History of Fra’ Diavolo, the robber who knew how to say no to Napoleon

Michele Arcangelo Pezza, meglio conosciuto come "Fra' Diavolo"

Two hundred and seven years ago, to be precise on November 11, 1806, died Fra’ Diavolo. Hanged on the gallows mounted in Piazza Mercato in Naples, deputy usually place the execution of death sentences. Prototype of all the brigands, Michele Arcangelo Pezza, this is his real name, spread terror during the second half of the eighteenth century in the territories of the Kingdom of Naples, turning the streets of the capital, but also those of the villages of the province, in an authentic slaughterhouse for the enemies of the Bourbon cause.

Originally from Itri (Frosinone), where he was born on April 7, 1771, Michele was nicknamed “Fra’ Diavolo” as a boy for his impetuous nature and undisciplined (in his early twenties he killed the master saddler in the country – for whom he worked – with a large needle used to baste the saddles, and then he murdered his brother who had sworn revenge) and the fact that, at 5 years, survived a serious illness, the mother, who had made a vow to St. Francesco di Paola, the dressed as a sign of devotion in a Franciscan habit.

“You’re not Fra’ Michele, you’re Fra’ Diavolo” I ‘ll try again, once , Canon Nicola De Fabritiis, his teacher, for his listlessness and he had little desire to study.

After wandering for a few years in the woods of Ciociaria and those of the Papal States, Fra’ Diavolo enlisted in the infantry and Bourbon at the beginning of 1798 he left for Lombardy to fight alongside the Allies against the Austrian army of Napoleon who meanwhile was spreading in the Po valley. After the invasion of the Kingdom of Naples by the same French troops, Michele Pezza decided not to break the oath that bound him to the cause of the King of Naples and, remaining in the army of Ferdinando IV of Bourbon, was released against the patriots of the Republic Naples in the meantime, thanks to the “coverage” guaranteed by the French, had come to life in Naples. After years and years of hard struggle that earned him before his appointment as captain of infantry, then to colonel and eventually to the Duke of Cassano from the king of Naples , was captured in Baronissi by Napoleon’s soldiers, led by General Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo, father of the famous writer Victor Hugo and his secret admirer. Having refused to join the transalpine troops, who were even coming to offer you the gallons of colonel, he was sentenced to death by a special court and then hanged on November 11, 1806.

On the scaffold Fra’ Diavolo showed up wearing the uniform and the degrees of the Bourbon army brigadier. His body was left in plain sight , for more than twenty-four hours , dangling , as a warning to the population. The news of his death reached the Royal Family in exile in Sicily. As a sign of respect for King Ferdinando had the funeral of guerrilla Itri in the Cathedral of Palermo.