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Charles of Bourbon left the Throne of Naples in 1759 to take that of Madrid (by this he sanctioned de facto the definitive separation of the two Crowns). He appointed as his heir in Naples his third son, Ferdinand, then aged 8, and entrusted him to a Regency Council formed by 8 people, among which Prime Minister Tanucci and the Prince of San Nicandro, Ferdinand’s uncle. The former had the precise task of being the political guide of the Kingdom, the latter was tasked with the child’s education.

Ferdinand of Bourbon – Portrait by Francesco Liani

Ferdinand of Bourbon – Portrait by Francesco Liani

Born in Naples on 12 January 1751, the son of King Charles of Bourbon and Maria Amalia Walburga of Saxony died in Naples on 4 January 1825. He reigned for one of the longest periods in history, if we date the reign from 1759 (66 years). From the Prince of San Nicandro he received a quite common education mainly focused on the care of body strength (his features and his use of dialect earned him the nickname – certainly not disdainful – of “Re Lazzarone” (Rascal King) [The word “Lazzari” or “Lazzaroni” indicated the members of the lower classes of Naples, who heroically and strenuously fought against Napoleonic and Republican Jacobin soldiers in 1799 on behalf and in the name of Ferdinand, the monarchy and the Church.]

Until he came of age, the kingdom was run in all respects by Tanucci, who continued without delay the reformist policy of Charles of Bourbon, in close agreement with the Throne of Madrid. Those were the decades of the famous Bourbon reformism, also continued by Ferdinand until the years of the revolutionary storm.

In 1768 he married Maria Carolina of Austria, daughter of the Empress of the Sacred Roman Empire Maria Teresa of Habsburg, and therefore sister of Emperor Joseph II, Emperor Leopold II and the Queen of France Maria Antoinette.

Maria Carolina Portrait by Francesco Liani

Maria Carolina Portrait by Francesco Liani

Ferdinand’s heir, Francis, was born after five girls (of which Maria Teresa became Empress of Austria, Maria Amelia Queen of the French, Maria Luisa Grand Duchess of Tuscany).

Maria Carolina arrived in Naples when she was just 16 and immediately acquired a great weight in Ferdinand’s political choices, especially after the birth of Francis. A clash with Tanucci was therefore unavoidable, as unavoidable was the progressive break with Madrid, in which the Queen succeeded in involving also Ferdinand (this was of deep sorrow for the then old King of Spain, who saw not only the political control escape him, but also in a way his son Ferdinand).

In 1775 Maria Carolina officially became member of the State Council; at first, Tanucci had to consent to a great reduction of his scope of action, and then he had to leave the scene in 1777.

Two years later, his place was taken by the British Minister Prince John Acton, who during the years enjoyed the total confidence of the Royal Highnesses, which allowed him to transfer the Kingdom from the Spanish influence to the British one (confirmed, in the crucial years of Napoleonic wars, by the presence at the Court of Horatio Nelson and several other British people who exerted a great influence on the decisions taken by Maria Carolina).

Prime Minister Bernardo Tanucci

Prime Minister Bernardo Tanucci

However, after Tanucci left the scene, the reformist process was not stopped. After all, the parents of both monarchs (Charles of Bourbon and Maria Teresa of Habsburg) had both been reformers and had moulded their children’s way of thinking in the same way (as Joseph II showed with unremitting zeal in Vienna!). This policy of reforms had to be stopped due to the weight of the revolutionary storm of the ’90s. The events of France, at first only worrisome but then tragically devastating (fall of the Monarchy, Jacobin Republic, murder of the King and then of the Queen and their young son, civil war, the Terror, Robespierre’s dictatorship, hundreds of thousands of casualties, etc.) forced a natural change in the naive and open-minded political views (sometimes lacking critical discernment) of the two Neapolitan monarchs. Especially after 1794, due to the French events and the discovery of a republican conspiracy in Naples.

Ferdinand and Maria Carolina began to understand the true face of the reformer [In some historical events, the future traitors are always hidden among the closest and ever-present praisers. All the so-called Neapolitan intellectuals – mostly aristocrats close to the Royal couple and honoured and rewarded by them – did not miss any occasion to praise Maria Carolina as a lantern of progress and civilisation and present Ferdinand as a “new Titus”. It was them who set up the Neapolitan Republic with the help of the armies of the Napoleonic invaders.], especially the Enlightenment and Masonic intellectuals (that until then they had always supported). Despite some further attempt of reconciliation with the newly born French Republic, Ferdinand actually joined international anti-revolutionary and anti-Napoleonic Coalitions and in so doing remained also faithful to the Bourbon “family pact” and his alliance with the British.

The Double Loss and Reconquest of the Continental Kingdom

In 1796 the young Napoleon Bonaparte started his invasion and gradual conquest of most territories belonging to pre-unification Italian States: he met everywhere, as sole and ferocious resistance, the spontaneous armed rebellion of the Italian populations – the counterrevolutionary risings – who rose up to defend the Church and their Catholic faith and lawful sovereigns and governments (in short, they rose up against the revolutionary aggression to protect their centuries-old civilisation, society and traditional identity).

Ferdinand of Bourbon

Ferdinand of Bourbon

In February 1798, the revolutionary armies invaded the Papal State, provoked the escape of pope Pius VI, and set up the Roman Jacobin Republic. In November, Ferdinand, aware that the Napoleonic army was marching towards Naples to complete the conquest of Italy, decided to declare war against the French also to free Rome and let the Pope come back to his State. The Austrian General Mack received the command of the forces, but his choice immediately turned to be a wrong one. He entered Rome without striking a blow (the Neapolitans were welcomed in triumph by the Romans), but then facing the attack of the Napoleonic general Championnet, Mack miserably fled the scene and the Bourbon army withdrew in confusion. Championnet had finally an excuse to march on Naples. On 8 December 1798, Ferdinand issued a proclamation to all his subjects and invited them to resist in arms against the invaders. No other proclamation was ever taken literally as this one. Tens of thousands of men from all social classes and of all ages, including women and the elderly, took arms against the French and fought bravely for six months to reconquer their kingdom.

In fact, on 22 January 1799, the French succeeded in conquering Naples, even with a huge number of casualties. In Naples, to take real possession of the city and set up the “Neapolitan Republic”, the French had to massacre 10,000 “Lazzaroni” who had risen up in the name of Ferdinand. On 22 December 1798, the Court moved to Palermo, and Ferdinand had left Naples in the hands of a Council of Aristocrats and the Royal Vicar Pignatelli.

Popular discontent was everywhere and feelings of loyalty to the dynasty were expressed, everyday became more “threatening”. At the end of January, Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo of the Princes of Scilla went to Palermo and asked audience to the King to present him a brave project: he asked the king to give him ships, men and money to make a military expedition to reconquer the Kingdom of Naples with the help of the population, which would be surely given.

The project was so brave that the sovereigns were puzzled; at the end, after Ruffo’s insistence and due to the fact that nothing better had been planned, Ferdinand granted the Cardinal only one ship and seven men, but he also gave the Cardinal the official title of King’s Vicar for the kingdom of Naples. Ruffo felt satisfied with what he had been given, since he was sure that the population of the continental kingdom would follow him.

On landing in his territories in Calabria, he just had to pass the word round about his intentions and new powers. In just a few weeks he had an army of tens of thousands of volunteers who had come from all across the kingdom to defend the Bourbon cause and die to drive out the Jacobin invaders.

Ruffo established “the Royal Catholic Army” (Armata Cattolica e Reale) in the name of Ferdinand IV, who in the span of three months, came back to Naples in triumph and restored the Bourbon monarchy on 13 June 1799, the day of St. Anthony, official patron saint of the “Armata della Santa Fede”.

Meanwhile, Ferdinand and Maria Carolina reached Naples via sea, preceded by Nelson, who had the order of making justice of Jacobin traitors resisting in Castel S. Elmo and surrounded by the Sanfedist Army. Ruffo, aware that Nelson would massacre them all, offered them to escape via land; but they thought to better trust a Protestant than a Catholic and surrendered to the British Admiral, who hanged 99 of them with the approval of Maria Carolina more than of Ferdinand.

These were remembered as the Jacobins of the Neapolitan Republic, “victims of the Bourbon”, as national historiography has always reported. We cannot here engage a historiographical and ideological controversy. But we make a consideration: of course, justice had to be applied with mercifulness. But historians have always wanted to forget the infeasible need for justice, in a situation in which all terms were clear: the subjects – many of which very close to the Crown – had been found guilt of high treason since they had driven out the King and set up a revolutionary republic established not only on the arms of foreign invaders but also and mainly deprived of all popular support, as history has shown, and, even more than that, the kingdom’s population bravely fought against the invaders and remained loyal to the Bourbon.

The Neapolitan republicans (a few hundreds in all) had not been voted nor welcomed by the million inhabitants populating the kingdom; on the contrary, the population strongly opposed them. Therefore, their only power consisted in the foreign armies, with no prestige or consensus.

Portrait of Duke Ferdinand IV of Bourbon – Antonio Calì (attr.)

Portrait of Duke Ferdinand IV of Bourbon – Antonio Calì (attr.)

They were in all respects “traitors of their country” subdued to foreign invaders and responsible for a very violent civil war, although pro-Risorgimento historiography has always presented them as heroes and “martyrs”: but from the point of view of their lawful sovereign their actions could not go unpunished: common sense shows that, and we can be sure that other acclaimed sovereigns – or Heads of State – sometimes would not have behaved in a very different way in a similar tragic situation.

Ferdinand and Carolina came back to Naples in triumph and with full consensus of the populations who had spontaneously fought on their behalf. They reigned in peace until 1805, but then the Napoleonic storm broke again over them.

At the beginning of 1806 the French Emperor conquered the Kingdom of Naples and put his brother Joseph on its Throne. Once again, the royal couple and the Court had to move to Palermo, and the spontaneous Sanfedist guerrilla started over again (although this time there was no new “Royal and Catholic Army”), and lasted until 1810, and in Calabria until the Restoration.

In 1808, from Paris, Napoleon decided that Joseph had to go to Madrid and put on the Throne of Naples his brother-in-law Gioacchino Murat, who remained in charge until 1815, the year of the European Restoration. Moreover, in 1815, Murat, in despair for the final victory of the restoration forces, staked everything and landed in Calabria inviting the farmers to rise up in arms against the Bourbon: the farmers shot on him, arrested him and then executed him.

The Last Years of His Kingdom

By the final defeat of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, the whole Europe began a new phase of its history known as Restoration.

This time Ferdinand chose to be officially called “King of the Two Sicilies” [During his rule in Palermo, the British present at the Court had fostered the autonomy of Sicily and forced him to grant the Constitution of 1812 and expel Maria Carolina from the island. She would die in exile in 1814], therefore becoming Ferdinand I. He then decided to implement a perhaps too generous policy of national reconciliation. In fact, not only did he leave Murat’s collaborators unpunished, but often confirmed them in their positions, roles and privileges they had acquired under the Napoleonic regime; and he did this especially for military officers, a thing he would be forced to regret very soon.

At the Court, a clash was in progress between Minister de’ Medici (pro-liberal and mason), the Minister of Police Antonio Capece Minutolo, Prince of Canosa (Catholic and intransigent, counterrevolutionist and loyal to the Bourbon, implacable enemy of mason sects and of all revolutionary trends). Ferdinand, however, gave prevalence to de’ Medici, and this caused another pro-constitution revolution in 1820, which was organised and implemented by the mason sect of the political secret society of the Carbonari.

At the beginning Ferdinand accepted to grant the constitution; but the situation was different than in the past, and he knew well that – according to the principle of legitimacy set by the Congress of Vienna and the agreements decided by the Holy Alliance – Metternich would soon take actions against the revolutionists. And in fact he did so. A Congress of the Holy Alliance was held in Ljubljana, and an intervention against Naples was decided. The Neapolitan Parliament sent Ferdinand himself to Ljubljana to plead the cause of the constitution; but, of course, when he arrived there Ferdinand asked Metternich to intervene against the Neapolitan revolutionists, which Metternich did.

So Ferdinand restored absolutism and lived in peace the very last years of his long and tormented kingdom.

The King of Italian Reformism

The Royal Palace of Capodimonte

The Royal Palace of Capodimonte

Ferdinand can be considered as the King par excellence that embodied the criteria of Enlightened reformism in Italy and continued and fulfilled what his father had started. A list of the most important reforms and work implemented and built by his will or upon his suggestion:

Civil construction:

  • on 4/9/1762 he began the construction of the first cemetery in Italy in Naples, then he built another one in Palermo;
  • he ordered the construction and the enlargement of the streets of Naples, such as Foria;
  • he restored the Royal Palace of Naples;
  • in 1779 he erected the Fabbrica de’ Granili;
  • in 1780 he began the Royal Villa;
  • he built three theatres: de’ Fiorentini, Fondo and San Ferdinando;
  • he constructed: the Botanical Garden in Palermo, the English Garden in Caserta, the Dockyard of Castellammare, the small harbour of Naples, the works of Emissario di Claudio, the Royal Palace of Cardito;
  • he built more than 1,000 miles of roads to connect Naples and the provinces;
  • he restored bridges, built new ones, drained the swampy coastlands, embanked rivers etc.;
  • in 1790 he reclaimed the Bay of Naples;
  • he completed the constructions started by his father (Royal Palaces of Caserta and Portici);
  • he started new constructions: Favorita of Palermo, Church of S. Francis of Paola in Naples, etc.

Institutions and Cultural Initiatives:

  • in 1768 he established a free school for each town of the Kingdom and for girls and boys alike; he also ordered that religious institutes had to do the same; he founded a College to educate the youth in every province, and all this without imposing new taxes on the population;
  • in 1779 he transformed the Jesuits House in Naples into a College for noble youth and this college was called “Ferdinandeo”, and founded a Conservatory for the education of poor parentless girls;
  • in 1778 he founded the University of Cattaneo, the subsequent year the University of Palermo with a theatre, a chemistry laboratory and a physics laboratory;
  • he established a department of astronomy in the Royal Palace of Palermo, where Piazzi worked;
  • he founded another observatory on San Gaudioso Tower in Naples;
  • he established 4 high schools, 18 colleges and many normal schools in Sicily;
  • he founded a nautical college in Palermo to educate sailors;
  • he established a delegation to supervise all Colleges of the Kingdom;
  • in 1778 he established the Academy of Sciences and Arts in Naples;
  • he opened a Library in Palermo;
  • he reorganised the three Universities of the Kingdom and created new chairs: for the first time, surgery and obstetrics departments appeared in hospitals; he chose the best professors, irrespectively of their personal political opinion, such as Genovesi, Palmieri, Galanti, Troja, Cavalieri, Serrao, Gagliardi, etc.;
  • he honoured music talents such as Cimarosa and Paesiello, and appointed the latter as music teacher of the Crown Prince; he gave the means to many young artists to get a specialisation in Rome;
  • he enriched the Museum of Naples and the Library with new artistic works ;
  • he continued the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompei.

Military Measures:

  • he established many military colleges and an academy for arms, and reorganised the army;
  • he reorganised the navy and when in 1790 the Ruggiero vessel caught fire while being build in Castellammare, the subjects spontaneously offered the King one million ducats to rebuild it;
  • he published the military Criminal Code.

Economic Measures:

  • he established a Stock Exchange and opened many new trades, such as the fishing of coral;
  • he made many good laws for the Tavoliere area in the Apulia region, and many colonies could be established since he exempted the farmers that would live, farm and improve those wasted lands from taxation for 40 years; to this end, he also established a wheat exchange;
  • he greatly diminished direct and indirect taxes to be paid by the citizens (especially those to be paid to the barons), such as the tax on tobacco, tolls and silk in some provinces.

Civil, Social and Charity Measures:

Royal Silk Factory in San Leucio

The Royal Site of San Leucio

Royal Silk Factory in San Leucio

The Royal Site of San Leucio

  • he populated the islands of Ustica and Lampedusa, chasing out the Barbaresques and building fortresses;
  • established a Bank for military orphans and gave it an annuity of 30,000 ducats, to educate the sons of military people who had died and to provide for the dowry of their daughters;
  • Albanians and Greeks present in the Kingdom were gathered in colonies and he established schools and seminars for them and a place for trade in Brindisi; moreover, he established a Catholic Greek Rite Episcopate;
  • when a popular collection was made in Naples for the wedding of the Crown Prince, he accepted only a small part of the money collected (70,000 ducats) which he entirely assigned to charity for the poor of the city;
  • he built the San Leucio silk factory according to Rousseau’s criteria of equality;
  • before the French Revolution, he steadily defended the State prerogatives against the Church; after 1815 he was more generous, although by the Concordat of 1818 he always maintained his prerogative to choose the bishops;
  • in 1818 the first Italian steamer set sail from Naples and crossed the Mediterranean;
  • he introduced the duty of the magistrates to justify their decree.

This is the King that the national historiographic “vulgata” has always presented as an ignorant, unrefined, fanatic and reactionary person. A “Rascal”, “popular” King; and in fact the people always took his side.

Cardinal Ruffo and the Pro-Bourbon Uprising

He is the protagonist of exceptional Italian deeds that have been concealed for decades by Italian Historiography and only now have begun to be revealed to the general public thanks to the contribution of many historians who, for the sake of truth, published studies and organised meetings on the occasion of the bicentenary of those events.

Cardinal Ruffo

Cardinal Ruffo

In reality, the history of Italian popular uprisings against the Napoleonic invader and his Italian allies the Republican Jacobins, does not concern only the Kingdom of Naples; in fact it was the last one to be invaded in December 1798. In the previous three years, tenths of thousands of Italians from all social classes had already fought against the revolutionists to defend the Church and their lawful sovereigns and governs.

Many studies describing with relative preciseness these tragic and heroic events are now available and we refer the reader to them for any in-depth study of this very important page in the history of Italian populations (on this matter see the page on Books recommended).

Here we just mention in a very short but clear way the most glorious and triumphal implications in the history of Italian counterrevolutionary uprisings: the events occurred in the Kingdom of Naples in 1799 and between 1806 and 1810.


A Populace in Revolt in the Name of Ferdinand IV

Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy in 1796, entering Piedmont and marching towards Lombardy and Veneto. His was a lightening conquest, but what is not so well known is that the populace revolutionists rose up everywhere to defend the Italian traditions against the French and Jacobin Republics. So in 1796-’97 Northern Italy revolted, in 1798 the revolt interested the territories of the Pontifical State that the French invaded in February; and the same happened in 1799 in the Kingdom of Naples and in the rest of Italy, which would be freed completely in October 1799 by a general counterrevolution of the Italian populace (from the Alps to Calabria) in the name of Catholic religion and their respective lawful sovereigns and governs.

In the Kingdom of Naples, from February 1798 the Pontifical State had disappeared; in its stead the Roman Jacobin Republic had been established, but during all the subsequent months, tenths of thousands of people rose up in the name of Pius VI who had been forced to leave Rome. In November 1798 Ferdinand IV decided to attack the Roman Republic, restore the sovereign Pontiff on his lawful Throne and expel Jacobinism and the Napoleonic invaders from the entire Peninsula.

Cardinal Ruffo received Ferdinand IV returning from Sicily

Cardinal Ruffo received Ferdinand IV returning from Sicily

Attacked from the south, Napoleon’s general Championnet at first withdrew his troops and allowed King Ferdinand IV to enter Rome in triumph (the population welcomed him in general exultation); then he counterattacked; at this point the Neapolitan Army was not able to resist and hastened back to Naples, always avoiding any battle and surrendering without even fighting all the strongholds of the northern territories of the Kingdom, including the impregnable fortress of Gaeta. On 8 December 1798, Ferdinand IV issued an official proclamation from L’Aquila and invited all his subjects to rise up and defend their Kingdom and their Religion against the revolutionary invaders. No proclamation was ever literally applied as that one. While calmly marching to Naples with three different armies, Championnet met the unexpected and ferocious resistance of the insurgent Abruzzi and south Lazio populations. These tens of thousands of people ready to made the most heroic deeds delayed of many weeks the arrival of the French in Naples. Michele Pezza from Itri, called “Fra Diavolo” (Friar Devil), the most famous and courageous of all the insurgent leaders of those years, fought Jacobinism since the very first days of the French invasion and would give his life to serve the Catholic and Bourbon cause. However, on 22 December King Ferdinand and all his Court left Naples by sea to reach Palermo since he had to take the sea because he had been betrayed on land (he referred to the clear betrayal of the highest ranks of his army, starting from Mack himself, who had left the Kingdom in the hands of the invaders without fighting).

Naples remained in the hands of Vicar Pignatelli Strongoli, who later was deprived of power by the Corp of the Elected, an ancient aristocratic body in which towered young Antonio Capece Minutolo prince of Canosa, tireless upholder (for all his life) of the Bourbon legitimacy; but in reality, in January anarchy ruled the capital, especially when the French were gradually approaching it. To the news that also the stronghold of Capua surrendered to the Napoleonic forces without fighting, the “Lazzari” (Lazzaroni) – tens of thousands of Neapolitan members of the lower classes – took over the control of the city, ready to fight to death against local French and Jacobin allied to defend their Throne and their religion.

The Lazzaroni Assault Castelnuovo

The Lazzaroni Assault Castelnuovo

The Lazzari revolt began on 13 January 1799 and forced the Neapolitan democrats to take refuge in the strongholds of the capital. When Championnet decided to attack Naples, the Lazzaroni began a heroic and impossible resistance that lasted until 23 January and caused 10,000 casualties among the Neapolitans and 1,000 among the French. On 21 January, while the entire city was fighting, and dying, against the French, a few Jacobins shut in Castel S.Elmo proclaimed the official birth of the Neapolitan Republic.

At the end Championnet conquered the city (it took him three French armies to defeat the popular resistance and he had to committed to the atrocity of setting fire to the houses to force the people to come out and then he shot them) [Regarding the Lazzari, always portrayed as fanatical and uncouth persons by all the 20th century national historiography, General Championnet said the following: “No fight was ever tougher: no scenario more frightful. The Lazzaroni, these wonderful people (…) are heroes closed in Naples. They fight along all streets; they contend for their territory inch by inch. The Lazzaroni are led by brave leaders. S. Elmo Fort kills them; the terrible bayonet knocks them down; they withdraw in order, charge again, boldly advance, often gain ground…”. General Bonnamy said the same: “the Lazzaroni, these wonderful people, fight as lions. They are knocked down, they win. Despite they loose ground and artillery, we conquer streets, surround them, we cannot subdue them. The night falls, the fire goes on (…) The day arises: the fury of the fighters doubles. Both sides show great valour”. These are the opinions on the Lazzari expressed by the Napoleonic generals.]

In the days that followed the taking of Naples and the establishment of the Jacobin Republic, a Catholic Cardinal, prince and member of one of the most ancient families of the Kingdom, Fabrizio Ruffo of the Dukes of Baranello and Bagnara, at that time director of S. Leucio Colony, took the initiative of going to Palermo to ask the King men and vessels to reconquer the Kingdom.

We will never know what pushed Ruffo to do this and what exactly he had in mind. He wasn’t a general, but only a noble priest, as there were many in those days. What is sure is that, once he arrived in Palermo and spoke to the sovereigns, he got the title of plenipotentiary Vicar of the King, a vessel and seven men.

He set off with what he had and on 7 February 1799 he landed in Calabria at Pizzo, near the fiefs of his family. There was just the eight of them. Four months later, the army formed by volunteers of the Holy Faith (Ruffo called his army “The Army of the Holy Faith” or “Catholic and Royal Army”), or Sanfedists, counted tens of thousands of people, entered Naples in triumph and restored the Bourbon monarchy. This is undoubtedly the most heroic page of all the history of the Italian Counterrevolution and most probably among the most moving ones. For these reasons, facing these events no one could remain unmoved: either they had to be celebrated as they deserved or defamed and reappraised. In the past two centuries, and especially in the last one, Italian historiography chose the latter. Of course, it is not possible to relate to the historical events of that expedition. Here we would just mention that, while in the northern provinces of the Kingdom thousands of peoples had already risen up spontaneously as soon as Ferdinand issued the proclamation of general defence of the Kingdom on 8 December 1798, Cardinal Ruffo began his reconquest of Calabria in April, and only in May did he move north, touching Matera and then Altamura and afterwards reaching Manfredonia and Ariano, where he arrived on 5 June and got ready to march on the capital. He took the capital after a tragic battle that saw the Neapolitan Lazzari again in action on 13 June, the very day dedicated to Saint Anthony, official Patron Saint of the “Catholic and Royal Army”.

Ferdinand and Maria Carolina

Ferdinand and Maria Carolina

In those days, during the siege of Naples, he tried to save the Jacobins shut in Castel S. Elmo, and therefore he offered them a way to escape via land; but they preferred to trust in Nelson, who was besieging Naples from the sea; Nelson had 99 of them hanged, and from this ruthless action the myth of the “Martyrs of the Neapolitan Republic” stemmed out and the fault has always been wrongly given to the Bourbon. Although the King could have perhaps been more merciful and spared some of them, it’s very unlikely he cou-ld hd saved from capital punishment those who were guilty of high treason, who had conspired with a revolutionary invader and caused the fall of the Monarchy and the Kingdom in the hands of the enemy, and, moreover, who had done this without the least support of the people, even against the people’s will (not only the citizens of Naples), as the previous months had shown unequivocally.

If we really want to be impartial in giving an historical judgement, we must bear in mind the real seriousness of the Jacobins’ treason both towards the lawful sovereigns and towards the people of the Kingdom; this seriousness was even worsened by the fact that they gave the State in the hands of an invader enemy and, most of all, to the sovereigns these traitors were mostly noble people and often friends of the royal couple and had received benefits from them.


Michele Pezza, called Fra Diavolo

Michele Pezza, called Fra Diavolo

If we could have an instantaneous overview of the Kingdom of Naples in the first six months of 1799, we would see tens of thousands of people rise up voluntarily from Abruzzo and southern Lazio to Apulia and Calabria and fight to death against the Jacobin Republic and the Napoleonic invader in the name of the Church and the Bourbon Two Sicilies. Just to mention a few names among the most famous heads of pro-Bourbon rising we should list Fra Diavolo (Friar Devil), G.B. Rodio, Giuseppe Pronio, Vito Nunziante [In ’99 Nunziante set up a regiment at his own costs to fight against the French; Ferdinand esteemed him so much that during the Restoration he was appointed as Viceroy of Sicily.], Sciarpa, Panedigrano, etc. We must also mention the great war fought from 1806 to 1810 by the French against the so-called southern pro-Bourbon “Brigandage” to support first Joseph Bonaparte and then Joachim Murat on the Throne of Naples.

It is a tragic history, characterised by bloody massacres, unscrupulous retaliations, dramatic and rude events. Apulia, Basilicata and especially Calabria rose up and created a real situation of permanent war. The insurgents, led by some heroes of ’99 (again, Michele Pezza [We remind everybody that Ferdinand gave Pezza the title of Duke and a rich pension for his merits; but in 1806 Pezza left his title, pension, wife and children to fight again against the French and died as a hero after declining the proposal made by Joseph Bonaparte to serve him, save his life and obtain more prestigious and higher tasks.], Sciabolone, De Donatis, G.B. Rodio [The Queen liked Rodio very much and appointed him Marquis for his devotion to the cause for which in the end he gave his life, as did Fra Diavolo, in 1806.], Sciarpa, Panedigrano, the protagonists of the Holy Faith (Sanfedists) who after seven years did not hesitate to leave again their families and jobs and all the privileges acquired to face death in a desperate war only to serve the same cause as seven years before, the same King against the same enemy), plus other new counterrevolutionary exponents among which I mention Carmine Caligiuri, Rodolfo Mirabelli, Alessandro Mandarini and others. Supported by the British via sea, they faced for years the French-Neapolitan armies and were engaged in real battles “on a grand scale”, such as the one they won at Maida. At the end they were defeated, but Murat never obtained peace and support from his subjects: as we already said when talking of Ferdinand IV, when Murat landed at Pizzo and attempted to reconquer the kingdom in 1815 was shot by local peasants, then arrested, processed and condemned to death.

The uprising was an exceptional occasion for many humble commoners to show their heroic loyalty to their sovereigns, as well as for others (nobles and lords) to show their treason to their sovereigns and benefactors.

Some considerations

Marquis Vito Nunziante

Marquis Vito Nunziante

The trend applied by Italian historiography to all other heroic and tragic events of the Italian uprising – that occurred almost everywhere across the country in those 25 years – was that of “concealing” them. However, this was not possible for the Ruffo expedition and Sanfedismo due to the epochal dimensions of these phenomena and therefore in this case the trend was that of “calumniating” them : Ruffo’s followers where only bloodthirsty criminal and murderous gangs looking for easy plunder and Ruffo was the leader they deserved.

We cannot deny that among them there were real criminals and brigands too; and in fact the Cardinal was strongly annoyed by that and often adopted very strict measures to repress delinquent actions. He always did whatever he could also to save the Jacobins from the fury of his men, and it often occurred that the republicans gave themselves up to him to escape the revenge of Sanfedists.

But what else could we expect? On 7 February Cardinal Ruffo had only 7 men; two months later, tenths of thousands of volunteers had rushed to his help from all across the Kingdom. Of course, there were also disreputable persons among them, but these did not form the “core” of the Army of the Saint Faith. The core was formed by noblemen, peasants, officers, middle-class people, even priests ready to leave their families, churches and wealth to follow a Cardinal and fight against Jacobinism.

Antonio Capece Minutolo, Prince of Canosa

Antonio Capece Minutolo, Prince of Canosa

What historiography does not want to acknowledge here (and for this reason it always reports only the violent actions, be them real or invented) is the real motivation that pushed the majority of the population to join – directly or indirectly – Sanfedismo: i.e. their clear and even violent refusal of Jacobinism and its revolutionary ideas and therefore their loyalty to their Catholic faith and the Bourbon family. This is the heart of the matter, still aching today, after two hundred years. Neapolitan republicans could have even been unselfish (someone) and courageous (someone), many of them then met a tragic death, as we know, and paid their ideas with their own lives; we do not deny this. But why does historiography still deny that all the kingdom was anti-Jacobin? That the population was loyal to a traditional idea of Faith and Monarchy?

Just to make a few examples, here is a list of some data of cruel retaliations perpetrated by the Franco-Jacobin troops against unarmed and defenceless civilians (besides the already mentioned 10,000 Neapolitan casualties in the week of the Lazzaroni uprising): the first ferocious slaughters of civilians occurred in southern Lazio: 1,300 people were massacred at Isola Liri and in the nearby areas; Itri and Castelforte were devastated; 1,200 people were killed at Minturno in January, and other 800 in April; the inhabitants of Castellonorato were all massacred; 1,500 people were put to the sword in Isernia, 700 in the areas around Rieti, 700 at Guardiagrele, 4,000 at Andria, 2,000 in Trani, 3,000 in S. Severo, 800 at Carbonara, the entire population of Ceglie, etc.; still in 1806-10, in the war of Calabria, we recall 2,200 people killed in Amantea, 300 at Longobardi, etc.

The French General Thiébou [General P. THIÉBOULT wrote in his Mémoires (Paris, 1894, II, p. 325): “without considering the casualties suffered in the fights, more than 60,000 of them were killed on the ruins of their cities or over the ashes of their huts”. In: N. RODOLICO, Il popolo agli inizi del Risorgimento nell’Italia meridionale (1798-1801), Le Monnier, Firenze 1926, pp. XIII-XIV.] gave a total of 60,000 civilians (and civilians only) massacred by the Franco-Jacobin army in the five months of the Republic!

To conclude, these well-known events show that the Italian population, and in particular the southern population, refused the French Revolution in the name of their loyalty to their tradition and lawful governs. This is the real background of the heroic deeds of the Saint Faith: the population was against the Jacobins and loyal to the Bourbon monarchy.


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