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The Sicilian Peerage
Peers and Parliamentry Tradition in Sicily

Related pages: Sicilian NobilityArmigerous Families ListedHeraldry & Noble TitlesKings & KnightsFeudalism in Sicily

By definition, the peerage was the part of the collective Sicilian nobility entitled to vote in parliament, particularly after the abolition of feudalism in 1812. In the Kingdom of Sicily the Peerage and Chamber of Peers were loosely based on the British model. Just as not all Scots barons were peers (many were feudal barons) permitted seats in the House of Lords, not all Sicilian barons were entitled to seats in Sicily's Chamber of Peers.

Sicilian Parliaments in History
If the Magna Carta could be said to have kindled the development of England's Parliament after 1215, the War of the Vespers might be said to have forged the conditions necessary for parliamentary development in Sicily after 1282, notwithstanding Emperor Frederick II's so-called "parliament" held at Messina in 1234. Nevertheless, the analogy is a tenuous one, and in considering the Sicilian parliaments we must distinguish between genuine parliamentary assemblies on the one hand, and mere baronial convocations on the other.

In 1295 and 1296, a "parliament" was convened by Frederick, the younger brother of King James of Sicily - both being sons of King Peter of Aragon. At this session, the Sicilian baronage nominated Frederick, who was Sicilian by birth and upbringing, as their sovereign, and crowned him at Palermo the following year as Frederick III of Sicily. His elder brother objected but could do nothing to alter the course of events. This was an early example of the importance of the assent of the people, or at least that of the baronial faction, in determining who would rule Sicily.

The "parliament" of 1295 also established the precedent that in Sicily this entity, which never became a legislative body in the truest sense (for the Kingdom of Sicily never became a genuinely constitutional monarchy) met only occasionally, usually when political circumstances required action on the part of the feudal nobility. More often than not, these circumstances were rooted in conditions prompted by matters such as head taxes that the feudatories sought to avoid rendering to the Crown. With a few prominent exceptions, such as the brief reign of Vittorio Amedeo of Savoy early in the eighteenth century, "home rule" was to be virtually unknown in Sicily after Frederick's death four decades following the first parliament he convened at Palermo.

Nevertheless, that first Sicilian Parliament was remarkable; it required Frederick to grant a "charter of liberties" remarkably similar to Englands Magna Carta in which he agreed not to leave Sicily or declare war without the assent of the feudatories, and further agreed to summon a parliament annually thereafter (though this last concession was rarely put into practice). Even in the thirteenth century, it seems, some of the lessons of Magna Carta were not lost on peoples far beyond the shores of Britain. However, some Italian historians, notably Antonio Marongiu, suggest that the "curia" of Frederick III was more akin to a crowded royal court than an actual parliamentary body.

The parliaments usually met in Palermo, often at the Royal Palace, which today houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly, the Italian Republic's "Sicilian Parliament." (The Italian term for a "parliamentary session" is also assemblea.)

The principal parliaments held before the reigns of the five Bourbon rulers of Naples and Sicilies (the Two Sicilies) took place in 1474, 1478, 1481, 1514, 1541, 1556, 1585, 1588, 1595, 1609, 1612, 1615, 1630, 1636, 1642, 1650, 1668, 1680, 1690, 1698, 1707, 1714, 1720, 1724, 1725, 1728, 1729 and 1732.

During the seventeenth century, there emerged three houses of Sicily's parliament. The clerical chamber comprised bishops and feudal abbots. The feudal chamber included "peers," who were usually greater feudatories (i.e. their fiefs were towns rather than smaller hamlets or farms), and the demesnial chamber consisted of representatives of "demesnial" cities and towns (Palermo, Messina, Catania, Castrogiovanni, Calascibetta, Vizzini, etc.).

Peers of the Realm
A peer may be defined as a nobleman entitled by law to a seat in parliament, and it is in this sense that the term is employed here. At the parliament of 1541, there were 3 marquesses, 10 counts, 2 viscounts (a rare title in Sicily) and 62 barons. Obviously, not all titled noblemen were peers entitled to vote in Parliament, though the term pari has always been used rather loosely in common parlance in Sicily, where it often referred to any titled nobleman, just as cavaliere often referred to any son of a count or baron, regardless of whether he had been invested in a knightly order. Given the particularly Sicilian penchant for the pursuit of ever-greater nobiliary ranks, it comes as no surprise that many of the comital and baronial families of the mid-sixteenth century were princely and ducal families by the nineteenth, but another practice is described by Francesco Palazzolo Drago in Famiglie Nobili Siciliane (Palermo 1927) and is worth citing:

"In Sicily, all the holders of simple fiefs bore the title Baron, and in the various investitures of the same fief the title holder was indiscriminately referred to as Seigneurial Lord (Signore) or Baron (Barone)."

Thus the meaning of pari, like that of barone and cavaliere, was often based as much on context and usage as on heraldic law.

King Carlo de Bourbon (di Borbone) addressed a Sicilian Parliament in 1735 following his coronation as King of Sicily. Important parliamentary sessions followed in 1738, 1741, 1746 and 1786.

The last important parliaments convened in Sicily coincided with the establishment of constitutions in 1812-1813 and 1848. It was actually the proposed abolition of feudalism in 1812 that prompted a session beginning in that year, though the peers could not prevent the King's abrogation of this age-old institution. Parliament was seen by many as the Crown's attempt to preserve some rights of the nobility when feudalism no longer existed, though the revolutions of 1848 were sufficient cause for a session in that chaotic year.

During the nineteenth century, Peers of the Realm were chosen from among those noblemen whose predecessors had held parliamentary seats before 1812, or who themselves held greater feudal rights at the time of the abolition of feudalism in that year, or whose taxed assets exceeded a certain level of wealth. Excluded were those noblemen whose minor feudal rights were connected with the purchase of feudal property during this period Therefore, dozens of "minor" baronial families such as the Guccia and Mantegna did not hold seats in the parliamentary session of 1848, whereas the Lanza, Notarbartolo, Paternò and Alliata did. Families whose titles, in the absence of male heirs, had passed to an heiress, were not represented in parliament.

As we have seen, the assent of the greater nobility was required for a King to rule over Sicily, and though this practice had evolved considerably by the revolutionary year of 1848, when the last Parliament met (one was called in 1860 but was never officially convened), it is interesting to consider that the heirs or other members of many of these peerage families have retained ties with the Sicilian Royal Family (today the House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies) as knights of the dynasty's Constantinian Order of Saint George.

In the following list, the title which was the basis of the right to a single vote in parliament is indicated in the left margin, with the name of the family indicated to the right. Though the names of some of these feudal localities, which represent but a fraction of the "Thousand Cities" of the Two Sicilies, have changed, others will be familiar to those who have travelled across Sicily. Only two territorial designations contain surnames, namely Spadafora and Villasmundo (the Asmundo family). Certain peers, who may have had feudal rights to more than one locality, were entitled to more than one vote. Indeed, in the eighteenth century there were several instances of feudatories founding localities (typically by dividing a large town) in an attempt to procure for themselves additional votes; such was the case with San Giovanni Gemini, which was previously part of Cammarata, though by 1848 this was no longer a peerage title.

To have been a Peer of the Realm in Sicily meant little after 1860; the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy became the upper house of the new unitary state, and though many senators were noblemen senatorial seats were not assigned exclusively on the basis of blood. Italy's Consulta Araldica (College of Arms) did not recognise Sicilian "peerages" even as honorary titles, though it recognized the nobiliary ranks on which these peerages were based.

Much more could be written about the Sicilian parliaments and peerage, such as the former being influenced in 1812 by the British model, the role of feudalism in shaping these institutions in Sicily, and the comparative history of parliaments in various Italian regions (as well as the Piedmontese influence on the session of 1714). For those interested in this topic, the author recommends several works cited at the end of this article, which make reference to various documents that may be readily consulted at the Archive of State in Palermo.

Sicilian Peers in 1848
(Listed by title and family.)
Prince of Aci Sant'Antonio
Duke of Acquaviva Platani
Marquis of Alimena
Fatta del Bosco
Baron of Aliminusa
Prince of Aragona
Marquis of Bagni
Baron of Baucina
Prince of Belmonte
Baron of Belvedere
Prince of Biscari
Paternò Castello
Duke of Bivona
Alvarez de Toledo
Duke of Bronte
Prince of Butera
Lanza Branciforte
Prince of Calvaruso
Baron of Campobello
Prince of Campofiorito
Lanza Branciforte
Prince of Campofranco
Lucchesi Palli
Prince of Camporeale
Beccadelli di Bologna
Marquis of Camporotondo
Marquis of Capizzi
Paternò Castello
Duke of Carcaci
Paternò Castello
Prince of Carini
La Grua
Baron of Casalnuovo
Di Maria
Prince of Cassaro
Baron of Castania
Prince of Castelbuono
Prince of Castelforte
Duke of Castelluzzo
Baron of Castelnormando
Lucchesi Palli
Prince of Castelnuovo
Prince of Castelvetrano
Pignatelli Aragona Cortez
Prince of Castiglione
Rospigliosi Gioeni
Duke of Castrofilippo
Baron of Catenanuova
Prince of Cerami
Duke of Cesarò
Prince of Comitini
Baron of Ferla
Prince of Ficarazzi
Baron of Ficarra
Prince of Furnari
Prince of Galati
De Spucches
Baron of Gallidoro
Baron of Giardinello
Marquis of Giarratana
Baron of Godrano
Duke of Gualtieri
Baron of Kaggi
De Spucches
Prince of Leonforte
Lanza Branciforte
Baron of Longi
Marquis of Lucca
Mastrogiovanni Tasca
Prince of Maletto
Prince of Malvagna
Marquis of Manchi di Bilici
Marquis of Marineo
Baron of Martini
Prince of Mezzojuso
Prince of Militello
Lanza Filingeri
Duke of Misterbianco
Count of Modica
Prince of Mola
Prince of Monforte
Marquis of Mongiuffi and Kaggi
Duke of Montagnareale
Marquis of Montemaggiore
Prince of Montevago
Marquis of Motta d'Affermo
Marquis of Murata Cerda
Santo Stefano
Count of Naso
Marquis of Ogliastro
Prince of Paceco
Baron of Pachino
Prince of Palagonia
Turrisi Grifeo
Prince of Palazzolo
Ruffo di Calabria
Duke of Palma
Prince of Pantelleria
Prince of Partanna
Turrisi Grifeo
Prince of Paternò
Baron of Pettineo
Duke of Piraino
Baron of Prizzi
Prince of Raffadali
Prince of Rammacca
Duke of Reitano
Prince of Resuttana
Di Napoli
Baron of Riesi
Baron della Rocca
Cataliotti Valdina
Prince of Roccafiorita
Marquis of Roccalumera
Prince of Rosolini
Prince of Sant'Antonio
Baron of San Carlo
Marquis of San Cataldo
Baron of San Cono
Marquis of Santa Croce
Marquis of San Ferdinando
Baron of San Pietro
Baron of Santo Stefano di Briga
De Spucches
Baron of Santo Stefano di Camastra
Prince of San Teodoro
De Gregorio
Marquis of Sambuca
Beccadelli di Bologna
Prince of Scaletta
Prince of Sciara
Prince of Scordia
Lanza Branciforte
Duke of Serradifalco
Lo Faso
Duke of Sorrentino
Marquis of Sortino
Specchi Gaetani
Prince of Spadafora
Duke of Sperlinga
Marquis of Tortorici
Del Castillo
Prince of Trabia
Lanza Branciforte
Baron of Tripi
Baron of Tusa
La Torre
Prince of Valguarnera
Baron of Vallelunga
Duke of Vatticani
Baron of Villadoro
Prince of Villafranca
Marquis of Villlalba
Duke of Villarosa
Baron of Villasmundo
Asmundo Paternò
Baron of Villaurea
Di Michele
Baron of Vita


In the original Italian the decree defining barons reads: "In Sicilia tutti i possessori di feudi portavano il titolo di Barone, e nelle diverse investiture dello stesso feudo il titolare era indifferentemente qualificato Signore o Barone."

Suggested for Further Reading:

Brancato, F. L'Assemblea Siciliana del 1848-1849. Florence 1946.

Calisse, C. Storia del Parlamento in Sicilia dalla Fondazione alla Caduta della Monarchia. Turin 1887.

Genuardi, L. Il Parlamento Siciliano. Bologna 1924.

Marongiu, Antonio. Il Parlamento in Italia. Milan 1962.

The Author: Luigi Mendola, the author, is one of the world's foremost experts on Italian heraldry and feudal history. ©1998 L. Mendola. Published by permission.

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