A form of 'nobility' existed throughout the early civilizations of the Romans, Franks and Gauls. After the fall of the Roman Empire the use of the Roman Code of Laws disappeared and the only people left to defend the poor were priests and knights.
Those in need of protection gathered around the ruling families in Italy. A king was chosen according to the divine right of kings, who in turn was supported by a group of faithful men who became his knights. Upon investiture, the new knight, blessed by the touch of the sword and the benediction of a bishop, was also touched by this divine right, and his title passed down to his descendants.
Knights were chosen according to various criteria: they could either belong to the medieval cavalry or military equestrian orders, or be experts in fields such as law or medicine. Alternatively, they might hold important positions within the new kingdom. Nobility in Italy was never a closed caste. Families could attain status through education and the arts.
Until the abolition of feudal society in the kingdom of Naples in 1806 and the forced sale, by the young Kingdom of Italy, in 1862 of the vast majority of the land owned by the Catholic Church, the nobility and clergy had almost unlimited powers, especially over the peasants who would seek the nobles' protection against ecclesiastical taxes, such as the "decima".
It is well documented that in the fiefdom of Ugento the d'Amore family were given the power by the King of Naples to oversee all criminal and civil cases of law. This is also illustrated by the frescoes in the two main salons in the castle, where all these proceedings took place. The theme refers to justice and the judgment of Solomon.
The origin of the d’Amore name is uncertain, however, it's believed to come from the French 'des Amours' or 'Amours', a Norman family whose knights followed the Norman conquerer of Southern Italy, Tancredi di Altavilla, in the 11th century.
Tancredi’s descendants eventually founded the Kingdom of Sicily. It is thought that the d'Amore family settled briefly in Benevento, near Naples. However, early on the family split into three branches: one remained in Naples, one in Sicily, and the branch that later came to Ugento went to Florence.
One reason that they might have moved to Florence is that woollen cloth was currently in vogue in the wealthy Kingdom of Naples. In Florence they specialized in spinning wool, offering a great opportunity to create a successful business there.
Indeed, the d’Amore family is mentioned in the 'Cronaca Antianorum' (a list of important families) in Pisa in 1288, and in Florence at the end of the 13th century. We also know that in 1566, Fra' Angelo d’Amore was received into the Sovereign Order of Malta. At the start of the 17th century, the family, by then very wealthy, moved to Naples.
Don Pietro Giacomo d’Amore, the head of the family, was a successful merchant. He decided to invest his fortune by acquiring several fiefs in the Kingdom of Naples, in order to guarantee long-term prosperity for his family and descendants.
On 31 January 1643 he acquired the town of Ugento and its fief. Castello di Ugento is still owned by the family over 370 years later.
Family in Ugento
Pietro-Giacomo married Angela Lina, of Spanish nobility, with whom he had four children:
- Carlo, the future marquis of Ugento
- Teresa, who married the Prince of Ruffano, Carlo Brancaccio
- Giovan Battista, who had two Spanish wives: Elena Barracani, who gave birth to Nicola and Francesco, and Victoria Dellanos, daughter of the Count of Galugnano, the mother of Giacomo Ist and Carlo, who died very young
- Domenico, who became a Benedictine monk in the monastery of Montecassino.
Documents reveal that Pietro Giacomo gave the fief of Ugento to his elder son Carlo, on January 12 1648.
The title of Marquis of Ugento was granted to Don Carlo, the elder son of Pietro Giacomo, by Philip IV of Spain on December 23 1649. A document states that one of the reasons for this honour, was "the antique and illustrious nobility of the family".
Giuseppe, Carlo’s son, did not have any male descendants, however. His nephew Nicola therefore inherited the fief of Ugento because of a condition outlined in Pietro Giacomo's will: if there were no heirs on the death of the male descendants of his son Carlo, then the male descendants of his second son Giovan-Battista would inherit the fief.
Giuseppe d’Amore died on December 9 1690 of malaria, contracted while hunting. This event complicated everything in terms of the estate. He had two young daughters, Camilla and Antonia, with Anna Basurto. This meant that his cousin Nicola, as the oldest male would inherit. Giuseppe's widow Anna was against that decision, and wanted Pietro-Giacomo's will declared null and void so that Camilla could inherit.
On 1 February 1691, a settlement ruled in favour of Nicola who inherited the fief and lands, but ordered him to pay 22,000 to the two daughters, and marry Camilla. The brothers Giacomo I and Francesco were to marry Antonia and Anna Basurto. This ensured that this branch of the family was not extinguished.
In 1695, Nicola’s younger brother, Francesco, inherited the land of Ruffano and Torrepadula from his uncle, Carlo. With the fief came the title of Prince of Ruffano, granted by king Carlo II of Spain.
Soon after receiving the fief of Ugento, Nicola passed on the power to control it to his brother Francesco and left for Naples where he died in 1702.
After Francesco, other members of the family who left an important legacy include:
- Domenico (1723-1795) son of Prince Antonio, a highly educated scholar and lover of literature, who created a magnificent library in the castle of Ugento, collecting books that he would then have rebound in beautiful parchment. It seems that he was the author of many tercets that illustrate the frescoes in the castle. He married Caterina Belli, a 'woman highly intellectual' daughter of Cesare and Raimonda Lubelli, patricians of Lecce. Caterina Belli was the author of several works of poetry, which, together with those of Isabella Castriota-Scandenberg, her sister-in-law, were published.
- Giuseppe (1823-1888) highly knowledgeable and the owner of an immense collection of antique Greek and Roman coins from the Magna Grecia and Puglia.
- Francesco (1851-1941), who obtained the concession of the privilege of the private oratory from the Pope Holy Pio IX, and he also received the relative Regio Exequatur, from the court of Appeal of Trani.
- Giuseppe (1881-1979) served as a military officer of the famous Italian cavalry regiment called 'Guide'. In the First World War, and was awarded several Medals of Valor, and received the knighthood of San Maurizio e Lazzaro.
The family has been part of the nobility of Lecce since the 17th century, a fact officially recognized in 1859 by the commission of the nobility titles of the kingdom of the two Sicilies, on the occasion of the admission of Michele de Leoni, grandson of Vittoria d'Amore as part of the Royal Guard of H.M Francesco II di Borbone.
Nicola and Francesco are important figures in the story of the Castello, as during the 16th and 17th they transformed the ancient military structure into a lavish residence. They adapted it to their needs, building grand new reception rooms decorated with a magnificent mythological cycle of frescoes, which can be admired today thanks to the recent renovation.
Today, this impressive castle still belongs to the d’Amore family. They are writing a new chapter for these ancient stones, the silent keepers of so much history and secrets.
Coat of arms
The d’Amore family coat of arms shows a pelican against a blue background opening its breast with its beak, to feed its chicks with its own heart. The chicks stand on three small hills, while a golden sun shines on the scene.
The image is derived from the Christian symbolism of the Pietà. Legend has it that the female pelican would give her own heart to feed her babies, just as Christ shed his blood for the redemption of mankind.
The pelican, which is often represented as a swan, symbolizes love and the total dedication to her children. The three hills possibly represent the fiefs of Ugento, Ruffano and Santo Mango. It is thought, therefore, that the coat of arms was defined after 1698 when Santo Mango was acquired. In fact, in the oldest record of the coat of arms, held in the national library in Naples, the three hills are not clear and neither is the sun. The blue background represents high ideals and uncorrupted strength while the sun in the symbol of eternity, grandeur, power, providence, nobility and magnificence, it's colour symbolizing strength, faith and wealth.