The History of Sicily

Spanish Rule (1618-1679)

The Thirty-Years War, a conflict between Catholics and Protestants in northern Europe, affected Sicily because of Spain’s increased taxation in support of its armies. A series of bad harvests contributed to the populace’s disaffection and to a series of revolts in Palermo, one of which forced the viceroy to flee to Messina. In August 1647, a goldsmith named Giuseppe d’Alessi (1612-1647), leading a number of tradesmen, took command of Palermo. Bringing the viceroy back from Messina, he instituted a number of governmental and legal reforms, and he was able to restore peace, but only for a short time. He was soon murdered by one of his own countrymen, and Palermo and the surrounding territory came under the rule of the bishop of Monreale.

Troubles only increased in the latter half of the seventeenth century. Harvests often fell short of what was needed, and the Spanish crown continued to rape Sicily through exorbitant taxation, the burden of which often fell on the poor and on tradesmen, with the baronial class failing to pay its fair share, if anything at all.

By 1674, starvation among the populace became noticeable. In that year, Messina, always at odds with Palermo, called upon Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) for aid. The King sent an armed force under the Duke of Vivonne (1636-1688) to Sicily, but Messina’s rebellion was soon quelled, and the French left the island in 1677. In 1679, the authorities in Palermo retaliated, burning down Messina’s city hall. Many of the rebels, who had fled to France, were forced back to Sicily only to find that their lands and titles had been confiscated.


One of the Quattro Canti (Four Corners), Palermo