The Duchess, to my great dismay, preferred to sit in the cab, more modern and comfortable of my car, and she made the trip from Catania on that car. But then, before entering the driveway to the castle, she was practically forced to come on my car. So I was able to fully abide by the instructions received.
In the seventies, when was elected Lord Mayor the gentleman Nino Venia (PSI-DC, sec. Sturzo-Civic List Maniace L.), as a MSI councilor of the City of Bronte, I introduced, somewhat struggling, for his kind reluctance and composed discretion, a left-wing mayor in the halls of the castle.
The occasion was a reception organized by the new Duke Alexander and his mother in honor of the authorities, journalists, bankers and businessmen to open the duchy to the new world of the seventies, after a long and noble sullen isolation in the name of defending privacy.
Memories, these, along with many others that are part of my heritage and affection which gradually as my age increases, become nostalgic,as is natural, for a unique and more poignant era.
So, whenever I can, I run to Maniace to revise the castle and relive the atmosphere of the past, perhaps accompanied by my friend Salvatore Bevacqua, in whom, every year, I see more of that attachment to Maniace, to its memory and its preservation, which I saw in my grandfather's first and then my father.
I remember it, the day before his death, with great clarity in a kind of reassessment of his life, he spoke at length about Maniace, its vicissitudes and its people.
I keep one of the most expensive things a gold cigarette case, gift of the Duke and Duchess Sheila Alexander to my father in memory of the 6th Duke, and a commemorative silver plate always offered to my father, as before to my grandfather, at the time of their retirement.
The castle's brochure
I am a passionate and devoted collector of books and writings, which are published on Maniace and the Duchy. And waiting to be able to spend a relaxing hard-working break, when I shall less busy with the implementation of the Naples metro, to write about memories, family stories and impressions that relate to the Duchy. However, during my last visit to Maniace in May 2004, I decided to bring forward these my senile intentions.
During that visit, in fact, I had occasion to read this note from a brochure, prepared, I believe, by the City of Bronte and distributed to visitors of the castle.
The concise guide stated: "Nelson never went to the Duchy of Bronte, and just before his death he sent as his agent Andrea Graefer the Viscount."
I was first drawn to the statement of non-visit to the Duchy by his owner, because, having read the recent book by T. Coleman on Horatio Nelson(1), I recalled that from 1799 to 1802 the admiral had traveled around the Mediterranean for a long stay in Palermo and I thought that rather strange.
The man was so taken by its political-military activities that could never find time to visit the estate given to him although, often that was just a few miles away.
Such as on April 24, 1800 when he was at Syracuse (2, vol. III) . Yet it was a substantial gift. But I was especially intrigued by the mention of the name of Andrea Viscount Graefer. Even a Viscount.
Nelson in 1799 was still only a Baron of the Nile, having been created Viscount May 22, 1801 after the Battle of Copenhagen and was already a Real Admiral of the Red, the fifth highest position in the British Navy, it is difficult to believe he had at his service a Viscount.
But who was this Andrea Grafer?
I wondered immediately if this last name was amenable to that of Mrs. Elisa Graefer, that, according to my grandfather's confused stories, however relata referentis, as he was quoting memories perhaps learned from the 5th Duke Alexander, was one of the important women in the duchy's history with Lady Emma Hamilton, Lady Mary Charlotte Nelson, Mrs. Martha Barrett, Mrs. Evans and Mrs. Rosa Penelope Margaret Hughes.
I felt an urgent need to satisfy my curiosity and remove doubts, and so just as I went back to Naples I started my research.
Luck helped me as I was in Naples and in contact with a rich cultural world and because exactly there the full history of the Duchy had started.
My search, however, was fortunate and easy, as it let me establish(3) that J. Andrew Graefer or Graffer was the husband of Elisa Graefer, mother-in-law of Joachim Spedalieri, namely the Mrs. Graffer of my grandfather stories.
J. A. Graefer was employed by H. Nelson as his administrator, or governor, in Bronte where he died in 1802.
But it was not a viscount.
He was, in fact, a gardener, an expert gardener, of German origin and a botanist without a degree. To him was due the creation of the English Garden in the Palace of Caserta, which was then one of the four main gardens of Europe and even today, after two hundred years, arouses wonder for its preservation.
The English garden in Caserta
But how Graefer tied his name to that of the Duchy? It has to do always with the Hamilton family(3) (4).
Among the many frantic and cultural interests of Lord William, in fact, there was also a passion for the informal, romantic, scenic, just typically English garden.
Not having, however, the possibility to own a garden designed in the style of W. Kent, painter and botanist, he was able nonetheless to give vent to his passion in Naples.
It was enough to convince the real family of Naples and in particular the Queen Maria Carolina, in a way that she could emulate her sister Marie Antoinette, queen of France, to create an English garden in the grounds of the Royal Palace of Caserta.
To search for and have at its disposal an expert of great talent he turned for help to Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, most important scientific academy in Europe, a botanist of unquestioned authority, who participated in the expedition of Captain Cook from 1768 to 1771 with the ship Endeavour in New Zealand, Australia and Tahiti and had then left the Bounty in Tahiti.
Banks suggested to Hamilton to advise the Kings of Naples just J. Graefer Andrew, who had arrived in Naples the April 3, 1786 only with his three sons John, Charles and George, as he was recently widowed.
Graefer was then an employee of the British nurserymen Gordon and Thompson, and was known to have introduced to England some exotic plants from Japan.
His frenetic activity and the uncommon expertise were crucial to the English garden to the achievement of which participated also the Vanvitelli.
During the crucial phase of work on an area of about 50 acres were employed by Graefer 80 men while another 500 were employed in the construction of boundary walls.
The works in practice will continue until 1798 and will lead to the creation of meadows, streams, woods, the placing of some archaeological finds in a natural environment and planting a bee farm and a botanical garden, which even many years after the end of the Bourbon monarchy was selling plants and seeds.
Particular success was obtained with the rooting and early growth of a camphor tree.
Native plants, taken by Graefer from Capri, Ischia, and other Naples surroundings, up to Salerno and Vietri, were planted together with exotic plants such as gardenias and camellias from China and Japan, as well as species introduced from Europe by Banks directly from Australia and New Zealand.
The costs were enormous. Suffice it to say that the acquisition of land not belonging to the Royal Palace was costing about 27,000 ducats.
The results, in spite of the swaying of regal interest, which almost took turns between falling in love and losing interest in the garden, the shortage of funds, the jealousies of local gardeners and the vicissitudes of history were a halo for the ability and willingness of Graefer, gifts recognized even by Goethe, and for the activism of Hamilton.
Life in Caserta
The life of Graefer in Caserta was not always peaceful, however, particularly troubled by economic difficulties suffered as a result of fraud. It 's true, however, that he crowned his love dream marrying on the 19th of December 1791 Elizabeth Dodsworth, an English woman from Chester, known to the home of the Hamilton, where she was staying, being a friend of Lady Emma.
From his marriage were born two children. The first, named Ferdinand in honor of the King that was also his godfather, died days after birth.
Flora Fraser(5) reminds us that for the birth of the child Elisa received from the king a gift of a gold watch with pearls, twelve silver candlesticks and a silver tea service as well. The couple was later made happy by the birth, on October 15, 1794, of a baby girl, that named Maria Carolina in honor of Queen(4).
The political events of the reign in the 1798 put an end to the adventure of Graefer in the realization of the English garden. We find him, in fact, with his wife and daughter Maria Elisa Carolina fleeing to Sicily, with the royal family and the Hamilton.
To follow the life of the garden were the three sons who left their offspring in Caserta, where you can still see in the cemetery a gentile chapel Graefer-Michitto. At Palermo A. Graefer stayed with his family at the Palagonia palace along with the Hamilton and Horatio Nelson himself.
Following Nelson, duke of Bronte
In August 1799, the Admiral, "savior of the kingdom" was created Duke of Bronte by Ferdinand IV in Palermo. Graefer was unemployed and virtually unable to guarantee the maintenance of his family.
In the words of Charles Knight(4) "a few drops of gold had fallen also on the poor Graefer" when he was hired by Nelson as his own attorney for the Duchy and sent to Bronte with an annual salary of 200 pounds for him and 50 pounds for his wife.