Bronte's history

The English Duchy ay the foot of Etna

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A short history of Bronte

Horatio Nelson, Duke of Bronte

In December 1798 King Ferdinand of the two Sicily, following revolutionary risings which resulted in the birth of the "Repubblica Partenopea" (Neapolitan Republic), had to abandon Naples and to take refuge with the Nelson help, in Palermo.

The year after King Ferdinand was put back again on the throne of Naples, thanks to the English help and of Horatio Nelson, in particular, that had defeated in the Abukir battle the French fleet preventing France to gain supremacy in the Mediterranean.

Nelson smothered with bloodshed the Neapolitan Republic (saving the life and the throne to the King) and freed the Bourbon monarchy from a very uncomfortable opponent, the Caracciolo, hero of the Neapolitan revolution, hanging him after a summary trial on his ship.

Ferdinando I, as a token of gratitude, granted to Nelson, in perpetual property, the Maniace Abbey, the land and the city of Bronte in the same way as they had belonged before to the Hospital in Palermo.

The regal munificence, in truth historical, was not limited only to Bronte but to a series of inviting gifts, for the circumstance put on a silver plate, that the Nelson, to his pleasure, could have chosen.

The admiral could choose among the feuds of:

  Bisacquino, in the vicinity of  Palermo, belonged to the Church Of Monreale;

  Partinico, once property of the Badia Of Holy Maria Of Altofonte;

  Bronte, ex property of the Palermo Hospital, freed after centuries of fights and sacrifices.

Horatio Nelson preferred Bronte and the why of such choice we won't be able to know.
Maybe for the Greek origin of the name (which means "thunder") or for the majesty of mount Etna that dominates it; or for the territorial extent or the healthiness and fertility of the soil or the verses of the Palermo poet  Giovanni Meli.
Probably he chose the territory of Bronte because he identified himself with the mythical Cyclops: in fact he also had an only eye, having lost the other (the right) during a battle few years before (in 1794).

Also to Nelson was also conferred the title of Duke Of Bronte and Ferdinand granted to the admiral the faculty to transmit the Duchy not only to any of his relatives but also to strangers.

The trees of Victory, turned into gallows, had yielded to the lover of lady Hamilton and his heirs "... in perpetual property the land (25.000 hectares) and the same town of Bronte, .... with all its estates and the districts, together with the feuds, to the revenue stamps, the fortifications, the vassal citizens, to the incomes of the vassals, the wealth, to the services, the servitudes, the rents..".

So he had vassal citizens, very fertile land, rents, wealth, servitudes;  right of pure and mixed empire that (according to the Bourbon) will leave in perpetual property and inheritance.

In his gift, the Bourbon did not keep in any account the release from the feudal power of the Hospital In Palermo reached with big sacrifices by the brontese people, after century, old struggles, few years before (in 1774), nor the purchase of the "mere and mixed empire" by Bronte of 1638.

"The abhorred Ferdinand I°" (so calls him Benedetto Radice) gave the town, the land and the "peasants", "in the same way in which they had belonged to the big and new hospital of Palermo".

He saved the hospital (commuting the income which was obtaining from Bronte in an annual amount of 71.500 lire at state's expenses), but condemned the brontese people, making fruitless the sacrifices and the struggles of many generations in front of the courts.

Writes the Radice that «raising the earth to Dukedom the citizens were lowered to vassals, from free that they had become, done with huge pecuniary sacrifices and ruin of their Council for the purchase of the mere and mixed empire, at a cost of 22.000 scudi, of which the council paid 9.000 paying for the money 9 per cent interest.
So Bronte, for the tale of the name, had the honor of the Dukedom and confirmed the bad luck of the vassalage, exactly like the dog to which the master puts a beautiful silver or gold chain to its neck

From this was born another sour judicial dispute among the new master, the Duke Of Bronte (Nelson and all his descendants, up to the last one), and the Council Of Bronte which lasted for nearly a century, up to 1861.

Certainly the restored situation of vassalage of the brontese people and the subjection to a new harder master, shall be reasons for social tensions that shall bring about the revolutionary risings of 1820, of 1848, and shall find a tragic epilogue in the well known events of August 1860 and will last beyond one half of the last century (1963 -- 1965).

Horatio Nelson made restructure the ancient abbey and change in a sumptuous gentlemanly residence (the Dukedom) that was permanently occupied by the English heirs of the Duke Of Bronte and his managers until few decades ago.

The admiral did not have the time nor the luck to put feet in the Sicilian colonies and live in Bronte. He died in 1805 off Trafalgar Head and his remains were buried in London in the cathedral of San Paolo.

During the few years of life remained to him he loved, however, to sign as "Nelson Bronte". The name "Bronte" was good, even the British could pronounce it easily and united to the glory of the of Abukir and Trafalgar hero, he got so prestigious, that Irish Patrick Brunty (or Branty), big Nelson fan, changed his surname to Brontë, placing a dieresis on the "e", and as Brontë, his three daughters Emily, Charlotte and Anne became famous.

Two imagine of the first Duke Of Bronte, viscount Horatio Nelson, admiral of British S.M., symbol of the naval value of the British nation and the only English admiral to have his statue at the center of London. To right the Bourbon Fer­dinand IV, king of Naples, (of Sicily and of the two Sicilies)

The Celtic cross
built in 1888,
in the courtyard of the Dukedom, by the duke Alexander Nelson-Bridport, in honor of Horatio Nelson ("immortal Heroe Nili")

A panoramic vision, from the Saraceno torrent, of the com­plex called Dukedom Nelson with the Bene­di­ctine Ab­bey, holy Maria's Church, the ducal apart­ments, the bo­tanical garden, the walls and the old to­wers which were surrounding the castle.




 - The seven dukes of Bronte
 - The Maniace Abbey
 - Nelson Museum
 - Andrea Graefer, the first administrator
 - The Nelson Palace
 - The English cemetery


- La donazione del re Ferdinando I di Borbone
- Il testamento di Nelson
- Nelson, i titoli nobiliari e le firme
- The Duchy of Bronte, le memorie del V Duca
- Il V Duca ed il terremoto di Messina
- Gli amministratori della Ducea di Bronte
- La Ducea dei Nelson, Bronte e i Thovez
- L'Archivio dei Nelson
- Il fantasma del Castello Nelson
- Vini e cognac della Ducea Nelson
- La fine della Ducea Nelson
- Inglesi sotto il vulcano-La Ducea di Nelson
- L'Azienda Agricola Maniace, Il Borgo Caracciolo

With the gift of King Ferdinand, ended the submission of the abbey and his colonies to the Hospital In Palermo, wanted by Innocent VIII, but for the farmers of the place did not change anything at all.

Their territory, and themselves, were still more and always property of someone.

This time (and he will almost last two centuries) they were feudal property of a foreign dynasty (the English flag was still waving on the towers of the castle until few decades ago).

«Had origin, was writing Michele Pantaleone, the "damned Dukedom", cause of the strug­gles, of the persecutions, some violence and some illegalities of which the bron­tese folks were victims for beyond a century and a half».

In that year Bronte had a population of about 9.500 inhabitants, bound from always to the work of the land, and had an income of 5.500 onzes.

It wasn't even a wealthy little city and just the presence of the admiral's heirs (the Nelson-Bridport) brought around the Dukedom those social tensions that eventually would burst in the sadly famous Facts of Bronte in 1860.

During the agitations of 1820, the risings of 1848 and 1849 but above all the revolution of 1860, the continuous hunger for agricultural land and the immen­se land property of the Dukedom were obviously the principal aim of the revo­lutionaries of Bronte and of the nearby zone. But the Nelson Dukedom, with its thousands hectares of good land, still remained in the hands of the English owners.

The dukes continued to act as masters and the repression and feudalism continued in spite of the Garibaldian liberation and the Italian unification of 1861. Only in 1940, with the declaration of war of Italy against England, the heirs Nelson, hunted by Mussolini, had to abandon Maniace.

The castle and 6.594 hectares remained to the Dukedom passed in the hands of the Corporation for Colonization of the Sicilian large landed estate that used it as its administrative place of business; subsequently, in 1943, lodged the feldmarslal Kesserling and, during the allied advance, the general sir Harold Alexander.

The corporation, among the other works, realized in the park of the castle (near the entry of the residence of the dukes) a rural village called "Caracciolo village", to remember the Italian most illustrious victim of the English excessive power in the Mediterranean.

The dukes took the possession of the Dukedom again with the arrival of the English troops in Sicily; after the landing, the buildings of the Caracciolo Village were bulldozed (the remains of the village are still visible in the park in front of the entry to the Dukedom).

Still for a long time, after the war, the immense Dukedom kept on being at the center of claims and hard rural struggles. Even in 1950 the duke was pretending the toll for the transit in an old wooden bridge placed over the Saraceno torrent.

And in 1950 Carlo Levi was writing that «... the Dukedom of Bronte can be taken as an example of the most absurd historical anachronism, of the persistence of a lost feudal world and the difficult attempts of the rural peasants to exist as men».

On December 12 of 1950 the Sicilian Region promulgated the law of agricultural reform, but the strangely enough the law did not have application in the feuds of the Duke.

Only in the years '63-'65 the ducal land was assigned to the farmers and the Council Of Bronte, that following the constitution of 1812, had already obtained the emanci­pation from the ducal vassalage, got the restoration of almost all his possessions usurped in the past by the various feudatories.

Today the "hated" English Dukedom of the "boia di Caracciolo" (Caracciolo execu­tioner), (that is how Benedetto Radice defined the admiral Nelson), became property of the brontese citizens.

On September 4th, 1981, the admiral's last heir, the duke Ale­xander Nelson Hood viscount Bridport, sold to the Council Of Bronte the architectural complex and the annexed park for the total amount of a billion and seven hundred fifty millions lire (of which 950 for the true and real castle and the ground, 237 for the other buildings, 570 for the furniture, the relics, the pictures and every other mobile thing).

After centuries of dispossession and vassalage, the ancient Benedictine Abbey was finally returned to the brontese community and converted in a cultural tourist center.

Today the Nelson Dukedom  with the noble apartments of the Nelson (turned into the Nelson Museum), the ancient Benedictine abbey, the Church Of Holy Maria Of Maniace, the young laboratories, the stores, the stables, the granary (turned into to multiple cultural center of studies, of congresses and shows of art), the park (where an extraordinary Sculpture museum is visible in the open air) became to big tourist attraction of extraordinary interest.

The inhabitants of Maniace obtained the administrative autonomy with Regional Law no. 62 published on the G. U. of 4.11.1981.

An view of the internal garden of the Castle, (once a true botanical garden), and a section of the ducal apartments (Nelson Museum) seen by the internal garden.

The obelisk
in honor of
Duke Alexander Nelson-Bridport.
Had been erected
in 19O5 by the duke
 Alexander Nelson-Hood in honor of his father died the previous year.

The Admiral in a print preserved in the Capizzi College’s art gallery and some coats of arms that adorn a small room (called exactly the coat of arms room) in the Nelson Museum

Ducea, sala degli stemmi

Ducea, sala degli stemmi


An initiative undertaken by a few managers, about ten years ago, left puzzled and astonished many citizens of Bronte:
The twin ship among the Council of Bronte and Bur­nhan Thorp, the English town in the Workfolk, country town were the admiral Nelson was born. What affinity of traditions, of realizations, of purpo­ses there was between the two countries however remained a mystery.

Only the Horatio Nelson memory was joining them.
ùMaybe that mayor of ours had forgotten (or, maybe, com­pletely ignored) the sour quarrel between the Dukedom and the Council Of Bronte that went on for over a century, the vassalage state, the bullying and the offences, the suffered injustices, the dead of 1860, the hard rural strug­gles.


Translated by Sam Di BellaITALIAN VERSION

Bronte's history
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