The English Duchy ay the foot of Etna
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The seven dukes of Bronte
A short history of Bronte
The seven dukes of Bronte
(1799 / 1981)
I° - Horatio Nelson (1799 - 1805)
(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
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)
Reverend William Conte Nelson
(1757 - 1835) «and Viscount Merton of Trafalgar, and Merton on
Sury County and United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Ireland, Baron
Nelson of Nile and Hilborough of Norfolk County on the same United
Kingdom, Duke of Bronte in this Kingdom of Sicily», angligan
shepherd, elder brother of Admiral Horatio Nelson, received the
title of Duke of Bronte and the immense Ducea in inheritance with
testament of 10 May 1803.
addition to other heirs, the bulk of the property was assigned to
him by Nelson together with his nephew William Haslewood, son of his
William Nelson, also like his brother Horatio, never set foot in the
Duchy, never visiting and enjoying for 30 years the benefits and
income (large sums received by remittances from the banks) without
even knowing what were the characteristics of the immense territory
and the poor conditions of the population exploited by him who lived
there ("my vassals and subjects of Bronte", so he defined it in a
Consider that in the only two years 1808-1809 William Nelson received
from the Palermo banker Abraham Gibbs remittances of a good 25.759.2
onze (over 1 and a half million euros).
year earlier, however, he wrote to the Marquis Antonio Forcella
complaining that «having given the account to the executors of the
late Lord Nelson, and having made two annual payments of Lady
Hamilton's annuity,» had «paid much more than what he had received
so far from Sicilia.»
The Reverend William also wanted to include in his coat of arms that
of the City of Bronte. But Forcella, in some way, extinguished the
«About the arms of Bronte - he wrote to him in 1807 - I
must point out that here generally the Cities, Lands and Castles
have nothing but the weapons of the Black Eagle, which is in real
arms again, and Bronte has this for his weapons.
It will depend on
the pleasure of V. E. if he wants to ask for his power to be
involved in his weapons¯.»
A few years later, in 1819, condemning remarks, turmoil and continuous
local judicial litigation, responding to some Brontesi who had
denounced him overwhelms and bullying by his administrators wrote:
«Do not want to force me to regard Bronte as a turbulent, restless
people; or even as peoples who desire to diminish the value of that
noble gift, with which the generosity of His Majesty has
spontaneously deigned to honor the heroic my brother, to remunerate
the services rendered by him to the Kingdom of Sicily, and which His
Majesty It is pleased to confirm in my person.»
«I try - he concluded - the greater and more sincere desire to assure
them Lords of craving that I have to contribute to their happiness,
but when a due care of my interests will allow it» (Nelson Archives,
vol 316, 299).
For the Bronte people that day, of course, it never came. The Reverend
William happily continued to exploit them for another 16 years until
At his death the Ducea, by succession testamentary, step to his only
surviving daughter Charlotte Mary Nelson.
Charlotte Mary Nelson (1835 - 1873)
Mary Nelson (1787-1873), baroness of Bridport, nephew of
Admiral Nelson, daughter of the Reverend William.
From 1838 to 1847 he claimed to have won it (the Court on 12 March
1847 confirmed his right to property) a lengthy judicial dispute
against the claims of Orazio Bolton (nephew of Susannah, sister of
the Admiral) who claimed possession of the Ducea.
She was, until
now, the only woman to bear the title of "Duchess of Bronte".
Charlotte Mary, showing a first, although venal, interest in these
estates so far but still profitable, was the first family to visit
(even for a very short period) the great fief donated by King
Ferdinand to his uncle Horatio and to bring you also the flag and
the surname of the Hood (since 1810 was married, in fact, to Samuel
Hood, second viscount of Bridport, scion of famous and glorious
ancestors of the English navy).
and accustomed to the luxuries of London life, he found primitive
and wild conditions of life. Also shaken by the difficulties of the
journey in a litter (a rudimentary sedan suspended between two
mules), the black volcanic landscape, the danger that Etna aroused
and the stories of the atrocities committed by the Bronte in 1820,
immediately escaped from Maniace swearing that never he would return
there (on the right his signature).
so it was. He managed the properties by relying on the Thovez
(Philip, Henry and William).
In 1857, the Great and New Hospital of Palermo, the previous feudatory
owner of the territory and of the Bronte area, gave it the archive
in its possession (judicial and administrative documents and other
documents) concerning the lands of Bronte and the abbeys of Santa
Maria of Maniace and S. Filippo di Fragalą inherited from her.
The archive (now called Nelson Private Archives) allows you to learn
about the life and administration of the Duchy and in particular all
legal disputes and litigation between the University of Bronte and
the two feudal lords (the Hospital, first, and the Duchess , after)
that lasted for over 350 years.
After the tragic events of 1860,
Charlotte Mary Nelson and the Municipality of Bronte hoping to put
an end to the countless quarrels with the brontesi and the tensions,
stipulated a transaction, desired and completed by the lord mayor
of Bronte Antonino
Cimbali, with whom La Ducea returned to the Municipality of
Bronte about half of its territory (although mostly woods, skiing
with a little farmland).
On the death of Lady Carlotta Maria Nelson, in 1873, the property and
title passed to the eldest, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hood, for
whom and his male heirs in perpetuity, the Duchess since 1855 had
asked SM King the Bourbon "the approval for the establishment of a
majorasco enclosing the entire duchy and land of Bronte".
The other daughters of Lady Carlotta, Maria Sophia, Carlotta, Giovanna
Sophia, Luisa and Francesca Carolina had already been widely endowed
by the rich heiress. Lady Carlotta also imposed on her son to add to
his surname also that of Nelson.
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
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).
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:
first one on the left is mister King (the last administrator); to right of the
duke a very young Giuseppe Carastro (recently deceased).
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.
- Alexander Nelson Hood (1873 - 1904)
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 isley, 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.
In 1883 Alexander Nelson Hood "as perennial merit" was appointed
honorary president of the Deputation who governed the life of the
Real Collegio Capizzi; the duchino, of his twenty-nine year old son,
was named honorary deputy.
In 1885 Queen Victoria appointed him the prestigious Order of the
Bath naming him Knight Commander.
During the terrible cholera epidemic which struck Bronte in 1887, the
Duke distinguished himself for the help given to the Bronte area by
making 10 wheat bodies available to the Commune.
In 1883-84 his son Alexander attempted to divert the stretch of the
Bronte-Maletto-Randazzo railway line up to Maniace.
He did not succeed and after the opening of the Railway in 1896 he had
a "private road" built at his own expense from Maniace to the
Maletto railway station.
To him the son has dedicated
the obelisk in the highest point
of “Sierra di Mergo”.
- Alexander Nelson-Hood (1904 - 1937)
Hon. Sir Alexander
Nelson-Hood, V Duke of Bronte, Grand Officer of the Crown of
Italy, Treasurer of Her Majesty the Queen of England, Viscount Bridport,
born in the Royal Palace of Cumberland Lodge Windsor on June 28, 1854,
visited for the first time the Ducea, very young, in 1868.
The peasant and literary gentleman has been defined.
At the age of 19, the management of the fiefdom, he lived there
permanently between Maniace and Taormina until his death, enjoying the
property and bringing new elements of land reclamation and
So he described his first years of life at the Castle: «My task: to
administer a large territory, young as I was, devoid of experience,
ignorant of people and their ways, with an uncertain knowledge of the
language, was not the most simple.
However, I worked hard and, working sometimes until one o'clock in the
morning, or later, I held the accounts, supervised the work out, and
took care of the correspondence and administration for a certain number
of years, practically without help.»
"It seems - writes Nunzio Galati - that did not create problems, indeed,
it was natural to take the pickaxe, the hoe or a club giving us under to
get soaked with sweat and return to the castle so ruffled and dirty as
to seem a tenant. And during the harvest he always entered the vat of
the millstone to press the grapes mixed among his employees. "
His administrators were the cav. Charles Beek, Mr. Edwin Hughes, Major
Richard Forsyth Gray and Mr. George Dubois Woods.
He was the first to be buried in
the small English cemetery
of the Duchy.
Smart and refined, he has left us some books including "Tales of Old
Sicily" (London, 1906); “Sicilian
Studies", stories and essays related to life in Sicily (George Allen
& Unwin, London 1915), but above all a memoir - "La Ducea di Bronte"
Duchy of Bronte) -, a "family diary", published recently, which
represents a true mine of detailed information on the history and
management of the feud, on the management criteria and on the types of
crops but also on the customs and character of the Bronte population.
Fascinated by Venice and its history he also wrote a novel of Venetian
setting, "Adria a Tale of Venice" (London 1904), dedicated to his friend
and traveling companion W. Sharp, with whom he shares his love for the
lagoon city .
Alexander Nelson Hood rules great fief for a long time with love and
passion, bringing you continuous innovations and improvements.
In his time - the feud was entrusted to him by his father when he was
only 19, in 1873 - the Ducea reached its peak.
In particular, he also cared for the planting of precious vines.
With the dream of bringing Sicily to the forefront of the world in the
production and marketing of great wines and brandy participates in some
However, I will not be able to overcome the growing difficulties caused
by the high production costs and the spread in the Maniace vineyards of
Among other works he built the road that leads from the Ducea to the
Maletto railway station and the other from Bronte to the Ricchisgia
and Marotta districts which were then part of the immense feud.
Lover of Greek literature and myths, he was a ductile intelligence, with
interests as well as poetry and literature also in the fields of
economics, sociology and anthropology.
Ducea also became a literary parlor and buen retiro of English
poets, writers and artists including William Sharp (dead
and buried in Maniace),
D. H. Lawrence, F. Marion Crawford and Frances Elliot.
The memories, the impressions and the judgments on the places and on the
brontesi of these literati, poets, musicians, great travelers who,
guests to Maniace of the descendants of Horatio Nelson, visited Bronte
from 1801 to 1920 were not always flattering for us Bronte.
For his commitment to the people of Messina struck in 1908 by a fatal
earthquake, for interventions on a personal basis but especially for the
organization of centers for the distribution of milk and bread, of
ambulatories and to offer hospitality to refugees in Taormina, the Duke
Alexander Nelson-Hood who was already Commander of the Order of the
Crown of Italy for merits acquired in the field of agriculture was very
deservedly elevated by the King to the rank of Grand Officer.
The fifth duke died eighty-three on June 1, 1937 in his villa in
Taormina (in the photo on the right the news of the death reported by
the New York Times).
Having never married he left no direct heirs. At his death the Ducea
passed to one of his great-grandsons, foster son, Rowland Arthur Herbert
Nelson-Hood viscount Bridport (second son of his brother, Arthur
Wellington Alexander) he appointed universal heir and executor of
testament with the testament of September 24, 1935.
(Above a bronze bust of the V Duca: "The bronze bust is mine, made by
the young sculptor of Taormina Enrico Licari - not satisfactory in the
likeness, except in profile, perhaps." (Alexander Nelson-Hood, "La Ducea
di Bronte ")
Rowland Arthur Herbert Nelson-Hood (1937 - 1969)
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.
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.
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.
the Duchy remained only a little more than 200 hectares.
VII° - Alexander Nelson-Hood (1969)
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
Today the only property that the heirs of Nelson continue to own in
Bronte is the small English cemetery located a few steps from the
Ducea. Many of their ancestors rest there and represents the only
truly emotional bond with the ancient Ducea inherited from the
Built in 1898 for the Nelson family, it houses eight tombs, including
the one of the romantic poet William Sharp who died in Bronte. It is
the only property of the heirs of Nelson, now in concession to the
municipality of Maniace.
In the photo on the right a terracotta bust, preserved in
Museum, portrays the 7th Duke, Alexander, still a child.
of December 5th 1948 wrote that «The blond and plump
heir, the duchino Alessandro Nelson Hood, born in London on March
17th of this year, was presented to the large crowd of Ducea
employees in one of their families».