Prior to Italian unification, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the largest of the Italian States, was comprised of the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1799, King Ferdinand l, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies (aka King Ferdinand IV, King of Naples, aka King Ferdinand III, King of Sicily), in appreciation for the admiral's support in suppressing a French-inspired insurrection in Naples, gave Horatio Nelson a title (Duke of Bronte) and a town (my grandmother's hometown), or, more precisely, "the land and the same town of Bronte, the revenue stamps, the incomes of the vassals, the servitudes, the rents..."
The Castle was a former monastery and, at that time, in total disrepair. Admiral Nelson never had the opportunity to live, let alone visit his property. Nevertheless, from England and with the help of estate managers (who most probably cheated him), Admiral Nelson planned the first of many renovations in the hope that he and Lady Hamilton would retire to Bronte one day and live a peaceful, quiet life away from whispers and gossip. This connection to Bronte was so strong that he had begun to sign his name, Nelson and Bronte.
One of the provisions that Admiral Nelson requested as King Ferdinand drew up the royal document was that Bronte be an inheritable property. Most probably, this was to assure Lady Hamilton and their daughter, Horatia, of revenue should Nelson meet with an untimely demise. He did, aboard the HMS Victory in 1805. However, upon his death, Nelson's brother, Reverend William Nelson, inherited the town and the title to become the second Duke of Bronte. He was succeeded by his daughter, Charlotte Mary Nelson, the third Duchess of Bronte in 1835. After her death, her son, Alexander Nelson Hood, Baron Bridport, the fourth Duke of Bronte, was her successor in 1873 (a little bit of Bronte trivia: From 1799 to 1981, there were seven Dukes of Bronte, the last also named Alexander Nelson Hood who sold all the remaining property, including the once abandoned monastery, now, a furnished Castle, back to Bronte's Muncipal Council in 1981 for the sum of 1,750,000,000 lire, approximately $1,201,602.00).
In May 1860, General Giuseppe Garibaldi and his "one-thousand" man volunteer army landed in Sicily in the western port city of Marsala, aided by British ships whose presence in the harbor deterred any Bourbon ship from taking action. This kind of assistance from such a great seafaring power came, unfortunately, with a price. However, for Garibaldi, landing in Marsala was the springboard from which battle after battle was raged and from which city after city was conquered, the victories all but assuring the expulsion of the foreign presence, that is, the Bourbon ruling power in Sicily, and, thus, furthering the grand hope and promise for a unified Italy.
There was, however, a proviso regarding another foreign presence. In exchange for their services, a "pact" was made with the British so that their countrymen might remain in Sicily unharmed. Therefore, the English rulers (that is, Admiral Horatio Nelson's heirs) would continue their reign in Bronte. And, so, while the Sicilian peasants (including the Brontese) initially cheered Garibaldi, believing the land, at long last, would fall rightfully into their hands and be parceled out justly, in Bronte, such dreams were shattered all too soon. When the peasants (known as the caps for the hats they wore) realized that Nelson's heirs would continue to own their land, they were enraged. In August 1860, the Brontese peasants, mad with frustration, could take no more injustice. On a rampage through the roads of Bronte, the peasants had one thought in mind: to burn the inns and cottages of the wealthy hats, the lawyers, innkeepers and notaries who profited by making their own pacts with Nelson's heirs. They not only burned the inns and cottages, they killed sixteen of these hats.
When word of this uprising got back to Garibaldi, he immediately sent his lieutenant, Nino Bixio, to Bronte who, masterminding an expeditious trial, condemned five Brontese to death (one, it should be noted, being mentally challenged). On August 10, 1860, Bixio sat on his horse near the piazza San Vito, the highest point in Bronte, and shouted out the order, "Ready, Aim, Fire." And, so, although the character of Alfiu Saitta in Nelson's Castle was pure invention, the events of August 1860 were all too real.