa of Taormina).

He visited for the first time the Duchy, very young, in 1868.

Obtained at 19 years of age the management of the feud, he lived stably between Maniace and Taormina until death, enjoying the pro­perty and bringing new elements of reclama­tion and land transformation.

He was the first one to be buried in the small English cemetery of the Duchy.

Intelligent and refined, it has left us some books as “Sicilian Studies", history and tests related to life in Sicily (George Allen & Unwin, London 1915) and also a book of memories: "The Duchy of Bronte".

A “diary written for the family”, published recently, that represents a true mine of meticulous information on the history and the conduction of the feud, on the criteria of management and typology of cultivations but also on the customs and the character of the “brontesi”.

In his period - the feud was entrusted to him from the father at hardly 19 years of age, in 1873 - the Duchy gets its maximum splendor and becomes also a literary drawing-room and retrieval (buen retiro) of English poets, writers and artists, between which stand out William Sharp (who died and was buried in Maniace), D. H. Lawrence and Frances Elliot.

Having never married it did not leave direct heirs and at his death, the Duchy passed to a nephew (the second born of the brother, Arthur Wellington Alexander).
 

 VI° - Rowland Arthur Herbert Nelson-Hood (1937 - 1969)

Rowland Arthur Herbert Nelson-HoodRowland Arthur Herbert Nelson-Hood, Born the 22.5.1911 in British Columbia (Canada).

He inherits the Duchy from his uncle in 1937.

In July 1969 he was struck down by a hearth attack on the 26th of July 1969 at Maniace and was buried in the small cemetery of the Duchy.

During the 32 years in which he ran the feud he was successful - even if it wasn't always  easy – in becoming well-liked and estimated.

He was able to remove from himself that image and attitude of “landlord” that had characterized several his predecessors.

Even if the times were mature to dismantle the “last Sicilian feud”, the 6th duke, on the tracks of h predecessor, brought remarkable improvements in the management of the property and in the conditions of the peasants.

He constructed the first school, a flour mill, paid an obstetrician and a doctor, made the water available to all and improved the conditions of roads and bridges.

Nevertheless, Carlo Levi, in 1950 wrote of the Duchy «... example of the most absurd historical anachronism, of the persistence of a lost feudal world and of the futile attempts made by the peasants in order to exist like men.»

His years were, in the newborn Republic, of great social transformations, the agrarian reform, the occupations of lands and the struggle that the peasants of Bronte, Maniace and Maletto supported from the ’49 to the ’56 for the application of the reform and the division of the ducal large landed estate.

From 1963 to 1965, after decades of fights, what remained of the immense feud, donated to Nelson by the Bourbons, was divided in small lots (for a total of 6,593 hectares) and assigned to the peasants.

To the Duchy remained only a little more than 200 hectares.
 

VII° - Alexander Nelson-Hood (1969)

 

One general view of the ancient Benedictine abbey risen around 1173 in Maniace, probably on the ruins of one pre-existent “basiliana” con­struction, for will of Queen Margherita. Today it is called Nel­son Ca­stle.

A rare photo of the wedding of the present Duke of Bronte (the 7th), Alexander Nelson-Hood with Linda Jacquelyn Paravicini. The photo to the right was taken in London in March 1969 during the festivities for his 21st year of age.
To the left of Alexander the parents, the 6th Duke of Bronte, Rowland Arthur Herbert Nelson-Hood, and the mother, the duchess Sheila Jeanne Agate van Meurs (of Dutch origin).

The young duke Alexander, the mother and the 6th duke Rowland Arthur Herbert Nelson-Hood pose with the employees in the cour­tyard of the Castle, in front of the Cross dedicated to their ance­stors.

The 7th Duke of Bronte posed with the administrative staff of the Duchy: the first one on the left is mister King (the last administra­tor); to right of the duke a very young Giuseppe Carastro (recently deceased).

These photos go back to the period during which the Duchy was still the residence of the present Duke of Bronte, Alexander Nelson-Hood, before it was acquired by the Bronte’s Council (1981).
These spaces constitute now the Nelson Museum but many furni­shings, pictures and various pieces of furniture visible here do not exist anymore.
They have been dispersed not because yielded or sold but because possibly have been stolen, (as, from the lunchroom of the second photo).

Ducea Neloson, veduta aerea

Over an aerial view of the Duchy’s complex (the so-called “Nelson Castle”). The right wings (the former exclusive apartments that now accommodate the Nelson Museum), overlook the planned inner garden by Andrea Graefer, first administrator of the Duchy nominated by Nelson. (Photo G. Basile).






To right the current duke of Bron­te, Alexander Nelson Hood.

L'ultimo Duca, Alexander Nelson-HoodAlexander Nelson-Hood (London, 17 March 1947): is the present Duke of Bronte, offspring of the Nelson, the Hood and  the Bridport, historical names tied to the history of the British navy.

When he inherited it, the Duchy was not anymore one of largest Sicilian landed estates; after the transaction del the 1861 and the application of the agrarian reform of the years 1963-65, what remained were only the prestigious buildings and a few hundreds of hectares of fertile land, cultivated as orchards.

He was a civil employee of an important British financial institution (was taking care of business relationships with Europe and particularly with France, Italy, Spain).

In the twelve years of his “reign” he did sell all the remaining property including, in 1981, the complex of the ancient abbey to Bronte’s Municipal Council for a billion and seven hundred fifty million.

Today, the small English cemetery few steps away from the ducal palace represents the only property that heirs of the Nelson continue to possess in Bronte.


Translated by Sam Di Bella

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