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The elder son of King Francis I, Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies, was born in Palermo on 12 January 1810 and died in Caserta on 22 May 1859, when he was still young. A year after his death the invasion of the Kingdom began and nobody can say whether, had he still been alive, things would have been different. History is not made of suppositions; but we know what type of person and king he was and therefore we are not wrong if we say that Garibaldi and company would have had a hard time with him still on the Throne.

Ferdinand II of Bourbon

Ferdinand II of Bourbon

At first he had the title of Duke of Noto and after the death of his grandfather in 1825 he became Duke of Calabria. Ecclesiastic and military people educated him. That explains his deep faith and his passion for military things. When he was still a child, the British thought of making him King of Sicily (according to their plans, he would have been easily controlled), whereas in 1820 the Carbonari wanted to give him the crown of Lombardy. Later someone thought he could be the leader of the future Risorgimento. But Ferdinand was never tempted by these proposals, because of his sincere affection to his land and people and also because he was aware of his rights as King were based on his dynastic legitimacy and this legitimacy was sacred for all lawful sovereigns. Therefore every lawful sovereign had to be respected and his royal rights protected. In other words, Ferdinand always respected the Gospel motto “do as you would be done by”. For this reason others could continue to reign and later take possession of Ferdinand’s kingdom by dispossessing his lawful heirs.

In 1827, after the departure of the Austrian forces from the Kingdom, he was appointed as General Captain of the army.

On 8 November 1830, his dying father gave him his blessing and he ascended to the Throne when still in his prime. He immediately issued a proclamation in which he promised he would resolve the problems still troubling the Kingdom. He spent the rest of his life keeping this promise. He immediately replaced some ministers, reduced the spending of the Court, gave a great amnesty to political prisoners and exiled people, recalled for service some officers who had served under Murat and where suspended after the risings of 1820, did not punish harshly some conspirators who had attempted on his life during the first years of his reign. However, despite his royal mercifulness, he never forgot his duties as Catholic king and openly opposed the liberal reforms implemented by his sister Maria Christine in Spain and took Charles’s sides.

In 1832 he married Princess Maria Cristina of Savoy, fourth daughter of Victor Emanuel I, who gave him a son destined to succeed him as Francis II. Maria Cristina was a woman of extraordinary religious piety and charity and her life in Naples was not easy for health reasons, but she endured everything in a Christian spirit. Her subjects loved her for her virtues and considered her a living saint. The Catholic Church has listed her among the blessed people. She died in 1836, fifteen days after giving birth to her son, comforted by religious sacraments. On 26 December of that same year, Ferdinand II married Archduchess Maria Teresa of Habsburg, who gave him nine children – among which Alfonso Maria, Head of the Royal House after Francis II died without heirs in 1894. Many of his daughters married sovereigns.

The Events of 1848

Maria Cristina of Savoy - Portrait by Caracciolo

Maria Cristina of Savoy – Portrait by Caracciolo

After the failure of the Carbonari risings in 1820-21 and 1830-31, the “Giovine Italia” became operative in Italy. Founded by Giuseppe Mazzini, this organisation made a series of attempts to subvert the established order. Among these attempt, that of the Bandiera brothers is worth mentioning. The Bandiera brothers attempted a landing (with only 20 men) against the peaceful and lawful Kingdom of the Two Sicilies hoping that the population would follow them and expel the Bourbon. They died in a tragic way. The moderate party of the Risorgimento found the federal proposal made by Vincenzo Gioberti as a valid alternative to Mazzini’s extremism. In his work “Il primato morale e civile degli italiani”, first published in 1843, Vincenzo Gioberti stressed the supremacy of Italian culture and civilization – due mainly to the fact that the Seat of the Catholic Church had always been in Italy – and proposed a solution to the Italian Issue: the creation of a federation of lawful States (which therefore could keep their lawful sovereigns) under the lead of the Roman Pontiff.

Maria Teresa of Austria

Maria Teresa of Austria

This proposal was successful, since it would keep the traditional and catholic civilization on one side and on the other side obtain a form of confederation, and if really and correctly implemented, it could satisfy all the needs of that time. Gioberti’s Neo-Guelphism had an even greater success after the election in 1846 of a Pope, Pius IX, who was in favour of this project and with his reforms became the living symbol (against his will) of the Italian Risorgimento in its first phase.

Portrait of Pope Pius IX

Portrait of Pope Pius IX

Facing the more and more numerous political concessions made in Rome by Pius IX, Ferdinand was sceptic, although he did not oppose the basic idea of Gioberti’s project: also Ferdinand truly loved Italy. But he had almost ruled for twenty years and had learnt also by his grandfather’s experience that he had to be suspicious towards liberals and revolutionists (and perhaps in his heart he was also suspicious about the sincerity of some other Italian sovereigns). However, on 12 January 1848 an autonomist revolt broke out in Sicily. Ferdinand, annoyed that others were implementing reforms and he had to solve the problems related to them, made a brave and challenging action: until then he had had no part in the general reformist movement inaugurated by Pius IX, now he got ahead of all other Italian sovereigns and granted the constitution and in so doing he put the Pope, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the Dukes of Parma and Modena and Charles Albert in Turin in an awkward situation. All of them, after Ferdinand’s action, were forced to grant the constitution one after the other. At this point, it was clear that the balance and order set in Vienna in 1815 had failed; moreover, a revolt had broken out also in Vienna and Metternich had left the scene; on 18 March, taking advantage of this, the Milanese had risen up, chased out the Austrians and demanded all Italian sovereigns to take arms against the Habsburg and in favour of the Italian independence. After hesitating for a while, also Charles Albert had entered Lombardy with his army and was marching towards the Austrian “Quadrilateral”. In short, that was the right moment to implement Gioberti’s plan.

Pius IX was ready and sent troops not to attack but to defend Italy; also the Grand Duke of Tuscany sent his troops. Ferdinand, in this situation of real and effective unity of the Italians for independence, did not back out and sent his army. It was the magic moment of Italian history! All united for independence, but according to the purposes of Neo-Guelphism: a federal and Catholic Italy, and therefore a monarchic and legitimist one. The problem however was that not everybody supported that plan. First of all the democrats, who everywhere, and especially in Florence, Rome and Naples aimed at the realisation of Mazzini’s project, a republican transformation of the traditional order; and then Charles Albert, who showed every day in a clearer way his real intentions, which were not those of Neo-Guelphism, but simply those of realising the old dream of the Savoy Family: the annexation of Lombardy and if possible Veneto.

At this point Ferdinand sensed the danger and changed his approach (in the meanwhile Pius IX also withdrew his troops because it was clear that a golpe was being prepared in Rome by Mazzini’s followers and also because Vienna was threatening the Pope with schism if he didn’t stopped his fight against the Catholic Empire and although he loved Italy, Pius IX was first of all the pontiff of all Catholics across the world and then the sovereign of an Italian State): through an action of force, he first withdrew the constitution not to loose completely the power and leave the rule in the hands of Mazzini’s followers (as it was happening in Rome and Florence); it was a real danger, that several local revolts in the southern provinces of the Kingdom were stressing; then he withdrew his soldiers from the front, considering that they were dying to give Lombardy to Charles Albert (and not for the creation of an Italian Federation) and that their death was therefore meaningless; then he conquered Sicily manu militari, and thus put an end to all disorders and revolutionary ambitions and showed he was a man of character as few other ones in the whole Italian history. But he was also generous: he reprieved the condemned men who had rebelled in ’48, and the revolutionists repaid his generosity with an attempt to his life (miraculously failed) perpetrated by Agesilao Milano (an officer from Calabria) in 1856: this was the only capital punishment that the King did not reprieve, due to the fanatic ungratefulness showed on that occasion. Also his foreign policy always showed him as an energetic and clear-minded king whose aim was the interests of his people, for which he was ready to say no even to Austria and Great Britain. For example, in the ‘30s, when he was still a young sovereign, he stood up to Palmerston for the famous event of the Sicilian sulphurs. It happened that in 1816 the British Government had convinced Ferdinand to grant them the monopoly of the sulphur exploitation in Sicily for very little, and the Kingdom did not receive any profit. Ferdinand II did not like that; moreover, he had cancelled the tax on flour not to burden the people and therefore needed money. So he decided to give the monopoly to a French company that paid twice as much than England. Palmerston immediately sent a military fleet to the Gulf of Naples and threatened the city with bombing. Ferdinand II revealed his character, held out, and prepared his fleet and army to the war. The situation was settled by the intervention of Louis Philip King of France: the king had to repay both the British and the French (since the monopoly was kept by the British, who never forgot the insult) for the damage caused [Apart from the event of sulphur, which made Palmerston furious, it is interesting to know that a niece of the British statesman had married the brother of King Charles of Bourbon, and Palmerston had asked Ferdinand to gave her access to the Court with the title of Royal Princess. But unfortunately the British lady was not a woman of good behaviour and was a well-known adventuress. Ferdinand did not fulfil his request and Palmerston’s hatred grew, since he thought he had been personally humiliated. On this matter, see de’ Sivo, Alianello, Acton, etc.]. He gave a negative answer also to Franz Joseph’s offer in 1851, when the Austrian proposed him a League of Italian States, and never accepted the pressure exerted by Louis Philip and then by Napoleon III to change his way of ruling.

Pius IX blesses the royal couple in Gaeta

Pius IX blesses the royal couple in Gaeta

However, he behaved differently with the Church. He always was a devout person and hosted Pius IX in a sumptuous and generous way during his two years of exile from Rome after the events of 1848 and the proclamation of the Roman Republic; but he did not grant the Church anything more than what foreseen by the Concordat in force and invited the Jesuits of “La Civiltà Cattolica” to leave the kingdom. The last years of his life were embittered by the awareness that Turin was preparing something dangerous with the help of Great Britain, Palmerston and international protestant and Masonic forces and by the tragic expedition of Carlo Pisacane against the Kingdom in 1857. Death took him in his prime, at the eve of those events that led to the fall of the Kingdom, when his energy, experience and far-sightedness would have been more needed than ever, as he had shown in the years of his important and fruitful rule.


A Reign of Civil and Material Progress

Ferdinand II was surely the King of Naples most loved by his subjects, and for this reason today still he is the most calumniated by history, since history was written by those who stole the kingdom from his son through a treachery invasion of a peaceful and allied State, with a lawful monarch loved by his subjects. It is therefore clear that the winners could justify this action only by accusing the Bourbon Two Sicilies of a disqualified government. In short, to provide a possible historical justification to the assault of the peaceful, allied, lawful and seven-centuries old Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, they had to cast a stain on the memory of its Kings and in particular the best and more recent of them (since Francis II had just ascended the Throne and was still too young to be credibly calumniated).

Ferdinand II of Bourbon

Ferdinand II of Bourbon

In the next heading dedicated to Francis II and the historical events that led to the fall of the Kingdom, we will analyse in detail Cavour’s policy, Garibaldi’s expedition and the heroic Bourbon resistance. Here we just analyse the reformist policy carried out by Ferdinand II, since in this way it is possible to understand why he was the most loved King of Naples. His calumniators, those who directly or indirectly plotted for the fall of the Kingdom, presented his government as the “denial of God”, and since then all schoolbooks of history (and not only them) repeat the same old calumnies. We will leave the floor to some of the most famous old and new historians of the Risorgimento who do not pay a supine obedience to those lies so that they would describe the real character and work of this sovereign.

The historian of the Bourbon, Angelantonio Spagnoletti [A.Spagnoletti, Storia del Regno delle Due Sicilie, I Mulino, Bologna, 1997 pp. 80-90] the fame surrounding Ferdinand II among his subjects. He was surely the most loved Bourbon King of Naples; his constant concern was the easing of the suffering of his people when struck by earthquakes or outbreaks; he personally went to visit the places and was often present in Sicily to directly solve the ever present problems with the difficult local populations (even Louis Blanch acknowledged the love of these people to their sovereign and Niccolò Tommaseo described him as the best of the Italian Princes). While travelling, he lived with his subjects, was a witness to their weddings and baptisms, gave them money, etc. In short, he liked to be seen as a Father of his people, and they were his family. Spagnoletti wrote (p. 88): «Calumny seemed always present in the life and work of Ferdinand II; despite that, the pro-Bourbon environment knew that the King was virtuous and loyal, that he kept the valour, mercifulness and devotion of his ancestors, avoided any involvement of the Kingdom in the risings of 1830-31 and in so doing avoided dangerous foreign interferences, defended the national pride in the matter of sulphur and for this reason the whole population stood with him, a unique soul with their king».

On the innovations made by Ferdinand II, Charles Alianello wrote [C. ALIANELLO, La conquista del Sud. Il Risorgimento nell’Italia meridionale (1972), Rusconi, Milano 1998, pp. 121-126.]: «He made roads, harbours, drainages, hospices and banks; he could not put up with presumptuous and greedy middle classes, the so-called learned bourgeoisie, the “gentlemen” [And this was his great “fault”. He was a King, but not a “Bourgeois King” as it was the fashion in those times. He was a King who served the needs of his people and not the interest of the “intellectuals” who had opened the doors of the Kingdom to the French enemy and then praised Murat the invader.] He tried to create a bourgeoisie with sound targets. He was not lucky, because there was no Neapolitan bourgeoisie other than that of professions and studies, “scribblers and students”, those who had thrown out his grandfather from Naples, inseparable from the foreigners due to ideological reasons that the King, as such, did not understand; and the greedy group of landowners». F. Durelli said [F. DURELLI, Cenno storico di Ferdinando II, Re del Regno delle Due Sicilie, Stamperia Reale, Napoli 1859.] that «In just four years, from 1850 to 1854, more than 108,950 modii of usurped land were restored into State Property and given to needy farmers»; Alianello wrote: «I quote from the 1854 Royal Almanac of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, after a long and detailed list of banks and charity institutes, the following remark: “Besides religious places etc., we count a total of 761 charity associations on continental dominions, more than 1131 wheat banks and other pawnbroker’s, agrarian banks and kindergartens” (…) Upon the king’s will, new roads were built and their extension increased from 1505 miles in 1828 to 4587 miles in 1855. And they were important roads…». The Amalfitana, Sorrentina, Frentana, whose construction was interrupted by the arrival of the “liberation army” and completed only a hundred years later. Then the Adriatic coastal road, the Sora-Roma, Appulo-sannitica, which connected Abruzzi and Capitanata, Aquilonia, connecting the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Adriatic Sea, the Sannita, from Campobasso to Termoli. Durelli added: «In short, from ’52 to ’56, in just four years, 76 new royal, provincial or communal roads were built. And also many bridges, among which the one over the Garigliano river, suspended to iron chains, the first to use this structure in Italy and among the very first ones in Europe. And the drainages, the canalisation of the Pelino river, the banking up of the muddy lands of Salpi lake, the drainage of marshes in Campania (…) In 30 years, sailing vessels were doubled, steam ships created out of nothing and in 1855 the fleet had 472 ships and 108.543 tons, plus 6 paddle-steamers and 6,913 tons of other boats. And schools, nautical colleges, industries».

Marta Petrusewicz gave an overview of her kingdom and wrote «(…) the population increases, the customs and taxation systems are better organised and the government is carrying out a clever intervention of construction of roads and railroads, royal factories and modern prisons» [M. PETRUSEWICZ, Come il Meridione divenne una questione, Rubbettino, Catanzaro 1998, p. 37].

To understand this King even better, let us read what the Irish Papal Zouave P.K. O’Clery wrote (out of his direct experience) in his famous work on Risorgimento [P.K. O’ CLERY, La Rivoluzione italiana. Come fu fatta l’unità della nazione, (I ed. 1875, 1892), Ed. Ares, Milano 2000, pp. 95-96.]. Soon after ascending the Throne, Ferdinand II granted a general amnesty and behaved as follows: «To introduce economy criteria in finances, Ferdinand reduced by a great extent his appanage, abolished some useless offices and some royal prerogatives. He streamlined the procedures in Tribunals, replaced the unpopular viceroy of Sicily and appointed his brother to hold that position and, when he travelled across the kingdom, prohibited the municipalities to prepare costly accommodations and accepted the hospitality of residents or stopped at a village inn or a Franciscan monastery.

We therefore must not get surprised by the fact that he was considered a popular King». We must also mention that in 1838 he joined the French and British agreements against the Negro slave trade and in that same year he set up very severe punishments (imprisonment and expulsion from Knighthood Orders) against duels, and the punishments included also the seconds. He granted amnesty to political prisoners in Sicily and great legal and administrative autonomy to that island; he personally followed the fight against feudatories. Economy experienced a continuous growth “despite its swinging, the Boubon economic policy showed a remarkable continuity”. [PETRUSEWICZ, op. cit., p. 72.], and merchant navy a great development [CONIGLIO, op. cit., pp. 340-342].

For example, let us see what Angela Pellicciari wrote [A. PELLICCIARI, L’altro Risorgimento. Una guerra di religione dimenticata, Ed. Piemme, Casal Monferrato 2000, pp. 181-182.]. In the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the expected spending was higher that the real one; no succession duty, joint-venture and loan bank duties were paid; the national debt was low, as well as the land tax; Sicily was exempted from military service, salt tax and tobacco monopoly; moreover Ferdinand, as reported by the magazine “L’Armonia”, had «established wheat banks in the most important towns to provide farmers with wheat to sow and allow them to support their families and in so doing he also cut off usury».

Salvatore Fergola, Inauguration Ceremony of the Naples – Portici railroad in the presence of King Ferdinand II (detail), 1839, tempera on paper, Naples.

Salvatore Fergola, Inauguration Ceremony of the Naples – Portici railroad in the presence of King Ferdinand II (detail), 1839, tempera on paper, Naples.

What above is confirmed also by what Giuseppe Paladino wrote about Ferdinand II in the “Enciclopedia Italiana” (Treccani): «He boosted constructions of public utility. The Naples-Portici was the first railroad inaugurated in Italy (1839). It was followed by the Naples-Capua railroad, always in the Kingdom. Under Ferdinand II the electric telegraph network was enlarged… The steam merchant navy registered a great increase; in 1848 it occupied the third place as concerned the number and rigging of ships. A series of trade agreements with England, France, Sardinia inaugurated an enlightened system of moderate protectionism (1841-1845). Finances were managed in an admirable way: Neapolitan taxpayers paid less than other Italians…»

Concerning the administration of justice, we must mention that after the revolution of 1848 no capital punishment was carried out in the Kingdom of Naples (apart from that of Agesilao Milano). Tribunals sentenced 42 capital punishments, but Ferdinand II changed 19 of them into life imprisonment, 11 into 30 years imprisonment and 12 into lesser terms of imprisonment [PETRUSEWICZ (op. cit., p. 114) as “Many prisoners, among which De Sanctis and Dragonetti, after some years of imprisonment, were apparently deported to America, but the authorities knew very well that they were to be landed en route to Malta or England and would take refuge in some European country”]. In those same years the King pardoned 2713 political convicts and 7181 normal prisoners, and from ’48 the statistics showed a reduction of crimes in the Neapolitan kingdom (when the trial against Settembrini and Spaventa was held because they were charged of founding the secret society “Unità italiana”, foreign observers, although opposing the Bourbon, had to admit that the trial was held in a fully correct way) [M. PETRUSEWICZ (op. cit., p. 107) in the events of ’48 in Naples “The prevailing feeling, both in the government and in the public opinion, was nor republican nor anti-Bourbon. Apart from some convinced republicans such as Ricciardi, Saliceti and La Farina (the future strong supporter of Cavour), most leaders (…) thought that Ferdinand II was able to carry out this task”].

However, here is how the French journalist Charles Garnier described the situation of the Kingdom in his Memory on the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Paris, 1866): «taxes were less burdening than in Piedmont and lower than in post-Unitarian Italy; Government’s credit was sound, the debt low, conscription more bearable; most tax income was used in agriculture and public work, among which we mention the first railroad and the first telegraph as well as the first suspension bridge and the first dioptric lights and the first steamer. Commerce was growing and factories were flourishing» [Garnier also provided evidence of how the factories of the South were destroyed in the first years of the unification to favour those of the North].

In general, we can add to these already quoted opinions of historians that Ferdinand travelled a lot across his Kingdom to visit hospitals, prisons, farms etc., since he always wanted to personally meet the needs of his subjects; in order to save money and reduce taxes, besides a reduction of Court spending and his personal spending, he reduced the salary of Ministers and to fight against unemployment he ruled that the same person could not hold two public positions; many royal hunting parks were transformed in farming lands: he developed industry, especially textile industry, built roads and railroads as well as harbours, dockyards, bridges across rivers, cemeteries out of towns, hospitals, conservatories, orphanages, kindergartens for poor children, shelters for the mentally ill (he abolished begging), houses for girls, modern prisons and institutes for the deaf and dumb; in the cultural sector, he established chairs, opened libraries, boarding schools, girls boarding schools, agrarian gardens and free schools; he drained marshes and the island of S. Stefano facing Gaeta and introduced new cultivations in the Kingdom; he established institutes to foster commercial enterprises by rewarding the best ones with medals; on every occasion (royal weddings, special events, etc.) he made donations to the poor and wedding dowries to poor girls; in the event of cholera epidemics he personally visited hospitals and he did the same in the event of earthquakes and natural disasters, and personally and materially comforted the people; on the other end, he also strengthened the army and military navy, which became one of the first navies in Europe. And we could add much more, but it is clear that Ferdinand II was the highest and most complete expression of that political and social reformism inaugurated by his great-grandfather Charles, a reformism that has always characterised the Royal House of the Bourbon Two Sicilies.


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